Charleston Marathon 2014 Race Recap

Wow. Where to begin?! How do I fit 26.2 miles and almost 5 hours into one post? Here's a hint: not very briefly. I don't even know if I can find the words to describe what an amazing, phenomenal day I had. I actually wrote this post shortly after the race, but it took a couple days for the life-changing, "Holy shit, I ran a MARATHON" feelings to sink in. I am being 100% honest when I say that until the race actually ended, I had not considered that there would be life after 1pm on January 18, 2014. I just could not see or comprehend what that would be like, and so the thought of writing a race recap never even crossed my mind. But, here I am! I did it!

There were no corrals for this race, and the half marathoners + marathoners ran together, so everyone (~5000 runners) started in a big group. Since I didn't line up before the start (because I was busy peeing in some bushes), my dad and I stood off to the side for a couple minutes before jumping in and heading off. I don't think the magnitude of what I was about to do had really hit me yet.

For the first few miles we ran south toward and then alongside the Ashley River. The sun was shining right in our faces so I mostly kept my head down, but I did look around every now and then. My first couple miles were around a 10:40 average pace which was a little faster than I was comfortable with. When mile 2 came up as 10:37 I knew I needed to back it down. I wanted to be more around 11:00 min/mi pace, especially at the beginning. 

After mile 3 we turned onto the main street downtown, King Street. The first mile of that street was the last mile of a 5k Turkey Trot I ran 2 years ago, and I had fun thinking about that race. I had never run so hard (I finished the 5k at 31:30something), and by the end I thought I was going to throw up and pass out at the same time. How times have changed!

We stayed on King Street for six miles. I was anticipating this being the worst part, since I normally never run straight on one road for more than a mile. I like turns and variety. It actually wasn't too bad. Once we got out of downtown we ran parallel to some railroad tracks, and other than that there was really nothing else alongside the road. It was very windy, and the wind was hitting us the whole time. I put my head down and unintentionally ended up watching my shadow pretty much the whole time. My pace was still around 10:40, and I felt good. I was hoping to end with a 10:52 pace for a 4:45 finish time, so I knew I had about a 10 second threshold to play with.

I do this thing on long runs where I break it up into fractions and use those as milestones, instead of counting every mile. I do it like this: 1/10 done, 1/9, 1/8, 1/7, 1/6, and so on, until I get to 1/2 and then I go the other way (1/3 left, 1/4, 1/5, etc.). It works for me and it requires a lot of mental math, so it keeps my brain occupied instead of focused on the running. During this stretch on King I got up to 1/3 done and I felt great! I remember thinking that my legs really weren't feeling fatigued at all like I expected.

Finally we turned off King Street, which was bittersweet because shortly after was where my dad and the other half marathoners split from us. My dad almost started crying, and then almost made me cry, as we split. I know he wished he could have kept going with me. 

Almost immediately after the split I started feeling very lonely. Miles 10-14 were an out and back through some industrial area. There were no spectators and nothing to look at. There were some people ahead of me and some behind, but I was in a little pocket by myself. I remember mile 11 taking forever to go by. I also misremembered this part from the course map, because I thought it was going to be about a mile and a half to the turnaround, but it was actually over 2 miles. The turnaround actually was cool, because we had to run out onto a pier with a really great view of the water and the Cooper River Bridge. But any good feelings I had quickly left when I actually turned around and realized that going back was directly into a headwind. I had been running a pretty consistent 10:40-10:45 pace but the wind slowed me down to a couple 11 minute miles during this part. And a guy I had been playing back and forth with for a few miles was definitely drafting off me. I remember passing him later and don't remember seeing him again so I hope I beat him! 

I got to the halfway point, and then mile 14, and then finally out of this lonely industrial area. The next part of the course took us through the old shipyard where my dad used to work. There were more spectators along the side of the street, which was nice. I had a little cramp and it was at this point that I first started thinking about walking. I told myself I could walk for a minute at mile 15, but once I got there I kept going. 

