My alarm was set for 6:30 a.m., but by 5:50 or so, I was ready to go. As more of the team woke up, we played pump-up music and alternated with bathroom visits. I made my go-to pre-race meal, comprised of nuun energy tri-berry and a PBBJ (peanut butter, banana, and jelly) sandwich thin.
With my breakfast done, I geared up. For the Charleston Marathon, I decided to outfit myself with the following:
- Saucony Kinvara 6 shoes
- Injinji high socks
- Lululemon Surge 7” lux shorts, w/ 2 Cliff Bar Razz shot gels packed inside
- Under Armour singlet
- Ciele FASTCap
- Polar M400
I should note that this was the first marathon I’d be running competitively without music. After a positive experience running sans-tunes at the Parks Half Marathon—where I set a new half PR—I wanted to give it a shot for the full.
By 7:15 a.m., it was time to meet outside the suite to assemble and walk over to the starting area. Our group of five half-marathoners and one lone marathoner took a few pictures, stretched out our legs, and then found our spots in the pack; both races started together.
I went to the bathroom—in some bushes—and then headed out to look for the 3:30 pacers. My plan was to stick with or a little ahead of the 3:30 group for as long as I could and if I felt OK by the 20-mile mark, to push the pace with whatever was left in the tank.
Well, I couldn’t find a 3:30 pace group—even though the race website still lists it as an offering. I did see a 1:45 half-marathon pacer—who’d in theory be running the same pace—but they’d only be able to help for the first third or so of the race before they split from the full runners. Finally, I found pacers with 3:25 on their shirts and sign. According to the website, there was no 3:25 group, but I figured it’d be better to run with them for a bit than with the next fastest full pace group at 3:35. Again, the website didn’t list a 3:35 group, either.
Ten feet back from the 3:25 group, the first gun went off and about thirty seconds later, we were across the starting line: time to do this.
The Start (7:33 minutes/mile)
OK, this time I would NOT go out too fast. With a tendency to turn adrenaline and crowd support into fast miles, I made a conscious effort not to run a sub-7:00 mile to start the marathon. It was going to be a long day and I’d need all the energy I could muster up. Running just behind the 3:25 pace group, I had to weave in and out of runner patches. It was so congested at first that I even had to run in the muddy, but not terribly wet grass, to keep up with the pace. Naturally, my Polar M400 beeped that I hit a mile about one-tenth short of the marker. Throughout the race, my watch would prematurely indicate the next mile, so my splits will be off by a bit.
Miles No. 1-3 (7:31/7:41)
After the first, adrenaline-filled mile, I continued just behind the 3:25 group and got into a groove. These were definitely my most enjoyable miles and the most beautiful, too. After crossing over the second marker, we were right along the water as we ran down Murray Boulevard, covering the bottom-tip of Charleston. After the third marker, we made a right onto King Street.
Miles No. 4-9 (7:37/7:40/7:40/7:41/7:40)
As you can see from my splits, these were some really even miles. I stuck right behind the 3:25 pace group and felt like I was doing well. The elevation was essentially moot and there were enough visually stimulating buildings on either side of the street to keep my mind occupied. I took my first Cliff Bar Razz shot gel pack as a precaution to keep me running strong up through the halfway point. When we arrived at a hydration station, I jogged through and had a half-cup of water to wash down the gel.
Mile No. 10 (7:40)
The group turned off King Street and onto Burton Lane and we began seeing signs for the half/full split. I logged another even mile with the pace group as the half runners turned uptown and the full group ran in a wide circle leading with us heading southeast. I can only imagine how hard it is to map a marathon route, but I wasn’t a big fan of this component.
Miles No. 11-15 (7:43/7:22/7:35/7:45)
Now that we were without the half-marathon runners, who outnumbered us 26.2-milers, things died down quickly. There was less foot traffic, as well as less conversation. It didn’t help that—as we ran down a two-laned nothing road—there was little to focus on. Right after Mile No. 12, though, we did run out down a pier and back. There were boats scattered across the other piers, so this was cool to run by. After the pier out-and-back, though, we retraced our steps back up the nothing road. I had another half-cup of water as I jogged through another hydration station.
