I finally made it to the first race of 2017! This was supposed to happen back in the beginning of January but mother nature had different plans in Jackson, Mississippi. I was registered to run the Mississippi Blues marathon, but due to abnormally icy weather, the race was cancelled at 9pm the night before the race. It was not ideal since we spent two days traveling down there, hoping that there would be a race, but in this journey of 50 states, there are bound to be a few things like this and just have to take it in stride (pun intended).
Location: Myrtle Beach, SC Back to some more positive vibes, first race of 2017!!! Kaela and I hit the road to head to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for some warm weather, sunshine, and sand. We had split up the trip by stopping in at my brother in laws in North Carolina for a night instead of driving all 11 hours in the same day. Friday morning, I woke up and got my “shake out” run and sprints in. The weather was a little cooler than expected but it was a great run. Just a few weeks before, I had to sideline myself completely from running due to a neck/shoulder issue. Initially felt like a strained muscle, but after trying to push through it, it was obviously more. I decided that it was better to completely rest since it was taper weeks, rather than do something that would prohibit me running the race. But during my shake out run, none of those feelings were present and I was very pleased!
We spent the morning relaxing at the house before making the 3.5 hour drive down to Myrtle Beach. Crossing the Carolinas in that direction can be an confusing experience. We basically traveled State and Country highways through towns that had just a handful of stop lights. I pulled up directions on car navigation and my phone and they both provided two similar but different routes saying that would arrive at the same time. I decided to trust Google Maps this time as it had us staying on “faster” roads throughout the trip. The instant we passed the exit our car navigation said to take, Google Maps updated its time to 20 minutes longer (that is rant for another day). So after a longer than anticipated route and a little bit of traffic we made it to Myrtle Beach.
We stopped at Broadway at the Beach, to grab Kaela some lunch since I was busy slamming back bagels and cheerios. We ended up at Liberty Brewing and Grill, wish made me kind of jealous because I would have liked a nice beer to settle some nerves. I did, however, end up ordering some food of my own to try and get some flavor in my food for the day. The sun was shining but there was a cool breeze that gave a little chill. We had to sit on their patio area since we had Bella and Kaela had made note of the amount of pollen that was covering the chairs. It was the one thing that I didn’t even take into consideration with running a Spring race in the south, pollen. I have pretty annoying seasonal allergies, so I was not looking forward to the idea of breathing that in for 4.5 hours. But then I had remembered that I did happen to pack some allergy medicine, just in case there was a situation where it was needed (whew!).
After lunch we made our way down the street to the expo for me to pick up my packet. Parking was $5, and since I spend a total of 5 minutes in race expo’s, I just had Kaela drop me off a few blocks away and I walked to the Myrtle Beach Sports Center. It was a large gym that, by the name, I assumed was used for basketball, volleyball and the like. I made my way through and picked up my bib and then went through the vendors to pick up my bag and t-shirt. There was a long line to pick up shirts, but I had noticed that there was a sign that showed woman to the left and men to the right. Our line however, was all on the left. I decided to just walk to the right, where no one was, and just as I did so a race official made announcement that it is two lines. I hurried up a bit and made my way all the way to the table as other guys were finally listening to the announcement. Bib, t-shirt and participant bag in hand, I headed back out to have Kaela pick me up.
I originally booked a La Quinta Inn that was a few blocks from the beach, but Kaela wanted to be able to see and hear the ocean from our room. Myrtle Beach is limited in their pet-friendly hotels, but we were able to find a good deal at the Patricia Grand that was right on the beach. I was a little iffy about it because of some really bad reviews I had read, but baby wanted ocean view, so baby got ocean view (well she really wanted ocean front, but nothing available). I was very surprised by our room when we arrived. We ended up on the top floor (19th) and had a great view of the ocean. In addition to the great view, the room was actually really nice. They have laminate floors instead of carpet, which is nice at the beach, but the highlight of the room was the full kitchen. I mean we had a full kitchen with a full size refrigerator, microwave, stove, toaster, dishes, silverware and pots and pans. It was great to know that I wouldn’t have to make my way to a breakfast room in order to prepare my food on race morning.
