The Columbia Marathon marks the return on the marathon to Columbia after an 11 year hiatus, finally giving the capital city a 26.2 again. I’m not sure about the history of the original race, but a recent State article said the race was run 1977-2001 and then scrapped because of other marathon competition and focus of the Carolina Marathon association on the Governors Cup and Heart and Sole. We also hosted the women’s olympic trials in 1996 and 2000. I lived in Columbia all the years of the race, but I have no memory of the original marathon, outside of a vague recollection of the olympic trials when I was in college. I was certainly not a runner then – my main running/walking exercise involved weekly trips down to five points and back. I was able to track down a 1999 carolina marathon results page. Winner was Eric Ashton. Complete shocker there. CarMar1999a
This edition of the marathon is the brainchild of Dan Hartley, who seems to have thrown his entire being into bringing this race back. I always have an admiration for race directors – they possess organization skills that far exceed my own. But putting on a 26.2 mile race through a city not used to an event this size is quite an undertaking. Major props to Dan for tackling this immense project.
I first signed up for this race about a year ago when the first rough draft of a website was up and the original point to point course was introduced. The course was originally set to start in Ballentine, go near Irmo, run across the dam into Lexington, and eventually into Columbia. There apparently was a major obstacle to the approval of this course with the Lexington police dept, who would not allow 378 to have a lane closure? I dont know the full details, but if NYC can shut down half the city for a morning, you’d think the metropolis of Lexington could help us out.
Anyway, this resulted in the current 2 loop course which tours much of the same areas as the Governor’s Cup, though differs in the roads used. For a detailed course description, see the Cola marathon preview run post. I was less than thrilled with the course change, though this actually saved me on race day. I had debated back and forth since the course change about dropping down to the half, since I really hate the 2 loopers – I’ve avoided Kiawah for this reason. However, I think I had eventually decided to go ahead and do the full at way less than 100 percent effort. I had trained hard and peaked for the Jacksonville marathon in December, but my focus in the spring has been back to improving speed in the 10k and 5k. I always do 10-15 mile long runs, but I hadnt done any of those critical 18-22 mile marathon specific workouts. I thought I could still wing it until this past week, when either my kids or patients decided to give me a nasty cold virus. I was out of commission Tuesday night and Wednesday. Recovered some on Thursday, and felt pretty good on Friday. However, Friday night I felt more run down – so I was really in a panic about what to do on Saturday morning. I woke up about 2 am and eventually convinced myself just to throw in the towel and save it for another day. I might have drifted off for awhile, but the thought of missing out on this race was killing me. I finally decided to at least show up and see how far I could go, but to definitely go no further than one loop. I knew there was no race day registration and there had been a 20 dollar fee to transfer races late, so I figured I’d just have to miss out on an official time and/or medal.
I got there about a half hour early. With a little tylenol and sudafed on board, I actually felt OK though nowhere near a hundred percent. My legs felt great – they hadn’t seen this much time off in months. Really nice turnout for this event, and almost every Columbia area runner was there either running or spectating.
