Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Charleston Marathon

The DoppelLaufers as known by their Cool Running handles on  John425, Mtaurus575, dwm082, squeakygirl, Beer and Cupcakes f/k/a JimDo64, Surfing_Vol, and rbird

Charleston was awesome!

After months of planning and online taunting I finally got to meet my fellow DoppelLaufers face to face.

We invaded Charleston this weekend for the Riverfront Race Festival and the inaugural running of the Charleston Marathon. Seven of us made the trip, Jim and I ran the full marathon and everyone else ran the half.

Friday night we met at a local pub called the Griffon which became our official HQ for the rest of the weekend. We shared a few beers and started to solidify our friendship.

From there, we drove to North Charleston for the expo and packet pickup. My expectations were low for the expo, so I was surprised to see the large event tent and quite a few vendors hawking shoes, running clothes and gear. The packet pickup went smoothly, but there was a little back and forth required in order to pick up our bibs, bus passes for the return trip downtown after the race, and shirts. They were also serving a pasta dinner but we opted to look for some finer cuisine.

We settled on an Italian restaurant downtown called Pane e Vino. We had a bit of a wait but spent the time exchanging war stories at the bar. I had a total of three beers Friday evening between our time at the Griffon and the restaurant, which probably wasn’t the best idea the night before a race, but my goal for the weekend was first and foremost to have fun. I ordered the spinach ravioli which was delicious, but I found myself wishing the portion was larger as I looked enviously at the huge mound of spaghetti bolognese heaped on Don’s plate.

The race start was at 8:00 a.m. about a half mile walk from our hotels so we agreed to meet at 7:15. I woke at 5:45 and enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in a little café called Toast next to my hotel. I met another runner from Orlando at the next table and a local teacher at another table who was going to be entertaining us with her 2nd grade music students on the race course. The race benefitted local arts programs and she expressed gratitude for our traveling to Charleston for the race. Everyone I met in Charleston had that same attitude.

After breakfast I wandered around outside for a bit to get a feel for the temperature and obsessed over last minute clothing choices. It was 25 degrees outside which matched my coldest run in training, but I knew that it would climb to about 50 degrees by the end of the race. I settled on long pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, a light jacket, and gloves. I prepared myself to receive some ribbing from my cold blooded Doppel counterparts.

I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade to drink before the start and set out to meet my new friends. We were pretty cold waiting for the start, except Don, who hails from Buffalo, who was dressed in shorts and short sleeves and whose only concession to the cold was a pair of neon yellow gloves that perfectly matched the color of his Saucony Kinvaras. I found another group of runners from Florida huddled together on the sidewalk under trash bags trying to stay warm and was embarrassed for my State.

The race was a one way course that started in historic downtown Charleston and then headed north into some very nice neighborhoods in North Charleston. From the start we headed south on Bay St. towards the Battery, rounded the tip of the peninsula and then headed north. The view of Charleston Harbor was stunning with water on our left, beautiful row houses on our right, and thousands of bobbing heads still crowded closely together in between.

Jim and I managed to stay close enough in the crowd to talk and he confessed that his hands were freezing. I tried to stifle a smug chuckle as I flexed my toasty warm, gloved hands. 10 minutes later I stripped off my gloves and stuffed them into the waistband of my pants. I never noticed they were there during the race. Fast forward a few hours to my post race shower and I discovered that the cost of two miles of warm hands and 24.2 miles of unnecessarily carrying gloves in my waistband was a severely chaffed ass. Ouch.

There were a lot of people lining the streets to cheer us on in the downtown area. From there we proceeded north through some poorer areas of Charleston and a long stretch through a commercial area. This wasn’t exactly a highlight of the race but we were through it fast enough and moved on to a winding route through some beautiful neighborhoods in North Charleston.

At mile 11 the half and full marathon routes separated and I looked longingly in the direction of the shorter route. I was feeling good and maintaining a steady pace, but was already fatigued.

