Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The O.C. Challenge Part 2: "Too Hot (in the Hot Tub)

A view from the Ocean City inlet--the turnaround point to start heading north to the Delaware border.

With fresh legs from boardwalk running and the collective energy from the morning exercisers, reaching Ocean City's inlet was a milestone and literal turning point during the O.C. Challenge. I polished off the rest of my NUUN infused water and headed north along the road.

I stopped through the 7-11 as you come across the bridge leading you into Ocean City around 1st Street, where I grabbed a bottle of water and a Snickers Marathon bar (gotta go for the honey/almond flavor), which I ate in the shade in front of the store. Then it was onward, due north.

This may have been the quickest paced part of the trek. Music was cranking, energy was good and not yet sapped by the heat from above and emanating from the pavement, and I found myself counting miniature golf courses, Candy Kitchens, Dumsers Ice Cream joints, and Sunsations stores. Traffic is never dead at the beach and the breakfast crowd was out, but it wasn't the mid-day or evening throng yet.

If you've run at the beach, along Coastal Highway, you know it's as it seems--over-developed, on the grid of numbered streets, colorful, and noisy. My beach runs are generally 50 to 90 minutes, and the road comes after the beach, making me feel faster and push the pace. In this case, the conveniently numbered streets gave me a good sense for where I was on the quest, but also sapped momentum (hitting 70th Street from well south of 1st Street, only to realize you've got 76 more streets to go has its down side!).

As I reached 80th Street, I stopped through a Royal Farms store, grabbed another Snickers Marathon bar and a water that was too big to fit in my Nathan water bottle. Why? I took the remaining water and dumped it straight over my head, much to the amusement of those getting gas there and those at a nearby bus stop, who had seen me go in and out a sweaty wreck :)

I continued north at a respectable clip, though I noticed that I slowed at around 120th Street, just after passing the place we were staying. I knew I could have turned in there, having had a solid 14+ mile run and having run to the inlet and back. I also knew that wasn't the challenge I had set for myself and there was no way that was happening.

A run for the border... the Delaware state line was a welcome sight after running the length of Ocean City along Coastal Highway.

The next 26 or so blocks to Delaware were slow-going. When I hit the border, I was out of water and looked for a stand that had water in their window. It was full of people working, but no one would answer the walk-up window, so I turned and headed to the Fenwick Island beach, waterless, but not far from home, so not overly concerned (just thirsty!).

Hitting the sand again in my running shoes was tough--both physically and psychologically. My slow legs felt slower, the beach was more crowded, it was now solidly above 90 degrees, and I was overheated and thirsty. There was only one course of action as I saw it.

Back to the beach after too much time on the road. that a light at the end of the tunnel? :)

The shoes came off and I carried them in one hand with water bottle in the other the rest of the way, and I ran along the water, with the aftermath of each wave cooling my feet and body temperature and giving me a bit more energy.

Along this stretch of beach, two barefoot, fresh-legged runners passed me and said hello, and the ego in me wanted to pass them back, or at least tell them that if I hadn't already run 17 miles, I'd take em back to 116th, but that isn't too cool, and I sure didn't have the legs to back it up at that point!

I drunk-stumbled to the beach in front of our place, where I saw my cousin napping on the beach, with a line of beach chairs set up for the rest of the clan when they hit the beach. I unloaded belt, camera, ipod, shoes, shirt, hat, and ambled into the ocean, hoping I could withstand the waves. It was the most welcome dip in the ocean or probably any body of water I can recall.

The Ocean City Challenge was complete. The approach was run-about--take my time, refuel, enjoy as much as possible. The 18.29 mile distance doesn't even count as that long a run, but the considerable distance on sand and the heat combined to make it a worthy and difficult challenge. And I enjoy having circumnavigated Ocean City from beach to inlet to Delaware and back to the beach. Something I can enjoy having done as we go back on subsequent trips.

So that challenge is in the books. The beach challenge I really want to knock out though, is the Assateague Ultra. Maybe when it's cooler :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Ocean City Challenge: A Report

East coast surfers enjoy the sunrise waiting for waves in the 40-blocks of Ocean City. I'd have liked to stop and joined them, but carrying a surfboard on a long run just didn't seem like a great idea...

There are a lot of reasons to get up early and hit the beach in Ocean City. Fishing, surfing, reading, and just imbibing the sunrise seem to be among the most popular. And then there are the methodical, overdressed metal-detector brigade. I encountered all of these folks and then some on the first/beach leg of the Ocean City Challenge 18.3-mile run I outlined for myself.

After a full dance card of a week at the beach and one false start that turned into a 1.5-mile walk/run with my 6-year-old daughter Anna (on my way out to start the "challenge" on Thursday, 6/17 at 6:30 a.m., Anna came out of the bedroom and asked, "Daddy, can I go on your run with you?" I didn't figure she'd want to sign on for the whole challenge :), I embarked on my circumnavigation of Ocean City just before 6:00 a.m. on Friday, 7/18.

It was hot, the temperatures were in the 90s during a fair stretch of the run and the humidity was kicking. Starting from our place on the beach at 116th Street, there were essentially four distinct legs to the challenge: 1) running on the beach, 2) the boardwalk to the inlet, 3) Coastal Highway to Delaware, 4) the return to the beach in Delaware back to 116th Street.

