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#24 – Columbia SC Marathon

Marathon Man - Columbia SC Marathon

9 March 2013 – 4hr 36 min

Following a great time in Little Rock, I headed to Charlotte North Carolina to make my way towards the Columbia SC Marathon. It was in transit during the connecting flight in Atlanta that I met up with Betsy Watson after we had both relocated from our original seats to take up the remaining seats in the exit row to make the most of the additional leg room. It was not too long prior to the plane moving when Betsy spotted my “Marathon Man” shirt and started conversation with her husband a keen runner.

I related my story and it was not too long before Betsy shared her personal challenge fighting cancer over many years with the trip to Atlanta having been to consult the medical team with a new phase of treatment to soon commence. There was not a quiet moment during the 90 minute flight as we continued to share stories. It was a chance meeting and one that was sincerely profound for me to reignite the true meaning behind my journey to support people such as Betsy currently battling cancer, the extended network of family and friends and those loved ones no longer with us.

I exchanged details with Betsy and she mentioned that she would be in touch the next day after speaking with local running clubs to see whether it may be possible to provide support during the journey. It was now 10.30pm and I soon found my way to the courtesy shuttle for the drive to the Econolodge Hotel close by the Charlotte Airport. The shuttle driver kindly made a diversion for food and drinks, and it was very nice of him to buy me a few drinks mentioning that every dollar would count as I continued on my journey.

I arrived at the hotel to find the room was located on a major highway. Following a little late snack and settling down for the night it was soon clear when the light fittings were rattling and shaking with the trucks passing by that this would be another long night. There was little sleep this night and little did I realise that this would be a prelude to further sleepness nights ahead later in the week.

It was great to meet up with Betsy the next day and she had organised for us to have lunch with a running friend who is well connected in the Charlotte community. I loaded my luggage into the car and we were soon headed into have lunch at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar It was here that we were greeted by Tony Abbott who is the running partner of Betsy’s husband and well connected in the running world.

It was very funny to think that I had to travel the world to Charlotte in North Carolina to have lunch with Tony Abbott with the significance of his namesake not lost on me in the lead up to the Federal Election later this year in Australia. Now for those of you not familiar with the Australian political landscape, Tony Abbott happens to be the Liberal Party Leader and Opposition Leader running for the office of Prime Minister later this year. Following some great food and conversation, we embarked on a quick tour around the streets of Charlotte, before finding a place away from traffic noise to stay in Charlotte prior to my journey to Columbia later in the week.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonFollowing a productive few days at Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham in Charlotte, Larry Wasson a fellow Marathon Maniac had generously offered to provide transport and a place to stay for the Columbia Marathon. Larry had been driving since the early hours of the morning and I soon jumped behind the wheel so as he could have a rest on the road to Columbia. It really was a straight drive down the highway into Columbia, South Carolina of around 90 minutes before it was time to check into the hotel and register for the marathon. There was a little time to see the local sights such as Lovely Rita The Meter Maid, the historic South Carolina State House opened in 1855, the Fighting Gamecock mascot of the University of South Carolina located in a car park or parking lot for some reason, restaurants and bars on Main Street. It was then time to join up with a group of Marathon Maniacs in town for the pre race meal and meet some new people before calling it a night to get ready for the fun ahead along the streets of Columbia.

The return to the hotel Larry proudly showed off his new toaster that had been a Christmas present from his lovely wife and always goes on the road to help prepare his traditional pre race breakfast. It was not too long before Larry then said “here you may need these” and proceeded to hand me a set of ear plugs. Now of course I was so appreciative of the generous offer to stay with Larry this was not considered to be necessary. WOW! How wrong could a guy be … This would turn out to be one of the longest nights ahead with the noise from the bed next to me some of the loudest snoring ever experienced. The hours finally passed by and it was time to head out for the Columbia SC Marathon.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonThe first priority was to make our way to the steps of the State House for the traditional Marathon Maniacs photo with more than 30 members turning up on the morning.

