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May 19, 2015

Back to the Beach Half marathon race review

Short Version
Finished in 2:03:11(official time); no new PR for the trails
Overall Place: 215/699
Men 45-49: 22/51

Race #90

Race director, Joe Burns, puts on a fantastic race with the Back to the Beach.  I love running this since its on my training grounds and having the familiar setting is really nice.  Stony Creek is a jewel in the area.  If you have not run this race, make sure you sign up early next year as this one sells out.  The mix of asphalt, trails, dirt roads and the path makes for a really unique race.


Long Version
Registration/Packet Pickup
Registration is done via Active(dot)com.  Very simple to use.

The race had three options for packet pickup.  You had two times you could pick up early by going to Hansons Running Shop either a week before the race or a day before.  You could also pick up the day of the race.  I went the week before the race.  I forgot my camera so no pics at Hansons.  The race had the bib numbers set up and you went into line to give them your number.

The race had a little snafu with some bib numbers with incorrect names but the volunteers, as well as the race director, worked to get them all fixed and all was good.  You got in line to pick your glass color and to get your timing chip.  The 10k had the chip on the bib but the half marathon had a chip that went on your foot.  I still wonder why Hansons does not upgrade to bib chips for all their races but each year I say that at this race.  It's literally the only race where chips are on your foot.  Nevertheless, the chips work just fine and are accurate.

I got to the race a little early on race day as I had 15 miles on the schedule so I ran a couple miles before the race.  The race was all set up when I got there and the parking was filling fast.  Easy access to Stony Creek and plenty of parking makes things simple.
Bib numbers
Runners had plenty of time to get their packet pickup before the race and put their stuff in their car since parking was right next to the start.
Packet pickup
Start Area
The start area is very organized and has plenty of room for all the runners.  They had a course map so you could see where the course went.  I've run this a couple times, plus I train here, so I knew the course pretty well.
Course Map
Ready volunteers
The race had a banner so you could get pictures before and after the race.  I really enjoy this feature. It's something all races should do and makes for fun pictures.
A place for photos
The volunteers were hard at work starting a 5:30am.  Yikes!  There are so many great volunteers too.
The weather was overcast before the race and things were really hot and humid.  It almost felt like it was misting rain but it was just thick humidity.  The sun came out during the race as well making it pretty warm.  The race was also well prepared for this heat as it always seems like a warm one even though it's early in the season.
Runners socializing
The race director made a few announcements along the way and helped keep things moving on schedule.  The half started at 7:30am this year.  Moving it up 1/2 hour was appreciated given the heat.
Joe Burns working hard
Start line ready
The lake was really calm.  The most calm I've seen it in a long time.  It would have been a perfect day for a triathlon too although I bet the water is still really cold.
Calm lake
The race did the National Anthem with the Boy Scouts and we were ready to get in line to race.
National Anthem
Runners in front of me(second wave)
Runners behind me
I really enjoy this course.  The variety of the surface is one of the best features of the race.  It also gives you an opportunity to really run parts of the course.  I went out WAY too fast and it cost me in the last few miles.  It didn't help that I ran a couple miles before the race too and the humidity was tough too.  My plan was to just run it how I felt so that's what I did.

