On Saturday, I broke out of my comfort zone and ran the Hilton Head Island Half Marathon.
The Hilton Head Island Marathon races have been around for a few years, and my friend Virginia ran the marathon last year and BQed, so I knew about them but had never raced there or even visited. Hilton Head is about a two hour drive from Charleston, and it’s not a bad drive. My friend Andy lives on the island as well and runs a lot of races there.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Joyce mentioned she and some friends rented a home on the island and asked if I wanted to stay at the house that weekend and run. I hesitated because of family happenings and because my Charleston Half Marathon recovery took so long.
About a week before the race, my schedule was clear. As my friend Noah says, bring on the adventure!
Spontaneous Half Marathon? I’m in!
Running a race most weekends adds up in costs. A week before the Hilton Head Island Half Marathon, I saw a Facebook giveaway from Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company that offered a free entry into the race. I entered the giveaway, thinking my odds might be pretty good, since half marathon and marathon runners don’t usually wait until the week of the race to register.
If I didn’t win, I planned to sign up for the race the Wednesday before when I received a $75 check for a freelance article I wrote (the entry fee was $75).
The Tuesday before the race, I got an e-mail that I won a free sponsored entry into the giveaway. I also won a free running shirt from Natalie’s Juices, as well as several stickers and coupons. I hoped to wear the shirt during the race, but it didn’t arrive in the mail until the next week. I did wear it to the Fleet Feet Pub Run on Wednesday night
I first tried Natalie’s Juices at the Charleston Half Marathon finish line. The Orange Beet juice is my favorite. Beet juice is supposed to improve endurance, and I’m not sure how true it is, but a cold glass of Natalie’s Juices sure tastes good after a hot sweaty run in Charleston.
Natalie’s juices are sold in Publix stores across the Southeast and are popping up at race expos and finish lines as well, so look for them at your next race and run juiced!
The Hilton Head Island Half Marathon was 4 weeks after the Charleston Half Marathon. I spent two weeks recovering from Charleston, and when you spontaneous enter a half marathon the week before, very little race specific training happens. In my last 10 miler, I threw in some marathon and half marathon paced miles just for fun.
Since I hadn’t planned this race in my calendar, I decided to dedicate my race to my friend Anne Boone who is fighting esophageal cancer. Our running and triathlon communities are coming together to help her right now. She is a rockstar runner and ironman and will beat this cancer.
I took the Friday before the race off work to sleep in, pack, and drive to Hilton Head Island. The drive was uneventful except I never could find a gas station with a working bathroom. I finally stopped at a thrift store that let me use their bathroom and I had to buy something. I paid 75 cents for a spoon rest for our kitchen- it’s a nice souvenir.
The ladies at the thrift store, and others in the area, knew there was a race going on on the island which shows that the race did a pretty good job of advertising.
I picked up my number at the expo and headed to the rented house in Sea Pines. It was fun spending the weekend with other runners, watching the Olympic Trials Marathon, and going out to dinner and breakfast.
We got to the race about 45 minutes early and walked about 1/2 hour from the parking lot to Jarvis Creek Park to stand in the potty lines. It was cold out but the lines moved quickly. One of the girls travelling with us, Caroline, wasn’t running the race, so she collected our warm up clothes and throwaway which was a big help. It never warmed up during the race so I was grateful to have these clothes back.
I saw Andy before the race and he introduced me to a Masters runner named Sarah at the start. She ran a 1:35 half marathon a few weeks before, so I knew to stay well behind her! It was great to see Andy running the 5K and Dave, another friend who ran the marathon. We started without much fanfare. After the National Anthem, we were off!
The Start Line: Bye Bye Bunnies
Unlike Charleston, I didn’t write any sort of race plan or strategize the Hilton Head Half. On race day, I glanced at a course map long enough to realize it was an out-and-back with a bridge. I planned to start out at a comfortably hard effort and if I felt good, I’d keep it up. I let all the speedsters and those who started too fast (which is usually most runners in a race) run on by. I’m no expert, but I’ve run enough half marathons to know that the race starts around mile 8.
