Before my recap, I want to send my condolences to the friends and family of Evan Sebenius, the young man who passed away during the Beat the Blerch half marathon. I stopped and left candy with the runners with him, but without medical training I couldn’t do anything else. I never thought he would pass away, and it’s truly sad. If you want know more and how you can help, read the Seattle Times article or visit Evan’s Memorial Race’s Go Fund Me page.
The inaugural Beat the Blerch race had just about everything it promised. It had cake, it had Nutella sandwiches, it had couches at the water stops, and it had nice medals (and a surprisingly nice long-sleeved 1/4 zip tech shirt). We lucked out on the weather (sunny and in the 60s to low 70s), and overall it was a beautiful day in Washington state. Yes, there could have (should have?) been more water stops (they were about 3 miles apart), but for an inaugural race I thought it was very well-done.
For those who don’t know, The Blerch is a fat little winged character created by the comic artist known as The Oatmeal (aka Matthew Inman). It essentially represents the fat little beast inside all of us who tell us to eat more snacks and to skip that run. My Blerch is particularly large, particularly loud, and particularly convincing (as a lawyer’s Blerch should be), so the concept immediately resonated with me, and when my friend Ben told me about the race, I set my alarm for the registration time and was one of the few (approx 1,700) lucky runners to snag a spot before the race sold out in 30 minutes (they ended up adding the exact same event on Saturday so twice as many people could partake, plus they had a virtual option where you got a goodie bag and medal and were supposed to Beat the Blerch on your own time and without the travel).
I planned the trip months ago (mostly to visit my parents), so when I realized my injuries weren’t going to let me run the full marathon, I was disappointed but dropped down to the half instead of canceling the whole thing. I was impressed and glad that the option was available (you could also transfer/sell your spot, which very few races allow). There
was is a very active Facebook group for the race, too, so even though I typically never Facebook, I was checking it frequently for info about the race, weather, costumes, etc.
On Saturday my parents and I drove up from the Portland area straight to the packet pickup location in Seattle. At least, the address was technically Seattle, but it felt like the suburbs to me. The pickup was quick and easy, and the shirt is really nice (some people mentioned it runs a bit small, which maybe it does, but these days womens’ XL t-shirts are tight on me, so I almost expect it by now). The author wasn’t at pickup on Saturday to sign his books since he was running the race, but he did sign after the race on Sunday (I didn’t stay because of the enormous line and my weary legs), and he signed at packet pickup on Friday (at the end of another enormous line, or so I heard).
We stayed at Hyatt House in Redmond, next to a ton of “mushroom” apartments (apartments that look like they sprang up overnight) and enough chain restaurants to satisfy any car-less New Yorker (we ate at Red Robin and Claim Jumper, my first time at either of those establishments, and they were both delightful). Because of the late race start time (9:00 AM for the Marathon, 9:30 for the half, and 10 for the 10k), I was able to grab some yogurt and a banana from the free hotel breakfast (which had a lot of other food, too, and was nicer than most free hotel breakfasts).
I haven’t travelled for a non-full marathon in a long time, and while I did spend an absurdly long amount of time getting my costume together and laying out my stuff for the next morning, I noticed I was much less than half as nervous for the race than I would have been for a full. A half marathon I can finish without much worry and know that I’ll be able to walk and drive and shower and go out again without a problem. For a full marathon I’m never 100% sure I’ll be able to finish, let alone do anything afterwards besides lie on a hotel bed flipping through bad TV. The relative ease of half marathons makes me both want and not want to change my 50 states goal – running half marathons would be a relatively simple task, but maybe too simple. But it would allow me to run in more complicated costumes, so there’s that, too…
After breakfast, it was an easy 20-25 minute drive to the race in Tolt MacDonald Park in Carnation, Washington. There was ample parking with many helpful parking attendants directing the cars. The start/finish line area had lots of Blerchandise for sale, a photo backdrop with giant Nutella jar props, a foam rolling area, plus lots of porta potties. One runner saw The Oatmeal taking a picture of the long line of porta potties and saying to himself “I created an event that requires 40 porta potties.”
