Monday, December 17, 2007

Rocket City Marathon Race Report

I spent the couple of months preceding this race in a tizzy about running in freezing weather. My performance at cold races has been poor and I was very worried about completing the Rocket City Marathon within the six hours allowed.

Although there was online registration, I actually sent in a check to register. This went very smoothly and I soon saw my name on the online confirmation list. About a week before we left for Huntsville, Alabama I received the 2007 race information book. This 60 page tome had information about everything from course maps to local attractions and restaurants. Anything that wasn't included wasn't worth knowing.

The race sold out at 1500 a few days before race day. What a difference from our last race, NYC Marathon. Accordingly we lowered our expectations because some of the small races we've run didn't have all the necessities or amenities. Unnecessarily since almost everything was well done.

The expo was held on Friday and it was open all day (it was also open on Saturday during the race). Like everything else it was held at the host hotel, the Holiday Inn. We headed over there, got our bibs and chips and picked up our shirts. We all know my issues with shirts being loose enough; I had asked for an XXL since they were doing sizing by sex. They also were doing different colors. The female shirt was was a tech fabric pink and like most Nike shirts was tightly fitted. It didn't come in an XXL and the XL wouldn't have fit me on a good day, so I was offered the option to take the blue tech men's shirt. Yeah! I liked that color even better!

We didn't notice until my sis pointed it out that our names were written on the bib. Darn, no anonymity during this race. There really wasn't a goody bag; the bag we got had lots of ads, race fliers, coupons, and nothing else. There also wasn't much in the way of samples at the expo but I didn't really need any extra stuff.

The expo had a number of vendors, several selling incredibly discounted shoes and clothes. I bought a long sleeve tech shirt for $10 and Sandy bought two pairs of shoes at half off the normal price.

Like most southern races this was run on a Saturday morning. Starting time was scheduled for 8:00 am so we got to sleep in a little. My sis got up and left just before our alarms went off; she's more used to early mornings and wanted to get out of town before roads closed. Sandy and I arose, did the morning things, and headed across the street to the start.

There was a bank of porta potties but we walked into the hotel and used the bathrooms inside. When we walked back outside they were calling runners to the starting area so we went to line up. At the back. There were pacers holding signs and we went back behind the last one. Several people hung out back there with us, including one dude dressed up as Mr. Incredible. Yikes, he was going to melt.

Because it was already warm out. At the gun it was about 62 degrees, overcast and pretty darned humid. I ran the race with shorts, a short sleeved top, my buffs and my hat. I tossed the gloves on a curb before we even started. My sunglasses were on top of my head would be pretty useless for most of the day.

The anthem was sung and the gun shot rang out. We were off! With so few people it thinned out pretty quickly. There were people around me but not too many. I tried to run my own race, staying as slow as possible at the start. The race wound around the historic downtown area before heading south.

There was a brief downpour that had me seeing visions of slogging through wet streets like at Erie. Luckily it stopped quickly with only a bit of drizzle for the rest of the day.

The route was the most twisty turny of any race I've done to date. This was done to keep us off busy streets and to help us avoid big hills. There were people at every turn so you could know ahead of time that you'd turn. But not which way. The volunteers weren't standing there with an arm out pointing which way to go. Which we really couldn't expect them to hold out their arm for hours on end but it would have helped pick a tangent. There were arrows painted on the roads before, during and after each turn.

The only long stretch of straight road was from about mile 9-1/2 to about 14-1/2. It was a straight, flat stretch directly into a headwind. A cool wind so I didn't want to complain too much. Well, the complaint would have been in my head, but I still tried to stay cheery. Heh. Yeah, me cheery. Shut up.

Aid stations were were located about every 2-3 miles. They had water and gatorade and one or two stations later in the race had gel. I hit two that closed early, the boy scouts horsing around and ignoring people running by (and getting in our way). The first time that happened I needed to fill my bottle and had to stoop to the curb and grab three cups of water. I felt bad taking so many since there weren't many there, but I needed the fluids. The second closed station didn't even have cups left out. I hoped that there would be some open later and and there were.

At every intersection with possible traffic there were police directing and giving right-of-way to the runners. They were fantastic, and knowing I didn't have to even pause made things even easier. We had been promised six open hours and the police and volunteers were there the entire time.

