Earlier this year, I registered for the Rock n Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, which I completed this past Sunday. My next post will be a recap of that race. For this one though, I wanted to specifically write about the Mile on the Sand race that was held the morning before.
The Mile on the Sand was the most recent installation of Competitor Group’s Remix Challenge where runners do a shorter race on Saturday, followed by a longer race on Sunday and get three race medals (one for each race, and a third Heavy Medal for doing both). Typically the Saturday race is a 5K (the first one was in Chicago in July), but with this being Virginia Beach, the race organizers decided to put together a 1 mile race on the actual beach itself instead.
The race was held at 8am on Saturday morning and runners had the option to either go to the fitness expo on Friday to pick up their race numbers or just pick them up the morning of the race. I got in early enough that I was able to pick mine up on Friday, but things were really well organized at the start line and I don’t think that anyone who did opt for race day packet pickup would have had any difficulties with it.
The race started early enough that it wasn’t too warm outside yet and the beach also wasn’t very crowded (it remained open to the public throughout the race). The start line was organized into corrals, but there were no official corral assignments. There were pacers holding up signs with the number of minutes they were planning on completing the mile in and it was up to the runners to group themselves based on how fast they thought they’d be able to finish. For the number of runners who signed up and the fact that most people had to make adjustments to their pace to be able to run on the beach, this worked out fine.
As far as the race itself goes, besides not being very long, the course was really straightforward – the start and finish lines were in the same place and runners basically went a half mile out, turned around and ran a half mile back. Sounds simple, right? Yeah I would agree that a single mile out and back definitely doesn’t sound like much…. until you actually try to run that mile on loosely packed sand. Yes, this was a very short race (in fact, it was the shortest race I’ve ever received a medal for doing), but that one mile was also the toughest mile that I’ve ever run and I think that most of the other 2000 or so runners who signed up for it would agree with me.
The thing about running on the sand is that your feet sink into it and you never feel like you’re getting any traction while you’re running even though you’re exerting exponentially more effort than you would if you were running on solid ground. Not to mention that your shoes start to fill with sand, making your feet feel awkward when you step down. There were some runners who did the race barefoot. I’m not sure if this helped or not but if I do it again, I might have to give that a shot. I’ve done my share of mud runs and trail runs and I’ve also run on snow and ice when I’ve gone out for runs during the winter and none of those things compared to this. By the first quarter mile, I started to notice some other runners starting to walk to catch their breaths. Keep in mind that most, if not all, of these people were also signed up to run the half marathon the following day, so they were in good shape – good enough to run more than a quarter mile without having to slow down or stop.
Most of the runners seemed to find their legs by the second half though, and I also noticed that lifting my knees up higher while I kicked seemed to propel me a little further. For as tough as the run was, in the end, I finished with a fairly respectable time of just over 11 minutes, and I almost felt like I had run a 5K instead of just a mile. I loved every minute of it though!
After the race, medals were handed out and there was a post race concert on the beach that was organized just as well as most of the other Competitor Group events. Besides the finisher’s medals, runners also got special Mile on the Sand beach towels (along with the extra heavy medal if they did the half marathon the next day). Nice swag for a one mile race!
This was definitely a different experience from any of the other races I’ve done. I really enjoyed it though and I thought it was a perfect choice given the location. This was the inaugural Mile on the Sand and I’m hoping that the race organizers will want to do it again next year. I’d also like to see other races like this in some other locations where a unique local twist can be added. Kudos to the race organizers for putting together such a cool event!