Authors Note: I'm writing this blog post for several reasons. First, we want to communicate with our loved ones back home, and the blog offers an easy way to allow our family an insight to our daily lives. Secondly, much of my time leading up to the marathon was spent Googling the Kiawah Island Marathon. Previous runners'  experiences were immensely helpful, so I thought I'd give my point of view to anyone out there looking for some insight into a marathon at Kiawah. 

Six months ago, in June 2009, I decided to run farther, farther than I had ever run before. I am by no means fast, agile or elegant, but since I had run several half marathons in the past, I wanted to take the plunge and run a full marathon. However, the marathons here in Atlanta did not fit into the schedule that I wanted. The Atlanta Weather Channel Marathon on Thanksgiving day did not have the crowd that I wanted. The other Atlanta marathon, the ING Georgia Marathon, was too far off in March 2010.

So, I started looking for marathons. I wanted a marathon six months away, within driving distance, with a flat course, and that was located in a fun locale. Going through, I came across the Kiawah Island marathon in December of 2009.

Kiawah Island is a small barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. It's about a five hour drive from Atlanta, and about 30 minutes south of Charleston. Given the fact the barrier islands are nothing more than oversized sand-bars, the island is very flat.

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So, in June, I registered for the Kiawah Island Marathon on December 12, 2009. At that point, the race was just over six months away, which, I hoped, would give me ample time to train for the race. Overall the training went very well. There are an infinite number of marathon training regimens. While I would love to tell you that I stuck to the training program to the letter, this was definitely not the case. Life, work, friends, weather all get in the way of running at times, but that's okay by me. I used Hal Higdon's free marathon training guides, which can be found here.

Our journey started Friday, December 11, 2009:

We left early Friday morning and headed out to Kiawah Island. Libby did great on the drive. Despite the fact she watched the same Barney video too many times during the trip, she behaved wonderfully for an 18 month old little girl on a six hour car ride.

After the nearly six hour trip, we finally got onto the island. The pre-marathon expo was going on just across the street from the hotel registration. This also happened to be the Start/Finish line, so it was nice to see where it would all begin in approximately twelve hours. We got checked in and picked up the marathon packet, which contained the long-sleeve cotton t-shirt, the race bibb, and timing chip. I would have preferred a tech-T-shirt, as cotton is terrible to wear when running, but that's ok, I guess.

After checking in, we drove to the house that we were staying in, which was about a mile from the start of the marathon course. The house was a beautiful 2 story home, directly on the marsh. The sorrounding houses were actually much bigger, and I think that this was the smallest house on the island, but you could still fit two of our houses in decatur in this house.This was the view from our back porch.

We got settled in for the evening, prepared a chicken pasta dinner and waited on Helen and Jeff to arrive. They got in around nine that night, after going through the same check-in process. We all settled in for the night and, after staying up laughing until midnight or so, we all hit the sack.

Saturday, December 12, 2009: Race Day

Saturday morning started early. The official race start time was 8:00 AM, so I was up and out the door by 7:15 AM. I walked the short mile to the race start.

The race start area had plenty of Port-a-potties, and a three medium-sized tents for valuables. The labeling system for the bags was a roll of masking tape and a sharpie; low-cose but effective. Other blogs mentioned that they opened the conference room in the past for runners to stand out of the cold, but I don't know if this was true this year.

After sucking down the last bit of gatorade and eating my last cliff bar, I lined up for the start. There were pace signs for 7 min, 8 min, 9 min, 10 min and walkers. There may have been more pace signs, I just didn't see it. It was very crowded in where I was - between the 8 and 9 minute pace signs.

The race started promptly at 8:00 AM, and I crossed the start line about two and half minutes later. The first mile and half, and especially the first half mile were very congested. In fact, this was the most congested race start that I've been in. I think that the congestion is due to the fact that the road is only a two-lane road, and not the four lane roads I'm used to. Oddly, about a quarter mile into the race I passed several walkers. Why on Earth people would start in the early pace times, with the plan of walking the race blows my mind. It would be nice if the race directors had dedicated corrals in the future with a progressive start. This would help the severe congestion during the first mile.

