Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Valentine’s Day Crank and Grind

You know you’re in trouble when:

1) The forecast for your February marathon is cold, windy, and rainy.
2) The National Anthem is being sung at the starting line and you haven’t decided what to wear.
3) You’re still at your hotel.

Myrtle Beach Marathon

My Myrtle Beach Marathon weekend starts with Tuesday. I’m desperately trying to regain strength lost over the last few months I attribute to lack of training. Over each of the past two weekends I got in a long handbike ride on Saturday and a marathon-length ride on Sunday. I was a little optimistic for the MB Marathon because the second marathon-ride was back in the time range I was hoping for.

Tuesday I put in a ride over the Atlantic Beach Bridge to work on strength. I still felt like I had a long way to go.

Wednesday I got in another AB Bridge climb. Finally I felt some improvement. Nothing like a year ago but better than in recent weeks.

Thursday my teammate and I set out to Myrtle Beach. I hoped to squeeze in a ride in the PM. There just wasn’t enough time in the day. We made it to the expo and picked up our bib numbers. My teammate was registered for the 5K and I, the marathon. The MB marathon not only welcomes hand cranks, they have separate divisions for cranks and push rims and awards for both. And it’s flat. At the expo, one of the vendors was the Grand Strand Bicycle Shop. One of their salesmen told us about a nice bike trail at Huntington Beach.

From MBM09

Friday morning we visited that trail and put in a 10-mile ride at a leisurely pace. It was a nice way to burn off the pancakes I had for breakfast. Anyone who has been to Myrtle Beach knows that pancake houses are as scarce as tee shirt stores. The trail winds through a shady pine forest before connecting with a street bike lane in Murrell’s Inlet.


Later Friday afternoon I dropped my teammate off at Broadway at the Beach for the start of the 5K. I drove over to Coastal Field to catch her at the end. I took a short nap in the van while I waited for her to get underway. At the last minute I decided to catch her out on the course so I wheeled out to Grissom Pkwy. to catch her at about mile 2.7. Pardon the fuzzy picture; I can hold a camera about as still as a paint shaker.

I didn’t get to see her finish, but she said this time she sprinted at the finish; remembering the Dash for Cash when she missed placing in her division by about 10 seconds. When I found her she was searching for her results. She couldn’t find her time but said it looked like there were others that beat her substantially. We were planning on a 4 AM wake-up so we didn’t wait around for the awards.

Bi-Lo Marathon

Friday night I looked at every weather report I could find. I brought rain gear that would feel good if it rained. The problem is it would cook me if it didn’t. I woke up a dozen times or so during the night remembering the Neuse River Bridge Run and how miserable I got in the cold wind and rain.

Saturday morning it looked like the rain might hold off for a couple of hours, but it looked like it would, in all likelihood, rain and the temps would start off in the lower 50s and never break 57. I decided to go with rain gear. Rain pants covered Polartec sweats on my legs and a Gore-Tex jacket covered thin polyester short-sleeved and cotton long-sleeved tee shirts.

The race starts at 6:30 with chairs crossing the line at 6:25. My hope was to be at the starting line at 6:00. The extra time dressing and deciding what to wear messed me up. I thought I gad plenty of time, but after I got on the bike I looked at my watch, which was heretofore covered up by my rain jacket. It was already after 6:00. I was in the parking lot of our motel, which, fortunately, was only about 5 blocks from the start.

Mile 0 Grissom Parkway

I was almost ready to shove off and it was 6:15. By now they were singing the National Anthem. Then I made a crucial decision. I was going to be too hot. I got my teammate to help me out of the jacket (which is a big deal, trust me on this). The clouds were still high and the temps were warmer than forecast. By the time it rained I might even welcome the cooling. About 6:20 I rolled off toward the start. As I got near I could see the spotlight in the sky and began to hear the announcer. He was announcing the chairs were about to start.

About then a charity team walked out into the street right in front of me en masse. What else could go wrong? I was about to find out. After weaving around the charity team I arrived at the start just as the gun was fired for the chair start. The only problem was, there was a crowd control fence between me and the starting line. I pulled up to a joint in the fence and shouted to some bewildered spectators to move one section of the fence. Stunned at the sight of me, it took some more shouted directions before someone moved the fence and I could get through. By that time the runners were starting to move forward to the start.

The starter saw me and waived me forward and off I went. I looked down the road and could barely see the last chair in front of me. The only sign of the lead wheelers was the faint blink of the police car lights off in the distance. About two hundred yards down the course I remembered to start my GPS. My GPS recorded itself being started at 6:24:40. GPS time is usually pretty accurate, so it looks to me like the race started early. Well, I was off. My last race got of with an un-exciting start. This one was anything but.

Mile 1 (about 8:40) Joe White Ave.