After we got settled into the room, we headed down to the beach for a little stroll. Bella absolutely loves the beach so we let her off her leash (don’t tell MBPD) and let her just run and go nuts. Kaela could have walked all the beach all evening, but she knows I needed to stay off my feet so she left it up to me how far we would go. After a short stroll we made our way back to the room to get cleaned up and warm up my pasta dinner. We had plenty of leftovers from lunch that Kaela didn’t need to grab anything else. We plugged in our Roku stick (a must for anyone that travels) and caught up on a few shows while we ate. The rest of the evening involved stretching, setting up camera, and laying out clothes and items needed for the race, while also packing up my bags as we were leaving directly from the finish line so everything needed to be in the car.
With everything prepared for the morning, I laid in bed around 8 pm trying to calm my nerves about the race. No matter how many races I have done, the night before I’m always a nervous mess over thinking every decision I’ve made in preparation. Did I run the right miles? Did I pack the right clothes? Did I bring enough race nutrition? The questions mount up but eventually I answer “yes” to all of them in my mind and get myself somewhat at ease before falling asleep…
**WAKE UP ITS 3:30!!!**
Up and out of bed to start morning carb loading. Couple bagels with grape jelly, coconut water, and a Honey Stinger waffle. It was great to have an actual toaster to have warm bagels! Listening to my pre-race Spotify mix, I ate my fuel and caught up on social media and news while Kaela was sleeping. Before I had realized, it was time to get dressed and head out the door. We packed the car and headed the 2 miles over to the starting area. I was expecting some traffic due to road closures but we made it to parking lot a little earlier than anticipated, so I decided just to spend some time in car rather than standing around.
At about 5:45, I got out of car and did a few warm up moves to shake it out. I attempted to remove my hoodie but the temperature outside was bone chilling. It was only 36 degrees, but with the lack of sun and the wind, it felt a lot cooler. I didn’t want to start race wearing my hoodie because I would get warm instantly and then would have to carry it before handing off to Kaela. Then I had a thought and grabbed a shirt that I wore to sleep the night before and put that over my tank. It was just enough to block the wind and keep my body somewhat comfortable.
Kaela and I made our way towards the start on the other side of the parking lot. She was going to walk along the course to set up to see me at the 1.5 mile mark before spending some time at the beach and seeing me again at 12 mile marker. Gave Kaela and Bella a kiss and showed her which way she needed to head. I then headed into the “corrals” which since this was a smaller race was really just a large section of the road blocked off. One thing that was great about it being a small race was plenty of porta-johns to prevent crazy long lines. While I was waiting, I met a lady that was pacing a group for the half marathon that she said was much slower than she likes to run (I won’t say the pace) but she was excited to get a few people to their first half marathon. She told me how this race was her marathon PR and that got my mind thinking that maybe I should try to push myself to do the same on this pretty flat course. I was wearing a 4:10 pace tat (thanks Chicago Marathon) but my goal was just under 4:20, especially after the neck/shoulder issues just a few weeks prior.
After taking care of “business” I made my way to the starting line. There wasn’t a real corral system, so I just decided to hang out near the 4:15 pace group. I thought they would be a good fit at least for the start and if I was feeling stronger I could pick it up. After some announcements and a special National anthem courtesy of Whitney Houston (from the 1991 Super bowl) it was time to run 26 miles and 385 yards.
Due to the lack of a corral system the race start was a little crowded. In the first 1/4 mile passed a handful of walkers that apparently not aware that they should not line up at the front. Once I made it to the first turn on the course, I was able to get a little more room to get into my pace. A little before the 1 mile mark, I took a glance at my watch and realized that the 4:15 pacers were pushing the pace hitting close to 9 min pace. I decided to just run the pace from my pacetat and not try to focus on the pacing group. I like using the pacetat and really just focusing on the elapsed time on my watch to determine pacing, rather than relying on watch distance because its usually longer on my watch. When I hit the 1 mile sign, I noticed that it was about .2 miles short from my watch, something that I planned on keeping an eye on to keep me on pacing correctly. Around 1.5 miles in I saw Kaela for her first spot to see me. I dropped off my GoPro with her and was also planning on dropping of my t-shirt. The temps were still pretty cool so I decided to keep on the shirt for a little while longer.
