When I was planning out my 2016 race schedule, the Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon was not originally on the agenda. However, sometime in December, I was talked into coming down to Alabama to do the race with Kathleen. She had signed up for the race right away as it was the 15th anniversary for the race and she wanted the special bling. By the time I had signed up, the registration was more than I wanted to spend for a half but I had gotten a discount code from the St. Jude race, so I figured that was a sign and I went for it. I booked air travel with points and then split the hotel with Kathleen and another fifty stater (Hi, Brandy!), so overall the weekend really wasn’t an expensive one.
Since the race was on Sunday, I was able to fly into Birmingham on Saturday afternoon and planned to fly home right after the race on Sunday. Logistics wise, this really was one of the easiest races I have done. Kathleen had the hotel, which was about a mile away from the start line and we just ended up walking there and back, which was super easy. It was much cheaper than the hotels right at the start line and we were all for saving a few bucks.
Kathleen landed in Birmingham a little before me, but she waited for me at the airport before we headed to the expo. Now, here is a fun fact. I’ve become very close with Kathleen, as in we talk throughout the day almost every day, but I had never met her! The best part though is that we actually have about 5 other trips already planned. Luckily, I think she liked me, so I think the other trips will happen. We were lucky in that she had her friend Bob pick us up from the airport and take us to the expo.
This expo just stunk. I understand we were there basically an hour before before it closed, but there was nothing there. I will say, if you do this race, don’t expect to spend a lot of time at the expo and don’t really schedule for that. Picking up the bib was a very easy process and even though I did make them walk by every booth there, we were in and out, in under 20 minutes (if that!). Bob was then kind enough to take us to the hotel.
For dinner, we had only one option. For months now, Kathleen has been talking about these cheesy nachos and that was what we would be getting. We went to this small place called Momma Goldberg’s and got a sandwich and these cheesy nachos. The sandwich was very good and the cheesy nachos? Well, they were good. Basically they were cheese Doritos with fresh pepperjack cheese slices toasted over. Genius, right? I will probably be making them at home soon. Let’s just be honest about that!
After we gabbed for awhile, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with Brandy. Even though I think we were all kinda tired, we all gabbed more for awhile about life, running, and everything in between. Finally around 10pm, we called it a night as we had a 5:45am wake up call.
Sunday morning came pretty quickly and as that alarm went off, my first thought to myself was why do I do this to myself sometimes? Slowly I got moving and got ready. I forgot to bring a bagel for breakfast, but luckily I had a cliff bar in my travel bag. Since it was going to be 25 degrees at the start and only the low 30’s by the time we finished, I had to bring out some of the winter gear, which basically sucked. I came to Alabama hoping to run in shorts and a short sleeve. That just didn’t happen. Oh well.
By 6:15am, the 3 of us started the walk up to the start line area. I will admit, I was worried about the walk, but it ended up being not that bad. We were able to go into the Auditorium at the start line and use the restrooms there. The lines for the women’s were crazy and at this point not going to the bathroom was just not an option. A random guy came over and said there were no men in the men’s room so a bunch of us ran that way. We had some men sneak in on us, so we let them go first, but otherwise, none of us in line had any issues hitting up the men’s room instead. A bathroom’s a bathroom and it’s better than a port-o-potty in 25 degree weather.
By 6:50am, Kathleen and I were heading up to the start line area. It was weird in the way they started as they didn’t have too many holes in the gates to get into the corrals. We actually got in at the 5 minute mile corral and just fought our way up to the 10 minute mile area. There were no official corrals, so it was all on the honor system. They did have pacers, so we did line up behind the 4:30 pacer.
Pretty soon after the start gun went off, we were passing the start line and on our way. Kathleen runs a galloway run/walk and since we were going to run together, I let her dictate what we did and our pace. For the entire race we did a 4:15 run/0:45 walk. For me, it was an interesting experience, but I didn’t mind it.
The first thing I noticed about the course is just how many turns it had. I figured our Garmin watches would be off on the mileage as the tangents were hard to run with a pretty packed course. In fact, I don’t think it thinned out until after about 6-7 miles into the race. For the most part though we were off by no more than .06 at the mile markers. Interestingly enough though, at the finish, I somehow finished at exactly 13.10 miles. Probably the first time that has ever actually happened.
