We debated long and hard about signing up for either the Carolina Beach Half near Wilmington, NC, or the Carowinds Half near Charlotte, NC, but finally decided on CB. It was less expensive than Carowinds by half, almost as close to home, and offered free race photos. We'll give the Carowinds Half a try next year, but were satisfied with our choice to run CB this year.
Packet pick-up was held at Omega Sports in Wilmington, which was conveniently located on our way to Carolina Beach. Runners were able to pick up their bibs any time between noon and 6 pm on Saturday, or pick up on race morning (Sunday). We arrived sometime around 2:00 and quickly retrieved our race shirts and race bibs. Shirts were short sleeve gender specific tech shirts, ones that we will likely wear in the future. I was most excited about wearing the beautiful, personalized race bib, one that would look great matted and framed if anyone is so inclined.
After we signed up for Carolina Beach we immediately attempted to book a hotel room close to the start. While rooms near the start are plentiful, most require at least a two night stay on weekends...even in early October. We were unable to get anyone to compromise, so we settled on the Best Western in Wilmington, which was a manageable 15 minutes from the race start. The hotel was clean, comfortable, and attractive and we would recommend runners stay here. Be aware, the hotel will be filled with runners, all requesting extended checkout. Best Western would only offer us an extra 30 minutes when we really needed an hour in order to stay for the awards ceremony, post-race. If you are willing to make a full weekend of this race, you can stay within walking distance of the race start and finish.
Our drive into Carolina Beach was an easy one. Prior to the event, race organizers had emailed us instructions about the tricky parking situation. Metered spots and parking on the street had a strict two hour time limit, and parking lots were all paid. After attempting to park in a paid lot where people were paying but being given no receipts, we moved on to a two hour street parking space, figuring we could always move the car. Justin would be done in less than two hours, anyway. We went over on the two hour limit, but didn’t have any trouble. It would be great if the race could partner with the city and allow free parking for runners. We are bringing business to the city during a time when business is slowing down!
After a short walk, we arrived in Lake Park, the center of all the race action. The inflatable finish line arch was set up near the lake, and runners were mulling about waiting for their races to begin. Enough people had already used the port-o-lets that there was no toilet paper left, and many runners were using the port-o-let at a construction site along the course. The park had restrooms with flushing toilets, both of which were locked at the time of the race start. We are always mystified by locked restrooms at the start of a race and though there must be a plausible reason for this happening at so many races, it’s frustrating when there are long lines or missing toilet paper at the portable ones!
One thing we love about running half marathons is the tour they take us on of a new city. Unfortunately this race course didn't show us much of Carolina Beach. A large portion of the race was run on Dow Rd., which is rural enough that it almost functions as a bypass, allowing cars to avoid the traffic lights on the main street. Half marathoners did spend about 3 miles in Carolina Beach State Park which was a little more scenic, especially at the marina turnaround. When runners weren't on Dow or in the park, they were running through the residential neighborhoods of Carolina Beach. There were some turns and turnarounds and Justin, who was out front, needed better instruction from the volunteers stationed on the course. If you run this race and don't know where to go, ask, and ask loudly. Fan support was pretty much limited to the finish line. It was up to the volunteers and police officers to cheer us on through the course.
We had hoped this course would have showed us more of Carolina Beach, both its downtown area and the actual beach. Apparently it's not easy for smaller races like this to close streets, and we can only assume this was the reason we were relegated to the back roads.
On the bright side, this course is ideal for a PR. It's flat and fast, and there were pacers beginning at 1:30 and ending at 2:30 to help runners manage their finishing times. The final quarter mile of the course ran around the picturesque lake in Lake Park and finished under an inflatable On the Mark arch. Also a perk: the early October race date means weather could be ideal. This year the race began with temperatures in the low 50's and ended with temperatures in the low 60's, nearly perfect for half marathoning.
The Carolina Beach Half Marathon ended in one of the most scenic spots in the area: Lake Park. Post-race, runners were treated to the usual (bagels, bananas, Cokes, cookies) as well as burritos from Moe's. Live music was playing from 9 am to 11 am when the awards ceremony began. Overall winners and age group winners were recognized, awarded with plaques, and photographed in front of the Carolina Beach Half Marathon Banner. One of the coolest things about this race were the many photo opportunities in front of the aforementioned banner. The race organizers had supplied runners with signs to hold while taking pictures. We made sure to pose with “I Ran Like a Girl,” “I Just Beat This Girl, “and “13.1 Miles and No Walken” (which also featured an intimidating looking photo of Christopher Walken).
We rolled into Wilmington uncharacteristically early for Bullard Standard Time, mostly because the Georgia-Vanderbilt football game began at 4 pm, and Justin wanted to be somewhere to watch it. Since the Best Western didn’t subscribe to the SEC network, Justin called around to find out who did subscribe. We wound up at the Lazy Pirate on Carolina Beach, a sports bar that was playing just about every college football game worth watching (and a few more). For a sports bar, The Pirate supplied us with a pretty tasty salad, both generous and delicious enough to tide us over until dinnertime. At halftime we left The Pirate to scout out the race start and finish and passed a number of options for dinner. For finer dining, runners could choose from Havana’s or The Deck House, both of which were recommended to us at packet pick-up. We stumbled upon Uncle Vinny’s Pizzeria Ristorante; apparently many other runners stumbled upon Uncle Vinny’s, as well. The chicken parmesan and bruschetta were both serviceable for pre-race carb loading. We were more impressed with our server, EJ, who was as witty as he was skilled at answering Jeopardy questions (the game show of which was playing at the bar EJ was tending).
There were plenty of other dining options in the area, but we’d eaten one and a half dinners Saturday night, and the race organizers fed us lunch on Sunday, so we headed out of town with no need to stop for food anywhere else.
This race is a great opportunity to PR due to the fast and flat nature of the course and the potential for prime running weather. If race organizers can re-route the race course so that it includes more of the sites to see in Carolina Beach, this would be a race runners would NOT want to miss.
Tips for Running a Successful Carolina Beach Half Marathon
1. Book the Best Western hotel, unless you can settle in for more than one day, which will allow you to stay somewhere near the start and finish of the race.
2. We strongly recommend wearing a visor and/or shades. Portions of the course required us to run into direct, rising sunlight.
3. Enjoy hamming it up for the camera in front of the Carolina Beach banner at the end of the race.
4. Think about picking a pace group. Many were available during this event and they offer a chance to better pace yourself through the race and have a group to socialize with for 13.1 miles.
For more information visit http://runcarolinabeach.com/