Chad beat me to Dare County a couple of years ago when he did the 2nd annual OBX Marathon, but I finally made it to the easternmost of North Carolina's 100 counties this year for the 4th annual half-marathon. The last couple of years, the OBX Marathon has embraced the "pirate" theme, with treasure-map medals, pirate-themed aid stations and finisher pictures, and this year the "pirate pack" -- eyepatch, bandana and cowbell -- being sold at the expo. Arrgh, indeed!
You never know what kind of weather you'll get the second Sunday of November on North Carolina's Outer Banks (OBX), but fortunately this year we were blessed with warm temperatures (getting hot as the day wore on), sunny skies and just enough wind to keep you cooled down. More than 6,500 runners were involved in the weekend's activities -- the marathon, the half, an 8k, and a kid's fun run. Great turnout -- they said it was their largest ever!
The marathon and half were point-to-point races, with the half starting around the midway point of the marathon, so that both races finished in the same spot. 3,390 finished the half-marathon and 1,815 finished the full. For those of us in the half, the starting area was nice and cool, clear but not bad with the sun still low, and just a bit breezy. We were organized into waves by expected pace times and then set off with separate starts about 3-5 minutes apart. I was really looking forward to having a very enjoyable run with no pressure on pace or finish times, so I was very glad to finally be moving and out on the OBX main drag.
Flat, flat, flat. Flat as a board. Flat as a pancake. There was very little elevation change, as you can imagine if you've ever been to OBX. We did a mile or two on the main road, passing the big Jockey's Ridge sand dunes, and then turned right into a subdivision with some very pretty homes and ran alongside the sound for a while before coming back out to the main road. I ran a great 5k, but it was too fast and I knew I'd be in trouble later on. After another couple of miles we made another turn into one of the subdivisions around Nags Head Golf Links for another tour of nice homes and surprised golfers. When we returned to the main drag, it was just after the halfway mark and, although I had turned a good 10k time, I was way off a reasonable pace and I knew I'd have to reckon with that mistake later on.
There were lots of spectators out early in the morning to cheer on the runners, from groups that had set up shop in parking lots to cyclists following the course to families sitting out at the end of the driveway having their morning coffee. One house in particular was all decorated and hosting a "marathon party". Lots of cute signs, lots of noisemakers and music. Someone had set out some Burmashave-style signs telling us about the OBX and giving some bad jokes. Great volunteers everywhere we ran, and very well-organized aid stations and water stops.
A couple more flat miles down the main drag and we were ready for The Bridge. The Washington-Baum Bridge, which extends from Nags Head to Roanoke Island, is more than a mile long and goes up from 82 feet above the water to 650 feet above the water at a 4% grade. The ten-mile mark is just before the crest of the bridge, and that was about my limit as far as what I could run comfortably. After getting past the downhill side of the bridge, I was satisfied to extend my walk breaks and coast the last three miles into Manteo for the finish.
The finish in "downtown" Manteo was really nice. A lot of the town, plus many, many spectators, came out to cheer the runners down the last mile or so to the finish line near what looked to be a local school or park area. After coasting in, I received a very nice half-marathon finish medal, a much-appreciated ice towel -- it had gotten steadily warmer as the sun climbed higher in the clear skies -- and a nice OBX visor. Lots of food, mylar blankets and drink were available to the finishers, and a group of pirates and wenches were available for having finisher pictures made. Once you left the runners' finish corral, it was much like a street fair setting, with food vendors, restaurants having sidewalk specials, craft sales, and the like. After enjoying the atmosphere with some other runners from Raleigh, it was on to the shuttle buses and a return trip to the half-marathon starting area -- and then on for some well-earned seafood!
I really enjoyed finally making it to Dare County for the OBX half-marathon (even if I had originally been shooting for the full marathon). It was great to see other Raleigh runners there in both races, including Rachel, Gary, Lena, Mike, Joey, Lee, Erin, Daniel, Karla and Frank -- and congratulations to Sheila for finishing her first half! Hopefully I'll be back to run OBX many, many more times.