Big Beach Marathon; Gulf Shores, AL; January 29, 2017
Lifetime Marathon #42; Alabama Marathon #4
Finish Time: 4:24:58
The 2nd Annual Big Beach Marathon took place over the weekend in Gulf Shores, AL. Last year I ran the Inaugural event and had the privilege of leading the 4:25 pace group. (Finishing in an incredibly accurate 4:25:01 I might add) This year I returned to the beach to do the same thing again.
The day began with a 3:30 am alarm at home and just over a 2 hour drive to the race. I made it to The Hangout, a beachside bar and grill, just after 6:00 and picked up my packet, bib, and shirt then sat down to wait for the rest of the pace team to arrive. I was flipping through the race day magazine given to us filled with area events, entertainment, and race information when I noticed a familiar face on the front cover. That is your’s truly leading a pretty incredible group through last year’s race course.
As the pace team started to arrive we passed out poles and signs and talked through the race. Last year it seemed the course was quite a bit longer than was marked so the strategy across the board was to build up a minute or so extra through the first 20 miles to have in our pocket for the final 10k stretch. This meant running splits closer to 9:55/mile rather than the prescribed 10:06. We took a group photo and broke away to head off to the starting line.
As I was walking to the start I spotted 1972 Olympian and all around incredible guy, Jeff Galloway. So I had to stop and chat for a minute and grab a quick picture. Jeff has dedicated his life to helping people tackle distance races and run them injury free. If you ever have the opportunity to meet him I highly suggest it.
We lined up at the race start, a few people came up and asked my race strategy for 4:25. I had 2 people that were in my group last year and stuck with me through most of the race come up and tell me they felt better about the race this time and were ready to make it happen. We stood at attention for the Star Spangled Banner and the race began just at 7:30.
The race director had stated earlier in the year that the course had changed slightly, had been rectified, and was the correct distance. (Apparently several people thought it was long last year.) We started the race and within the first 2 miles were on the Gulf Oak running trails. Last year’s course ran a figure 8 through these trails and the miles seemed to drag on forever. The new course though seemed to make a lot bigger loops, only had 1 out and back section. There was a really great part that was added in this year that ran along a newly constructed wooden bridge path that was elevated. This was a nice change of scenery from the the tree lined trails along the majority of the trails.
At Mile 23 we passed a water station that was handing out leis to runners & we exited the trail and hit the highway, and the highway hit back. Immediately pushing against us with a 20 mph headwind for the final 5k. At this moment I was immediately rejoiced that I had that extra minute and a half cushion in my time so that we could push through the wind without the stress of the clock. The majority of my group had stayed with me from the very beginning and were ready to get to the finish. I snagged a few photos in similar spots as last year’s race along the beach front highway, and as we crossed the Mile 24 marker the wind picked up even more leaving me no choice but to increase effort and pace a little bit.
My group fought against the wind and did their best. I pulled ahead a little in the last mile and a half and spotted The Hangout in the distance. Keeping a close eye on the clock I thought I may finish even closer to my goal pace time than last year. I came in through the finish chute at 4:24:58, a mere 2 seconds away from perfection.
After finishing I waited to cheer in the runners that had been with me through the race. Then met with my friend Tom and his family for lunch at The Hangout while we waited for age group awards. I met Tom earlier in the month at the First Light Marathon in Mobile. We ran the majority of that race together and found a large number of common interests. It was nice to meet his wife and daughters and talk to Disney for a bit before hitting the road to head home.
In comparision to last year’s event I enjoyed the course much, much more. However, the post race party seemed less eventful. (Hello, do you remember how cool that foam party was?) This may be due to the cooler temperatures than we experienced last year. Many thank yous to the race director for the opportunity to return for the 2nd running of the race, I hope to return in 2018 to try to get even closer to that perfect 4:25 finish.