Wow. Where to begin? What a weekend! I’m going to work on my brevity and try to keep this mainly about the race, so suffice it to say that the events surrounding the race were wonderful. Charleston is a beautiful city, a dear old friend from high school lives there with her new husband and delightful dog, and I brought my good friend Corrie along to be my travel buddy, cheerleader, and to show her a city I knew she would love.
I love the South, for better or worse. Charleston is definitely not my favorite Southern city, mainly because, as Sarah (my Charleston resident friend) put it, the Charleston residents are tired of the tourists and not as nice as other Southerners, but it certainly ranks high in terms of beauty. Corrie and I flew out of Dulles early Friday morning and arrived to what they told us was 45 degree weather in Charleston but felt more like a Maryland version of 55.
I’ll start by saying I really wanted to PR this race. Even a 1 minute PR I would have been happy with, but knowing how flat the course was, I was hoping for maybe a sub-2:20 time. I missed a sub-2:25 first half-marathon by literally 2 seconds (chip time 2:25:01 at Richmond) and felt sure that with my training and the flat course I could go sub-2:25 barring any injury, but it was that sub-2:20 I was secretly after.
The Charleston Marathon is only in its 4th year, and it’s not a big deal in the city. Our shuttle driver from the airport said they’d only gotten a few runners in that day from the airport, and Corrie told me later most of the people she heard announced as they crossed the finish line were from Charleston. I believe the entire Marathon and Half Marathon together only had 5,000 runners total, a big difference from Richmond’s some 18,000 in the Half portion alone.
There wasn’t much to see at the Expo, and I wasn’t terribly impressed by the official t-shirt, but thinking later I suppose it made sense. It’s a simple long-sleeve white technical shirt, with a fairly large image centered on the front, done by a local Charleston artist. Since the race benefited arts education in Charleston, it makes sense it would feature a local artist.
Corrie and I spent Friday being a bit touristy, mainly hanging out at the Battery (easily the prettiest spot in Charleston).
After checking into our hotel, which was an old inn on East Bay Street (in a great spot for tourism – equidistant from Rainbow Row and the City Market), Corrie and I made separate dinner plans. She has an old friend who lives in Charleston as well, and both are major foodies, and she wanted to experience the local cuisine, foodie-style. I was overwhelmed and nervous about the next day, and Sarah and her husband David graciously invited me over for a home-cooked meal of noodles, kale salad, and garlic bread. And getting to be with Benson, their dog, was majorly calming. Animals always calm my nerves.
I am meticulous the night before a race, so when I returned to the Inn I immediately began prepping my stuff for the next day. I laid out my “Flat Runner,” made my OCDish to-do list of everything to do in the morning (right down to “brush teeth”), and it wasn’t until I was about to get in bed that I noticed this on my pillow.
I prepped pretty efficiently thanks to my handy to-do list. Again, Charleston was pretty “meh” about its own marathon, so my Inn wasn’t even offering breakfast. I’d bought bagels, peanut butter and bananas at the Harris Teeter the night before so I had my favorite “runner’s breakfast” and felt good and ready once I was dressed and double-checked all my fuel and “stay warm” extras were ready.
Corrie and I had rented a car for the weekend since the Inn we were staying in was chosen because it is part of my family’s timeshare but was not exactly start nor finish line convenient. We got to the starting area about an hour early, and most people were walking around unsure of where the start was – they were still setting up the start line sign. I decided to take the time to run to the bathroom – but the line was long as hell. Corrie was hunting for an extra safety pin for me, because I was paranoid that the piece on my bib that the chip was attached to was going to fall off. The line for the bathroom ended up taking so long that I didn’t see Corrie again until the end of the race, and was rushing like crazy to get to the starting line.
The race had already started by the time I got to the start line from the bathrooms, but the throng of people (the marathoners and half marathoners were all starting as one) was moving slowly. I fumbled with my running gloves, headband, armband, starting my watch, starting my GPS tracking app, starting my music, and finally I was at the start line and had to give up trying to stick my phone in my armband and just stuck it in the pocket of my jacket. I had chucked my $8 Walmart sweatshirt on the way to the start and suddenly I was off on the course.
Weirdest start line experience ever.
These went by pretty smoothly – I usually do a strict 9:1 run:walk interval to prevent injury and reset my form, but I ran the first three miles without stopping. This part of the course wound along the Ashley River/Charleston Harbor and was quite beautiful. Eventually I wanted to take my balaclava off but accidentally dropped it as I did so – but I was making pretty good time so I didn’t stop to pick it up. Goodbye, fair balaclava. You served me well.
Mile 1: 10:33
Mile 2: 10:09
Mile 3: 10:29
We turned up King Street, a main thoroughfare that is mainly one-way headed Southeast, but for our purposes was shut down so we could head Northwest toward the city of North Charleston for our point-to-point course. I was still feeling good, having taken my first GU and my first walk break. This part of King Street is totally interesting and helped keep me mentally stimulated, as I observed all the different coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants that I tried to take mental note to pop into later.
Mile 4: 10:25
Mile 5: 10:09
At the 6th mile marker I finally texted Corrie to tell her my progress. For me this was a sign of starting to feel fatigue, and needing to assure myself I had gone this far. My glutes were starting to feel sore – on the one hand, the flat course was allowing me to kick into some speed intervals for about a quarter of a mile at a time, and was less demanding on my quads to push up hills, but it also offered no relief of downhills and gravity assistance. I think between mile 6 and 7 was the one major hill of the course, going over a bridge. I was actually happy to see it – at home I run hills around my neighborhood so while many people around me fell to walking up this bridge, I swung my arms a little harder, powered up it, then flew down the other side.
