Every year I celebrate my birthday with a race. I choose one (sometimes two when I’m feeling extra energetic) races to run on my birthday weekend to honor what I love doing most. Plus, it’s a guaranteed way to shed any guilt for eating one too many slices of cake later… So this year I chose to run the Turtle Trek 5k in beautiful Isle of Palms, South Carolina. I don’t think I really need to sell you on why I chose this race, considering 1) it’s a sunset run on a scenic beach, 2) I get to take the after-party birthday celebrations to King Street, Charleston. But I was also drawn to the fact that this run aids the Lowcountry’s most beloved creatures: our precious sea turtles.
I’ve never run an evening race, nor a race held solely on the beach. So all week long, my excitement was brewing for this new challenge of running on a unique terrain and being conscious about my pre-race nutrition throughout the entire day (instead of the usual high carb, mild protein breakfast for an AM run).
And as much as I would love to tell you that I spent the day hydrating and mentally prepping for a killer 5k run, I gotta be honest with you: I may or may not have gotten sidetracked, getting too much sun on the beach and indulging in some frowned upon pre-race mexican fuel from Sullivans Island’s new spot, Mex 1.
So taking these mistakes into consideration, I showed up to the race with two simple goals: keeping my mile splits sub 7:30 and soaking in every second of the beautiful sunset. With a belly full of nachos and a sunburn heating up my face, I was in no state to race for a new PR, so I braced myself for a somewhat leisurely but entirely breathtaking run.
Fast forward to 6:15p, there we were, lined up at the starting line for the fool-proof race course ahead: run down the beach for 1.5 miles, turn around, and run back. (Sure, it’s not my favorite race style, because you can see every step of torture that lies ahead, but thankfully on the return stretch, an incredible violet sunset was shining in my eyes, blinding me from that.)
And with a short countdown later, off we went, all 363 of us sprinting down the beach like a pack of wild horses. If only I had a camera to snap all of the bewildered faces of the beach bums who had no idea what we were running for (or possibly what we were running from 😂). But soon, these confused onlookers turned into fans, cheering us on as we covered 3 miles of the flat, Isle of Palms beach. I got the biggest kick out of the “You Can Do It” signs these fans would write for us in the sand. (And if you can manage to squeeze a giggle into your race pace, you know you’re having a good run.)
In fact, I surprised myself with how good of a run I was having when I looked down at my watch and saw a mile one 7:09 pace, 20 seconds faster than what I was aiming for. So I became a bit more confident and pushed a bit harder in the second mile. But that’s when those evil 3pm nachos awoke from their slumber, punching me in the stomach with an intense side stitch. I kid you not, I haven’t gotten an exercise-induced cramp in my stomach since I began running over 10 years ago (learning proper breathing techniques for running will get you far 😉 ). So while I cursed myself for the last half-mile, wondering how I could be so foolish, I hobbled to the finish, holding my side as if I had lost a intense sword fight.
Surprisingly, I managed to run across the finish line with a time of 24:25, and a 21st place overall finish (2nd for F20-29, woot woot!). And sure, this might not have been my most spectacular athletic performance ever, but it will certainly be one of my most memorable races for the year. Competitively running on the beach is so much harder than I chalked it up to be, but the extra struggle is 1000% worth it when you lose your breath over the most incredible sun setting in the distance. And to that point, I absolutely think the fun, cheerful atmosphere of this race was intensified by the astonishing backdrop. Because come on, who isn’t happy when they go to the beach? And who doesn’t have an absolute blast when they get to PARTY on the beach? So when I remember the 2016 Turtle Trek 5k, that’s exactly what I will remember: one big, beautiful party celebrating our turtles.
And to close out this race recap, I want to leave you with a fun statistic: For this year’s race, we managed to raise $40,000, benefitting the Sea Turtle Care Program, which aids sick and injured sea turtles, ensuring that they have a future in our oceans. If you have a soft spot in your heart for these precious animals, learn more about how you can help and be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s race!
2nd place F20-29
21th place Overall
24:25 finish time
7:52 average pace