Last weekend, I went to the Outer Banks for the first time. I just happened to be running in a race (well, 2 races, really) while I was there. It was by far not my best weekend racing, but I learned a lot from it. I was planning to complete the Double Dare Challenge, where I would run the First Flight 5K on Saturday morning, and then run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon on Sunday morning. This was actually my first 5K (seriously!) and I was hoping to run the half in under 2 hours because it was supposed to be a flat course. “Supposed to be” is key here.
I arrived Friday afternoon in OBX and went straight to packet pick up. It was a lot of people jammed into a tiny space, so I hurriedly picked up my bib and t-shirts and zipped through the expo back to my car. Then it started raining and getting way too cold for my traveling choice of a tank top and shorts, so I hurried to my chosen hotel for the weekend.
Oh boy. To save money, instead of staying at the very expensive Hilton Garden, which I would have preferred, I stayed at an discount chain along the oceanfront that will be unnamed. I was told when booking my room that it would have an ocean view.
A tiny window that didn’t open and faced someone’s cottage. So much furniture crammed into a room smaller than my dorm room in college. And a bathroom with only a shower, no tub for a post-race ice bath. Well then. I was pretty peeved, especially as some of the rooms clearly had at least a balcony to make the room seem less claustrophobic. But I really just needed a place to shower and sleep, so it would have to do. On the plus side, I could walk out the back of the hotel and along a private entrance to the beach…
The 5K would start at 7:30a, so I decided to just get some dinner and head to bed as I was planning to walk to the start line, which was about a mile from my hotel.
When I travel for races, I usually try to stay somewhere where I can walk to the start line, so that I don’t have the stress of sitting in traffic and finding a parking spot. However, I did not factor in that I would have to cross a busy highway to get to this start line. The next morning found me running across the street and climbing over barricades into the park where the 5K would take place, and hoping that this hill wouldn’t be part of the course:
Thankfully, it was a flat, out-and-back course where I went out way too fast (7:30 pace!) and crashed during the last mile. *sigh* Still, I averaged an 8:51 pace and finished in 27:26, not bad for my first 5K. I collected my medal, guzzled a bottle of water and a few pieces of apple, and walked back to my hotel for a shower. This time, I followed a lovely sidewalk path that was clearly meant for pedestrians, versus the shady (as in sketchy and tree-lined) path I took earlier that morning.
After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed out to explore the Outer Banks. I went first to Jockey Ridge Park, where I found a lovely and peaceful beach along the Roanoke Sound and decided I want to move there and work for Dare County EMS.
I later explored the Wright Memorial Park, where my 5K had taken place that morning. All in all, I ended up walking a good ten miles after pushing really hard during the race. On top of a 4:30am wake up that day and knowing I had to be up even earlier the next day for the half, I decided to call it a day and went back to my room and heated up the pasta I had packed. Yes, I usually pack my pre-race food every time I travel. I have enough GI issues that I don’t need to add foreign food into the mix during the race.
I was actually in bed around 5pm, but my alarm was set for 3:30am. I was planning to be out the door by 5am to drive to the parking near the finish line, in order to take a shuttle that left at 5:30am up to the start line, with a race start of 7am. Anxiety-inducing morning, much? Other than late-running shuttles, I made it to the start in plenty of time and sat down to shiver and wait. It was barely 50 degrees with decent wind, and I was dressed for the upper 60 degrees it was supposed to be during the race. I really need to start packing throw away clothes or a cheap towel or blanket.
Finally, the race started, and I discovered that this half was not going to be anything like my previous half marathons. My legs were tight. I had had shin splints all through the 5K, and sometimes it takes me 3 or 4 miles for my legs to really loosen up, but even my calves were tight. I kept having to walk and stop and stretch, which set me into a bit of a panic over how the rest of the race was going to go. Meanwhile, I had been placed into a pretty high corral based on where I thought that I was going to run that day, so everyone was flying past my slow self. I tried to resign myself to just enjoying the race and chalk it up as a learning experience. But I’m a stubborn perfectionist, and that mentality didn’t last long.
The race wound past some neighborhoods before running along the shoreline, and I finally fell into a comfortable cadence and after a few happy miles, I thought I might salvage this race after all. Then we passed the mile 9 marker.
And turned onto a trail.
Now, I read the course descriptions ahead of time. It mentioned a mostly flat course, and a short mile on a trail around mile 12 with a big hill. Nowhere did it say the final third of the course would be a trail run. I don’t do trail runs. I am a klutz. I trip on flat ground. But forward I had to go, and so I kept running.
For about half a mile. Then my left knee started to hurt. The one that had caused me to cut some training runs over the last several months short, unable to walk down steps without pain. I slowed to a walk, tried to rub the muscles around the kneecap while limping forward, then tried to pick up the pace again. By mile 10, I was starting to run with an awkward hobble in an attempt to not bear much weight on my knee. By mile 11, I had a rock of some sort in my right shoe that was rubbing my heel, but I couldn’t get to either exit my shoe or slide down under my foot where it wouldn’t irritate me so much. At mile 12, I heaved a sigh of relief that it was almost over. At mile 12.5, the “big hill” came out of nowhere and everyone stopped to walk up it.
I can run hills. My usual training routes are filled with hills, but this one was big, and I was beaten. I limped up and tried to make a few jokes to my fellow runners, who all laughed, perhaps out of pity, but at least I was able to distract them. After cresting this hill, a series of what could only be described as bunny hops followed. I was getting angry at this point. Angry that the course wasn’t as described, angry that I was hurting, angry that I slacked off so much in training (to be explained in a future post), and most of all, angry that I let myself lose the mental game that is distance running.
Finally, finally, I went up a final hill to see mile marker 13, and was faced with a steep downhill of mulch leading to the finish line. I pretty much frog-hopped my way down that thing and sprinted for the finish, reaching a 7:00 pace by the time I was done. I just wanted to be done and to be able to sit down and figure out how injured I was. After meandering through the finisher’s chute and collecting my race medal and my challenge medal, water, more apple slices, and my finisher hat (I am so not a hat person), I found an empty stretch of curb to plunk down on and inspect my beaten body: a bloody right heel from a burst blister (was that the rock that I thought I felt earlier?), a sore left foot from my awkward limp-run, and very tight calves. Could have been worse. And considering how bad I felt during the race, a final time of 2:20:40 wasn’t too shabby.
As I sat there collecting my thoughts and forming an action plan in my head for my 8K/half marathon challenge at the beginning of June, a guy came up to me and said, “Good job! I ended up using you as a pacer because you were running along so well and I PR-ed from it!” I smiled and congratulated him, and watched him hug his family. Then I limped off to my car.
I know the bulk of my issues this weekend was from not training enough. I hadn’t run over 10 miles at a time since Shamrock in March. But I learned my lesson, and I’m ready to take on my next challenge weekend in June. Still, it was a nice group of races in a beautiful area of the country, and I definitely plan on returning to run the Outer Banks Marathon next year or the year after.
Where did you run this weekend?