Race Report: Charleston Marathon

Race Information

What: Charleston Marathon

When: January 13th 2018

Where: Charleston, SC

Goals

Goal Realistic? Accomplished?
New PR Absolutely realistic. Yes
3:20 As long as I don’t screw up. Yes
3:15 If everything goes perfectly. No

Background

How I ended up in Charleston is pretty well summed up in this post, but here’s the short version:

  • Friend/training parter Ryan is thinking about running Charleston
  • Misgivings about it being the weekend before a 30k trail race
  • Screw it, do it anyway, we care more about my road marathon PRs than trail 30k PRs
  • Train, train, train, train, train…..

Training

I really only had the month of December to train hard for Charleston. In late November I had the Dreadmill Endurance Challenge, before which I had the Tryon Half Marathon, before which I had a pretty nasty respiratory infection. I suppose technically I had the first 12 days of January, but I wanted to make sure to get in a good taper as I knew I’d be chasing a PR, hopefully by a considerable margin.

My training plan was simple. If you want the nitty gritty it’s all on my Strava, but after the Dreadmill I did no more to recover than a 10k treadmill run a few days later and then I was right back at it with a fast 5k race and a 50k long run the following weekend. Right after that I spent a couple of weeks doing short, high intensity intervals and tempo runs above target race pace. Then I traded the short intervals for much longer ones and shifted my focus to logging a lot of miles at or around target race pace.

I peaked at 70 miles during the week before Christmas, and then did a 60 mile week right after. I was feeling good and decided to start my taper about two weeks out, which pretty well coincided with the new year.

I decided on an “A” goal of 3:15 with a “B” goal of 3:20. Really I’d be happy with a new PR, in this case anything faster than 3:32:01. Based on my training, I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to hold a 7:25 pace on a super flat course, provided there were no environmental obstacles.

Pre-Race

Immediately after registering for Charleston, I had taken the day before off from work. Charleston is a 3.5 hour drive with minimal traffic with most trips taking closer to 4 hours when accounting for restroom stops, road construction, traffic, etc. Also, packet pickup was at an expo the day before, which shut down at 8:00 PM, so there was simply no way for me to work a full day and being able to make it in time. Fortunately my wife Rachel, a sociology lecturer, didn’t have any Friday classes so she was able to make it work pretty easily.

The drive down was pretty nasty. Rachel and I were in one car while Ryan was in his car right behind us. It was raining, sometimes extremely hard, for almost the entire drive, and in the first hour we had to negotiate passing six oversize loads. The rain let off a bit once we got within the vicinity of the I-26/I-95 interchange and stayed about the same until we got into Downtown Charleston. Once we arrived at our respective hotels, we took an hour before meeting outside to walk to the expo.

The expo was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel and was nicely organized, though pretty typical for this sort of thing. Ryan and I picked up our packets and then walked around for 10 minutes or so looking at the various booths. I didn’t see anything that caught my fancy, but Rachel bought a ball bearing massager for her neck and Ryan picked up a pair of Hokas that were on sale as his current pair had over 400 miles on them already.

I had been texting back and forth with my neighbor, Rob, from a couple of streets over who was also running. He and a friend from Asheville had driven down together and I had mentioned going out for dinner the night before the race. We ended up running into them right before leaving the expo and hitting a local pizza place with vegan options before heading back to the hotel to wind down for the evening.

Race morning I was up at 5:00 sharp and immediately sent a text to Ryan to make sure he was up as well. I started snacking on some whole wheat penne pasta I had prepared before the drive down in order to pack in a few last minute carbs and started getting ready.

The air temperature wasn’t bad, high 30’s, maybe 40 ish and there didn’t seem to be any wind, at least not in between the hotel buildings where we were staying. I dressed appropriately for the temperature: a short sleeve, lined running shorts, and a pullover that I could leave in the car before lining up in the corral. Temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40’s are pretty much my sweet spot.

As it turns out, I was pretty much dead wrong about the wind. Evidently there not being wind when you’re surrounded by four story buildings on three sides doesn’t mean anything when you’re out in the open. The wind was blowing very hard and was very cold. Maybe I’d leave that pullover on afterall.

We had about an hour and 15 minutes before the race started. Ryan and I had planned to wander around and mingle, but ended up spending the vast majority of that time sitting in the car with the heat on. At about 7:40, we got out and Ryan jogged around for about 10 minutes to warm up. I decided that I would do just as well to warm up during the race and immediately went to the corral.

Start to Mile 3 – The warmup.

Getting started, the race was kind of nice outside of a strong crosswind at the very beginning. We were generally traveling southeast along the perimeter of the city. I didn’t have to pass too many people, and not too many people had to pass me, both good signs that people had lined up in the corral appropriate to their relative paces. I should note that the half marathon and the full marathon shared a start time and location so everyone was running together at this point and it was smooth sailing…but not for long. So far I was ahead of my target pace and feeling good. Target was 7:25 and I was putting down 7:10 miles.

