Race Report: 2013 Columbia Marathon

Mar 19, 2013 by

Race Report: 2013 Columbia Marathon

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” That familiar phrase, borrowed from the opening of Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, pretty much sums up my 2013 Columbia Marathon experience.  Let’s break it down.

The Best of Times

The Event

  • Good expo: The expo moved from the Columbia Convention Center to the Columbia Marriott.  No big deal there.  Easy bib and shirt pickup.  Then I wandered around the vendor area and made a couple of impulse buys – red Headsweats beanie for the forecasted cold start and a pouch n attachment for my iFitness belt.
  • Shirt: Hands down best event shirt I’ve ever received.

Participants Shirts. Image Courtesy of Columbia SC Marathon.

  • Weather: Good weather.  Sunny and a cold 32 degrees at the start, but it was close to 60 degrees by the end.  Perfect running weather, unless you were dumb enough to wear a long sleeve shirt (guilty!)
  • Course change down Main St = two thumbs up.   This made the 2012 finish seem little league.
  • Another improvement over last year: excellent course mile markers, complete with balloons.

My Experience

First, a tip: On race days, set a backup alarm.  I woke Saturday to my iPhone vibrating and playing music.  I looked at the regular alarm clock, and it was on, but the local radio station was out, so no music alarm!.  Had I not set the backup alarm, I may have slept through the start.

Pre Race

I arrived downtown around 6:30am, right on schedule.  The start change was near the Governor’s Cup start and also near a place I once worked.  I knew the area well and easily found a parking space right where I wanted.  I started walking around to warm up, and returned to the car to get my coat.  It was 32 degrees and windy.  Brrr.  By 7:10 I had warmed up enough with a 2 mile walk/easy run and returned to the car to drop off the coat and long pants.  Off to the start!

I came up with this crazy strategy where I’d run try to run at an 8:20 per mile pace on all miles expect the 2nd pass up Trenholm Road, where I’d like by closer to a 10:00/mile pace. This is called banking.  This is a fairly universal no-no in long distance running.  It just doesn’t work. I was going to try it, though.  No one’s life or livelihood was riding on my performance, so why not?  If I could manage this, I’d end up somewhere in the range of an 8:30/mile pace and a PR around 3:45.  If I bombed, I could write it in my blog and remind others not to use that strategy.

First Loop

My marathon race history told me this strategy was too aggressive.  Race time predictor charts said my marathon times should be closer to 3:35:00, based on my 5K, 10K, and half marathon times.  I felt really good on the first loop, and ran it around 1:48.  I clicked my watch screen over to show pace per mile and saw that I was at an 8:14/mile clip.  Wow.  That  was too fast, I thought.  I was going by feel, at this point though, and I felt great.  My play list selection for this section said it all – Carry On by fun.  On I went.  Perhaps a better tune would have been the theme from Jaws.

The Worst of Times

So here it is at halftime of the big game.  The home town hero is up 30 points on the defending champs and the locals are getting excited.  The half marathoners are gone and I make my way back down Sumter Street and hang a left on Blossom Street.  Just as I head down the steep hill,  my mile 14 split sounded and the time shows 8:09.  This is the same hill at mile 12.5 or so of the Governor’s Cup.  It is nice to be going down this hill for a change, instead of cursing it going the other direction.

After bottoming out as we passed Maxcy Gregg park, I hang a right on Saluda Street and the sleeping giant that is loop two of the Columbia Marathon woke up.  And it was not happy with the butt kicking I had administered on loop one.  The Saluda Street hill hits me hard.  I felt like I was walking.  I managed an 8:52 split for the mile.   Earlier I had managed 8:24 on the mile that contained this hill.  Those extra 30 seconds seemed like 5 minutes.  My wheels were not just a little wobbly now, I had run over a spilled load of nails, and my tires had holes.  I started leaking air fast.

At this point, I told myself, ‘OK, that is not too bad.  The first really bad mile, but your overall pace is still around 8:15.  If you can manage 8:45 or better from here on out, then the average will be 8:30 and the goal will be met.’  So, on mile 16, I recovered slightly and managed 8:39.   Problem was, this section was fairly flat.  My body was shutting down.  In fact, miles 17  through 19 didn’t have any scary hills. I needed to get back on pace, but I could only manage 8:44, 8:41, and 8:58.  Then the last section of the Lake Katherine neighborhood decided to throw in a couple of sucker punches before Trenholm Road and knocked me back to 9:18 and 9:48 for miles 20 and 21.  If my run was the televised game of the week, the network would be changing to another game at this point.