I then made my way down to the start line with the Half Marathon and Marathon starting at the same time the crowd was building. I then spotted some familiar faces with the girls from the “Black Girls Run” team gathering to take on another marathon and posed for the obligatory photo. It was a crisp cool morning with the sunshine breaking through and music pumping up the crowd on the start line. There was some support from the true believers in the early morning hours although there was little chatter from the runners on this particular morning making for one of the quietest starts to a marathon in a little while. Perhaps it was that I was sleep running at the start although it sure seemed quiet on the road. In the early stages two girls were in front and hearing my footsteps one said “Watch out for Marathon Man!” and I proceeded to mention that there really was no drama and this is where the whistle would help clear the path with laughs a plenty on blowing the whistle.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonThe course was a loop course with the half marathon runners finishing and then the marathon runners heading out for another loop. There were a number of hills on the rolling course with the first half of the marathon completed on auto pilot following the restless night. In passing the half way stage I soon found myself running past the picturesque grounds of the University of South Carolina and then the Longstreet Theatre on Greene Street. The next sight of interest was the Richard & Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden at Maxcy Gregg Park. The streets included some of the very best properties in Columbia and it was a real pleasure to run through a number of these spectacular areas of South Carolina.

It was at the 28km stage when I met up with Shannon from Murphy, North Carolina who had initially mentioned she was ready to quit when I first sidled up next to her. Now Shannon was running her first marathon and mentioned with some strong conviction that this would “be her very first and last”! It was fascinating to learn that Shannon had actually lost 80 pounds (36.3kg) over a year just 18 months ago following the passing of her Dad from a heart condition. The drive to change following the loss of her Dad was immediate and she embarked on a new fitness regime primarily walking and exercising in the gym to get moving while also changing her diet “a lot”. In the past the diet had included chocolate, junk food and potatoes high on the list and now these would be considered special treats with red meat also eliminated. The more time I spent running with Shannon it was clear that she was getting stronger and the distraction was helping to stop the mind games that so easily can play havoc at this stage of the race. It was at this point that we passed another intersection with the Police doing a incredible job on the day to manage traffic flow and ensure runners safe passage through the city. There was no doubt that the continued road closures throughout the city would have been a logistical nightmare with some of the drivers not proving as patient as others during the day voicing frustration. It was awesome to discover later that Shannon had crossed the line in 5:08:36 to complete her first marathon and I am sure her Dad would have been very proud.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonThe next chance meeting was not far away before I had the great pleasure in making the acquaintance of Jessica Workman running her first marathon in Columbia SC. Jessica had a friend who had convinced her to start training for a marathon last October having only previously run in 5km events. With a background in soccer for many years there was a solid base of cardio training to build towards the marathon. Originally from Stone Mountain in Georgia, Jessica has called Columbia home now for many years and could not have chosen a better event to start a new marathon adventure. Now in turns out that the girl who inspired Jessica to take on the marathon is also named Jessica and was not running today as she competed in her second marathon at the Asheville Marathon a week earlier where it was snowing and ice cold. The original goal for the day was “just to finish” like many first time marathon runners with this well on track at 3:10 after the 29km stage.

The steady pace was a good help for me and together we were able to push on sharing stories prior to Jessica meeting up with her Mom and brother that had ventured out to show support a little after the 20 mile stage. There was a funny moment when I could hear the tune “Don’t Stop Believing” blasting out and was sure it was not on my iPod and checked with Jessica who could also hear the song when we agreed that it must be coming from a house. Now this soon turned out to be a little more bizarre when passing a number of homes and the same song continued to play. What was going on here … Is this a sign from above … It would soon turn out that somehow my iPhone had started to play a song randomly while we shared the road. Divine intervention perhaps!

