The 2013 Charleston Distance Run was my first time running the entire 15 mile course. In previous years I’ve run the 5K, and watched runners finishing the full route thinking, “I could never do that.” After sleeping well, I awakened at 5:00 a.m., ate a light breakfast, did my devotions, then left the house with Jeannie at 6:15 a.m. We parked at Laidley Field then walked over to the State Capitol complex. Jeannie and I prayed together before the start, just as we did at the Pittsburgh Marathon. After praying we went our separate ways into the crowd. I started talking to a few of the runners who were bunched together, and was startled by the sound of the small cannon. I was so busy talking I wasn’t focused much on the race itself. I really do enjoy interacting with the people – its more than half the fun of any event.
I started running fairly slow down Kanawha Boulevard, keeping Coach Matt’s mantra in mind, “Easy start, strong finish.” I was monitoring my heart rate, wanting to keep it around 75% of maximum during the first few miles of the race. The temperature was 70 degrees and the humidity was 100%, so I wanted to make sure I had enough “gas in the tank” to survive the hills then cover the remaining flats before finishing at Laidley Field. The South Side Bridge was an easy incline, serving as a prelude to the “Hill of Death” or “Capitol Punishment,” as some people have dubbed the long climb up Corridor G to Oakwood Road. Between the bridge and the beginning of the hill, a twenty-something guy behind me wearing an Alabama shirt was talking trash about West Virginia and the Mountaineers. He was bragging that in Alabama humidity is always high, so they have no issues with this kind of weather. He also said he hoped the Mountaineers could put a team on the field this year. He was saying everything in good fun, and no one seemed to take him seriously. Still, knowing the passion that WVU fans have for their football, I jokingly told him that running his mouth about WVU was a good way to get tripped. No one tripped him, but by midway up the Corridor G climb he didn’t have much to say. There are times when I really, really love these West Virginia hills. 🙂
As I ran up the Corridor G portion of the route, my heart rate rose to above 80%, which I expected. I took it slowly, not charging the hill as Coach Matt had advised me. I also used more of the marching form, lifting my legs up rather than trying to thrust them forward into the slope. Soon I reached Oakwood Road, with a lady holding a sign that said, “You have reached the end of the Hill of Death!” “Yeah, right.” I shouted back with a smile, “There’s more to come!” Everyone talks about the “Hill of Death,” but the most challenging hills are the ones immediately after Corridor G.
The aid station near Overbrook Elementary was a welcome sight. It was time for my first gel and two salt capsules, and I needed something to wash them down. I enjoyed seeing some members of Oakwood Baptist Church there, a congregation I used to pastor. After getting the water, I walked past the station, juggling the cup, the gel and the salt capsules. I still haven’t mastered running and drinking from a cup at the same time. Once everything was down, I started running again. I reached the top of Bridge Road, continuing through the rolling hills of Louden Heights. I slowed down for the uphill sections and picked up the pace on the downhill sections while keeping my stride short and my feet under me. When I began my descent towards the river, I noticed menacing black storms clouds above the skyline of Charleston. There were a couple of lightning flashes and cracks of thunder, but only a sprinkling of rain. What looked like a certain monsoon simply passed overhead. By the time I had reached the South Side Bridge again, my legs were drained from the pounding of running downhill.
On the other side of the bridge the humidity felt worse. I became a little queasy and light-headed. Perhaps it was dehydration. I kept my heart rate around 80% as I continued to run through the streets of Charleston. I met a young man named Shawn who had a pace close to mine. We started talking, and enjoyed learning more about one another over the next few miles. My slight nausea never really left, but the lightheadedness passed. He shared with me that he was active in an independent Baptist church above Gauley Bridge. He remarked that he had only been running a couple of months. I complemented him on his ability to tackle the full CDR course in such a short time. We talked extensively as we ran through the Capitol Complex and then back down the river. My conversation with him gave me a boost emotionally, and slowed down my pace enough for me to recover a bit from the pounding of running down the hills. We both remarked to one another about how grateful we were to be able to run.
At an aid station around mile 10, I took my second gel and a couple more salt capsules. Shawn was still with me. I hadn’t seen anyone from the Genesis Running group since starting the race – I knew a few of them were running the full course. As Shawn and I continued to talk, Jay and Garrison from Genesis passed us. I explained a little more about the Genesis group to Shawn, then told him it was good talking with him. Now I wanted to run with these two members of the Genesis team. I picked up the pace and finally caught Jay and Garrison. We had just passed mile 1l, but with the increased pace I wasn’t quite as talkative with them. My heart rate was around 85% of max. With four miles to go, I was happy with it. Jay and I again remarked to one another how blessed we were to be able to run.
I am so glad Jay and Garrison appeared on the course – they provided the needed boost to go a little faster. We ran together until the last half mile or so. Then I took my pace up another notch and pulled away from them. My heart rate now was around 90% of max and climbing. When I finally entered Laidley Field and felt the soft track under my feet, I increased the pace one final time. I was at 95% of max, and was motivated by the cheers from the crowd of red Genesis shirts as well as from other friends who completed the race. I crossed the finish line with a net time of 2:29. After catching my breath I thanked Jay and Garrison for the company, as they finished immediately behind me.
This race is a unique experience. It’s an odd distance of 15 hilly miles, a little longer than a half marathon but nowhere near a full. With the date always being set for Labor Day weekend, the conditions are almost certain to be hot and humid. The best part by far is the people – it is held in my hometown, and I love interacting with all the many friends who are either running or attending. Will I run it again in 2014? If I do, it will be more for the joy of running with the people than for the challenge of the course. Right now I’m very happy and blessed to have finished my first full CDR – it was a feat I was certain was beyond me. This experience is just another illustration of Philippians 4:13 – “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT).
For more information on the Christian group Genesis Running or Coach Matt, visit http://www.wvruncoach.com/