Start Spreadin’ The News…The Myrtle Beach Half Marathon

After a crazy, adventurous weekend, I’ve finally made it home, put on my comfy sweats, and plopped down on the couch.  Allow me to tell the story of my 2011 Myrtle Beach marathon.

Friday, February 18th

After only 1 directional bungle where my Iphone GPS app sent me to an address in North Myrtle Beach instead of Myrtle Beach (and I stupidly followed, ala Michael Scott), I successfully arrived at my hotel, the Patricia Grand.  The hotel was not much to look at, and the lobby was an under-construction disaster, but it was relatively cheap, close to the start, and offered a free pasta dinner, so I was satisfied.

I quickly settled in and briefly enjoyed this view from my balcony before heading to the expo:

My hotel was nothing to write home about but the view was nice.

Shortly after arriving in town, I shot over to the expo at the Myrtle Beach Convention center.  I was a little miffed that they charged us to park, but not miffed enough to venture out to park elsewhere.

I made my way inside and picked up my packet, t-shirt, and free beach towel – the Myrtle Beach races are always good on swag.  They also threw in a really nice shoe bag.

I ran into and chatted with other Charlotte runners, including my race-ubiquitous friend, always helping/pacing others, Christi, her pal Pamela, and then arguably Charlotte’s fastest couple Ben and Megan Hovis (although Jordan and Meagan might have a word or two to say about that – hence the ‘arguably’).  We talked a few minutes before I made my way out, making sure to check the new chip-within-the-bib technology and verifying my name popped up on the big screen.

Back at the Patricia Grand, I enjoyed my complimentary pasta dinner.  While nothing spectacular, it was edible, which made it vastly superior to my pasta dinner at the Towpath marathon back in October.  With the race scheduled at predawn 6:30, I needed to retire early, and did, with lights out by 9:30.

Saturday, February 19th

After a fitful night of light sleeping and bizarre dreams, I woke around 4:30 and tried to go through my normal pre-race routine.  I made some coffee and ate a bagel with peanut-butter.  Even up this early, I felt rushed and scrambled to get it together.  I was out the door by 5:15 and, lucky for me, the shuttle was sitting in front of the hotel.

Caitlin, who had kindly volunteered to pace me, texted to say she was there.  We agreed to meet at the bag check area and shortly after arriving, after a few panicky minutes where I couldn’t find the bag check, and after running into Christi (see!  I told you she’s ubiquitous!) and Pamela again, I finally spotted the bag check tent.  Caitlin showed up seconds later and after dropping off my bag (quick aside – they were putting everyone’s bag into blue garbage bags which completely defeats the point of my bright neon-orange backpack), we took off for a quick warm-up, a very quick warm-up since it was by now 6:10 or so.

We got in a little less than a mile jog and then worked our way towards the front of the half marathon corral, joining Charlotte Running Club stand-outs Alice Rogers and Megan Hovis.  Ben and John Compton lined up in the very front.  I joked (but was pseudo-serious at the same time) that CRC should take the win and second place in both the men’s and women’s half marathon.

If my slow times weren't enough to make me feel like I was on the Charlotte Running Club JV team, John and Ben showing up in the sweet new singlets did. But that's okay, mine's in the mail!

Suddenly a cannon fired and we were off.  Having gone out too fast in every race in recent memory, I made a concerted effort to keep the pace slow and Caitlin was just a step in front of me to make sure that I did.  As the hordes blew past us, I fought not to go with them.  The marathoners started just to our right and Caitlin spotted Billy and yelled, “Go Billy Shue!” Billy raised his fist in the air.

I had told Caitlin before the race that I wouldn’t be able to talk much during the race.  The goal was sub-1:30, the time I needed to automatically qualify for the New York marathon.  This requires a 6:50 pace and 6:50 is at the upper limits of what I can maintain for 13.1 miles.  If I threw in much chatting, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hang on to finish under 1:30.  I told her to ask yes or no questions so that I could give 1 word answers.

In the first mile, Caitlin gently encouraged me to throttle back lest I had thoughts of speeding up.  “After the 8-mile mark, we’ll start counting the people we pass”.  I didn’t realize anyone was listening when a young guy pulled alongside and joined in the chat.  He asked if we were shooting to break 1:30 and I said “Yes” and then I dropped back a step and let the fit Olympic Qualifier engage him in conversation.  He introduced himself as Brad, from Raleigh, and Caitlin explained that we were from Charlotte and she was pacing me.  We came through the first mile in 6:52 – perfect.

Around this time I noticed Richard Hefner up ahead, running stride for stride with Alejandro Arreola, another uber-fast Charlottean and I thought, “Hell, I’m struggling along back here at 6:50 pace.  What is Richard doing up there with Alejandro?”  In the meantime, Caitlin and Brad were chatting while I just tucked in behind and locked into pace.

Caitlin kept the conversation lively while she maintained pace perfectly.  We went through mile 2 in 6:54 and 3 in 6:49.  A tall blonde girl blew past us and I envied her picture-perfect form.  I later stumbled upon this picture of her online at the Sun News paper’s marathon coverage and learned she’s from Charlotte:

I always feel like I know just about every fast runner in Charlotte. Then people like Stacy Mercer here show up and let me know that there are even more local runners that can show up at any time and smoke me. 3:04 full!

