As I sit here, and begin typing out this recap, I am trying to find the perfect word to summarize this event. What comes to mind immediately is (WINDY). Let’s see if that changes as I begin rehashing the events of this past weekends race from start to finish.
**I am going to try not be overly redundant, as I posted about this race a few times over the past few weeks, leading right up to an extremely brief recap the evening of the race.
First off, I just have to say that Charleston, South Carolina is fantastic! I’ve only been there a few times in the past, and have never really gotten the chance to explore. Although I became familiar with Charleston on foot during the race, I cannot wait to go back for a long weekend sometime to really absorb some of Charleston’s history and charm. My friend Paula and I drove down on Friday. The trip took us less than four hours. We drove straight to our hotel, the La Quinta, right across the Ashley River from the peninsula of Charleston. Our rooms were available for check in when we arrived, so we chilled for about a half hour before heading out to the race expo.
The expo was just a very short drive from our hotel. Ten minutes, maybe, by car. Maybe it’s just me, but when you have a race where tons and tons of folks are coming in from out of town, out of state, etc… please have signs posted outside pointing us where to go. There were absolutely no road signs, and no signs on the building itself, nor inside, pointing runners in the right direction. Luckily I saw a woman with what looked like a swag bag, walking on the side of the road, and asked her where to go. She also offered to let us park in her spot as she was leaving. Parking was not marked either. Not a great start, but I’m easy, and didn’t let it bother me.
The expo was held in a high school gym, which was way too small for a race this size. The layout of the expo was also an epic fail. As this was the fourth installment of this race in Charleston, I was surprised by this. I hope the race director improves this expo for future runners. I knew two race directors for other races there, and they felt the same way. The swag was minimal. Just a shirt, and a very cheap swag bag to double as a bag check bag. This was a pretty expensive race, for very little swag. The shirt featured artwork by a local artist.
The bib itself needs to be changed, as well. I’ve read comments on this race from previous years, and it seems like no improvements have been made in this area. In the photo above, I have the chip portion of the bib tucked under so you can’t see it, but the chip was attached to a tearaway strip on the bottom of the bib. This was so flimsy, that I thought it would fall off before I even left the expo, and certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it as is, while running 26.2 miles. I ended up grabbing extra pins, and pinning the chip to the upper bib. No way I was going to run a marathon, and lose that chip due to flimsy bib design. Flash forward, I made it over the finish line with my chip. Others were not so lucky. Note to future runners… If the bib and chip are flimsy, find a way to make it more sturdy.
Aside from a few other races being at the expo to spread the word about their races, there really wasn’t much else to see. The Wrightsville Beach Marathon was there, as was Hilton Head Marathon, the Greensboro Marathon and the Asheville Marathon at Biltmore Estate. The race director for the Asheville race actually opened up 50 more spots for the previously sold out half at the Biltmore, just so that attendees of the Charleston Expo had a chance to sign up. Very cool. The Greensboro marathon was offering a $30 discount for a week, to sign up for their Marathon this Fall. I plan on taking advantage of that, for sure. *note to self! don’t forget to sign up before this weekend*.
We then took advantage of about an hour of free time before our dinner reservations to drive around Charleston and take a few pictures. I was floored by the architectural beauty, and really enjoyed our sightseeing adventure. I will return for more details, and would actually like to walk around Charleston quite a bit, and take a food tour, as well. Here are some photos of the area.
We then made a quick trip back across the river to an Italian restaurant that came highly recommended. Al Di La Tratoria was awesome. We sat in the wine bar (no we didn’t have wine). We sat down at 6pm, and by 6:30 the place was packed. No wonder I could only get us a table in the bar area. We didn’t mind at all, and proceeded to have an amazing meal. I even capped off my meal with some white chocolate mousse with berries for dessert. Yum! Everything was so fresh, and tasted as good as it looked.
