State # 8: North Carolina (Sans the Pirates)

After Akron I had some time to recover until my next race destination, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which was race #2 for my Marathon Maniac qualifier. North Carolina seemed to have quite a few good marathons, but I heard a lot of good things about the race, and that the location was a beautiful and relaxing shoreline location (also much further north and a closer drive!). I was also thrilled because it had a pirate theme, and I absolutely LOVED the idea of getting a medal with a skull and crossbones on it. It just sounded like a blast.

One of the most devastating hurricanes our area has ever seen had hit the Northeast a week before in the form of Hurricane (or Superstorm) Sandy; luckily our area was in the eye of the storm and we got through fairly unscathed from this behemoth. But some areas were definitely not so lucky, and there were concerns that the Outer Banks, which can be pretty hard hit from hurricanes, was going to be damaged and the race might get cancelled. If it came to that, I was more than OK with it. I definitely feel that a marathon isn’t so important that it should override the needs of hard-hit areas that desperately needed manpower to help rebuild, rescue and clean up…not direct traffic and hand out water to marathon runners.

The Outer Banks was hit, and some areas were impassable, but the race course was more or less spared and the race directors assured us that everything would go exactly as planned. We headed down on Friday, and as we arrived in the Outer Banks area we noticed that the area was dark…too dark.  We shrugged, assumed that the night life in the area was very tame in the off-season, and continued driving south. The darkness was a bit unnerving after a few more minutes, and we decided to see what we could find out. With my handy-dandy iPhone, we discovered that the power on the entire island was OUT, and it had been out for a while, slowly being recovered. It had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy, but it was just a strange coincidence.

Luckily by the time we checked into our hotel in Kill Devil Hills, things seemed like they were back to normal for our area but much of the island was still without power.  The next day we did the packet pick-up routine at the expo (I was disappointed to see that the tech shirt did NOT have a pirate flag on it, but an American flag…I shrugged it off, I had confidence the medal would still be awesome) and did a little exploring of the area.

We had great fun in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which contains the country’s tallest active sand dunes (sadly the hang gliding lessons weren’t in session but we watched some kite flying) , and checked out some of the area beaches. Unfortunately  some areas had not been spared by Sandy; we saw severe damage to Kitty Hawk and the bridge to Cape Hatteras was closed down. A nice effort on the part of the race organizers was to have a canned food drive since their local food shelter was wiped out, so I brought a bag of gluten-free goods with me. I assumed there HAD to be gluten-intolerant people in need who really could have used the donation.

                                                     Jockey’s Ridge State Park

The one bummer about visiting OBX in November was the fact that the sun set around 5 PM, so it really limited our time to enjoy the outdoors and the sights. In the end, it was probably for the best. After all, I had a marathon to run in the morning!

Race morning I had concerns about logistics, because they can either be a nightmare or go very, very smoothly. Unless you are within walking distance to the start line, this can always be a problem. We woke up bright and early and got to the designated parking area where busses shuttled us to the start line, which was in a fairly remote part of Kitty Hawk. It went seamlessly and we even had some time to kill before boarding the bus. Waiting at the start it was a little chilly and very humid, but it looked to be a great race day all around, just a little breeze, and sunny skies.

When going into this race, I made a promise to myself. I had a marathon within 4 weeks after this one. I had to STAY conservative and treat this one like a slow training run. Start easy and stay easy the entire race. Chris reminded me of this over and over, and for once I stuck to a plan. When the race began, I stayed in the back, and let plenty of people pass me. I stuck to a 9:20 pace, as easy as I could race, and let the miles pass with ease.
The course was pancake flat with only two hills in the entire race, one being in the Nags Head Woods Preserve, a beautifully wooded park with (yay!) dirt and pine needle trails, and the second being around mile 23 at the Washington Baum bridge that we had to cross to get to the finish line in the small town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. We had driven this bridge the day before, it looked imposing at a distance but the incline was gradual and not super steep like Hatfield McCoy’s Blackberry Mountain!

The start of the course truly was lovely, lots of views of Kitty Hawk Bay, marshes teeming with wildlife, calm views of the ocean with old wooden piers (where you could almost envision a barefoot kid in bib overalls fishing on the edge), and sleepy Cape Cod homes. The Wright Brothers Monument was especially beautiful and awe-inspiring as we passed the field where the first flight took place, and it was definitely one of my favorite sights.            The Wright Brothers Memorial was truly awe-inspiring to run past.

But one of my most memorable and laugh out loud moments was a spectator on the course dressed as the “More Cowbell Guy”, originally played by Will Ferrell in SNL’s Blue Oyster Cult sketch. Tight jeans, belly hanging out, curly haired wig and sunglasses, enthusiastically playing a cowbell – I saw him THREE times and just loved it. He truly, truly made the early miles LOL-worthy, and to you, More Cowbell Guy, I salute you.

