Galloping Gertie Half Marathon
Gig Harbor and Tacoma, August 13, 2016
Once upon a time my home town was known primarily for a bridge that fell down, Almond Roca, and an arsenic-spewing smelter. The smelter is gone now, and the bridge was replaced long before I was born, but the legend of “Galloping Gertie” still clings to the span across the Tacoma Narrows. This run was originally meant as a diversion while I was visiting my Mom in hospice, but she couldn’t stick around and so I wound up running it in her memory.
It’s a warm sunny morning when I join the other runners congregating in the lobby of the Galaxy Theater in Gig Harbor. The area has built up considerably since I was a kid, the start and finish located in a plaza of trendy restaurants with sculptures and hanging baskets of flowers everywhere. It’s a leisurely morning for me as the half doesn’t start until 8:00; I have time for a cup of coffee at my hotel and a pastry and fruit cup from the box breakfast the hotel provided.
The first mile of the race is downhill. Speeding down Pt. Fosdick road, I can sense as each runner around me goes from “Whee!” to “OMG, I have to run up this on the way back!” The course begins to undulate, passes into leafy shade. There are fir needles underfoot, wild blackberries along the edge of the road, then a long wall of cattails before the course turns left and climbs towards a tunnel. On the other side we pop out into sunlight and are running downhill again towards the foot of the bridge. Wild rose bushes line the pedestrian walkway, packed with red rose hips and clung to by late season scarlet blooms.
The steel cables stretch to the towers overhead, the dark water of the Narrows glitters underneath. These are the towers whose lights I watched from my bedroom window before the trees grew up; the train’s horn that I’d sometimes hear at night wound along the shoreline. As I crest the span, taking photos, I’m passed by the 2:20 pacer. If I have any strategy, it’s to hang out somewhere between 2:20 and 2:30, and that’s what I wind up doing for the remainder of the race. Mount Rainier is just visible, a white apparition hovering in the haze above the hills.
Once on the Tacoma side I climb again, cross Highway 16, and then climb up through the tree-lined War Memorial Park. (Can you sense a theme to this elevation profile?) The next few miles are a ramble through the neighborhood overlooking the bridge, wood shingle homes with gardens that I envy with my Arizona eyes, overflowing with sunflowers and blooms of every color, especially green. Several kind folks are out offering garden hose spray downs due to the heat of the day, which I decline politely: “I’m from Phoenix; this is nothin’!”
Somewhere in here I pass the 7-mile mark, making this my longest run since Rio back in May. I’m taking short walk breaks on the hills now, as I retrace my steps back to the bridge and over to the Gig Harbor side. Ahead of me, a runner yields to temptation and samples tart blackberries from the brambles at the side of the road, and I follow his example.
The heat may not match Arizona’s, but the sun is taking its toll and I’m happy when we drop into the shade of Pt. Fosdick road again, even though it’s a long uphill slog. Tired of the song Candida that’s been running through my head the past 10 miles, I dial my mental iPod to Walk Off The Earth’s Happy. It quickly morphs into: “Crappy! Shuffle on if you feel like you really want to puke-a!”
“This is the last hill!” a volunteer promises, and then I’m routed through this zig-zagging course through the back side of an office complex. Rounding the parking garage I see the finish line and just stop. It’s like 200 feet away and I’m tired and don’t want to keep moving. Somehow I pull my act together and cross the finish in just under 2:30.
This was a well-organized race with great volunteers. I had to dash back to my hotel to check out, but got to hear some of the actually quite good band at the afterparty. Swag was a good quality ¾ zip pullover with the race logo. Scenery: see above. Recommended.