January 22, 2013

Race Report: Charleston Marathon

Despite going to bed at 10pm, I did not get a good night’s sleep. Actually, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep any of the nights I was in Charleston – I kept waking up to weird noises that I swear were the result of a ghost in my hotel room. Nevertheless, I woke up feeling pretty well rested, and ready to run.

After a quick stop at Panera for a toasted Asiago cheese bagel and the new roasted veggie cream cheese (delicious – I am so psyched about that flavor!), I headed down to the start area. Despite a line of cars, parking actually didn’t take long at all, and I was psyched that all participants were allowed to wait in the high school instead of outside. Much nicer than waiting outside! I had chosen to wear a skirt and tank top (since temps were going to be in the low 60s by the end of the race), and so was surprised to see how many people were in full-on winter gear: tights, turtlenecks, hats, gloves, etc. It made me nervous that I had dressed inappropriately? Just in case, I decided to keep my light jacket on. That still left me way more underdressed than most, but I couldn’t see how I’d possibly need more than that given how warm the temps were.

The other benefit of waiting in the school was that we had actual working toilets instead of portapotties. Tip: if you are ever waiting in a school for the beginning of a race, don’t go to the bathrooms with long lines that are packed. Instead, wander the hallways – you are bound to find bathrooms tucked away with very short lines. I’ve done this successfully with just about every race that I’ve done which started in a school, and it always surprises me how many people line up for the first bathroom in the front of the building instead of recognizing that schools typically have many bathrooms.

Before long, it was time for me to leave the school and walk two blocks to the start. I thought I had left enough time, but the race organizers actually ended up starting the race a few minutes early – so while I was approaching the start at 7:59, the race had already begun. Oops! By the time I got my Garmin all situated and satellites found, I was starting just behind the 5:00 pace group, four minutes into the race.

As a result, it was incredibly crowded for the first few miles of the race! I kept waiting for it to thin out, but (I think in part because it was combined with a half marathon), it took a lot longer than I expected. Right in the first mile, the runners were squeezed onto a two lane highway exit, and I found myself running right on the edge of the road – and accidentally stepping in between the slats of a sewer grate! I turned my ankle a bit in the process, but it felt fine within a few minutes, so I hoped there wouldn’t be any lasting damage. I was lucky that I had been going fast enough that I hadn’t had a ton of weight on the foot for too long!

I did a lot of weaving for miles 1-5, and I was kind of disappointed – those ended up being by far the prettiest miles of the race, and it was hard to pay attention to the scenery or even see around my fellow runners! We ran along a beautiful river (with the sun glistening on the water, it was perfect), circled around the historic Battery, and then headed down King Street with all the high-end shops. I loved getting to see all the major parts of downtown Charleston, and thought it was a really neat start to the race!

But just beyond mile 5, we turned onto an industrial road that headed out of town – and stayed on it for quite some time. While the road was flat, there really wasn’t much of anything to see, and the road was also open enough that we had a headwind coming at us the whole way. This section was pretty darn boring, but I assumed it was in there because the organizers were just trying to get us somewhere awesome, right?

Unfortunately not – those first five miles turned out to be the highlight of the race, and nothing came close to it for the rest of the time. When we finally turned off that road, it was to go under an overpass and then head through an industrial compound. On the plus side, the out-and-back at the end took us onto a little pier so we were running right out on the water – that was pretty neat! I wanted to take a picture, as I had never done anything like that in a race before, but I could tell that with the sunlight glistening on the water, it wouldn’t come out. Instead, I’d have to settle for a mental picture.

Besides, as I approached the halfway point, I realized I was on track for a pretty great time – and did not want to stop to take photos. I had done the first half of the race in 1:56, which meant that while I probably wasn’t on track for a PR, I should be able to finish under four hours. How great would that be as a time for my 2013 marathon opener?!

But less than one mile later, I realized my pace was already starting to slow – and mile 14 was almost 45 seconds slower than mile 13. I tried to blame it on the headwind, but when mile 15 also clocked in around a 9:30 pace, I had to admit the truth, which was that I was just starting to get tired. Still, though, I could go as slowly as 2:08 in the second half (a 9:40-ish pace) and I would make it under four hours – surely I could maintain that pace?

Upon reaching mile 15, I began to tick down the miles remaining. More than halfway done! Now 10 miles to go! Now single digits! Throughout each mile, I focused on trying to keep my pace under 9:30 – which wasn’t easy. I kept reminding myself that I should absolutely be able to go sub-4; I had done an 8:40 pace in the first half, so 9:30 in the second half should be totally doable… or so I thought. Every mile’s split ended up being a slight disappointment, hovering right around 9:30 instead of being faster and giving me the bank of time I wanted to ensure a sub-4 finish. Could I make it? I now wasn’t sure.