After the first few miles, I settled into a rythym and it felt great. I kept a pace of just over 8:30 min/m for the first 10 miles. The course itself was absolutely gourgeous. Even coming from St. Simons Island, I didn't expect to be very impressed with the scenery, but I have to admit there were some stunning views during the run. On the way back in, to complete the first half-marathon, we were periodically on a somewhat narrow bike path adjacent to the slower runners. The bike path was narrower than I imagined, which made for passing slower runners very difficult. The bike path was also windier than the road, and hillier, but I just considered this to be a fact of the course, and tried not to think about it.

We made the turn at the half-marathon point at just under two hours. After finally getting some breathing room when the half marathoners were finished, the marathoners were left on the course alone. The race suddenly went from a fun, crowded racing experience to a lonelier, all-business atmosphere.The picture on the left is at mile 14, just after hitting the half-way point. As you can see in the background of the picture, the island has georgeous trees and landscaping throughout the island.

Miles 14 through 18 were not pleasant, but they were manageable. I followed a small group of guys for most of the way through the marathon. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but listening to others talk was way to keep my mind of how many more miles I had to go, which brings me to the question of running with headphones or not. Most races officially discourage running with headphones, based on the idea that you can't effectively hear others around you if you have headphones in your ear. I get that, I really do. But, to not have any music to listen to for 5 miles, or 10 miles, or 18 miles seems like I'm making the run more painful than it has to be. Like I mentioned earlier, many of the blog posts I read suggested that they derived a lot of late-race inspiration from people on the course. After the half marathon point, I kept one ear bud in, and tucked the other ear bud in my hat. I wanted to hear the sight and sounds of the marathon. It was nice hearing random people cheer during the race, but attempts at conversations with people on the course were met with polite grunts. Its okay, I sorta felt the same way.

The group of guys running were a little fast for my liking, so at about 19 miles, I fell behind. Miles 19 to 22 were long and painful. One of the best moments of the race was at mile 22, when I turned a corner and saw Amy, Libby and Jeff and Helen. I can't underscore enough the power of crowd support at about mile 22. It was exactly what I needed at that moment. I kept jogging past them, and hoped that I would see them at the finish line.

The rest of the race, from mile 23-26.2 got exponentially more difficult with each mile. The fact that the course is a double-loop has its advantages and disadvantages. First, it does allow you to know the course so you can know what to expect. However, I think that in this instance, knowing just how far I had was somewhat demoralizing. Granted, it was nice knowing exactly what to expect, but I knew that I had a long way to go.

I finally made to the last 2 yards to go in under four hours. Since many of the hours and hours I had run since June, had been spent thinking about Amy and Libby, I wanted to finish the race with Libby. Luckily, when i was about 35 yards away, I saw Amy and Libby on the left hand side of the road. I grabbed Libby and finished the race with Libby. I'm not sure that she totally 'got it,' but it was fun for me.

So, I made it to the finish line in under 4 hours. My official race time was 3:38:53, with a chip time of just under 3:56. I was pretty happy with my time. Like I said initially, I'm not fast or agile, so finishing in under 4 hours was all I wanted to do. I don't think that I'll ever have the speed to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but its fun to dream, I guess.

After Libby and I crossed the finish line, we met up with Helen and Jeff, snapped a few photos then headed back to the house for some rest, naps, and beer.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 and the rest of the trip

Unfortunately, Helen and Jeff had to head back to St. Simons Island on Sunday. It was great seeing them, as we had not seen them in quite a while.

We spent the rest of trip going to the beach, riding bikes, and spending some wonderful time as a family. I'll let Amy update the blog with more pictures from the rest of the trip in the coming days.

As always, click the image to enlarge.

AuthorMatthew Certain