3 to 9.6 – The Headwind of Death – Part 1

As soon as we made the turn onto King Street the head north, it became evident that we had been running with a bit of a tailwind. Initially the headwind after the turn didn’t seem that bad, but there was an awful lot of cover from the buildings. A mile or so up King Street and it got worse and worse, very much to the point that it was visibly slowing people down in some cases. I, rather stupidly I might add, had neglected to bring my gloves so my hands were quickly going numb. The longer I spent in the headwind, the more draining it was, but I managed to keep up the 7:10 pace against my better judgement.

The wind prsented an additional hurdle: nutrition. Turns out it’s really difficult to dig out gels, open them, and consume them efficiently when you can barely feel your hands. I started out carrying five gels in the pouch of a Nathan handheld (filled with the same sports drink the aid stations were serving) and on the very first one I knew it was going to be a struggle for the entire race.

9.6 to 12.2 – Respite

At mile 9.6, the half and full marathon courses diverged and the full took a turn south toward a marina. We were running exactly the opposite direction of the strongest winds from when we were traveling north so we got to briefly enjoy a very nice tailwind. My pace increased to about 7:00 flat, sometimes peaking a little faster, and I was doing so with considerably less effort than what it took to maintain the slower pace when traveling north.

In a quick turnaround leg, I saw my neighbor Rob who was a bit ahead of me and looking strong, then I saw Ryan who was also ahead of me but showing signs of exhaustion. After the turnaround leg we continued south to the marina.

Coming up on the marina turnaround, Rob had gained a little bit of ground and had put another 15 seconds or so between he and I. On the other hand, I had completely closed the gap betwen me and Ryan and he was mere seconds in front of me.

12.2 to 20.3 – The Headwind of Death – Part 2

After the marina turnaround, we were running directly into the wind again. Perhaps due to the lack of buildings or perhaps due to the physical exertion at this point, the wind seemed considerably stronger than it had been during the earlier miles. And it was relentless.

My pace immediately started falling. Not by much, but by enough. First it was 7:15, then I held on at 7:30 for a while. At somewhere around mile 17 we started getting into some neighborhoods that had some building and tree cover, but the wind was still bad enough to be an issue. Mile 20 ended up being my slowest yet and I was really feeling it as I had put a lot more effort into the race at this point than I had trained for.

20.3 to Finish- Hanging On

Shortly after mile 20, the course turned out of the worst of the wind and it then seemed like more of a normal cool morning run, excepting the fact that I had just run the bulk of 20 miles into a nasty headwind. I sucked it up and kept slogging along at about a 7:45 pace for the next couple of miles.

At this point, the cloud cover was clearing and I was getting some sunshine. Combined with the wind no longer blowing directly into me and I started to warm up very quickly. There was a mostly self-serve water stop shortly after mile 23 where I grabbed two cups and downed them both, and right after mile 24 I had to slow down and remove my pullover as it became unbearable to keep it on.

Shortly thereafter was the final “fully manned” aid station. I tried to ask for two cups of the sports drink they were serving, but I think I caught the volunteer by surprise. She asked if I wanted the sports drink and I replied with a semi-loud “two”. She looked confused and pulled back as if nobody had given her that answer to that question. To be fair, it’s entirely probably that nobody had so I don’t blame her, I was probably incomprehensible anyway. Regardless I had to slow down almost to a stop and grab two cups off the table, after which I walked for a few seconds to make sure I got more in me than on me.

It sucked losing some time during that mile to jacket removal and aid station confusion, but I really was burning up and I didn’t want to throw away what was assuredly a PR finish by bonking hard with only a mile or two left. I got rolling again at about an 8:00 pace and grabbed two cups of water as I ran by the final water stop before the final push to the finish line.

I saw Rachel yelling and waving as I was coming up on the finish line and I tried to smile in her general direction. I’m not sure as to whether or not I actually succeeded in that regard. I crossed the finish in 3:18:20 gun time and later found out my official chip time was 3:18:12, beating my old PR by almost 14 minutes.

Post-race

After being handed my finisher medal, I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and a couple of bananas before meeting Rachel and finding somewhere to sit.

Rob found me within a few minutes. He had run 3:12 for a massive improvement to his PR and he got his first BQ as well. We exchanged congratulations, chatted for a minute, and waited for his traveling companion, RJ who finished in 3:30, and Ryan who crossed the line in 3:41.

I was excited given that I had run as well as I had in all the wind. My stretch goal was 3:15, which I was very much shooting for, but given the conditions I’ll happily take 3:18.

We all hung out for a few minutes and Ryan was the first to depart. He hitched a ride with another friend back to his car at the starting line. Shortly thereafter, Rachel and I drove Rob and RJ back to their hotel before we headed back to ours so I could clean up and spend most of the afternoon sleeping.

I’m very happy to have run Charleston and I’m actually quite happy that it was as windy as it was. It showed me that I can perform well in sub-optimal circumstances.

I think it’ll be a while before my next road marathon. Not only am I pretty much fully booked through May, I want to use the summer months primarily for trail running. Ryan will be running Charlotte next November so if I do another one this year, it’ll probably be that one. I may think about Charleston again next year, or perhaps Hilton Head, presuming of course that none of that gets in the way of bigger plans.

Official Results

Strava Activity

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