I ran Panama City Beach Half marathon on Dec. 2, 2017 for the second year in a row. I hate to be a downer, but it was a tough race experience this year. I would recommend it, but want other racers to know what the course conditions were like. Panama City Beach, FL is beautiful, and obviously heat can always be a factor, but this year's weather was considerably warmer than last year! It was a very sunny clear day and the beach was looking gorgeous, but it was roasting warm on the course in the upper 70’s. Warm weather is fine, but there is an expectation race organizers will be prepared for that!
First, let me say this is a great race location, there are plenty of hotels to stay near by and and a huge parking lot by the finish/start line. Pier Park is a huge shopping area so bring $$ if you like the kind of thing!
This race typically offers pace groups, has a big crowd, is chip timed, and is one of the best finish lines area around.
It is an out and back course that offers pretty good views of the ocean. The race is very clear on the web page it is open to traffic and runners need to be responsible for their own safety, but I found this year to be much more challenging traffic wise. The first 6 miles of this race are pretty peaceful due to the 7:30 a.m. start and the lane is coned off. Traffic definitely picks up after the turn around point, but this year traffic was particularly heavy on the way back maybe due to the warmer weather. The running lane on the way back is quite narrow, and runners do thin out, but this year it seems there was a lot more negative interaction between runner and drivers. I witnessed a lot of horn blowing and close cutting cars.
The main issue this year was trouble with hydration, which happens to be the key to a happy race right?! The course is set up for the Half Marathon like this: Water and/or Gatorade will be on course at mile markers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9-12 and Start/Finish Line.
The first stop had no cups of water ready at all...no worries, I’ll catch the next one I thought. I was hoping this was a snafu due to late volunteers. In the heat by mile 3, it truly felt too long between stops. I was regretting not carrying my handheld or carrying a disposable. Mile 3 I had a cup of water and was a bit sad there was no Gatorade, it would have been very beneficial as hot as it was. Mile 5, I was dealing with stinging eyes from sweat and feeling the lack of hydration, I took two cups of Gatorade and could have easily gulped more. It helped for sure and on I went to the turnaround point. The mile 7 stop offered peppermints and water. I only took a sip and used most of the water to wash out my eyes. I really needed Gatorade to replenish. I sucked my peppermint and not long after I got a terrible cramp in my side. I am not sure if it was the mint or lack of hydration, but I was feeling miserable started walking more than I was running. Mile 9 had nothing, no cups or water...I couldn't believe it. I felt defeated. I kept walking a few steps running a few steps. Traffic was very heavy at this time too, I tried to look at the ocean and enjoy the beauty, but it was tough to stay positive under the circumstances. Mile 11 had a few jugs with just a tiny bit of water in them, no cups. We took swigs towards our mouths so we could share the jug without putting our lips to it. It was ridiculous and a few people just took the jugs and ran on. Next table had nothing...it was so hard to continue. I did realize later there were a few stores to my right and I did have my ATM card in my running belt. I could have went in and purchased some Powerade, but I so rarely ever run near stores it didn't occur to me until mile 12.
I will say, some folks pushed on and ran almost the whole race, the girls I stayed with had slower than usual races, but were able to handle the heat a tad better than me. I am very sensitive to heat sickness and didn't want to spoil my whole girls weekend, so I slugged towards the finish line, very hot, and a few times I had bad chills which resulted in a lot walking for me.
The finish area is a long pretty chute of shops, palm trees, people cheering, a loud DJ calling out names where everyone is from, but I was not feeling festive. I tried to focus on how fun the after party is at this event, but I could feel the tears welling up. Miles of frustration coming out.
As I crossed the line to my absolute personal worst half time ever, I got myself together and went to find my run buddies...it is just running after all, but it wasn't even a fun experience, to be on the course all those miles with no hydration, it took its toll.
Now here is the good stuff. The after party at Margaritaville is like no other and I didn't get heat sick because I walked so much, so I was able to hang out on the deck and enjoy the after party. Unlimited Landshark beer on tap. I was arriving almost 3 hours after the start time and the beer supply was plentiful. There is always a food option too, this year was rice and gumbo. Last year they had chili, so if you are vegetarian this obviously wouldn’t be good, but Margaritaville has a huge deck and you can order food. This is one race runners hang out for hours afterwards and it was really fun to socialize with many Instagram buddies and enjoy the sun. It is also great if you are with someone running the full marathon. You have free Landshark and a perfect view of the finish area, so you can wait for them to come in.
I saw on the FB page an explanation from race organizers that vendor did not fill the water order properly which resulted in shortage, but honestly I kind of expected an apology email at least. It was disappointing to travel and have that kind of race experience. All that said, since it is a beautiful race location, and the afterparty is so fun, I will probably run it again, but I will carry my own hydration for sure! I won't be caught in FL. heat again without some electrolytes.