February 17, 2012

Mercedes Half Marathon February 12, 2012

I fell in love with this race from the start because of the free entry. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama was providing free race entries to handful of Alabama races to promote health in our struggling state. It's not like we're the most unhealthy state or anything. Just the second most unhealthy state. So well played, BCBS, well played.

My husband originally signed up to do the Mercedes relay with a work-sponsored team, but his back and its flaming sciatic nerve were sassily telling him not to run with stabbing pains. I was so excited for him to start running, but it looks like that will be on the back burner for a bit until his back starts feeling better. On the night I found out he wasn't going to run, I immediately mentioned that I might want to run, and then he informed me that it is insensitive to immediately start talking about plans to run without taking a second to feel sorry for your husband who is in pain. Oh, yeah, that would be nicer, wouldn't it.

Despite my initial excitement, I decided I didn't want to shell out the extra dough for another race and crossed Mercedes off my 2012 list. Of course this brought a tear to my eye because it was in my hometown and another race I could run with my brother. So the minute I found out that BCBS was handing out free entries, I called my brother, signed us both up, and ran a lap of joy around the basement.

The night before the race, I hit up the dollar store, where I found some sweet glitter glasses. Then I went to Walmart to get headbands and felt to make our Super Stout headbands. It only took about thirty minutes to make the headband, and I was very glad to have it, especially to fight off the freezing weather the next morning. In total, I spent about five bucks on the costumage, and it was totally worth it. Very few people dress up for this race, so a little bit goes a long way with the spectators. I will definitely try to up the ante next year.

I was worried about the glitter glasses rubbing my face raw like glittery sandpaper, but they were perfectly fine. They actually stayed on my face better than my everyday glasses that I usually wear on my short weekday training runs.

My sister-in-law dropped us off about fifteen minutes before the start, so we didn't have to worry about finding parking. Big relief on race morning! The starting line was already packed, and we weaved our way through to our approximate pace time. Instead of using corrals, they have large signs with pace times posted, and you are supposed to self assign. This would have worked great, expect that at one point we couldn't go back any farther because of the cars parked on the side of the road. So we lined up with the 8 min. mile sign. Not too far off, but I would have weaved back a little more if the cars weren't in the way.

At the start, we met someone who brought their own pickle juice.

The start was smooth. Some people were walking out of the corral which seemed odd, but maybe they just didn't want to trip on anyone. As we made it through the course, most of the timing signs were for the full marathon, showing some of the higher mileage points. The marathon is a double loop of the course, so I'm guessing they do it that way to save some of the motivation for people doing the loop twice. There were a few times when I wished I knew more about where I was with mileage. A lot of the clocks on the course were also with the higher mileage points, so I knew how long I had been out but not how far. A Garmin could solve a lot of these problems, but refer back to the third paragraph about my general cheapness. Not buying the Garmin, right now anyway.

My brother ran up a giant staircase to take this. Does he get extra credit for that?

The weather took a downward temperature turn the week of the race, so I had made outfit adjustments to suit the freezing temps. It was not going to get above freezing while we were running, so I busted out the running tights, an extra shirt layer and some gloves. After about five miles, I shed the gloves. The cold made my legs numb, which I think helped on the hills, and it froze my jaw, making it hard to gab, which was no problem because I was too busy sucking air.

Priest handing out water.

Send it up, South Highland.

Railroad Park, we love you.

We were basically running through my brother's neighborhood during the race, so we stopped several times to take pictures at his favorite local spots (Railroad Park!). Also, we like to joke about how runners can't be bothered with trash cans, so we took videos at every water stop doing reenactments of Andy Samberg's "On the Ground" video. It took me half the race to figure out he was taking videos, not pictures, so you can guess that the quality of the video increased when I caught on. We also talked some fellow runners into joining our video crusade. This was definitely a friendly race with lots of people willing to gab with you along the route.

video

Kick ball change, kick ball change.

The course was fairly flat for Alabama. I have done a lot of runs downtown with my brother, and we seem to find huge-to-me hills. This course took us through some mild hills around the Highland area starting at mile 7, but after 10 miles, it was all downhill. Gravity made the last few miles feel great, but overall the whole run felt challenging in that I couldn't talk much because I was too busy facilitating breathing. We made lots of stop but had a decent pace in between, and as always when I run with my bro, my main goal was to keep up. I took one GU at about mile 8 and some sips at water stops. I really wanted to master the art of drinking and running during this race, but I was distracted by our video making. Mostly I took a small sip and saved the rest to throw on the ground. Maybe the hills didn't feel as bad because we kept taking picture breaks. Whatever it was, I was never overwhelmed by a hill. Normally on my long runs, at least a few hills make me wonder why I was born.

In sync. Running the final mile.

Because of the freezing weather, the water stops were slightly icy where water spilled, but nothing that ever caused me to slip. Maybe if I was faster it would have been a problem. Also, there were plenty of water stops. In the half alone, they were handing out GUs in three locations. I also saw stations with bananas (and maybe oranges), so plenty of grub along the route.

The spectators weren't crazy packed, but there were people along the entire route. A lot of people came out of their houses to cheer on the runners, and several businesses set up speakers to prod the runners along. I ran headphone free in this race, so I loved the little blips of music. The last quarter mile was fun with lots of people with signs and big cheers to help you to the end. I thought it had the perfect amount of spectators. Not so many that they are closing off your running path (this happened in the Savannah RNR), but not so few that you would feel comfortable squatting on the roadside (speaking for myself here). On that note, luckily I didn't need the port-o-lets in this race, but I did notice they had several along the route.

We saw our people around mile 9 and about four more times after that, so navigating the race to spectate must not have been too impossible. My husband has perfected the art of following me during a race and taking pictures. He should get the medal.

My support crew. 

After crossing the finish, we got our blingy medals, a cold drink and spaceman blankets and walked around for a few minutes to shake out the legs. We cheered on the full marathoners who were looping around for the second time, and then we realized that we had missed the hat tent. Another Mercedes perk is a finisher's hat at the end of the race. They give you a hat and mark your bib that you received it.


Best part of this race: the indoor after party. Boutwell Auditorium, also the site of the expo, housed the food, drinks and live music for the finished racers. I loved, loved, loved being able to go inside and get warmed up after the race. They took the ticket from your bib and herded runners through a line for a sack lunch from Jim 'N Nicks BBQ (sandwich, fruit, coleslaw). There were lots of tables, and as the room got crowded, people used the stadium seating. I was surprised to like the band, which did some quality classic rock covers. Also, for those of you drinkers out there, there was unlimited beer. I don't drink, so that wasn't as exciting for me, but you know. In general it was a really festive atmosphere that prompted me to meet and talk to other runners from the course. At most races, I ditch out fast because it's too crowded or there isn't enough food. This was the perfect combo of location and fixins. Mercedes got this perfectly right.

Jimmy, our friend Jose and me at the after party. 

Even if I didn't live in Birmingham, I would want to do this race again. The friendliness of the runners and spectators, the challenging-but-doable course, the organization, and the after party are the biggest draws for me. Great work, Mercedes!

And they just sent me an email that I can get a couple grand off one of their cars because I was in the race. Awesome, now I just have to come up with sixty more. Done.

Mercedes bling-a-ding.

Race gear: Zoot shirt, Nike Pacer skirt, Asics tights and socks, Karhu Strong 2 shoes