Run This Race Before It Gets Discovered!
Disclosure: I received a free entry to the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.
Not all races end with beer. But when Blooms to Brews ends with beer, they do it up right. I'm not a beer fan myself, but just count the number of taps on that truck! If you want to read more about Blooms to Brews and the race website just isn't enough, try Sarah's blog, A Sweet Blonde & Her Fit Life. (If it isn't up yet, it's coming–patience!)
This race is amazing! Go put it on your calendar for 2017, right now. As word about this event “gets out,” you're going to be left behind. I don't know what the capacity limit for this course is, but you want to run it now so that when it is a regular sell-out and everyone is raving about it YOU can say, “I ran that race back in the day before it was ‘discovered.'”
Blooms to Brews takes place in Woodland, WA. Woodland is about 45 minutes north of Portland (depending on where you start and when you drive) and 2 to 2.5 hours from Seattle. While Woodland itself doesn't have a ton of hotels, I had no problems securing a reservation the week before the race. You could probably drive from Seattle on race day morning, but it costs $20 for day-of-race packet pickup and you'd miss the entire expo. Portland is a better bet, and Vancouver, WA is filled with hotels of all stripes. (You could, of course, also try a bed and breakfast, or use Air BnB. Lots of options.) If you're flying in, PDX is the closest airport. If you're road-tripping, I'd make a long weekend of it since there is so much to do nearby.
The brand-new Woodland High School hosted the Blooms to Brews expo. There was plenty of parking, as well as two days to pick up your packet. I took a ton of photos, but in my brilliant attempt to organize them I deleted EVERY expo photo I took. (Awesome, right?) The expo was small but mighty. Packet pickup had no line on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible to register for the 10k, half marathon, marathon, or marathon relay. In addition to Blooms to Brews logo merchandise, there were about 8-10 vendors, including a cool wraparound sports skirt company, Sweet Spot Skirts (neat design fits a variety of sizes, stays put, and covers what you might want to cover–made in USA!). A few race companies were there, including the Portland Marathon. The Woodland Rotary was selling some delicious coffee as a fundraiser to support building a local sport park for the youth and teens of Woodland, and at the end of this post YOU can win a bag!
One thing I really liked about the expo is that each of the tables was manned by a person who really cared about that table's goods/services. There were no hired guns. Everyone was really friendly. I was particularly lazy for the remainder of the day. After a quick trip to Burgerville for the handmade, in-season, strawberry milkshake, I checked into my hotel and took a nap. I emerged to buy a few groceries, eat dinner, and head back to bed.
Morning came all too soon as it tends to do on race days, and I dragged myself out of bed and suited up. While my hotel was technically within walking distance of the start at Horseshoe Lake (about 17 minutes) I opted to be pre-race lazy and drive. Added bonus, there is a drive-through coffee shop right before you turn into the parking area. (I'm not going to lie, one of the things I really, really miss about living in the Pacific NW: drive-through coffee.) Parking was plentiful–there could have been many more cars there–and despite my mocha detour I was able to leave my hotel at 7ish and still make it to the starting line with plenty of time to spare.
Starting line amenities included a bag check, water, snacks, music, and a post-race party that was ready to start. I took a few minutes to walk around and look at the amenities, since I still had plenty of time to spare. There was a school bus food truck that sold pizzas and other tasty food, right next to the BBQ. While I'm on the subject, part of the race instructions (and the promos, now that I think about it) said there would be a BBQ sandwich for each runner, with a vegetarian alternative for those of us who are not meat-eaters. As a vegetarian, I don't expect special treatment–but at the end of the race I do expect some food! I once read a statistic that said on average, 10% of the U.S. population eats vegetarian when they eat out–some choose vegetarian or vegan, others are keeping Kosher, observing Halal dietary laws, or only eating organic or free-range–plus there are several well-known plant-based running groups, so it isn't insane to think there will be other vegetarians. Anyway, when I went to ask for my sandwich, AS PROMISED there was tofurky on a bun, warmed with vegetarian baked beans. Score!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The starting line had the usual platformed trusses and a banner. When I read that the marathon started at 7:30 and the half at 7:40 I was like, “um, corrals? Is that enough time?” No, no corrals. Just as they should, runners self-seeded (with a little help from the well-spaced pacers) and the entire marathon group took off without any incident. In addition to various Marathon Maniacs (and Double Agents), I saw a man dressed up like…bacon?? He must have been with one of the four-person relay teams. One of the cool things about Blooms to Brews Marathon was the option for a FOUR person relay team. That means you only needed to be able to run about 6.5 miles to join in the marathon–a very cool opportunity, as many marathons don't offer a relay, and others only offer a 2-person relay. Several of the spunky folks running the second and third legs whizzed right past me on my run, too! (Fresh legs, they had fresh legs. Or at least that is what I kept telling myself.) The relay medal was very cool–four magnetic pieces that fit together to form a key with tulips on top!
As promised, the course is FLAT (just as promised!). The entire thing, all the way. There were three almost insignificant not-flat parts: one, leading up to a railroad crossing; two, leading down from the road to the beginning of the unpaved section (not sure if that was technically a dike, since the Horseshoe isn't connected to a river?); three, coming off of the unpaved section and returning to paved road. Each of these was extremely brief–measured in feet, not yards. The marathon follows a separate course from the half marathon, but starts in the same manner and re-joins for the last few miles. As a marathoner, I love it when I'm not “just” running two loops of the half marathon course. (Personally, I hate passing the finish line before I get to cross it!) The relay teams all seemed to be having a great time–some dressed in matching costumes, others had a theme going, still others dressed like I do for a run (if it passed the sniff test, it's good to go).
