This was the 4th Annual Run Sunset Beach half marathon and 5k, hosted by Coastal Productions with the BAM Series (big ass medals) of Oak Island, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isles, and Holden Beach. There were approximately 750 half marathoners (not sure of 5k runners since results are still not posted online 4 days later).
Sunset Beach, just north of Myrtle Beach, is a very quaint beach town that consists of both mainland and barrier island and neighbors the remote space of Bird Island Reserve.
When I registered, the race was set to start and finish on the island, so I quickly snatched up a steal of a deal Airbnb room rental. Unfortunately, last minute, the race moved the start/finish (with no explanation) to the mainland and utilized a shuttle system which was even further from where I was staying. Thankfully the host of my stay drove me to Start (or this could have been walked or biked about 1-2miles, but there is a bridge to deal with). From speaking to locals, this race has changed courses a few times.
There is a Facebook page which is active, but lacking on answering people's questions.
The website had accurate information and frequent emails were sent advising of the new shuttle system.
PACKET PICK UP
The packet pick up was located outside of Sunset Beach in Callabash at a community center, which was fine with me as I passed it on my drive in. There was a long line waiting to get your bib. Only a shirt and bib was provided, without bag, even though they had a bag check at the Start.
This circle course started at Sunset Beach Park located just over the bridge on the mainland. Right away we go up over the somewhat steep, but short bridge, circle the island (with no ocean views), then back over the bridge, onto some open major roads, and finishing up through a golf course community.
The setting of the start/finish ended up being absolutely gorgeous. Sunset Beach Park has intracoastal views with the sun rise and has several swings to relax on.
The porta potty lines were about normal in wait (5-10min).
Word of mouth was the shuttle system was backed up, which led to them delaying the race 15 minutes.
All the sponsor vendors were out if you wanted to shop/talk
A megaphone was used, but was entirely too low, so only the people up front could hear what they were saying. All I heard was 'you should always run against traffic.' Later I learned this was important with the open busy roads we would be running on without cones/barriers.
The sun rose approximately 640a, so this was already a late start of 7a for late May. Then with the delay until 715a, the temps and humidity was already getting miserable. I forgot my Camelpak, so was praying the water stations every 1.5 miles would be properly stocked.
The first half of the race (bridge and island) actually wasn't that bad but once we went head on into traffic on the mainland, I became a little worried as some cars would not even move over or slow down. There was not a single cone out protecting the runners from traffic and there really was not even a bike lane to run in.
Most of the race was in direct sun, but thankfully some clouds rolled in towards the second half, and the golf course section of the last couple miles was shaded.
I felt pretty good for most of the course but was definitely slowed down with the heat.
I am still a little dumbfounded on why the race would decide that hose water is acceptable for a race. Did we not pay for this race? Where did the money go? Growing up with well water for hoses, I was shocked at first, but no one seemed to have the same reaction as me. I kept asking the volunteers if it was actually potable and not well water, and I finally received an answer of 'sure.' All I know is heat, and unfiltered water, leads to stomach craps. There was only one station that had bottled water, yet on Facebook they were thanking sponsors for providing water! Thankfully I did see a group of spectators passing out individual water bottles, so I snagged one of those which helped me for the first 6 miles. I definitely did not drink enough water for the hot race, too afraid of stomach issues later.
No GU was given, but they did have a ice pop station around M9. They were only passing out half sized ones and they were mostly melted. I later learned the slower runners did not get any at all. I also grabbed a huge chunk of ice to cool down my body.
There were a couple of people at the end of their driveway on the island that cheered us on, but other than that, there were no spectators other than the finish.
At the finish, you were immediately handed your medal and an ice cold cloth. The park was a nice relaxing area to hang out and celebrate, after you waited in the very long line for your beer (2) and pizza (2small slices) and a second line for an Icee (which I ended passing on because I was tired of waiting).
Free finish line photos were posted on Facebook in no particular order.
The gender specific shirt is a cute design. The fabric is a little rough though.