Miles No. 16-18 (7:51/7:59/7:56)
Right around Mile No. 16 or so, one of the two pacers said his knee was hurting him and that he had to slow down. Our group all felt a little abandoned out in the wilderness, but the other pacer—who had been at the back of the group—sprung up and took the lead. Still, it wasn’t very reassuring to know one of our two guides to 3:25 was dropping back. A number of runners around us had fallen back, actually, and I completely understand that it happens even to the best of them. It was pretty warm by this point and I was getting a little sweatier and more tired, myself.
Our lost pacer also coincided with me realizing I was semi-winded and lower on oxygen. My legs still felt alright, but it seemed like my body was becoming less and less capable of supporting the pace. The lone pacer and a few 3:25 runners distanced themselves from me with each turn. Desperate, I took my second shot gel and washed it down with water when I passed by a station.
Miles No. 19-22 (8:19/8:14/8:38/9:21)
Without looking down at my watch, I knew I was losing steam as the course took us up through some neighborhoods and around what I think was a magnet school. When I finally did check my watch, I saw I was well into eight-minute miles. I began wondering how many I could string together while still averaging under 8:00 minutes per mile over the course of 26.2 miles. At the next two water stops, each about a mile apart, I succumbed to the sinful pleasure of walking as I essentially chugged a cup of Gatorade followed by a cup of water. After tossing each cup into the trash, I slowly mustered up the energy to switch from a walk to a jog for as long as I could.
Miles No. 23-25 (10:43/9:53/9:37)
My sub-3:30 aspirations were spiraling to a big, fat fail quickly as I slowly lumbered back towards the finisher’s village. Walking quite a bit through North Charleston, I found a small, but inspiring glimmer of positivity: my own personal cheer squad. Many of the runners in our group who had finished the 5k and half marathon had ventured out to an otherwise barren wasteland of a spot along the course to cheer me on—arguably when I needed it most. Before I saw them, I still planned on finishing, but I was considering walking the rest of the way back.
After I saw them, as you can see from my splits, I picked up my previously abandoned “B” Goal aim to grab a new PR. After I ran a bit with my wife and talked to my friends as I passed them, I crunched the numbers on how slow I could go and still finish under 3:42:54…I was that tired.
I still walked through the hydration stations over these miles, but I tried as hard as I could do keep up my jog when running. As we looped around a park along the water in between miles 24 and 25, my confidence grew back from the ashes of my “A” Goal dreams. Today wasn’t my day, but I could still finish strong, accomplish a new personal record, and have fun with my friends in a new city.
The Finish (8:46/8:30)
I was hurting, but I was still running. I ran through the final hydration station with determination in my head to just finish. The two beer tags on my race bib would do much more for my day than one more cup of Gatorade or water. There weren’t a lot of runners by my side as I ran my final 1.2 miles of the race, so I used the ever-rising volume from the post-race party to guide me home. Though a few of the runners around me did somehow turn on their turbo boosters and run past me over the final several tenths of the course, I managed not to look like I was absolutely gassed. I ran as strong as I could as I made my final turn down finishers’ lane. Looking up at the clock, I was relieved: I’d get a PR. I crossed the line at 3:37:xx, grabbed my medal and a bottle of water and walked around to the outside of the finish corral to reunite with the team.
For the next hour or so, we cheers’d our freshly poured beers to surviving the day; no one further injured him or herself. Free samples of hummus, shrimp and grits, and even beet juice replenished my otherwise empty stomach and—after a bit of pacing around—I got comfortable on the curb, where I let the sunlight protect me from my normal post-race shivers.
Eventually, I slowly walked with the team back to our cars. We drove back to the house, showered, napped, and then went out for dinner and drinks. Usually after a marathon, I’m in bed by 9 or 10 p.m., but on this night—the night before my birthday in a super-fun city—we stayed out until 2 a.m. Of course, we had late-night pizza and returned to the house to enjoy some birthday cake.
The next day, our group split up as we hit the road and the airport to return back to normalcy, but as I wore my Charleston Marathon shirt as I boarded the plane back to Baltimore, I felt proud of myself even though I didn’t exactly achieve what I set out to. I didn’t have too much time to go through my “I’m never running a marathon again” routine because I had already registered for my next full at the Coastal Delaware Running Festival.