Charleston Marathon 2018 – Doug Slater
As I raced by at 8.8 MPH, that was my urgently shouted query to water station volunteers standing idly across the street.
I strongly suspected that I and my pack of runners had missed a turn. About 400 feet prior, I had seen a police car and orange traffic cones in the distance down a road not taken.
The volunteers had only a few precious moments to reply. My eyes met only blank stares. With possibly seconds to spare for a Boston Qualifying finish, I had to continue. No time to stop and press for an answer.
Turns out, I was right. I missed the turn. There had been no sign and nobody present to direct the runners.
My fears were confirmed a few minutes later when I crossed the mile 23 marker. My watch displayed 20.3 miles. Uh oh. I promised myself the sign was wrong. So wrong. Yet I knew I had cut the course by 2.7 miles.
I had run so well. Disappointed by the impending disqualification, I barely found the motivation to continue. I crossed the finish line at 2:40:40 to the cheers of my very impressed waiting friends.
No, I did not run a 2:40 marathon, guys. Good grief!
I declined a medal, found a bagel, and made my way to the car.
I found out later what confluence of circumstances produced this dramatic error. First, it was very windy. A sign had existed but had been blown over. Second, one of the two volunteers at the turn had not shown up. Third, the remaining volunteer had taken a bathroom break. The duration of this individual's absence can be predicted by the hole in the 3:00-3:07 finisher results.
This is my second denied BQ attempt, the previous one being at Steamtown back in October. On that day, the weather had turned impossibly warm and humid for a BQ. The Strava activity titles vocalized everyone's suffering.
Yet in Charleston, after I ate some food and stopped shivering, my disappointment dissolved. While I had the right to complain, I instead found gratitude and a good attitude. Everything else had gone perfectly. I had seen a lot of folks I know. Travel and lodging arrangements had worked out problem-free. The weather and temperature were excellent, except for a relentless West wind. Training and nutrition were spot-on, rewarding me with a 6:51 average pace, a huge personal accomplishment for 23.5 miles.
I was far from alone in my disappointment, though. On Facebook, a firestorm of negative reviews emerged. The race organizer apologized profusely and promised to make the situation right. Later, I was offered by email a full refund as well as a free entry into the March 3, 2018 Myrtle Beach marathon, which I have accepted.
I feel confident about the possibility of a sub-3 finish on my next race. Next time though, I will probably memorize the course!