On the plus side, most other runners were slowing down – so I was getting a bit of a psychological boost every time I passed someone. Despite trying to go faster and not having the energy to do so, I also knew that I didn’t look like a complete mess. I was able to smile, and my form was still good. Being able to maintain good form is one of the keys to avoiding injury, since it’s when you start letting your normal stride change that you end up with all kind of problems.

But speaking of injury – as I turned the corner out of a neighborhood traffic circle, I started feeling a weird pain in my left quad. It wasn’t soreness; it was actually a very concentrated pain in one tiny area on my quad, kind of like a knot. I had never felt anything like it before, and I hoped that nothing was seriously wrong? It was mild enough that I could ignore it, but I also know that I have a fairly high pain tolerance, so I hoped it wasn’t anything serious.

Putting that out of my mind, the 19 mile mark was right ahead – which meant that on the next out-and-back, I’d hit mile 20. Only 10K to go sure felt like a home stretch! I focused on trying to push the pace as much as possible (except for a quick walk break at the water station). I was still gunning for sub-4, and I was still staying right at the 9:30 pace that I needed, so it was going to be very close. I wished I could get enough speed to build in a cushion, but it was now becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to do that. Instead, I’d have to just keep pushing right through till the end.

This out-and-back took us through a pretty park, so I was grateful for that. What I was not grateful for, though, was the lack of portapotties – because I felt myself desperately needing one. I think I have finally come to accept the fact that while I love having a bagel and cream cheese pre-race (so decadent! So delicious!), the dairy is not sitting well with my stomach these days. When I first started marathoning, I couldn’t eat serious dairy (aside from a small sprinkle of cheese on pasta or something) for a full 24 hours before I raced. Eventually, as I got used to marathoning, my stomach turned to iron and I could eat just about anything. However, in the last few months, it seems that my dairy intolerance has come back, and resulted in my needing a pitstop in the later miles. No fun, especially when there are no portapotties around! However, since I was forced to run through it and not stop, I found that my stomach stopped acting up about a mile later – and stayed calm for the rest of the race. Result: I still have not learned my lesson, and will probably enjoy another delicious bagel and cream cheese before my next marathon 🙂

By mile 21, I was again feeling good – and even starting to pick up the pace just slightly to pass a few people. I cut back through the circle, accepting a cup of Gatorade from the enthusiastic high schoolers staffing the aid station, and now began to head for the finish. Retracing my steps, I continued to look at my watch and know that I was going to be cutting it very close, and so I tried using music to inspire me. I remembered how in the Rehoboth Marathon, putting on “Some Nights” by FUN had helped to speed my pace up to a rapid 8:30/mile, and I tried for the same trick again. Unfortunately, without Ericka and Steph at my side, it just wasn’t working as well! I miss running with friends.

On the plus side, the song did get me up the long slight incline at mile 24 without stopping/slowing… so there was some benefit to the music. Two miles left! I reached mile 24 with 3:39:30 showing on my watch, which meant that almost exactly a 9:30 pace would get me to the finish in four hours. I was on pins and needles at this point, wondering if I could do it, and I just kept running as hard as I could to try to make it.

Unfortunately, miles 24 and 25 just felt so, so, so long. Come on, legs, let’s move it! We ran through another small park, this one along a river, but I wasn’t taking the time to admire it. Instead, I just kept trying to push the pace to get through it – and found myself cursing the pretty park because of the gravel trail that had replaced the solid concrete under my feet. Now was not the time for gingerly steps and slowdowns – I needed to be fast on my feet!

Mile 25 brought me back out to the main road, though, and despite the sun heating me up quite a bit (darn it, I knew I should have just stuck with the tank top instead of the jacket as well!), I kept trying to go faster. 11 minutes to go 1.2 miles – this was going to be very, very close.

I started hearing the crowds/music at the finish before I could see them – and then I came upon the 26 mile mark. With only a minute and change before my watch ticked over to four hours, I knew it was nearly impossible – but I wanted to try anyway. while I know that a mile is supposed to be a mile, I’ve found that the distance between mile 26 and the finish line can vary quite a bit, and I hoped against hope that someone had put the mile 26 mark a bit further than where it was supposed to be!

But the volunteers/spectators were yelling “four more turns until you’re done!”, which did not sound promising. Four turns sounded like a lot of ground still to cover! I did not like this weaving finish, where I couldn’t see the finish line until I was almost upon it, and while I ran as fast as I could, I also knew that it was not going to be enough. Sure enough, when I stopped my watch, it showed 4:00:33. Just missed it!

Intellectually, I knew I should have been disappointed. Only 33 seconds away from breaking four hours! Surely I could have made up 33 seconds somewhere in that 26.2 miles – that was only a little over one second per mile. But as much as I wanted to be mad at myself, I wasn’t. In fact, I was quite proud of my performance. This is one of the few marathons I’ve done where I really felt like I pushed hard in every single mile. I was so conscious of my time in the second half of the race that I was constantly reminding myself to go faster, and I honestly don’t think I could have shaved off another 33 seconds. 4:00:33 was a pretty darn fantastic time considering that my last long run was more than five weeks ago, and that I had only run once (3.1 miles!) since.

