TLDR; I made my sub 4.5 hour goal in 4:28:57, taking 35 minutes off my first marathon time. The course was flat except for 2 bridges which we crossed 4 times, the last two times at miles 19 and 23 with strong winds. Mile 24 on the expressway felt like forever. I look forward to getting stronger and being on the course for even less time.

HHI Marathon Review

The Hilton Head Island Marathon race was small – 200 marathoners, 650 half-ers, and 300 5Kers. Sometimes it felt disorganized or “cheap”, but I think they did the best with what they had.

All 3 distances started at the same time under the starting banner “HHI Half Marathon” (much to my confusion and some of the volunteers’). They had the exact minimum number of toilets (12 including the park’s infrastructure, 1 per 100 runners). Some participants received technical fabric shirts; others received cotton. Only water, Gatorade, and 4 portapotties offered on the course. No bottles of water at the end, just Dixie cups and dispensers.

But the race only bordered on disorganized. I managed to use the toilet twice, find the starting line before the buzzer, and stay on the marathon course the entire time. They clocked my 13.1 and 20 mile splits. I got an email with my chip-time approx 45 seconds after I crossed the finish line.

I would run this race again, but would not recommend it as someone’s first marathon or half. It was not spectator-friendly and the minimal race-support can be stressful.

HHI Marathon Recap

I was thankful that I raced 10K last week, because it forced me to practice packing, prepping, eating breakfast, and traveling. TH and I left in separate cars at 5:30AM for a 6:30 packet pickup and 8:00 start. I needed every bit of that time to park, pickup my bib, bathroom (no line), find the start, look for more bathrooms (nope, just those 8), bathroom again (long line), and then back to the start.

Quick photo before the start

Quick photo before the start

Since the race was not spectator-friendly (it immediately exits Jarvis Creek Park and travels far and long), we decided TH would see me off and then just leave/take a nap before work. There was no point in him trying to catch me anywhere.

Gels and chews

Gels and chews

I decided to do a combination of gels and chews. I carried a water bottle to refill at the aid stations. I ate gels at the 45 and 90 min marks, then a serving of chews in 30 minute increments. I did not “hit the wall”, but I did feel the need to switch to Gatorade in the later part of the race. I don’t know if I wasn’t absorbing the chews efficiently enough, or if marathons are just hard. In the future, I will practice more long runs with just chews and see if I do notice a difference.

The course included narrow roads, expressway lanes/shoulders, paved bike paths, fancy neighborhoods, and small amounts of fields, gravel roads, and dirt trails.

One of the pretty neighborhoods

One of the pretty neighborhoods

I started to feel mildly uncomfortable at mile 13. At mile 16, I waited 3 minutes in the porta potty line and my legs stiffened. Whenever the course switched road sides (slightly changing the slope), my left foot would twinge until it adjusted, but otherwise the injury that kept me from training in the summer was nowhere to be found.

I started mile 19 nervous.

I was nervous that The Wall could be lurking at mile 20. I was also nervous that I was crossing over a tall bridge opposite the finish. There was a bike trail loop, then I was back at the foot of the bridge at the end of mile 22, facing huge gusting winds. I felt exhausted, preoccupied with all the math in my head to get sub 4.5, and annoyed — annoyed I was still running; annoyed there was a bridge; annoyed there was wind.

I was bewildered as a man energetically passed me (no one had done that since the half-marathoners split away and then returned to us for a brief, confusing quarter-mile). He said encouraging words to me then sprinted up the bridge. When I got to the top of the bridge, he was taking selfies, and then… he ran back down the way we came. It took my poor addled brain a while to deduce that he was not a racer, just a guy doing bridge repeats.

Mile 24 was back on the expressway and was THE LONGEST MILE. The tree line was further away, changing my frame of reference. I was making the motions of running, but had no idea what speed I was going, if I was going fast or barely moving.

3 minutes passed since the last mile marker.

I let my mind wander; I watched the couple in front of me that I was hoping to pass in a slow tortoise-like fashion; I did more math; I thought about beer. I looked back at the watch.

3 and a half minutes passed since the last mile marker.

I was thankful to see the 25 mile marker, debunking the idea that I was caught in some time and distance vortex. I spent mile 25 trying to wrap my mind around the idea that running is not a constant state of being, that I could reach the end of this Thing, and then not-run.

The pond next to the finish

The pond with the finish to the right

I was looking for the 26 mile marker as I got directed through a gate and back into the Jarvis Creek Park. From there, the finish line was just a couple bends away. I picked up speed. After the last photo-op, I sprinted and saw that their clock matched my own predictions. I crossed at 4:30:02. I got a space blanket and a medal. I also got an email listing my chip-time, 4:28:57.

I sipped on the last of the Gatorade in my bottle and took a long walk to the car (bag check was a little sketch) for fresh clothes, sandals, and money for beer.

Medal and beer

Medal and beer

Returning to the party, I got a banana and a beer. A couple of the restaurants had free offerings, but they all contained dairy. So I settled for chocolate chip cookies and eyed some sandwich platters which appeared to be only for the volunteers.

As things died down, the sandwich platters moved to a more accessible area and I took that to mean I could-has. I grabbed two, pulled out the cheese, and enjoyed.

I might have stolen these.

I might have stolen these.

On the drive home, I felt a rush of gratitude as the gravity of my accomplishment hit me. I completed an injury-free training cycle and met my sub 4.5 hour goal.

I am thankful for the opportunity and excited to see what a full year’s training can bring.

Thank you for all of your support!

Did you watch the Olympic team marathon trials?

I was mesmerized! I gave TH a huge recap of the trials, much to his disinterest.

Have a February race?