Saturday, January 11, 2014

Long-Overdue Race Recap: The Kiawah Island Marathon

As soon as I sat down in Sam's car for the 4.5-hour drive to Kiawah Island, South Carolina last month, I couldn't resist asking him about the plan I had been hatching for about the previous 48 hours:

"Sam, I have a crazy idea, and I either want you to talk me into this, or talk me out of it," I said.

"You want to run the full instead of the half?"

Was it that obvious?

I had signed up months ago to run the Kiawah Island Half Marathon -- it was going to be my best shot at running a 1:25 half and qualifying for guaranteed* entry to the New York Marathon. I had been training all fall for a fast half-marathon and was in top form. But then, 5 weeks prior to Kiawah, I had a relatively minor injury that made a major impact on my training.

A 5-mile tempo run at half-marathon pace 10 days from race day wasn't encouraging; I could only sustain the pace for the first three miles. On a set of what should have been easy 1200-meter intervals at HM pace 5 days out from the race, I had to cut my last one short.

Even with race-day adrenaline, it just didn't seem likely that I would be able to sustain a 6:28 pace for 13.1 miles. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed possible that I might be able to hit a marathon PR at Kiawah. I've always felt like my marathon PR was soft. I only managed a 3:22:55 at Richmond, a 7:42 pace. Surely I could do better than that. If I couldn't run 6:28 for 13.1 miles, maybe I could run 7:38 for 26.2.

It didn't take long for Sam to agree that it would probably be a better idea to run the full than run the half. If I PRd, I'd qualify for Boston, and I might decide to go ahead and register for the 2015 race. But either way, it seemed more likely that I could put up a very decent marathon time than PR and get a New-York-qualifying time in the half.

After a somewhat odd pre-race dinner that included steamship round and only one type of pasta (with a very heavy meat sauce), I slept surprisingly well the night before the race. I hadn't been able to fully carbo-load, but I felt like I should still be able to put up a good time.

Race morning went well, and Sam and I arrived at the start area feeling confident. Here's the one-and-only photo of us on race morning:

No alligators were harmed in the process of taking this photo

I posted this shot to the DART Facebook page to see if anyone noticed that I had a Marathon race number on, not a half race number. No one had a clue.

As we sat on a nice covered verandah awaiting the start, we reflected on just how pleasant the starting area for Kiawah was: Plenty of places to sit down, with the option to wait inside, outside, or under cover. Plenty of bathrooms, and just a short walk to the start line.

Soon we were ready to go and headed up to the starting area, where we were careful to get fairly close to the front of the pack. There I ran into my Blue Ridge Relay teammate Johanna Remes, who was also looking to run a 7:30-ish pace for the marathon. Awesome! Sam was planning a faster pace, so this meant I'd have someone to run with.

Soon the starting gun went off, and we were on our way. We had lined up in the perfect spot, and hardly had to pass anyone to maintain our planned pace. As Johane and I chatted, the miles ticked away:

Mile 1-5: 7:46, 7:30, 7:36, 7:33, 7:40

I felt like I was working a tad harder than I would like, but I wasn't straining. The course was lovely, running through moss-covered oaks, across bridges, and past beautiful homes.

Mile 6-10: 7:38, 7:38, 7:39, 7:37, 7:38

The course was flat as a pancake, as promised. My garmin was reading some of the miles as longer than the mile markers indicated, but it wasn't a huge issue. The only thing that worried me was a growing urge to use the restroom. If I had just needed to pee, it wouldn't be too bad, but I felt like I was probably going to have to take a dump at some point. That would not be good.

Mile 11-15: 7:38, 7:43, 7:47, 7:50, 7:44

This stretch was frustrating. Johane, who was running very well, dropped me. The miles each seemed to just be a tad longer than my Garmin indicated. And the urge to take a dump would not go away. A couple times I was able to pass gas and dispel the urge. But it seemed less and less likely that I would be able to complete the race without a pit stop. A look at the map shows that the course was rather complicated:


As you can see, there are several out-and-back sections. These allowed me to see both who was ahead of me and who was behind. Even if I couldn't PR, I still had a good shot at a Boston-qualifying time -- a 3:25 total, or 7:52 per mile. At each turnaround I could see that I was a couple minutes ahead of the 3:25 pace team, in good position to BQ.

Miles 16-18: 7:44, 7:49, 7:59

I was slowing down -- mainly because I really needed to stop and take a dump. Finally, in Mile 19, I saw an empty porta-john and tried to do my business as quickly as possible. But between evacuating, cleaning up, and pulling sweaty compression underwear and shorts back on, the stop took over three and a half minutes. As I hustled back on to the course, I strained to see if the pace team was ahead of me or behind me.

Mile 19: 11:23

It seemed almost certain that it was. I tried to ask some of the spectators if they had seen the 3:25 pace team pass them, but they were oblivious.

Mile 20: 7:52

Each mile seemed to be longer than the last. My Garmin measured Miles 17-21 at 1.03, 1.02, 1.06, 1.02, and 1.03 miles, for a total of 5.16 miles. At a 7:50 pace, that extra .16 miles adds 1:15 to your total time.

Mile 21: 8:04

As I approached the last turnaround at Mile 21, I finally saw the 3:25 pace team. They were definitely at least two minutes ahead. With just five miles to go, this meant I would need to pick up over 20 seconds per mile. I'd need to be running 7:30s, not 8:00s. That just didn't seem to be in the cards.

Mile 22-24: 8:03, 8:31, 9:17

In Mile 24 I actually broke down and walked for about 30 seconds. I knew there was no way I'd catch the pace team, and it just didn't seem to be worth it to go all-out if I wasn't going to get at least a BQ.

For the final two miles I did manage to pick up the pace a bit, with an 8:52 and a 9:05, but clearly this wasn't going to be a PR day. My official finishing time was 3:32:02. It wasn't what I was looking for, but it was actually my second-fastest marathon ever. The temperature had gotten quite warm by the end of the race, which may have contributed to my finish, but I think the real issue was the mid-race poop break. Absent that I might have been able to hold off the 3:25 team for a few more miles, then gut it out with them and finish just under the wire.

Johanna had a fantastic race, finishing in 3:22:50 and 5th overall woman, PRing and BQing by over 30 minutes. Sam faded at the end like I did, not quite BQing but finishing in a very solid 3:17:24.

Sam and I were disappointed but felt like we had given it as much as we could. I do feel like if I hadn't been injured, I could have easily laid down a marathon PR; I was just in excellent shape this fall before my injury. Of course, had that been the case, I would have been running the half, not the full.

Either way, this was a good race, and a nice learning experience. Now it's on to new experiences in 2014: Trail races and ultras. Maybe at some point down the line I'll return to serious marathon / half marathon training and see what I can do, but for now I'm glad the injury didn't keep me down for long and left me able to pursue my other goals.

Details of my race are below.

* Getting a "guaranteed entry" doesn't actually guarantee anything any more. If I had run a sub-1:25 half, I would have qualified for it, but since the NYRR only sets aside a limited number of spots, the qualifiers are then put in a lottery for those spots. But either way, it's a nice target to shoot for.

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