3 miles in and I felt fine.  There was a pretty solid group of us cruising along together, some, like me, shooting for a sub-1:30 half, some others looking to break 3:00 in the full.  There was a couple, a guy who looked to be about my age,  and a woman who seemed younger, that ran with us for quite a ways.  (I meant to ask Caitlin about them later but forgot – she briefly chatted with them).

Somewhere around this time, we passed a Krispy Kreme and Brad, Caitlin, and a third guy who had joined our little entourage, talked about the Krispy Kreme Challenge, which Brad had recently run.  I casually eavesdropped but kept focus on my Garmin.  I was amused and fascinated at how casual 6:50 pace is for Caitlin.

But I had blinders on.  I didn’t soak up as many details as I might normally in a race.  It was all about maintaining pace.  I’d cruise through water stops and barely slow down.  The wind was significant through various spots on the course and Caitlin generously offered  to perform wind breaking duties in addition to pacing.  I took her up on this offer on numerous occasions, tucking in behind her when we hit especially windy patches.

A 6:52 mile 4 meant we were about 7 or 8 seconds behind pace, but a 6:43 in mile 5 made up for it.  Dead even through mile 5.  Brad looked fresher than I felt as he casually chatted with Caitlin.  I kept my metaphoric speaking mouth shut, while the real thing was wide open and sucking air hard.  But I felt okay, better than I did in Charleston or Richmond at this point – in both those races, hitting 6:50 splits had been especially difficult, even early on.  Here, while challenging, it didn’t feel like a struggle.

Somewhere between miles 4 and 6, I can’t remember exactly where, we passed Richard.  We exchanged pleasantries and soldiered on as we hit a near-perfect 6:51 split at mile 6.  Shortly thereafter, the leaders had made their turnaround and were coming by.  John looked to be closing on the leader and Caitlin cheered loudly for him while I barely mustered enough energy for a wave.  Ben came by moments later and Caitlin and I repeated our cheer/wave routine and Ben yelled back.  How does everyone except me have enough energy to yell?

We cruised through the halfway mark which was nestled in a little shopping center and Caitlin commented that it reminded her of Birkdale.  My response, “Yeah.”  I grunted a lot of 1 syllable responses to her questions and comments, not out of rudeness but out of necessity.

Halfway through and we were still dead on pace.  After our own turnaround, we spotted Scott Helms, who was running the full marathon – Caitlin yelled to him, he yelled to us, I waved.  As we ran against a crowd of people approaching the halfway mark of the half marathon (or a quarter of the marathon for those of you lacking in math skills), several people yelled things like, “Hey, Charlotte!  Go Charlotte Running Club!” and the like.  People recognize the logo now which is kind of cool, even when you’re wearing a JV singlet.

For a little stretch after the halfway point, I had some digestive tract issues, but luckily, they quickly subsided.  Suddenly, I felt great.  Up to this point, we were directly on pace – there was very little wiggle room.  I decided to pick things up a bit.  Brad had pulled away by some 50 meters or so and I wanted to reel him back in.  Also, there was an older, husky, shirtless guy up ahead with a lower back tattoo.  No way was I losing to an old man with a tramp stamp – simply not acceptable.  So I started reeling him in too.  Mile 7, 6:43.

With the digestive tract issue, um, behind me, I suddenly felt great.  I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of the good patches when they come so I continued to press the pace a bit.  I passed tramp stamp.  I passed Brad.  He asked a question which didn’t fully register and I just answered “Yeah” but Caitlin answered, “No, not yet.” and I realized the question was “You haven’t started counting people yet, have you?”  I kept pressing.  We passed several folks and when we were out of hearing range, Caitlin would give me a number, “That was 5.  6.  That’s 7.”, etc.  Mile 8, 6:44.  9, 6:40.

Suddenly, just as quickly as the good patch had descended upon me, along came a bad one.  Gusts of wind struck now as we ran up Ocean Blvd, you guessed it, adjacent to the beach.  Caitlin told me to tuck in behind her, and I did, but I now felt less than pleasant.  I worried that I had overdone it, pushed the pace a little too much, the last couple of miles.  But then I noticed a welcome sight up ahead, Bob Heck, in the bed of his pick-up truck, with his old school boom box blaring.  He yelled “Looking good Allen!  You’ve got this!  Only a 5k to go!” while snapping these pictures:

Approaching Bob and his boom box. Notice the guy in the black and white singlet a few meters behind us - that's Brad.

Bob’s cheering infused me with another jolt of energy:

Thanks Bob! I needed that!

Prior to seeing Bob, my pace had dropped back down to a 6:49 for mile 10 and I was fading.  And I think my affirmative answer to Brad’s “You haven’t started counting yet, have you?” lit a motivational fire under him.  He passed me shortly after we saw Bob.  But with the motivational shot in the arm from Bob, along with my competitive spirit kicking in as Brad passed, I was able to lock on and go with him for mile 11 as we dropped a 6:40.