The medal is what the race tries to use to hook you to register. And I have to admit, it is pretty damn big (and heavy). I like how it has the local imagery. Pieces come off on the front and back of the medal and has magnets, which I assume means it connects with the other destination course medals.
Sunset Beach, NC is a very small area. Myrtle Beach is nearby if you want to stay there and drive in, but I would highly suggest against it. Rent a house on Sunset Beach island and enjoy the peacefulness of this small, very friendly community! Pick a house closer to Bird Island Reserve, and you get the less crowded part of the beach!
MUST DOs of SUNSET BEACH
-walk or bike south on the beach and find the Kindred Spirit mailbox
-kayak the intracoastal (i heard there are wild goats on one of the islands)
-enjoy a peaceful dusk or dawn on one of the swings at Sunset Beach park
-have a beer and mingle with locals over live music at Mavericks
-carbo load at Robertos
Staying in Sunset Beach, NC was an absolute joy and I definitely regretted I did not stay a second night. Maybe it was my Airbnb hosts that made me feel like family, maybe it was their awesome beach house that had so many places to kick back and relax, maybe it was the peaceful white sand beaches, maybe it was the overly friendly people everywhere I went....but it definitely was not the race. Unfortunately this race needs to make some major improvements before I would recommend it. Running into direct, heavy, and fast traffic is not safe and to pay to run in a race, there should be some road closure for us. Using hose water, whether it is regular drinking water or not, is not good. Everything else I can forgive, even the late start. But when you pay to run a race, these are the two things you can not slack on.
I am on a 10 year mission to run a half marathon a month while also running a half marathon in each of the 50 states; all to help spread the word of breast cancer prevention, early detection, and living a healthy lifestyle including running and walking. Please consider making a DONATION today to show your support. 100% net proceeds go towards the Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation.
Love Running? Love the Beach?...then you would absolutely love the Run On The Beach half marathon in Cocoa Beach, FL, aka USA Beach Running Championships! Picture this: dawn breaking; the sky filling with amazingly pink hues; dolphins jumping; a rain cloud rolling in the distance creating a rainbow; seagulls cheering; the waves rhythmly crashing on the hard packed sand....who needs earbuds?...you are engulfed by natures beauty; the breaking of a new day; and a chance to show what you are made of!
This was the 7th Annual Run on the Beach which hosts a 10k and half marathon out and back course on the hard packed sand. Step it up a notch, and enter the barefoot challenge!
EXPO/PACKET PICK UP
Packet pick up was held at the infamous Ron Jon surf shop both Friday and Saturday, which gratefully provided an additional 15% off discount while you were there! Be prepared to spend hours exploring this two story expansive store! The race also gave away free hats to the first aprx 2,000 runners to persuade early packet pick up. You could also pick up the morning of the race.
There was limited $5 parking for the first come first serve early bird risers at Shepherd Beach where the start was. Otherwise you had to find surrounding parking, mostly metered at $2 per hour. However, ask a local and you will get some insight to secret free parking. I arrived an hour and half early and had no problem getting into the $5 lot.
There were plenty of porta potties in the parking lot, with little lines. They also provided coffee and donuts to get things going. There's a nice boardwalk between the parking lot and sand to watch the sunrise. The race starts right after sunrise ON the beach at Shepherd Beach at low tide. It had been super windy for a couple of days, so the beach was a little slanted. The timing mat was placed on the soft sand, I assume to be extra sure it did not get wet from the waves, which made it a little weird to start and finish on a soft incline.
The weather was predicted to be sunny and 80. It was a cloudy sunrise, but I was not complaining. Mile 1 I was actually happy with the cloud coverage and headwind which kept the heat at bay. By Mile 2 I was laughing as it started raining, but not for long. By Mile 3 I was ecstatic as a rainbow appeared in the distance. At the turn around at Mile 6.5 I was elated that I had survived that constant strong headwind and finally had it at my back! Miles 7-9 I felt like I was effortlessly sprinting. Miles 9-13 the sun was out in full force and my energy had dropped, but thankfully I just ran in the water to stay cool!
