Kiawah Marathon – Kiawah Island, SC – 12/13/14


Photo Credit: Pat Norcia

So this is it. Somehow I got suckered into signing up for the Kiawah Marathon about nine months ago. My mind was already made up – this would be a year to get healthy and maybe, just maybe, get somewhere near where I was before my Hawaii debacle in July 2013. But everyone was planning for a fall marathon then, and my 5k speed was picking up, so somehow I developed the twisted notion to do Kiawah.

And this wasn’t going to be for grins and giggles. Oh no, if I was going to do another 26.2, it was going to be for all the marbles – the elusive Boston qualifier. The big BQ. Sure, the longest run I had done since my cliff dive was 13.1 at the Newberry Half, and nine minutes slower than my PR. But my melon head has no limit to its grandiosity, and I was in.

One problem – I suck at marathons. I’m all 5k – 20 minutes of cathartic pain and frenzy is my thing. Carefully measured pacing and restraint is not.  And the marathon has been a brutal mistress. She left me wrecked on the side of the road in Richmond at mile 18. I got way dehydrated at Jacksonville and was saved by a random stranger with a water bottle. Richmond part II brought me to a crawl past mile 22.

And this whole BQ thing. Fortunately my advanced age bought me 5 extra minutes. I turn 40 in March so I could get in with a 3:15. That’s great and all, but my marathon PR was a 3:20:44 in Jacksonville which I thought I ran almost perfectly (save for the guardian angel with the critical water bottle at mile 12).  I was going to have to shave at least 5 minutes. “At least”, because even those who qualified last year got screwed when the race filled up before those that were close to their qualifying times could register.  Just ask Randy Hrechko or Jeff Godby about that. Brutal.

So I was probably looking at more like 3:13 to be sure. That’s around 7:20 pace.  Just a 22 minute 5k….eight and a half times in a row. No sweat, right? Yeah.

To be honest, I had very little confidence going into my training. But Justin drew up the TUS workout schedule (on a monthly basis, as not to scare us for the horrors to come) and I drank the yellow and black kool-aid.  No messing around this time. Sure, I switched some days so I could do my ridiculous racing schedule, but I made sure I did every key workout.

I’m pretty sure Justin did some time at Guantanamo Bay before coming to SC, because this plan was insane. I was doing mid week 10 milers, crazy long speedwork, marathon pace intervals in long runs. It beat me up pretty bad. Luckily the Pale Beast agreed to be my company for the Sunday long run misery, so that helped. I finally came up for air for a couple of days to test myself at the Savannah half last month. It was total Mr Miyagi paint-the-fence/wash-the-car/sand-the-floor. Totally stunned with a 1:28 –  a 2 minute PR. Not post-cliff, but all time. I was convinced.

Flash forward five more weeks. Three more killer 20+ milers.  Tapered for about a week and a half. I was scared to death of every little twinge and tingle but managed to make it to the starting line healthy.  Code, Joyce, Justin and I rented a condo on the island, just a short walk from the start. Definitely the way to go. Doubly nice was not having to share a bed with the Code, though our sleeping accommodations were better suited as military barracks for children.  Plus Darrell likes to keep the condo at below 60 degrees to help him sleep. As if you didn’t know he’s a freak already.

But you couldn’t argue with the condo location. I got to desecrate an actual bathroom instead of the portapotty nightmare. Sweet. We were able to leave at about 7:40 for an 8 am start. Everyone and their mom from Columbia was here. Meme Spurgeon, Pam Inman, Angel  and Laurin Long (running the half post chemo – total beast mode) were there for Palmetto Runners. The Strictly “Red Storm” featured Erin Miller, Linn Hall, Jennifer and Jordan Lybrand and MC Cox.  Pete O’Boyle, Karen Manning, Geary McAlister, Howie Phan, Mike and Kat Hudgins, Coleen Strasburger, Ken and Patti Lowden,  Sheila Subbarao, Shufy Rowe, Lee Walker, Jennifer and Mario Tudor were some familiar faces.  TUS fielded myself, the Code, Coach Bishop, Lorikay Keinzle, Carol Wallace, Julia Early, Joyce, Ivanka Tolan, the Yerg (running the half with Laurin). Jessica was running with Marathon Man.  In a great coincidence, my high school friend Cole Smith was running the marathon with the same BQ goal, and Emily Granberry , my original running partner, was visiting from San Antonio to do the half.   Temps were cold and little to no wind or humidity. Time to put up or shutup.

I was nervous as hell at the start but I had Cole and the Code to form a mini 3:10 pace group. I had gone back and forth as to what I would try to do, but I figured 3:10/7:15 pace gave me the optimal speed with room for error. Main goal: Anything under 3:13. Reach goal was to go sub 3:10. B standard: 3:14:59. Nice on paper, though I knew all was theoretical since nothing prepares you fully for the actual race.

