December 11, 2012

Rocket City Marathon, December 8, 2012

This was my race. My redemption. My way back from my two-second Boston qualifying fail. But it worked out to be the opposite of all that.

Here we are before my dreams were crushed.

Source: David Christy Photography

My race:

Usually I talk about race logistics first, but I really want to get this part out of the way so that my personal race experience doesn't cast too big of a shadow on the course and my overall experience at Rocket City.

It was a flunk of a race for me personally. After mile 11, I knew something was off. It was a struggle to keep pace, and slowly my stomach, abs, and intestines started to gridlock. It was like a giant Braxton Hicks contraction from my bra line all the way down to my shorts. That's a lot of area to cramp simultaneously.

You can see in my splits when the problems started to happen.

My brother and my friend Kathleen came up that morning to help pace me to my BQ. The plan was to meet my brother at mile 13, and then Kathleen, dressed as Cat in the Hat, would keep us pumped for miles 20-26. 

Source: David Christy Photography

By the time I saw my brother at mile 13, I had already taken a couple of walk breaks. 

In my mind, I kept repeating, just start this race over mentally and don't let this be finished right here. But I couldn't do it. Mind did not win over matter. Every time I started to run, the cramping intensified, and at some point, every attempt to run was closely followed by some hurling.

At first I thought that it would feel great to vomit so that I could clear out whatever felt like lead in my gut and just pick up running again, but nothing of any substance ever came up. Instead, every time I drank Gatorade, it popped right back out again like a liquid fountain from my face. Sorry to the small children I scarred for life by vomiting right beside their spectator spot. I'm sure I recruited a few future runners with that lovely display.

Also two times I tried going to the bathroom to clear the pipes, but that was a fail. Nothing.

I was only able to get in Shot Bloks at miles 5 and 10, after that I didn't take in anything solid. Only Gatorade and water.

So what was the malfunction? Remember how I was all over carb-loading for this race. Lost in all the carb-y giddiness, I skipped out on my final step before every marathon. I outline that step in this post, but basically the step goes like this: I have to cleanse the colon or I'm toast.  I don't know for sure, but my instinct tells me this was my race-killing error. Things are still not back to normal in that area, which is a very regular area for me. I can think of a lot less polite ways to say that last sentence, but I feel like you've seen too much already.

Somewhere after mile 20, I cried for a minute. That's when I really knew that any hope of feeling at all decent during this race was lost. It was possibly the most frustrated I've ever been with running (maybe tied with Nashville RNR), but I was glad to have some friends with me to make the misery more festive. Although I felt super guilty for having them drive all that way with me to hear me gag and vomit for 13 miles. I tried to stay positive as much as I could, but also I kind of just wanted to scream into a pillow.

But I very sweatily gutted it out until the finish, and on this day, finishing was good enough.

Source: We Run Huntsville

Well, finishing plus getting some air at the finish was good enough.

Source: We Run Huntsville

If you're going to screw up a race, you might as well nail the finish line photo. And in case you're wondering, yes my legs did immediately cramp up when I did this. If they had a series of photos, you would have then seen me almost fall over and stumble off like a wounded animal. But it was totally worth it.

My final stats: 4:37:56, age group 41/76, overall 691/1144.

The course: 

A lot of people told me that this would be a great race for BQing because it isn't too hilly. While I agree that the course isn't very hilly, all of the turns make it somewhat harder to stay closer to 26.2 miles. I ended up with 26.54, not too bad, but if I had been close on my time, that could have made a significant difference.

I loved that the course is permanently marked, and I enjoyed running through the quiet Huntsville neighborhoods. That was a great way to get into some wide streets without any traffic issues. The course is out and back with some extra loops, so you see some, but not all, parts of it twice. Although it's a pleasant course, it's not very scenic, mostly residential and a couple of main roads. I think I was hoping to run through a rocket.

Once we got to a stretch of main road, we lost tree coverage, and you could really feel the wind. Supposedly it was at our backs on the way back in, but I never noticed it then.

There was an average number of spectators. It wasn't crazy packed with them, but there was a steady disbursement of people to cheer you on along the way.

The water stops were well manned, but it felt like there weren't enough stops in the beginning. I know they are used to much cooler weather, so that may be why it is planned like that. By mile 5, I started to worry that I might not get enough water out on the course. For warmer days like we had, I feel like adding some water stops would be clutch.

And a special shout-out to the volunteers. Some of them were so extremely friendly that I thought I should be giving them a medal. It was a very positive race environment. Kudos to Huntsville on such an overall friendly race environment.

