Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon Review

I think I'm still coming down from my big PR! But would I run the Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon again? Eh, that's a toss-up. The Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon (and Marathon) is a small, local race that features a flat, fast course. While I love the race because I ran it with my parents (who both ran it in 1:57 and change!!!), I think there are probably other races that could offer a better overall experience.
Can your parents run a 1/2 marathon?
Myrtle Beach (or the dirty Myrtle as we fondly referred to it during beach week in college) is a hot spot during the summer. Trust me- it's not the prettiest SC beach, but it's a popular one, packed with tourists from all over the world enjoying the beach and golf (apparently, it's a really good golf spot). The main industry is tourism.. hence the running of the race in the off-season- a way to bring in revenue during a low time! ;)

Below is a list of pros and cons from this race:

The good stuff:

1. The weather is nearly perfect. If the race was held in the summer, more than one person would pass out from heat exhaustion. It gets HOT in the summer in SC with temperatures steady in the 90s/100s, even in the early morning. The race started out in the high 30s and we finished in the mid 50s... which is even a little on the chilly side for this time of year in SC, but perfect for running. And wildly enough, it actually snowed later that night!

2. There are hotels galore. Because it's the off-season, hotels have tons of vacancies and prices are really cheap for a 'beach destination.' We stayed in one of the recommended race hotels, and the room was only $89/night!

3. No need to be at the race earlier than 30 minutes before the start. The race started ridiculously early for a winter race- 6:30! We didn't want to wake up and stand in the cold any longer than we had to, so we left the hotel at 5:45 and were parked and standing in the bag-drop line by 6:05. Because there are plenty of hotels, you can find one really close to the race start, which makes getting to the race by a car a really great option. The race was running shuttles, too, but when we left at 5:45, it still hadn't picked up at our hotel- and our hotel was 2nd on the route. Once at the start, we stood longer in the bag drop line (which was really disorganized, so there's a tiny downside) than in the porta-potty line. We missed the gun with the combo of waiting for the bag drop/bathroom, but we were still able to cross the start line just 2 minutes after the gun went off.

4. Flat, flat, flat course and sweet Southern hospitality along the way. Have I mentioned this course is flat? It's flatter than the West Side Highway. It's not the most scenic course, but if you're looking for a PR, you've got an excellent shot at Myrtle Beach. Especially since runners were so nice about looking out for each other! Seriously, I got so many 'excuse me' and 'I'm sorry' when runners cut over to the water tables- that never happens in NYC! Also, I wish I had taken a picture because it was quintessentially southern. The water cups at every station were Bojangles cups, and I just about died laughing every time I saw them.

5. Great Post-Race Atmosphere. For as small of a race it was, Myrtle Beach had a great post-race party. Beer tents (with more than just Michelob Ultra... blech!), a band, massage tents, and little extras like hot chicken noodle soup to warm you up.

The not so good stuff:

1. There are zero spectators on the course. Because it's the off-season, there are few, if any, spectators. The race largely runs down two highways, so there wasn't much of an opportunity for spectators to find a spot even if they had wanted to cheer. I also got the feeling that the city of Myrtle Beach wasn't really 'interested' in the race- the race runs down what would be the main tourist strips at the beach, so not exactly a place where a lot of locals live. It seemed like the few spectators were family members of runners, not locals supporting the race. Combined with the early race start, there would be zero reason for a local to 'stumble' on the race and stay and cheer.

2. Limited Expo, especially for the price. The race was shockingly pricey for such a small race! $124 big ones, and not even a technical tee at the expo! And just for reference, that's only $4 less than the NYC Half! Crazy! The expo only had a few little booths, but not much to see. Although there were baby tigers! (?!?!)

Did they spend my entry fee on the tigers?
3. Gun Timing vs. Chip Timing. Ok, here's my main problem with the race. Myrtle Beach uses gun timing vs. chip timing, so actual effort isn't necessarily rewarded. In my age group the difference in gun timing vs. chip timing resulted in 2 girls 'beating' me who actually ran slower than I did, and in overall results, dropped me down over 30 spots. When I emailed Precision Race, the group that handled timing, about the rankings, they sent me this rather nasty email:


I understand your point about chip time vs gun time, but this race is USATF
Sanctioned and USATF rules require that official results be based on Gun
Time.  There are actually very good reasons for this.  Here is a bit of the
thinking behind this rule:

The first reason is that it is a race.   The first person across the finish
line should win a race.  We should not have to wait until everyone has
finished a race to see who the winner was.  Gun time shows actual finish
order.  It can be verified with finish line video - it is absolute and
uncontestable - unless someone cheats and cut the course.  Those who want to
win a race (or an age group) line up toward the front to minimize the delay
between gun and chip time.

Thank you very much for participating in the Myrtle Beach Marathon!

Bruce Bokish
Tel 919.349.1719

Um, I'm sorry you had to wait until everyone crossed the finish line, but it's kind of your job. And by your definition of a 'race,' we wouldn't even need chip timing! With 7,000+ runners, not everyone can stand on the starting line, so it's ridiculous to imply that people who weren't standing on the start line weren't there to 'race.' I know I'll probably never get on a medal stand, but I did show up to race my own race and this timing system/response really rubbed me the wrong way. Dammit, I put everything I had into the race-- and I want the results to reflect that!

Overall Assessment:
While the good outnumbered the not-so-good, I'd say Myrtle Beach is an overpriced race that is put on to help bring in a little money during the off-season. The flat course and the almost guaranteed mild temps are the draws for the race, but there are plenty of other Southern, winter races that offer more of a destination experience. My parents and I are already scheming for next year... we're thinking Disney World! :)

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