A note from the third week of March 2020: 

I’ve been working on this race report from Hilton Head for a week or two now. The ever-evolving global pandemic kept stealing all of my mental bandwidth. Then, last week, after the college where I work and my kids’ schools closed, I wondered what the point was in finishing it. I mean, does anyone actually care about my experience given all that is going on right now? 

And then I got over myself because, seriously. We all need some levity — and some pictures of the beach and goofy BAMRs and good times. 

Hang in there, y’all. We’re going to be OK. Remember, too, that “OK” doesn’t mean “unchanged.” Change is inevitable, just  like sand in your shoes after a run on the beach. Shake it out and move on.

hilton head retreat

The view from my window at The Beach House. It wasn’t terrible.

Before I got to the beach, I had doubts about completing the WMNRun Hilton Head Half marathon. As much as I wanted to check off my 12th state — I’m on a quest to run 13.1 in all 50 states — I also didn’t want to permanently break myself by running that far on sand. Sure, sure, one Sarah Bowen Shea swore that the beach was hard-packed but … really? My sand experience to date did not jibe with it as a friendly surface.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the thing I should have been worried about. With the exception of the first and last 20 yards, the oceanside race course was provided perfect footing, more or less. There were a couple of weird slippery spots that I had to keep an eye out for, mind, but nothing like what I expected.

No, the thing I should have worried about was getting angry at the ocean. 

Let me back up.

The race coincided with the Another Mother Runner retreat. And, as I do, I traveled to Hilton Head from my home in the great and frozen north to help out and hang out. I should know by now that I’m usually pretty tuckered by the third day of the event, what with all of the lifting and toting and talking. Apparently, I am a slow learner because it always takes me by surprise how heavy my legs feel by the time the race rolls around. 

(For the record: I will probably continue to be surprised by this, if only because I am easily swayed by “all of the cool kids are running half marathons so you should, too.” I’m looking at you Portland Retreat.)

hilton head retreat

I can promise you that Portland in September won’t feature me serving canapés in the sand.

After a short shake-out run on the beach with a bunch o’ BAMRs the day before, I knew the sand would be great for running. Unlike during that quick 2 miler, the wind wasn’t trying to blow us over at the race start. It was chilly — those who live in the area would call it cold — and calm. Perfect, in other words, for a race.

The course itself was a 6.55-mile loop, with the start/finish line right in the middle and right in front of our hotel. We went left from the start, ran 1.55 miles, turned around, then back to the start. Those running the 5K ended their race there. Those doing the “quarter marathon” a.k.a 6.55 miles kept running to a point 1.72 and a little away from the start, turned around, ran back, and finished their race. Those of us going the whole 13.1 did the whole course again.

It was a great way to set up a looped course, if only because (selfishly) it would give me three chances to drop out of the race if the sand got too sandy or the sun too sunny or the wind too windy. As we all know, every race is designed around my needs.

hilton head retreat

The best roomies (Melissa and Heather) and me at the start of the race.

About a mile in, once we were more evenly scattered across the beach, I turned on my Aftershokz and discovered that the Iditapod, which is a podcast about the Iditarod, was back. It turns out that listening to a recap of last year’s dog-and-musher race across the snowy, moose-filled wilds of Alaska is the perfect distraction for a run in the sun. That pod plus a Reply All that I’d been saving got me through the first half of the race. I wouldn’t say that I was feeling great at the half, mind, but I felt good enough to keep going.

I switched over to my “Lizzo and Friends” playlist at mile 7, which is when it dawned on me that I wasn’t really all that close to being done with the running yet. I also realized how very lonely the course was now that the quarter marathoners were at the post-race party and putting their feet up.

hilton head retreat

Me, shortly before the rage set in.

Still, I persisted. 

At about mile 9.5, just after I’d crossed the turn-off for the start/finish line for the third time, I started to get really, really angry with the ocean. It was just always there, just filling up half of my horizon like a big, irritating jerk that never goes away even after you are done looking at him. Like, sure, the ocean is majestic and unchanging in an always-changing way. STILL. I had had the same stupid view for nearly two hours at that point. And while other runners kept talking about how they saw a dolphin and the experience was, like, magical, I had only seen dead jellyfish. PLUS. Distance is really hard to gauge when everything is flat. The turn-around flag looked close but never got any closer, like this stretch of beach was one endless treadmill next to the majestic-or-whatever sea. 

The only thing that kept me from simply lying down in the surf and waiting for the tide to sweep me out to the shipping lanes was the visualization of coloring-in South Carolina on my map. Reader: it was enough. 

I made it to the turn, around the flag, and back to the finish line, where I was greeting with a tunnel of BAMRs who wanted to high-five and fist bump. That outpouring of positive energy was enough to shake me out of my funk and run the last 20 yards through stupid deep sand that felt like a punishment. 

A public health nightmare, yes, but also amazing.

State number 12 is now in the books. South Carolina has been colored in and my medal has been hung. Next up is Duluth, Minnesota, in June. 

Me, again, from the third week in March. Hi.

So far, my June race is looking promising but who knows how it will play out. I’m sure you are in a similar boat. Know that we’re all here together. What are your tips for handling our current uncertainty?

Adrienne Martini’s book, Somebody’s Gotta Do It: Why Cursing at the News Won’t Save the Nation but Your Name on a Local Ballot Can, is available where ever books, ebooks, and audiobooks are sold. It also received a rave review in the New York Times.