On Saturday January 17 2015, I ran the Charleston Marathon in Charleston, SC. South Carolina became my 30th state in my quest to run a marathon in all 50 states.
This marathon was a bit of a "comeback" marathon for me. Soon after my last marathon in Olathe KS
all the way back in April 2014, I had surgery on my sinuses. It wasn't anything serious, but I was told not to exercise at all for a few weeks. When I started running again, I noticed that I had lost quite a bit of fitness. And soon thereafter, I woke up in the middle of the night one night with terrible back pain that turned out to be diagnosed as sciatica. I had thought sciatica was an "old person's problem". But I guess I learned that either it isn't, or otherwise I am officially old. Either way, it was not pleasant. I was sidelined for quite a while, and once I was able to start running again, I felt that I had lost all my fitness that I had built up over nearly 10 years of consistent running. I had lost both my stamina and my speed, and it was the beginning of a long road back.
Although I was able to run again in August, I was nowhere close to being able to complete a marathon. I basically decided that I was starting marathon training from scratch, and I would need an appropriate amount of time before I could schedule my next marathon. I had been signed up to run the Mesa Falls Marathon in Ashton, Idaho in late August, but that wasn't going to happen. So that just became the latest marathon that was a DNS for me.
So as to not push myself too hard, I opted not to attempt another marathon in 2014 and I focused on early 2015. And thus my choice for Charleston in mid-January. My training progressed throughout the Fall, and I slowly built my stamina back up. But I noticed that my speed was still lagging well behind where I used to be. Maybe it was partly because I still had lingering affects from the sciatica, or maybe because I'm just getting older. Or maybe because I didn't put in enough miles during training in the Fall. Or some combination of all of that. In my last few marathons before this hiatus, I had already been getting slower and slower. After my first 29 marathons, my first one in Chicago in 2005 was still my slowest, and I wanted it to remain that way for as long as possible. But I was clearly flirting with the possibility of a new Personal Worst here in Charleston. While I wanted to avoid that, just finishing it and checking another state off the list was the most important thing.
I flew into Charleston on Friday afternoon. I went to the expo to get my race packet, and then went to my hotel downtown. I was travelling alone and wasn't meeting up with anybody, but I've gotten used to spending weekends in new places by myself for these marathon trips. I found a place to have dinner, and since I was tired, I went back to my room and went to sleep rediculously early.
So at least I got a good night's sleep before the race. Basically, I was facing ideal conditions for a comeback marathon. It was a flat course at sea level, and it was beautiful weather. (Sunny and upper 30s at the start of the race, moving to the mid-50s by afternoon). If I needed any help to avoid a new PW, I was getting that help.
On race morning, I drove my rental car from my hotel in downtown Charleston to the start line at a high school a couple miles north. There was plenty of parking, and everything went smoothly. It was a little chilly, but I'll always take a chilly start to a marathon, since that typically means it won't get too hot as the day wears on.
After the race began, we headed south down the peninsula on which Charleston is located. It was about 3 miles down to the southern tip. I started off slowly, intending to save my energy, knowing that I'll definitely be running out of it sooner or later. My first mile was a pokey 9:50, which is one of the slowest first miles I've ever had in a marathon. After the runner traffic cleared up a bit, I responded with a 9:25 in the second mile, which turns out to have been my fastest mile of the day. Earlier in my marathon career, I had entire marathons where I had no miles slower than 9:25. Now here's a marathon where no mile is faster than 9:25. Times have changed for me.
I didn't notice the mile marker for the first mile, but I did notice it for Mile 2. And the sign appeared at about 2.25 miles on my Garmin. And I'm not the only one. A bunch of runners in the crowd commented on how the sign seems to have been placed poorly. Back when my watch hit 2 miles, I heard a bunch of other watches beeping at almost the exact same time. So it definitely seems as though the sign was misplaced.
After we reached the southern tip of the peninsula, we headed up King Street through downtown Charleston. This was a nice scenic portion of the race. Unfortunately, it was about the last scenic portion of the race. After we headed north out of town, the scenery turned rather bland. And it remained bland for about the entire rest of the race. There was one point where we ran out to the end of a pier that extended into the Cooper River before turning around and retracing our route, and I suppose that was somewhat interesting. But still, the scenery was not terribly exciting.
