An absolute whirlwind the past few days have been. I am still pretty exhausted, but hope to catch up with myself over the course of today and tomorrow. With the race being on Saturday, I have now had a bit of time to soak it in, so here goes with the story of marathon #17…….
We left home on Friday, February 6th just before 1pm. Heading down to Hilton Head from here takes about five hours. The weather was a bit chilly, but really nice for a drive. Sunshine and thankfully traffic on Interstate 95 was not all that bad. The drive down was uneventful. My son had his headphones on for most of it, so I got to switch my XM channels back and forth between 70’s and 80’s music and CNN. It was a very relaxing drive.
We got to Hilton Head right on schedule, and drove straight to packet pick up at the Westin Resort in Port Royal Plantation. This being the first time I have ever run a marathon a second time, I knew that the packet pick up would only take minutes. I was right! No muss no fuss. Into the line, and had my bib, shirt and various freebies in less than two minutes. My son Colton, got into his line for the 5K, and had his stuff in moments, as well. There really isn’t much to see at this expo. A very few vendors, and the only thing I needed was five packets of GU, so thankfully the Palmetto Running Company could fulfill my one and only purchasing need. We double checked our bib chips to make sure they worked, and we headed out. The drive from the Westin to my Mother’s house is less than five minutes, so before we knew it we were pulling into the driveway.
A nice reunion with Mom was followed by a relaxing evening at the house. We settled in, and had a few snacks as she prepared a dinner of chicken marinara and pasta. A great pre-race home cooked meal, complete with a salad and garlic bread. Perfect! Race morning would come fairly early, so I wasn’t long for the world that evening. We mapped out our plan for the morning, and we headed off to bed.
I don’t now about you, but it’s especially sweet to be at a destination race, and be able to stay with family. This doesn’t happen often, but enjoying the comforts of a home while away at a race is very nice. Thanks Mom!
My alarm went off at 5am. I had been fairly nervous leading up to this race being my first race in over three months. I was actually fairly calm when I woke up after a really good sleep. I made coffee and sat on the deck while it brewed. The forecast had been perfect. It was about 38 degrees when I got up, but it was supposed to warm up to about 40 by 8am when the race was to start. The eventual high for the day was to be about 63. No clouds, only sunshine. Couldn’t ask for better. As I sat with my coffee I was remembering last year at the race. My performance had been sort of lackluster. The weather was lackluster with rain, clouds and wind. This year would be different I kept telling myself.
Mom lives very close to where the race starts, so we didn’t leave the house until 7:15. Such a huge bonus, this really makes this race worthwhile for me. There have been times for other races where I have had to leave the house three hours before the start. 45 minutes for this one. Unheard of! Before we knew it we were at Jarvis Creek Park, and getting ready to line up.
We have our jackets to Mom who would be there to watch the finish of Colton’s 5k before they headed back to the house for a while before coming back to watch my finish. The morning was perfect! Not a cloud in the sky.
Such a beautiful setting for a race!
After snapping a few selfies, we spotted this woman wearing a shirt I had not seen before. Hum… Interesting choice. Not sure if her butt ran fast or not.
Promptly at 8am, the air horn sounded and we were off. I remembered going out a bit too fast last year, so I didn’t want to make the same mistake this year. We purposely started back a ways but found it annoying to have to weave around slow pokes that had no business being lined up where they were. It never fails. I need to publish a runner courtesy handbook so that everyone that races understands proper etiquette. I encourage all types of runners to race but please, if you walk, or have a pace of 10, 11, 12 or more minutes per mile, you have no business lining up with a 8 or 9 minutes per mile pacer. You just don’t.
The 5k, Half and Full courses are identical for the first two miles or so, so I knew I would at least be able to see my son for the first bit of the race. He was in front of me for about a mile and a half before I caught up to him. I didn’t feel like I was running too fast, but from behind him, he looked like he was just running too casually. He looked slow. When I finally caught him, I urged him to speed up. He pulled off his headphones and told me that he had turned his ankle on a curb trying to get around someone, and that he was in pain. Knowing he only had about a mile to go, I told him to just give it his best, and ice it after the finish. I knew my Mom was at the finish and could tend to him if he needed help, so as confidently as I could I passed him. We had agreed that he would text me his finish time once they got back to the house. I had to wait.
