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?


Lori said...

so far so good...looking forward to the 2nd round...:)

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