Sunset Beach 5K
I spent a week at the shore in Sunset Beach, North Carolina. There is a small general store on the island, and somebody had taped this scribbled sign on the door:
A 5K on the beach? I was intrigued. So I went to the website and saw this description of the race:
"NO water stops, NO bibs, NO fees, NO timing, NO race t-shirts, NO celebrities, NO massages, NO medical tent, NO restrictions on dogs or other animals, NO restrictions on baby strollers, NO restrictions on what you can wear, NO free food at the end and NO sign up process."
This was the complete anti-corporate race. Don't get me wrong, I love big sponsored races like the Rohto Cooling Eye Drops Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, but this just sounded great. Last year, they had 28 people show up. I liked everything about it, except for the part about "No water stops". North Carolina is very hot and EXTREMELY humid, and it's a miserable place to run. (It was the perfect spot for some Kona training for me last year!) So I emailed the race organizer, Bill Gallagher of the Needham Massachusetts Running Club, and told him I would go out on the course and hand out water to people. He was very grateful.
Race morning, I walked about a mile to the general store near the race start and picked up 8 quarts of water (they didn't have gallons) and 4 quarts of Gatorade. I wisely brought a very large beach bucket with me to carry all of my supplies. I got to the starting area, and with about 15 minutes til start time there were 4 people there. I was a little worried that I would be pretty lonely out there all by myself, but I just figured that even if only 4 people raced, I would make sure those 4 people had some water. It was an out-and-back course right on the sand, so I planned on being at mile 1 so I could also catch them coming back at mile 2. I checked the GPS on my phone and headed down the beach.
I have a pretty good idea how far a mile is, but it is VERY different when you're trying to lug 3 gallons of fluids in a giant bucket. It was awkward to carry and I was sweaty and exhausted by the time I got into position. My friend Melissa was coincidently out for a morning bike ride on a beach cruiser, so she stopped and offered to keep me company. I poured out a few cups or water and gatorade, and waited for the 4 racers to arrive.
A few minutes later, I saw my friend Alan running towards me in the lead. He had mentioned he wanted to do the race, but I hadn't seen him yet that morning. Hooray Alan! I handed off some water to him. Behind him was another runner. And another. And a pack behind them. Thank goodness Melissa had shown up. I could barely keep up with pouring new cups as she started handing them out to people. It wasn't much longer before we were giving out drinks on both sides - sprinters returning at mile two and joggers/walkers at mile 1.
My friends Ed and Chad also came running by, as did Melissa's teen son Tucker. Tucker is athletic but hadn't done any recent running, and he was cramping up when he got to us. He was thinking about staying with us or just turning back, but I didn't allow it. He walked it out and stretched a bit and was feeling better and continued the course. We were very proud of him for sticking with it.
I assumed that many of the runners may have never done an official 5k before, and even the experienced one probably never ran such a "casual" race. I was yelling to everyone "throw your cup on the ground! we'll pick it up for you!" Of course, I hardly had any time to clean up. Fortunately, there was hardly any wind so I was able to run around from time to time and didn't lose a single cup.
Last year they had 28 people, so I assumed at most maybe we would get 50 people this time, and the 3 gallons would be enough. It wasn't. The organizer estimated he had 70 people this year, and I handed out over 100 cups. Unfortunately, the last 20 people or so didn't get their water break at mile 2. Sorry!
I went back to the starting line and was pleased to see how many people were sticking around to see every last racer come in. I was speaking to the family of the final finishers: it was a boy with asthma doing the race with his grandfather. Very cool. My friend Alan wound up finishing in 3rd place and won a gift certificate from the local ice cream joint.
I spoke with Bill about NEXT year's event. We're already talking about getting more volunteers and having food and drink available to runners at the finish line. I'm pretty sure he wants to keep it completely "off the books" - as soon as he charges an entry fee, even if it's just $5, he's going to need to worry about permits and security and and who knows what else so I think it will just remain a very casual fun event, as it should be.
Here's the official race report from Bill. I get a shout out: "We also had two water stops...sponsored by a vacationer, Mike (an Ironman)." It still makes me giggle to be referred to that way.
Click here for more photos.