We took a right on Kings Highway for 3.5 miles of running straight on the same road. This race had a few long straightaways that required some mental strength to keep me focused. We passed by some motels, local restaurants, and your typical beach t-shirt shops. Being out of busy season, most the street seemed like a ghost town. Every few blocks there would be people set up cheering that helped break up the quiet. At the 4 mile mark, I finally started to warm up a little and rather than wait until completely warm, I decided to take off shirt to keep my body temperature as cool as I could.
Miles were clicking off nice and around mile 5 we took a right for a short lollipop through a newer shopping district. It was pretty cool to cheer on some of the faster runners heading back towards the beach a few miles ahead. Within the shopping area, we his the first timing mat which was for the 10k mark. I was a little over 2 minutes ahead of 4:10 pace, but my body felt good so I didn’t feel like I should back off at all. There was still the .2 mile difference from their markers and my watch, so I kept trying to keep running the tangents to keep my distance in check. We made a circle through shopping district and heading back down the same road in as we headed towards the beach and Ocean Blvd. Up to this point the winds had felt nice hitting me in the back helping keep my body temperature in check. Once we made it to Ocean Blvd, that instantly changed. The wind was now hitting us directly in the face. And unfortunately for the runners, Ocean Blvd was a 9 mile straight away! Even with the winds, I kept my stride and effort level in check rather than pushing to keep a specific pace. The wind was inconsistent for the first few miles with just short gust of heavy winds, but very runnable. We made our way down Ocean Blvd, miles 8-11, passing resort after resort, with the occasional opening in the buildings to see the ocean on our right hand side. There were a good handful of people that must not have realized that the race was taking place, as they were sitting in their cars trying to get out of parking lots. Many though, decided to just wait it out and were standing outside their cars cheering on the runners as we went on by.
Around the 11.5 mile mark we made it the “Boardwalk” as those that have been to Myrtle beach call the area. Running by a wide opening in the resorts to see the waves crashing against the shore (well as much crashing as they do on the east coast lol). I remember one lady just taking it all in and walking trying to capture a picture. She said to me “being from Kansas, I don’t get to see this very often and I want to enjoy it!” We went by Ripley’s few attraction, tourist gift shops, bars, nightclubs, arcades and the like, before approaching the SkyWheel and Boardwalk. But as we approached the SkyWheel, things started to get a lot quieter.
It was at this point that the half-marathon runners were heading back to the finish line as we continued down Ocean Blvd. It’s interesting how the mood of the race changes for me once almost 70% of total participants leave the course (2511 half marathon finishers to 1239 marathon finishers). Right as it happens, it’s a mental decision for me to know that there are going to be some silent, “lonely” sections, but to keep my focus and run my race rather than trying to catch up to the next person in front of me or even keep up with anyone that passes me.
Shortly after the split, Kaela and Bella were posted up in the sun cheering me on while taking pictures. She had been holding an extra gel that I had declined as I felt I had enough nutrition to last me. I had been holding my extra layer t-shirt for the past 8 miles so it felt nice to hand that off to her as well to free my hands a bit. It would be the last time I would see her until the last mile so I tried to embrace that moment so I had some positive vibes to give me that extra umpphhh if I needed it in the later miles.
Continuing down Ocean Blvd, we hit a few “hills” that I joked around with some of the runners around me that this was supposed to be a flat race! The hill was nothing more than a slight incline for maybe .10 of a mile and actually was a nice change of pace to mix up my stride. I had found a guy back around mile 10 that was running my pace and decided to just stay behind him to help block some wind and to keep me focused. When we approached the half way point (13.1 miles), he just took off like he was late for a hot date. I smartly decided that was not the plan for me and held off.
Right around that point, we also made the change from resort after resort, to now running between beach houses on both sides of the road. I kept an eye out for any “For Sale” signs, thinking that somehow I would remember exactly where I saw that perfect beach house (yeah, that didn’t happen). Now that we were out of the taller buildings, the wind had nothing to slow it down, so the gusts were much stronger and longer lasting. I had to keep my head in game knowing to just shorten my stride and match the effort level in order to not burn myself out pushing through the wind.