I approached the challenge as a sort of runabout--I carried a camera in my waist pack, tucked some cash, credit card, and cell phone in, and carried a single Nathan hand-held water bottle. I also employed my ipod, knowing the Coastal Highway was going to be a beast. When I wanted to stop to take pictures, I stopped. When I needed to eat, or duck through a convenience store to get more water, I did. It was a no-hurry philosophy.

Da Beach Leg - Part 1

The view from the middle portion of the beach run, before the boardwalk Ferris Wheel comes into view. Please not the tire tracks--KEY for beach running in shoes!

I reminded myself (re-learned) earlier in the week that the key to running on the beach, if you have to wear shoes, is to run in the tracks of the utility vehicles they cruise along in in the evening, night, and early morning. The packed down sand in the tracks is beach running salvation. Having said that, it's hard to push for 100 blocks at much more than 10-minute miles as the sand is still loose, and my heart rate got easily elevated with the extra work to get the legs moving.

There are all kinds on the beach in the morning. From the aforementioned cast of characters, to the morning yoga practitioners, the passed out individuals and couples strewn along the sand, amateur photographers trying to capture the ocean at sunrise, and the middle-aged crew who seem to stare blankly at the ocean hoping maybe for answers or explanations to some existential issue.

After 40 blocks or so, I had found a groove, both literally in terms of packed tire tracks, and in terms of a running rhythm. What at first felt like the longest, most difficult section of the run, over time felt easier, and once I made it to the boardwalk--which begins in the 20 block--I opted to stay on the beach a little further before cruising up to the faster wood terrain.

The Boardwalk

If you make it a point to run in Ocean City, the easy wood terrain, ample sights, and high energy of the morning exercise crew, make it a great place to run. And if you hit it after 100 or so blocks of running in the sand, you'll feel REALLY fast :)

The first thing I did coming off the beach was to sit down and empty what felt like five pounds of sand out of my shoes and socks. For future reference, the smartest way to do this challenge might be to have a LIGHT hydration pack and bladder, which you can hang your shoes off of and stuff your socks in, to allow you to run the beach barefoot, which is optimal.

The boardwalk was a blast. I've never been up there so early--it is an exercise playground for young and old, round, ripped, or thin. There are bikes, 4-person bikes, runners, walkers, roller bladers. With no sand in my shoes or under them, my legs felt fast, and I picked up the pace, even cruising by a couple of the 4-person bikes. Cruising by the Kite Loft, Dumsers, the boardwalk amusement parks--all places we'd hit as a family in the evenings--during the early morning was a highlight of the run. Absolutely a recommended place to run if you find yourself in Ocean City.

This leg of the challenge went by way too quickly and I soon found myself at the inlet where bayside meets oceanside and boats fish along the jetty. Energy was high and I was feeling good. My plan was to hit the 7-11 convenience store located on 1st Street or thereabouts for a water refill and some energy food. Then I knew I had to rassle the beast: Coastal Highway to Delaware. Stay tuned for the second of two installments, during which we will attempt to beat the heat and ask the question--why aren't bars open first thing in the morning?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Ocean City Challenge: A Vacation Run

This past week was a solid one for me in terms of training runs and workouts:

Sunday, 6/29 - 12.25 miles
Tuesday, 7/1 - 7.5 + miles
Wednesday, 7/2 - 25 minute swim
Thursday, 7/3 - 13+ miles

Running with a combination of folks and paces as well as solo miles has been great for variety. This week I opted to forgo a Sunday run for an early morning fishing trip with Jason Kline and some friends of ours from out of town off Tilghman Island. It was a mild, 10-rockfish morning, but it's been a while since I've been out fishing, so was glad for the change of pace and the morning on the Bay.

This morning was an 8.5 mile morning, looking for a Wednesday swim, and Thursday run of about 10-12 miles. Motivation can be tough to come by during the summer, as it's not a season of races, while it is a season of heat and humidity. To keep summer running fresh, it's about time for a "challenge." Enter Ocean City.

Next week is an annual vacation east to Ocean City for the extended Valliant/Hutchison families. During the week, I always enjoy mixing my runs so that I start on the beach, then half-way into the run, head up to the road and return via Coastal Highway. Those who know and/or have run with me know that I like to come up with running "challenges." My favorite kind of challenge involves circumnavigating some landmark, body of water, you name it. So, I pulled up and looked at Ocean City.

We stay on 120th Street. As you can see from the image above, if you start on the beach and run from 120th, down past 1st Street and to the inlet, then turn and come back up Coastal Highway, by the time you end up back at 120th, you've hit 14.51 miles. Not bad, but not quite "epic" yet in OC terms. SO, if you continue up past 144th Street and cross the state line into Delaware, then back onto the beach for a return to 120th...well, then you've run Ocean City from tip-to-tip, with a long, narrow loop. That's it! Cover all of Ocean City in a morning--a beach-road-beach 18+ mile vacation run.

So that's the OC Vacation "challenge." To pull it up as it's own page, you can click Ocean City Challenge here. Stay tuned for a report on that, among other things. Happy summer running!