|Half Marathon State # 05
Half Marathon #12
This past Sunday, February 16, 2014, I ran in the Mercedes Benz Half Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama. This was another race (State #5) toward my 50 by 50 Challenge to complete a half marathon in all 50 states before I turn 50. It took us about 6:30 hours to drive the trip. We arrived in Birmingham on Saturday, the day before the race. It was really cold there, a little colder than the weather forecasts had predicted.
We went to our hotel (Sheraton Birmingham) first to check in. It was located just a few blocks from the expo/packet pick-up. The area around the hotel was a madhouse, and we did not know why. There couldn’t be this many runners and family in the area. Later we would find out why, and I will explain later in the post. WARNING: I get on my soapbox! Well, they wouldn’t let us check in early, so we walked on over to the race expo. The race expo was at the Boutwell Auditorium. It was a small expo, but they did at least have a few vendors, but I did not need anything, so we did not stay very long.
After the expo, we walked back to the hotel. It was still too early to check in, so we ate at one of the restaurants (Casey’s Sports Bar) in the hotel. It wasn’t too bad. Because the hotel was crowded, we just sat at the bar. After lunch, we just wanted to get out of the area because it was so crowded, so we traveled over to a small town called Homewood. It was a neat little area, with several stores and restaurants. We found a cupcake store, Dreamcakes Bakery, which was really awesome. If you know me well, you know I do not pass up on a cupcake store.
After spending some time in Homewood, we went back to the hotel, checked in, and had dinner at the hotel’s Atrium Cafe. We met an awesome couple, Bob and Amy, who are in the 50 States Marathon Club. Yes, they are trying to complete a marathon in all 50 states, and this was to be their 20th state. Amazed! The hotel reminded me of Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Race Day: On Sunday, race morning, since our hotel was only a couple of blocks from the start, I got to sleep until about 5:30, which is awesome for a race day! The race morning was C-O-L-D. My GPS said the starting temperature was 30 degrees, feeling like 25 degrees.
This was not a bad race, but starts at a higher elevation than home, and has some good sized hills. They do not have corrals, but do have pace signs up for people to gather themselves around in the starting chute. There were about 5000 runners. Most people adhered to those, but there are always those that have aspirations that their bodies do not agree to, and they get in the way. Miles one and two were a logjam, and made a loop back to the start area and headed in the opposite direction. At Mile 2 we passed our first site of note, the Civil Rights Museum. Around Mile 4, we passed sites such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the Children’s Hospital. Working at the MUSC Children’s Hospital, that was a neat to see. We also passed the Alabama Theater, my only picture I took because my hands were far too cold.
At about Miles 6-8, the hills began. This was a tough section, but it ran through parts of Five Points, which had lots of crowd support, that helped with the motivation and encouragement. Mile 9 was a dream mile, it was all DOWNHILL! I cruised through this section, and made up time I had lost in the hills! The remainder of the race zigzagged through a residential area. This area still had some small hills, so don’t let mile 9 fool you, it isn’t over yet! At about mile 11, they begin splitting the marathoners and half marathoners to prepare the marathoners to do another loop of the same course. You begin to come back into the city at this point. At Mile 12ish, the marathoners break off, and it is just the half marathoners straight in to the finish.
If you like GU Energy Gels, this is the race for you. They give out GUs at three different points in the half marathon. This was awesome, because I did not have to use any of my gels, and was able to save them for the future. They were giving out Vanilla & Strawberry/Banana flavors. They had very adequate water and Poweraid stations throughout the race as well.
The finisher chute is well organized, and had lots of crowd support to cheer you on as the last piece is a small incline into the finish. Once you finish, it gets crowded fast. The race organizers need to move the “medal givers” further back from the finish because runners have to stop when they have just crossed the line and it backs up fast. The finisher area was not much better. I was just working my way through the other runners, grabbed a fruit cup, orange, and banana when realizing I had exited without getting water or Poweraid. The finisher area guard didn’t want to let me back in to get it, and after my persistence, she realized I wasn’t backing down, and they let me go back in. If you have a race bib, this should not be an issue.
I finished the race at a 1:57:52 for a pace of 9:00.
The race did provide a lot of swag, with a race shirt, finisher towel, and gloves since it was so cold at the race start.
Overall the race itself was not that bad. However, with the unneeded extra events going on, make sure you do your research before attending this race to find out what else is going on in the area. Birmingham is not a large town, and does not handle the crowds and traffic very well.
Saturday, February 15, 2014 (Travel Day)
So aside from the race, we did some sightseeing. On our way to Birmingham, we passed by Talladega, home to the Talladega Motorspeedway. As a NASCAR fan, I could not pass up the opportunity to stop and have a look.
Soapbox Time: So, why was downtown Birmingham so crowded, traffic gridlocked, and unbearable? Let’s call it poor planning on the City of Birmingham, the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center & the Sheraton Birmingham. They scheduled not only the Mercedes Marathon Weekend, but also scheduled a Kami-Con Anime Convention, Home and Garden Show, and a cheerleading competition – all sharing the same hotel/convention center area and parking garage. Many of the downtown Birmingham restaurants and businesses were CLOSED on Saturday. Other than the restaurants located in the hotel, there were little or no other options within walking distance. There appears to be an area in development behind the convention center that will have several restaurants but it is not complete yet. The staff at the hotel were not very helpful upon being asked about dining options. Later, we discovered several nice dining/shopping areas located just outside the city. It would have been helpful if the hotel staff could have directed us there.
We were overall disappointed at the lack of other amenities nearby the hotel. The hotel itself was nice and conveniently located for the race activities. The overcrowding of the public areas with all of the other groups present made getting around difficult.
Here are a few of the pictures of the Kami-Con participants:
Sunday, February 16, 2014 (Race Day)
On Sunday after the race, we just wanted to get out of town. We were told (by another hotel guest) to head to “The Summit” for lunch and shopping, so that is what we did. There were some great mountain views there. We found The Cheesecake Factory. We had never eaten at one, so we ate there. Boy was it awesome. Other than the fact that the menu was 20+ pages, there were 4 pages of desserts! I had a Macaroni and Cheese Burger and fries, and my wife had the Fish and Chips basket. For our Cheesecake selections, I chose the White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut and she chose the Dutch Apple. Wow! They were awesome!