Mile 22.  My arch nemesis, and I don’t have any fight left in me .  I’m staring up Trenholm Road.  My overall pace is still sub 8:30 per mile, but now the beast is just playing with me.  I try to keep the keep moving, but I have to succumb to walking and some sort of foot shuffle that probably doesn’t resemble a run.  At the aid station in front of Westminster Presbyterian Church, I ask a volunteer if I’m winning.  She looks confused for a second, then laughs.  Delirium has set in.  Miles 22 and 23 are a brutal 10:01 and 10:26.    Overall pace 8:38.  Fans are leaving the stands.

There’s one last downhill section during mile 24.  I try my best to push it.  Landscapers at a house on Gervais Street look at me like I’m crazy.  They may be right.  Mathematically, I still have a chance to beat 3:50.  At this point, I’m too hot and regretting the long sleeve shirt.  Despite the downhill and thinking I was moving decent again, I can only manage 9:46 for mile 24.

Mile 25 contains the last hill – a short steep quarter mile or so up Gervais Street before turning right on Pickens.  I have to once again succumb to walking.  During this hill, I have a sudden onset of nausea and light headedness.  I manage not to throw up or pass out, and  I’m coherent enough to realize I’m in trouble.  I tried to breathe deep and just make it to the top of the hill.  I have some water in my water bottle, but I need Gatorade with sugar.   I take a sip of my water and pour the rest on my head.

I turn right on Pickens and hope to see an aid station.  Not yet, but the course is now flat again, and I’m feeling better, so I try to run again.  Eventually, I see the aid station and yell out ‘Gatorade!’ as I approach.  The young guy is kind enough to ask something like “Blue or Purple?” “I don’t give a crap” is my response.   At least they laughed. I down the two small cups of Gatorade and keep on.  Mile 25 split: An awful 11:11.  Only about a mile to go.    I start running again, and a few blocks later I turn left on Richland Street.  Just one more turn and it’s straight down Main Street to the finish.

At this point, my finale song is playing, Top of The World by Van Halen (Live and Sammy Hagar version of VH, of course).  Unfortunately, I’m not going to make my 3:45 goal.  I turn on Main Street, and there’s just over a quarter mile to go.  Mile 26 split goes off – 10:32. I can see the State House dome and there’s a bit more of a crowd thanks to some Saturday morning street market. My playlist starts over, and I try to push it.  My calves are starting to feel like cramps coming on.   The cramps hold off, and I complete the final .2 in about 2:29, right at a 9:00/mile pace.  Someone hangs a finisher’s medal around my neck and guides me to a photo spot.  They snap two pictures, and I need a banana…

My final official time was 3:52:57, an 8:55/mile pace.  I finished 8th out of 36 in the 45-49 age group.  My first half was about 1:48 and the second half was 2:05.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

For complete results, click here.


The Collapse in Chart Form


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Columbia Marathon 2012 – Additional Ramblings

Mar 14, 2012 by

Columbia Marathon 2012 – Additional Ramblings

Earlier this week, I posted my Columbia Marathon review.  Now that I’ve had a few more days to reflect, I have some thoughts to add.

Ideas For Next Year

Need More Cowbell

One thing the marathons I have completed (a whopping 3) have in common is lack of spectators.   Most, if not all, runners are used to this.  We train countless hours in solitude.  I understand watching long distance running MAY not be the most exciting thing, but on the rare occasion when there is a crowd, it is appreciated.  How can this be improved for Columbia?

University of South Carolina was on spring break, and that might have been strategic on the race director’s part, but as I ran down Green Street and then on Sumter Street in front of the U.S.C. Horseshoe, I could almost hear crickets chirping.   What about a U.S.C. pep band in this area or some bands in other areas?  What about a noise contest between fraternities and sororities as we passed the Greek Village on Blossom Street?