I finished with my average time, which I walked away okay with, since this was on the sand, we had a strong headwind, I was running in Vibrams, and my heel had been bothering me for a few weeks so I consciously did not push it.
I carried my CamelPak because of the heat, but the stations were fully stocked and had enough volunteers. The turn around point provided gel.
There are very few people out cheering for the race, so don't expect people with posters shouting your name. Instead you will see those with a surprised look on their face that just happened to come out to watch the sunrise or go for their morning stroll or towards the finish, families setting up to enjoy a full beach day.
The race provided leis, mimosas, and a live band right on the sand to celebrate. Because I met up with some Running Buddies who ran the 10k to go to brunch, I did not get to see the food up close, but it looked like some sort of egg and bread was served.
Love collecting medals? This is a race to follow! They change the medal every year and they have been awesome! This year was a huge octopus. The gender specific shirt is not splattered with sponsor logos and has the race logo. The hat matches.
There are plenty of options to chose from right near the race start, however, I opted to camp at Jetty Park in Port Canaveral, which was only a 5 minute drive away. This campground was definitely a perfect choice! There is a separate tent area which is perfectly shaded and away from the rvs. (there are cabins for rent as well if camping is not your style). The campground has direct access to the Jetty Beach and Pier, which is fun to explore both day and night! The bathhouse has really large showers, and there is a small store on the campground as well as on the beach park.
COCOA BEACH, FL SITES
Must see while in Cocoa Beach and surrounding area....
-Exploration Tower in Cape Canaveral-family adventure
-I Dream of Jeanie Lane-not only to take the picture, but to visit Lori Wilson Park which is one of the only beach parks that has free parking
-Manatee Sanctuary Park-awesome sunset views over the Banana River
-Cocoa Beach Pier-tourist trap, but there's a bar on the very end of peir- Rikki Tikki with cool views-be prepared to pay to enter that part of the pier-hint, parking lot is free after 4p.
-Historic Cocoa Village-super cute village with shops and restaurants
Running on the beach takes running to a whole other level. I feel completely rejuvenated from head to toe after being embraced in so much natural beauty. I highly recommend this race for this experience, as not many beaches have this opportunity.
Marco Island, a small island off the coast of the Everglades, just south of Naples hosts a race that I have been following for a few years now. Unfortunately, Marco Island is also not a cheap piece of hidden paradise in Southern Florida during Spring Break month. Thankfully I finally came up with a game plan this year! I would camp! Collier Seminole State Park is just 20 minutes from Marco Island and was a perfect way for me to stay in budget and experience the race!
It is about a six hour drive from Northeast Florida to Marco Island, so I decided to chop it up and stay a night at Cayo Costa State Park the Friday before race day which is about an hour and half north of Marco Island. And well, while I was at it and so close to the Everglades National Park, I decided I needed to stay at the Flamingo campground the night after the race. Three nights, three campgrounds. One memorable race weekend!
CAYO COSTA STATE PARK
Listed as Florida's #1 campground by Travel and Leisure, Cayo Costa is only accessible by boat. After securing a reservation at the campground, you must then secure a second reservation with Tropic Star ferry out of Bookelia, FL if you do not have your own boat. Make sure to arrive early as you will want to stop at the SUPER cute town of Matlacha, FL for a shrimp and bacon bloody mary with the manatees at Island Cafe, lunch and live music at Old Fish Marina, and do some shopping in the towns colorful market; all while soaking in the awesome water views!
The ferry carries about 20 passengers and all the gear you will need for your stay. Kayaks, paddleboards, bikes are an extra charge. Once you are loaded, sit back and relax on the slow 50 minute ride to your deserted island. And don't forget to watch for dolphins swimming in the wake!
The island consists of a ranger station; a tiny concessionaire for bike and kayak rentals, and a chance to purchase wood, ice and maybe a couple of souvenirs; and two bathrooms. There is no electricity and only one outdoor cold shower.