Click to access 2012-full-marathonmap.pdf

With the start there was a lot of jockeying for position, but we were finally able to settle into a nice groove. We rattled off a bunch of sub 7:10 miles. It felt pretty crappy early on. Just none of the light, euphoric feeling from Savannah. I kept trying to block out the mental magnitude of the 26 miles. Luckily we had Superman in our pace group – also known as Joe Wilson from Atlanta. He helped keep us occupied on something other than the long miles ahead of us and gave us a mini history of running in Columbia in the early 2000’s when he lived there. He even knew Brandenberg and how he’s a beast on the bike. Great – as if JB’s ego needs any boosting. Pace was dialed in pretty well, if maybe a touch fast. I figured it might be good to have a little time in the bank anyway. Yeah – we’ll get back to that.

Kiawah no longer has a two loop course, which is nice, though one must realize its a pretty small island. Solution: run down every cul de sac and road in the whole place. The majority of the distance was four out-and-back “fingers” which took you out to the north end of the island and back. The first finger (miles 5-9) was nice – it felt good to be out in the sun and you could start to see the race unfolding ahead of you. Eric Ashton and the two other half leaders came blowing by us on the way back at some insane speed, and I thought for a second Kiawah had added a 5k. Nope, just some low 5 minute half marathon pace. Holy crap. Joe and I had separated a bit from Cole and Darrell at this point, which I knew meant bad news for the Code, since his half PR is three minutes faster than mine. This was his first marathon though.  Popped the first espresso love GU as planned just before the turnaround at mile 7. The way back probably made my race. So much support from all the other Columbia runners, even some people I didnt even know were there. Its easy to stand out when your 6’3″, in a black singlet, and have the complexion of Edward Scissorhands. I even saw Emily out on the course for the first time in 5 years – that was pretty cool. I got a little speedy but made sure to tell myself to not be an idiot and trash my race by getting too excitable. Yeah – we’ll get back to that too.


A whiter shade of pale

A whiter shade of pale


Once the first finger was done, more flat shady miles in the main part of the island. Kiawah is kind of like Hilton Head – everything is kind of understated and everything pretty much looks the same, so I had no idea where we were. Some girl, who I assume was doing the half, was getting it and using me as a human wind shield (FYI, if there’s one thing I’m good at its blocking wind). She was sucking air like it was going out of style and I felt like I was being chased by a rabid hyena for at least a half mile. I guess we all get a dose of our own medicine at some point. Joe sped up a lot on the way back and gapped me quite a bit. Suddenly Cole comes back into the picture, and it was just us for a while. Neither one of us were runners or athletes in high school, so I kept thinking how improbable this moment would have been to our 1993 selves.  All of a sudden the half and full separate at about 11.5 miles. I am mercifully relieved of hyena girl and it gets dead quiet. There’s like one guy ahead of us, and he’s the only thing separating this race from a glorified training run at this point. I had been feeling pretty good up to this point, but there was a little belly churning going on and I was fearful of having a Code Brown signature moment. Thankfully it subsided. Hit the half at 1:34 – a little quick but basically right where I wanted to be. Second finger was miles 14-15. I was feeling a little tired, but GU number two gave me a jolt of energy. I ended up leaving Cole and passing Joe and I felt pretty good.

Then I broke the first rule of marathoning –  respect the distance. I admit, the head started to swell and I started thinking about rocking the crap out of this race. I was going to be a bad ass and pull off some ridiculous 3:05 or something. I hit mile 15 in 6:57 and kept going. Another 6:57 at mile 16. I was feeling great. Only ten miles to go – how hard could it be?? Third  finger was miles 16-20. It just went on forever. I saw Robby walking and I was crushed, since we had done a lot of the Team Utopia speed sessions together. Still, he was on his way back so he was probably at least a mile ahead of me. Angel was also on his way back and looking strong. It felt like we running halfway to Charleston (at one point you could even see the Cooper river bridge) but eventually the turnaround came. On the way back things started to take a slight turn for the worse. I was still hitting the 7:10ish pace but I was laboring a bit more. I saw Larry and Joyce looking good on my way back in.  Finishing the out and back was the 20 mile mark. I forget the exact time but I was way ahead of Justin’s 20 mile Boston threshold of 2:29. I got a slight jolt of adrenaline but my great feeling of miles 15-17 was definitely gone.

You get dumped right back into the out and back of finger four for miles 20-22. Things were going south in a hurry – certainly the fatigue but also a subtle mental fogginess too. Ruh roh. The mile markers seemed to be taking a lot longer to appear. I hit mile 20 in 7:18, which was my first one slower than goal pace. This scared me a bit so I think I pushed it a bit in the next mile, bringing it only down to 7:14. I finally took a sharp right and I knew it headed back to the finish. All of a sudden I  hear a cop shouting me down on the road and I realize I’m supposed to be on the damn paved trail. Turning around and having to go backward was pretty crushing. Mile 22 was in 7:23 and I started getting really scared. I felt like complete death. I put the blinders on and just tried to focus on whatever I could see ahead of me.