Somewhere around mile 5ish we both (at around the same time) just realized we weren’t into the race to hit closer to the 2:15 we both wanted and decided we’re going to hit whatever we were going to hit. It wasn’t even until around mile 11 that either of us even spoke about final time. I really tried to let her dictate pace, but at one point by Railroad Park, which was still pretty early in the race, she said we needed to slow down. Later she told me were going around an 8:30 pace. Oops.
Throughout the course, there were a few little hills. For the most part, they were okay but they were just more on the short and steep side. The worst hills definitely came around miles 6-7 and they were only worse because they just were longer. There were two longer ones right in row, which sucked. And of course our walk breaks never hit on the uphill.
I actually really like miles 9-10 as there was a very nice downhill. I definitely took advantage of that as much as I could. I just love going downhill and as much as other runners don’t as they say it’s taxing on their legs, I find it to be opposite. I can just open up on the downhill and really get some nice speed going. Weeeeeeeeee.
Finally we hit the 10 mile marker and we knew the end was near. I will say was much as we chatted with each other on things, we also had some random conversations with other runners. We also made fun of every runner that ran while talking on their phone. And in fact, pretty early on in the race, I actually went up to somehow who was having a conversation and yelled “HI, HOW ARE YOU” into the phone. I’m sorry, but a half marathon is just no place to be having a phone conversation.
Around mile 12, there was a sign for beer! YES! Kathleen knew I wanted it and told me to get it. So, yup, I took it! Taking beer on a course is something new to me. Now, if I was racing and on PR pace, I probably wouldn’t have taken the beer, but we were having fun, so why not!? The beer was actually good and cold, so it was enjoyable. Much different than the warm crappy beer I’ve had at past races.
Then around mile 12.4 we heard the sirens and the commotion. We knew this only meant one thing: the men’s marathon winner was coming through. As silly as it may be, we were trying to beat him to the finish line, but clearly that just didn’t happen. As he went by though, we were all cheering and he actually waved at us and smiled. He looked great and didn’t look at all like he was in pain.
As we got closer to the finish, I started to pick up. As soon as I saw the mile 13 sign, I wanted to open up and go. She told me to go on, so I did. They actually had an announcer calling out our names so that was a fun touch! I was all about that and definitely did a little wave when he called out “Chelsea Prior” over the speakers.
As I came over the finished line, I did a nice little jump. I hope the photo guys got it, so we’ll see. It was great though to hit that finish line and be done. We headed through the finish line chute and both of us commented on how well organized it was. It was pretty well gated, so there wasn’t a lot of people in the way or just lolly gagging around. It was nice actually. After getting some official finish pictures, our official finisher’s gift & some water/food, we headed into the Auditorium to get our BBQ (and beer for me).
The BBQ from Jim ‘N Nick’s was absolutely amazing! While sitting down to eat, we found Kathleen’s friend Bob again (and BTW he PR’d — go Bob!) and got watched the female marathon winner come in on the TV.
As we were leaving to head back to the hotel, we ran into Brandi!!! She was waiting on her one friend to finish so it was glad to see her for a brief moment! I am excited to see her again for the Pittsburgh Marathon weekend and maybe I’ll get to hang out with her for more than 3 minutes.
Overall, this was a great race. The course lacked in spectators and I am just going to hope that is because of the cold. The water stations and official cheer stations were well manned though. The bling was great and we all got a finisher’s present in addition to the short sleeve race shirt. I also have to say that this race was amazing on social media. If I had a question and tweeted to them, I had an answer usually within an hour. They were very interactive with their runners and to me, that’s great. It shows that extra step they will take to connect with their runners. I would definitely come back down to run the half again, but not the full as it was just two loops of the course, which just didn’t seem like fun.
Running with Kathleen was a blast! I definitely cannot wait for our other adventures this year. We both finished under 2:22 and okay with that. I felt great and definitely don’t foresee any issues with how I will feel in the morning. I am glad she was able to talk me into this race! One more state off the list (#13) and 1/5 of the way to half #100 as well!
Official Finish Time:
902/???, Overall Females
136/259, F 30-34