Kiawah Island Marathon was supposed to be my goal race for this fall in which I would try for sub-4 since I didn’t hit that goal in the spring. I ran maintenance mileage over the summer and started ramping up my training for Steamtown back in October. Steamtown was a training run, but it was not an ideal race for me: following my race plan, I started out at a conservative pace and never got close to MP, but even so, my calves, feet, and even my hamstring all cramped up at some point during the race. I was a mess. I still finished in what was, at the time, my 4th best marathon time, so I was happy enough with the result. I didn’t jump right back into training though, as I was really wiped out from the race and my left calf took a few days to heal after it cramped for 5 minutes straight right after the race.
A lot of stressful non-running-related things happened in the next few months: migraines, gall bladder issues, and there was a lot of stress and uncertainty on the work front including my boss quitting 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. In terms of long runs, I only managed 1 10-miler, 1 12-miler, 1 15-miler, and 1 16-miler in the 9 weeks between Steamtown and Kiawah, so I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a stellar race and it actually might be quite painful since my mileage had been so low. My only goal going into the race was my standard baseline marathon goal: finish upright under my own power.
DH and I left work on Wednesday afternoon and traveled to my parents’ house in northern VA. We were meeting my brother there before continuing onto SC the next day. On Thursday, the trip from northern VA to SC was about 8 hours, and we had a relatively easy road trip down there. We arrived on the very dark Kiawah Island around 7pm, found our condo, and headed out to find some dinner. We saw some signs for the race start very near our condo, and we were happy to find out that we were within walking distance of the start/finish/expo area.
Friday morning, we slept in then did our 2-mile shakeout run. We were very happy that the crappy weather conditions that were supposed to plague the race (low 40s, rain, and wind) were continuously improving, and now no rain was in the forecast. After we showered, we walked to the expo where I saw Keri, a friend I used to run NYRR races with back in the early 2000s (she used to post here as kerbear). We caught up a bit and said we’d look for each other at the race start the next day.
After grabbing some lunch, my brother took us on a tour of the area. When he was a Coast Guard pilot stationed in Savannah, he would often have day posts up in Charleston. He showed us the airport he would spend the day at, and then he took us to Angel Oak, an enormous 400-500-year-old oak tree. The things that tree must have seen! By this time, it was mid-afternoon, so we decided not to head to Charleston and just head back to Kiawah, so we could all just chill for the rest of the day. Shortly after we got back, Rick (nooner) showed up and made us all dinner (salad, lasagna, garlic bread, red wine) and dessert (raspberry chocolate thingies – ok, these were store-bought, but they were delish!) and we just hung out for the rest of the evening chatting and prepping for the race.
We got up at the very reasonable time of 6:30am for the 8am race start. Since we were literally a 5-minute walk to the start, we were able to get ready then hang out in the condo until 7:30 then walk right over to the start, stash our bags in the baggage tent, then line up. It was great logistically! The weather was a runner’s dream – high 40s with a light wind (we had a pretty decent headwind at 2 spots on the course, otherwise it was minimal), and overcast but not a drop of rain in sight. The sun came out a bit during the early miles, but then it went back behind the clouds for the rest of the race.
After the national anthem, we were off, and it was pretty crowded for the first mile or so. We were running at first on a residential road where our condo was located, then we headed out on the main drag of the island. The race was run on a combination of residential roads, the main drag, and a running/biking path that wound around the entire island.
My race plan was to run the entire race around 10 minutes per mile. Mile 1 was perfect: 10:08. I was halfway through mile 2 when I heard someone behind me shout my name, and lo and behold, it was Keri! She was running the race with a friend who was having piriformis issues, so they were just taking it easy. We spent the next few miles catching up on life and running too fast for me: 9:46, 9:35, 9:25, and 9:35. We hit a water stop and I dropped back, keeping them in sight for the rest of the first half of the race but trying to fall back further behind them and maintain my own pace.
Shortly thereafter, the 4:15 pace group crept up on me. I knew I wanted to be behind them since 4:15 finish time is like 9:45-ish pace, and I was still trying to stay on track with 10 min miles, so I let them overtake me and I tried to drop back some more. By this point we were headed out to the far side of the island, and we were encountering runners coming back from that part of the course. The lead guy flew by us, way out ahead of the rest of the field. Then the other fast guys started trickling by, and finally the lead ladies started coming through. It was fun watching all the fast peeps running by, and I didn’t slow down as much as I should have. There was a short out and back at the tip of the island, and I saw my brother when I was coming back. From that point in the race, I ran as if he was chasing me and catching up to me. I had never beat him head-to-head in a race before, and I knew this was my chance. These few miles were 9:49, 9:50, 9:54, 9:46.