Just before mile 15, we passed by a few additional resorts and had a nice little climb before taking a right to get closer to the shoreline. We had a nice view of the beach for a few miles before having homes on both sides of the road again. Just after mile 17, we took a turn heading north which was the first relief from the wind for the last 9 miles. This felt great to have a little bit more ease of running, but it also made me realize that I was dehydrated. Once the wind stopped, I could feel my body was a little toasty and that apparently I had stopped sweating. I slowed down my pace a bit just to make sure I would make it through the last 9 miles. When we hit the next aid station around mile 18, it was a part of a little out and back section and I made sure that I grabbed fluids both times that I passed it. At this point, I wanted to make sure that I was still taking in fluids as much as possible when I could.
After the out and back section, we were back on Kings Hwy and the sun was out full force. It was just beating down directly in front of us, which combined with my dehydration was not a good thing. I made it to the mile 20 marker, but having to take my first extended walk of the day. My legs started to tighten up and knew that it was better to try and walk it out than push through and risk a bigger problem. I had a Honey Stinger Fruit Smoothie gel (yummmm) and grabbed some Vaseline for…well….you know, since my body glide was no longer helping. I walked about 1/2 mile before running another 1/2 then walking 1/4. At this point we turned from neighborhood roads to a bike path with plenty of tree cover. I used this to my advantage as knowing that having shade would be limited for the rest of the race that I should power through this section the best I could.
I ran to the next aid station which was at the head of another short out and back. I caught up to a woman that apparently had seen me at the start. We powerwalked and talked for a little bit in the section around the aid stations about her running and this being her first full marathon. I gave her as much encouragement as I could before having to pick up my step and get back to running. I was keeping an eye on my time and realized that 4:10 was basically out of reach but 4:20 was still very achievable but I had to keep on moving. At this point I was running to each aid station and then getting a short walk while consuming fluids before picking it back up again. Between miles 23-25, I ran by a few runners that were experiencing muscle fatigue and cramps, my guess due to the heat and dehydration. I’d stop real quick to see if they needed anything before picking it back up and moving along.
With about a mile and half left, we were back at Broadway at the Beach and I knew I needed to muster whatever I had left to push to the finish. I met a guy that working on his own 50 states goal and he was having some knee issues. We walked until the mile 25 marker and I told him lets run it in to the finish. He kept up for a little but backed off pace when I wanted to push it. I told him to finish strong as I pulled away. As I did just that, I could see Kaela and Bella off in the distance cheering and taking photos. This was the extra boost that I needed to push through my discomfort.
We were back where the race started as I picked up the pace, passing worn out runners as I made the turn into the parking lot. I was going to give myself a short walk before sprinting to the finish but I gazed down at my watch, and knew that it was going to be close and couldn’t risk it. I dug deep and put on the afterburners as I made the final turn towards the finish. I would spot a person at a time in that final stretch and make a mini goal to catch as pass them by the finish. There was one woman in particular that I tried pushing to catch, but I think she realized what I was doing and must have had the same thought in her head because we were in a full out race to the finish and I could not catch up to her. With a smile on my face I crossed the mat and checked the result
Well, that was close! My legs were toast but I was able to push through it to hit my race goal. Grabbed my medal and a water before meeting Kaela outside the finish area. We talked for a moment and then I saw someone with pizza and decided that I wanted some! Kaela and Bella sat down while I went to get us some food. The pizza was from Mellow Mushroom, which was delicious, but the best part was while I was waiting in line, volunteers were walking around with boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts as an “appetizer” and you know I can never turn down a doughnut!
I sat back down and ate some pizza with Kaela, as we talked a little bit about the race and what she did during (Pictures Kaela took while waiting for me below). We eventually made the walk back to our car so I could grab my clothes to change in a real bathroom. Then we hit the road heading back to brother-in-laws in North Carolina.
This was definitely the kind of race that I needed to kick of 2017, especially after cancelled race in Mississippi. It pushed me a little bit with the cold start, windy middle section, and sun blazing end, but all in all my legs felt great and fresh pushing the pace, but more importantly, my mind was focused and positive the entire race. I would recommend this race for those looking for one in South Carolina. A couple downsides are the lack of crowd support during race, there were lots of quiet sections, and the 9 mile stretch of straight road. But to be fair 9 miles with the beach on one side, really isn’t all that bad.
Overall, it was a great weekend getaway for a race and another state completed. It is the start of a busy 2017 but I am ready to put in the work to get it done! Next stop, Kaela and I are heading to the “Show me State” to tackle the rolling hills of St. Louis! Check out my vlog from the weekend!