I usually enjoy a few minutes at the start meeting other handbikers and wheelchair competitors. Not the case this day. I would have to be content to read about them in the newspaper. As I cruised south on Grissom I was all alone. A handful of spectators were out on the street in the dark and they were all great support. After about a half mile I turned west on Joe White Ave. A motorcycle joined up with me and cruised along beside. I felt pretty good but I wished I could have rested for a few minutes at the start after my “warm up sprint” from the motel. A policeman came along side and told the motorcyclist that the runners just launched.

Mile 2 (7:59) Seaboard St.

I turned up Seaboard and headed north. The road looped around a mall and eventually the lead runners passed. Since there were no cash prizes, the Kenyans weren't out in front. We yelled to each other in support. The road was flat and the asphalt was fast. The course actually looped past our motel and my teammate stood out front yelling in support.

From MBM09

Mile 3 (7:45) Broadway at the Beach

We turned off 21st Ave. N. into the Broadway shopping center. The runners were very supportive. Some stuck out their “thumbs up” others yelled. As we approached a corner, one even asked whether I wanted the inside or outside track. “Wheels yield to heels” is my policy, I said, “you take the inside, I’ll take the outside.”

Mile 4 (9:35) 29th Ave. N.

After a few turns we headed east on 29th Ave. N. It seems any beach town has rolling up and down streets which is the nature of the old sand dunes that lie beneath. We went up a gentle grade along 29th as we headed toward the main drag along the waterfront. I noticed a folding umbrella that someone had lost or cast aside beside the street. I thought to myself, “I bet they will miss that later.” The weather right now was about perfect; cloudy, cool, and light breezes. I was glad had relinquished the jacket.

Mile 5 (7:43) Ocean Blvd.

Along 29th Ave. N. the road drops pretty steeply to Ocean Blvd. Unfortunately it also narrows which made it impossible to safely capitalize on the downhill. I fell into a gap between runners and got a pretty tight turn around the corner onto Ocean Blvd. At about mile 5 I spied my teammate again who was waiting on the sidewalk to take my picture.

Mile 6 (8:22), Mile 7 (9:46), Mile 8 (8:59) Ocean Blvd.

The south end of Ocean Blvd. rolled up and down with gentle grades and not much elevation. No one would ever want for tee-shirts or sunglasses in this part of town. The fellow runners were great. We chatted up little conversations and for the most part they offered a lot of support.

Mile 9 (11:01) Kings Hwy.

At S 28th Ave. S. we turned off the Grand Strand to the west and then back to 27th Ave. S. 28th Ave. had a bit of incline so I got down in my lowest gears and ground my way slowly up the hill. All the runners I have traveled with down Ocean Blvd. went past and I settled in with a new group after finishing the climb back up to Kings Hwy.

Mile 10 (8:34), Mile 11 (8:20) Kings Hwy.

Again I settled in with a group of very supportive runners that passed me on the uphills and I passed them on the downhills. Not to exaggerate; these are minor gradients. I did start to encounter a few self-deafened iPodders that couldn’t hear to move over as I closed in behind them on the downhills. This day, I was less than hesitant to veer into the traffic lane if it was clear when someone didn’t get out of the way. If Ocean Blvd. were Myrtle Beach’s Mecca for tee shirts and sunglasses, King’s Highway is the center for pancake houses and other restaurants. Every couple of blocks there were clumps of spectators that offered great support.

Mile 12 (10:27) Joe White Ave.

I got a nice bit of gravity after climbing a little hill on this last stretch of King’s Highway. I cranked hard and coasted around the corner and started a new gradual uphill grade back up Joe White Ave. The mile 12 water stop has historically been run by a group of middle school kids and today they were out in force with a ton of enthusiastic support.

Mile 13 (9:52) Grissom Parkway

As we approached the half marathon turn off into Coastal field, the half marathon runners began to pick up their pace as they sprinted toward their finish. When we passed the divider for the turn off the volume of runners fell off by about two thirds. I was hopeful that that would make future passing easier.

Mile 14 (12:19) 29th Ave. N.

From MBM09

I met my teammate and stopped to refuel just before the 13.1 split on Grissom Parkway. I ate a Snickers and drank a PowerAde and got back on the road after about a 3 minute rest. Now there were only marathoners left and I settled in with a group of runners that I pretty much stayed with for about five miles. I turned off Grissom and onto N 29th St. and met the 4th place hand cranker on his way to the finish.

From MBM09

Others, including my friend David Swaim had already finished in the time it took me to get halfway! As I crossed Kings Highway I could see my friend, Dan-O coming up the street to his 5th place crank finish.

Mile 15 (9:26), Mile 16 (9:33), Mile 17 (9:02), Mile 18 (9:12) Ocean Blvd.