The campground is about a mile from the arrival dock and there is a tram that runs every hour to transport you and your gear. There are 30 primitive camp sites on one side and 11 very basic and rustic cabins on the other. The island is packed full of wildlife so food and such must be packed in hard cases.
The tent sites are randomly spaced. Some in perfectly secluded areas and others right on top of your neighbor. So make sure you talk to the ranger and let them know exactly what kind of experience you are looking for. Sites 9, 10, 11, 13, 19, 20 seemed to be the most private to me. I stayed at site 10 which is the closest to the water so you can hear the waves crashing. It also has an open area at the fire pit so you can watch the amazing star filled sky! Being a remote island, creatures do stir throughout the night, so don't be surprised if you get a visit by a raccoon or rat as you sit by the fire! (apparently there's wild boar too, but I never got a chance to see one).
Exploring this 9 mile long island will definitely keep you busy. The west side is where you will find the stretch of gorgeous white sand beach with tons of shells at the southernmost point. The middle of the island has trails for running and biking, and the east side of the island has the marina where kayaking and paddle boarding are available.
So what did I think? The beach was pretty spectacular! I was completely amazed at how many and how large the shells were along the beach. Fishermen seemed to be happy as well. The sunset was gorgeous as expected. The trails were very remote and hard packed for some good running. I came across unexpected critters such as alligators and snakes and lots of birds. Renting the kayak was easy and there was a hidden cove where a slew of manatees were hanging out! Be careful, if you get too up close and personal, they will definitely give you a splash!
Overall it was definitely one of my best camping experiences ever! ...a perfect 24 hour get away! However, did I get that 'escape to paradise on a deserted island vibe'?....not so much. Besides being with everyone staying at the campground, other tour companies bring 'day trippers' to the beach, so be prepared to see about 50 people coming at once to claim their spot on the sand next to your private oasis. I came to this island thinking I needed some alone time to relax, clear my head, and figure some things out in life. However, everyone that came over on the boat together seemed to be on a contagious "dont worry be happy" island vibe which quickly caught on and it was fun to share this unique camping excursion!
COLLIER SEMINOLE STATE PARK
Back at the dock by 2p, I headed over to Collier Seminole State Park which was about an hour and half drive away. After a quick set up of camp, I drove the straight 20 minute drive to Marco Island to see the sunset (be prepared to pay a flat $8 fee to access the beach. or head to Sunset Cafe, order a drink, and get your parking validated). Afterwards, the campground hosted a star gazing event where the ranger discussed the different constellations and had some pretty large viewing telescopes.
Because I arrived late to Collier Island SP and left right after the race, I didn't get to experience much of the grounds, trails, waterways. I did like how the very wooded tent site area is completely separate from the Rvs and the location was perfect for an inexpensive stay to visit Marco Island.
ABOUT THE RACE
Marco Island Bridge run is a small town race located just south of Naples hosting both a 5k and half marathon. This was the 9th successful running with approximately 400 runners.
RACE MORNING-PACKET PICK UP/PARKING/START
The race offers packet pick up the morning of, which worked perfect for me. The parking was in the Publix parking lot and was seamless. The half marathon starts first with the 5k shortly following. This simple race didn't have much to offer at the Start besides porta potties, so I waited in the car as it was still cold. Yes, thats right, cold in Southern Florida! It was 55 degrees and it was going to be a perfect running weather day!... clear skies and still only 65 degrees by finish time!
Yes Marco Island is technically an island and has a beach, but you wouldn't know that running this course! In fact it doesn't even run anywhere near the beach. This out and back course starts mid island, and takes you straight to The Goodland bridge a few miles headed off the island. Up and over the bridge and a quick turn around to go back over. It then takes you into some extremely rich (but abandoned?) neighborhood with beautifully landscaped mansions on the intercoastal with rolling hills throughout.
All the fuel stations were properly stocked and manned. There was gatorade and water and they even offered Gu twice. Besides having a couple of bands playing on our approach to and from the bridge, there were no spectators cheering you on for this race.
