2012 Race Reports: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Hilton Head Island, SC – State #6)

Race: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Bear Foot Sports)

City: Jarvis Creek Park, Hilton Head Island, SC   Date: 02/11/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Upper 40s/Lower 50s, sunny and a bit breezy

Course:  mostly flat, other than a bridge

Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

loved it.

6 down, 44 to go.

This was a great race for me in a lot of ways, particularly because I beat my goal!!


I think I mentioned in one of my training posts that I planned to be “all ninja-like” for this race – drive down, do the race, drive back. Surgical strike. Hilton Head Island is about a 5 hour drive from where I live, so it is easy to do something like that for a race like this. I’ve only been to Hilton Head Island once before – and, despite a few negative associations with that visit, generally speaking, I really like the place. It is an island with tons of beach-front areas, so what’s not to like there?

However, it is… a bit pricey. It is an island – there are miles of beaches, lots of golf courses and tons of history. Yet pretty much out of my price range to stay there for any length of time during season, so I don’t even consider it for a vacation when Myrtle Beach is much closer and a little more affordable. But… I was intrigued when it turned out that this race was the only one fitting into my schedule… and, not only that, but it seemed to fit all of my new criteria for a race after the Las Vegas Rock and Roll hysteria: it was inexpensive (only $45) and they claimed it was small (according to the website they had 400 half marathon finishers last year – contrasted with the 40,000 from Las Vegas). Other things it had going for it was that it was close (driving distance on a single tank of gas) and they claimed it was “fast and flat” (which was welcome to me after running all these hills here).  I figured that if it was expensive to stay one night, that’s all I would do and that I would make it work. However, I was thrilled to discover that Westin Resort and Spa on the island was offering a special rate to those running the half marathon. Off season is almost always a good time to go to the beach, but the rate they gave us for the half was even better than that and they waived the exorbitant resort fees – I had no plans to play golf or do other restort-ey things so that fee would have been a waste by someone like me anyway. That was all I needed to pull the trigger and register for this race. I could I *not* do this one now?!?!

I registered for this race about 5 weeks from the race date, which didn’t leave a lot of time for intense training so I set my goal to do better than the last 4 half marathons I did: 1:59:00 or less. With that in mind, I set out to train for feeling better after 10.5 miles than I did in each of the last 4. As a result, however, I ended up with my best training week/month ever so far, setting personal records for mileage in a month, mileage in a week, speed and distance – all in one week.

I was ready.

I left for Hilton Head a little after lunch time on Friday – I figured I would get there in enough time to get my packet (which was in the Westin I was staying in), get some dinner and get to bed. The drive down was uneventful – I had my music, my snacks and my water – all I needed for the trip. I got down there just after 6, checked in, parked my car, and got my stuff. I planned to put my bag in my room and then get the packet. The elevators to the rooms were on one side of the “room tower” (only 5 floors, so hardly a tower, really) and the rooms wrapped around the resort to make a v shape. So… all that to say, I ended up walking down the longest hallway to get to my room…. it reminded me of the scene in the original “Poltergiest” when the mother was running down the hall to her kids and it kept getting longer and longer. That table you see in the middle of the shot there is only 1/2 way down this hall – and I had just turned the corner of an equally long hall. My room was another probably 100 yards beyond that table. ha!

Once I *finally* got to my room, I put my stuff down and located the “soft puppy” aptly named Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza by the boys. My youngest son gave it to me as a birthday gift the week before, so I brought him as a good luck charm for my race. I then unpacked my clothes for the race to double check that I hadn’t left anything I needed (I brought everything – but OCD kicked in so I had to be sure). I searched for all my other gear – my phone case and my Garmin. To my dismay, I couldn’t find my Garmin. I was OK with running without it, but I was mostly worried about “where did I leave it…” because I had started a new habit of putting it on my phone case… I thought I had done that but didn’t see it anywhere. I fretted about it for a few minutes, but eventually accepted that there was nothing I could do about it anyway and moved on to getting out the food I planned to eat the next morning to see if I needed to make a run to the store (I didn’t). To take my mind off my OCD, I went down to get the race packet and a few more things out of my car.

