Let me take you back a year. One year ago, I saw a contest from Live 5 news for the James Island Connector Run. They had some entries to give away if you shared a photo of yourself running and tagged them in it on Instagram. I was 39 weeks pregnant, sitting on the couch thinking, I could totally still do a 10K. So I did the crazy thing and hashtagged myself in their contest and wouldn’t you believe that I won. So I took my gigantic belly, my adorable pregnant running shirt, and I toed the line of a race I’d never done before. I walked, I jogged, I waddled my way to the finish in 1 hour 22 minutes and some change. The crowd and volunteers were super supportive, I had friends who waited for me at the finish line which was extremely sweet since I was one of the last finishers, and I made sure to show off the bling that I achieved. This was my last race before Valerie was born 9 days later.
Fast forward to today. I’ve almost been back in the running game a full year now. I started back to running just 4 weeks after delivering Valerie, including a race just 6 weeks postpartum. I had a lot of grand ideas going into this race but I knew I needed to temper expectations. My PR leading up to this race was the Cooper River Bridge Run back in April that I did in 45:00 flat. That race has 1 incline that lasts 3/4 of a mile and then it’s either flat or downhill from there. I’ve been working my butt off with Lana all summer so that we could see some fast times this fall but I hardly thought this would be the race we would see them in.
The weather was perfect. My legs felt perfect. My fuel & hydration were perfect. Want to know what isn’t perfect? This freaking course. From a runners stand point, an ideal course is flat and fast, no wind, and cool temperatures. I have been warning Lana about the course for weeks prior. The website claims its a fast course but in all truth, it’s probably the hardest course we have here in Charleston. On a normal day, you can not walk or run on the JI Connector, which is what draws so much attention to this race. The 10K is an out and back going over the bridge. You start out on a very long steady incline, hit a dip, and then you take yourself up a very steep incline. You go down hill and then right before you hit the 5k mark, there is another smaller incline that you have to face before hitting the turn around point and taking yourself back up and over the 3 rolling hills. This was not the course that I expected a PR on. It’s SO much harder than Cooper River Bridge Run and although we had been training hard, I just didn’t forsee myself being able to hold a 7:15 or faster pace for those inclines.
However, when you get the chance to run “hills” in Charleston, you take advantage. Our only options include the races that have the bridges. So of course every runner wants to take part in one of the only times they get to run this beautiful course. The views from the top of the bridge are simply stunning. On the drive into the race I got this shot of the sunrising over Charleston.
Sometimes I could pinch myself with how beautiful it is here. As for the race, you can check out some of the other shots that you get to experience when running it. It’s truly breath taking.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty of the actual race shall we! Lana and I arrived, parked in the garage and walked to Cannon Park where the race festivities were being held. We dropped off our bag with Fleet Feet and we headed for a quick 1.3 mile warm up. We wanted to warm up because it was kind of chilly but we needed to keep it brief because we were about to put in 6 really hard miles of work. After a lap around the park we found ourselves a bit warmed up and ready to take the starting line.
As we stood, freezing, we snuggled up for warmth and discussed strategy. After showing Lana what the inclines look like on our warm up, we brought down our goal to stay under 48 minutes. We planned to head out at a 7:20 pace and work from there depending on how bad those inclines hurt us. The bikers took off first and we waited at the start of the race. The 5k and the 10k group all start at the same spot so it can get a little crowded. There was some great music playing to keep us entertained while we waited to take off. After a few words from people, we were off.
Mile 1: 7:17 We started off the side roads, took a turn or two, and then started up the gradual incline of the first “hill.” Since we managed to start very close to the front, we didn’t have a lot of dodging or weaving to do among people, thankfully. So we were really able to hit our stride and clock in our first mile exactly where we wanted to be. This incline didn’t feel that hard on my calves. As we started up though, I pointed out to Lana our next incline which is a VERY steep one. We both looked at each other and gave the nod of approval, we both knew we were going to attack this sucker hard.
Also: we didn’t pay attention to the camera men. Whoops. Lana is catching flies and I look bored out of my mind.
