The Kiawah half and full marathon are in their 39th year, having been a mainstay of the winter marathon season since the late 70’s. Normally a somewhat snooty gated community, the whole island opens up once a year to let a few thousand people come and trash the place for a few hours.
I hadn’t planned on coming back so soon. True, the 2014 marathon was the crown jewel in my running career – a 3:11 Boston qualifier that I trained like a beast for under the wing of TUS coach Justin Bishop. However, my hydration/nutrition plan, along with a few overzealous sub-7 pace miles, nearly sabotaged the whole thing. The last 5k of the race is easily the worst I’ve felt in any event before or since. It’s a minor miracle I didn’t run over one of the 3 hour half finishers taking selfies and/or cover them with a shower of projectile GU puke. It was rough.
But my vice president Joyce scored some sketchy deal on the race in the fall, and somehow I got sucked into doing the race again. Thankfully, I had the foresight to realize I was in no mood to train for a marathon again. I’m a 5k guy. Nothing kills my soul more than Sunday 20 milers and 5 mile intervals. But I am fond of the half, so I was in. Unfortunately, my training ended up totally sucking for distance. I was doing a lot of 5k specific stuff to compete in the fall races, but just not putting in the long runs. I did a few leading up to the Famously Hot Race in late October and managed a 1:31 on a brutal course. And that was pretty much it. No runs over 8-9 miles in the last 6 weeks before Kiawah. This could get ugly.
As it turned out, half of the Columbia running community showed up for this one. We had a sizable Team Utopia group going, two condos worth. I was rooming with Joyce, Code Brown and Israel, and I somehow managed to coax my wife “first lady” Mary into coming. Mary is not fond of running, or talking about running, so she was hesitant to go. She did hear that her Boston drinking buddy Sheila was there, so apparently that was enough. Both have an affinity for mixed drinks and F bombs, so the connection was clear.
Speaking of F bombs, I dropped more than a few on the way down to Kiawah. Highway 526 was jacked up for some unknown reason and it took us an hour to go like 3 miles. I lived in this mess for 2 years in 2006-2008, and the traffic is something I definitely don’t miss. Actually the whole reason I got into running was avoiding Charleston traffic and hitting the treadmill at o’ dark thirty in the morning. And the rest was history. Anyway, it took us forever and I was super afraid of missing the 8:30 curfew for the expo.
When I get there I get a jokey volunteer who asks me if McDonald has a farm. Yeah, I might have heard that before. That and “run, Forrest, run”. He then stops, pauses, and smiles. WTH?? Grabbing a piece of paper off the back of my bib, he turns around and yells “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HAVE A HIGH PERFORMANCE ATHLETE!!!” And all the volunteers give me a round of applause. As I acknowledge my “fans”, Mary’s eye roll behind me is palpable. The ego continues to grow out of control. It’s pretty late by the time we get out of the expo and I’m starting to get panic-level hangry. Luckily Sheila calls and tells us they still have food left from dinner, since Justin was running even later. Since it was close to 9 pm and I was running on fumes, I’ve never had a finer dining experience than spaghetti with potato chips, washed down with a Miller Lite. I like to keep it classy.
Race morning was pretty much perfect racing weather. Super cold for Kiawah, probably low 30’s. Thankfully, Mary was a saint and agreed to do Sherpa duties, which made things way easier. For the uninitiated, “Sherpa” = someone to carry around all your race s#$% and extra clothing, and take pics. She definitely earns her self-proclaimed “Best Wife Ever” status. I got to stroll into the guarded “HIGH PERFORMANCE CORRAL” due to my “A” number, melon head ready to explode. I thought it was “A” for first place, though Mary felt “A” stood for something else that I won’t print here. Drew Williams, Ivanka Tolan, Justin Bishop, MC Cox, Joyce and Linn Hall are some of the other familiar faces in my corral.
The start was ridiculously fast. Although legitimately in the corral (sub 1:30 documented half), I felt like a whale swimming among the marlins. Not too many other Sasquatches in the land of singlets and zero percent body fat. MC and Linn form a tandem, and I try to pace off them for a while, but they are flying and I back off. Code catches me about a half mile in , having done some crazy speed from the corral behind (10-15 seconds back). He didn’t put in his half time when he registered. We cruise through mile 1 in 6:46. Not too bad. I knew a PR (1:28:27) would pretty much be out of the question with the crap training, but I was still hanging on to the sub 1:30 goal, 6:52 pace. Code and I are pacing together by now – he had planned to do around 6:50 for a few miles as warm up before ramping it up faster. We catch Ivanka over 1.5 miles in – she must have crushed the start. I start chasing down Drew Williams for the better part of a mile, but it turns out its a pseudo-Drew in a similar blue singlet. Damn it. Pseudo Drew gets blue shoed around mile 3. Somewhere in there is the bridge that provides a few feet of incline in an otherwise pancake course. By mile 4 I start feeling a little like crap. When the split comes back at 6:44 I realize I’ve been pulling like 1:27-1:28 half pace the whole time, instead of my planned negative splits. Apparently the gigantic head got carried away with all the “high performance” stuff. I consciously try to back it down a notch because we’ve got a long way to go. Code then leaves me like a red headed stepchild and pushes on the gas. Fine – be that way!
