Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Recap: Beat The Blerch

On Sep. 21st, I made the trip to Carnation, Washington to run "Beat The Blerch" half marathon.

This inaugural event, slated for Sept. 21st sold out within 30 minutes, while also crashing the servers for the registration site.  This left many disappointed since the park capacity could not also hold the entire fanbase for the cartoonist and race director, The Oatmeal.  Soon, a wait list was created and more permits obtained to offer another race on Sept. 20th.  Word on the street is that the race is hoping to expand to the east coast and somewhere more "central" such as Colorado.

If traveling wasn't an option (or the race just simply sold out too quickly), a virtual race kit was available for purchase.  This wasn't merely purchasing a medal and printing your own bib.  Oh no.  Not when dealing with The Oatmeal.  He goes all out.  Virtual kits included swag such as Blerch stickers, a blerch magnet, cupcake flavored lip balm, snacks of some kind, the medal and a bib.

Wait. Wait. Wait.  What is a "Blerch" you say?  Check out his comic here:  The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.

Race sign I saw at the start gate of my Sunday race and a picture of The Oatmeal in a green inflatable suit running his second half marathon in 24 hours.  Bottom, me and The Oatmeal and me with a Blerch volunteer.

I arrived midday on Saturday, and missed packet pickup on Friday.  This was disappointing because Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) was going to be there to sign autographs and would have advanced copies of his new book, "The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances".  But, I wasn't running until Sunday, so I ventured to Seattle to pick up my sunday packet and head over to Carnation to watch the end of the Saturday festivities.  

Not only did I luck out and the line was a "short" (45 minute wait), but I also got a doodle of a blerch in my book and showed him the picture of "the Blerch" that I am running from.  (Since the blerch is defined as a version of his former self that he is running to avoid.)  After standing in line, the family and I unloaded our car and headed to our campsite.  This was the absolute best way to do a running event like this.  To fully enjoy the entire festival type environment, wake up and just walk on over to the race.  No parking, no commute time.  When the kids were tired of waiting for me, they could head to the camp playground (within sight of the Start/Finish) and have a little picnic or a cat nap in the tent (because I am THAT slow).  Anyway, we unloaded the car and set up camp and walked back to the race.  The last runners had not yet crossed the finish line.

Over 6 hours was on the gun time clock, and we were still waiting for at least one runner on the course.  A volunteer shouted that the last runner was on the home stretch and we all cheered enthusiastically.  He was awarded a DFL cake (bottom left picture) and we soon realized that he wasn't actually dead last.  There were still two other runners on the course.  The Oatmeal headed out (after having ran the half marathon earlier that day) and went in search of the last two.  They had befriended each other and were working towards the finish line.  The Oatmeal ran them in to the finish and allowed them to cross first.  They were each given a DFL (Dead Friggin' Last) sheet cake.  This was the cake on the course... and it was very very tasty.  It was hard to just eat one piece at the aid stations.  Maybe I didn't refrain from gluttony on my race.  Anyway...  

A race is sometimes only as successful as the heart put into it by the crew and the volunteers.  The volunteers were clearly putting all of their heart and energy into this.  

Volunteers offered Magical Grape flavored beverages, as well as sports drinks, water, cake and Nutella Sandwiches.  Bananas and potato chips were available as well.  

 The volunteers were out on the course to help direct runners where to go, offer encouragement, have food and drinks ready for runners entering their aid station and making fresh Nutella sandwiches if they were running low.  Other volunteers wore Blerch costumes and offered advice such as "Slow down Captain Speedy Pants!  You don't want to get hurt..."  "This is a beautiful day in the woods, take it easy and soak it all in.  No one will know if you walk."  "Take a nap with me on the couch."

And there were couches on the course to help with this temptation.

The course was mostly packed gravel and dirt roads with about a half mile in the beginning and end that was larger rocks and not as packed.  I don't remember reading about the terrain other than it was "nearly flat".  It was not exactly flat as it gain an elevation of 300 ft in 6.5 miles and then the half marathon turned around to descend that gradual climb.  I heard that the terrain got a bit more difficult for the Full distance.

Besides the aid stations full of sugary treats (as well as water and bananas), the fantastic volunteers, seeing The Oatmeal (autographs and photos) and watching him run, seeing him go out on the course to help his runners, there were other great race perks as well....

Race photos will be FREE for participants to download.  Free.  I can't tell you how many times I have looked at a race photo, wanted it and wished to frame it for my running wall.... but it was too expensive.  Also, each medal and shirt for the participants featured the distance you ran and not the others.  

Results were instant and available here.  

Though the race was a 10K, Half and Full Marathon, only your distance was celebrated on your medal and on your long sleeved shirt.  The shirt was a half zip, long sleeve with thumb holes.  No sponsor ads or logos... just "I beat the Blerch Finisher" and the distance and location.  

The medals had the distance below the sash The Blerch wore and had different colored ribbons.  Unfortunately I did not get the picture of the 10K medal, but the award for the top finishers in their age group was carved in wood with an emerald green ribbon.

The event was so much fun and you could tell a lot of thought went into it so it could be a fun and successful event.   Matthew never grew grumpy, even after the third day of doing autographs for lines that were hours long.  A friend had to leave to go back home (long car trip) so I offered to take his book to have signed and I figured I'd stand in line to have my bib signed.  I secretly hoped to ask him to draw an unflattering picture of me in my blerchy form, or being chased by a blerch... etc.  However it became clear that he was signing everyone's merchandise or bibs with his autograph and giving it back.   After three days of this, I bet he was getting pretty tired of doodling.  Signing would get pretty tiresome alone.  At this point, I was in line for over 2 hours.  The day before it had been 45 minutes.  ...I should've had him sign my bib too the day before.  Oops.

The person in front of me had a large pile of books and he signed every one of them without complaint or requesting the fan/runner pick two or three of them.  He had a good attitude with everyone.  When it was my turn, I asked if he would also include the dedication on my friend's book, but refrained from any more requests or doodles.  I'll have to ask next year.

If there is any complaint from me, it would be that, besides the Disney (mostly "The Little Mermaid") soundtrack on repeat, it would be that peppered in with the songs to shows most children at the event knew and were singing along to ...there was also Sarah Donner's song paying tribute to The Oatmeal's comic about The Motherfucking Pterodactyl. (click to listen to it when you are NOT at work.)  Of course my kids have heard worse... it's just that on repeat for several hours with a catchy tune is going to have embarrassing consequences as we work to deprogram them from it.

No race can be perfect, and this was pretty close.  

Did you run "Beat The Blerch" in Carnation or virtually?  Will you be attending next year?  i hope to see you there.


  1. I have tears in my eyes! I'm not sure if it's because I missed out on this one, or the kindness, tolerance and care that went into the event. Anyway, sounds lovely!

    1. it really was a lot of fun! :) Without a doubt, he invested a lot of himself to make this a fun event for everyone. :) Next year. If I can only do one race next year... this is probably going to be it. See you there. ;)

  2. This sounds amazing! I did the virtual and it was pretty great too.

  3. I did the virtual but wow I can't imagine how awesome it was to actually be there! So glad you had a great time!

  4. The race swag you got in person looks fantastic! Here in N. FL we did the virtual with a group of other runners - we had cookies and cake - and magical grapey beverages. :) Great photos you got. I really hope they expand the race next year to the East Coast.

    1. I hope so too! It looks like they are planning on it... but I think they are still working out some of the locations. :)