Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! I definitely did…it was my birthday weekend!
I celebrated my 28th birthday on Friday, and decided to ring in a new year of my life with a 10-mile race. On the beach. In the middle of one of the hottest months of the year.
(In case any of you were questioning my sanity…here’s solid evidence that I am, in fact, just a little bit off my rocker.)
The Captain Bill Gallagher 10-Mile Island Race is held in Sea Isle City, which is about a 2.5-hour drive south from where I live in New Jersey. Todd and I decided to make a little mini-getaway out of the race and spend the rest of the weekend in (somewhat) nearby Atlantic City. I figured there was no better way to celebrate my birthday than with two of my absolute favorite activities: the beach, and, of course, running!
Still, despite my excitement to hit the Jersey shore for the weekend, the truth was that I was really, really scared of running this race. For starters, I know that my long runs haven’t exactly been my best performances as of late because of my struggles with running in the heat, so I wasn’t quite sure how I’d fare in a 10-miler that was held in the dead of August.
Secondly, the majority of the race would take place on the beach. And seeing as how I don’t particularly enjoy WALKING on sand — nor have I ever actually TRAINED on sand — I had a feeling that attempting to run on such a difficult surface for the better part of 10 miles might not be the most fun experience in the world.
Truth be told, I had pretty much convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to do it. This race seems to attract some pretty elite runners (obviously), and there was definitely a part of me that worried that I didn’t really belong there…or that I wouldn’t have the strength or the ability or the stamina to cross the finish line.
Of course, I knew going into this race that it was NOT one that I was going to run for time. Given the fact that we are less than three weeks out for Dumbo, there was no way I was going to do ANYTHING that could possibly lead to an injury. Oh, and then there was the whole running on sand concept of this race that had me thinking that I might not be able to perform to the best of my ability (duh).
After a tricky parking and packet pick-up situation — let’s just say there was a bit of traffic and an early cut-off time to collect our bibs and t-shirts! — we finally made our way to the beach only to be packed like sardines behind the starting line with just a few minutes to spare. The race began at 5:30 pm with a little less than two miles on a sidewalk surface near the beach, which, I have to say, was absolutely delightful. I love the beach and being near the water, and I found running right along the shore to be endlessly exciting. I started off with a concentrated effort to keep my pace slower than usual to conserve plenty of energy, and hovered right around a 10-minute mile. With approximately 1,500 runners, this race is NOT a small one, so it was pretty much impossible to go any faster with so many people and such a constricted area to run.
When race organizers finally started to direct us onto the actual beach, that’s when things got scary for me. Although they had us running close to the ocean where the sand was a bit more tightly packed, it definitely was nothing like running on the road! You basically have to focus all of your energy on finding your footing and adjusting to the softer surface, and I had to continually dodge holes and puddles and other other obstacles in the sand. My legs weren’t necessarily hurting or anything, and being so close to the water meant that there was at least a breeze to keep us cool, but I was definitely feeling anxious about tackling so many miles on this unfamiliar (and incredibly difficult) running territory. You all know I love dressing up for races, but there was also some meaning behind my head-to-toe Princess Half Marathon apparel…I felt I needed a physical reminder of how I’ve already managed to do something that I once thought was completely impossible!
We ran together and chatted for a bit in the beginning of the race, but then Todd took off around mile 2. I decided to try to quit obsessing over my fear of not being able to finish the race and instead focus on the moment — something that isn’t always easy for me. I took in the beautiful views of the ocean and soaked up all of the cheers and support — lots of people hanging out on the beach means built-in spectators! — and Miles 3 to 4 pretty much flew by. I found my groove right between a 10-10:30/minute mile pace and kept on going. Of course, hearing tons of shout-outs and compliments on my Sparkle Skirt definitely helped to keep my spirits high…I was the only runner rocking some sparkle in this race, and the spectators on the beach seemed to appreciate it.