The weather: 

The high was 68, and the day was mostly overcast. But it was the humidity that killed us. At one point when I checked, it said that humidity was over 80%. So even though it wasn't super hot, it felt very sloggy, and although they forecasted rain in the morning, we got none. I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing. Rain may have cooled us down a bit.

The travel: 

We decided to drive to Huntsville the morning of the race. That is one of the main reasons I signed up for this race because they allow packet pick-up on the morning of the race, and I knew it wouldn't require an overnight stay. I love this and wish more races would offer this option.

There was zero traffic when we left Birmingham at 4:45 a.m., and we made it to the expo hotel just as they were opening the doors to let people in to pick up packets at 6:30 a.m.

At the expo hotel, we parked at what turned out to be two steps from the finish line. Score.

Expo and pre-race:

The Holiday Inn, where they held the expo, also allowed us runners to lounge in their lobby and use their facilities. Excellent bonus! The weird thing is that I actually preferred using the port-o-potty for some, ahem, privacy. I got in line for the port-o-potties right by the start, and made it through the line in less than 10 minutes. Pretty good for getting into line 15 minutes before the race start.

Packet pick-up was quick and simple. I wanted to trade shirt sizes, so they told me to come back after the race so they could make sure that everyone got their first choice before they made switches. They had plenty of shirts when I came back. Score!

There were lots of good deals on clothes and shoes at the expo too. I'm a little over clothed right now for running (don't tell me husband I said that), so I didn't really look. But they seemed to have plenty of options on the $10 rack if you needed some basics, and they had some shoes for $45.

This is also when we got to meet Suzanne, who is a Huntsville local and awesome blogger. And after Rocket City, she's now a marathoner!


We used our time with her to do some warming up (???). This picture makes me laugh every time because it's so random. 

Source: David Christy Photography

We also met Paige, from The Last Doughnut, and her husband Geno. Unfortunately, the picture I took with all of us was super fuzzy with glowing eyes (very zombie), but here's a cool one of Geno winning the master's division and coming in 6th place overall. 

Source: We Run Huntsville

Post-race party: 

There were volunteers at the finish with water and Gatorade cups, and you could go back into the hotel for a buffet-style snack. You got a paper sack at the start that you could fill with whatever goodies you liked. I just grabbed a banana and saltines. Although they had PB&Js and stew, nothing seemed very appealing to me at that moment. I loved the paper sacks though. Much better than teetering a stack of snacks in one hand while you try and navigate through the crowds.

Again, if it had been colder outside, the stew and indoor party would have been amazing. As is, we could have thrown some blankets down outside in the perfect weather (for picnics, not for marathons).

We took our after party to The Nook.

Source: David Christy Photography. That's the same David (far left) who finished his first marathon that day. Go, David!

It's a little tavern that sells lots of brewery (for the fans of that) with a side of tasty treats, like this jambalaya that I ordered.

They also had Chicago dogs with the greenest relish on planet earth. My guess is that's all natural.

The swag:

The shirts are bright (love) and gender-specific Nike shirts. I like the cut of these, and knowing they are Nike makes it easier to know which size you will need, although I still switched mine out to make room for my carb baby.

The medals were just completely awesome. Big but not too heavy with a great local theme for the artwork and a good quality wide ribbon. I loved them. They also gave us a cap at the finish line when they handed us our medals. An excellent touch.

There wasn't much to packet pick-up, no samples or bags. Just a large envelope with your bib and a lot of ads inside. I liked that they focused on a great shirt, medal and hat instead, although it would have been nice to have a bag to throw everything into as we were leaving.

Did I miss the headphones?

This is the race that has the very strict no-headphones policy. Remember that my big fear going into this race was that I would crash without music to help motivate me when I would inevitably struggle.

I don't think the race would have turned out differently with headphones, but once when a guy ran by wearing a little speaker pack playing some 90s rock, it felt like heaven. After my brother and Kathleen stepped in to help me, I definitely didn't need the headphones -- although my brother did kick out some old school raps on his phone, along with some Gangnam Style. He's a really awesome brother like that.

If I was running this whole race solo, I would have definitely needed some type of distraction and would have turned on my music on my phone (sans headphones of course!).


Extremely friendly race, from the runners to the volunteers. The cost is low at $60 to register, but it does sell out. They cap the race at around 1,200 people, so if it's on your must-run list, don't wait to register. If the weather is hot, you may want to bring your own fluids to make sure you are getting enough. The swag is excellent, and the course is fairly easy, although it's not the most scenic. This is definitely one I would run again, and I would cross my fingers for the more typical cool race-day weather.