Kiawah Island Half Marathon Recap


Where to start? Just come out and say this might have been my least favorite race ever? Because it might have been. No disrepect to Kiawah or the race organizers - it's not you, it's me.

I signed up for this December race last April, which is the farthest in advance I've registered for a race (not counting Ironman since they don't give you a lot of choice) in quite some time. Last March my cousin came up to DC to run Rock n Roll as his first half, and of course immediately afterward we started brainstorming for his next one. I'm originally from Charleston and all of my extended family lives there, including my cousin, so Kiawah jumped out to both of us. I'd heard so many good things about this race and it had been on my radar for a long time. One of the things I really wanted to do post-Ironman was start to finally start doing some of the races I'd put on hold over last couple of years because they would have interfered with my IM plans, so we decided that Kiawah was a go.

This race was 8 weeks after Ironman Louisville, and initially leading up to the race I had half a mind to get in a mini training cycle and try to PR (1:48). That idea quickly came to a halt after I ran a 1:57 half just 3 weeks post-IM that felt like the hardest race I'd ever run in my life, and I realized my legs just weren't ready for that kind of speed yet. My running in between Louisville and Kiawah was consistent, but not fast. After I let go of that short-lived PR dream, I still held onto the hope that I could run a 1:50-1:55ish (i.e. where all of my non-PR attempt and non-casual training run half marathons have landed in the last few years) and begin the process of getting back to my old times.
I had a cold for a solid week leading up to the race - I even skipped my last long run because it was on the day I'd started feeling really terrible, like need-a-nap-just-from-throwing-clothes-in-the-dryer terrible. I was in no shape to leave my couch to run even a mile, let alone the 10 or so I had planned. I actually don't think I've ever bailed on a long run immediately preceding a half marathon before but, you know, I'm an Ironman now. I figured I could wing it.

This race weekend ended up not being the one I had pictured in a variety of ways, including the weather. Part of the appeal of running Kiawah in the first place was to have a mini beach weekend, but it ended up being unusally cold for December in Charleston, and rainy to boot. The rain had finally mostly tapered off by race morning, but the clouds and cold temperatures were still hanging around. Perhaps I should have taken the hint right then and there.

My cousin had 2 friends running also, so pre-race we soaked up the heat in the general store/market next to the start line for as long as possible before heading out into the sea of runners. There were no corrals for this one, but there were pace groups with signs so that there was some kind of self-seeding. Maybe I started too far back, but I don't think it worked that well because I did more bobbing and weaving than usual, as the first couple of miles were extremely congested.

While I'm usually pretty good about remembering the details and specifics of my races, I really don't have a lot to say about this one because I just don't remember that much. Most of this race was an exercise in just making it to the next aid station, since that was more digestible to me than the thought of how many miles I had left to go (a little trick I picked up from IM). I think I walked most aid stations and got water. I remember feeling really dehydrated for some reason. 

I will be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the course, just because the scenery got a little repetitive, as we basically made a big loop around the island through residential streets, and off an on some bike paths that go around the island. I was disappointed in the fact that there was only a - not exaggerating, I measured it - 0.1-mile portion where we could actually see the ocean. My fault for not researching the course more, and I always shake my head at people who make the same incorrect assumption about the Shamrock course, so I really should know better. 

When I had originally thought about trying to PR this race, it wasn't necessarily because I wanted to update my PR board (although that would have been nice). My main motivation was to run a strong race, as I was planning to begin training for a marathon PR in the spring shortly after Kiawah, and I really wanted to set myself up for that. I wanted to go into marathon training feeling strong and confident and having regained some of the speed I'd lost to almost 2 full years of Ironman training. 

I felt like I needed some kind of shift in my running approach, so when I realized this probably wasn't going to be a PR day for me, I gave myself a process goal of not looking at my watch during this race and running on feel. I haven't consistently run the 8:30ish pace I was hoping to run at Kiawah in quite a while, so I wanted to see if I could tap into that again naturally. There were so many times during the race that I wanted to look at my watch, to verify whether or not what my brain was telling me about my pace was accurate, but I tried my hardest not to. 