It was awesome sharing the road with Jessica and she really helped to keep me awake and did not let up for a second on the many hills which helped push me along. Salt sachets were handed out with the morning heating up and there was the party tent offering beer at the base of one of the final hills in the road towards the finish. It was not long before the two Jessica’s reunited with around 1.5 miles remaining and following a brief introduction the Jessica’s soon made a sprint together towards the finish line. The lead into the finish was lots of fun as you passed through the The Farmers Markets with crowds cheering us home. I had little left in the legs at this stage and did my very best to keep on pace crossing the line in 4:36:18 to post one of the better times this year.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonIt was great to meet up with a real character on the local Columbia running scene in Ray Krolewicz who related a story of Joe Record originally from Perth in Australia that has sadly now passed away who previously competed in the New York 6 Day races in 1983-84 and a number of other ultra events in the USA. Joe Record was an incredibly strong runner who had successfully completed the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne races and was one of the funniest and wittiest men you will ever meet. It was not uncommon for them to head out on midnight training runs where Joe would charm the working girls and they would say that he could have a freebie although your little mate referring to Ray K would have to pay double. It was interesting to learn that Dan Hartley the Columbia SC Marathon Race Director also organises a 50km ultra and is in the process of setting up a 24 Hour event with this possibly to be held the Saturday of the Thanksgiving Day weekend later this year around a 2 mile loop.

Ray mentioned that his all time favourite event was the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultra in Connecticut and the iconic Boston Marathon being that it was close to where he grew up. Ray related the story that Fred Lebow was a great man and would stand around after the event talking just like we were and went out of his way to help ensure his friends ran in his events. Following running a number of Fred’s previous events including a 100km race back in 1991 Fred spotted Ray running the Boston Marathon and with Grete Waitz by his side mentioned why don’t you run my race … Ray’s first thought was that the New York Marathon was actually Ted Corbitt’s race who was affectionately known as the “Father of long distance running” and simply mentioned to Fred that it was “a pain in the ass as you can’t get a number” even back in those days. Fred said you want a number, then I will get you a number and sure enough when Ray returned home only a matter of a few days later on Tuesday there was a number waiting for him at home. It was not long before Jennifer Ralston and Larry Wasson crossed the line after bringing home the 5:30 pace group and describing the course in a somewhat understated way as “hilly”.

I was extremely privileged to then meet up with Brooke Willis from Augusta, Georgia who had just crossed the finish line in 5:26:30 to complete her first marathon surrounded by her very proud kids Brodie and Luke and husband Adam. The marathon journey for Brooke was very personal after having a miscarriage “running was better than therapy”. It was at this time 2 years ago that Brooke started running and hasn’t stop since using the running as an escape from the demands of the day in raising kids and taking care of the family. Now Brooke was schedule to run the Columbia SC Marathon last year although found out a month before the event that she was pregnant with their little girl. Instantly Brooke mentioned that she ran a Half Marathon and a 10 miler when she was pregnant although did not take on the marathon. The amazing achievement in completing the marathon today only 4 months following the birth of her little girl was simply inspiring and it was not a surprise to find a few issues with back pain described as being similar to labour pains after the race. It was then revealed that Brooke waited only a week following the birth of her daughter before running again following Doctors advise and competed in a 10km event at the beginning of December and posted a personal best time in a Half Marathon in January. Brooke described running as my ‘me time’ as I don’t get much of that with a busy family life a real inspiration to many other Mom’s out there looking to take on a new challenge.

Marathon Man - Columbia SC MarathonIt was then time to meet up with fellow Marathon Maniacs before heading to the Mellow Mushroom with Larry and friends for a pizza before the road trip to Charlotte. Following a less than helpful experience with the Race Director at an event in Maryland I was unfortunately not able to keep plans to run the next day and selected to take the overnight bus adventure to New York City to meet up with my good friends Karolina and Mark to see the beautiful twins only a few months old in Sophia and Matthew along with the Adam who is growing into a little man so quickly. The overnight adventure sure was not much fun although it was made all worthwhile when spending the day together before making my way to New Jersey to meet up with friends Monica, Perry and Amber prior to heading across to the Tel Aviv Marathon.

Columbia SC Marathon Gallery

2013 Statistics:

Marathons Run – 24
Total Distance Run – 1,012.7 km / 628.8 miles
US States Completed – AR, AZ, CA, FL, LA, NV, SC, TX, WA
Total Drive Distance – 3,983 km / 2,475 miles
Total Flight Distance – 21,442 km / 13,325 miles

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