Friday, December 20, 2013

Kiawah Island Marathon(or South Bound and Down)

This past weekend I flew down to South Carolina to race the Kiawah Island Marathon. I was the lone wolf this weekend because Amber was competing in a Masters Swim meet.  I have always wanted to go to Charleston and I wanted to improve on my qualifying time for the 2014 Boston Marathon(you can continue to submit faster times up until Feb 2014 and will be seeded accordingly).
The lone sailor
I arrived in Charleston Friday morning and I can tell you right off the bat, I was not impressed. In true Danny fashion, I saved a few dollars by getting an "off-airport" rental car. After waiting for a considerable time at the curbside, I was finally picked up and driven into less and less nice areas of North Charleston. We finally arrived at what appeared to be a small old car lot which was in fact, where my rental car was. Typically rental cars have a nice new car smell. Well, I can tell you that this did not. Imagine a chain smokers car and you'll have a better idea. I used this opportunity to get some fresh South Carolina air as I drove to Kiawah Island.

Kiawah Island is a private island about 45 minutes slow of Charleston. During the drive from the car rental lot to Kiawah Island, I witnessed 15 car accidents. That is not a hyperbole. I counted 15. Yes that's all of my left hand fingers, my right hand fingers and five of my toes. No snow, no poor visibility. Nothing but good old fashioned bad driving. It was crazy how bad the driving was. In fact, I was beginning to doubt why I had wanted to go to Charleston. Besides bad drivers, all I could see was strip mall after strip mall for the majority of the way to Kiawah Island. It wasn't until I was over the bridge to John's Island did it get nicer. And it did get nicer, with large mansions and big trees over hanging the road, it was pretty similar to Savannah, but not quite as nice.

Finally making it down to the Kiawah Island gate, I felt like I was crossing the border. Actually it felt more secure the crossing the border. I had to provided proof of identification as well as verification of race entry. After nearly getting a cavity search, I was finally allowed on the Island. And was met with sign after sign of "Danger: Alligators". Yikes. That's certainly one way to make me run faster.

I quickly picked up my race bib and shirt, sneezed and missed the expo and headed back towards Charleston. I spent the afternoon exploring the French Quarter in Charleston which was as nice as North Charleston is crappy. Charleston proper reminds me of a bigger Savannah with more sophistication and modernization. Even their old buildings appear remodeled and updated. They also have an area called the "museum mile" which, you guessed it- has a mile of museums and art galleries. It was a great pre-race area to walk around.


But if you truly want to find out what a city is really like, you don't head to the nice part of town. You head to the Wal-mart. Which was conveniently located close to my hovel, errr: hotel. I walked to Wal-Mart from my place and witnessed some of the rudest people I've seen on any of my trips this year. There was a fight in the parking lot, a woman who pushed her shopping cart into a guy into a wheelchair, and about 100 16 year old mothers all wailing on their children(that is a hyperbole). I quickly got my banana and a $6 long-sleeved shirt to wear before the race start and went back to my hovel...

He keeps calling it a hovel. It must have been a dump. And it was. I am being a little bit of a whiner but it's all about management of expectations. I arrived at my North Charleston hotel(have I mentioned to AVOID North Charleston) where the lobby was clean and well-maintained, there looked to be a nice pool and hot-tub and a hot breakfast served daily. But wait. Sorry sir but you're at our sister hotel. While the other hotel was less than a mile away, it did not have hot breakfast, the lobby was not clean and instead of a nice pool and hot-tub they had an abundance of stray cats and ducks. Yes real cats and ducks. Right outside my door. All night long. For those of you who have heard me sing, now imagine, five to fifteen of my closest equally silver-tongued friends all singing a sweet cacophony all night long and you may have an idea of my evening. Luckily, I had only booked this hotel for one night so I wouldn't have to repeat this on Saturday. But a good night's sleep before the marathon was also out the window.
I was not staying anywhere near this cool church

To top off the evening, after driving around North Charleston for a while, I finally settled for CiCi's Pizza. Nothing against them but an all-you-can-eat pizza place is not good place for someone like me with very little self-control when it comes to pizza. I tried to fill up on pasta before going to the pizza line but ended up just eating pasta before eating nearly 20 slices of pizza. Ahhh carbo loading. Well, at least I didn't get food poisoning like in Savannah.

I awoke early to drive back down to Kiawah. I must say from the parking and needing to take a shuttle, the potential for a shortage of bathrooms and the impending rain, I was leery about race day morning. All of naught. It was smooth parking transition into big coach buses(no school bus here) to the race start where there were plenty of bathrooms. They also had a morning dynamic warm-up that they offered before the race start. All in all it was probably one of these easiest race day mornings I have had.

The race course

The marathon started with the half marathoners and we ran together for the first 11 miles. Knowing this I was wise enough to let the fast guys go at the start. I got into a pretty good pack of mostly marathoners and settled in for the long-haul. There was one especially chirpy marathoner asking everyone what they were planning to run today. Most of them were looking to be running in the high 2:40's low 2:50's but one guy was planning to do a 2:45. So far at the five mile mark we had been consistently hitting 6:18 miles so I thought he was legitimate. When he gapped the rest of the group, I decided to hang with him.