But then my engine started to sputter again.  Caitlin, not seeing that I was fading, would pull up ahead before looking back, seeing me, and slowing down until I caught up again.  She started giving me what I call the-coach-whose-team-is-trailing-at-halftime speech.  “Come on, just 2 miles to go.  Less than 14 minutes of running time.  Pick up your pace for 5 steps, just increase the cadence.  Go catch that lady up there.  You’ve got her, come on!”  That kind of thing – and I listened, and I tried to do whatever she recommended.  I tried to increase my cadence.  I tried to catch the lady ahead.  And yet the fading continued.

She and I both knew I had a bit of cushion.  She encouraged me to do more, “You can break 1:29! ”  while in my head I screamed all my own motivational phrases, every one I could think of, all the ones I’ve used in the past: “Nut up or shut up Buttercup!  I’m a man, I’m 40!  If not now, when?  GO!”

I felt the pace slipping.  Mile 12 was 6:54.  I wondered if I could self-destruct enough to actually miss 1:30.  I felt like I was running an 8-minute mile and that was probably enough to miss the goal but I pushed harder and when I looked at my watch, the pace was hovering around 7.  As we neared the baseball stadium where we’d finish inside, Caitlin encouraged me to start my kick, “Unleash that 5k kick!”  I tried, up to the point where I started to hyperventilate, then I backed it off until I found a pace that I could maintain for the last quarter mile or so to the finish.  This took me past the lady ahead .

In the stadium, down the final stretch, I heard some folks cheer my name.  I later learned that 1 of them was Ed Frye, a fellow runner from my hometown of Concord,  and a one time 2:40-something marathoner back in the day.  I assumed the others were Ben and John, although I never looked – my gaze was locked onto the clock that read 1:20:something.  I had done it.  I raised my arms triumphantly and choked back some tears of joy as I crossed the line.  I’d come a long way since running a 1:39 here in 2009 and I’d just qualified to run the New York marathon.

I accepted the finisher’s medal from the volunteer, located my bag in the pile at the bag check (a corner of the neon orange fortuitously jutted out of the opening at the top), and made my way to the finishers’ area for some sports drink.  I spotted Bob with Alejandro and we hung out for a few and chatted.  Alejandro said he ran a 1:19, even after being injured and only running 4 miles for his longest run leading up to the race.  Sick.

I soon learned that the Charlotte Running Club was having a dominant day.  John had won the half in 1:10:01, barely missing his goal of breaking 1:10 by 2 seconds.  I’m pretty sure the win helped him overcome any disappointment he might have felt.  Ben finished sixth in 1:14:18.  Alice Rogers won the half for the women in 1:20:46, while Megan Hovis placed second in 1:21:57 while running it as a tempo (a 1:21 half tempo?  Also sick.)

I hung around to watch the marathon winner.  When I noticed we were nearing 2 hours and 40 minutes since the start, I began thinking, “Holy crap.  Billy’s got a shot to win this thing.”  The overall winner sprinted in and I have to admit I was a little shocked to see it was a woman, Kathleen Castles (I’m not as sexist as you might think – it’s actually a pretty rare occurrence for a woman to win a marathon outright) –  she won in 2:40:11 and qualified for the Olympic Trials.  But the next marathoner to enter the stadium was Billy and Ben, John, and I cheered wildly for him.  It was really a cool thing to see him win the men’s marathon.  I was never more proud of our club – a couple of years ago, Billy was a new runner.  But under the tutelage of runners like club president Aaron Linz and marketing director Jay Holder, Billy’s been transformed into a marathon winner.  Impressive stuff.  So if you want to win a marathon, join our club (results may vary).

Post-race

John, Ben, and I grabbed some of the free beer as we waited for the awards ceremony.  We all did a lot of cheering for each other as the gang accepted their awards.  Afterward, we took some group pictures:

Only 2 people in this picture didn't win an award, and 1 of them is an Olympic Qualifier who was pacing the non-award getter. But I'm not mentioning any names.

Once the gang had gathered their awards and gone home and showered, we grabbed some lunch at Margaritaville and then played a little round of putt putt.  I snapped a couple photos:

John's putting form not quite as good as his running form

I joked with Megan that we needed to run together this weekend so I could run with all 3 Charlotte Olympic marathon qualifiers in 1 week (I ran with Meagan Nedlo earlier). But I guess running with 2 and playing putt putt with the third will just have to do.

Later that night, several of us went to the post-race party at the House of Blues.  Free beer.  So you can blame this rambling incoherent post on them.

It was a ton of fun hanging with the crew afterward.  It reminded me a lot of the old high school and college days and reinforced a big reason why I love being a part of the club – I really enjoy feeling like a part of a team again, even if I am on the JV.

See you all in New York!

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3 Responses to “Start Spreadin’ The News…The Myrtle Beach Half Marathon”

  1. Richard Hefner Says:

    Good write-up Allen, and great race! Congrats on getting the sub-1:30. It must be nice counting the people you pass in those last miles. I usually just get to count the people who pass me!

  2. Kati Says:

    congratulations…

    and please tell me you got some mardi gras beads thrown at you while on ocean blvd!?

  3. meagan Says:

    great recap and great race! i knew you could do it!

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