Back at the hotel, we were in for the night. We agreed to meet up in the lobby at 6:30am, to head over to find parking at the starting line. We thought it may be a bit of a cluster, so we gave ourselves ample time to get there, and be ready. The rest of Friday evening I just relaxed, and tried to keep me feet up. I got everything together for race morning, so that I could have a peaceful sleep. Three alarms set for 4:30am, I actually slept fairly well.
Race day Saturday. Everything went off without a hitch in the morning. Oh, the one negative to staying at this hotel was that they offered no late check outs for runners. Give me a break! Come on La Quinta, get with the program. I would love to shower before heading home. Anyway, that was not going to happen, so I checked out, and met my friend in the lobby. The quick trip to the race start was actually quicker at 6am, than the day before, and when we arrived, there was plentiful parking. We had over an hour until the start of the race, so since the weather was cold (38), and the winds were blowing heftily at 20 mph, we sat in the warm truck and relaxed.
Promptly at 7:50am, I exited the truck, and headed over to the starting line. Just a minutes walk away from where we parked. Simple. I didn’t have to shiver long, although I think I was the only person I could see in my immediate surroundings that didn’t have gloves on. The one thing I forgot at home. Throwaway gloves! Here is my view of the starting line just moments before the start of the race.
See all of those hats? It was cold! Felt like 26-28 with the windchill. The conditions would certainly end up wearing me down in the end, but I felt pretty good at the start.
The start near Burke High School would send thousands of half and full marathoners barreling down the first few miles along Fishburne/Lakewood Dr. The crowd really didn’t start to thin until about a mile in. There was a lot of foot dodging, and concentrating on not tripping yourself or another runner. There were random pools of water on the sides of the street due to a quick moving thunderstorm the night before, which added to the madness. We were moving though, the race had begun.
The fist few miles are mostly run along the water. Very pretty start to this race. I really enjoyed the sights, as I got into my rhythm for the run. Miles 2.5 to 3 were beautiful, enjoying the sunshine on the water and faraway views of the area. Just after mile three, the course turns left onto King St., the main north/south thoroughfare in Charleston. This six mile stretch was tough. Lots of wind, but also lots of crowd support. All I kept thinking at this point in the race was that the crowd had just gotten up and came out to support us with a cup of coffee. Many of these folks were still not showered, some out walking dogs, etc.. It was just about that moment that I found myself getting very jealous. There I was still in the very early stages of a 26.2 mile race, and I began to smell bacon. A very strong scent of bacon from a restaurant, just beginning a country breakfast feast for visitors and locals. I became very distracted, and found myself wishing I was sitting down in that restaurant ordering my own big breakfast with a hefty side of bacon. Wow! Then as soon as the bacon scent disappeared, I passed another restaurant, and more smells of, you guessed it, bacon. Ok, I had to run faster to get away from those distractions.
Keeping up a decent pace, I was holding on to a 7:30 pace as mile 9 passed. Just a short ways away, the half and full marathoners split, and the crowd lessened quickly. Circling back and under an overpass, we started heading southeast. For a few minutes the intense wind wasn’t in our faces. The wind was just daunting! It was nice to have a bit of a break from it being right in my face. This part of the course takes you back down toward the water, and eventually onto a pier for a quick out and back surrounded by the water on either side. That was cool, but the wind was back, and turning back in a northerly direction to repeat that part of the course back to the race splitting point was where I started to lose some steam. I remember it well. I just kept thinking to myself to keep pushing. My legs weren’t working as well, and I was really fighting the wind. It was taking a lot out of me, and my pace.
I managed to make it to about the half way point in the race before my Garmin started to tick closer and closer to that magical BQ pace. I was slowing down. I couldn’t help it. That 7:30 pace faded, now 7:40, 7:45, and eventually past 7:49. I would have to maintain that pace the entire second half of the race if I wanted that BQ, but mentally I gave up right then. This wasn’t my target race for the BQ, but in my mind I wanted to be able to last longer then just 14 miles sub 7:49 pace. Today wasn’t the day, it was just too cold, and my body was starting to break down fighting that headwind.