I think I’m going to stop calling this event “packet pick up” from now on because really it is “t-shirt and bib” pick up since a lot of races now don’t put much into your “packet” if you get one at all. Having said that… this was a relatively nice “packet”. First, I had to find my number, then I had to go to the table for the Half (there were 2 other races at the same time, but I’ll get into that on the Race Day section), and then I had to walk by the sensor to activate the chip in my bib. That took all of 3 minutes. As we were doing that, they gave us our bags. The main sponsor of the race was Publix super markets so we got a giant green (canvas!) bag with Publix written on it – means nothing here because we don’t have any Publix stores here, but a nice bag nonetheless. Inside the bag was a long-sleeved technical shirt, some coupons and a newspaper advertising local events and things to do for the weekend if you were planning to stay. There were also advertisements for other races and events held by Bear Foot Sports, the directors of this race. I put my packet back in my room, and then went out into the resort to find some meat and potatoes. The best I could find was a bun-free burger and some french fries – not what I wanted, but close enough. After that, I went back to my room, hunted for a cell phone signal that popped in and out all night, making the nightly phone call with my boys and text messages with friends wishing me luck extremely frustrating (grrr… I hate when hotels block signals!). I finally figured out that the hotel’s wifi was free, so I logged on, sent a few emails and called it a day. I fell asleep watching “Old School” – haha.

Race Day

I set my alarm for 5:30 because I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get dressed, do final stretches and drive to the site of the start. I woke up at 5:15. I was excited and nervous at the same time. This was my first race since Las Vegas and I could tell I was having race withdrawals. I wanted to do well, but mostly I just wanted to run. I got dressed and made some coffee and did some stretches while I was drinking my coffee and water. Then, I look at my phone. It was plugged in all night and I only have 89% battery?!?! ugh… stupid signal hunts…  sniffing signals is the worst battery killer for an iPhone… more than any app I’ve ever used… and it sniffed signals all night so it couldn’t charge fully. ugh.

This… and I couldn’t find my Garm…. wait a minute! I found my Garmin! I don’t know why I didn’t see it the night before – maybe I was tired – but I was delighted as hell that I found it now. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t really… I tried to eat, but I was too nervous and my stomach was in knots. I still managed to choke down one slice of gluten free bread with a little peanut butter on it, intending to eat another piece that I never ate. I tried to drink my water, but I was too nervous and I felt like I was going to throw up. I did manage to choke down most of a bottle of coconut water and some sips of plain water to wash down the peanut butter bread. I don’t understand why I get *this* nervous before races, but I think, mentally, I had set a lot on this one being a “good” race. All of 2011 I had been frustrated by falling short on almost every race and having to claw my way back to where I am now with my training. I guess, to some degree, I was worried I hadn’t done enough or that I would somehow fail my own expectations. My running buddies and my training partner in particular were helpful in setting perspective, but I was still pretty nervous. I actually told a friend something along the lines of ‘I’m so freakin’ nervous now… but I’ll be better at around 8:05′ (I was right about that). I finally finished the last of my OCD checks at around 7 and went out to my car to start charging my phone and drive to the location of the start of the race – about 4 – 5 miles from the hotel.

The race started and finished in a  park called Jarvis Creek Park. For those unfamiliar with the Island, there is one major high way – 278 – crossing from the mainland onto the island. This highway pretty much cuts through the middle of the island and turns south to the tip at a point called South Beach. There is a toll road that cuts across the middle of this highway, but, for the most part, this highway is central to getting anywhere on the Island. The entrance to Jarvis park was located on one side of the highway, and directly across the highway from the park is a cluster of schools – an elementary, middle and high school. We were to park in the school parking lots – which was great because there was plenty of parking when I got there and I got a nice strong signal so my phone was able to recharge. I parked and chugged the last of my coconut water and filled up my water bottle as my phone finished charging. I decided to only bring one “snack” with me (the prime bar) and instead of coconut water in my bottle, just bring 24 oz of water with one propel zero packet. I don’t know why I made this last minute change, other than what I had done for the last 4 half marathons didn’t work, so maybe that wasn’t the right recipe?? Dunno. OCD kicked in one more time, so I rechecked my case, put my phone in it (again), pinned my bib – and then repinned it – and double-checked my key. I got out of my car and walked to the park. By this time, it was about 7:30.

