The Kiawah Island Marathon in South Carolina

A flat, fast-paced marathon at Kiawah Island, SC in which our pet pig, Mary Piggins, joined us for the trip.

Having traveled many years to the Myrtle Beach area for summer vacation, I always thought my South Carolina marathon would be there. However in December 2018 I came across a super-early bird year ahead deal for the Kiawah Island Marathon which I could not pass up.

The Course

Kiawah Island is a golf course resort island located just south of Charleston, SC. The marathon runs in and around the golf course and nearby resort communities. It is pancake flat with only a slight hill in the beginning that you barely even notice. Aside from the Whitefish Point Marathon, this would be the flattest marathon I had yet to run.

The Kiawah Island Marathon Course

Personal Expectations

Running my last marathon two months ago ( 2019 Atlantic City Marathon in New Jersey ), I felt good and well rested for this race. As always, I set three goals for this marathon:

A Goal: 3 hours 40 minutes or faster
B Goal: Set a new PR (under 3:43:56)
C Goal: Finish under 4 hours

For my training I followed the 2Q plan by Jack Daniels with a peak mileage of 50. This training plan calls for two hard running workouts each week week, with the rest of the runs done at an easy pace to meet your weekly milage goal. The Jack Daniels plan is very complex, but thought out to really help you improve as a marathon runner. I’ll refer you to this site by Jonathan Savage which goes over the details of this plan better than I ever could:

Traveling to Kiawah Island

Staying in a hotel with a pet pig…a first!

We split our 9 hour drive to the island into two days. Also in what would be a first for our family, we would be joined by our new pet therapy pig in-training, Mary Piggins! While she wouldn’t be able to be at the marathon finish line for this race, having her come along was an adventure on its own (have you ever stayed in a hotel with a pig?). We also encountered an ice storm during the first night of our trip, but luckily everything thawed out by the time we were ready to get back on the road the next day.

With only a three-day weekend to travel down to the race and back, we did not have much time to spend enjoying the Kiawah Island area. To make things easy, we stayed at a hotel right off of the island, The Charleston Kiawah Island/Andell Inn…which was conveniently located right next to the shuttle bus and parking area for runners staying off of the island.

TRAVEL TIP: There are limited places to stay around Kiawah Island, so if you plan on running this marathon, make your hotel reservations early!

Expo / Packet Pick-Up

Communication leading up to the race was top-notch and I received updates via email for several weeks prior to the race with clear instructions. Packet pick up was located on the island itself, which is privately-owned, so you need a guest pass to enter. Luckily the race planners are very organized and sent out a pre-authorized parking pass to all runners allowing them entry onto the island for packet pickup. I simply printed this out, put it on my windshield, and easily drove onto the island. It was dark by the time I got there, but directional signs easily pointed the way to the packet pickup location where organizers directed you where to park. Many people where there at that time, but I had no problem getting in and out so I could get back to our hotel and rest up for race day morning.

Gear all ready for race day morning.

PACKET PICK-UP TIP: The organizers of the Kiawah Island Marathon do not provide a bag for you to carry your bib, race shirt, and other expo items in…so plan ahead and bring your own if you require that.

Race Day Morning

With the race starting at 8 a.m., I got up at 4:30 a.m., had my breakfast, got ready, and was out the door with roughly 2 hours to go. Since I was taking the shuttle over to the island, I wanted to allow my self time to get there as I was unsure as to how long it would take. I met up with another runner heading to the shuttle bus as well and we made conversation during the short walk. There was plenty of room on the bus and it only took 15 minutes or so to get to the race start location.

With plenty of time to spare, I made myself comfortable until roughly 30 minutes prior to the start when I then did my usual warm-up routine and a light, short run to loosen up. The race start area had you line up by potential finishing times, and there was a guy on stilts dressed up in costume trying to amp up all the runners to get ready to go. Pacers were also present for this race in 5 to 10 minute finishing time increments, but I have found I perform better when focusing on my own pace, so I decided not to run near a pacing team.

The starting line area of the Kiawah Island Marathon.

My Kiawah Island Marathon Race Experience

With temps in the upper 30s and overcast skies, it was a perfect day to run. As stated before the course is very flat with some twists and turns all throughout the island. The first mile was pretty congested with half and full marathoners running together. In fact many people positioned themselves incorrectly at the start, causing quite a jam up as they slowed down and faster runners tried to pass them.

Wanting to run around an 8:30 / mile pace I completely messed up that strategy right away and found myself running under 8:20 per minute miles. In fact looking back at my statistics, my first 10 miles were all done under 8:20 or less. In the moment I felt great about this and pictured an incredible PR. But as I have done many times before, I went out too fast.

The course itself was pretty, but honestly I was a little disappointed. It ran mostly through the inner-parts of the island along community roads and golf kart paths near the golf course. Despite being right on the coast, I was only able to see the Atlantic Ocean for roughly 30 seconds around mile 20. That said I have been lucky to run some of the most beautiful marathons in the country ( Mount Desert Island Marathon 2018, Maine and The 2019 Kauai Marathon in Hawaii to name a few), so if this would have been my first marathon, I may have though more of the scenery. Aid stations were plentiful throughout the course, but since I carry my own drink and gels via hydration pack, I did not make use of them.

Aaron Riddle Kiawah Marathon

Heading towards the finish line.

Despite going out too fast I maintained a decent pace that would result in a PR until around mile 20. Then it all just unraveled. I hit the dreaded wall and had to slow down quite a bit. Each of the last six miles were slower than the last, but I was still able to finish with a respectable time of 3:49:56 (5 minutes off my PR). I was disappointed given how flat of a course this marathon is, but still considered the race a success based on completing another state and finishing without injury.

The post-race celebration area was one of the better ones I have seen with a full buffet of hot food laid out for runners! I’m never very hungry right after a race, but I did grab a few brownies and a banana (the brownies were awesome). My family and I were able to easily catch the return shuttle close by the race finish area which took us right back to the parking area off of the island.

Mary Piggins and the Kiawah Island Marathon medal.

Post Race Reflections and Lessons Learned

The Kiawah Island Marathon is a flat, fast marathon that is optimal for setting a PR. While the area is not the easiest to stay in due to higher prices and availability of lodging, the organizers put on a wonderful marathon with great organization targeted towards making it a really enjoyable experience for all runners. While I was disappointed in not being able to see the coastline for more of the course and with my own performance (I have to learn to go out slow and achieve negative splits), the experience overall was a positive one. I would give the Kiawah Marathon a “thumbs up” and recommend it to someone looking to run in the Charleston area of South Carolina.

Official Race Results

Time: 3:49:56
Overall: 67 out of 163
Male: 48 out of 110
Male 35-39: 8 out of 20

Photos from Race Day

This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:

Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.


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