As I mentioned previously, two of my goals for 2018 are to travel more to other states and continue in my running journey. In February I worked on both of those by traveling to Hilton Head, SC with my Mom in order to race. She signed up for the half marathon and I registered for the 8K, which is my longest race so far.
Mom and I split the trip to South Carolina into two days – Thursday after work (crashing in a northern Atlanta hotel for the night) and Friday morning/afternoon. Despite never having been to Hilton Head before, I could tell when we were getting close to the coast from my trip to South Carolina last summer. The terrain becomes much flatter and you start seeing different types of trees (I only know the names of a handful of trees – these not included – but they’re tall, skinny, and appear as if all of the lower branches broke off sometime while growing).
After checking into the hotel, we picked up our race packets at the Sonesta Resort, which was as swanky as you’re imagining. The expo they had set up for the packet pickup and vendors, however, was in the tiniest conference room of the hotel possible, making everyone feel slightly rushed and claustrophobic.
After the expo we carb-loaded for dinner at Olive Garden – not exactly the most exiting of choices while in a new city, but neither mom nor I want to get adventurous with cuisine the night before running many miles. The waitress did thrust all of the Andes mints upon us, which we found hilarious. We then stretched our legs by walking around some outdoor shopping malls in the rain, before checking out Jarvis Creek Park (the start/finish line for the race) so we could figure out parking, directions, etc.
Saturday Morning – Race Day!!
The race was due to start at 8am EST, so Mom and I woke up around 6am to get ready, which mainly entails checking the weather, deciding on one of the several running outfits we brought with us, eating breakfast, and generally waking up. It had stopped raining, but the morning was supposed to be overcast with temperatures in the high 50s/low 60s. Mom and I each wore capri running pants and tank tops, and I added a lightweight breathable hat as well. For me personally, the most important part of the pre-race routine is when to eat – I need to eat early enough that the food has time to digest so I don’t get sick mid-race, but not so early that I’m hungry and running out of fuel/energy while running.
**Funny story about the weather: The week before the race, all of the weather apps and websites had been calling for rain and possibly thunderstorms the day of the race. Then, we got an email from the race director, stating the weather in Hilton Head cannot be accurately predicted even 3 days in advance and they never have thunderstorms in February. Literally a few hours after he sent that email, all rain/thunderstorm chances were gone from the same weather apps and websites. Mom and I spent all weekend joking about the mystical powers this man must have over the weather, and if all race directors have the same power or if he’s just special.
We arrived at Jarvis Creek Park a little after 7, and the entire place was buzzing. The one downside to this entire race is whoever put it together only got 8 total porta-potties, which was a logistical nightmare! Despite getting there as early as we did, Mom and I barely got to the start line in time after the bathroom line. Some people missed the starting gun (I could tell who those people were because they were passing me at too quick of a pace a mile in to have started on time), and a large contingency of people abandoned the line altogether in favor of a makeshift bathroom in the woods.
There’s nothing quite like the buildup of adrenaline at a start line, even if you get there at the last-minute. You’re thinking about all the training you’ve done up to that point, anticipating the upcoming route, and hoping that all of the preparation has been enough. Enough to leave you feeling proud and exhilarated at the finish line instead of disappointed and feeling like you could have done so much more. Then the gun goes off and all thoughts vanish from your brain except for running the X number of miles before you.
If you’re looking for a flat race, Hilton Head is the one for you – only 7 total feet of elevation change. All I can say is Thank Goodness! I’m not used to running longer distances (working on it, though!) and I would have been in trouble if the route had been hilly. After starting on the edge of the park, we ran onto a nearby road that went next to a WalMart, turned around at the 1-mi mark, ran through the park, and then onto the expressway. Myself and the other 8K-ers turned around at the 3.5-mi mark and headed back towards the finish line in the park, while the half-marathoners and marathoners continued on over the bridge towards the ocean.
Overall I finished in 1hr 4min (from the time I crossed the start line, not the time the starting gun went off) and averaged a 13:59 pace, which I’m quite proud of. When I first started “running,” I was doing over 18min/mile and couldn’t go more than a quarter of a mile at a time. During the Hilton Head race I did have to stop once to stretch out my calves which were cramping, and I power walked a few times, but I’m so happy with my performance. I passed several people along the way, including some half-marathoners, and made sure to give everything I had left as I crossed the finish line. Exhausted, I took an hour to recover by stretching and eating the delicious fresh fruit Publix provided, before I made my way to the finish line area to watch/ cheer on Mom as she finished the half in 2hrs 28min.
After desperately needed showers, Mom and I got lunch at Aunt Chiladas, which was delicious, before we stretched our legs by walking around some local shops and down to the beach. There was a ton of sea fog, so no-one could see very far out past the shore, but the sand under our feet and wind in our hair felt so good. We each even dipped our toes in the water briefly, which was absolutely freezing!
Following the beach, we took and a much needed nap back at the hotel, and then ended up spending our last night in Hilton Head having dinner at the Frosty Frog, which I highly recommend. I ordered the fish and chips, and the fish was so incredibly good and such a large portion, that I barely touched the fries at all.
On our way out of town early Sunday morning, we stopped at Duck Donuts for breakfast, which was our best food decision by far the entire trip. They make the donuts to order and come out to you piping hot. If you don’t have time for anything else while in Hilton Head, make time for this.
I wish we could have spent more time in South Carolina, but sadly duty (aka work) called. Despite the seeming disorganization with the expo and bathroom situation, it was a great race for both Mom and myself. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun flat race in an interesting location 🙂