Sunset Beach Half Marathon race report

June 7, 2017 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

A few weekends ago, I ran a half marathon at Sunset Beach. This was a bit noteworthy for the fact that it was the first half marathon I have actually raced since 2011. Going into this one, some quick research revealed that I had only raced four half marathons in my life (I have paced several at this point, which is way less stressful, and way cheaper). Interestingly, I had PRed in each one of them so far. I was not particularly optimistic that my legs had a PR in them, but was fairly confident that I could at least run something pretty respectable and better than I have in years.

Training specifically for this race was non-existent. I’ve been training with an eye on Seattle and sort of last minute decided that maybe it would be a good idea to race a flat half marathon a few weeks out as a gauge of my fitness. I’d run the Oak Island marathon, which is part of the coastal race series (there’s also Holden Beach and Ocean Isle half marathons later this year), and figured this would be flat enough. I hoped the weather would at least only be moderately warm at a 7 am start, but it’s May in NC so I was prepared for it to not be. Made the 4ish hour drive after work on Friday. Legs were a bit stiff when we got to packet pick-up but that was just from being cramped in the car. Ate a delicious pizza and pasta dinner in North Myrtle Beach and retired to our hotel room where I fell asleep reasonably early.

Race morning I got up before the alarm, around 5:15, bathroom, dress, bathroom, get everything together, check out, make the 20 minute drive to the start. Got to the start around 6:30 and went through the routine of lubing up, shoes, jogging around trying to get loose and go to the bathroom. The start was delayed about 20 minutes because of some shuttle snafu. Cool. It was already feeling a bit warmer than I’d hoped for, but worse than that… the humidity was making the air feel heavy and sticky. I knew pretty much immediately that in the less-than-ideal conditions, any realistic thoughts of running 1:21-1:22 were likely out. At the start, I recognized Lars and Adriano, two guys who ran Oak Island back in January; Adriano had finished about a minute ahead of me, Lars, about 2 minutes behind.

Race

As we got started, some guy with glasses blasted out to the front, followed by me a few steps back, and then the two aforementioned guys right behind. The first mile wound out of this park and up and over a bridge to the actual beach area, a good way to prevent things from going out to hard right away. Except thanks to the downhill off the bridge, that was my fastest mile of the day. I got passed by both Lars and Adriano as we were going down the bridge and was solidly in fourth by the first mile marker (which was way early; while the course itself was well measured I believe, some of the mileage markers were waaaay off, even accounting for a little GPS fudge factor). The next few miles made a sort of flat loop of the island. Shit got hard and in a hurry. Making a left immediately after getting off the bridge, the sun was right in my face and I suddenly felt the heat (only 74 but with the sun, it felt hotter, also I’m a wimp), the humidity (I dunno, like 85% I think) just sat on me like a large, wet dog, and the effort of actually running (which felt waaaay harder than the particular pace I was currently running had any business feeling, especially so early in the race). I tried dumping water on my head and down my back at the aid station but it was barely any respite. Also, I was terrible at my plan of grabbing a cup early, sipping it, then grabbing a second cup to dump. Most of the aid station volunteers weren’t sure what I was doing and there was at least one or two dropped cups and an equal amount of soaked volunteers.

The second mile was slower than goal marathon pace and I could hear someone behind me, my only thought in the moment was that I hoped he would just hurry up and pass me. Right around the 5k mark, I saw Ari and she looked like she was about to take a picture or, worse, a video. I yelled “NOOOOOOPE!” a few times, not wanting any record of the misery I was putting myself through. It was around here that I strongly considered just stopping and jogging back over the bridge and calling it a day. I told myself to at least “run” the next three miles, the course would head back over the bridge and by where we started and would finish later and if I still felt like absolute shit, I would stop. In my mind, there was no scenario where I wouldn’t feel like absolute shit, so this seemed fair.

On the little out & back by mile 4, I saw that the lead guy had gotten passed by Lars and Adriano. They had almost 90 seconds on me already and 3rd place was closer to a minute up. Cool. I was running in no man’s land, about 30 seconds ahead of anyone else, and, despite having sprayed some sunblock on, my skin felt like it was cooking. Right after mile 5, we turned back onto the bridge toward the mainland. The little incline combined with the fact that we were running into the mass of 5k-ers who were taking up a good chunk of the roadway piled yet more burden on my already overwhelmed mind. I really, truly wanted to walk. I could easily blend in with the 5k people, no one would know I was essentially giving up. I didn’t, but I felt like running had slowed to essentially a walk. The only way I knew that wasn’t necessarily the case is that I was going by people. As I neared the top of the bridge, I caught sight of where we started and would eventually finish. Oh how I longed to just jog on over to the car and call it a day. I fantasized about doing just that, taking my shoes off, and sitting somewhere in the shade with the sno cones that were promised for after the race. It would be FAR preferable to running another 6+ miles in this shit, feeling the way I did (which, in case you hadn’t gathered yet was “not good, very bad”)