It's fairly rare, in my experience, that a course that says it is flat is really, really flat. This one is, I promise. (Well, I can't opine as to the looped portions of the marathon since I didn't run them, but the half is like a pancake baby.) Since the vast majority of the race was rural, there were no “unofficial aid stations” or sponsored cheering stations. There were, however, plenty of well-stocked and cheerfully staffed aid stations! At least two of the aid stations had gummy bears–they were hiding in Dixie Cups–but there were no other foodstuffs served on course. (But again, that was NOT in the promises the race made, so I had packed some Glukos chews and Honey Stinger chews, and I was just fine. Yet another reason why you should actually read the race website and the emails from the race director, even if you run races all the time and figure you know everything there is to know.)
This was NOT my best race, sad to say. After the icky hills of Rock ‘n' Roll San Francisco and the Livermore Half Marathon, I was really excited to be on an actually flat course. Up until about mile 7 I was on pace to PR (not that I'm that fast, but a PR is a PR, right?) and was thinking about what corral that might put me in for the Dopey Challenge next year. Right around that point, that glute-hamstring tie-in on my left leg tweaked HARD and started to whine at me. Whiiiiiine, ow, whiiiine. UGH. This is a new one for me, and I thought it was a hill issue (since I had experienced it in San Francisco). So bummed, since I spent a good deal of my cross-training on the posterior chain last year (e.g. Lagree method). Around mile 9 I gave in to reality: this course would not be close to a PR. (Sad trombone noise! Whomp whomp!) Every time I tried to run–oh right, I was using 1-1 run and walk intervals–my left leg complained. ARGH.
Still, the course was flat (hooray!), green (hooray!), and reminded me of all the reasons why I love the Pacific NW. It wasn't until after I had passed the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens that I realized I had been to Woodland before the race–twice! The first time I was there for the festival at the lilac gardens. Maybe it wasn't a festival, but it was some big event, and it had a Volkswalk associated with it. I was in Woodland again later for the tulip festival at Holland America Bulb Farms–going on during this race!–and another Volkswalk. Of course that was in my pre-running days, so I doubt I would have noticed a race going on.
None of my photos do the tulips justice, so you'll have to go run this race yourself and check them out. The fields were set back from the road, and as we passed I could see stripes of red, yellow, white, and other colors in addition to the non-blooming fields closer to the road.
At any rate, after grabbing some gummy bears at the last aid station I started to pass runners with medals on, which confirmed what I knew: the end was really close! The runners headed home with their bling all cheered and high-fived, which was cool. As I rounded the corner to the very last piece, the home stretch, I noticed the final not-flat piece of the course: a very slight downhill to the finish line! Hey, I'll take ANY downhill to the finish line, no matter how slight.
The finish line was very organized! Race director Elba Benzler was on the ground, handing out high-fives and congratulating runners. (After having him as a guest on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast before the race, it was nice to finally meet in person!) Traffic cones at the end of the chute subdivided runners–at that point it was really just me!–based on which race they finished, so they could receive the appropriate medal. What's that? Why YES, there were completely different medals for the half, full, 10k, and marathon relay! You know how most races have one design, and the half gets a smaller version while the full gets a bigger one? Not here!
After greeting Elba I tried to find Sarah, who I'd heard and seen as I crossed the finish line. Of course we both had runner brain and each went to where we last saw the other, so it took us a little bit. Then I wanted to drink as many cups of delicious Opal apple cider as I could get without being silly (side note: the Opal apple was at the Walnut Creek Half Marathon two years ago, and it is the best apple ever). We posed and laughed before heading over to the VIP area, and then we posed more! All the post-race selfies!
One nice perk of BibRave is that race directors sometimes give us VIP privileges at races. These were some really nice VIP privileges! In addition to access to the beer garden like other runners, the VIP area had a separate bar with the beers plus Washington State wine, and mimosas. In addition to the aforementioned BBQ sandwiches, VIP also had a spread of bananas, nuts, KIND bars, chips, and other assorted food. There was a complimentary massage station that I eyed but didn't take advantage of due to having to check out of the hotel by 1 (and needing a shower, badly!). My favorite part of VIP was probably the patio heaters. It wasn't exactly cold weather, but post-race my core temp definitely dropped, and the jacket I had packed into my bag wasn't doing the trick, so I was happy to huddle under a heater.
Overall, this race rocked my socks. It delivered on everything, as advertised. As I was driving out of Woodland–post-race, post-shower, and post-Burgerville–the finish line party was still going strong. It's reasonably priced, has a variety of distances, and is close enough to food, coffee, and other amenities that your finish line cheer squad can see you off, do something else, and then meet you at the finish. If you want to hear more, check out the latest episode of Runner of a Certain Age Podcast.
Since the race is Blooms to Brews, and you brew coffee, I'm giving away a bag of coffee beans! Not just any beans, mind you, but Rotary Club of Woodland's premium dark roast. My purchase of these beans helps the Rotary fund the new sports complex in Woodland. This coffee was roasted just before the race (April 7th) by local coffee producer the Luckman Coffee Company.
Important! This giveaway is not sponsored by BibRave, Blooms to Brews, the Rotary, Elvis, or any other entity real or fictional. There is ONE prize, a bag of coffee beans. I'll ship to the US and Canada for free. If you live elsewhere I'll still ship, but I'll ask you to make a charity donation in the amount of the cost of postage.
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