Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Running in the OBX

We took a vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina over the last week of May. This was my first time in the OBX, and my first time in North Carolina aside from passing through the state en route to other destinations. Hayley and I, along with the extended family on my dad's side, rented a beach house in the town of Corolla, on the north end of the OBX only a few miles south of the Virginia border. The house was huge, but was just big enough for our party of 15 adults and 3 small kids.

My father's cousin and her husband, Debbie and Sean Hunt, own the house and gave us a great deal on the price for the week. We had our own private pool and the Atlantic Ocean was a five minute walk away. Also of note: the Hunts own a microbrewery in Fairfax County, VA, called Mustang Sally Brewing Company. I haven't had the opportunity to try their beer yet, but I'm confident that they know how to brew a great beer.

Sunny Daze, our home for the week. 
I won't go into too much detail on the vacation, since this blog is mainly about running. Instead I'll just provide a few notes about some places I ran and hiked, or would have liked to if given the chance, plus brief details on some other interesting stuff. Most of the interesting but non-running itinerary is toward the bottom of this post.

After a night in Quakerstown, PA, for my cousin Elizabeth's wedding, we arrived in Corolla on May 27, the day before Memorial Day. I'm told it was early enough in the summer for us northerners to beat the heat, but temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s and near 100 percent humidity were still more than I was used to. I managed a few runs on the bike path that follows NC-12 — the state highway that serves as the main through-way for the entire length of the OBX. A few rows of
humongous beach houses sit between the road and the beach, so I didn't have any good views of the ocean during these runs.

On our first morning there, I ran an eight-mile out-and-back and thought I'd die from the heat. Even at 7:00 a.m. there were tons of people out on the path. I did a similar 12-mile run three days later and was noticeably more adapted to the heat. It wasn't easy, but it was easier. On this second run, I ran to the northern end of NC-12 to go off-road for a few miles and explore the woods in the Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve. I read that wild horses roam the reserve, but they tend to stay away from the trail and boardwalk and hang out in the sand dunes and vegetation that has no human presence. The last morning of our stay I ran four miles in the sand along the beach at the crack of dawn.

I also had the chance to run a 5k race in the middle of the week. The OBX Running Company puts on the Lighthouse 5k Series, which is the same 5k race held every Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. throughout the summer. The start and finish are at the Whalehead Club in Corolla, about three miles from our beach house. The course runs past the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, hence the series' name, and along the bike path I mentioned earlier. The race on May 30 was the first in the series for 2018.

None of the other runners in my family were interested in the 5k, so I decided to go alone. My mom was up unusually early, caught me going out the door, and decided to come along. I registered at the start and did a warm-up run to see where the course went. At 7:30 a.m., the easy warm-up left me soaked in sweat and looking like I'd just crawled out of the Atlantic. The first half of the race went okay, but I barely hung on in the second half, reduced a jog to avoid puking on the sidewalk. I clearly lacked the blood plasma volume one gains from heat adaptation. At the finish everyone got a shirt, a medal, and some breakfast. It appeared that most of the runners were, like me, visitors and tourists just out for some exercise and looking to run someplace new. Afterward, Mom and I walked around the grounds outside the Whalehead Club. (Race results.)

Lighthouse Series 5k start. PC: OBX Running Company
I think this was early, when I still felt good. PC: OBX Running Company
Post-race. PC: Mom. 
While researching races in the area, I discovered a couple of ultramarathons that take place in the Outer Banks, although not during the time we were there. The Light 2 Light 50 runs from the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla south to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The OBX 200 is a continuous, point-to-point run over roads and trails from Corolla to Emerald Isle, with a 22-mile ferry ride in the middle. UltraSignup shows four finishers for the 2018 inaugural race. There was also something called the Graveyard 100 that ran from Corolla to Hatteras Island, but it appears to be defunct since 2015. The whole Outer Banks is devoid of any hills, so unless these races entail climbing a lighthouse the courses are entirely flat.

