Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rock n Roll Savannah was a Blast...Literally

After an overcast and cold Friday, race day here in Savannah started with a perfectly clear sky and temperatures in the 50s. It was ideal conditions for a fast race and I was on pace for a PR and feeling good.

This was my first trip to gorgeous coastal Georgia. Reesa and I arrived on Thursday afternoon so we would have plenty of time to see the city and take in the history, which is vast, and like most things you hear in the South, a bit embellished. We started the weekend with a walk along the river front which is composed of original warehouses converted into cute shops, bars and restaurants, including the Candy Factory where they make their own pralines and salt water taffy right in the store. We then strolled through the historical district and walked into The Old Pink House on the off-chance we might get a reservation. The Old Pink House, the oldest building in Savannah, is also the top restaurant in town and it was busy when we walked in at 6pm. We took a shot for reservations and found, as we expected, Friday and Saturday night fully sold out. But tonight they could fit us in. We quickly went back to the hotel, changed clothes and returned to the restaurant for what would be the best meal of our trip. The restaurant is fantastically restored with beautiful plank hardwood floors, beam ceilings fireplaces, loads of antiques and of course ghosts.

We closed out a very warm night with a ghost tour, which was very touristy but clearly a must-do event in Savannah which was named a few years back as America’s most haunted city. I can see why when you listen to the yarns they tell here. The historic district was built over burial grounds many times over. Several hotels in town claim to be haunted as are several incredible homes here, one of which includes the Mercer-Williams House which was the subject of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  The tour took us past the abandoned Candler Hospital that apparently was where nearly 900 people died in the 1800s during a plague of yellow fever and was later turned into an insane asylum. And we both got the creeps when listening to a tale about multiple murders that took place in 423 Abercorn Street, a single home outside Calhoun Square. The square, by the way, was used to bury slaves and two of its giant oak trees were used as hanging trees. Oh…kay… Not fun to hear about at midnight.

The following day, we hit the expo to pick up my bib then had brunch at Huey’s on the River a local Cajun haunt. Despite great Yelp reviews we weren’t impressed with this place but apparently ordered the wrong thing – they are known for the beignets. After this we got out of town and headed into South Carolina to visit a plantation from the 1800s and see Hilton Head Island. The Rose Hill Plantation was a gorgeous Gothic property that had been fully restored by the wife of the founder of TheRobb Report. Our tour guide, Cynthia, was fantastic and seems to know nearly everything you could about the history of South Carolina from before the Civil War on, and shared great stories about the role this house played throughout that time. The owners of the home, who still live there, did an incredible job of restoring it, as nearly half was destroyed in a fire in the 1980s. Incredibly, while the occupying forces of the Union burned down most properties in South Carolina during the Civil War, they left this one untouched. An electrical fire was its downfall.

After the hosts plied us with homemade cookies, peach tea and cake, we headed out to Hilton Head to see the beach. Like many posh vacation destinations, Hilton Head is dominated by big resorts and gated communities, so it’s not actually that easy to get to the beach. When we finally found a public beach entrance we learned why. The beaches here are wide, flat and gorgeous.

After the drive back we settled in to prepare for Saturday’s race. As is usually the case before every marathon, I had a hard time getting to sleep and then was up about every hour. I finally got out of bed around 6:30am and after chatting with my TNT colleagues and coaches in the hotel lobby jogged over to the start. I jumped into Corral 1 and got to chatting with two other TNT members here - one from Georgia and the other from Alabama. Prince, the coach from Alabama was the father of a Leukemia survivor and was shooting for a PR that day. He needed 3:09 for that mark and given the mild temperature, perfectly clear skies and flat, sea-level course, it certainly seemed possible.

After the national anthem we took off down Bay Street in downtown. I got off to a fast, but not too fast start at 7:04 per mile. Priest was just ahead of me and I tried using him as a rabbit for a few miles before he broke off with a twenty-something friend.

The first 5K were along the river, flat and very fast. There were some amazingly quick participants in this race and I never broke out on my own. We weaved back into downtown then headed out to the suburbs as we approached mile 10. I was feeling good as the course was pretty with some great parks and neighborhoods to go through and lots of enthusiastic race fans, cheerleaders and course volunteers along the way.

At mile 12 the marathon and half marathon split off and those of us going 26.2 headed up toward the freeway. I hit the halfway point at 1:34 and high fived the TNT Flex Team coaches who were hanging out on the freeway (wow, that sounds weird). From miles 14-20 the course wound up and down the highway and around some very nice neighborhoods. My favorite was a suburb bordering a swampy river surrounded by yellow swamp grass. Through mile 19 I was maintaining sub-7:30 per mile and feeling great. But that all changed at mile 20.

At this milestone it wasn’t a wall I hit but a wall of headwind. It sapped everyone’s energy and didn’t let up until after mile 25. It was so strong, in fact, that it blew the clock and mile marker onto the arm and shoulder of a passing runner. He was ok. Most of this section was on the freeway which isn’t the most exciting part of any race. When we finally got off, my mile splits had fallen by a minute each and a PR was long from attainable. At mile 25 I was hurting as I tried to crank back up the speed knowing I couldn’t make up for lost time. I talked a TNT coach into running with me the final mile then attempted to use all the energy I had left to push through the last 0.2 miles. By the time I entered the finisher’s chute I had painful cramps in my upper abdominals and watched the clock tick off the final seconds of 3:19 - fifty-seven, fifty, eight, fifty nine... Ugh. I crossed at 3:20:01.

The run was 3 minutes off my PR and I was bummed given how good a start I had. But looking back on the race it was a ton of fun and a fantastic first time for Savannah. This was the smallest city to host a Rock n Roll Marathon event and more than 50,000 people flooded into the town for the event. We were a very welcome bunch as this is low season in Savannah and the local paper estimated the race brought in more than $23 million to the economy.
As usual, Competitor Group put on a fantastic event. This one culminated with a great concert from LA-based Carolina Liar. Sadly another participant died during the race; the second death at an RnR marathon in lessthan 20 days.

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