I decided to carry Powerbar gels instead of relying on what the race organizers provided at water stops. I ate my second gel at about mile 14 and felt a definite lift about 15 minutes later. At this point in the race the miles seemed to pass fairly quickly.

Jim and I managed to stay side by side for about 18.5 miles. At about mile 18 I started to lose a few steps on him and would periodically struggle to catch up. I could tell he was still going strong and encouraged him to go ahead if he was feeling good. I lingered a bit at the next water station and he took off. He must have had a great end to the race because he a gained about 15 minutes on me in those final 8 miles. We averaged about a 9:30 pace for the first 18 miles and it looks like he held that through the end of the race.

There was plenty of entertainment along the course. The highlight was a rock band consisting of some really talented kids at about mile 23. At about mile 20 we entered a riverside park with an African percussion group performing on the bandstand. By that time there was quite a bit of distance separating runners and I swear they increased the tempo of their drumming and dancing as I approached just to encourage me to run faster.

At about mile 21 we ran close to the finish line and I was uplifted when I heard the Doppels, who had finished the half marathon already, cheering for me. The next five miles consisted of an out and back section that seemed endless. The miles were no longer quickly ticking away. The entertainment on this section provided some relief, but there was no avoiding the disheartening frustration of rounding a bend in the road only to discover the turnaround was still out of view. I knew Jim was ahead of me and one of the things that kept me running was a desire to avoid the embarrassment of being caught walking when he passed me on the return leg. As it turned out, we passed each other at a water station so I was walking anyway with a cup in each hand trying to stay hydrated. Don, the ultra marathoner of our group who had helped pace Samantha through her first half marathon earlier in the day, was running with him.

The turn around came just after mile 23 and consisted of a traffic cone in the middle of the road. This was the only tight turn of the whole race and it could not have been more poorly placed. Slowing down to make that turn sucked the will to continue right out of me and I found it extremely difficult to continue running. This was the same place I hit the wall in the Space Coast Marathon. I started and stopped a few times over the next mile but I handled it much better than I did last November. During the Space Coast Marathon Mile 24 took me 14:21 this time I struggled through it in 12:47 and finished the rest of the race feeling much stronger than I did last time.

I dug deep and very gradually accelerated through the next two miles. I finally rounded a corner, saw the 26 mile marker and the finish line in the distance, and was surprised to find I had enough left in the tank for a finishing kick. I averaged 9:48 in that final stretch, almost exactly the same pace I ran mile 1.

Immediately after the race I felt lightheaded and suffered from tunnel vision. I sat down for a few minutes, drank a protein shake and water, and ate a banana and an orange slice and the sensation finally passed. We then shuffled over to find beer and the infamous shrimp ‘n grits.

I crossed the finish line in 4:25:58, a new PR and 1:41 faster than I ran the Space Coast Marathon. That wasn’t a huge improvement, but I finished the race feeling much better than last time.

We stayed until the awards ceremony and then caught the bus back downtown. We gave ourselves a few hours to rest and clean up then it was back to the Griffon where we settled in and drank, told war stories, laughed at each others accents, and planned future adventures . . . . until the barkeep chased us into the streets in the wee hours of the morning.


  1. That sounds so fun! I wish I could have been there for it .... although I would have totally passed on the shrimp and grits!

    Congrats on your PR! Even just reading the recap you can really tell that you felt so much better during this race than you did during the Space Coast marathon.

    And to give credit to you Floridians being cold, I bet you that when I'm in Florida next month waiting for my 1st 1/2 to start, this Oregonian will be shivering and huddling up with people, too!

  2. That's such a great recap, Bird - and congrats on a terrific race!

  3. Congrats!!!! 2 Marathons in your first season, and I'm still searching for my first. Awesome Job.

  4. hey hey, congrats for being nominated as one of the "Best Running Blogs 2011" hope to read many more of your fantastic running stories. sending you greetings from Malaysia...