I followed the crowd of folks across 278 (with the help of the local police) and made my way to the park. The park entrance was only about .10 of a mile, and once you got into the park, there was a split. To my left was the start (which was hard to tell at first) and to my right was a big grassy area with some tents, intended to be the site of the beginning and ending race “entertainment” they promised. Between me and the grassy area were the port-a-johns and, although I went several times before I left my room, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have a repeat of Las Vegas, just in case there were no potties along the way (there were) so I followed my routine of going to the bathroom one last time and just people watched. It seemed to be a race with a lot more serious runners than the last few races I did. Almost everyone there looked like they had done at least one half before and there were no big groups of giggling 20-year olds bragging about how hung over they were. There were families here and there were kids running with their parents. There were people my age and older running their x-th half marathon and comparing the weather today to the last one they did. There were lime green shoes and deer hunter orange shirts (a ton of those) so I fit in well with my slap-me-in-the-face yellow shirts. It was like I was running with friends who took it as seriously as I do. It was refreshing.

After finishing my business at the port-a-potty, I made my way over to the start line. The start line was, compared to a lot of other races I’ve done – including 5ks – pretty underwhelming. It was a banner that simply said “Hilton Head Island Half Marathon” on it. No balloons, no banners, no blasting music, no characters, no gimmicks, no marketing, no selling. Just a plain ole start line. To the left of the start line was a small parking lot where a lot of runners started to congregate to do various stretching and warm ups. I saw a lot of strides and high knees, kicking and lunges, stretches of all kinds and by people with all colored bibs on (more about that in a minute). I did some last minute stretches on my right calf (it has been tight the last couple of runs) and walked around a bit to keep my muscles warm, but that was about it. I didn’t even have my music on yet because I was scared of burning out the battery. I just walked back and forth from the start line banner to the end of the sidewalk, about 200 feet away. It was this warmup, however, that I noticed there was no starting mat… that meant this is a gun time race…. ah… ok… helped me pick out a starting point, if nothing else.

This event actually hosted 3 races: a 5K, a 10K and the Half Marathon. All races were to start and end at the same place, and all three were out and back. The route started and wound through the Jarvis Creek Park, and then out onto the toll road, across the sound via a bridge that was the only sizable hill in the whole route, through a greenway on the other side of the bridge (which looked similar to Jarvis Creek Park’s greenway) and back. Runners in the shorter races had turn-offs along the toll road: the 5k runners had a turn around a little more than half a mile down the toll road, the 10k runners had their turn around about 2 miles later, just before getting to the toll plaza. Each race had a different color bib – the half marathoners had a white bib, the 10k runners had a blue bib and the 5k runners had a yellow bib so we could see who was in each race. As the time for the race to start got closer, we were instructed to line up. There were no corrals. No pacers with special singlets. Nobody carrying signs reading “3:30”. It was just a crowd of a few hundred friends running – and self-regulating. The announcer suggested we start lining up by time – the sub-6 runners in the front, and everyone else behind as you saw fit. Again, self-regulating. I tried for my usual “front-third-right” spot, but didn’t want to cut in front of a lot of people, so I stayed in front-third-middle. It turned out to be a pretty decent spot for me.

I set my Garmin, got iSmoothRun ready, and chatted with the guy next to me. We discussed the missing starting mat, the beautiful weather and all the “luggage” I was carrying in my hand. The announcer came on to get us started – I wished my friend luck (never saw him again – he was much faster than me), and then we were off. I typically struggle with whether or not to listen to music and today, I guess, I couldn’t really make up my mind. I put one ear bud in and decided that I would either add the other or take it out as I went along. At the very least, I would know how my pace was going every 5 minutes or so as iSmoothRun talked to me for as long as I decided to keep it in. I ran with only one ear bud for about 4 miles, amazingly, and finally decided to put the other in because I had a song running through my mind that I couldn’t get out and it helped to have other songs distracting me.