I felt amazing! Not only was it perfect running weather for me, but I felt strong as I have been doing a running streak since The DONNA marathon. I conquered the bridge easily and was running nonstop for about 6 miles. The second half I felt the exhaustion start to kick in, so I started the 30sec walk breaks. Unfortunately I had forgotten my ipod, so I didn't have the extra motivation this time around; it was just me and my breathing. But this course is so peaceful and quiet it was perfect to be one with nature.
This was my 71st half marathon finish line crossing and this was the first time I had the two girls passing out medals excitedly cheering me on as I approached the line!
There were the normal bagels, bananas, oranges and water at the finish. They did the awards and then told us to meet at Speakeasy patio for the after party which was about a 5 minute drive to a little Chicago restaurant on a small neighborhood waterway. The race paid for our first beer and they held a raffle where I ended up winning movie theater tickets.
I was surprised to see a four leaf clover on the green race shirt and equally surprised to see a green ribbon on the medal which both clashed with their traditional red and white bridge logo. The race is not advertised as a St Patrick's Day race, nor does it fall on St Patrick's Day so its a bit disappointing. The generic medal unfortunately also is not date specific. However, I do love that the shirt is not splattered with sponsor logos. When I picked up my shirt, they said I registered for a Womens Small which I knew was a mistake. I checked my email confirmation and no size was mentioned, however, I rechecked the registration process on the website and it does not mention the shirts will be gender specific, so I chose Small thinking Unisex. If you like to wear your shirts, you may want to double check with the race before registering.
I loved the peaceful nature of this challenging course. You will definitely want to make this a long weekend/week vacation and explore the surrounding area of not only Marco Island Beach, but the Everglades and possibly the nearby State Parks.
AFTER THE RACE...
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK/FLAMINGO CAMPGROUND
The drive from Collier State Park to Flamingo Campground in the Everglades National Park was about 3 hours. But the Everglades National Park is so expansive, I felt like I was in it the entire drive. It is pretty much a straight drive across the state where you will see multiple alligator viewing areas as well as multiple air boat tour companies. Once on the east coast there is nothing but nurseries and farmland until you hit the entrance to the Everglades National Park. Once inside the park, it is another 45 minutes drive to the Flamingo Campground located at the very southern point of the Florida peninsula. There is not much to see, actually, there is nothing to see just driving the desolate route to the campground. However there are lots of opportunities to pull over and do a trail or drop in a boat/kayak.
There are two portions of the Flamingo campground, located on the Florida Bay. One which is a first come first serve, open field walk in. This is the one I chose with waterfront views. Unfortunately I quickly realized there would not be much of a sunset from the vantage point, but we would get a nice sunrise over the water.
After claiming my territory for the night, I quickly realized everything was not as I thought it would be. Instead of rambling on about the negative, I will just quickly list.
-there is no parking next to your tent if you are in the open field. The closer to the water you go, the further you have to walk back and forth to haul your gear.
-the grounds and beach were trashed with garbage and glass (as the night progressed I realized vultures like to hang out here which is probably the problem)
-its no joke about the mosquitoes. The wind and fire help to keep them away at the open camp field but not on trails, and of course a good bug spray is a must, but you will definitely still want all your skin to be covered.
-staff is just plain rude-ranger who checked me in, as well as at the marina store
-Flamingo Park doesn't have flamingo visits any more
-3 small pieces of firewood is $8
I did try to do a short trail, but as I looked down I was completely covered in mosquitoes so just opted to spend the evening at the bonfire relaxing. Everyone seemed to go to bed after sunset, so I felt like I had the place to myself once dark hit and the expansive sky full of stars came out. There were shooting stars galore! Because I had to work the next day, I didn't get to experience what I know the park has to offer. I would suggest checking out the nature boat tours and visit the alligator viewing area where thousands of gators hang out, which I did last time and enjoyed.
I am on a 10 year mission to run a half marathon a month as well as run one in each of the 50 states, all to help spread the word of breast caner prevention, early detection, and living a healthy lifestyle. Please consider making a DONATION today to show your support. 100% net proceeds go towards the Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation.