My 62nd lifetime 26.2- Oak Island Marathon- was a game time decision.
Real talk: I simply wanted to run without the pressure of a specific pace or goal time.
The problem with that? It created unnecessary anxiety!
Beyond what others expected (or my own perception of it), I felt pressure to go as fast as personally possible every time I got to a starting line.
Ridiculous, right? I know. So I did something about it.
The purpose of Oak Island Marathon was simply to enjoy 26.2 miles.
It wasn’t on my original 2022 schedule (in fact, I registered two days prior), but needed to make peace with running purely for fun.
Spoiler alert: I did!
Here are some highlights from the course, heavy on considerations if this is a race you are going to take on, too:
I picked my friend Stacey up before the race and we rode to the start together.
We live about 30 minutes south of Oak Island but Stacey drove in from out of town. February is a great time to come to the beach- an underrated season!
There are no crowds so public parking is simple, leashed dogs are allowed on the beach itself without restrictions, and rentals are much less expensive with no minimum night reservation.
Sure, you won’t be swimming but you can still enjoy a walk on the beach, beauty of the ocean, and get your toes in the sand.
…and you won’t need to wait a long time at your favorite restaurant!
Anywhoo, we grabbed parking together and did all the pre-race things from the front seats of my minivan.
There is plenty of ample parking at this race, provided you get there early. The start and finish area is the same, so no shuttles to battle or schedule gymnastics.
The Oak Island marathon begins at 6:45 and Coastal Race offers same day pick up- too easy!
There are pacers for this race, but only in 15 minute increments for the half beginning at 1:30 and hourly for the full marathon (4:00, 5:00).
The last time I did this race, it was absolutely miserable. Heavy rain, puddles everywhere.
I was wearing a poncho and looking down almost the entire so rain wouldn’t slap me in the face!
Given that experience, even though this was the second time I have done this course, it was all new to me!
We began with the east half marathon (more on that below) and watched the sun come up as we weave through residential neighborhoods toward the Caswell Beach area and lighthouse.
It was slightly windy and 40 degrees, but I had throwaway clothes on to keep me warm.
I kept on the top layers a lot longer than I thought I would- underestimated the wind- and could kick myself for not bringing turtle gloves.
I didn’t look at my watch until mile 18. And that was only because another runner asked me what our total time was!
1: this race is for fun
2: if I’m not looking at my watch, I’m not mentally flipping out about estimated finish time
I am in the middle of a training cycle for an April race, so it was really important to just run the pace that felt comfortable for my body.
The later miles were the second half of the west half marathon course.
If you’ll recall, earlier I referred to the east course.
This race divides the half marathon participants into two- you either run the east course or the west course.
Which should you run?
Honestly, both of them are challenging, in different ways.
By nature of front row (to the ocean) running, the east course is a lot windier.
I guess you could get lucky and get a tailwind, but we had a headwind for the majority of our time.
The west course? You’ve got a bridge that goes over the intercoastal on that one. Two very sharp inclines on an otherwise very flat course.
Full marathon? Well, you are doing both of them and that bridge is not pretty because it comes exactly around mile 20.
So right around the time your legs are really fatigued….but way too early for “almost there”.
Personally, this was the only time I had to really talk myself out of a pain cave. It was a mental and physical challenge.
Race results delineated between lighthouse (mile 8) and bridge (mile 21) pace and mine went from 7:58 to 8:19.
Sure, the sheer fatigue of later miles accounted for some of that gap, but in a perfectly paced world I would have kept it within :05. I went out too fast at the start!
Bridge be darned, I still finished in a very respectable 3:32:56, which is a Boston qualifying time by just over 7 minutes.
I was the 8th female overall, 3rd in the masters division and, notably, this is my 6th fastest time ever…and the other 5 were not without a lot of watch checks, mental pace math, and stress during the race.
This was far more enjoyable.
So, East or West?
If you are renting a beach house and have family cheering you on, it probably depends on where you are staying.
If you have friends running the full marathon, the east course is an easy choice- you can start together like Stacey and I did at 6:45 am!
If you’d prefer to press snooze, the west course begins at 7:00 am at the same starting and finishing area.
The west is also a good choice if you are doing a strong long run (versus racing) because it has those inclines.
Hills build the strength in your legs, which ultimately help you run faster. As a training run, you want that bridge.
I need to take my ego out of the equation and run more races for fun.
There’s absolutely a time and place for setting big goals and going for the challenge, but we miss out on a lot when we’re only concerned about finishing time.
The community and energy surrounding events like this? Amazing. And you can run any pace you want to enjoy it!