Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Uh Oh

Signing up for a 50k run almost entirely on the beach.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’m still trying to effectively process what I ‘learned’ this weekend with my trial runs on the Outer Banks.  I had concerns going in regarding wearing regular road shoes for the run, but my Gel Nimbus seemed like they did ok.  I was wondering about relative effort running on sand versus roads, and it’s definitely more work on the sand, but not exponentially more.  Overall I feel good about my fitness level, and feel like my training is right on track for the next 5 weeks.  However, the beaches of the Outer Banks are a questionable location for a beach marathon.

The OBX beaches are very, very narrow.  There’s a reason the houses and roads are claimed by nature every time a hurricane rolls through.  The Outer Banks also take a beating when big storms roll in, which is why the Weather Channel loves sending their folks there to stand in ponchos and get the crap kicked out of them by the storms.  As a result, the beaches are not only narrow, they are also heavily angled towards the sea.  It’s also typically very windy in the Nags Head area.  The Wright Brothers didn’t pick this place to do some flying because of calm skies.

My trial runs consisted of an 11.5 mile run on Saturday morning, and a 12.5 mile run on Sunday morning starting where I finished on Saturday.  Aside from the first half-mile on Saturday, all the running was on the beach.
Saturday morning was fairly warm, and the first 4 miles were on a rare stretch of beach that was fairly wide, so I could run close to the water on nicely packed sand.  It didn’t really feel much different than a normal run on asphalt, and I was holding about an 8:30 pace.  Around mile 4 it started raining, and also around that time the beach got more narrow, and packed sand was hard to find.  Unfortunately, packed sand remained hard to find for the rest of the run.  My pace slowed to around 9:30, and I was weaving like I was drunk trying to find someplace where I could get a good foothold.  No such thing.  Net result, 11.51 miles at 8:59 pace.
I felt good at the end, and felt good about my gear, but was concerned about the overly soft sand and narrow beaches.  I spent several sections basically running in the ocean because moving any further up the beach would have put me in the dunes with sand up to my knees.  The downside of having spent so much time in the Outer Banks is that I knew the stretch of beach I would be running on Sunday, and knew it had the potential to be much worse.  At least the weather forecast was for sunshine and cooler temperatures.

Never trust the weather forecast.
Woke up Sunday morning to 20-25 mile per hour winds from the North/Northeast, temperatures in the low 40s, and menacing grey skies.  Sundays run was much harder than Saturday.  My legs felt good, no soreness and decent spring in my step, but the conditions were tough.  Very narrow beaches and very soft sand meant lots of time with wet feet and wobbly footing.  Thankfully the wind was mostly at my back, and because of the rain on Saturday it wasn’t blowing sand and sandblasting me.  The storm had created a shelf in the sand, which left the option of running below the shelf in somewhat packed sand and getting caught regularly by waves, or running above the shelf in sand that proved to be way too loose.  It never did rain, so I was able to keep my Garmin on my wrist and listen to music, but the footing was tough.  I don’t think the shoes would have mattered.  It got bad enough at one point that I was 2min/mile slower than I was on Saturday, without trying to be slower.  Net result, 12.48 miles at 9:28 pace.
I felt tired at the end, and could really tell I had been running on heavily sloped terrain.  I’ll call it a tie, but had we gone to the scorecards I think the beach might have gotten the win.

I’m now picturing stitching these two runs together on a single morning, and adding another 7 miles, and thinking this is going to be a long day.  I had convinced myself that maybe the tide had been close to high both days, and that was why the beach seemed so narrow and the water seemed so high.  When I got home I looked up the tide tables and found out that not only was the tide not high, it was actually an outgoing tide and was completely low around the time I finished.  On race day the tide will be high at 7AM … the race starts at 5AM … uh oh.  Also, race day has the highest tidal coefficient of the month, which, according to the website, means "we will have big tides and the currents will also be very evident".  Good times …. good times.

Bottom line this is going to be a serious adventure.  I’m still very excited about it, and all 35 of us will be in the same boat …. or might possibly be better off actually being in a boat.

The harder the race, the better the beer tastes at the end.


  1. This is going to be a tough one, but at least you have an idea of what you're up against. Maybe if you start WAY at the back of the pack, they'll all beat the sand down for you?

    That beer is going to be well earned :)

  2. The beer taste the same to me! LOL..........

  3. You have got the research down so now you must just visualize yourself conquering it all!

  4. please be careful. this isn't a "safe" run. it's so easy to hurt yourself running on the sand.

  5. you

    adventures = the best ideas ever.

  6. Well on the good side at least you got a chance to check out the course and know what you're in for. This is definitely going to be some race!

  7. you should be excited! I will defintely be a race to remember! And don't forget, pizza goes great with post-race beer.

  8. Lack of packed sand is going to be killer on the muscles. Speaking from experience, I do not envy you in the least. You may need more than one beer...