With a couple of exceptions there were not many spectators. One exception to that was a group picketing a women's health clinic. ::sigh:: I really would have like to brain one of them with their own hateful sign but decided to focus on the race. The other main exceptions were two groups of students from the local high school. The were hilarious. One group actually did the wave for me when I ran by all on my lonesome. The other group yelled and cheered and made lots of noise. It was a great break from the monotony.

Porta potties were available along the route but I didn't have any need. Plus, I was in a hurry and didn't even want to take a minute or two.

Run run run, turn, uphill grade after uphill grade. Nothing big but it seemed to never be flat, always that very slight uphill grade. Turn turn turn, run run and walk. I stuck with 9:1 until mile 16, then went to 4:1, then went to whenever whatever.

I finally pounded across the finish line in 5:57:57 chip time, 5:58:59 on the clock; two whole minutes faster than I thought I would finish. I could hear my name being called as I panted to a stop. I saw the photographer snapping pictures and a woman took charge of me. She put my medal around my neck, led me to the chip removal people and then sheepishly handed me a hat.
Which had "2006 finisher" on it. Wha??? She explained that they ran out of hats and were giving out some old ones they had. Nuh-uh, I wasn't going for that! I wanted my promised premium! I had just run for six hours and I wanted my hat. Yeah, just like a two year old I was ready to pitch a fit and start crying. My handler led me to a harassed looking lady who wrote down my bib number and said she didn't know if they'd be ordering more. Oh yeah, my lips were quivering. I was very very unhappy.

The woman led me further along the way to the water coolers so I could get a cold drink, then took her leave. There weren't any heat sheets but since it was over 70 degrees it wasn't really necessary. I knew it would be a while before I cooled down. Sandy joined me and commiserated about the whole hat thing; she hadn't gotten a current one either. I sent her back to put her name on the list and headed into the hotel toward the food.

I wasn't expecting anything much since the food section was supposed to close at six hours and it was six hours. I wasn't too sure which way to go so I just wandered forward. To my surprise the food tables were still there, loaded with food. I got a lunch bag and put in a nice ripe banana (they had apples and oranges too), then a chocolate moon pie. They had little ice cream sandwiches which I passed up since the cold water had already given me brain freeze. The next two tables had bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly. A volunteer spread my requested cream cheese and strawberry jam on a half bagel and I continued down the line. There was also hot soup that looked too beefy to me to be interesting so I passed. I ate my bagel, found Sandy and we wandered back across the street to get a shower.

After cleaning up we slowly made our way back to the host hotel for the award ceremony. We normally wouldn't bother but this time they were having a random drawing at the end of the ceremony for two $500 cash awards that you had to be present to win. Yup, we'd give up lazing around in bed for that chance. We got back in the middle of the age group awards, found seats and listened to names being called.

The ceremony was kind of mesmerizing. Names called, people weren't there, next name called, next, next. Then horrifyingly a woman started screaming. A man had a seizure. Someone called 911 and the EMS and Paramedics soon arrived and took care of him. It was scary to everyone that this happened but the responders had him lucid and talking before carrying him away for further medical assistance.

After a short speech on the efficacy of prayer (it's the south) the ceremony continued and finally they got to the drawing. Kind of strange how they did it but whatever. The names were called and finally two people were present and collected. It wasn't either of us so we slowly arose and left.

I have very few complaints about this race and lots of positive thoughts; it was one of the best organized and supported that I've run. It would have been nice to get a hat but I got an email last week that they've ordered more and they'll arrive in January. I'll post a picture here when I get it. Or else I'll post an addendum whining that it never came!

My race bear came from the Space and Rocket Center, the largest space museum "on Earth" and a fascinating place to spend some time. Obviously, his name is Rocky!
Funny thing about the medal. When we were wandering around the airport the next day we met up with a young guy wearing the race hat. Yeah, that hat. I told Sandy to distract him while I ran off with his hat. Heh. Instead we all started talking and had lunch together with him. He pointed out that on the back of the medal was written "2007 Rocket City Marathon FINSHER Huntsville, AL." We said yeah, it said finisher. Nope, it says "FINSHER."

In my email thanking the race organizer for such a well run race, I mentioned that most of us hadn't noticed the misspelling. Her reply: "Well that is the first comment on the medal. We meant to do that…it’s a southern thing!"

Bwahahahah; Riiiiight!

ETA: On 1/7/08 I received the finishers hat!

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