Well my dearies, the 2015 race season is a WRAP. It has been a wild ride, and I’ll probably wax poetic about the whole thing at some point… but today, we’re talking about the Outer Banks Half Marathon.
I picked this race as my “A” race months ago because it was pretty much the only late-season half within driving’s distance of DC that didn’t interfere with the 10,000 other things I had to do in October (including watching JetSet get married… more on that in 6 months if I keep up with my current rate of wedding recaps).
BabyKef was nice enough to miss the Baltimore Greek Festival in order to accompany me on the trip. All week, the weather threatened to be miserable, so we were prepared to spend the day in our hotel room watching Netflix. We left DC around 6 am, were absolutely bamboozled by McDonalds (why oh whyyyyyyy does their oatmeal come PRE sweetened? Can’t a girl get a plain friggin oatmeal in the morning?), picked up my packet, and made it to our perfectly-lovely-but-not-at-all-fancy hotel before noon. Despite the nasty forecast, a Sisters Weekend miracle occurred and it was 80 degrees and sunny all day Saturday. What a treat! We enjoyed a beautiful water-side lunch at Stripers and then headed out to explore the town of Manteo.
Neither of us had done much research, so we googled “things to do in Manteo” and took it from there. The first thing to come up were the Elizabethan Gardens. Google has never been a better guide book– these gardens are modeled after.. you guessed it… gardens of the Queen Elizabeth era, and they are spectacular. I find private gardens are usually a little to prissy to be pretty– these were an absolutely stunning example of foliage and fancy gardendry and were the kind of place I’d love to just hang out in for the afternoon and have a picnic in.
Clearly, I don’t understand how panoramic pictures work… had no idea I was in the frame!
BabyKef was loving the shaped shrubs
I do a mean Queen E. impression.
BabyKef knows how to make a tired woman look good, doesn’t she?
After we were through acting a fool in the gardens, we ran some pre-race errands. We picked up some GF/SF waffles at Harris Teeter and secured my race-morning coffee from Dunkin’ (nb: DDs are in ample availability throughout the Outer Banks– praise Him!). While driving up and down Croatan Highway 10,823 times, there were more shenanigans (naturally):
DID EVERYONE ELSE KNOW THAT THE PIGGLY WIGGLY IS A REAL THING??? WE HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA.
Commerical evidence that Chrissy the Christmas Mouse is, in fact, the best part of Christmas:
The promised rain set in just as we got back to the hotel, so we did what any woman in the Kef Family would do… got into yoga pants and settled in for a Friends marathon and a nap. It was glorious.
To round out our Saturday, we took a trip to what appeared to be the only place in the Outer Banks to serve GF pizza (my traditional night-before-race meal), Mako Mike’s. This place was really something– extremely…. festive… decor and a waitress with uncanny personality resemblance to 90% of the servers at our Pappou’s amazing Fireside Diner. We both had a sweet potato and squash soup that was very yummy, followed by pizzas that were totally adequate (but couldn’t hold a candle to the glorious Spanakopizza I ate prior to the RnR Brooklyn Half).
Fast forward a few hours and it’s 5:30 AM and I am ready.to.go. Everything in the Outer Banks this weekend was about racing and runners- many churches had changed their outdoor signs to read race-related Bible verses (my favorite: “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”), the radio announcers talked about the race pretty much constantly, restaurants had runner specials, and everyone seemed really amped for race weekend. I took these all as great signs. The race provides two awesome parking options: park at the start or park at the finish. Because God loves me, our hotel was less than half a mile from the Finish shuttle stop, so I just strolled right over for the 5:45 shuttle. It was super-well organized and everyone from race staff to the bus driver were so, so friendly– I can’t say what a great way to start the race this was.
A short drive across the bridge and we were at the starting line. There were TONS of porta potties and when I first got there, there weren’t even any lines. Later, there were some lines but they moved quickly and everyone commented on how this was the best thing a race director can do to make the start an anxiety-free zone. Kudos to them! On the other hand, the starting line music was all late 90s/early-millennium pop-rock (Third Eye Blind, Creed, etc), and I found songs about heartbreak a bit out of sync with the goals of the day… but we can’t have it all, now can we?
Race started right on time, and it was WINDY. Luckily, it was mostly at our backs and I did my best to angle my shoulders so it was actually kind of pushing me along. Great. Between the wind and a slight dowhill, I went out in the first 5k faster than I had planned:Miles 1-3: 8:30, 8:34, 8:44.
I tried to rein in back in once the wind wasn’t behind us and kept an even(ish) pace through the middle:
Miles 4-6: 8:50, 8:36, 8:41. This is when I realized that either the radio announcers had way overhyped residents’ interest in the race or that the gusty wind and sub-60 degree temperatures had deterred pretty much all spectators. There was very, very little crowd support throughout the course and no bands or music until the very end of the course. This is fine with me, but if you are someone who needs a lot of fun signs and cowbells, this is not the race for you.
