They say in Maine, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’s bound to change. This was definitely my experience here on the Gulf Coast. Getting into Gulf Shores, Alabama on Friday, it was warm but overcast. The temperature dropped 20 degrees over the next two days, including a 5 degree drop during the race. Still, better than running in the ice and snow typical of January in Maine, however it was 46 degrees in Mobile at Race Time and 49 degrees in Maine. Wonders never cease.
I need to state, for the record, that any review contained herein may be slightly biased as I set an official PR (Personal Record – Personal Best’s abbreviation always makes me want to add a J at the end) for myself. I started the race going around my usual pace, but the camaraderie and competitive spirit of having others around me drove me just a little bit faster. Before I knew it, I was two hours in and feeling as strong as if I had I just started. So then I decided to keep it up for another hour. I started to feel a little weary by the fourth hour, but by that time I already had some good miles under my belt. By the time I saw five hours on my watch, even with my limited math capabilities, I realized I was a short haul away from a personal record. At this time I still do not have official results, but my previous Marathon PR was 5:56:01 – Burlington, VT in 2013. Yesterday my watch shows a net time of 5:38:45.
This is a big city marathon with a small town feel. Firstly, my wallet and I were very pleased with the low entry fee, I believe it was $60 up til five months in advance. Most half marathons are charging more than that. Secondly, downtown is easy to navigate, both on foot and as I was doing the pregame drive around the course. Parking was easy and free in many areas specifically for the race weekend. Thirdly, water stations were plentiful. By plentiful, I mean there were twenty official stops and some of the neighborhoods set up their own. I had my water belt on, but only used it to rinse after an energy chew. The water stations were well stocked and courteous but only one really went out of their way to spruce things up with costumes and coordinated colors that evoked the Mardi Gras feel the city has at the time of the race. All the people at the water stations made up for a surprising lack of spectators. I can’t blame the locals, it was a chilly and damp morning with a cold sun breaking through in afternoon. Lastly, for those with aversions to hills, this was a relatively flat course, with only two major hills that were only mildly steep climbs. The last five miles are downhill or flat.
If you enjoy architecture, this is a great city race to run due to the wide variety of neighborhoods we ran through, each with their own flavor. From cigar box shacks to plantation like mansions, all the homes were easily on display, not hidden behind towering fences or impenetrable shrubs. Greenery highlights included the Mobile National Cemetery, University of Southern Alabama, Mobile Botanical Gardens, and Spring Hill College. These were, for me, the prettiest part of the course. It was somewhat disappointing not to have any water views in a city so well known as a port city. The final stretch is right up Dauphine Street with it’s bars and restaurants and classic theaters. To finish there was a hearty meal of redbeans and rice with sweet cornbread and giant peanut butter cookies. There was also a great blues band playing in the park. I give this marathon 8 out of 10 stars.
Volunteers: I need to start notifying the running groups in upcoming towns before I get there to try and generate some interest in running with me. Especially after Baton Rouge, I have four cities where I am running the route alone. I now realize that even more important than race support (fluids, change of clothes) is someone to get me through the boring parts of a course and perhaps push me a little bit harder.
Host Family Invites: I must make sure I specifically invite the host family to come and watch and cheer. Some don’t realize how exciting it can be to watch a race until they do it and realize that all the runners appreciate a kind word out on the course and remember a friendly face that kept them putting one foot in front of the other.
Change of Clothes: I was so close with this one. Had the bag packed, but forgot to put it in the car. Fortunately I had a spare shirt in the back seat and what a difference it makes. Even without a shower, a clean shirt made me feel fresher and looser than the sweaty run shirt clinging to my body. I must bring a full change of clothes before I get in the car to drive back to my host family.
Still feeling great! During the run my body performed pretty well up until Mile 23. I did too much walking at that point and found it difficult to restart a run. I will say that the chest cold medicine I took after an hour on the road had probably already worn off because I was finding it difficult to take deep breaths towards the end. Deep breaths help center me and give me a yoga like tranquility to run when it gets difficult and so this was an issue last week and certainly didn’t help at the end of the race this week. I have a two fairly large blisters on my right foot and my left hip was feeling a little wonky this morning, but after some stretches feels right as rain. Excited and ready for the Louisiana Marathon next week!