Miles 16 though 24 were not as fun, as the course wasn’t as interesting. More importantly though, I started feeling my lower body aching. At first I felt it in my knees. I have rarely been stricken with IT band issues, but started feeling my right knee aching terribly. I haven’t had pain like that in a long time. Then I started feeling pain in the back of both knees. Then my hips. I never cramped at all, as I hydrated well, and ate a half banana twice to keep going. I had the hardest time. My feet felt fine, which was good news. My main focus now was to push through this pain, and keep moving forward.
I watched countless runners pass me, as we headed into an area of the course where there are a lot of out and backs, doubling back, seeing a lot of the same runners behind you countless times. I struggled mentally and physically. It was really tough pushing through the pain. I wanted to tote along an IV drip with pain killers. I was hurting. With each passing mile, I found myself counting down to the finish.
The last several miles of the race are all run in North Charleston. The wind was just as intense, but it was a tad warmer. I knew I could still have a respectable finish if I could just keep moving. Slowly but surely I was nearing the finish. Have you ever run a race where you concentrated so much on your Garmin, and the miles just didn’t match with the course mileage signs? My Garmin matched perfectly for most of the race until the very end. When it matters most. All of the sudden the last .2 on a marathon course becomes very important. When you are ready to finish, and I was ready to be done, believe me, my Garmin said 26, but that sign was not there. More and more spectators started coming into view, cheering. Ok, so now here is the 26 mile sign, my Garmin says 26.2. Wait, this should be the finish line, but it wasn’t. Man, I was sore, and wanted to cross that line.
Finally the finish line came into view. Finally! I had to tell myself to enjoy the finish. Normally I have a burst of energy at this point. Sometimes I am able to really kick in one good last fight to the finish. Not today. I tried to force a smile, to thank those cheering on the sidelines. I had a hard time even doing this. It felt like a slow crawl across the finish. Of course it wasn’t, but it felt that way. My hips and knees were killing me. I was never so happy to finish a race, and to have that medal placed around my neck.
I almost felt like I was in another world. Not a happy world, but one where I was kind of out of my body, looking at myself. I had done it, finished my 9th marathon. A tough day overall. The wind and cold had beaten me down. It really sent my body into a tailspin that day. I made my way through the finishers chute. I grabbed some water, a flat soda, muffin and moved forward. The finisher village was huge, and filled with vendors, and food. I just couldn’t move through and see everything. I grabbed a bowl of shrimp and grits (a brilliant idea) and made my way to the side of a building. Wrapped in a Mylar blanket, a sat down in the sun. It felt so good to sit. I rested my legs for 15 minutes or so, relaxing. That shrimp and grits were just what I needed. That soda tasted so good!
As soon as I felt like I could get up without falling back down, we walked to the truck. My friend had finished her race, the half, went back to our hotel, showered, checked out, and had returned to the finish line just moments before I crossed the finish. It was time to head home. So once at the truck, I quickly changed clothes, and we were on our way.
Results for the race are still currently preliminary, but here is a look at what I know at this point.
Gun Time: 3:48:38
Chip Time: 3:47:58
Age Group: 33/90
Overall, considering the weather conditions, I am happy with my finish. I wanted to be faster that day, but it wasn’t meant to be. How can I not be happy though with finishing another marathon, just nine weeks shy of my last one. The Charleston Marathon was my first race of 2014, and overall it was such a great race. Every race is different, some harder than others. The tough part for me that day was fighting against the wind, which ended up making me fight against a body. My legs got me to the finish, and for that, I am grateful.
On to marathon #10. As I recover over the coming days, the pain in my legs will disappear, leaving me with great memories of Charleston. What a beautiful city, and an amazing marathon. I certainly recommend it highly. There are things they can improve upon, and I am confident that as this race grows, they will change those things to make the race even better.