The marathon course is mostly flat, but has four passes over a fairly substantial bridge over Broad Creek. Heading into mile 5 is the first crossing. I felt good going up and over the bridge the first time. The course changed a bit this year, and the next two miles seemed a bit different to me. There was actually one spot where we were on a wooded trail. They had done a nice job of highlighting tree roots on the path with white spray paint. Otherwise this could have been a very tricky part of the race with proper footing.
At this point in the race I really felt pretty comfortable. My breathing was good, I wasn’t cold and I felt like I was maintaining a very consistent pace. Most of the time when I race I switch my Garmin screen view to “pace view” right after the start. This time I left my Garmin on “overall time”, or elapsed time the entire race except for once. I toggled over to see my pace at about mile 7 to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it too early in the race. I was on track. Under 8 minutes per mile, I don’t remember exactly, but pace felt comfortable. With a few turns, we were back on the Cross Island Parkway and about to make a second pass over the bridge.
Another successful pass up and over the bridge between miles seven and eight brought us to the point in the course where turned off the parkway and headed out toward Spanish Wells. I remembered that last year between miles 9 and 10 that it started raining my mood dropped as well as my pace. I vowed to myself that this wouldn’t happen again. I felt strong. I enjoyed the scenery, the live oak trees, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. Beautiful, huge homes. Occasionally island residents would be out in their driveways cheering on runners, but mostly they were still in bed, I think. It was quiet. Peaceful. A beautiful morning for a run, and I was enjoying it.
I passed the first timing mat at mile 11. Crossing at 1:27:54, for an overall pace of 7:59. I was right on track. As nervous as I was heading into this race about not feeling prepared, my body was holding up. Just a few miles later though I started to feel some pain in the top of my right foot. A familiar pain. A few years ago I fractured a metatarsal in a car accident, and the pain was just like it. Maybe I tied my shoe too tight. Maybe the tongue of the shoe twisted somehow. I wasn’t sure, but it was very annoying. I stopped quickly at a water station to adjust it, but it just didn’t work. The pain was there, and would stay with me the rest of the race. I just had to try to forget about it and run through the pain. I knew it was not something that I would have to quit the race over, but it was concerning.
The half way point came and went. Aside from my right foot all was going well. I checked my Garmin at 13.1. My time was 1:43-ish. I thought to myself “this is going too well”. Right on track. My spirits were still in good shape, and I chatted with almost every runner that I past. I remember thinking somewhere in here that I was surprised I hadn’t heard from my son yet. Why hadn’t he texted me yet? I started thinking things like is he really hurt? Maybe he is in the medical tent having his ankle wrapped. I was worrying. Then a few minutes later a “ding” on my phone. This is what I saw as I drew my phone up to my eyes. “2nd place age group”. Wow! Now I know why it took so long to hear from him. He placed in his age group and had to wait around for the medal ceremony. Worth the wait, I’d say! I wrote “awesome!”, to which he replied “got a medal”. Then he wrote that he was about to ice his ankle. He asked me where I was, to which I responded, “mile 14”.
Knowing that all was good with him, I got back to focusing on my race. Oh, by the way, for those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s really quite amusing to try to text back and forth while running a marathon. We had agreed before the race that I would let him know via text when I hit mile 20, so that he and my Mom could head back to the park to watch me finish. My focus was now on the next five miles. Another trail-type section came up at mile 15.5 as we made our way through a field in Honey Horn. Another new part of the course with some uneven footing, you really had to concentrate on foot strikes here. It was a cool change from last year.
