On February 22, I was in rainy Birmingham, AL for my first running of the Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon. All that I knew about the race was that the race bling does not change from year to year, and 99% of participants are perfectly happy about this. In fact, that race medal is very well know throughout the running world, and was one of the most complimented medals that I have posted on my Facebook wall. And I agree, it is hard to argue with the beauty of the Mercedes-Benz symbol as a race medal. It pops, and it demands attention. But what about the rest of the race? Does it live up to the hype of the medal? In my experience, I would have to say yes.
Despite the rain, I loved my experience at the event, and I understand why so many people race about the event. Honestly, the race was smaller than I was expecting. It was much closer to the Mississippi Blues size than the St. Jude Memphis or Country Music Marathon events. And for this, I was appreciative. These mid-range races are the best for me. The overall event seems to be about the runner and cause more than just having a large number. I love some of the big, corporate races that I have run, but not being herded like cattle for thirty plus minutes before starting a race certainly has its perks.
For my performance in the race, I was not at my best. Snow, ice, cold, and rain have hampered both my ability and desire to train as diligently as I would like or need to do.I am staying active, but often I am not giving maximum effort, and it is showing in my finishing times. But, I am finishing, and I am starting to make progress back to my late 2013 form. I am pleased with how I finished this race in particular with the rain throughout, and having to spend the entire previous week battling cabin fever due to most of my exercise outlets being incapacitated by ice.
Course: A: The course itself would be graded differently if I ran the full marathon rather than the half. For the full marathon, you run the course twice, which I would not prefer. But since the course is a double loop, it eliminated several logistical nightmares that certainly enhanced it for the half marathoners and marathoners alike. For the half marathon, there were eleven water stops! Yes, eleven! Now, I did not need that many stops on this particular day, but with the uncertainty of the weather, it was awesome to have that many options. I am certain that the marathoners would agree with this sentiment. After the start, the course never crowded for me again, and it looped throughout downtown and other points of interest in Birmingham. There was crowd support everywhere, even in the rain, and there never was a question of which way to go, even when the marathoners and half marathoners had separate paths to the finish line. The course started flat, hit some hills for miles four through nine, and then finished flat again, for a net gain of one foot of elevation, which was remarkable. A huge thank you to the numerous volunteers and spectators along the way! Y’all made the race even more enjoyable!
Swag: A+: I already spoke about how great I felt that the medal is/was/will be. I also enjoyed the simple design of the race shirt, and the fact that the tech shirt still fit true to size. So often races shirts are cut for the super elite runners, and not people like me that it is a crap shoot to receive an appropriately sized shirt. There also were some gloves, coasters, and one part of a system called the Gotta Go Poncho, which was the talk of the expo as I was leaving. Just Google it, and will see what I mean. Too bad we did not get the entire system because I am very curious how many people would have used them on Sunday morning. All finishers also received a race themed beach towel, which is a race first for me, but certainly awesome. The post race food spread was separated into two areas. The first was at the finish with Powerade, water, fruit and such. The other was a BBQ and beer party inside the expo. The line was long by the time I finished, and since I did not stay at a host hotel, I headed back to my hotel to shower and checkout so I could head back to Memphis at a decent hour. I feel that I missed out by doing this.
Overall: A: I loved this race, the volunteers, the swag, and the entire experience. I am very happy that I won this entry from the 100 Half Marathons Club because without it, I might never have decided to experience this race, which would have been a shame. I highly recommend this race to others, and I would certainly run it again in the future.
This was my seventeenth half marathon, and fifth state total in which I have had to run a half marathon. I met several Half Fanatics at the race, including a guy from Wayne Dobbins, GA, who I talked to for he entire walk to the starting corrals and wait for the race start. Also, a local running group in Birmingham had Run the Ham on the back of their shirts at the expo, which is awesome. If I lived there, I would probably wear that shirt to every one of my out of town races.