I really started out way too fast. Partly because I was with the faster runners in the front which also meant I didn’t have to pass a lot of people – very refreshing – but didn’t get passed a lot either, which I’m pretty proud of. There is an exception, though: I was getting smoked by a little girl running in the 5k. When I say little girl, I mean she looked like she was the same age as my older son – about 7 or 8. I looked it up later – she’s 8. And she kicked my ass at the start (she ended up with a 31:00 5k, but she passed me effortlessly at the start). There is something a little bit demoralizing about getting your butt kicked by a 8 year old that will motivate you to run a little faster. soooo… my first mile was 8:17. It scared me a little that I was going that fast, so I tried to slow down for the next mile: 8:28 (I lost track of that girl by this time, though so I could relax a little – haha).  The run through the park was wonderful – it is a really pretty park and the trails are paved – it actually reminded me of the Raleigh Greenway trails we have in this area. After the park, we headed out onto the toll road, also known as the Cross-Island Parkway. Shortly after getting onto the Parkway, the 5k runners had their turn around. As we approached the turnaround, we saw the 5k runners coming back for their finish and we all cheered them on – I saw the little girl that passed me and I cheered for her – I see a future Olympian in that one!

After passing the 5k turn around, the crowd thinned quite a bit. I was able to get to a more comfortable pace of about 8:42 during this part of the race because I was starting to settle in to the run and those running near me. I was still surrounded by a lot of 10k runners, though, so as we approached the 10k turnaround, I could feel myself getting faster, if only to give in to race instinct – maybe because in a way I was pushing them through or to help kick in their race instincts. As more began to turn around, we again started cheering for the folks we passed. My 4th mile shows it with an average pace of 8:38. Shortly after the 10k turn around, I decided to go ahead and put my other earbud in so I could just listen to the music and get swept away with the run itself. The only really interesting sight at this point in the run was running through a toll booth. Otherwise, it was pretty, but nothing spectacular. It was this point – as in most of my other half marathons – that I become engrossed in thought and I thought about a whole bunch of stuff ranging from how hot I was at the moment (and how badly I wanted to take my long sleeve shirt off) to the encouragement I got from friends about this race, especially the ones that knew how much emphasis I placed on this race myself. But mostly, I kept thinking about how hot I was becoming and how I had to get the damn shirt off soon. I decided I would take it off when I stopped to eat because I had to re-pin my bib and that was a good time to do it.

Then… I round the corner and step out to the foot of the bridge. oy. This is a bridge over a canal and ships have to pass under it so… it’s a hill. I expected it – the website even called it “the bridge run” so I knew it was coming. Still, standing at the foot of it, initially, I was a little shocked at the height of it. I shook it off, though, and reminded myself that hills are my thing. I mean, that’s all I run around here, so I dug in and started my climb. I was proud of the fact that I was passing people right and left, only to have them re-pass me at the bottom, but still made me feel good to pass them on the way up. Honestly, though, having gone up it, the bridge really wasn’t that bad. At the top, looking over the water and down at a few boats, it was very peaceful… and quite windy. It was at that moment that I was kind of glad I left my long sleeve shirt on – and wished I had stopped to take a photo. It was a memorable and pleasant moment for me. Then we went back down the other side of the bridge. If I have learned only one thing about running (and truthfully, let’s hope I’ve learned more than one), I am finally feeling good about running down hills. I used to conserve my energy for the down, but I’m finally starting to take advantage of gravity (in a good way) and take the hill on the down side and save “recovery” for the crests and valleys. I thought about that the entire way down – I worked hard on concentrating on my stride (as my running partner suggests) and keeping my pace pretty even with my climb. Hard to do, but oh so worth it at the bottom because my quads weren’t killing me.

Shortly after the bridge, we went through another greenway – it was around this point (7 miles) that I got to the 1:00 mark. I have reminders set on iSmoothRun to remind me for nutrition at each 50-minute interval. I skipped the 50 minute nutrition because I was trying to stretch it to 60 minutes since I only brought one. I could tell I was starting to need it, though, and I stopped to eat. I don’t think I could have stretched it further, especially since I didn’t eat that morning. I slowed to a fast walk, ate my bar and drank some water and started back up to running. Once I got going, though, I started to realize I was still hot – why was I… oh, dang it. I forgot to take my shirt off. Now… every one of my half marathon race reports has some funny story of some extraordinarily goofy thing I have done or said. I’m happy to announce, my friends, this one is no different. I mean, other than being beaten by an 8 year old girl…

Once I realized my shirt was still on, I decided to slow to a jog – like 11mm pace jog – to take it off. Remember the “luggage” the runner at the start line teased me about? I had all this in my hands still, plus I still have my ear buds in because, well, I’m listening to music, duh. I promise I’m not an airhead, but I swear something happens to my brain after 7 miles where my common sense IQ drops profoundly and I don’t think things through. This is one of those episodes. I must have been quite the sight struggling to get that shirt off, getting it caught on my ear buds, and THEN getting my Garmin stuck in it and – because I’m suffering from endorphin labotomy at this point – all I care about is not screwing up my time on the Garmin (which I forgot to turn off at the end of the race). At the end of this, I ended up having to stop after all to untangle myself and repin. I probably would have been far more efficient if I had just stopped in the first place. So… this mile, with the two stops, averaged 10:13.

