Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 Wrightsville Beach Marathon

Now in its second year, the Wrightsville Beach Marathon takes place on the same weekend (and day) as the Tobacco Road Marathon. They might have a marginally better turnout for both races if they were on different days, adding those who want to do a double over the weekend, but attendance didn't seem to suffer for either event, based on the number of finishers. Both races also had a half marathon.

Going into this event, I knew what part of the course would be like. I knew that a large part of the race takes place in the Landfall gated golf community back on the mainland. I honestly wasn't expecting but came away pretty happy with the course, with a few caveats. The races begin in a large park that serves somewhat as a recreational hub for the community. The park lies within a 2.5-3 mile walking route that locals refer to as the "loop" though it's actually more of a triangle. The race makes use of this loop as you immediately exit the park and head east toward Wrightsville Beach island. You'll cross the causeway on a low incline bridge and then run down North Lumina Drive for a bit, past some homes and businesses. Then you turn back west and cross back over the causway on another bridge and head back toward the park, along the third side of the "triangle." You'll run right by the park and head toward the drawbridge over the intercoastal waterway, which (hopefully) schedules no openings during race time. This begins what is probably the least interesting part of the course for most people as you run along Hwy 74 (Eastwood Drive) away from the island. You'll pass one of the entrances to Landfall on your right and many shops and businesses on your left. Then, there is a turn right onto Military Cutoff Road and you begin a LONG straightaway. It really seemed to drag on forever and was arrow-straight. Eventually, you turn into the Landfall community and begin what honestly became a slightly confusing series of loops. It was well marked and you're not really in danger of messing up, but it was easy to lose track of where you were in relation to the course. At one point, you are given a yellow wristband to wear to indicate that you have completed the first set of loops. You'll even exit Landfall and run back down the Military Cutoff Road straightaway again (though for a shorter distance than the first time,) and then head back into Landfall for the second set of loops. Landfall is filled with large, nice homes, and a number of residents will be sitting out to cheer you on. After you finish looping around Landfall, you're back out on Military Cutoff Road again, heading down that long straightaway. This time, however, you'll be diverted to shopping/residential area on the opposite side of the road from the Landfall entrance. This was a tough part because you could see the finish area (where the half-marathoners headed) but you still had 3-4 miles to go. This area was a bit less scenic, but not unpleasant. Ultimately, it is an out-and-back, but doesn't feel like one as much as the one near the end of the Charleston marathon did. The finish is in the midst of a large shopping complex that is best described as an outdoor mall. These things seem to be getting more popular. On the downside, nothing is open when most people finish the race.

Enough about the course. Here are some other significant details. Packet pickup was at the host hotel, Shell Island Resort, which is a nice place on the northern-most part of Wrightsville Beach Island. There are other nice hotels on the island with ocean and causeway views. There was an expo of sorts. It did not have a lot of things, but it was suitably sized for this size race. Picking up your stuff was kind of a buffet-style affair. You checked in and got your number at table one. Got your chip at table two, got your chip signed into the computer at table three, walked through the expo and got your shirt at table four. A lot of steps, but it moved very quickly. There was a pre-race pasta dinner that I did not attend, but they managed to get Bill Rogers to be the guest speaker--take that Tobacco Road Marathon. Bill even ran the half-marathon, I believe, and won his age group.

There were a number of things that make this event worth recommending. It starts at 6:30 a.m., which is still kind of dark this time of year, but also means cooler temperatures for your race. The aid stations were plentiful and sometimes seemed too numerous (though you can of course skip one if you don't need it.) They also had plenty of porta-jons. Makes sense when you consider that the folks in Landfall certainly don't want runners ducking behind their bushes to answer nature's call. They offered Heed and Hammer Gels. I don't like Heed all that much, but at least it doesn't have that Gatorade sweetness that can be tough to stomach later in the race. Given that March Madness was going on and that two NC schools were playing that afternoon, it was appropriate that the UNC, Duke, and NC State alumni clubs handled some of the largest aid stations, all decked out in their team gear. I do not know if that will be an annual feature or a one-time deal. There were a LOT of volunteers along the course--especially in Landfall--blocking the roads to make sure no one went the wrong way. They all had bright yellow shirts and were easy to spot.

The finish area had a lot going on once you crossed the line. I didn't take advantage of anything, but I saw a beer/pizza tent, massage tent, several vendors and sponsors' booths, an information both (!) and a main stage with live music (and the awards ceremony.) Results for the half marathon were posted beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the marathon results were posted at 10:30 a.m. Awards for the half were at about 10:00 a.m. and for the full at 11:30 a.m. Realizing that it would be an hour wait once I checked the results until the awards ceremony and that my usual post-race stomach issues were setting in, I headed out. I can say that for the half-marathon, they did the age groups in reverse order. Overall, Masters, and age group winners got engraved pint glasses, a little more stylized than those found at Umstead and Charleston. Overall and Masters winners also got cash. The shirt was a deep red, short-sleeved technical shirt and we also got a metal water bottle in our packs (for the car and office, more than for running with.)

Like Charleston, you really don't want to make this a "drive down, sleep, race, leave" event. Wrightsville, while small, is a great place to spend a weekend. As I mentioned before, there are several hotels right on the beach and you can walk out the door to the ocean. You can head into Wilmington on Saturday and see the US North Carolina, walk along the waterfront, etc... Or visit some of Wrightsville's attractions like it's museum or Airelee Gardens.

It's probably a very good race for a first-time marathoner or half-marathoner and (because of all the looping we did) I saw a lot of people walking (though I couldn't tell which race they were in...)

Wrightsville Beach Marathon

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