To the East, signs of the sun meeting a new day emerge. A slight band of colors paint the sky. It’s in the mid 40s and I’m shivering in my singlet on the beach. A woman I’ve never met before comes up to me, takes her coat off and puts it around my shoulders. Not sure if she was a volunteer or a family member of a runner, but this gesture was warm and much appreciated.
We had about 5 minutes til race time. The race director is giving course instructions. We go half a mile to the West, then turn around to the start/finish area, then continue East for 15 miles, then back. “Follow the moon for half a mile, then follow the sun. It would be hard to get lost.”
This race is put on to raise awareness and funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. A few minutes before the start, we took a moment of silence to honor those that have lost their lives in battle or training.
With a minute to go, I stand up front at the starting line. I take a few deep breaths and try to focus my mind. The RD did a count down and then we were off.
I led the way to the half mile turn around. Just before we got there, a couple guys passed me. I figured they were just going out too hard.
When we got back to the start/finish area, a mile into the race, a guy came up next to me. This was the guy that won the race last year and set the course record. We both settled into our paces. We had a quick chat. Both of us were aiming to go around 4 hours for the race.
He ran a little ahead of me for a few miles. The two guys that passed me earlier were getting further in the distance. Running on the beach, you can see a long ways down. The guy out front was getting smaller in the distance.
I was following the foot steps of the guy in front of me because there are a lot of areas with loose sand. You’re constantly searching for the hard compact areas. Luckily this year, there was more space with runnable footing. Sometime while the guy was maneuvering close to the water and back further away from the shore, I got a few steps ahead of him.
The aid stations are about 5 miles apart in this race. As we approached the first one, I was feeling fine, had plenty of water in my handheld and was carrying all of my nutrition for the race with me. I decided to pass this stop. I always stop at aid stations in ultras, but for some reason I thought the race would slip from my grips if I did.
The sun was blazing red and was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen. It’s impossible to run on the beach with a sunrise like that, and not smile. The day is heating up. It’s going to get in the 60s and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Probably the most perfect day for a beach race.
Running on, I’m still a touch ahead of the guy that won last year. We start to pass some people that are doing the 50 miler, that started an hour before us. We also start to come to some water crossings. They aren’t deep, but have been in previous years. At first you don’t want to get your feet wet, but when they do, it’s refreshing. The water isn’t too cold. Just cool enough to actually enjoy it until you’re feet dry up.
We get to the next aid station and I stop. I refill my water bottle and splash some on my face. I expected the guy to stop with me, but I looked back and he kept on. I thanked the volunteers and headed out, not wanting to let him gain some ground on me.
Just after this aid station, there is another water crossing. This one was the largest of the race. I charged through this one and probably too aggressively. I had to tell myself to relax when I realized I was running hard afterwards. I wanted to get back to running with him, but I had to relax. He had about a minute on me. I just held the distance very steady for the next 5 miles.
Approaching the turn around and furthest aid station, the lead runner past me. So far, I was telling myself that he went out way too fast. There was no way he could run that pace the whole time. I was about 5 minutes out from the turn around when he passed me as he was heading back. And he looked fine. No fatigue at all.
Then the 2nd place guy passed. Same thing. He didn’t seem tired at all. I saw the guy in front of me stop at the aid station when I was approaching, but just as I got there, he took off chomping on a mouth full of food. Once again I was feeling great and didn’t need to refuel with anything, so I decided to skip this stop as well to continue the chase.
Running back the other way takes a lot of getting use to. For the first half of the race you’re running with a slant to the right, towards the water. On the second half, the slant is to the left. It can completely throw your rhythm off.
I was in 4th place at the half way point. Feeling relaxed, comfortable and smooth. As the miles ticked off though, 3rd place was started to fade in the distance. I was telling myself the race wasn’t over yet, but was slowly realizing the victory I was shooting for was becoming out of reach. With that, I started to just focus on finishing strong.
I stopped at the mile 20 station to re-up my water. Drenched my head with a couple cups of water this time. One thing I love about this race, is the aid stations are the best stocked I’ve seen at a race. The smell from the bacon and junk food was tempting, but I had to wait until the finish to pig out.
By this point I had passed most of the people in my race going towards the turn around. The miles in the 20 range can be pretty lonely because of that. There are longer stretches of not seeing anyone. And you can see the resort where the race finishes well In the distance. As you tire and want to finish the race, the resort seems to never grow. If you stare and dwell it can be demoralizing.
I just tried to focus on myself, keeping my thoughts internally and occasionally reminding myself to soak in the scenery and to smile.
Connie Gardner, the first female, blew past me around 25 miles in. I was still running well, but could tell my pace was slowing a good bit. She looked great! She just flipped the switch and was burning away. It wasn’t long before she was off into the distance from me too.
I always use GU for my gels but I had been holding onto a few 2nd Surge gels for the last few miles of the race. I wanted to avoid hitting a wall and falling on my face, literally, like my last race. These have 100mg of caffeine and would be the perfect boost for me to keep going. I gulped one down as I was coming up to the last aid station.
I took a little more time at this stop. It was starting to get hot. I took in some water and enjoyed the shade for a minute. When I left I realized my goal of finishing close to 4 hours was well out of the window. I was then hoping for something near 4:30 hours.
My main focus from then in was to finish strong. I trudged on for a few miles when I first got the thought of taking a walk break. I fought so hard in my head to quiet the voice but after a few minutes I caved in. I made it to around mile 27 without walking. But it wasn’t a death march type of walk. I just needed a few seconds to regroup. I counted to 30 and was back running again.
I was getting closer to the finish and finally the resort was appearing closer. But I was still a few miles out. I took a few more very short walk breaks to slow my heart rate which was starting to beat harder the more fatigued I got. I imagine the caffeinated gels were keeping me upright.
I knew I was running very slow. With anywhere from a mile to two miles, I watched the time pass 4:30. So 4:45 was the new target. The 2nd female passed me and I used this as more motivation to get my ass moving. I really didn’t want her to fade away. I did my best to keep behind her. It was a relief to know is be finishing in just a matter of minutes.
I crossed the finish right at 4:47 and in 6th place.
It was a great race. I had a lot to be proud of but a part of me was upset I was nowhere near my goal. I expected to win and believed I would. I was chasing a perfect racing. An end result. But it’s a process. I didn’t get what I wanted, but that’s life right? It takes time to develop. I think my goal was overly ambitious, which I think is great but I need to realize I can’t make giant leaps. It’s the small steps that add up to the big success. This race is a stepping stone.
Enough of the down talk!
My time was about 30 minutes better than last year’s. Almost a minute a mile faster! It was 10 minutes faster than my last 50K. So a new PR! If I compare my time to previous years, I would have been 2nd 3 years ago, 1st 2 years ago and 3rd last year. It all depends on who shows up. Which is one of the great things about this sport because others will push you to your limits. And it was on the sand!
I had a wonderful day. It was an absolute perfect day on the beach, I got to run for hours and I met a bunch of awesome people. I am very proud of my race. I have continuously made improvements recently. I learned a lot from this race and I will carry those lessons with me on my journey.