Monday, December 12, 2016

Running Through A Resort -- Kiawah Island Race Report

State #38, Marathon #47. (Geez, I am suddenly very close to 50 marathons! How did that happen?) This one was not on my race calendar originally. I decided to do it because I was discussing it with my running friend Dennis. Both of us had passing interest in doing Kiawah even though I had pretty much decided my South Carolina race would be Myrtle Beach next year. And this is how races are impulsively signed up for, with two people agreeing with each other that, yeah, that one might be fun. Next thing you know, BOOM! Out come the credit cards and another trip is being planned, and THAT, my friends, is why running friends are dangerous. But I digress.

I flew to Atlanta because Dennis lives there and because flights to Atlanta are always cheap, so I could ride with him to Kiawah. It was about a five-hour drive, which is nothing to a Marathon Maniac. (I consider "driving distance" to be anything within 12 hours of my house, approximately, though I can be flexible on that when needed.) South Carolina is one of only three U.S. states I have never visited, the other two being North Dakota and Hawaii. I was excited, but really it just looked like Georgia, and by the time we got anywhere near the beach, it was too dark to see anything.

Kiawah Island is a very fancy golf resort. It is way, way too fancy for me. We had to have a pass just to get onto Kiawah Island, which is about half an hour from Charleston. If you felt like spending a lot of money, you could stay "on-island" in a rental. Our kind stays "off-island" in a Best Western. Once we got to Charleston, we still had to drive half an hour to pick up our packets on the island. There was a very fancy pre-race dinner going on, which at $35 a person we skipped. (We ate at Jimmy John's.) The menu included all of the following: organic local greens, fresh local vegetables, oak smoked free range chicken truffle lemon butter, baked ziti bolognese, aged sharp provolone, Burden Creek goats milk cheese, honey basil brined roast pork steamship, red wine pepper glaze, fresh local collards, Ambrose Farms fresh local harvest vegetables, bacon braised lentils with garlic roasted local potatoes, and baked macaroni and cheese. Yeah, WAY too fancy for me. My friend John from Tucson was also at this race, but because he was pacing it, he got to stay on-island for free. Pacing this race is the way to go. I had planned to find John at packet pick-up, but we were only there for about five minutes and then were so hungry we had to leave. By the time he texted me back we were walking to the car and too hungry to change course. I decided I would just see him in the morning.

The bummer about staying off-island is that the line of cars to get on-island on race morning is a pain in the ass. We left Charleston at 5:45 for an 8:00 race start 22 miles away, and it took us over an hour to get parked in the off-island lot, where we caught a shuttle to the island. It was cold, but not nearly as cold as Michigan. The wait to get into the parking lot was totally compensated for by the complete absence of Porta-Pottie lines. I have never been at any race with more adequate bathroom facilities, and this was a moderately large race with 3800 runners between the half and the full. The other awesome thing about this start line was that there were plenty of heated buildings to hang out in. One of them was a market that was serving much better food than McDonalds. I ate my bacon and cheese sandwich with about 15 minutes till start time, and was thankful for my (usually) strong stomach.

We left the building at 10 minutes before start time. I found John, who was leading the 3:35 pace group, and had just time to tap him on the shoulder and say hi before I headed back to the 4:00 pace group. I had no special time goal, just hoping to break four hours as usual.

This is a meandering course. At first it is really, really pretty. It goes through forests of big oak trees draped in Spanish moss and past beautiful rich people's vacation houses. And then, it does more of those things, and then more. After about eight or nine miles, the beauty turned monotonous. (It reminds me of that saying, that there's no woman so beautiful that some man isn't tired of sleeping with her.) The weather was chilly, high 30's at the start, but it was comfortable by Mile Three, and then a little warm. The hat got stuffed into my bra at Mile Two, the gloves got stuffed into my waistband by Mile Three, my long sleeves were rolled up by Mile Five, and I was wishing I'd opted for shorts instead of tights by Mile Eight. The perfection of the island started to annoy me. All the roads had "perfect" names -- Summer Duck Way and Sea Forest Drive and Summer Tanager and Bulfinch and et cetera. No Main Street, I guess. Also, with all of those huge, beautiful houses, there were hardly any signs of life. I know, it was cold and who would want to be outside if they didn't have to? Also, I know there are a lot of vacation homes that aren't always occupied. But still... creepy. Every once in a while we ran out of the oak forests and into sunny, open areas with views of salt marshes or the Atlantic Ocean. I wish there had been more of that and less oak tree/house scenery, but I have to admit that this is not a bad course if you're just talking about running it. There are enough turns to keep it interesting, and it is very flat. There were lots of good times run on this course, and a lot of people love it, it just wasn't my type. ("It's not you, Kiawah Island, it's me.")

I felt mostly fine through the course other than persistent mental whining that I didn't like the scenery and I was bored and wanted to be done so I could hang out with John and Dennis and eat and drink. My foot hurt a little, the plantar fasciitis foot, but just enough to nag, not enough to slow me down. My stomach was mildly unsettled, but not nearly as bad as that poor dude I saw at Mile Eighteen or so. Well, I didn't see him so much as hear him. I was running with one ear bud in, and I heard a crashing in the bushes ahead that sounded bigger than a squirrel. I glanced off to the side and saw an orange T-shirt. and then I heard some noises that I really wished I hadn't heard, noises you should really only hear in a bathroom, noises that made me wish I had both ear buds in. Someone was having a worse race than I was! (And there was a Porta-Pottie not a tenth of a mile past where he had jumped into the woods... if only he had known.)

I had broken away from the 4:00 pace group before the half and was still in front of them. I knew I would be under four hours unless something went disastrously wrong. Nothing did. I finished in a middling 3:53-something (Apple watch said one thing, Garmin another, chip time yet another) but was glad to be under 4:00. This race is supposed to have great post-race food but it didn't, unless I missed it. It had standard fare plus brownies and hot bean soup. The soup was really good, or maybe I just appreciated that it was hot. The one thing this race did have was seriously unlimited beer. The volunteers were just standing behind the table pouring and replacing cups as fast as people were grabbing them. There didn't even appear to be any checking of wristbands or even numbers. (I had a sweatshirt covering my bib and no one ever asked to see it.) So if you want free beer, do this race.

One of the perks of knowing a pacer is that we had a really, really nice place to hang out and shower after the race. We ended up spending the whole rest of the evening there before driving back to Charleston for the night. The experience reminded me again that there's really only two groups of people I almost always enjoy hanging out with -- marathoners, and guide dog instructors. The rest of the world can go fly a kite.

All in all, I would say this is a well-organized race with a nice medal and nice T-shirt. You know if you are the type of person who would enjoy hanging out on a golf resort or not -- if you are, you'd probably enjoy this race; if not, you probably wouldn't. All things being equal, I would choose Myrtle Beach over this one if I had the choice to make again, but only if John and Dennis also came to Myrtle Beach.

This is my last marathon of 2016. I'm in the final stages of planning my race calendar for next year and will post that as soon I've got it solidified. Now it's time to sit back, relax, and get ready for the holiday eating!

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