I lined up near the 3:45 pacer. Had no idea how this would go, so I figured I would do 8 minute pace and see how far I could go – pulling the plug if I felt bad. First mile I took it very easy, which is completely alien to me when I have a bib on. There is a guy named John “the penguin” Bingham who writes for Runners World and encourages everyone to have fun while running , emphasizing slow but steady pacing. He seems like a nice guy, but my exact polar opposite. I’m all for having fun and taking it easy in group runs, that’s great. But once I pin that bib, I cant help but be a complete freak. I’m actually a pretty laid back person, but switch into complete “type A” mode when racing. My finish line photos should be ample evidence of that. Anyway, I hit mile one at the top of a huge hill (aka the reverse side of Gov Cup’s Mt. Blossom) in 7:56. I thought I was doing 8:30. I finally caught up to Trophy around this time. Mile 2 involves flying down the other side of Mt Blossom and then scaling what is one of the toughest hills – Saluda Avenue. Not super steep but brutally long. Just maintaining pace on this hill will cause you to pass a ton of people. Trophy loves hills , so he got dropped here. To his credit, he was actually committed to the full, while I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it through one. Mile two in 8:02. Next few miles were through Shandon and pretty easy. I was feeling OK, and glad to see I’d probably be able to make it through loop one. Logged a couple of low 8 miles. Eric Mcmichael caught up with me then faded back a little. I think I was unconsciously speeding up when people started to pass, because my fragile ego cant take it. After about 4 miles, I was warmed up enough to settle into a slightly faster pace as we left Shandon and entered into Heathwood/Lake Katherine. It felt like there was some pretty good crowd support out there until I finally realized I was in a small pack just behind local news celebrity Dawndy Mercer-Plank. Fragile Ego came back into play as I couldnt let Dawndy beat me, but she was motoring, definitely sub 8 pace. The half course cuts off some of the marathon course in this neighborhood, and she blue shoed me into one of the cutoffs and I never saw her again. I worked on maintaining a steady pace through the next few miles, felt very nice, which isnt surprising considering I was about 30 sec off my marathon pace. Felt good to think this was the pace that left me in a ragged mess at the end of my first governors cup in 2009. Luckily I wasnt racing, because I had yet another shoestring incident ( when am I ever going to remember to tie my shoes tight enough?) and managed my first in-race potty break. For some reason I still felt the need to burst out of the porta-potty like a maniac – as if 30 seconds was going to matter at this point. Still managed 8:20’s for those miles. Next started the most brutal section – the long slog up Trenholm. Like a war zone on that hill – some people were walking, others really struggling. This would have been really tough if I had been racing.
Once I reached the top and turned onto Gervais in mile 10, I started to briefly flirt with the idea of going ahead on to loop two. Then I thought about Richmond again, and how good I felt at the same point in that race. That brought me back into reality and reaffirmed by previous one loop decision. I would have been really happy at the start to know i would be OK at 10 miles anyway. As if memories of my traumatic Richmond marathon experience weren’t enough to convince me to stick to the plan, Mt Gervais certianly helped. Just crazy steep. I passed a girl who looked like death walking up that thing. I turned to give her a word of encouragement, but the look I got back shut me up quick. Caught up with Schmitz at the top of the hill, and he was really moving, despite the fact he was doing the full. Ran the rest of the way with him. Hit 13.1 at about 1:45. The downhill finish to this race is amazing, especially with the huge banner and chute at the end. Because of my orange bib, no one believed I was setting the world record in the marathon, so I had to veer off from the finish and drop out off to the side. That was tough to do, but I knew it was the best decision on this particular day.
The good part about dropping out is that it allowed me to watch everybody behind me on the first loop and then see everyone finish. Really cool to see so many people from our running community out there. The highlight for me was seeing Amy McDonaugh winning the overall female in the marathon with a huge eruption of cheering from the crowd (see above pic). Frank Clark and Steven Johnson helped pace and guide her, which was really awesome on their part. Greg Howell also crushed this race – ran another 3:19, his same time from Myrtle Beach a month ago on a flat course. I hope to see him and Anton rock the NYC marathon later this year. Half overall winners were from out of town, though I see Andrew Johnson from Columbia won 4th. I’ve never met Andrew, but apparently he’s yet another 35-39 yr old than can destroy me. Code did take home 3rd in AG in the half, which his first in like 15 years. Spence posted a strong 1:33, and Brian Clyburn PR’d with a 1:34 – which probably means he can cut 3-4 min off that on a flat course. Our Palmetto 200 team keeps getting faster! Plexico won the 10k, and if my sources are correct, also won the March for Meals rescheduled 5k earlier that morning. Well played. Another Palmetto 200 team member won 3rd in the 10k, Andy McNiece. Burgess and Geary rocked top 10 in the 10k, and Bri Hartley (making the race director proud, no doubt) and Tigs took the top 2 females in the 10k.