The surface didn’t make for easy running, but I was feeling strong…so I decided right around the halfway point that even though I knew I was going much slower than usual and my finish time would be less-than-desirable, that I was going to set a new goal for this race: not to stop running. I saw lots of runners around me who were stopping to walk on the sand — and there’s no shame in that, of course — but I wanted to see if I could take on such a challenging course and still keep running the entire time. I popped a few Clif Shot Bloks in my mouth somewhere in mile 5, and continued to toss water back at every water stop (which were, thankfully, quite plentiful), but I promised myself that I would not stop running at any point during this race unless absolutely necessary.
I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I was feeling pretty damn good. I wasn’t especially tired, and I wasn’t aching or in pain. When race organizers directed us over the soft sand to get back onto the sidewalk, the majority of the runners around me seemed to be stopping to walk…but I just kept on going. My quads were screaming at me and it was a struggle not to lose my balance, but I was filled with a new determination to prove to myself that I HAVE to stop letting self-doubt control me. I spent weeks worrying about this race and kicking myself for letting Todd talk me into doing something like this, and now that I was halfway done and still feeling good, I was filled with a need to prove that I am so much stronger than I allow myself to believe. To be completely honest, I was feeling a little envious that given that fact that he is still new to the sport of running, and that this was his very first 10-miler and longest race to date (ridiculously proud of him, BTW!), that he could be so confident and sure of himself when signing up for a crazy race like this one…and yet I have all of these races under my belt and still manage to convince myself time and time again that I can’t do it. I think that needs to change ASAP, and I knew that completing this race would serve as a huge stepping stone in the right direction! (I think surviving Dopey might also do the trick.)
I picked up my pace as much as I could once we were back on the sidewalk, and finally found my comfortable half marathon pace (right around a 9:15-9:30/mile) before we were directed back onto the beach for the final stretch of the race. By the time I reached mile 7 and still had no urge to stop for a walk break, I knew that I was going to be able to finish this race strong. I was loving every minute of it…the beach, the spectator support, the energy. It was a blast. I felt like such an idiot for being so afraid of taking on this challenge, and spending so much time worrying about not being physically capable of running on the beach.
Since this race did happen to occur the day after my birthday, I couldn’t help but spend the final miles thinking about where I am and how far I’ve come in just the past year alone — both as a runner, and as a person. Since my last birthday, I’ve run countless 5Ks, three 10Ks, a 10-miler, a 20K, and four half marathons. I’ve registered for my first full marathon…which also happens to be part of what will be quite possibly the most insane weekend of running in my life: the Dopey Challenge. I’ve earned my bo-black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing and am climbing the ranks as a martial artist as a gold belt in Taekwondo. I’ve continued to see drastic improvements in my level of fitness, my body, and my overall self-confidence. My writing and piano teaching businesses — and, of course, my blog! — have continued to grow, and I fall more in love with what I do every single day. I found the courage to end a relationship that was bringing me down, and to embrace the possibility of a future with someone new.
And, of course, here I was participating in a 10-mile race…on the sand…on an 80+ degree evening in the middle of the summer.
As you may have guessed, I DID cross that finish line. My official chip time was 1:44:40…just about 10 minutes slower than my first (and only) 10-miler in March — which was, of course, run in much cooler temperatures and, you know, on pavement. Todd’s finish time was AWESOME: 1:34:29!
I never stopped to walk, I never felt overly fatigued, and I felt fantastic afterwards and for the remainder of the weekend…hardly any soreness or physical discomfort whatsoever. I was thrilled with my performance and the overall experience…and am certainly feeling pretty proud of myself right now.
As far as race goodies, the shirt is pretty nice, and the post-race refreshments included water, Arizona iced tea, oranges, apples, and bananas. We took some pictures (of course!), relaxed a bit, and then headed back to Atlantic City for the perfect post-race meal: Italian food at Carmine‘s!
All in all, I’d say it was a successful race experience, and, quite honestly, one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. Can’t wait to see what else 28 has in store for me!
Have you ever participated in a race at the beach? Or tried running on sand?