Wednesday, February 14, 2007

First Race of the Year

The Mercedes Marathon Half. Or as they called it, the Alabama Power Mercedes Half Marathon. For a small marathon, they did a very good job. There were about 2500 half marathoners and just under 700 full marathoners.

We walked over to the expo right after we checked into our room at the Historic Redmont Hotel on Friday night. It wasn't too far, but it was frigid cold outside so we bundled up. Packet and chip pick-up went smoothly. We got a long sleeved white tee shirt, a pair of throw-away gloves, some info about other races and a Mars "energy" bar in the goody bag. There were 3 short rows of vendor booths; nothing new, nothing unusual. They had separate race merchandise for each of the events (full, half, relay and 5k). Nothing caught my eye and I didn't buy a thing. A nice touch was the booth that was handing out little glasses of beer. Yum.

There was not a single restaurant in the downtown area where we were located, so we drove out to see what was around. Where do office workers eat? We found a Ruby Tuesday's and decided it would be good enough. Bad choice! Good-bye Ruby Tuesday indeed!

Saturday morning we went to Homewood and to a wonderful coffee shop down the block from the knit shop. At O'Henry's Coffee we caffeinated and I had a breakfast bagel, even though the lemon bars were calling my name. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can still hear them. The skinny latte was just what I needed for a long shopping morning in the yarn store.

After we were yarned-out for the day we decided to go see a movie. Our best choice was Dreamgirls. Great movie. I can see why it was nominated for (and won) so many awards. Since I am (or rather, was) a Detroiter I could see the whole Motown/Diana Ross thing. I thought the music was great and the acting wonderful.

When we got back to the hotel, we saw the special for the night for dinner was salmon with garlic mashed potatoes. We decided to just hang out and eat there. Another bad choice! Overcooked fish and reconstituted potatoes. The rolls were good though.

Yes, now I'll actually talk about the race! It was scheduled to start at 7:0-someodd am. We left the hotel at 6:15 am and man, it was icy out. I had peeked at the weather channel and the temp was 27 degrees. Minus a wind chill too, since the wind was blowin' away. Before the start everyone was crammed into the Auditorium where the expo had been and the finish party was scheduled. I decided to wait in line there for the bathroom, rather than face a frozen potty outside. That took just enough time that we walked back outside at 6:55, time to get to the start area. They had markers for different paces, and some pace groups setting up. I wanted to be at the back, but in front of the biggest group of walkers. Everyone else had the same idea! We found a spot and waited for the start.

It had warmed up quite a bit by then and I was afraid I'd overdressed (ok, it was probably about all of 34 degrees). I had on fleece pants under regular running pants, a fleece microfiber top, a lightweight jacket, gloves, buff, running cap and headband. I was thinking of checking my jacket, but it was time for the start. After the gun went off (or whatever it was, I didn't hear it) it only took about 3 minutes for us to cross the start. It was crowded but not too bad. My goal was to start slowly, run slowly, take it easy and have fun. whoops, check, check and check!

I intended to try for a 9:1 run:walk, and maybe switch to 4:1 if my breathing wasn't ok. I also intended to walk at least the worst of the hills. I lost Petra during the first mile. As usual when I'm cold, I started too quickly. I think the markers were wrong though; according to my watch, my first mile was 11:05! Yikes! I didn't let that faze me, figuring that like Las Vegas it was just mis-marked. I did slow down though.

The course went through the downtown area, and out to the more residential neighborhoods. Who knew that Birmingham was so hilly! I knew from the website that there were hills, and expected them, but c'mon! Yes, I ended up walking most of those uphills. Water stops were plentiful and my only complaint there was the volunteers (who are wonderful for just being out there on such a cold day and got extra points for being friendly and smiling) interspersed those holding water with those holding energy drink. A couple of times I grabbed what I thought was water and it wasn't. I just started paying more attention after that.

I stripped off my gloves, jacket and headband within the first couple of miles. Although I would have been happier without the fleece pants, I wasn't too warm. It was more that they didn't move well, and my knees felt somewhat constricted. When we ran into the wind it got chilly, and when the sun was out it warmed up. A couple of times later in the race I felt like untying my jacket from my waist and wearing it, but then I just warmed up and it was ok.

I chatted with people running near me, and eavesdropped on others. Hey, that's one of the most fun parts of a race. The things you hear! Somewhere about mile 9 or 10-ish I started running and walking with another woman who was going my pace. She had just had a baby 6 months earlier and that was her "excuse" for going so slowly. Good for her for being out there! We hung out and chatted until we crossed the 12 mile marker. I was feeling very well at that point and decided to just run it on in. So I did. As I was getting closer I realized I could break 3 hours on the clock and that gave me incentive to run the rest of the way instead of just strolling. I know, looking forward to a barely sub-3 hour half is pitiful, but I was worried that I'd hardly break 3:15. One of these days I'll drop that extra one-to-two minutes per mile and get back to my old standby of 2:40. Someday.

So, I crossed the finish line and was handed my medal. It was a shiny silver-colored metal, one side with the embossed Mercedes logo and the other with the name of the race. The ribbon had the date. I was handed a cape of awesomeness (which wasn't too awesome, it was just a blank space blanket), a bottle of water (which I exchanged for a bottle of electrolye stuff), and a banana. I picked up my finishers shirt, a cheap short sleeved white technical shirt with the race logo. They were quickly running out of those. I left the secured area and got my finisher picture taken. I decided to hang out at the finish area and wait there for Petra. I found a bench, did a couple of stretches, and plopped down to wait. I was glad of my jacket and gloves!

Petra finished, got her medal, found out they were out of shirts (tsk tsk on them) and we went to get our food. There was an assembly line of sorts; paper bags to hold stuff, little foil wrapped pork or chicken barbecue sandwiches, chips, fruit, cole slaw. We filled our bags and went to stand in the beer line. Yay beer! We decided that we'd take everything back to our room and eat there; it was crowded and noisy in the auditorium with everyone waiting for the car giveaway (a free 2-year lease on a new Mercedes). Neither of us wanted the car so it was no big deal if we weren't present to win. The walk back, sipping our beer, was nice. We went to our room and gobbled down the food. We didn't even have energy to shower until later.

We spent the next few hours just hanging out, snoozing a bit, knitting away, until we got hungry again. We thought about all the restaurants we had seen and decided on PF Chang's. While waiting for our table we had a couple of pear-mojito drinks. Yum and yum again. I could have completely re-hydrated on those! Dinner was delish, the best meal we had in B'ham. Too bad we couldn't have found something local to try.

Monday morning we got up at 4:00 am (!!!) so that we could be at the airport for our 6:30 am flight. That went well, but there was trouble in Dallas-Ft. Worth. It was raining. Big whoop, right? Wrong! Our flight was canceled. We had just missed the 9:30 am flight to Oakland, and the next flight wouldn't get us in until after 6:30 pm. We decided to fly to San Francisco and they'd give us a shuttle back to our cars. Oopsie-whoopsie, Petra forgot that she had packed her keys in her luggage. I couldn't say anything since I had done that the LAST time American Airlines had screwed up our flights and baggage. The flight went ok but of course our luggage didn't arrive with us. We waited around and got the shuttle which dropped us at the lot where we were parked. I retrieved my car and took Petra to her home. Where she was locked out. After a few calls she found someone who could pick her up so I dropped her off to get her dog and headed home. Then I faced rush hour traffic in the rain.

Home Sweet Home! And I didn't even have to unpack and do laundry when I got there.

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