April 22, 2012

Race Report: Flying Pirate Half Marathon

After Saturday's 5k, Sunday's half marathon on the Outer Banks was just as successful. After missing out on some sold out March half marathons, this was my real distance race of the 2012 season, and though the weather was an epic disaster, it was still a fun time in the end. Saturday's 5k and Sunday's half marathon formed the Flying Pirate Challenge, and I ended up with two PR times, top 10/50 placements, and age group 1st/4th placings.

I wrote a previous blog post on Saturday's First Flight 5k race results, so following is a full race report on Sunday's Flying Pirate Half Marathon.

The Flying Pirate course is very interesting, even on a sunny day, but Sunday's weather was supposed to be an epic disaster, with thunderstorms and lightning a possibility. The race organizers even had county school buses located at strategic mile markers to actually pick up every runner off the road if lightning was imminent. Thankfully, the lightning stayed at bay, but that didn't mean it wasn't raining the entire day, sometimes in a torrential downpour. So waking up that morning, I picked out an old pair of high-mileage shoes and a tight shirt, the last thing I wanted was a lot of fabric in the rain. And oh yeah, massive use of Glide.

Race Day

Standing at the start line, I looked down and saw my watch completely blank. My cheap digital watch, survivor of over 1,700 miles, was staring back at me with nothing on the screen. So much for the '30M Resistant' logo on the front. Okay, so this was now going to be a real test of my inner-voice pacing. Starting in Corral A, one behind the elites, our group surged forward at the gun and we were off, starting on a wooded residential road for a few miles. I was continuously surprised by the number of residents who were standing in the rain and cheering us on; it was really well-supported by the communities we were running through. As we rolled through the first four miles on residential roads, runners naturally got into single file to run along the roadway lines and the raised portions of the streets as water rolled towards the edges.

Miles 4-6 were along the water, but no one had time to stop and enjoy the view because we were running through off-and-on standing water. Whereas puddles were avoidable before, there were now two inches of standing water on the concrete path and there was no avoiding it. If you've ever run in the rain and thought your shoes were wet, you have no idea what's it like to actually feel water flowing into and out of your shoes. The feet went from wet to completed water-logged and the shoes got a bit heavier. Mile 8 took runners around the base of the Wright Brothers Memorial and across a 20 yards of sandy grass to return to residential roads. It was finally at this time where I'd had enough of not knowing my pace; I was consistently passing people from the corral before the entire race, and I knew I was making decent time. So I asked a guy with a Garmin what his pace was and he replied 7:30 and since I was overtaking him, mine was probably around 7:15. That was a great moment of the race, as even without a watch, I had nailed my previous-PR pacing and still felt great.

Mile 10 the course turned into a nature preserve for the remainder of the race, and this meant running some hills on a dirt and mud road. As expected, the dirt road had become a mudslide in spots, and you couldn't see to the bottom of puddles, making foot placement difficult...especially since I hadn't seen clearly out of my glasses since the start. I've trained on trails, so I was prepared and started to kick in some reserves on the hills, overtaking several small groups of runners. At one point from mile 11-12.5, I was all alone, unable to see runners around the curves either ahead or behind. The rain was pouring through the forest canopy and the leaves were a bright green; it was a very serene and very beautiful run, and this eased the fatigue starting to set it from heavy shoes and a long race. At mile 12.5, the course turned onto a single-track trail, heading up a steep incline on a trail of pine needles and pine cones. I almost lost my footing several times and noticeably slowed on the incline, but I saw a small group of three runners ahead and was determined to overtake them before the end. Up and down what I assumed were pine needle and tree-covered dunes, it was a roller coaster and my legs were screaming. The trail finally crested a small dune and the finish line was 50 yards away, so I sprinted down the final stretch...on what could only be described as a mulch and tree debris-covered hill, my feet begging for decent footing as I stretched for the final 10 yards of pavement in the finishing chute. My wife was standing in the rain cheering, and my time across the finish appeared to be a personal best.

The Results
Whoa, watch the dagger.

Half Marathon (13.1 mi) :   1:34:47  |  7:14/mile
Placing: Overall 48th  |  Age Group 4th

After the injury and long winter rest to end 2011, I really didn't know what to expect in my first distance road race of the 2012 season. I had heavy legs and hip pain after my final shake-out run, and I just completed a 5k the morning before in a PR time. Add to that the rain, the muddy trails, and the lack of a watch, and I wasn't expecting much on this morning. So I was completely overjoyed to learn I not only ran it in a great time, but I ran it in a personal best. The entire weekend could only be described as a complete success.

The Swag

And the mutt got a frisbee!

Though the expo didn't have much to write about, the bounty was pretty impressive. As a Flying Pirate Challenge participant, I received a 5k cotton t-shirt and a half marathon tech shirt ("Arrrrgg We There Yet?"), all in a reusable grocery bag (nice extra). And since it was supposed to rain the next day, they had samples of anti-chafing cream and BandAids.

For running the 5k, every participant received a medal -- okay, a full-sized medal for a 5k? Not really hanging that one on the self-fame wall, so I left it as a decoration at the in-laws beach house. For winning my age group in the 5k, I received a gold pin of the Wright Brothers Memorial. The half marathon medal was well-designed, with a bottle opener on the side and a charm that pulled out of the back and attached to a necklace. And at the end of the finishing chute they were giving out pirate visors, a nice freebie that will come in handy on the beach. Finally, if you completed the Challenge, you also received a challenge medal.

Visor, tech shirt, and L to R: half marathon medal, charm, 5k age award, 5k medal, challenge medal.

The Verdict

It was a fantastic weekend, with great support from the community, the volunteers, and the runners. And it was small enough where I didn't have to worry about constant runner traffic on the half marathon, getting some space to open up and really run. It was a fun course, and I will definitely be back...and hopefully bring some sunshine.

Coming down the final stretch. Water pouring from my left shoe.