The course has some really beautiful parts along the water and winds between the main highway, a coastal road, and some very residential streets. It was mostly flat, had ample hydration stations, and I just focused on keeping it under control and even. Miles 7-9: 8:48, 8:47, 8:10 (I really don’t know where that last one came from– I thought my watch had turned off when it beeped off with that time).
In really strange news, I ended up running a good portion of miles 8-10 with a woman who was the doppelganger of Haley, the woman who was my unknowing running buddy in my last half. I would have race-pic-stalked this woman, too, but her bib said “G-Money” instead of her name and I didn’t think to look at her number. Alas.
Anyway, the big anxiety point of this race is the bridge. You can see why:
It comes at mile 10 (22 for the marathoners, which just seems so, so cruel) and, luckily, I was prepared for it. If I do say so myself, I am kind of a badass when it comes to hills, so I just pushed right up it. You do not have a gluteus as maximus as mine is without some extra hill power.
I knew once the hill crested that it was go time. I took advantage of the long, steep downhill and got down to work. That went well until we turned right into the wind for the final two miles. I realized that focusing on pace would be pointless, so I just tried to run by perceived exertion, and my perception was that I was exerting everything I had. Luckily, some fun things happened in the last two miles:
Dunkin’ Donuts came out–clearly, ChefKef runs on Dunkin’.
And a mobile medical unit team had a great cheer station and we had a quick exchange about how awesome it is to be a mobile health care team:
Finally, the sign for Mile 13 was within my sight. It was located on a right turn, so I figured as soon as I made the turn I would see the finish. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We had to make another turn, and even then the finish chute felt so long. My watch said the race was long by about 0.25 and this time I would really believe it. But, finally, I was there and finished!
FINISH TIME: 1:54:17 (or 1:53:09 if you go by 13.1 on my watch)
Miles 10-13 8:44 (nasty ol hill), 8:20, 8:33, 8:33, 2:13 (0.34)
I couldn’t believe I had hit the mid-1:50s, and will say a lot more about this some other time.
As if a perfectly lovely race and a new big ol’ PR weren’t enough, there were SWEET POTATO FRIES at the finish line! Amazing. Also, it was the first Finish Festival that looked so fun that I almost stayed… but BabyKef and a 4.5 hour ride was waiting for me, so I took another right-on-time shuttle whose driver was so kind as to drop me off right at my hotel. BabyKef and I jetted out of town, blasting the “Rocky” themesong as we went over the bridge (our first thought was to be real jerks and play the new Adele song as we went past runners going up the hill “Hello from the other siiiiiiiideee.” We refrained.).
About half way through the ride, BabyKef and I decided that we really wanted french fries from Sheetz. We remembered about a million signs for Sheetz on the way down so we kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting for one on the way back up. Finally, we got impatient (read: BabyKef was wayyyy hangry) and drove about 10 miles off the high way to the promised land. We were greated by a ground-to-roof window display of–what else?–Sheetz Fries:
Me: This is how big I want my serving of fries to be. BabyKef: SheetzFries make me lick my chops!
While waiting for our fries, we came across what I think is the most emblematic display of everything wrong with American food I have ever seen:
In the event you can’t quite make our the irony, what we have here is signage promising “authentic foods” which are actually potato chips flavored either pumpkin pie or turkey and gravy.
It’s hard to ridicule the American diet when your second serving of fries for the day comes in a vessel that can only be described as a bucket… but running 13.1 miles has to count for something, right?
Naturally, as soon as we got back on the highway, we were greeted with an actual Sheetz sign. The irony.
Well, we’ve gone a bit off topic now, haven’t we? Here are some take homes from the weekend:
Race logistics: Bar none. A++++. Easy packet pickup (with parking). Plenty of places to stay for under/around $100 since it’s so far off season. Shuttles to and from (and associated parking) were easy, on time, and staffed by the nicest people. Portapotties galore.
Race itself: Mostly lovely course, though a bit boring at times through residential developments. Atmosphere is super-local, super nice–lots of neighbors bumping into each other and families running together. Mostly flat with a few small inclines and one major hill. No bands/music on course until about mile 11 (mile 24 for marathon), and sparse crowd support until about the same point. Plenty of water/gatorade stations. As someone who isn’t in it for the bands and spectators, I really loved this ~4,000 person race. Not sure I could get through the full marathon on such a quiet course, however.
Race Swag: So much swag! I got a long-sleeved techtee, a medal, a pint glass, and a cap–all included in race fee. Finish food was great- BBQ and sweet potato fries, and the Festival seemed like something to stick around for and is set in beautiful downtown Manteo.
Racecation-ability: BabyKef and I had the best time- an easy 4.5 hour drive down from DC with just enough to keep us busy the day before the race but no pressure to run around like a crazy person trying to see/do things.
Prognosis: I would definitely run this race again and look forward to more Sheetz Fries next year!