Spartan Race

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Outer Banks Marathon Review

2009 Finishers - 1815 (full) 3392 (half)

RunningDoc Three Point Course Assessment:
Scenery Rating (1 - 10 scale with 10 being best): 9
Crowd Support/Amenities (1-10 with 10 being best): 10
Ease of Course (1(easy) through 10 (really hard): 7

Shirt - Short sleeve (half marathon) or long sleeve tech shirt (marathon), understated, sophisticated, graphics
Medal - Good size and heft, pirate themed, cool skull and cross bones on back
Other - Outer banks Swag Bag (a reusable shopping bag this year, a gear bag last year, much preferred last year's bag), Outer banks Marathon Visor at finish, Free Beer at Finish

I have to say that I really enjoyed this race. While relatively small, it is well organized, well supported by volunteers, and has very decent swag. The race had very good transportation provided from the finish site to the start and had ample port-a-potties at the start and finish and throughout the race, which is rare for a community race like this one.

The course itself is very nice, but substantially more challenging than one would expect for a coastal race. I usually equate a beach race with flat and fast, but this course had a fair amount of elevation change. You start off in Kitty Hawk, NC and run through several very pretty neighborhoods on or near the sound side of the island, and then on to the town of Kill Devil Hills, the home of the Wright Brothers Monument and the site of the first manned flight in history. You circle around that monument (at it's base, which is a very good thing, because it is on a very high sand dune) at about mile 8 (which I have to admit, in practice is one of the cooler things I have done during a race). At some point between mile 10 and the half way mark, you start running on a dirt path with gently rolling hills. The going is tougher, but not too bad. It is, however, very definitely not flat at this point. It is, however, well compacted dirt with good footing.

This changes about mile 12 when you enter what appears to be a maritime forest. You begin running on a bed of pine needles that seem to absorb any sort of impact - you get no return of energy from your stride. You also seem to run straight up hill at astounding slopes at some point (parts of it reminded me of running "the bear" at Grandfather Mountain, a race in which one climbs over 1500 feet in five miles). This mile or so of the race is pretty and actually really fun, but it sapped my energy for what seemed like the rest of the race. You pop out of the pine needle strewn trail about mile 13 and the rest of the race is on standard roadway.

The second half of the course has its high points, but in my opinion is less interesting than the first half. You run past Jockey's Ridge which is the highest sand dune in the US. It is impressive when you drive by it or stand on it, but running past it the time I remember thinking it made me feel like I was running through a desert with no end in sight. You then wind trough some very nice communities and end up again on the sound. The view is quite pretty, but less varied than the first half of the race. After the neighborhoods, you run some fairly empty stretches of highway surrounded by strip malls and pancake houses through Nags Head. It's a straight and boring, but necessary, stretch of road that takes you to the Washington-Baum Bridge, which is a steep killer between mile 22 and 23. The view from the bridge is probably spectacular, but it came at a time in the race when it took most of my concentration to put one foot in front of the other. The run into Manteo at the end is great, flat, and pleasant. The finish line was well organized, though there seemed to be two different electronic finishing points fairly far apart - I kept pushing hard through the second one, but I would have liked to have known if I actually need to do it or not.

Two things really stood out about this marathon - the volunteers and organization and the communities involved. This was an extremely well organized and formally supported race. The water and Gatorade stops were well placed and staffed, they had hammer gel available at more stops than any other race in which I have ever participated. The volunteers at the finish line put a medal around my neck, handed me an ice water drenched wash cloth, threw a mylar sheet around me, plopped a Gatorade in my hand and a finisher's visor on my head and shunted me off to have my picture taken with Blackbeard (a tradition at the end of this race) before I really realized that I had finished the race. Five minutes later, I had retrieved my 2 free Coors Lights and was on the way back to the car. The post race party was clearly great and very family friendly, but we had a long trip in front of us, so elected to forgo it this year.

Despite all the great organization, I think the most impressive thing about this race was the "unofficial" volunteers all along the race course. There were ample official water stops, but also dozens of unofficial water, candy, sports drink, and even beer stops along the course. The good people of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Manteo come out in droves and really make this a great experience. Even the dry stretches of beach highway late in the race are lined with cheering spectators who go the extra mile to help you out along the way. The crowd support was superb.

All in all, this is a great race. It is, for the most part, an interesting course, with excellent crowd support and impressive organization. I highly recommend it.


  1. Thanks ... I am running it in 2010 (as my first marathon) and this made me smile.

  2. Thank you for this review. I'm choosing my first marathon and this is JUST what I needed. You ROCK!