Sunday, February 15, 2009

Battling Elements at the Surfside Marathon

Sunset on Surfside Beach - night before the race

When Hurricane Ike rampaged across the Texas coast last September, we all saw the television coverage of the devestation it left in its wake, but there's something eerie about seeing the reality of it firsthand - beach houses that have half collapsed and are leaning against each other, debris and pilings scattered along the beach during the race. Parts of Surfside brought back memories of driving through some of the township shanty towns in South Africa back in '95.

We piled Nancy, Gavin, my parents and myself into the car on Friday afternoon and made the long drive down to the coast. We checked into our hotel in Clute and then went emergency shoe shopping as we'd forgotten to bring any shoes for Gavin (whoops). We found a great pair of beach shoes that he loved and set off to pick up my packet from the race tent on the beach. The race packet was superb - I got a really nice embroidered windshirt, a beautiful stone coaster, a pair of gloves and a peanut butter sports bar (that one of the volunteers told me had been recalled that morning).

Of course, Gavin loves the sea, so with packet pickup out of the way we spent a lot of time playing in the waves. He isn't old enough to feel the cold, but let me tell you, that water was frigid!!! We eventually dragged him out and stopped off at the Mexican restaurant next to the hotel for supper before turning in for the night.

A foggy race morning

Race morning brought with it a thick fog. We left Gavin and my parents asleep at the hotel and Nancy drove me out to the beach. I picked up my chip and then we took a walk down the beach together, and joked about a romantic valentine's morning on a misty beach. It was very quiet and peaceful and it's so nice to share moments like this with my soulmate.

The race course went out 2.5 miles NE along the beach where we turned around and headed back to the start/finish line. From there it went another 10.5 miles down the beach the other way before turning around again and heading back to the finish line. Although it was foggy it was already warm - I had decided to run without any bottles since the aid stations were only 1.5 miles apart and it was like being without my comfort blanket. At the same time it was nice to go to a race that wasn't a goal and one that I had officially marked down as a nice easy recovery run after last week's 100 miler.

Yeah right. That lasted for all of a few seconds. I headed out fast and kept going at a 7:30 pace. I passed through the 5k mark at 23 minutes and hit 4 miles at 30 minutes (at which point I saw Nancy yelling at me to slow down). My legs had no hangovers from the previous weekend and I felt great. I went through the start/finish line and kept on going.

That's when the wind started. We suddenly found ourselves running into a 30mph headwind and life was not so easy, especially when you knew you were going to be running into it for 10.5 miles. My pace dropped into the 8s, and then after a few miles started flirting with the 9s as I just put my head down and kept ploughing ahead. The race very quickly dropped into the "not fun anymore" category, but I am stubborn and kept pushing ahead. Let me tell you, I had thought that running 26.2 miles along the seashore would be soothing. It's not - it's just monotonous. The highlight of this 10.5 mile section was the rotting corpse of a bottlenose dolphin I came across, the wreckage of several beach houses and piers, and a random fisherman who asked if I wanted some of his beer.

I seriously considered the offer.

But I didn't. Instead I put my head back down and continued counting off the miles until the turnaround. And finally, there it was - mile 15.5. Oh glorious day. I made the turn and instantly increased my pace. It felt so good to not have to fight that wind anymore, and for a mile or so I enjoyed the feeling of stretching my legs and dropped back down to a 7:30 pace.

That's when the hail started. The first sign was when the wind dropped (oh great, why didn't it do that about an hour earlier), then great big icy pellets started dropping from the sky. After about 10 minutes the hail turned into torrential rain and the thunder started. Within minutes, the beach had turned into a river and water erosion left gullies in the sand that made it much harder to run over. I had slowed down again, but my legs still felt good so I just continued to count off the miles, and somewhat surprisingly I was still catching and passing people.

Once I was down to the last 10k I realized that I had a comfortable sub-4 hour marathon in the bag so I just set myself to maintain my pace and drive it home.

Coming up to the finish line, I spot the Gavster

I saw the big race tent from 2 miles out, and I started to reel it in. Before I knew it I was at mile 26 and I spotted Nancy, Gavin and my dad. I yelled over to them, detoured across and asked Gavin if he wanted to finish the race with his dad. He did, so I picked him up and ran with him for the last 1/10 of a mile to the finish line. Gavin laughed like crazy, complained that I was soaking wet and raised his arms as we crossed. I got a big cheer from the volunteers, half of whom were laughing themselves (one asked me if I'd carried him all race). The photographer told me he'd got a good picture of us crossing the line. If he's right that may be the first race picture I buy.

Gavin gave me a big kiss and in return he got the finisher's medal placed around his neck and ran off to show his Grandpa Wales. I got a meal token for a free smoothie and went off to get it. I picked an orange mango flavor and it was delicious (what I had of it, Gavin drank most of it!!!). I then realized that I'd never stopped my watch, so I went to find the timer's desk. He told me I'd finished in 3:48:36, and then told me where to go to pick up my award. When I asked what award, he told me I'd gotten 3rd place age group (and 12th overall). Excellent. I wandered over to the awards desk and came back with two awards - one for the age group and another for "International finisher" (can I claim first Welshman?).

Age group and "International" awards

Having stashed my awards away, I got in line for the finisher's barbecue. I got smoked brisket, sausage, chicken, potatoes, beans, barbecue sauce and all the fixings. Went inside the tent to find Nancy, Gavin and my dad already there tucking in. The barbecue was $5 for non-runners and it was a great deal. And very delicious. I got to spend some time chatting to other runners, who confirmed the weather made a huge difference to the race this year, before the heavens opened up again and sent us to the car.

So it was a tough race, but I felt great afterwards and there were no after affects from the 100 miler the week before (other than a few blisters that the sand reawakened). This race was different, and I'm glad I ran it, but I'm not sure I'd run it again. It got very monotonous after a while, but the people were all super nice, went out of their way to make you feel welcome, and were so grateful to us for coming out and supporting them after the hurricane. Again, I love these small town marathons so much more than the big city ones (plus it was super nice to look at the clock in the hotel this morning as the Austin marathon was about to start, say "ha", then turn over and go back to sleep).

Our plans for the weekend were a little curtailed by the weather (it continued to be windy and rainy), but we didn't let it cut into our beach time and we enjoyed ourselves.

So there goes another one. On to the Seabrook Lucky Trails marathon next month to complete the Texas marathon Triple.

Gavin and Grandpa Wales enjoy the waves at Surfside

Gavin, my beautiful 5-month pregnant wife and myself brave the cold waters of Quintana beach


johnt said...

Great run Mark. You damm British are like iron!! Keep on rockin, bro!

JohnF said...

Not exactly what you'd expect from a beach front run. Great effort to keep going through it all.

clea said...

That does not sound fun! But congrats. Those are sweet age group awards. BTW, my 5 hour pacing partner is moving this summer, and we will need a replacement. I think I have someone in mind for next year, who is an excellent runner and cheerleader. Hmmm, who could I be thinking of?

poorwayfaringstranger said...

Man, I was there and I made it and it was insanely difficult. I wondered if it actually hailed.

Derek said...

Great run and love the pictures as well. A marathon on the beach just doesn't sound like fun at all with the same view for miles. Glad you family made it down to have a nice little vacation.

Mark said...

Johns - thanks guys

Clea - yeah, it was a bit of a slog, but the rest of the weekend was fun. The pacing thing sounds like an interesting and rewarding way to run a marathon - I'd definitely be interested

poorwayfaringstranger - yes, that was hail. I caught a few pieces of ice in my hands

Derek - how come everybody knew that running a marathon on a beach wouldn't be fun except me? :-)