I really, really, really, tried to make it all 13.1 miles without looking at my watch. I really did. But by 9 miles in I could tell that I was simultaneously pushing myself too hard and falling behind on my time goal (even though I didn't look at my watch, there were time clocks at most mile markers so I was able to cheat a little bit that way), and the wheels were starting to come off. My stomach was hurting really badly and I had decided to stop at the next porta-potty I came to. At that point I felt so defeated that I finally looked at my watch to check my pace which, in turn, made me feel even more defeated since it told me pretty much what I was expecting: I was running a hair slower than I had planned/hoped to (~8:40s), and it felt a hundred times harder than I had expected it would. 

The first 9.5 miles hadn't gone particularly well, but once I came out of the porta-potty things went downhill really quickly. I tried to tell myself I only had 30 more minutes of running, but it was no use. The last 3.6 miles were downright torture. By mile 10 I wanted to be done with that race more than I have wanted to be done with anything in my whole life. I think I might have actually called Ben around mile 11 and told him I was done with running forever and, at the time, I really meant it. At mile 12 I promised myself that if I made it to the finish line I would hang up my running shoes at least until the new year, if not for an indefinite period of time.

After what felt like an eternity I could tell that I was finally making my way back to where I had started close to 2 hours prior, but even getting through the last half mile or so felt like it took forever. I knew my 1:55 goal was gone but I ran as hard as I could to try to sneak in under 1:56. I finished in 1:56:09, which I know is a really good time, especially considering that I felt like I had been trapped in a personal hell for those 116 minutes, but it wasn't a time or a race I was happy with. I don't think I felt good or happy during any point of this race, and I'm honestly not sure that has ever happened to me before. It wasn't so much that anything felt wrong, just that nothing felt right or good the whole time I was running, and that's really sad. Not being able to be proud of a 1:56 half is sad. The fact that I didn't make it through the whole race without looking at my watch made me sad. The whole thing was just...sad. Luckily, the 3 other people I ran with all had awesome races and there were PRs and first half marathons to celebrate!

All things considered, I have no idea what caused me to have such a bad time from the get-go, or my serious downward spiral in the last few miles. I felt bad overall but not that bad, like not bad enough to warrant giving up running. Maybe it was a culmination of everything I've put my body and mind through over the last couple of years. Maybe pushing and pushing and pushing myself finally got to me, and I just snapped. Maybe I finally reached my breaking point.

Or maybe I just didn't like this race. The island is beautiful, the race was very well-organized (especially considering there are no sponsors - Kiawah just has THAT much money), the warm, chartered buses to and from the parking lot (it's a private community so if you're not staying on-island, you have to park in a field a couple miles out and take the shuttle to the start) were much-appreciated, the post-race food and beverages were excellent (no standard fare like bananas and bagels for these swanky folks - there was chickpea salad, couscous, cornbread muffins, fresh brownies, hot chocolate, coffee, local craft beer...), the swag was solid. There was was nothing wrong with the race itself and, in a lot of ways, it exceeded my normal race expectations. The only thing wrong was me.

Looking back, training for and completing an Ironman 8 weeks before this race took a lot out of me. I bounced back fairly quickly after IMNC last year and was honestly expecting to do the same this year. On paper, the only difference between this year's Ironman training and racing year and last year's was an extra 56 miles on the bike - considering the literally thousands I'd covered in training, how much difference could another 56 make? It didn't sound like a lot, but those 56 miles made a world of difference during the race and, now that I've done 84.6 and 140.6, I would even go so far as to say that that the second half of the full bike is what makes the Ironman. Given that, I should have known better than to think my recovery would mirror my recovery last year, and I suppose it's my fault for trying to do too much too soon. 

In the end, this didn't end up being the race I was looking forward to, and it's not exactly one that I'm eager to return to. So many people love this race and maybe one day when I can better adjust my expectations I'll come back for the race I wanted, but for now I'm looking forward to moving on and hopefully getting my redemption in my spring half marathons! 

1 comment

  1. I've heard good things about this race and was curious why it was such a lousy experience for you, but boy, does this explain it! It reminds me a lot of how I felt about Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas in November -- the race as a concept and a thing was fine, but the race for me was MISERY. I guess we all just have bad days. Sometimes it's obvious why and sometimes it's not so obvious, but either way, it doesn't make the experience any more pleasant. I'm sorry the race was such a bummer for you :( And I hope your upcoming halves go a lot better and make you feel better about your running abilities!