Contest Within The Contest

In the neighborhoods, we passed several churches, but only one had any people outside cheering (both laps!) – thanks Wesley Memorial UMC! .   Maybe  churches and other business organizations could setup unofficial aid/cheer stations.  Perhaps someone can come up with an idea to get  neighborhoods more involved to put on a display (adopt-a-street?, “Welcome to the neighborhood” signs?) and get a crowd.  Some humorous motivational signs up Trenholm Road would have been funny.  The runners could then vote on the best street/area at the end.  I think the now defunct Labor Day 15K at Ben Lippen did something like this.

Finish Announcer?

Maybe this is impractical for a large race, but one nice feature of some races is an announcer who lets the crowd know runners’ names as they approach the finish line.

Random Personal Notes

My quads ached for two days.

The official website lists the marathon as having 653 feet of elevation gain. That’s roughly the equivalent of climbing 65 flights of stairs.  I think that it had more.  Either way, it is no wonder my quads hurt.

Near the end, as I struggled up the Gervais Street hill the second time, a young girl blew past me.  “Curse, you, young person,” I thought, “How can you be that fast up hill at this point?”  Then I noticed her Newton shoes.  I smiled. “Go, Girl!”

One lady had a sign that said ‘Your feet hurt because of all that @$$ you’re kickin!’  I wanted to ask her: Since my @$$ was hurting so bad, was I the one getting kicked?

In the mid-late ’90’s I worked at a small, now defunct  start-up company in Columbia. We had less than 15 employees at that time, I think, and no runners.  This weekend, three of those former co-workers completed marathons, one even at the bottom of the world!  Congrats, Ben and Dean!

Here’s a video of Ben talking about his experience (6th video down the page, labeled 3 Friends Talk about the race): http://www.thestate.com/2012/03/10/2187014/videos-columbia-sc-marathon-2012.html

In the 13 weeks leading up to and including the race, I logged 353 running miles and 141 exercise bike miles, totaling 73 1/2 hours of training.  That’s just over 27 miles running and 5 1/2 hours of training per week.  My wife might argue that seems too little, but the GPS watch software doesn’t lie!

Here’s the video my son shot as I finished:




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Columbia Marathon 2012 Review

Mar 11, 2012 by

Columbia Marathon 2012 Review

On March 10, 2012, I ran in the inaugural Columbia, SC Marathon.  The event had around 550 runners in the full marathon and 750 in the half.

Here are my thoughts on the race in general:

First, let me start out saying that Dan Hartley and his team did a wonderful job organizing this event.  Organizing a race of this magnitude is quite an undertaking and it seemed to go off  smoothly.  I did not experience any major problems and did not hear any complaints. Also, I don’t know what kind of deal he made to bring  the “Chamber of Commerce” weather, but that was an added bonus.

Headquarters: The Columbia Convention Center served as ground zero for all the marathon activities. This proved to be an excellent choice -plenty of room for the race expo and other activities. Plenty of restroom facilities (at least for the men. Do women ever have enough?) Also, this was a nice place to duck in before the race to get warm. That was a cold wind whipping down Lincoln street before the race!

Race Swag: Easily one of the best race shirts I have received (or will receive. I signed up right before the deadline for shirt guarantee, so mine hasn’t arrive yet). The medals were really good, too, with the Columbia Famously Hot, Surprising Cool slogan and a cutout  of the city skyline (see below). I believe everyone received a State Farm happy sack, too, with the obligatory coupons and other race announcements.

Aid stations: Plenty of stations with water, Gatorade and Gu. One minor suggestion I’d make would be to have the water coolers more easily accessible for people carrying their bottles to refill.

Race Bib With Name

Misc: The race bibs had our names on them. That is always a nice touch and appreciated, especially when the three cute girls at mile 5 yelled “Go, Greg”.

The bibs also had the lightweight timing chips applied to the back. I like this system much better than the shoe chips.

The post race spread was pretty good, too – bananas, granola bars, mini bagels and water.

Weather:  As I mentioned in my preview, I was concerned about the weather. Mid-March in Columbia can have a wide variety of weather. I was mostly concerned about too hot – this is the Famously Hot Columbia Marathon after all. Thankfully, the weather was just about perfect, ranging from about 40 degrees at the start to the mid-50’s, I think, when I finished.