Getting to hit the Nags Head Wood Preserve was another treat for me, and surprisingly I heard people gripe.  I still can’t fathom why road runners hate trails so much, but any time I run a race with dirt trail sections, I hear complaints. It was beautiful and cool with a soft pine-needle surface; granted there were definitely roots and rocks to dance around, and a “hill” to contend with that signs warned us about in advance, but I loved it. The hill I had to scoff at a little as the race volunteers directed us up the sharp turn, it was a short and steep climb and then right back downhill. Sorry guys, I’m from Pennsylvania, hills are just par for the course back home.

Why wouldn’t anyone want to run through this?

As the humidity burned off with the rising sun, the clear skies started to become a problem…this course, save the wooded trail section, was in complete sun with no shade. It was like D.C. all over again, and even though it wasn’t as hot (the temps stayed in the mid-60’s), the sun beating down on you can definitely take its toll. I drank several cups of fluid at every stop, but still couldn’t seem to feel satiated. There was a section of the race that took place on Croatan Highway, which served as the main road on the island; it was straight, flat, and seemed unending as far as the eye could see. Even though the bridge wasn’t going to exactly be fun, I just couldn’t wait to get off the main drag because I knew the end would be imminent once we hit the bridge. The courses took you into little residential out and backs to add a mile or two, but it wasn’t incredibly exciting and definitely wasn’t shaded. Water stops seemed few and far between in this section of the race and thirst was really taking its toll.

The bridge climb was much easier than I thought, and not nearly as brutal as it seemed.  I loved the views of the water from up high, it was breathtaking! Once I crested the top, I knew it would be downhill and smooth sailing in the final miles into Manteo. I had managed to see my biggest fan, Chris, twice on the course (once by car as he drove down Croatan Highway to get to the finish line, and I couldn’t help but shout out “Can I grab a lift?” to no avail), but I couldn’t wait to get to the finish to see him again! At this point I was definitely starting to run out of steam, the sun was draining every extra ounce of energy I had.

Doesn’t look so bad does it?

The final stretch involved some twists and turns, and seemed to take forever once I hit mile 26. At 26.2 I crossed the finish line with every ounce of strength I could muster. A quick glance at my watch and I saw that I finished in the exact same time as I did in Akron, 4:15. In the end, staying conservative and easy still gave the same results as my previous crash and burn. That was something I could truly learn from I think.

The finish line had a first for me: coconut water was served at the finish instead of a sports drink. I have to be honest: to this day, plain Vita Coco is NOT my thing. But in time I learned to love the other varieties of Vita Coco that came in fruit flavors, and use that to hydrate during the week instead of Powerade.  But it took everything in my power to try to get down the entire container in one sitting without feeling sick…it’s definitely an acquired taste, and thankfully I learned to love it in time.

As for finish line food, I managed to snag a banana and Chris got to enjoy my free beer and pulled pork BBQ sandwich. Hey, he deserved it for being such a great spectator, and I was happy to just be relaxing even if I didn’t have much food just yet. I always love that I can share my food with him, it’s the least I can do! Unfortunately that meant I had to drive us back to the hotel, but I didn’t mind too much.

The medal was disappointing, I won’t lie. The same American flag emblem that was on the shirts was on the medal. What a bummer, I REALLY wanted that pirate themed medal and was pretty bummed out by this.

medal

In fact, I was recently at a marathon expo where the OBX race table was set up, where they had samples of all the medals for their race series…and yet the 2012 marathon medal was nowhere to be found. I had to bring it up and ask why that medal wasn’t present; the rep admitted sheepishly that the 2012 medal design was a total flop and that it wouldn’t be returning. I also noticed the same theme with the Rock N Roll DC medals….the Bald Eagle that decorated my 2012 finisher’s medal was replaced with the Capitol building with an American flag as the backdrop (which was a MUCH needed improvement). Figures with my luck I ended up getting medals that weren’t the most memorable, but my Akron 10 year anniversary medal  or the Hatfield McCoy Reunion medal with their newer and improved (and AWESOME) logo were both medals I loved and felt lucky to have earned.

That night I sat on the beach and put my toes in the sand watching the sunset, and the next day we enjoyed a visit to the Wright Brothers Monument, which was free of charge that day! It was a great visit to OBX, and hopefully we can get back there another time for a real vacation.

Race Results

Finish Time: 4:15:35
Overall Place: 427/ 1190Sex Place: 138/ 545
Division Place: 14/ 99

What I Learned

  • Finally, conservative pace pays off. I ran what I considered to be slower and an easy pace, and in the end I ran a similar time to the past two races where I started off too fast and ended up walking a bit. Obviously this is something to recognize and learn from, as well as put into practice.
  • I just don’t enjoy flat courses. When looking for races I now try to find ones with some rolling hills and terrain change. Outer Banks had stretches that were flat and straight ahead for what felt like miles, and that part was excruciatingly boring for me; getting to run on a dirt course through the woods was wonderful, but short-lived. I’m excited to say two of my marathons in 2013 will be mainly on trails, and I couldn’t be more excited: North Central Trail Marathon in Sparks, MD and the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, MT.
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