Matthew (we’re on a first-name basis) wore a giant inflatable green Blerch costume for the race and posed with fans before it started. I was able to get a picture with him and he commented on the Grape Hi-Chews pinned to my shirt. I told him it was my magical grapey beverage substitute. Then I ran away because I was afraid of seeming like a crazy fan, because even though I was wearing fairy wings made for infants, duct tape nipples and fat rolls, and candy pinned all over my shirt, I thought I would seem not crazy if I quickly ran away from our brief interaction.
The course started on asphalt but quickly turned into a mostly flat trail that featured only a few larger, sharp rocks, but those few rocks had an excellent ability to find their way under runners’ feet. One woman said “if I step on another sharp rock I’m gonna…!” Unfortunately that was all she said and she was faster than me, so I never found out what she was going to do nor if she ever stepped on another sharp rock again.
I ate four pieces of cake during the race and one more large piece plus three Nutella sandwiches after the race. I drank two small cups of magical grapey beverage (which I think was purple Gatorade) and lots and lots of water at each water stop. Even though it goes down easy and was surprisingly tasty and desirable during the run, cake makes you thirsty. I did not eat any of the many proffered gels, and one of the gel distributors bemoaned “I can’t give these things away!” No sir, no sir you cannot, not as long as there is cake and Nutella as the other options.
When the race started I was still a little bummed I wasn’t doing the full, but at mile 10 I was about ready to be done with running for the day, and by mile 12 I was very ready to be done and could not imagine having to run another 14 miles. It definitely made me nervous about Chicago, because I don’t know how long it would have taken me to cover another 13 miles that day, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. Plus, they would have run out of cake. But I managed to finish, and spotted both my mom and dad at the finish, and overall it was a great day to Beat the Blerch.
Thinking of Running Beat the Blerch?
If this race continues (there are rumors they might bring it to other states), I’d recommend trying it out. Obviously if the race is in a different location it might be a very different experience, but it’s clear that Matthew Inman knows his races and knows what makes for good ones, so I’d imagine any Blerch race would be worthwhile. They are doing a free 4 mile fun run in Central Park on October 8th, and I will be there (but will there be enough cake??).
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – I flew into Portland’s PDX, but most would fly into Seattle. Either way, you’ll have to rent a car to get around, and Carnation is as much in the middle of nowhere as you can get only 45 minutes outside of Seattle. Being near Seattle also means a lot of traffic, which we seemed to hit no matter what time of day.
- Staying There – 6/10 – There aren’t a lot of hotels in Carnation, so you’ll probably have to stay in a neighboring town like we did in Redmond, and while I love chain restaurants and such, if you’re looking for something unique you’d be better off exploring Seattle (which will involve traffic).
- Cost & Registration – 5/10 – Registration was probably the most stressful part. The site kept freezing and crashing and it was pure luck that I got through and was able to register before it sold out. They did add Saturday for people on the wait list, and besides a lottery (which I hate), I don’t know how else they could have done it, so it is what it is. It was $100 for the full marathon, plus $5 for a parking pass and another $15 in taxes and fees (so about $120 total), plus $12 to transfer from the full to the half. The shirt and medal, as I mentioned, were both excellent, and the cake and Nutella were really tasty. Oh, and all the race photos were free! Huzzah!!
- Organization – 8/10 – All the necessary info was online, packet pickup was simple, parking was great, and the aid stations were well-run (even though they were packed with runners eating cake and taking pictures).
- Course – 8/10 – Beautiful course and the easiest “trail” race ever. Crowding was surprisingly not a problem (there were 208 full finishers, 816 half finishers, and 636 10k finishers – and they started the larger races in waves). The race was chip timed so it didn’t matter when you started.
- Crowd – 1/10 – I think I saw two people along the entire course (not counting volunteers). It was as expected for a trail race.
- Other Factors – 8/10 – If you are a fan of The Oatmeal, you’ll want to do this race.
- Overall Rating – 8/10 – It was a great race with a lot of little touches that I’d want to include if I ever create a race (e.g. free race photos, race transfers available, multiple distances, chip timed, mostly shady, costumes, nice personalized shirts and medals, cake) and I’d do it again.
What sort of foods have you eaten while running? When is the last time you had Nutella? Did you know they have a Nutella-esque Pinkberry flavor and that I ate some tonight? See the site for more photos & share in the comments!