Mile 2: 6:54 We cruised down the first downhill just to turn around and truck up the really steep incline. I just kept reminding myself that once we hit the top of that sucker we could cruise down the bottom and just let the legs fly. I think Lana and I were both taken back a little when we heard our Garmin’s tick and we saw a sub 7 minute mile that included the incline. I think this is the moment where both of us had a slight thought that, “hey maybe we can PR this.” but weren’t quite ready to commit to it.
Mile 3: 7:10 Still flying. We hit the down hill and then we had to climb a small hill one last time. Lana looked at that hill and had some serious swear words because I did tell her there were only 2 hills. This hill wasn’t as big or steep as the other ones but after your legs have done two hills, any amount of incline sucks. This is right where we hit the turn around to head back to the start on the other side of the bridge. We could see the 5K group running to their finish line at the end of the bridge and part of me was so jealous they were done. The other part of me saw this mile as another one that was under the pace we needed to PR and I started really doing some mental math as to what it would take for us to achieve our goal. I’m lucky to have Lana. We both have our strengths and we both have our weaknesses. We each have off days where we have to pull each other. You’ve read countless recaps where I tell you that I fall behind Lana and she points to her side in a way of telling me “get your ass up here next to me and lets go.” This was the point where I could see Lana starting to get a few strides behind me. I’d point to my side and tell her to get up to me and she would. It was my turn to pull her and I owed it to her for all the times that she had pulled me along in a race. I’m beyond blessed to have her as my training and running partner, as she would say, we are running soul mates. Plus, I didn’t want to do 3 more miles all alone, I needed her by my side.
Mile 4: 7:12 Lana will tell you that this is the mile that my brain switched into PR or die mode. We now had 4 miles under our belt and we were averaging below the pace we needed to PR but there was one problem; we had the steep incline to take still. It was honestly going to come down to whether or not we could make the time up on the downhill and the straight away to the finish. “The Greatest” by Sia came on my playlist and it was just the motivation I needed to put my head down and climb that stupid steep incline to the best of my abilities.
Mile 5: 7:50 HOLY WIND BATMAN! I’m not even kidding you, the wind was worse than the incline. For some horrible reason we hit the wind hard for this mile. I could feel it using up all the energy I had in attempting to push through this incline. Lana had fallen a few strides behind me and I wanted someone near me to help push me. Thankfully, two guys came up behind me and I tried to use them to block the wind. Unfortunately it was coming from an angle that I just couldn’t quite get them to block it. However, they did help me get my stride in line with theirs so that I could kick it just a bit more against the wind. I was doing as much math in my head as possible to figure out what I needed for the final mile in order to break 45 minutes. Math actually keeps my mind off the race.
Mile 6: 7:15 The downhill and the straight away to the finish. LET IT GO. I let my legs fly as much as I possibly could in an effort to see 44:xx on that clock. I’m not sure how I mustered this but I kept telling myself that I gave this race 100% for the first 5 miles, I was going to be damned if I let myself slack now.
Final .2: 6:42 As I came around the corner to the finish line I could see the clock ticking… ticking… and I thought I saw 45:02 as I passed, thankfully I was wrong about where the marker was for the finish line.
Official time 44:58 for a Personal Record!
I grabbed my medal and Lana came running through the finish line right behind me. We ended up being the 7th and 8th overall females for the 10K race and both placed 1st in our Age Groups. We took a few minutes to walk it off, chat with Carl, and regroup about how freaking awesome we had just done on that 10k. If you had told me before the race that I would PR on that course, I’d have laughed in your face.
The best part about this race is the after party. Not only does every finisher get a medal, there is a beer tent with free beer, vendors set up with some fun stuff like coozies & a photo booth, but there is also some food for the runners that included bananas and hot dogs. I partook in two beers with Lana as we waited around for the awards ceremony. We chatted about our future goals now that we saw where we stood with the 10k distance. I think on a flat course, without the headwind, we could have easily shaven off at least 30 seconds from our time. Now my excitement for the half marathon in two weeks is at an all time high because I have a base point that I truly think I can achieve barring any terrible weather.
This is a fabulous race that I plan to do every single year. The race benefits the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation that awards scholarships to children with disabilities. If you ever get the chance to run it, I urge you to take advantage. It’s so much fun and a really great experience.