This end of the Grand Strand is the residential and condo end of the beach. Only a few spots forced me into my lower gears. It was pretty much just crank and grind throughout the 4 northbound miles. I settled in with a group of runners that would pass me when I slowed for a slight hill; then I would catch them on the downhill side. We got a few conversations going but whenever I got down into my lower gears and slowed down, they would leave me and I would mix into a new group of runners. One runner had “Go Julie” written across the back of her jersey. She and I exchanged encouragement throughout the rest of the race. There were a few spectators out but generally the participants provided each other support.

Mile 19 (15:19) 79th Ave. N.

The last stretch along the ocean started with a steep climb and then a steep drop. When we turned up 79th Ave., I once again had to get into my lower gears all the way back to Kings Hwy. Again, I dropped behind the comrades I had traveled with for the last few miles. At King’s Hwy. A policeman said some words of support. I replied with, “Thanks for being here!”

Mile 20 (10:05) Parkwood Dr.

The rest of the way west on 79th Ave. was slightly uphill so I couldn’t maintain the pace I had before. At the end of the street we looped through the driveway of a school where the Myrtle Beach Sun News took the notorious picture of me that they published in their Sunday edition last year.

The photo was snapped when I was heading for a curb at the end of the bus parking area. I have my head turned hard to the right looking at another (female) runner so I can maneuver right and without running into her. The photographer must have thought I was checking out her backside since the caption published was something like, ‘Handcrank participant slows to look at another runner.’ The picture is cropped such that her backside is all you see of her.

My teammate has her own caption for the picture; ‘Handbiker busted checking butt.’ Needless to say, today I had my eyes open for photographers.

Mile 21 (7:26) Kings Hwy.

We left turn around in the school and started down Parkwood Dr. Everyone seemed to be a bit relieved at this point because now we were heading back south toward the finish. As we turned east onto 76th Ave. N. I was rewarded with a slight downhill and downwind stretch. I got as far to the left as I could and went a bit faster. Soon I was catching those I had come down Ocean Blvd. As I passed Julie, I yelled, “Go Julie” again. She shouted back, “Welcome back!”

Mile 22 (11:24), Mile 23 (7:29), Mile 24 (10:55) Kings Hwy.

About 9:30 it started to rain. It was just a faint mist, almost like a damp fog. It felt good. I wasn’t worried about the temperature now. I knew there was a hot shower waiting for me soon. As we made our way south on Kings Hwy. the rain slowly picked up to a light drizzle. It never rained hard; just enough to soak you thoroughly. A few spectators stuck it out in spite of the rain. The water table volunteers were especially supportive.

My teammate rode up on her bicycle about mile 24 and offered my jacket. I declined. I was already wet and not cold yet. Besides, I was slowing down with a headwind and anxious to get this over. She rode along for a couple of miles then headed on back to wait for me at the finish area. What a trooper!

Mile 25 (9:53) 29th Ave. N.

Runners were picking up their pace as they turned west on 29th for the last time. Mentally, there was a “home stretch” feeling. The rain had sent most of the spectators home along this stretch. I should have checked to see if the abandoned umbrella had found a new owner.

Mile 26 (10:27) Grissom Parkway

As I closed in on mile 26 I dialed up my mother with my Bluetooth earpiece to let her listen in to the sounds of the finish. I caught up with Julie again and we both laughed about finishing together after about 9 miles.

A bearded fellow ran up beside me and gave me the greatest surprise. He was a close family friend that I hadn’t seen in many years. Somehow he had heard of my participation and was watching for me. He ran with me up to the finish chute where he veered off while I finished. I hoped to see him on the other side of the finish line but we never did reconnect. His father and mine had served together as Marines, so our families, too, shared a bond. This is one bit of unfinished business from the race; to reconnect with him.

Finish (3:27) .35 mile

From MBM09

I know, it’s supposed to be .2 miles, but I never follow the exact path of the course certification, so my GPS always accumulates a little extra distance. They handed us a nice heart-shaped medal (it was Valentine’s Day).

From MBM09

My chip time was 4:09:09. Not as good as I had hoped for. And not the 3:51 I did last year nor the 3:41 I did in Jacksonville. I just need to train more before the Shamrock.

From MBM09

One of the sponsors was Chick-Fil-A. I parked under their tent and my teammate bought me a sandwich and found me some hot coffee. It never tasted so good.

We searched the finish area for a while for my friend. We didn’t find him and by now the post-race chill was robbing my body heat. We went on back to the motel where I indulged in a half-hour long hot shower.

Later that afternoon my teammate and I had a nice steak dinner for our Valentine’s Day date. We were too tired to do anything else so we went back to the motel to rest. We decided we were too tired for the post-race party at House of Blues. About 8 PM we found the results posted on the internet and learned she had placed third in her age group in the 5K. We have been trying to get in touch with the race crew to get her trophy, but that is still another piece of unfinished business.

All-in-all a fun race and a great weekend! The Sun News did a great job covering the events. Read their coverage.

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