I fell in with a couple other 50 Staters, and chatting with them really helped pass the time. However, soon before the halfway mark, I had to do something that I had never done in a race or any length before -- I had to stop to take a pee. Among all distances, I have completed over 100 races, and I had never stopped for a bathroom break before. I have done it a few times during training runs, but never during a race. I have no idea what I did differently this time that made this necessary. I went very soon before the race began, like I always do, so it's a mystery to me. About 12.5 miles into the race, I found a section of thick trees at the side of the road and jumped in to do what I had to do. I suppose I cost myself 1/2 to 3/4 of a minute. Not too terrible. I just found it strange that it was necessary at all.
There was no official marking for the halfway point, but based on where the Mile 13 sign was, I estimate that I passed the halfway point in about 2:09. Of course, the mile markers continued to disagree with my own GPS, ever since Mile 2. So the 13.1 mile point on my watch was not the 13.1 mile point on the course. Each marker was at least 0.25 miles off according to my GPS, and that gap slowly increased as the race wore on. It's natural for a runner's GPS to show slightly more than the total race distance if the runner doesn't take perfect tangents. So this slight increase of the gap would make sense, if it wasn't already a quarter mile by Mile 2. Something was definitely fishy with those mile markers.
My pace continued to slow. I made it to Mile 20 without a mile over 10:00, save for the one mile during which I had to pee. At this point, I knew I was running out of gas and would need to walk a bit. But I liked my chances of avoiding a PW, albeit not by much.
I figured I could take a short walk break about once per mile and still avoid a PW. During the 22nd mile, I found myself walking with a few other runners. Apparently we got a bit chattier than I intended, because I seem to have spent a bit too much time walking during that mile. I clocked Mile 22 in 11:40, which now put me in danger of being too slow. I resumed running, and tried to go longer between walk breaks.
I took another walk break at Mile 24, and then decided I would only be able to afford one more after that. However, as I progressed and ran the math in my head, I decided that one more walk break would put me dangerously close to my PW time of 4:27:48. I decided that I would continue running for as long as I could, even if it was slow. Slow it was, but I was able to chug on through the rest of the way to the finish at a school in the town of North Charleston. The clock showed a time worse than my PW, but my watch time (and chip time) we both under. Officially, I finished in 4:27:04. Thus I avoided a PW by 44 seconds. Considering the ideal running conditions, this was clearly not a banner performance for me. But as my first marathon back after a long hiatus, I will take it. Most importantly, of course, was checking state #30 off my list.
All in all, my watch measured 26.61 miles for the course. I spoke with a bunch of other runners who had similar measurements. One woman measured 26.9 miles. Again, it's natural to be a little high because of missed tangents, but this is unusually high. So I think the course was definitely a little long. Thankfully it wasn't another 0.1 miles long or I would have a new official PW.
After the race, I had to take a shuttle back to the start line in Charleston, where I then picked up my rental car and drove back to my hotel. I napped for a bit, then showered and went out to a few places downtown to grab some food and local South Carolina micro brews. Charleston seems like a town with good nightlife, but by nighttime I was too tired to enjoy it, and I went back to my hotel for another early night's sleep. I was up early on Sunday and went back to the airport for my flight back home.
As for my review of the Charleston Marathon, I'd say it was a mixed bag. As I mentioned before, the scenery was not very interesitng. Most of it was bland, non-descript trees and lots. The course had a bunch of odd loops and out-and-backs, which seemingly could have had the potential for confusion. But everything was well marked and I had no problem navigating the course. I've done other point-to-point courses before that required a shuttle ride. But I think this is the first time I've had to be shuttled after the race. Typically I've been shuttled out to the start line, and then we had to run back to the finish. Frankly, I prefer it that way. After running 26.2 miles, nobody wants to wait around for a bus, and then climb on board with a bunch of other stinky, sore runners for a 20 minute ride. But the running conditions were ideal for a fast race. Any other course with any other weather, and I might very well have had a new PW.
In the end, I'm just happy to have South Carolina checked off my list.
Epilogue: In the time since I wrote the above Race Report, I learned that the Race Director acknowledged that the course was too long
. Apparently the pace car went two blocks too far before making a turn (which required an additional two blocks back before meeting back up with the correct course) right before Mile 2. So indeed, the course was long by 4 blocks, or more specifically, 0.1918 miles as announced by the race. All the runners' times were adjusted downward, I assume by a pro-rated amount. In the end, my "official time" ended up being 4:24:53, which is 2:11 faster than I originally thought. It still rates as one of my slowest marathons, but not quite as close to a PW as I previously thought. While it's too bad that this error happened, it's nice that they adjusted the runners' times to make up for it.
Now on to the BobCam shots. Keep an eye out for some videos. I couldn't embed them, so I just posted links. Scan too fast and you'll miss them...