Of course, after breaking my longing glance, I set my eyes on the road in front of me and lo and behold, the rabbit who had blasted off to the front at the start was only a few lines on the roadway ahead of me, and looking like he was moving more side to side than straight ahead. A few seconds later, I realized the gap had closed by about half already. At this point, I was definitely going to catch him, and pass him, before we even got off the bridge. Sure enough, a few steps later I was going by him and had reached the split off. The 5k turned right to go be done, I went to the left, wondering why I keep doing this to myself. As I passed the traffic circle and began what seemed like a long, lonely stretch, I was a bit astonished to see Adriano up ahead, albeit it far in the distance, and Lars a decent way beyond him. Out of reach, for sure, but not out of sight. Yet.

For the next mile or so, I just focused on staying far enough to the left of the shoulder-less road to avoid becoming roadkill while still moving quick enough to avoid being mistaken for roadkill. I was so focused on this endeavor that when I looked up the road as the next turn was approaching, I was doubly astonished to see that it looked like I’d gained a not-insignificant amount on Adriano. We ran through a parking lot and out onto yet another road, this one eversoslightly uphill. Mercifully, there were some brief (too brief) stretches of shade along this road and, despite still feeling pretty awful, noticed I wasn’t feeling increasingly worse, just the same amount of bad. And I was pretty sure I could catch Adriano as long as I didn’t slow up. When we went through an aid station around 8.5 miles in, I figured he had about 10 seconds on me, with Lars about 30 seconds beyond, also closer than he’d been. Moments later I came up on, and went by, Adriano and probably attempted to get something encouraging out which likely sounded like unintelligible grunting.

I was pretty happy with where I was at and how things were going and tried to convince myself that, all things considered, 2nd place would be a fine showing on this day. Unfortunately, being in my own mind, as soon as I slid into 2nd and could see that I’d gained on Lars, I knew that previous thought to be a lie. Getting this close, just settling was no longer going to be enough. Considering my time was going to be much slower than planned, I needed something to salvage the day. And so I went about trying to cover the remaining 4 miles a little quicker than Lars.

At about 15 km, the course took another left. I was now only ~10 seconds back. My on the fly plan of trying to cut about 10 seconds/mile off the lead was going a bit better than anticipated. By mile 10, I had regained contact and it seemed like I was probably feeling a little better than Lars was. I grabbed an ice pop from some bros on the side of the road which was MUCH appreciated. Shortly after, I realized that sitting back here and trying to outkick someone when it was fairly clear to me that I was running better at that point was wasting a good opportunity, and kind of gutless. With that in mind, I picked up the effort, just a bit. It was enough to go ahead and immediately gain some separation. We exchanged brief encouragements and I was off.

By the time we turned onto the golf course driveway at 10.5, I had a gap and I was intent on increasing it. I now had a bike escort, which always feels pretty neat, and focused on the back tire which helped me not focus on how shitty my legs felt. I made every effort to take the tangents on the curvy road and also avoid getting hit by one of the many SUVs that came through. Success on the not getting hit, B+ on the tangents. At mile 12, I got a great surprise… Ari had jogged out to see me. I think she was as surprised to see me in the lead as I was to see her at all, but for both of us it was a GREAT surprise. My spirits significantly lifted, I pressed on to the finish. Right after I saw her, the course turned and with about a half mile to go, I allowed myself to steal a glance back. No one within sight, almost as beautiful to see as Ari (::eye roll emogi::) The road twisted and turned a few more times and dumped me out back on the road we drove in on before the race. I came upon the 13 mile sign, crossed the road, and turned for the finish. Somehow, Ari managed to sprint across the golf course to make it to the corner in time for me to go by, woot! I managed what little kick I had left in me and crossed the line first in 1:26:52.

Post-race thoughts

So I was pretty far off from my initial goal, and further still from a PR, but this is a performance I was satisfied with nonetheless. I haven’t felt so dejected, demoralized, or disengaged in a race, especially so early, in a long time. I legitimately wanted to quit when I saw Ari at mile 3. Somehow, I didn’t, and ended up running well enough to beat some very good runners. Mental toughness is definitely something I plan on working on significantly more over the next few months in hopes of preventing lapses like I had in the early miles. Now no more races longer than 8k stand between me and Seattle. Oh, and the sno cone tasted amazing.

Mark, out.

 

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