Here are a couple of minor changes I suggest:

1. As mentioned earlier, put water and/or Gatorade coolers at the end of the aid stations to allow easier refilling of personal water bottles.  I carried my own to better judge fluid intake and this would have been helpful.  I used the coolers that were there, I just had to wander back behind the tables. The Kiawah Marathon encourages people to bring their own bottles to reduce cup waste and provides easy access to coolers.

2.  If the post race spread had any sports drink, I completely missed it.  So, I’d like to see a sports drink option.  I’d also like to see chicken noodle soup.  Yep, chicken noodle soup. Myrtle Beach had this last year and it may have been the best cup of soup ever.

Am I just missing the finish clock?

3.  A bigger clock at the finish or at least above the finish line.  Unless I was too out of it (entirely possible) I don’t remember seeing a clock at the end of the race.  In the picture to the right, I’m not sure what that clock on the left means that says 7:49.

In summary:  As you can see my suggestions are very minor picky issues, which hopefully tells you this was a good race.  I think it was an excellent start to what hopefully will become a popular southeastern race.

For additional coverage by The State newspaper, click here.

My Experience: I get by with a little help from my friends

OK, now the part you’ve been waiting for. How was my race? There are 3 Chapters: Going Strong, Going For It, and Going South.

Chapter One: Going Strong

I arrived in plenty of time to get a good free parking space at the Colonial Center, a few blocks from the Convention Center. The 39 degree pre-sunrise temperature made for a chilly warm up, especially with the brisk wind whipping down Lincoln Street as I headed toward the Convention Center.  After trying to get loose by walking and some easy jogging, I hung out in the Center for a bit to stay warm.  About 7 am, I headed to the starting line. The race started right on time (7:15) with some pre-race 2001 and Sandstorm music to get us pumping.  Oh yeah, the young girl, 12?, who sang the national anthem was amazing.

As in my previous two marathons, the first half went really well. I didn’t notice too much wind as the race went on and the temperature warmed nicely into the fifties. The dreaded Trenholm  Road and Gervais Street climbs went very well, and I made the first loop in 1:55, right on target.  At this point, though, the race became pretty lonely as the half marathoners finished up.

Greg and Ben After the Race. Photo courtesy of Ben’s wife, Ally.

My first sign of trouble came at the Saluda Avenue hill as I climbed toward the mile 15 aid station. I didn’t remember it being very steep the first time around, but this time was a different story.  On the first loop, I had run this section with an old friend and former co-worker, Ben, who was running his first marathon.  That and early race adrenaline helped.  No Ben and no adrenaline now.  I told myself the easy part was officially over.

My friend Craig was working the mile 15 aid station and had my gels I needed for the rest of the way.  I had changed gel brands during this training cycle, so I was not taking the Gu’s provided by the race.  Carrying the four gels I had planned for the race was too bulky for my race belt, so Craig’s placement at this station worked out well.  This was right at my 2:15 mark, and I was due my third gel of the day. That and some water perked me up a bit, but by the 16 mile mark, my mind was starting to drift as I ran alone.

Chapter Two: Going For It
At this point I had not paid much attention to pace. I had been feeling good, but being alone now, my mind was starting to drift. This is when I made a decision that probably contributed immensely to the Going South part of this story.  The 3:45 pace group passed me, and I made the impulse decision to hop on board. New friends!

Before the race, I had no expectations of beating my personal best on this course.  I felt breaking 4 hours would be considered a victory, given the tough hills.  I certainly don’t usually recommend changing strategies during a race, but I felt good and felt I had sub-4:00 in the bag.  Why not, I thought.  Let’s go for it.

For the next 6 miles the excellent pacer lead us up and down hills, shouting out technique instructions that really helped keep me focused. This was actually a lot of fun.  If I could keep pace with this guy, a PR would be in the books on a brutal course. Unfortunately, Trenholm Road awaited.

Chapter Three: Going South
As we approached the 22 mile mark and the beginning of the long climb up Trenholm, only a couple of the 10 or so people at mile 16 remained with the pacer, and I was done.   The legs were protesting mightily!  I stopped to walk a bit and watched the pacer’s bright yellow shirt start fading into the distance. A run/walk strategy got me up Trenholm, but it seemed twice as long as the first time. I managed to average 10:12 per mile on this two mile stretch, a far cry from the 8:40 or so I had been logging.