Next few miles are more of the same, mostly generic condos and shady streets with a few marsh views thrown in. The course is so flat, I’m trying to change my gait at times to use different muscles. I start getting passed by a few people, notably a pack of college kids from Berry College. I don’t know where Berry is, but I’m pretty sure its not Division I if these guys are pacing with the Albino Sasquatch. To their credit, they surge ahead, but I keep them in sight. Around 6 miles the course splits off from the marathon and I get a lift that we are at least headed back in the general direction of the finish. 6.5 mile mat reads 44:30. Pretty soon after, some skinny tall dude pulls up alongside, and damned if it isn’t Brandenburg. I’m so glad JB traveled 200 miles only to shame me once again. He leaves me in the dust as I start entering Debbie Downer mode.
The next few miles provide some nice change in scenery, with a few trips on the golf course cart path and, for a glorious 50 meters, an actual view of the ocean. Imagine that. The turns and twists feel like crap, though, and my pace starts to bleed into the 7:05 range. I’m realizing exactly what hard 5k training will do for you in a half – I’m not breathing hard at all but my legs feel like absolute lead. I’m beginning to feel like the wheels may be coming off soon – it feels a lot warmer, the stomach feels like giving back the little bit of GU I could choke down, and there’s not much motivation. But then I see it…the Code is getting reeled in. After the Sanctuary hotel grounds we’re back near the start line, and I get a boost from my hot Sherpa cheering me on. Off (literally) come the gloves, and it’s time to go catch some Code. It doesn’t take long because dude is definitely hurting – starts moaning about the course being boring, how he’s going to throw up, etc. etc. Sounds like he’s taking a page from the Tyler McGaha book of lamentations. It’s always nice to pass the Code, but I could probably use a good puke too. Mile 10 comes back at 7:04 and it just pisses me off. OK – just a 5k to go, about 21.5 minutes to break 1:30. I start methodically pushing in all my chips, ramping up the pace. I’m going much harder effort-wise than the start but only getting the same 6:40’s in return. Once mile 12 hits, it’s time to Blue Shoe it. I finally pass an older guy who I talked to at the start aiming for a 1:29. I’m hurting pretty bad, but then some young guy flies past me, offering some words of encouragement. Oh hellz no. I ride his tail for a while and I see JB and now MC Cox up ahead. Having some new carrots on a string helps me push it even harder, but the legs are really protesting about the abuse now. Finally I hear the announcer and see the last turn ahead. Headless chicken mode is engaged as I round the turn with the American flags, which I remember so well from the ’14 race. With 100 meters to go, I pull a total Leeds Barroll meets Usain Bolt sprint. Unfortunately, the announcer takes off the stealth mode from my attack on MC and she ramps it up 1000 percent. I pass a couple of Berry college kids, and with one ridiculous sub 4 surge nip the guy who passed me a half mile ago, at the line. Mr. Nobile, I’m sorry/not sorry for ruining your finish pics. Official time of 1:29:21 /6:49 pace. About as good as I could have hoped for in this (air quotes) training (/air quotes) cycle. What’s even better – 5 deep masters and 5 deep age groups yielded me a 3rd in the 40-44. No coveted pelican trophy (overall, masters and grandmasters) but the age group awards are really nice wood plaques.
In the half, Chris Bailey rocked a 1:11 to take the overall win. He barely edged me out for the 2015 Rose Fest double down win. Barely. Erin Miller crushed a 1:23 en route to a 4th overall. Columbia was well represented in the masters women with Linn Hall 1st, MC Cox 3rd and Ivanka Tolan 5th. PR’s for both Linn (1:27) and Ivanka (1:32), I believe. Brandenburg took 3rd as a newly minted grandmaster. Justin Bishop was 4th in a brutally competitive 35-39. Mario Alvarez PR’d with a 1:36 for 4th in the 50-54. Sue Porter captured 4th in the women’s 60-64, while Pete O’Boyle did the same among the men. Jesse Smarr rocked a 5th in the 75-99.
In the marathon, my Palmetto 200 teammate Rob Gannett killed it with a 3:01, good for a BQ and 2nd in the 35-39. Noel Schuch took 2nd in the 40-44.
Lots of Columbians in the 2800+ runners:
Half: Drew Williams, Darrell Brown, Julia Norcia, John Bradley, Ken and Sheila Bolin, Derek and Jamie Gomez, Michael and Kate Ferlauto, Israel Bilbao, Jason Lockhart, Kelly Ghent, Alan Humphries, Teresa Harrington, Mkie Wainscott, Brent Shealy, Mark Stout, Sam Hilliard, Dawn and Dave Hale, Lisa and Jesse Smarr, Paul Laymon, Lauren Holliday, Peter Mugglestone, Sandra Riccuito, James Dubose, Kim La, Kana Rahman, Krystal McManus, Anthony Hernandez.
Full: Hal Ray, Winston and Kimberly Holliday, Alecia Milling, Mike Griffin, Michael Jensen and Jason Thompson. Special shout out to my original running partner Emily Granberry and husband Michael – Emily finished her first full while training as a mom with 3 kids under 5!
Sorry if I missed anyone – let me know!