When I got home to New York the following week, the first few runs I did were easy by comparison. I could definitely feel a difference from the heat "training," but the benefits only lasted 4-5 days.


[The rest of this post includes an overview of some of the other activities we did and places we visited during the trip. It's devoid of any running-related content, but I wanted to include it for posterity.]

Throughout the week, Hayley and I and the rest of the family spent a ton of time in the pool and at the beach. We visited the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, went up the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and toured the historic Whalehead Club. We also got to goof around with the three kids, all of whom are two-and-a-half and younger.

A view of the Whalehead Club grounds from the top of the nearby lighthouse. 
Hayley and I left a day early so we could visit Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia and spend the final night of the trip at an Air BnB close to the seashore. On our way out from the Outer Banks on Friday morning we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Even though the main visitors' center was closed for renovations, it was neat to walk around the field and listen to the ranger tell the story of those historic first few flights. We bought a National Parks passport book and started collecting the cancellation stamps at the memorial.

Next we drove up to Assateague Island to check out the Assateague Island National Seashore on the Maryland side. We walked around the beach and saw a pack of three beach-side horses almost immediately, but couldn't find any more the rest of the day. They just stood there in front of onlookers, posing like a three-piece rock band with shaggy unkempt hair and a careless attitude. We took a few pictures from about 30 feet away.

Assateague wild horses not giving a crap.
We walked around some short trails to look at wildlife and get chewed up by black flies and mosquitoes. On our way out of Assateague we realized Ocean City, MD, was only a few miles to the north, so we drove up there to the main drag and ate at an authentic Mexican place. The burrito there was the best restaurant meal I had all week. It was dark when we got out, so we got to see Ocean City lit up at night during the hour drive back down to our Air BnB in Oak Hall, VA. The Air BnB is an old, free-standing bank converted into a quaint, single-bedroom house called The Mayson Paige. It's less than a quarter-mile off US-13, roughly 20 miles south of the Virginia-Maryland border, and only 30 minutes from Chincoteague Island.

The next morning we drove across Chincoteague Island to get to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the south end of Assateague Island. To clarify and probably cause confusion: the town of Chincoteague, VA, sits on Chincoteague Island. However, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is part of Assateague Island, on the Virginia side, and it borders the Assateague Island National Seashore to the north. The island has a fence at the state line, so the Assateague wild horses don't mingle with the Chincoteague ponies. (Yes, in Maryland they're called horses and in Virginia they're called ponies.) We saw some ponies from a scenic lookout point in the car, but couldn't spot any as we wandered the beaches. We again got chomped up by mosquitoes and black flies while walking a trail up to the Assateague Lighthouse. The views from the top were worth it — most of the land we cold see was undeveloped marshland and seashore, and we cold clearly hear a screeching bald eagle.

After Chincoteague, we stopped at the NASA Wallops Flight Center on Wallops Island [sic]. We toured the visitor's center and learned about the history of the facility on Wallops and NASA in general. Sadly, there were no launches scheduled until June 21.

By then it was only noon, and we had a seven-hour drive ahead of us. To further split up the trip, we stopped in Dover, DE, to see the capitol building from the outside and tour the city's Historic District. We had a lengthy tour and dissertation at the Old State House Building and learned some neat things about the state's and capitol's history. (For example, everyone knows Delaware as the "First State." In 1787, Deleware's delegates were the first to ratify the proposed US Constitution, but they did so only five days before Pennsylvania's. In other words, Pennsylvania very narrowly missed earning distinction as The First State.) We got another passport cancellation stamp at the Old State House, plus an extra as part of the Underground Railroad's Network to Freedom. We missed the chance to visit the nearby Johnson Victrola Museum, which I was really interested in, and a historic plantation six miles away that would have earned us another stamp.

Uncle Matt and me. Matching Sasquatch shirts courtesy of Aunt Amy.  

It's better than a sharknado. 

The Assateague Island Lighthouse. 

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