The next few miles put us back on the Cross Island Parkway. Miles 16-18 were tough for me last year, so I knew I had a battle in front of me. It is a boring straight section. No spectators, straight into the sun, knowing the third pass over the bridge was looming in the distance. I tried very hard to focus, but knew my pace was dropping off some. I was tired. I was not hot, but I needed some water and had two miles to go before another water stop. My attitude could have really sucked here, but I repeated my race mantra in my head, “the heat is on”, and started to think of a friend of mine. The night before the race I read a post on Facebook from a friend of mine in my childhood. We haven’t had any contact whatsoever since Junior High School, but became friends on Facebook a few years ago because we are both runners. He posted on Friday night that he had some terrible injuries to his knee through years of playing soccer, running and competing as a triathlete. I had known this prior and he had some pretty major surgeries to try to fix his knee so that he could once again do what he loved. He stated in his post that he would never win a marathon, or triathlon but at least wanted to get back to the sports that made his life complete. That he endured the harsh surgeries and recovery so that he could once again play soccer with his young son, to run around the yard with his daughter, to race again one day. He had gotten news from his Doctor and physical therapist that day that he was cleared to start running again. I could sense his relief and joy in his post. At this darker moment in the race I began to think of him, and to run, not walk for him. To use his words as encouragement. To dedicate these next two tough miles to him and his recovery. It helped me through. Tim, those tough miles were for you, my friend! And thank you for inspiring me!
Before I knew it, I hydrated up, and hit the bridge at mile 19. Here is the one and only photo I took during the race.
That was my view from the bridge.
I texted that picture to my son along with the words “I Hate Bridge”. Makes me laugh to read that now, and it perfectly describes how I felt at the time. Coming off the bridge, miles 19-22 were and out and back through Point Comfort. Another beautiful area on the island. More importantly it meant that my final pass over the bridge at mile 22 was coming up. I crossed the 20 mile timing mat at 2:47:09, again texting my son so they could head toward the finish. I knew it would take me about an hour from the twenty mile mat to get to the finish. My overall pace now was standing at 8:21. Not bad, I thought.
I had to walk a bit up the bridge that last time at mile 22. Losing time, of course, but it couldn’t be helped. I just couldn’t manage to run it faster than I could walk it. So I chose my spots on the uphill, and speed walked twice for about 20 seconds. I told myself this was the only break I would allow myself to secure a strong finish.
I hit mile 23, done with that bridge for the final time. It should be smooth, flat and comfortable until the end. Then it happened! Out of nowhere, my right foot big toe locked into the straight position. It cramped up completely. I had to stop to stretch it out. I had to get it bending again so that I could run. It was amazingly uncomfortable and very disheartening. I had so few miles left to go and now this. I was discouraged. I got it going again, and started running although I was not confident at all that it wouldn’t cramp up again. About a half mile later it happened again. I stopped, stretched, and started running again. What a pain, literally! Must have been my hydration, no other way to explain it. I thought I managed well, but I must have been a bit dehydrated. Damn it! Well, I got that toe to move one last time and made my way to the finish. I didn’t have to stop again, and just before the mile 26 mark, we veered off the road onto the path around the pond at the park. The final quarter mile was quiet, no one in front of me, and no one behind me. Just a serene view of the water, and the finish line on the opposite side. I knew my son and mother would be there to greet me.
Making the final approach to the finish, a few cheers here and there sprinkled in I saw them. There they were, waiting for me! Crossing the line in 3:46:53. They both had two cups of water for me, which I downed immediately. The medal draped around my neck, we walked gingerly away from the finisher chute. I did it! The last few miles weren’t altogether pretty, but I managed yet another marathon finish.
I really was happy with how I did overall. We all talked, and caught up. We walked over to the timing tent to enter my bib number, and this totally shocked me!
What? I placed second in my age group? At a marathon? OMG!!! I finished 38th overall, too! Wow! I was shocked!
Instead of just grabbing a slice of pizza and heading to the car, winning an additional award meant we had to stay awhile for the ceremony. So, we walked back to the car to change clothes before heading back to the park. We found a nice sunny spot and relaxed. We listened to some music, ate some food and just soaked in the experience. What a great day! My son and I both own age group medals, so we couldn’t have asked for a much better day.
Hilton Head is not only the first marathon I have now run twice, but I may now have to go back for a threepeat.
An interesting factoid about this race…. Hilton Head is a vacation destination mainly, even though my mom lives there. People vacation there to enjoy the beaches, the golf, the tennis. The weather! A lot of residents do participate in races there, but looking at the finisher list in the marathon, one thing is quite clear. The Hilton Head Marathon is truly a destination race. The top 10 finishers in the marathon all came from different states. In order, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Maryland and California. How cool is that?
And how cool is it that I walk away from Hilton Head in 2015 with two medals, not just one?