All that I could think of was this quote:

Photo credit: Sam Judson

I hadn’t worked hard and trained to go sub-4, and as a result, I hadn’t done it. I’ve done it before (and even gone sub-3:50 a few times!), and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but Saturday was not my day. Rather than being disappointed by that, I was actually damn proud of how well I had done – I had pushed myself a heck of a lot more than I usually do, and I had come really close to my goal. And when I collected my RunRunRun bag from gear check, the motto on the tag further hit it home for me.

No regrets, indeed! And I headed off to celebrate with shrimp and grits 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:00:32
Pace: 9:10/mile
Overall place: 286/820
Gender place: 73/347


21 thoughts on “Race Report: Charleston Marathon”

  1. Are you serious that you ran one 5K in the last 5 weeks? You should be thrilled with that 4 hour race! Well, I would be, at least. Also, I am impressed with your breakfast.Whether or not that was the cause of your discomfort later on, I am still impressed you could even think about a big, loaded bagel. Even oatmeal is too much for me!

  2. One 5k???? I would be thrilled to have even finish it! And I’m sure if you hadn’t started four minutes behind and been left with all the 13.1-ers, you would have achieved the 4:00 and some change. Overall you did fantastic. But bummer about the lack of scenery, Chas is a small town which for a marathon isn’t such a great thing. They should have made the finish through there I feel.

  3. Emily, that was exactly what I was thinking – why not reverse the route and have the finish in the downtown area? When I was touring around there later in the day, there were SO many people out, and it seems like that would have been a good place to get extra spectators at the end of the race, too. I assume that the organizers didn’t want to do that for traffic/logistical reasons, though…

  4. Were you number 105? I think you are in some of my race photos. I also think you might the girl in a skirt that I used as a pacer the last 2 or 3 miles (longest last mile ever btw). If so, sorry, I was the annoying person breathing right behind you.

    1. 1055 actually and I think it might have been a different girl in a skirt that I tortured in the end.

  5. Megan, yes, I was 1055 – that’s so funny that you found me! I don’t think there was anyone right behind me at the end, though, so no worries 🙂

    1. I just saw my pictures last night and I thought I recognized you from your pictures on the blog. The outfit was the same…what a coincidence. I should have stayed with you. I finished in 4:01.

      You look happy as can be running….and I have yet to ever take a good race photo, even when I see the cameras coming up.

    1. 1042…I had on Wonder Woman with cape tall socks, black tank top. Don’t mind my sprint to the finish pictures with the ridiculous lean in to try to beat the guy in front of me.

    2. Oh wow I totally remember you – I was admiring how great you looked the whole time! You were totally crushing it! I thought you passed me in the final stretch though? I started way after the gun so very possible that you outkicked me and still came in one minute behind – be glad you didn’t stick with me!

    3. I am almost certain you were the poor person I was a couple feet behind for the last two miles, until the final stretch. According to Runkeeper I had a 9:04 pace and was on track to go sub 4. However, the distance was actually longer than 26.2 for me and I ended with 4:01:59 official time. Next time I can’t leave room for question. I was admiring your steady confident pace, at a time when everyone else was dropping like flies. 🙂 I am amazed by your accomplishments!

    4. So tough whenever you can’t take tangents and end up a bit long! I found the course to not be TOO far off, but I think my GPS finished around 26.34 instead of 26.2, which can be a bummer! Hope to see you at a race again sometime and you will totally get that sub-4 🙂

    5. Yeah, can’t leave room for discrepancy 🙂 Glad to hear your reading on GPS. I didn’t even go to the bathroom or deviate from track. At least I know my goal is attainable. Oh, I forgot to tell you (if it was you), I heard you tell someone at mile 25ish words of encouragement, like “don’t stop now, you’re almost there”. It kept me going. Now that I have chatted your ear off..one more question, what has been your all time favorite marathon. I know there are different factors such as organization, your time, weather that day, crowds, medal, expo, destination, etc…..but first one that comes to mind. Go! 🙂

    6. Ooh, I didn’t mention that in my race report, but YES that was me. I felt so bad for that guy – he was walking and I knew he would regret it later since there was only 10 mins to go if you’re running!

      I have to name two favorites, because I really can’t compare big and small marathons:
      -NYC Marathon as favorite big marathon. Easy course, incredible crowds (yes, better than Boston), and just a LOT of fun along the way 🙂
      -Run With the Horses in Wyoming as favorite small marathon. The most beautiful place I have ever been! You are just out in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road in the mountains, with NO signs of civilization (not even a paved road!) until the last few miles. Plus, there is an awesome shrimp boil the night before the race, and incredible BBQ and snacks after, no matter how slowly you finish. SO stunningly beautiful and absolutely worth the trip!

    7. Thanks for you insight! Obviously it’s like comparing apples and oranges but my favorite so far has been the AF Marathon in Dayton, OH.

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