The scenery in this race was beautiful. From marshlands/wetlands with cool looking birds to beautiful trees and golf courses, it was probably the greenest marathon I’ve ever run. There were amazing and HUGE houses, and just a lot of nice things to look at. I was just running along, enjoying my day. Except for the alligator signs. There were signs near every body of water that warned that picking a fight with an alligator is illegal (not the exact words, but that was the gist), and not to stand near the water because they might try to eat you. There were lots of places near the water where the grass was flattened, and that was clearly where the alligators hung out, just waiting to eat you. There were a few times in the race when I needed to stop and stretch, but I waited until I was away from the water because I didn’t want to ruin my race by getting eaten or mauled by an alligator. 10:06 ,9:28 (probably thinking about alligators here) 9:58, 9:46, 9:42, 9:49.
I was still trying to slow down the pace, and it finally worked. I also think I was just getting tired due to my (lack of) training and my faster than planned pace early in the race. It’s all good, I still just kept running and enjoying the race and the day. 10:17, 10:21, 11:00, 10:18, 10:53. At some point in this section we passed runners completing a 4-5-mile loop through a residential area, and surprisingly I saw DH! He was behind the 3:45 pacer so I knew he wouldn’t be happy with his time since his goal was to PR (~3:40), but he looked great and wasn’t in pain, so I was happy for that. We yelled to each other that we were looking good, and that gave me a good boost at that point in the race.
I was walking through all the water stops by now, and I stopped to stretch my hips/ITB because they were super tight, bordering on painful. The flat course was really taking a toll on me. I tried to vary my stride—taking a series of super short steps and then super long steps—just to make my legs do something different and shake them out. One time while I was stretching, a man ran by complaining that he couldn’t get his zipper pocket open and that his gel was in there. I caught up with him a few minutes later and offered him an extra gel. He was grateful and happy that it was the same brand that he used! So if nothing else, I saved someone else’s race. :selfless:
There were clocks at several points throughout the race. By this time, I knew I was slowing down, and even though I suck at doing math in my head during the race, I thought 4:30 was still in reach each time I passed a clock. So I just clicked off the last few miles, stopping to stretch in no alligator zones to loosen the hips. I saw Rick on the approach to the only ocean view we had on the course, but I missed most of the ocean view itself because I was cursing the fact that we were running on sand and I felt like I wasn’t moving. There were a lot of twists and turns in this race, and I saw some people who I had passed or who had passed me earlier in the race, and we all gave each other kudos. At one point I was super confused because I saw the 4:45 pacer on what I thought was an out and back, and I thought I had made a wrong turn. I just kept going and finally figured out that I was just really confused and kept following the people in front of me because they seemed to know where they were going. 10:52, 11:04, 10:50, 10:54.
At this point I knew the end was near, so I just kept going as best I could. I definitely felt the lack of long runs, but truth be told I wasn’t feeling nearly as awful as I expected. I think my mindset of just running and enjoying the day helped me just go with the flow and accept the pain. After I hit 26 on my watch, I picked up the pace for the finish. They announced my name as I came down the chute and hit stop on my watch just after the finish line. I looked down and yelled “yes!” in victory, as my watch said 4:29:53, beating my 4:30 goal! Gun time was even better, 4:29:49. Even with limited training, this was my 3rd fastest marathon ever! My final miles were 11:40, 10:56, and 3:59 (0.41 mi, 9:38 pace). 11th marathon finished, 9th state checked off the list.
I found Rick and my DH, who had not met his A goal of PRing but still went sub-4, and he was happy with that. I got my warm clothes on and waited for my brother to finish. All I wanted was to sit down because everything hurt and was now threatening to cramp. My brother didn’t have his best day, and he fell pretty far behind me. He said he tried to keep me in sight, but I just kept pulling away. I was stoked because I finally beat him for once. After he finished, we all grabbed food including hot soup and hot chocolate, then we walked back to the condo to chill out for the rest of the day.
Rick had to get back home, and DH, bro, and I got cleaned up and drove an hour away to a BBQ place that Rick had recommended for dinner. We ate our weight in pulled pork, brisket, turkey, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and baked beans, then we split 3 pieces of pie (coconut, lemon, and chocolate) for dessert. So. Much. Food. We rolled back to the condo and collapsed on the couch and didn’t move for a very long time.
The drive back to northern VA the next day was an adventure. The 8-hour drive turned into 12 hours as we drove through the snowstorm that hit NC and VA. We almost stopped for the night at my sister’s house in Richmond after the highway was closed due to a jackknifed tractor trailer, but we forged ahead slowly to my parents’ house where my mom had made us a steak dinner at 10pm because she knew we were hungry since we hadn’t stopped since 2pm. Fortunately the trip back to NJ the following day was easy in comparison.
Looking to the future
Thus ends my epic marathon season of 2018. I did so many things that I didn’t think were possible a year ago: not only did I run multiple marathons this year, I ran marathons that were only 3 weeks apart! And then I ran another one 4 weeks later, and my body didn’t fall apart! I ran 5 marathons total this year, something that I would not have believed I could do a year ago. And for all of my disappointment in not hitting my goal of breaking 4 hours, I was only 3 minutes away from a PR in my only goal race for the year, and that’s pretty darn good. But that sub-4 fire is still burning. Onto 2019!