After getting situated, I was (slightly more) comfortable and ready to finish this race. I knew I was more than half way through now and that we must be turning around soon. I passed a sign for rest rooms and considered it, but thought I can wait. I passed it. I knew I’d pass it again if I really needed it (I didn’t). Then we passed the “way backin’ it” point – the turn around when we were officially “way backin it” as the guy in Las Vegas called it (I do like that phrase). I started to get excited now – I knew where I had been, I knew how long it took me to get there, more importantly, I knew I was on my way back and that I still had some gas in the tank. Mile 8: Let’s do this. At this point, I really started to focus on how I was running. I don’t really remember much about any thoughts I had other than “I’m holding a chip…  I’m holding a chip… arms straight – not crossing my torso… I’m holding a chip” haha. It helped, though – I didn’t get lazy with my form when I thought about it – mile 9. My legs weren’t tired. My stomach was starting to knot up, but I felt well hydrated. We recrossed the bridge and it felt faster than before. I was starting to feel tired, but I still had some in me. Mile 10.

Then I hit 10.5 miles. I had some understandable anxiety about 10.5 – that was my failure point in each of the 4 previous half marathons… was it going to be a trend? I’m happy to announce, my friends, it was not.

I was tired, that is for sure, but when I heard the announcement that I had passed 10.5 on my iPod and I still felt ok, I almost cried. It was the motivation I really needed to keep going. I’m holding a chip. Mile 11. I passed a guy walking and looking tired and said to him “you’ve got this man! less than 2 miles!!” Mile 12. I knew I had only a mile left and I was really ready to be finished, but not in the same way as the last 4. I wasn’t angry about it – I was thrilled – but very, very thirsty and I needed something to drink. I ended up approaching one guy who was running just a little faster than I was at the time, and was shortly after passed by another guy who was running faster than both of us, but slowed down to talk to the guy in front of me. It felt like I was like running with my running buddies and I sped up to get as close to them as I could. It was just the push I needed to get me to the half way point of that mile – they ended up pulling ahead of me, but it was helpful to have them there. Then… “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who came on my iPod – this song is about 7 minutes long and has a lot of mixed tempos in it, especially in the middle. It was just the push I needed for the end of that last mile. I turned off the toll road, made a few right hand turns just as the “You are Forgiven” part of the song was being repeated quickly in my ear and loads of folks were cheering for us. I passed the clock where beside my name displayed 1:56:00. I actually said “Hot damn!” out loud.

I was unceremoniously handed a plastic bag with my medal in it. There were no bags of stuff after the event. Nobody handed me food or  bottles of water, but I honestly didn’t care. I emailed and texted friends to let them know how I did, picked up a banana at the Publix tent and tried a new drink (that I now can’t remember the name of) to be rehydrated. It was good. I’ll have to see if I still have the flier in my car. I walked around for a minute to loosen my legs and then I went back to my hotel room to take one of the best showers I’ve had in a while and pack up to come home.


I have to say the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I wasn’t running enough for the last few half marathons – at least, not enough for me. I still need to work on my cross-training but, directionally speaking, I’m on the right path. I can also honestly say this is the first half marathon where I am positive I did not have anything with gluten in it before the race and I was able to perform better than the last 4 where gluten was a factor. Finally, and I’m planning a separate post on this as well, I believe that red meat and potatoes is my ideal pre-race meal. I still need to test this theory further, but so far, the last few long runs I’ve had where that was my meal the night before have felt better. I have a plan for making the One America Mini Marathon feel better than this, and I have some time to work on it. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to do it.


11 thoughts on “2012 Race Reports: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Hilton Head Island, SC – State #6)

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