I settled into a comfortable pace and ran the first few miles like a metronome, just ticking them off. Despite missing my usual pre-race caffeine, I was feeling pretty good. The course was well marked with adequate volunteers. We had a headwind but that was okay because I’ve run in headwinds before. I settled in with a group of similarly paced runners and tucked behind some guys to avoid it.
What Goes Up Must Come Down: Hello Big Bridge
Soon, we approached the bridge we had to run over. I could sense the fear and nerves in the runners around me. I tried not to look at the bridge because that would mess up my mental game. I thought about Anne because she loves running on the Cooper River Bridge when she is well enough to get out there. The bridge was over quickly and even though it goes up, it also goes down so my miles were still on pace.
After the bridge, the marathoners broke off from the half. I missed my little crew and the only runner I could see immediately ahead of me was my friend Darrell who was staying at our house. He’s a lot faster than me but ran this as a training run since he’s been sick. I had to keep Darrell in my sights to know where to go.
We ran through a trail path in the woods and I had my slowest split there. I didn’t realize there was a gravel/trail section until I was running on it, but I knew every other runner would have to run it (and slow down) so I just relaxed and conserved my energy for later in the race. It was over quickly, and my next mile split was better. I just ran by effort because the race was about to begin.
One benefit of not starting too fast in a half marathon is that you have energy to pass people later in the race. This gives you a nice mental boost when you need it most. I passed a few runners on the bridge and waved and cheered for some of the half marathon walkers. With a four hour time limit, the Hilton Head Island Half Marathon was very walker friendly.
At mile 12, I passed a lady who was texting on her phone while running. Forget running a sub-1:40 half, texting while running takes real talent! It’s all I can do to not trip over my own feet when riding the pain train. I told myself I only had 10 minutes until I was done and plugged away. Sarah was the only runner I saw ahead of me. I couldn’t believe I was running fast enough to see someone with her PRs.
I entered Jarvis Creek Park, ran on a paved path, felt my watch vibrate at mile 13, then crossed the finish in 1:38:28.
It was good enough for 34th overall, 9th female, and 1st among 30-34 females. This was a 91 second improvement over the Charleston Half Marathon.
Post Race Thoughts
After the race, I waited on my house mates and enjoyed the post-race refreshments. The coffee, soup, and cupcakes were delicious, and of course I got some Natalie’s juice and took a picture with Natalie. I was grateful for the sponsored entry, and it’s always fun to meet the faces behind a business or company.
I received an additional medal for placing in my age group. Mark, the race director, was super nice and congratulated me when he handed me the medal. I talked to him at the expo, and he knew I didn’t have any time expectations. I think Mark was happy I crushed it!
Running for someone who can’t is always a great idea, and thinking about Anne and what she’s going through definitely kept me going in the race. Racing hurts. When the pain hits you, it’s better to think of someone going through much more.
Someday, I won’t be able to spontaneously run a half marathon- but today is not that day.
Splits and Race Data:
My Garmin logged this course as 13.08. I’ve never had this happen on a certified course. The only thing we can think of is that we lost signal somewhere on the trail. Several runners logged the course as short and some logged it as long on Strava.
The course is USATF certified and the marathon is a Boston Qualifier. Certified courses are more accurate than GPS, so unless I hear a human error was involved and it was indeed short, I guess my Garmin was off.
7:33, 7:34, 7:27, 7:38, 7:36, 7:33, 7:54, 7:17, 7:31, 7:41, 7:29, 7:22, 7:29, 7:23 (last .08)
Race Name: Hilton Head Island Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K
Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
Date and Time: February 13, 2016, 8 AM
Swag: Tech shirt for ladies, soft cotton shirt for men, gym towel, finisher’s medal for the half marathon and marathon races.
Post-race food: Apples, oranges, bananas, Gatorade, pizza, soup, cupcakes, coffee, juice, beer
Weather: 43 degrees, 65% humidity, 10 mph winds
I received a complimentary race entry courtesy of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company. I did not receive any other compensation for this post, and all opinions are my own.