Last weekend, I ran North Carolina’s innaugural Emerald Isle Marathon. I was nervous about running a first-time race because I know there is a steep learning curve when it comes to things like making sure there is enough water at the water stations and porta potties at the start line. But my worries were for naught, because it was pretty clear early on that the race directors and volunteers in Emerald Isle had this race dialed. In fact, the prep was better than I’ve seen for many older and bigger marathons. That, plus the course and location make the Emerald Isle Marathon a good addition to any marathoners bucket list.
Here’s a quick rundown of info about the race:
Course: The first 8 miles of the course wind you through neighborhoods on Emerald Isle’s west end. Prior to the race, I was concerned about getting lost on this stretch because there are a number of turns and I wasn’t sure how clearly they would be marked (also, as it was a relatively small field of 200 runners, I was pretty sure that I might be running on my own for good portions of this race.)
It was raining the day before the race and I was worried that they might have planned to use chalk to mark the roads which would have been washed away. I took a quick drive through the night before and my fears were put to rest. There were plenty of plastic signs marking the turns as well as arrows that had been spray painted on the roads. Better still, each of those turns were staffed by friendly volunteers who pointed to way to go as they cheered runners on. Perfect.
Around the 8-mile mark, the course loops back toward the start line and meets up with the half-marathoners who started 75 minutes later. After crossing EI’s only busy road – with police and volunteer assistance – the course next heads into another residential neighborhood before crossing back again – more police and volunteers – to run a long flat stretch along Ocean Drive. For me, this was the toughest part of the day. Miles 13-18 are long and flat and you can see the water station marking the turn-around point for what seems like hours. But it is also where I met up with my family and friends and got that extra boost that took me through the wall and on to the finish.
After mile 18, you head back to the finish line following the town’s biking/running path. This mainly follows EI’s busy road again but just before the finish it pops off and into a wooded area for the final mile stretch to home. It was windy as heck on race day and it hit right on the nose for this last stretch. But wind is just another thing you have to expect when you sign up for a beack race in the spring.
Overall, the course was lovely. One complaint I heard was that it was not as flat as many had expected. True, there are a few rollers but even that term is generous for the teeny-tiny inclines and declines on this course. Granted, it is not pancake flat like some other beach races – like the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. But you certainly couldn’t call it hilly.
Support: The course was insanely well supported with volunteers. It really seemed like the entire town was out there at some point or another marking the course, handing out water, or cheering you on. The water stops and energy gel stations are not as plentiful as you might find at larger races, however they are clearly identified ahead of time. Be sure to check them out to decide whether or not to carry your own.
Swag: Nice tech shirt, your standard goody bag swag, and of course – the medal. Oh, and I also snagged this sweet beer glass for my 2nd place finish in my age group. A nice perk of running in a smaller race.
All in all, this was an A+ race. If you are considering running the Emerald Isle Marathon, I highly recommend it.