Race Recap: Columbia SC Marathon

Back in January, about a month before marathon #2 (Myrtle Beach – Feb 18), I picked up a running partner, Carrie. This has been a dramatic game changer and I will always be so grateful that I finally relented on my “I don’t run with people” rule. Turns out that all those long runs are way more fun with a partner in crime. And Carrie wears a ninja mask if it’s really cold. Safety in numbers and scary gear helps too, people. Carrie was training for the Columbia Marathon (Mar 10) so our training schedules lined up pretty well and we fell into a naturally agreeable pace and conversation pattern. All was well. Until that time Carrie tried to kill me on a mountain in Columbia, South Carolina.

Here’s how it went down:

Carrie dragged me, at gunpoint, down to Columbia and attempted to sacrifice me on the south’s version of the Rocky Mountains. It was terrifying. Thank goodness she held that pineapple GU in front of my face to lure me through the last few miles.

Okay. Not really.

Carrie staged a relentless, high pressure campaign and coerced me into registering and then she kicked me in the shins at the starting line and laughed at my expense for the next 4.5 hours. Thank goodness she cut open a pack of Pineapple GU and let me have a teaspoon of it at mile 20.

Okay. Not really.

Really, Carrie said,”You should think about doing Columbia with me” and I was all,”Duh, what time do we leave?”. Then there was a hill and I started whining. Then I saw piles and piles of Pineapple GU glittering in the sun at every aid station and, for that few minutes every couple of miles, I wept with joy.

And then Carrie choked me with a Pineapple GU because she was so sick of hearing about the damn GU.

All right back to the bloodbath. er, the race report.

Let me start by saying that this was an inaugural event. I do not recall ever doing an inaugural event before but, especially in the past year, they tend to get rough reviews and leave people annoyed and flustered. Seems that new events have had issues with running out of supplies, giving bad directions and not managing snafus very well. This event was the first marathon that Columbia, SC has had in 12 years and it was handled perfectly from start to finish. Every detail was in place, supplies were abundant and volunteers were on the ball every minute. Parking was ample and cheap. Packet pick up/expo was super quick. The swag bag/t-shirt was good. I tend to get flustered and fly off the handle when dealing with even a minor cluster at an event and not once did I have to mutter a single profanity or shake my fist in the air. Well, until the running began but the race director couldn’t have solved that for me. Unless maybe he’d hidden a segway on the course for me. That would have been nice.

The most shining example of race fabulousness was the extra super aid stations. I’ve done three half marathons and three full marathons. Each one promised water, sports drink and fuel (shot blocks, gel, GU). Fuel is usually only promised at two later mile stations like 16 and 20. Thunder Road, in Charlotte 2011, did have shot blocks as promised but they had cut open the packages and volunteers were trying to give people a handful of sticky blocks. Ick. Myrtle Beach ran out of GU way before I got to the station that was supposed to have them. I never count on race supplied fuel so I’m not personally impacted but its crappy to promise something and then be stingy about it or run out really early. Columbia had bananas, pretzels, water, sports drink and GU at tons of aid stations. I was able to leave all the GU I brought in my SPI belt and fuel entirely off race supplied GU. To top it off they offered my very favorite GU, Pineapple Roctane! I still feel giddy when I think about my first glimpse of that glorious little packet when eagle-eye Carrie spied them from a far and then grabbed one for me. I think I even squealed.

Anyway, turned out this course was quite hilly. We expected hills but these hills were so not kidding about it. We went out fast and with a fast goal in mind. Around the 10 mile mark I told Carrie I wasn’t going to be making that goal today and I encouraged her to leave me for dead. She wouldn’t leave. Not even when I threatened to cry about it. This was Carrie’s first marathon and she spent a good chunk of time talking me down from the ledge. I got really stressed out about wrecking her run. I felt so guilty and yet so grateful that she was there. So we soldiered on for a handful of agonizing miles.

The course was really quite pretty but it was also two loops of the same course. I didn’t realize how tough that would be. When I had crashed out towards the end of the first loop all I could think about was how there was no way I could do some of those hills a second time. I also never considered how tough it might be to literally run through the finish area and have to keep heading out for that second loop. I might have glanced around for something to twist my ankle on at that point. Maybe.

Miraculously, I got a strong second wind around mile 15-16 and started feeling pretty great. It was still too late to make a crazy time goal but it was good to feel good. A few miles after my second wind came in, I noticed Carrie wasn’t talking anymore. She’d hit her own low point now. It was nice to get to return the favor with some pep talks but I kept hoping I hadn’t sunk her with my dramatics early in the game.

We spent the last few miles cracking jokes with spectators, plotting our next race strategy and just generally turning our relatively small pile of lemons into lemonade. We finished proud with smiling faces and a 4:37 time.

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Not too shabby, especially when you account for two different “hitting the wall” type episodes, walking the last few big hills and several stops for me to loot the aid stations for extra Pineapple GU to stuff in my sports bra. That GU is $2.50 a pop, folks, and it was just sitting there. I only took one per station in the second loop, coming home with 6 little lovelies.

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All in all, it was a well run race on a pretty but challenging course. Would I do it again? The day of I flat-out said no way. A week later, I’d say maybe. If it fit in with my other plans then yeah I’d do it. It was such a well managed event, relatively close to home and the challenges I hit had little to do with the race itself and more to do with how I ran it.

Lessons learned:

START SLOW. Charging out the gate did not serve me well.

Going for a big goal is cool but sometimes going big can equal crashing big. That just means we were really trying hard. It was worth a shot.*

Go in with a plan A, plan B and plan C. We went in with an ambitious time goal that I think we could have managed on a flat course. When I faltered and started getting upset about not making that goal, we should have had a plan B in mind that could have set our minds on instead.

Know that a second wind is possible. I can’t even begin to tell you how comforting it was to discover that all was not lost and that I could physically bounce back. I’m actually somewhat grateful for the crash just for that part of it.

I can run a race without music. This was a first for me and it was so much fun. I jibber jabbered with spectators. Met other runners. Sweet talked volunteers into looking through their stash for more Pineapple GU.

*I know the focus of the blog is going long instead of going fast but I do still have time goals in mind. Nothing crazy but just ideas to keep me working at it.

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