At the mile 24 mark I knew I was in a world of trouble. I was still on the paved trail, now dodging three hour plus halfers. A few times I stepped off the path and felt my leg start to crumple beneath me. I wasnt familiar with that, but I figured it was decidedly bad. I finally hit mile 25 after an eternity and I didnt dare look at my Garmin. At this point I was dangerously close to having to hit the med tent. Just  totally in a fog, nauseated, legs like jello. One mile to go – even with the death march going on I knew I had enough banked time if I could just get my Sasquatch ass across the finish line. I summoned all the demons of the past 16 months to help me – the pain and frustration  of Kauai, the walking on the side of the road in near tears when my toe hurt too bad to run, the months of couch surfing. I kept screaming to myself “IT’S JUST ONE FREAKING MILE!! YOU CAN DO THIS!! “. That , and a new world record for F bombs. Finally, finally, I “saw the light” and people turning towards it. Either I was about to die or this was the finish. I was ready for either. Luckily, it was the latter. Justin caught me at the turn and said “You’re going to Boston!!” and I made out  3:10’s on the clock. I got a jolt of adrenaline and tried to muster a kick and instead got brutally blue shoed by a woman half my size (wow, after rabid hyena, that’s karma payback number two for this race). Hit the tape at 3:11:16. Nine minute PR and a BQ by almost four minutes. Completely blown away.  In my mind I had envisioned some triumphant, epic finish to BQ, but at this point I was complete and utter toast. I sat down on one of the chairs and had to wait about 5 minutes to make sure I was a) not going to puke and b) not going to pass out when I stood up. So it wasn’t glamorous… but damn was it sweet. This guy gives it a big thumbs up:


Lots of people to list here thanks to our huge Columbia contingent. Coach Justin was a little underwhelmed by his performance but still grabbed third overall in 2:44. I do owe him a huge debt of gratitude for getting me to Kiawah perfectly trained and injury fee – thanks dude! Maybe I’ll take it easy on you in our next Sega NHL 95 showdown.

Team Utopia BQ’ers also included Lorikay Keinzle (who also got 2nd grandmasters in 3:44), Joyce (3:38)  and Julia (3:48). Robby, Cole and Code had a tough day but its only a matter a time before they will join the 2016 class. Mike Hudgins had a big PR with a 4:30.

Others included Angel rocking a 3:06 to qualify for Boston again. Karen Manning rocked a 3:28 (BQ), Jennifer Lybrand 3:33 ( a big PR and new BQ), Larry Bates 3:35 (BQ), Wendy Hart 3:46,  Hal Ray 3:54, Laurie Royson 4:02,  Meme Spurgeon 4:06 (first marathon)  Ivanka Tolan 4:11 (first marathon) , Alexandra Rippy 4:18, Lorand Batten 4:19 Pam Inman 4:24, Mike Hudgins 4:30 , Jessica Workman 5:41, Hou-Yin Chang 6:05,  Jennifer Tudor 6:16, Mario Tudor 6:16,

In the half, Caroline Peyton finished 3rd in 1:22, with Erin Miller just behind in 5th in 1:23. Eric Ashton placed 3rd in 1:11. Linn Hall took 3rd female master in 1:32. Irv Batten blazed to first in male masters in 1:17, while Marc Embler set a pending age group record with a 1:19 at age 57. Wow. David Quick placed 3rd grandmasters in 1:24. MC Cox took 3rd in the brutal 35-39 age group. A quick scan of the results: Jordan Lybrand 1:31,  Geary McAlister 1:32 (3rd in AG) Howie Phan 1:33, Pete O’Boyle 1:34 (4th in AG), Leyden Hane 1:42, Lee Walker 1:44, Carol Wallace 1:51, Coleen Strasburger 1:51, Sue Porter 1:57,  Kana Rahman 1:59, Renee McCormick 1:59, Sandy Smith 1:59,  Heather Alexander 2:04, Peter Mugglestone 2:04, Emily Granberry 2:07, Mike Wainscott 2:08, Teresa Harrington 2:08, Ken Lowden 2:12, Jeff Smith 2:17, Sheila Subbarao 2:21, Patti Lowden 2:25 Kat Hudgins 2:49, Rob Yerger and Laurin Long 3:13. Sorry if I missed anybody.





2 comments on “Kiawah Marathon – Kiawah Island, SC – 12/13/14

  1. Amy Lauren says:

    Congratulations Alex :). I’m so glad you BQed and had a big PR, and are fully recovered from the cliff accident. I bet you couldn’t have imagined this when you were in the hospital making that thumbs up. Enjoy a brief holiday break from running and racing while you recover from Kiawah, too, even though I know you’ll be back out there for a 5K soon because none of us ever really take breaks.

    Team Utopia South sounds so cool, I wish we had something like that here in Charleston, we have some training groups but they’re all pretty small, nothing really big and no big crowds all doing the same destination race with support, etc. Plus nothing competitive- if you want to do your first half or first bridge run you can get a “support group” but we don’t have much to really help people who are already seasoned runners become better runners. I did a speedwork program this Fall though and I think the support you get from a coach makes a HUGE difference. No wonder y’all did so well!

    Congratulations again! This was a fun, fun read!

  2. Julia says:

    This was a fun read! I thank God I have the opportunity to meet you and drink the same black and yellow kool aid!

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