Mile 24 brought a much needed break from the hills. A this point, I started keeping my eyes out for another friend, Bobby. He planned to meet me around here to help me finish up. He was doing the same thing for a faster finisher and would be coming back to meet me. I spotted him around mile 24 1/2.

At this point 3:45 was out of the question, but I held a bit of hope for 3:50. I don’t think I was too coherent as Bobby encouraged me and led the way home.  After the final steep hill up Gervais and another 10:00+ mile, 3:50 was no longer the target. Now, I just wanted to finish. When the finish line FINALLY came into view, I just let the downhill take me in. I wanted to pick up the pace but couldn’t.

At The Finish – Finally!

My final official time was 3:53:03, an 8:54 per mile pace and 134th place out of 545.

Final Thought

I don’t know if I’ll do the full marathon again.  My marathon training is usually limited to one a year, and I like to change venues each time.  However, I will probably make the half a regular part of my spring season.  If they figure out a way to flatten Trenholm Road, I might change my mind!

You can view the final results here.

For my additional ramblings on the Columbia Marathon, click here.


PS.  In reference to last week’s post, Final Marathon Details. If you are wondering what I chose for my target playlist Grand Finale song? It was Queen’s “Somebody to Love”.  I had it finishing about 3:52, so I just missed timing it right.  I had to go into overtime with Night Ranger’s “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”!

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Change of (Training) Plans

Nov 16, 2011 by

Change of (Training) Plans

Nick Faldo.  Ever heard of him?  Nick was one of the best, if not the best, golfers in the world in the late 80’s and early ’90s.  Before Nick was the best in the world, he was mediocre in the early ’80’s.  Oh, he was good enough to win some tournaments, but he was not satisfied with his game, so he went back to square one.  He teamed up with a little known teacher named David Leadbetter, and together they rebuilt Nick’s golf game from the ground up. Nick dominated golf for a period of years, winning 6 major tournaments.

So, what does this have to do with my running?  In my last post, I hinted at not being totally satisfied with my Governor’s Cup performance, despite setting a personal best in a half marathon. Well, next week, I was planning on starting my 16 week training schedule to get ready for the Columbia, SC Marathon in March 2012.  My plan was to follow the schedule in my Run Less Run Faster
book that I have used primarily over the last two years to guide my training.   The Run Less Run Faster system is called the 3 plus 2 program.  This training system works and has allowed me to complete a marathon and a few half marathons despite fighting foot injuries.  To briefly summarize this program, you have 3 quality runs a week (a speed work run, a tempo run, and a long slow run) combined with two cross training aerobic workouts.  Your workout intensities are based on your current 5K ability.  This system allows your body to recover between runs while maintaining aerobic fitness with the cross training.  I have a recumbent exercise  bike that I use for the majority of my cross training. Like, I said,  this program works, but to be honest, I was dreading the exercise bike again.  Even with TV in the room, 45 minutes on the bike twice a week is boring.

So, what to do?   Back to square one, like Nick Faldo.  For this training cycle, I am abandoning Run Less Run Faster and going to use a training method called heart rate monitor training.  In this training, I will abandon speed work, which gets the heart rate high, and instead run while keeping my heart rate under 140 beats per minute?  Why?  According to what I have been researching, this keeps my body in the aerobic zone, burning fat as a fuel, instead of glycogen (sugars).  Since people have much more fat stored in their bodies than glycogen, as my body learns to burn fat as its primary fuel source,  I should be able to run faster for longer.  I will work on building this aerobic base over the next three months, and then add speed work to the mix the last month before the marathon.

This training will have a couple of other benefits, too.  First, it is new to me, so I am excited about trying something different.  This will help with motivation.  Second, the slower pace of the training will be easier on my body.  I hope this helps my nagging foot problems to clear up.

There’s a bunch of science behind this training but I won’t go into it here. Instead here are the links to a few of the sites that convinced me to try this:

Natural Running Center

Freedom’s Run Training

Mark Allen Online

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.









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