This part of the route is also kind of industrial, and we ran through a less pretty part of Charleston, across railroad tracks and through a pretty barren part of town. Around mile 8 I got my water bottle refilled and threw in an extra Nuun tablet, and started guzzling to stay energized. I was worried I’d have to take a pit stop like I did in Richmond, but no such need occurred.
Mile 6: 10:17
Mile 7: 10:30
Mile 8: 10:47
Mile 9: 10:47
I knew my pace was starting to lag a bit, but I was also thrilled I’d kept it under 11:00 the whole time. Between miles 9-10 we took an eastward turn and my overall time was looking so good I got an extra pep in my step and wanted to hit the 10 mile marker at a 10 mile PR – which I did, by a good four minutes. I was pretty damn tired at this point, and even wanted to start taking 2-minute walk intervals, but I knew my sub-2:20 was within reach if I just kept running. Mile 10 was my fastest mile, at 9:58, and after that I had to force myself to stay in running motion for 9 straight minutes just by sheer force of mental will.
It was during this stretch that I did what I always do when I really feel fatigue trying to set me back – mouth along the words to a particularly emboldening song on my iPod. For this race it was Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open,” for the first Hunger Games movie. I am not going to say I pictured myself as Katniss, but I will say that the lyrics to the song felt super empowering in this moment and putting the words literally in my mouth pushed me forward through the 11th and 12th mile when I really wanted to stop and walk.
Mile 10: 9:58
Mile 11: 10:31
Mile 12: 10:53
Mile 13 + .1
Passing that 12th mile marker, I was so ready for the race to be over and see my friends. I knew I was going to get that sub-2:20 even if I walked a little bit longer than I should have, but at this point the finish was so close I just yanked out my earbuds, stuffed everything in my pockets, and repeated “just keep running, just keep running,” to myself. I should mention the previous couple of miles of the course were through a really pretty part of North Charleston, along the Cooper River (where Charleston’s ACTUAL big deal running event happens, the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K, happens in Apri) and through Riverfront Park. But once we were out of there it felt like I could hear the finish line crowd from literally a mile away and all I wanted was to be there. It was purely mental at this point to keep my legs moving (never trust the first mile or the last mile) but rounding the last mile, seeing the mile markers for where the marathoners merged back in with us half-marathoners, and hearing the crowd ringing the cowbells got me through.
I spotted Corrie right as I was about to cross the finish line, and was so happy to be finishing my second half marathon in what I knew was not only a pretty damn good PR, but was a sub-2:20, a big milestone for me.
I was pretty incoherently babbling to Corrie and Sarah once I got my medal and they found me in the finish line throng. I couldn’t think very straight but I did know I wanted to get out of the way of the people just finishing so I found a curb somewhere and squatted down and there was wiggly Benson coming to say hi to me! Corrie gushed about how fast I had flown. Running friends are great but sometimes their speedier times can be a bit discouraging- Corrie isn’t a runner and it was so nice to finish in 2:18:17 and be told I was a speed demon.
Besides the gorgeous finisher’s medal:
…Definitely the best part of this race was getting to share it with my fantastic friends Corrie and Sarah. I would post pictures of me with them at the finish, but haven’t asked them permission yet so just know that if you’re reading this and you know the two people I’m talking about, tell them next time you talk to them how awesome they are to be at the finish with me.
The rest of the weekend I was totally exhausted. Racecations are totally exciting, but I wouldn’t recommend making Charleston a racecation unless you give yourself several days either before or after race day (we only gave ourselves 3 days in the city) or have been there before. I felt kind of bad I was so out of it when Corrie wanted to do so much exploring, but I kept wanting to sit and even fell asleep in the car at one point while she sat on a porch at the Battery.
One awesome thing about the day after though, was hanging out at Waterfront Park near Rainbow Row and just laying down and drinking in this view:
The main complaint I had about this race – because overall it was a beautiful course, great if you’re looking for a PR, and in a beautiful city with tons of great post-race celebration food option – is the chip timing management. When official results were first posted it listed me as a DNS. I was PISSED, to say the least, but tried to be patient until I heard back from the timing company about what might have gone wrong. When I was told they had no record of me starting or finishing, I was pretty angry because my legs definitely said otherwise. I had my medal and my official race t-shirt and the knowledge I had run the course and all, but I wanted that time on record and in the official results to be able to submit for future races for better corral placement.
Luckily a later email followed saying they had “found me in their records” and updated my time in their results accordingly, but it was still kind of a brief damper on the experience. I also talked to a few girls in a running store on King Street (because of course that’s where I wanted to shop when I had the option of dozens of boutiques) who said several other people were having a problem with the timing company as well. I really hope this race gets it together next year with the chip system – it would be the main thing to hold me back from recommending this race to others or running it again. Otherwise, like I said, everything else was pretty great.
Especially this part.
Chip time: 2:18:17
Age Division: 176/341
Average pace: 10:33/mile
New PR by 6:44!
Did you race this weekend? What distance and in what city? How was it?
Have you ever had problems with a chip system after running a race and not getting official results? How did you handle it?