Myrtle Beach is a city on the northeastern coast of South Carolina and is a fairly popular tourist destination during the spring and summer months, mainly because of it’s 60 miles of uninterrupted coastline. Summers are typically hot and humid, but in February, with an average temperature of 58 degrees and low humidity, conditions are perfect for hosting a marathon.
The Myrtle Beach Marathon is a medium sized race (about 5000 runners total divided up between the full and half marathons and a marathon relay), and there’s also an interesting benefit to the time of year that it’s held – February is considered to be the off season in Myrtle Beach, so there really aren’t very many tourists visiting during race weekend. Most of the people you’ll see in the hotels, restaurants, and shops around town will be people who are also in town for the race – it’s almost like having a big group of runners taking over the entire town for themselves.
Getting to Myrtle Beach
As far as getting to Myrtle Beach goes, there is a small airport there, but it’s mostly for propeller planes and smaller private planes which will limit your options as far as flying in directly. If you don’t live in the area, your best bet is probably to fly into Charleston, SC and rent a car. The drive from Charleston to Myrtle Beach is about 2 hours and it’s fairly scenic so the time will go by pretty quickly.
Where to stay
As long as you book your room early enough, places to stay will be easy to find and also pretty inexpensive (mainly because of it being February – I’m sure that hotel rooms are a lot more expensive during the summer months but I was able to get a room with a full kitchen and a sliding glass door that opened onto the beach for about $100 per night). There’s a line of hotels alongside the beach and a number of shuttle stops on the boulevard that connects them all where runners can pick up buses that will transport them to and from the start line on race day so you can pretty much pick any hotel on the beach and not go wrong.
Since tourist season hasn’t started yet, it’s easy to stand outside in the mornings and watch the sunrise over the ocean in the or walk up and down the beach collecting sea shells without really being disturbed by anyone. It’s a really peaceful thing to do. The only downside is that even though it’s South Carolina, it’s still February, so the temperatures can be a bit chilly. In general it’s warm enough to hang out on the beach during the day but you probably won’t want to go in the water. At night you’ll probably need long pants and a light jacket. You really won’t be able to ask for better conditions on race day though.
The race expo was kinda small, but the race itself isn’t that big so I wouldn’t have really expected the expo to be any bigger than it was. The race was pretty well organized too – the shuttle stops were well marked and there were more than enough buses available both before and after the race and finding my way around the start and finish lines was pretty straightforward.
The course was nice and flat for the most part – it went through the town of Myrtle Beach which is about a mile or so inland and then it heads towards the coast just in time for runners to be able to watch the sun coming up over the ocean as they’re running past the beach. The only downside of the course is that Myrtle Beach doesn’t really have a boardwalk to run alongside the ocean on the way some of the other cities along the east coast do (Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, etc…), so while you do get some pretty nice views of the ocean during the race, a lot of times you’re running between the hotels and and the beach so your line of sight can be a little obscured.
Crowd support is always pretty sparse in races like this, mainly because there aren’t really that many permanent year round residents who live along the course…. So while some of the people who do live there come out along with the runners’ friends and family, there are still some long stretches of the course where there aren’t any crowds. Honestly though, the scenery is nice enough that you don’t really need a big crowd of people lining the course to stay motivated.
The finisher’s medal was excellent – I’m not sure if it changes every year but in 2011 it was shaped like a pair of silver flip flops for the half marathon and a pair of gold flip flops for the full. It’s one of my favorite medals in my collection.
Getting around Myrtle Beach
The town of Myrtle Beach itself is really nice too. It’s a smaller touristy town with a lot of restaurants and shops selling crafts and other knickknacks. There’s also a Kiss themed coffeehouse that everyone should make sure to check out even if you’re not a big coffee drinker. On Friday and Saturday there are a lot of different places to eat in downtown Myrtle Beach (a lot of the restaurants are big chains that are designed to attract tourists but if you look around a little bit you can find some decent local places to eat at too).
The only difficult thing is finding a place to eat on Sunday night. Like I mentioned earlier, it really isn’t easy to fly directly into Myrtle Beach, and usually the last flights out of Charlotte on Sunday are pretty early in the afternoon so unless you’re planning on leaving right after the race and making the two hour trek back to the airport, your best bet is probably going to be to spend one more night in Myrtle Beach and then fly home on Monday. The problem there is that most of the restaurants close early on Sundays during the off season (if they’re even open at all), so besides fast food, you really won’t have a lot of choices. In my case, our hotel room had a full kitchen so we improvised by out and buying some food at the grocery store, cooking it in the room, and then sitting outside and eating by the beach… which actually turned out to be pretty nice, so I guess that my other suggestion is that if you’re planning on staying until Monday, try to book a hotel room with a kitchen.
I really wouldn’t change anything about this race…. other than the fact that I had the flu while I was running it. I started to notice that my throat was getting sore a couple days before the race and on the day before race day I woke up with a full blown cough, fever, and stuffy nose. I felt completely miserable for the rest of the weekend (and got a terrible finishing time that had nothing to do with the course itself and everything to do with me being sick and not able to push myself too hard), but honestly even with having to stop every half mile or so to cough and catch my breath though and fight through fever and chills while I was running, I still loved every minute of this race. Not only are the town and the beach pretty quiet and not overrun with tourists, but if you live in a northern state, you probably already know that the middle of February is usually right around the time that you’ve about had it with the winter and are ready to go someplace warmer. Heading to Myrtle Beach for a few days is a perfect way to fill this need. In fact, as much as I’m not really big on traveling to do the same races more than once, I’d actually like to go back and run this again myself when I’m hopefully not as sick.