There was a lot of excitement about this race… with about 5,000 people in Myrtle Beach for the half & full marathons – the packet pick up and race expo were swarming with runners from all over. I saw many familiar faces… lots of people from Greenville! Made my way around the Marriott and got inline to get my race number. Here’s where I got the first positive “sign.” My race number = 2033.
Ok, I love multiples of 10. My birthday is May 20 (so, 20 happens to be one of my favorites). I also dig repeating double digits (I’m sure there’s a name for this – maybe someone could help me out?)… you know, 22; 33; 44; 55… and so on. So, to get #2033… I was stoked.
Thinking back to Friday night: I was on the beach, the weather forecast for race morning sounded perfect, I had number 2033 in my possession, and I was ready for a fun 13.1. After pinning the lucky # on my Run-In shirt, I once again thought about how easy it is to prepare for a road race. Shoes – check; timing chip – check; number – check; clothes – check; socks – check. And you’re ready.
After a quick chat with Jen and some pasta, I was ready for sleep. Sleep finally came, but then that damn alarm went off way too early (4:40am)… the race started at 6:30 (ouch).
I got my first taste of nerves upon arriving at the start. You all know the characteristics of a larger race: lights, thumping music, thousands of people congregating near the start line, huge lines for the rows of port-o-johns, police cars, an announcer giving updates over the loudspeaker…
I jogged off into the dark for a quick warm-up.
Tried to find my own rhythm.
Again went over the plan in my head. Conservative mile one, then push smart, and tear up the last 10K. Ready.
There were two START arches: one for the full – one for the half. I joined the crowd assembling behind the half start line. As competitors, this is usually when we find ourselves checking each other out… trying to determine who the “competition” is. Honestly, I wasn’t doing this on Saturday morning. I’ve never gone into a road race with expectations of placing… don’t get me wrong, it’s a race and I treat it as such. But, I am racing for a time, a PR, a faster pace. If I happen to place in my age group (or overall, better yet!), that is a HUGE bonus.
The gun went off and the heard lunged forward. Quite a few strides later, my feet finally crossed over the timing mat – and I heard that familiar beep. Game ON.
Half runners streaming down the left side of the road…. Marathon runners to my right. As we made our way to the first right turn, the groups began to meld. It was still very dark and all I could feel was race energy in the air. I forced myself to keep a controlled pace. Feeling as though I’d just blinked, the clock marking mile one came into view (6:45). Alright, time to pick it up. Things were feeling good.
We were still running around Broadway at the Beach, and I was ready to see the ocean. Soon I could see the sun creeping over the horizon. Runners were spreading out a bit and I’d found a good rhythm. Then, finally… mile 4…. The beach came into view.
The next 4.5 miles followed along Ocean Blvd. This street I know… Myrtle Beach memories. So many family vacations to Aunt Ola’s on the Grand Strand. I almost got distracted looking at signs/hotels/stores that took be back in time. To the days when Sarah, cousin Lea, and I would walk to the Pavilion.
Quickly after turning onto Ocean Blvd, we passed where the rides of the Pavilion used to stand. How strange to see an open piece of land, an area that used to be packed with a Ferris wheel, snow cone carts, batting cages, funny mirrors, roller coasters, a haunted house…etc….
I continued to pass familiar sights, and then came up on 2nd Ave. My head was turned right for a bit as I took in the scene of Ola’s house. It looked just as I remembered… I blinked, and could picture my entire family sitting out on the porch screaming for me. Not many of you reading this will understand the emotions that raced through my veins in that moment… but, a few of you know the extraordinary significance this house holds.
Further down Ocean Blvd. I passed the Family Kingdom (another fun park w/ rides… including the ‘ol Swamp Fox!). Myrtle Waves flew by on my left. I remembered racing down the waterslides. Past the Sea Mist, the Tropic House, the Darlington, Sand Dunes, and all the other 1 star establishments.
Took in some water and hung a right away from the ocean. I was trying to ignore any wind I encountered… I pictured myself like a knife. I ran a few miles with a male bandit runner… he complimented me, which brought up my spirits. Then, he told me to “chase down that chick.” So we picked it up and passed a female ahead of me.
As I began passing men, I heard grumbling… he he. One guy said, “only a few girls ahead of you.” Honestly, I had no idea there really were only a few girls ahead. I figured there were a few girls within close range… behind the girls out of range… behind the fast chicks I mentioned previously (and let me add here: I am SO happy with my time/place… but, I am a realist. There are many, many ladies faster than I… girls who run close to 10 minutes faster, in fact).
So, much of the way back was spent into a headwind – going up a 3% grade (not much, but long). I kept my focus on maintaining the pace I’d established. I heard Jen’s voice in my head… “come on Long, don’t slack off now – HTFU!!!” I imagined her little peppy step next to me. I remembered her telling me to suffer for the last 10K. Pain – check!
My eyes were glued to the female runner about 50 yards ahead of me. I tried to kick it in and catch her… but, she seemed to put in the same effort. Then, from an onlooker I heard, “hey – some girls!” Hum, I figured that was a good sign…
Mile 11, 12, all kind of a blur. Broadway at the Beach had never looked so good. We finally hit the finish line chute… which was the longest I’d ever run through. Seriously, the thing felt about a ½ mile long (maybe it was?!). There were turns!
I faintly heard them say a girls name followed by “second female.”
I sprinted toward the line.
“Closely followed by our third female from Greenville, SC… Ashley Long.”
Are you kidding me?!
I had set a time goal (missed it by just over 20 seconds)… a stretch goal of placing top 3 in my age group. Huh? To place overall?! Unreal.
It took some time to get the chip off my shoe.
I let the feeling rush over me… the feeling of NOT moving (this is a sensation I love to focus on after a tough run/race… close your eyes and really feel the stillness, ah… I’m not saying sit down or take a nap – but take a second to breathe, hold your arms above your head and open your lungs).
A few minutes later I heard them announce Richard Osborne (a friend/runner from Greenville)… and I greeted him as he came into the finish area. So glad to see him hit his goal of sub 1:30!
I got some water and walked around the post race area… lots of vendors, massage tables, food, etc… I found my bag in the claim area. Ran into teammate Bryan Benitez-Nelson, along with his wife, Claudia, and their super cute kids. Bryan had finished 7th overall with a smokin’ 1:17… sweet! Go team Set-Up.
A little while later – I positioned myself on the side of the marathon finish. Great to see Peter come across the line in 2:41. I can’t imagine running 26.2 that fast. Spent some time catching up with him and tri-friend Dean (who’s rehabbing an injury, forced to play cheerleader for the day - thanks for your support out there Dean!)
Other Greenvillians made their way in: Mike, Amy, Tate, Nicole, Fran…
Everything post-race was a blast. Kicked off by one of the most excellent showers ever… I actually sat down and spent time stretching in my hotel room shower. Ended up meeting people for lunch and then at R. Osborne’s parents beach house on Pawleys Island. We played football in the sand, others played horseshoes, there were drinks all around. Thanks for having me Richard!
Great day, race, weather, friends, times, finishes, laughs. Bring on tri-season already.