At this point it was difficult to see what place we were in because of the half marathoners also ahead of us. At the first of many out and backs, I counted 3 marathoners ahead of us. The other run and I continued to click off 6:18s so I stopped even checking my splits. Big mistake. Several miles later, I felt surprisingly comfortable and relaxed and looked down at my split: 6:30! We were slowing and that is why it felt easy. Frantically, I picked up the pace in the process dropping the guy I was running with. By mile 18, I had passed the third place guy and was feeling pretty good. Another runner had caught me right around then and we went through mile 20 about 4 seconds apart in 3rd and 4th place. He was running so much more smoothly than I was, I knew I didn't have him. But the 2nd place runner looked catchable. And, in fact, he was. I passed him shortly thereafter for 3rd place.

Now at this point most people would start letting their motivation to finish and place spur them on. But all I could think about was water. I was so thirsty that at mile 24 I actually stopped and drank 5 cups of water and 1 cup of gatorade. That mile was an 8 minute mile. Not too impressive. It was hard getting back into the running after having stopped and my last two miles were unimpressive 7:20's which allowed the 4th place runner to get too close for comfort as I pulled out the 3rd place victory by only about a minute. Still it was good enough for another sub-3 marathon in a new state so I was happy:)

A little about the race:
  • If you don't like out and backs, DO NOT do this race! I think there was total of 6 out and backs varying from 1/2 mile to a 3 mile out and back. It was a great way to see all the parts of the island and stay on the island because I think otherwise it would have to go off island to get the distance in. It's a great race to set a PR at.
  • If you like hills, don't do this race. There aren't any. Entirely flat and fast with only a few spots along the marshes and ocean when the wind would pick up at all.
  • If you don't like random people talking to you, don't do this race. This could have been that I was always by myself(and probably looking pathetic), but I had so many different people come up to me and tell me their life stories. One young spry 80+ year old was doing trying to do marathons in all 50 states(like me!). He was telling me the most difficult part was finding races that had generous enough cut-off times so he could finish. One race in Jackson Hole took away all the course markings while he was still out there and he got lost getting back. Poor guy. But also inspirational to still be doing what he loves. Another person was the pulling guard for the Air Force football team and now he's out running marathons and just signed up for his first Ironman next year.  
  • If you want to see the golf courses you're running alongside, don't do this race. Luckily for me there was always trees between the road and the golf course which keep almost the entire race in the shade. It was hot enough that could have made for a very miserable race otherwise.
  • If you like to race and leave, don't do this race. The post-race celebration is what made this race. It was under a tent with silverware and table clothes. Good food and great drinks. I hung around for the awards ceremony which allowed me to have plenty of time for both. Definitely worth it.
My Third Place Pelican
After meeting some interesting characters at the post-race ceremony, I headed to my second hotel. Much improved! I settled in, showered and headed out to an All You Can Eat Oyster bar on Isle of Palms which is about 20-30 minutes away from Charleston. I drive there salivating the whole way only to find it got cancelled due to the weather. Darn! But it gave me the opportunity to check out the beaches over there. I think if I do this race again, I'll stay over on that side as some of those beach-front hotels were very nice.
View from the Isle of Palms Boardwalk
I headed back towards my place and ended up at a sports bar owned by Phillies fans so I ended up watching the Army/Navy game and have a pulled pork sandwich and Yuenling. Not exactly South Carolinian but still hit the spot.

The next morning I headed back into Charleston, checked out some of the sites, I had missed on Friday including the Seawall and White Point Park which is where several Pirates(I don't think Bobby Bonilla was one of them) were hanged in the 1700's. Also, luckily for me it was the 2nd Sunday of the month, so the town of Charleston shuts down some streets for pedestrians only which made for some nice ambulatory exploration.

I then jumped on a Harbor Cruise that took us on the Cooper River, its confluence with the Ashley and out to the Atlantic Ocean. It was amazing to see all the huge houses lining the shores of the river and it's marked contrast to the Navy and shipyards just opposite them. They also have four forts(the fourth was called the forgotten fort because the other three made it obsolete); the most famous being Fort Sumter, named after General Sumter(the "Gamecock"), where the first shots of the Civil War were fired over.
Fort Sumter
History is pretty cool, but what was far cooler was all of the dolphins in the harbor. I had heard stories of Great White Sharks coming up the rivers but I didn't see any but did see plenty of dolphins and was able to capture some on video(see below). Definitely the highlight of the trip.

More Scenes from my Charleston Stroll:
Patriots Point-the USS Yorktown(if you look closely, it can hold 80 aircraft!)



Plenty of History:


I wrapped up my Charleston trip with a quick detour to the HL Hunley which was a submarine used during the Civil War. A Sub in the Civil War? I couldn't believe it so had to see for myself. For $10 admission you can actually see the submarine which held 8 confederate soldiers. It was successful in sinking the USS Housatonic but then it sank and became a coffin for all eight soldiers. It wasn't found until 1995 and brought to its final resting place in 2000. An interesting trip and a great way to end my trip down south.
Not sure the connection between Hunley and this mansion but this was about a 1/4 mile away in an otherwise sketchy neighborhood.

So that's it for races in the 2013 season. Now time to enjoy some snowshoe racing before the big Galveston Marathon in February where my sister will be venturing into the world of marathons for the first time. Can't wait!

Oh yeah, and Amber has a few races up her sleeve too:)

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