I finally let myself walk, just for a minute, at 16.5 miles I think. I didn't have a specific plan on how much to run before walking, but at that point I decided I wanted to start taking walk breaks before I REALLY needed them. Walking for a minute here and there didn't affect my pace very much and actually I think it helped my running pace. I was trying to take some preemptive breaks to avoid hitting the wall and/or feeling like death at any point. Running a marathon really changed my view on walking during a run. Normally it's something I never, ever do, not even on training runs, just to prove to myself that I don't have to. But during the marathon I realized that I really didn't need to prove anything. I'd already proven I can run 22.2 miles/4 hours in training without stopping and that is a long time! And besides, I didn't need to prove to myself or anyone that I can run 26.2 without stopping - getting to the finish line, walking or not, is proof enough. I also knew I wasn't I danger of completely blowing my time goals. So from 16.5 to the end, I gave myself a ~1 minute walk break roughly every mile.

Miles 15-18 took us up to a big circle that we'd run around and shoot off a few times through some neighborhoods. This is another part of the course I wish I'd remembered better at the time. I don't know how long I thought it would be, but it ended up being about 3 miles just to get to the circle and it was kind of boring. 

Once I got to the circle, I saw my family for the first time!!! My dad had finished the half and was there with my mom, husband, grandma, and cousin (who ran the 5k earlier that day). They had signs for me and cheered for me! It was awesome! Even though there were some miles that had felt like they'd never end, overall I was surprised at how quickly the race was going by. I couldn't believe I was already 18 miles into the marathon by the time I saw them. Something about it just felt so surreal. 

My cute mom
Oh hey guys, just 2/3 of the way through a marathon, nbd.
I looped around the circle and down a street into a neighborhood, and pretty soon I was at mile 20, 10k to go! My pace was slowing and my miles were closer to 11 minutes per mile, especially after I started taking walking breaks. I kept a close eye on my time and knew as long as I could stay around that pace, I'd be somewhere in the 4:4x's. Somewhere along the way I became pretty sure that 4:45 wasn't quite going to happen, but I thought I could still get under 4:50 which I was perfectly happy with.

Honestly miles 20-24ish were kind of a blur. At 21 I saw my family again and my husband ran with me for a few minutes. I told him how tired I was and about my time goals. I made one up mid-race: I wanted my pace to be 11:00 or better, because one time in my early C25k days my husband made me run ONE 11 minute mile and I started crying because I couldn't keep up with him. My pace was around 10:52 by that point and that's where I wanted it to stay.

At mile 22 I saw my family one last time before the finish. I handed off my gloves and the water bottle I had been carrying to my husband. Right after that I walked through a water stop, and there were race photographers like 100ft after the stop. I was like, "Seriously? You gotta be kidding me! You are not taking a picture of me walking right now!" I drank my water quickly then walked back a few feet to throw my cup away before I started running again, just so I didn't have to have a race photo of me walking. Bad positioning, seriously!

What's that, race photographers? Trying to catch me walking? I don't think so!
The next part of the course was that same stretch we already ran for miles 15-18. It at least felt good to be going and not coming like the runners on the opposite side of the road! I heard a girl on the other side ask a volunteer what mile she was at. The volunteer replied that mile 18 was just up ahead and I thought to myself, "Wow, I am so thankful to be 5 miles past that!" Running that far feels so surreal that I don't even think my brain registered that I was in new distance territory past 22 miles. I was so focused on getting to the finish. I got to mile 23 and was happy to only have 5k left. Then mile 24, only 2 miles! At that point I calculated that, unless I somehow pulled out a couple 9:30 miles (lol so not happening), my 4:45 goal was out the window, but I was still sure I'd only miss it by a few minutes and I was totally fine with that.

I had some cramps here and there for most of the race and just breathed through them, but for the last few miles I had one that just kept intensifying. It wasn't excruciating pain, thankfully, but it was just enough that I couldn't really speed up at the end like I had hoped to. I think I was just hungry. We ran through a waterfront park (more headwind yay!) before winding through the park back to the main road. 

I had driven some of the course the day before, so I knew exactly where mile 25 would be. I had been walking for about a minute before I got to 25. I told myself once I got there, I could walk for one more minute before running again and finishing this thing. I got to the mile marker and texted my husband to let him know I was almost there! My watch said my minute was up and it was go time! I had like 12 minutes left. I can do anything for 12 minutes!

I kept running and I could hear the announcer at the post-race party. I knew I was getting really close. I trudged on. Less than a mile to go. At 25.5 an older gentleman standing on the side of the road looked me in the eye and gave me the most sincere, "Well done" I've ever received. 

