I signed up for Bellingham Bay before I was accepted into the NYC Marathon. I've wanted a new half marathon PR for awhile and thought why not try. But that plan was replaced a few times after being accepted to NYC. I thought about scratching it. Then wondered if I could still race it? Or should it be a workout?

Steph made the call. We’d do 10 miles at marathon pace or a bit slower (around 6:15s) then I could burn a bit the last 3. That plan made me nervous that I wouldn’t be in contention to place at all, and didn’t want to leave PJ for the weekend if I couldn’t place. So we made an ultimatum plan. I could go out in 5:55s, hopefully scaring off a few people, then settle into 8 miles of marathon pace and then try to finish back at 5:55s.

After we talked, I was more convinced that the race dress rehearsal was worth it. It’s good to practice that out-of-your-element race night and race morning, remember all the things you can’t forget on marathon weekend, get those antsy nerves of weird hotels and broken heating units. The whole circus minimized for practice.

On Saturday I ran 8.5 miles through Point Defiance. Threw my suitcase together and I wiped a few a tears away as PJ gave me the biggest hug she’s ever given me. The drive to Bellingham took forever (thanks Seattle) and I was cranky about it. But I put on some podcasts and tried to enjoy it for what it was.

I arrived to Bellingham in the late afternoon and checked into the super posh Days Inn. My room smelled like grilled red peppers and the smell only got stronger over the night. It was … interesting. I watched some bad TV then headed out to grab my bib at the expo and Whole Foods hot bar for dinner. Got back to the hotel, did Jasyoga, shakeout, strides, and ice bath. Ate dinner in bed, trolled social media, and suffered through the Sex in the City movie out of desperation. Oh and we FaceTimed like 4 times in under 24 hours.

My stomach was feeling really sour, I still wasn't over my sore throat and I had just started a horrible period. Spoiler alert: your period is so much worse after kids. Anyway, I made a point of relaxing to the max and turning in early. The silver lining of PJ’s 14 month sleep strike is that I don’t really have race night insomnia anymore! Aside from Olympic Trials eve…and Olympic Trials eve eve… when I literally laid awake sweating all night.

The race started at 9am. I woke long before my alarm. Sat around the room drinking coffee and reading in bed. Heated up some oats, but didn’t eat much because my stomach was still being weird. Drove over with lots of time, did a two mile shake out and changed into my flats at the car. Left everything there. Standing in any lines within :30 of the start stresses me out like wild, so when I can I avoid bag check. My motto: work with your weirdness, don’t fight it.

Actually the whole warm-up and shoe change really stresses me out, not matter how often I race. I have a bad sense of time, like how long things take, and under any pressure it just gets worse. So this was a good reminder to really pin down my race morning schedule like I do for my daily schedules. Working backwards from gun time (or bus leaving) and penciling in every step and how long it will take.

Got to the start, did strides, talked to a Oiselle VolĂ©e teammate and the gun went off. Two girls started blazing. One fell off right away. The other, in a bright Saucony outfit, was stride for stride with me. My 5:55 plan wasn’t working on her. I put in little corner surges and tried to listen to her breathing. She was running strong, but not great at running the tangents and wouldn't tuck behind me ever. So I wondered if it might be a first road race, she looked really young like right out of college. At 3 miles she was still stride for stride, so I tucked behind her and slowed to my prescribed pace. She drifted away.

La, la, la. I ran 8 miles alone at marathon pace. I couldn’t see her through most of the race and when I could she was very far ahead. But I reminded myself she wasn’t the point of the race, I didn’t know her story. Maybe this is her A race, maybe she’s fresh and tapered. Maybe she’d get tired and I could catch her later. But none of that mattered, I needed to do my own workout. I almost missed a turn (thanks boys on cell phones, really manning that turn). Apparently both lead bikes needed to be with her, leaving me in no mans land. I actually had to almost stop when someone let a car turn in front of me. Otherwise I zoned.
Photo credit: Joemarie (@slowsprintjoe)

Around mile 6 or 7 my side stab showed up and gave me something to work on. This is another great reason to practice racing, because side stab (or other specific oddities) only show up on race days because of nerves or weird diet or whatever. I worked on my breathing and stride. Worked through my nerves and panic about side stab. (It remained through the end of the race and is still sore today.)

Then we were on the gravel downhill, and my Garmin beeped letting me know I was at the miles where I could let myself go faster. This starts the part of the course that’s always harder than I remember, but I knew she was feeling it too. Every hill in the mile before she came back to me a little bit. After gravel is three hairpin turns, boat ramp hill, and another sharp hill. Then rolling hills to the finish. 

With less than a mile to go I finally was on her, and needed to get my tired legs onto the pain train. I evened out my breathing and pushed past, we said good job to each other and I started going hard while reminding myself to look effortless. She looked like a girl with a kick so I needed to get a solid gap. I have 0 kick on a fresh day and my legs were tired from the past weeks of training. This was apparent when I tried to find another gear just before the line and couldn’t. But I held on and got the W.

Just a note, this race was won in 1:17:09 last year. This year I won in 1:19:45. So it also all depends on who shows up obviously. I had assumed I'd be fighting for 2nd, so I was very happy to be fighting for 1st.

Overall, I was very grateful for a good day and workout. It was the first half I’ve ever done without tapering at all, and that was interesting in its own right. The race also showed me I have work to do before New York. And that it’s time to think about side stab again and try to get in for body work.

And to be very honest, my inner race thoughts showed me that my mental game has atrophied. I believe mental game is huge part of success, it’s also a huge part of being able to even enjoy success. And maybe that’s actually same thing.

During the race I was finding ways to beat myself up, rather than encourage myself. This shows up as comparison talk the most. Like “the other girls racing NYC can run over 100 miles a week AND a half marathon seven minutes faster than you” or “you qualified for the Olympic Trials and still might not win a local half marathon, you’re a huge fake” or “so-and-so literally just had a baby and is faster and running more miles than you already”.

These are all ugly reasons to run. And they steal all of the joy in the process. And if there’s not joy in the process, there’s no point for me. The joy in the process, and the process in general is what makes this pastime worthwhile to me. I won’t magically get faster or fitter by beating myself up with comparison. The times will remain the same, the work I do will remain the same, I can only be the best me I can be. But I can change how I talk to myself about it. I can remind myself to enjoy the workouts, and remind myself that I am getting stronger. I didn’t even run one 70 mile leading into CIM. Yesterday I ran a sub 1:20 after three weeks over 70 miles and followed the plan (almost) to a T. I’m going to celebrate that. Because that’s an accomplishment for me.

Thanks, as always, to my sponsor Oiselle! And the support team on Twitter and IG and Snapchat, and at home... I feel all the encouragement. And to Bellingham Bay Marathon for another great event. third time's the charm. Thank you so much! 


  1. Thank you, Sarah - I really liked this post! I am preparing for Chicago and am really learning how to strengthen my mental game, too. Appreciate you keeping it real, lady!

  2. I always appreciate how open and honest you are in your posts. I never would have thought you get prerace nerves from a shoe change but it happens to everyone. I cannot wait to see how you do at NYCM!

  3. Love all the insights and afterthought. I don't even race or have a career and I compare myself unfairly to others. You are awesome.

  4. Thank you so much for being transparent in both your training and race experiences. It is comforting to see similar struggles and victories across the spectrum of runners. Congrats on running your race and coming out of it with the W.

  5. Sarah, what specifically do you do to thwart off the side stitch when you get them? I seem to get them during most of my races that are over 5k in distance...thanks!


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