Locals were able to take advantage of the early bird packet pickup held in downtown Charleston on the Saturday one week before the race. The official Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon expo was held at the East Beach Convention Center on Kiawah Island on Thursday evening and all day on Friday until 8:30 pm. Anyone unable to attend at these times still had the option of picking up on race morning. Visitors to the expo were encouraged to bring canned goods to be donated to the Charleston Area Senior Center and/or new or gently used school supplies to be donated to the local Teachers’ Supply Closet. In an effort to be environmentally friendly, race organizers encouraged runners to bring their own bags to carry their race shirts (which were long sleeve, technical, and gender specific) and bibs, as plastic bags would not be provided. A t-shirt exchange was available for anyone needing different sizes. Official merchandise ranging from Christmas ornaments to pajamas to race shirts from year’s past was available for sale in one room of the conference center while plenty of other vendors had booths set up in the center’s halls.
Of note: Kiawah is very generous to its registrants, who all had the option to defer if necessary to next year’s race.
The East Beach Conference Center also housed the Pre-Race Celebration Buffet. As Kiawah is more than a 45 minute drive from the rest of Charleston, paying $32.95 for the convenience of eating a meal at the expo was well worth it for many runners, who both enjoyed the food and the entertainment provided.
If we’ve attended a better post-race party than this, the magnificence of Kiawah’s is currently outshining them all. Justin enjoyed the unlimited beer provided to runners and the fact that he had options from Angry Orchard, Michelob Ultra, Palmetto Brewing Co., and The Traveler Beer Company. Traveler was giving out fake stick-on mustaches and allowing attendees to entertain themselves on their giant mustache see-saw.
Kiawah’s banquet staff prepared a gourmet quality post-race meal, and runners were able to gorge themselves on a half marathon (or marathon) worth of pasta, tabouli, corn muffins, white bean soup, and brownies.
We made a quick stop at a photo booth were runners could don funny Christmas hats, hold up signs and pose for four photos that were printed right then and there, courtesy of Red Fox Wireless and Pace Magazine.
Because of all the race organizers had to offer, we spent more time than usual at a post-race party. As a result, we were still there when awards were called for the half-marathon. Not only were we able to see the beautiful pelican statuettes given to the top finishers, but we were also there when Justin's name was called as the fifth place finisher in his age group. Some age groups gave out awards for first through third, while others gave out awards all the way through fifth. We are not sure how this was determined, but it worked out in our favor, so we like it!
Kiawah is known as a resort island, so while there are options for on-island accommodations, they are costly. The higher prices are well worth considering as an on-island stay will prevent you from having to take a shuttle to the start on race morning. For anyone not staying on the island, the nearest budget hotels are located about 45 minutes away in the West Ashley part of Charleston. For anyone staying at these hotels, be prepared to drive towards Kiawah and fight some traffic. From there you will park at Freshfields Village and wait in line with other runners for shuttles busing runners onto the island. Freshfields recently obtained its own hotel, the Andell Inn, and while anyone staying here would avoid driving in traffic, it will still require boarding one of the buses to the race start. For anyone considering Andell, book early as it is the only hotel near Kiawah.
Places to Eat
For anyone not willing to pay the $32.95 for the pre-race buffet, there are a number of dining options on Kiawah Island, though many of them are equally expensive, if not more so. The chefs on Kiawah Island cook meals for some of the wealthiest people in the world, including visiting royalty, so eating at a restaurant on the island is sure to guarantee you a memorable meal. Visit http://www.kiawahresort.com/dining for more information. Visitors to Charleston should know that it is a town for food lovers. If you are visiting for more than one day, head downtown and eat at one of the many nationally recognized restaurants for another memorable meal.
Course & Fan Support
In our opinion, the Lowcountry of South Carolina is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and Kiawah Island has some of its most stunning views. The 2012 PGA championships were held on Kiawah’s Ocean Course, and the half marathon led runners there. Much of the race's course is lined with shady live oaks draped with Spanish moss, and runners will be rewarded with frequent views of the marsh and the Kiawah River. We both forgot to wear our sunglasses for the race, and while it wasn’t a big deal due to the shady nature of the course, there were a few occasions when the course ran directly into the rising sun. Consider bringing a pair that you don’t mind wearing in the shade and the sun, or that you can carry or wear on top of your head.
We were both surprised and delighted by the number of fans along the course. As Kiawah is a private island, we didn’t expect to see many people, but it appeared that the friends and family members of many runners were out to cheer runners on. All the usual marathon and half marathon signs made an appearance, though an enthusiastic carrot and banana took the spectator prize for me due to their ability to seemingly cheer for hours. I saw them at multiple points along the course and enjoyed the music they blared for the purpose of their own dancing and for the benefit of runners. A number of bands were present, accompanied by the official race photographers and even more fans.
Kiawah race organizers have the whole race thing down to a science. Go to enjoy the race, but also to marvel at the seamlessness with which this race is put on. Enjoy the scenery along the course and consider using the awesome post-race party as a motive for running a PR; it’ll get you there just a little bit sooner.
Tips for Running a Successful Kiawah Half Marathon
- If you are taking a shuttle, arrive early. If we had gotten to the shuttles at 7 am or beyond, we may not have made it the race start on time.
- Take advantage of the bag check and bring warm, dry clothes to change into after the race. It is often chilly for the weekend of this race and you don’t want to put a damper on all the fun to be had at the post-race party.
- Bring sunglasses for the occasional parts of the course that put you in front of the rising sun.
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