I turned a corner, and up ahead was the last big turn before winding through to the finish line. I was really hoping for a great kick at the end, and I tried, but my stomach just wasn't allowing me to.

I turned the next corner and up ahead was the mile 26 marker, and the post race party was going on just beyond it. Someone on the side of the road yelled, ".3 left! You got this!" I waited until I passed 26 and turned on my power song. Another turn. The finish was sooo close! As I approached another corner there were more and more people. I picked up the pace. I made the last turn and saw the finish. I was taken off guard a little, because it wasn't as grand of a spectacle as I was expecting. I don't even remember seeing a "Finish" banner. For a second I was afraid that what I was looking at wasn't even the finish line! 

I wish the quality were better (my husband's iPhone 5 died and he had to take this with my cousin's iPhone 4...), but it is so cool to have video of that moment!

Play-by-play of the above 15 seconds: I picked it up a little more. I looked for my family. I saw my husband. My music was on full volume. I let the guy in front of me go ahead a little so I wouldn't be in his photos and he wouldn't be in mine. I looked up at the cameras and put my hands straight in the air. I crossed the finish line!

I got my medal and a water and got my picture taken. I saw my husband first and jumped into his arms. I didn't cry. I was surprised. I would have bet money that I would have cried at the end. I was just happy to be done. I don't think it had really hit me yet. My dad had been on the other side of the street so it took him a minute to get over to me. We hugged and he picked me up and started crying, so I started crying. I saw the rest of my family and it was overwhelming and a little disorienting going from being alone for almost 5 hours to suddenly having a bunch of people all focused on me.

Obligatory Garmin splits:

Pretty obvious where the headwind was really bad, and where I started taking walk breaks. But heyyyy 10:07 pace at the end!

Afterward my posse followed me while I walked around like a chicken with its head cut off for a few minutes trying to decide between getting food, getting beer, and changing clothes. I decided to change and headed inside to do that. It probably took 15 or 20 minutes just because it took me forever to make any slight movement whatsoever. My legs were so stiff so after I changed I laid down on the floor with my feet up the wall, which felt amazing in case you were wondering.

When I finally finished changing clothes I got my free beer and grits and sat down to eat. We were sitting right across from where the official race vendor was set up. My husband walked over to see if they had any 26.2 stickers (I have a strict policy of waiting until after the race to purchase them). They didn't, but he saved the day by finding me a hoodie! (Remember my hoodie meltdown at the expo?) It wasn't the exact one that I wanted, but it was this year's, and in the correct size, and I was very happy.

One thing I wasn't happy with was the free beer selections. I had been abstaining from alcohol for a couple weeks and was so looking forward to that post-race beer and the Bud Light was just not cutting it. I'm not an alcoholic, just a beer snob. We went into a restaurant across the street and I got a real beer and some deviled eggs umm yum. And with that...the race was over! We could see the Mile 26 marker from the restaurant, and actually watched the last finishers come in, and then race organizers pick up the sign. Like really, it was totally over.

I really don't think I could have had a much better experience for my first marathon. The course was (mostly) great, the weather was great in my opinion (could have done without the wind but I like a cold but sunny day!), and I think I did a really good job of pacing myself. I wanted to have a good time more than I wanted to meet a time goal, and I really feel like I accomplished that. There were times were I didn't really feel like running anymore, but they passed pretty quickly. I never hit the wall or felt like I seriously couldn't go on. Maybe that means I ran it a little too conservatively, but honestly I never wanted to get to that point, and I'm happy I didn't. I really didn't know what to expect, especially for those last 6.2 miles, but I am happy with how they went. They weren't perfect, but they weren't as awful as I was afraid they'd be. Again, maybe that means I didn't run hard enough, but if what I did is wrong then I don't think I want to be right. Maybe next time, but not for my first one. I didn't feel like I was completely drained at the end. I didn't collapse at the finish line. I was tired, but I was happy, and that's a total victory in my book. 


  1. This sounds like a great first marathon experience!!!! I want to be happy and tired at the end and not collapse. I definitely view walking during runs differently now that I've done longer distances and I think they really hope relieve your muscles even if just for a minute. Can you come pace me for my marathon?!!! :)

  2. You're such a rockstar! Congrats on finishing, and with a fast time!! :)