Two weeks ago the bestie and I road tripped it down to Charleston, SC with our guys for the Charleston Half Marathon... and it was an absolute blast!! For starters... the weather was incredible. We had over eight inches of snow in Richmond the weekend before and every day was in the high seventies and sunny while we were down there so safe to say we soaked it up! The race itself was also wonderful, as was the after party. Keep reading for my full review of the entire experience from start to finish and let me know what you thought about the race!
Expo and Packet Pick-Up: We left Richmond early Friday morning (I'm talking the butt-crack of dawn... so early) and made it to Charleston around 1:30 in the afternoon. Instead of going straight to the expo, we decided to get lunch and hit the beach for a few hours. I'm telling you guys, we literally had 2 degree mornings and almost a foot of snow five days earlier, so high seventies and the ocean felt like heaven! By the time we hit the expo, it was close to closing and pretty much winding down. The expo itself was held at the Charleston Convention Center and was alright. I think I'm a little spoiled with Richmond Sportsbackers races because their expos are insane, so I'm not sure my account of this one is super fair. There were a good amount of vendors, but nothing outrageous. There was a band playing inside and was really really loud which made it a bit hard to concentrate at the different booths, but not too terrible. Packet pick-up itself was super easy and bib numbers were sent out a week prior so we just walked up, grabbed our bib and safety pins and kept it moving. Again, we went late in the evening and had absolutely no lines, but I can't speak to how the crowds were earlier in the day!
Accommodations and Travel: Charleston is just one of the most beautiful cities in the South. It's historical, charming, and when it comes to food and drink, this place is overflowing with amazing restaurants and rooftop bars galore! Getting to Charleston from Richmond isn't tough, it's a pretty straight shot down 95 and took us about six hours without stops (although we made hella stops, because when you know you'll be running a race in mid-70 degree weather the next morning, you drink a LOT of water and you make a LOT of bathroom stops). We stayed at a super cute Air BnB right across the bridge from downtown. I HIGHLY recommend browsing Air BNB or VRBO before you go because you can find some amazing deals on cute apartments and even entire houses for so much less than the cost of a dingy hotel! We each paid about $120/person for four days, three nights in a two bedroom, one bath condo with a full kitchen and living room, can't beat that!
Course: This course is fun, but can be a little boring in some parts and a little tight in others. The course starts near the Citadel and begins heading south towards the Battery and King St. The first two miles are on the main road and under bridges near the water. For the third mile you're right on the water in the historical park area with memorials all around. The scenery is beautiful and it's really fun to look at all of the amazing houses that are on the water, but this section of the course is TIGHT. Really, the first four miles in general are pretty jam-packed with people. The marathon and the half start at the same time from the same place and don't split until mile ten so you're neck and neck with your fellow runners for the majority of your race, and for those first four miles the streets are very narrow. We even saw one runner get extremely claustrophobic and have to get off the course. Just make sure that you're prepared for this part of the course and if you need to, stay to the right where the sidewalk keeps things more open. At mile four, you take a left and head into downtown Charleston on King St. It's beautiful and there are so many fans cheering along the way! Running by all of the shops and restaurants is really fun and also gives you time to check out where you might want to go spend some money later on! However, once you get past the main parts of King, the course gets a little boring. You run through mainly industrial areas on back paved roads. Still very flat and very fast, but just not as much scenery to take in. The final part takes you through a nice wooded area of trails and finally finishes near North Charleston High School. Overall, the course has zero hills (save for a tiny bridge or two), lots of fan fare (although not as much as Richmond or Monument), and some really fun things to see along the way!
Ease of the Start Line: The start line is very unassuming with very little commotion... which I love! Like I said, the half and full marathons both start together, but the Shrimp and Grits 5K starts at another section. The 5K brings a LOT of participants, so it's nice that all three don't begin in the same place. Near the Citadel is a large open field beside what I think is a high school football field. There were plenty of porta-potties and parking was very easy (although keep in mind that this is a point to point race, so if you park at the start line, you'll need to hitch a shuttle 13 miles back to your car once you finish). While the start line doesn't have a ton of fan-fare and hoopla, it's east to get to, easy to get around and not overwhelmingly crowded. One big difference with this race than with others I've run is that there aren't technically start waves. Instead, you simply pile in based on your pace and go for it. With the number of runners, I think it's fine, but with races like Richmond and Shamrock, designated corrals based on qualifying pace are crucial.
Swag: Nothing too out of the ordinary for this race in terms of swag, but it doesn't disappoint! Every participant gets a medal at the finish line (5k, half and full marathon) and they are really fun. Runners also get a long sleeve tech shirt with the same design that's on the medal. This year it was a tortoise and a hare with a man and woman running above. The shirt was light blue for the half and super cute! No hats, towels or blankets but for the cost of this race (we signed up at the Richmond Expo for less than $60), totally great!
Post-Race Party: This is were the Charleston Half Marathon really shines... the post-race party! Once you cross the finish line it's a non-stop jam complete wih free food and drinks (for participants and for purchase for non-runners) as well as booths and lots of bands! It's not the called the "Shrimp and Grits 5K" for nothing... every finisher gets a giant bowl of home cooked grits topped with plump, perfectly cooked shrimp, complete with a bar of toppings from hot sauces galore to alllll the cheese!! Literally the BEST shrimp and grits I've ever had... ever. Aside from free shrimp and grits, you can choose between beer OR delicious mimosas. Let's be real, a post-race beer is awesome, but a post-race mimosa is like heaven in a glass! And I'm not talking a little baby pour... these are full size, heavy on the champagne and light on the OJ! There are also vendors walking around with free coffee for everyone, which is really nice for spectators waiting for their loved ones to cross the finish line. This was for sure the best post-race party I've ever seen and was an absolute blast!!
So there you have it, an unbiased, honest review of a great race in the southern sunshine! While we had beautiful weather, I did learn that two years prior it was frigid and windy... so it sounds like it's not a race that you can guarantee you'll be running in a tank top! I would definitely go back again and have another go, the experience was great!