My Garmin has always run short for this race(2015 - 12.96 miles; 2014 - 12.97 miles; 2012 - 13.02 miles) as does most of the people I know that run with watches.  I do keep in mind that we are running through parts of the woods(and we know that Garmin's are not perfect) but I'd like to see the race do a new measurement just to be sure it's correct.
Map, splits, elevation
The race goes off in waves which really helps keep the start from being so congested.  I went off in the second wave which seemed to be perfect.  Perfectly too fast that is!  Haha!
Fast start
Rich getting his sub 2
I really enjoy starting on the grass given the soft surface.
Lots of runners!
Pretty quick we were onto the lake loop heading to the Trolley trails.  As much as I run in the park, I rarely run the trolley trails and really should run them more.  It's one of the reasons this still makes for such a fun course for me given I'm not on those trails as much.
Tons of volunteers
Onto pavement
Still on the path on the way to the Trolley Trails
Personally I think this is a great race for people who have not run a trail race before.  It gives you a flavor of if you will like trails or not.  It's not all trails so you get some asphalt as well.
yeah, trails!
Back on the path again
If I have to run on asphalt, running out of the park towards Dequindre is one of my favorite parts of the park.  I love running over the old wooden bridges.
Heading out of the park - Michele and my shadow(he finished sub 2)
Neighborhood run
Wooden bridges
Joe keeping us safe
Turn onto Dequindre
Once we get out of the park, we run on Dequindre for a short time before going back on some dirt roads.
Only mile 4?
The heat was starting to really come out now!
Heading to dirt
Back to a little softer surface
I'm always happy to get back to softer surface even though the dirt road is pretty hard as well.  It's nice that some of this is shaded too making for a little cooler run.  There are also some pretty homes in the area to run by.
Winkler Pond Rd
Nice and shady
When I run in the Winter at the park, mid week, I drive these roads to get to the back entrance of Stony.  It's a great place to run as well.
Dirt and shade. Yes!
Really nice and quite back here.
Open roads but rarely did we see a car
Mile 5 on Mead road
Mead road definitely has some hills to contend with and they can zap your energy if you don't watch it.  Overall though, many talk about all the hills on this course and I really don't think it's a bad as what people say.  Don't get me wrong - it's hilly but there are much hillier courses that are more technical.
Some hills here too
Mile 6
The course did a great job having a couple port-o-potties out on the course with plenty of aid stations along the way.
On Sheldon Rd
Back in the sun
Port-o-John before the park
The volunteers were plentiful and did an awesome job cheering the runners.  Given the course set up, there is more people cheering on the course than you would have at a typical trail race.  At other trails races, sometimes, you never see anyone.
Party's here
Timing mats
Once I hit the trail, I was in heaven.  I know I train here all the time but I really love the trails back here.  Having the familiarity with them is a big bonus.  This is my hometown half marathon.
In my training grounds
Feeling at home here
The race did a great job with signs and markings along the course.  No way you could ever get lost.  They also marked tree roots and some rocks along the trails.  It's the only trail course I've ever seen them do this.  Usually you are on your own so doing this is a step above and frankly, while appreciated, it's not really necessary.
Mile 7
slight climb
Nice cheer group
Mile eight is a killer hill.  Fortunately, I knew what was coming given I've been running this hill 3-4 days a week for the past year.
I love this pine area before the hill
Okay, it's not that killer of a hill but it is long enough to slow you down a little especially after you just ran eight miles.
Biggest hill at mile 8
Almost off the trail
Great signs all the way
Back off the trail, and we were heading for the lake loop for more hard running.  You do have the ability to run next to the path on a grassy/dirt section which is what I did the majority of the time when I could.  It does make for a little harder running but it's not as hard on your joints.
A little grass running
Back to asphalt - boo
One of the best features on the course is cold towels.  They were at numerous spots on the course and, given the heat and humidity, it was nice to have them.  Getting one kind of gave you a jolt of energy from it.
Cold towels
Back to the lake loop
Love bridges
Most people that run at Stony, run the lake loop which is a six mile loop around the lake.  I've run it so many times, I could not tell you how many.  You can see the side of the path where I was talking about running.
Mile 10
Near Baypoint Beach
North Dam
Quick enough, we were off the pavement again, and it was back to some more grass and trails.  Yeah!
More grass
More trails
I was struggling at this point but kept moving.  I had to walk a little here and there given the heat.
Sweat on the camera - sorry
Back to asphalt
At this point, we were also running while some of the 10k runners were on their race.
Grass finish
Finally we turned in towards the start.  Han was able to get a nice picture of me finishing up the race.
Photo by Han Sudjunadi
Finish line
Aid Stations
The aid stations were incredible as always.  First, there were tons of them - more than I took pictures of.  They had water and powerade stations.  They had GU stations.  They had cheer stations.  They had Jello Shot stations!  They had cold towel stations.  Some of the best aid stations of all the races I've run for a half marathon.
Aid station after we passed it
Volunteers were awesome!
Lots of aid stations
Jello shot station
Hill cheer station/wet towels
Mile 9 aid station
Power bar station
Finish Area
There were plenty of people cheering on runners.  There were also tons of runners hanging out after the race.  It's nice when it's warm out and you don't just eat and leave right away.  I saw lots of people that I knew which makes this even more fun.

As you finished, a volunteer was there to give you water, then your medal and then people cutting off the timing chips since they were reusable.
Video and pictures
The race had bananas, orange slices, granola bars, pop tarts, bagels and I think a chicken dish too. They also had water and powerade.
Lots of food
For your race entry fee of $54.63($50 race entry plus online fee), you received a fully supported,  and police protected, semi-closed measured course.  You also received a race glass(half marathon only).  You received a bag with your packet as well as a race sticker.  You received an awesome medal and the race did a great job again on them with a new design as a surfboard and a spinning sun.
packet bag
The Back to the Beach theme on the bib is really cool!
Custom bib
I like that the race changes up the shirts each year so that you get a different look.  This year they chose a color versus mostly white which was a great change.  As most of you know, I'm still partial to Brooks shirts but the Leslie Jordan shirts work well for me too.
Tech shirt front
Tech shirt back
The glasses are fun to collect too.
Race glass and sticker
The race director did an outstanding job with the medal this year.  A surfboard AND a spinning sun.  I love it!
Medal with ribbon
Medal close up
The organization is great for this race.  They have their own website, like many races do now.  They send out reminder emails.  The website answers all your questions.  The start/finish area is well planned and in a perfect location.  The volunteers all knew what to do and did a great job.  The course was well marked and a great course to run.  Results were online when I checked after the race.  A truly outstanding job.

Overall, this is one on my top half marathons that I like to run.  Even with an early start, it's nice because it's only 15 minutes from my home.  Joe puts together an outstanding race with a great course with lots of variety in it.  It's not just a trail race.  It's not just a road race.  This combination is what makes it so unique.  It's a one of a kind.  The beach theme is fun and it's a very popular race even with a harder course than many half marathons.  I know I'll run this again in the future as this was my third time running it.  It's highly recommended.  If you have not run it before, you need too.  Those that have run it know to sign up early.
Rich, me, Kevin and Ben
Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Disclosure: I paid for this race entry with my own funds. All opinions are my own.


  1. This weekends race will be on my home grounds, my trails, so lets hope it helps me run well. I'm sitting here thinking about the route and the trails I'll be on, thinking about how I'll run them...
    2h03, sorry about the 03 a sub 2 would have been nice, how it have been on the card? you looked tired in that finish picture!

  2. I completed this half marathon on Sunday as well and really enjoyed the set up! I definitely could have trained better for the trails and hills, but it was a really nice race overall, especially for my first half!