Monday, 23 February 2015

Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon, Birmingham, AL 2015

This was my first time on Alabama soil and my first (and probably only) half marathon in Alabama. I mentioned towards the end of last year that I'd really like to complete a half in every state but that I want to only pick the best races for each state. Last year, I'd considered running a half in Alabama towards that goal but I felt a bit ambivalent about the race, so I scratched it.

I've gone through a good few rounds of searching for the best races in any given state. Usually starting with a medal I really like and then reading online reviews. For Alabama that turned out to be either the Magic City Half or the Mercedes-Benz Half. Both are in Birmingham, AL pretty much as close to home as it is going to get in AL. Timing meant that the Benz won the toss up. Well now I can say I've been to Birmingham in the UK and the US.

This involved a lot of driving. Over five hours each way to be exact. I drove there on Saturday just in time to make it to the expo and then after a couple of hours of eating and relaxing post-race drove back on Sunday. Luckily I had my road trip buddies with me for the long trip and Martina had lots of stories about her trip home to Ireland, making the drive seem short. The new car really showed its worth, in comfort and fuel economy, less than $60 of gas got us there and back.

For once we stayed in the host hotel, The Sheraton, and it was worth it. They offered a very good discount if booking through the race website so really we got a nice hotel for a decent price within 5 minutes walk of the race start and finish. I had to practically sign away my life to have Boomer stay with us but there was no pet fee, yay! Boomer however was not impressed with the elevators and had to grip for dear life in the moving box of death.

The expo was all the usual vendors. I really liked the T-shirt for this race. Red is my favorite color and the fit was really good. As well as the t-shirt I got a massive pair of gloves from the Trak Shak. Then quite possibly the funniest thing I have ever received in a race packet, a Gotta Go Poncho. I laughed so hard when I realised it was a poncho with a pouch to do your 'business' in. Never say never ha ha.

The next morning I got up at 5.45 ate a banana and got ready. The 5.45 wasn't bad at all, because for me it was 6.45, we were on central time rather than eastern, happiness is the little things sometimes. We made our way down to the start and eventually the mist turned into full blown rain. I handed over my running jacket and got ready to go. 

I'd already decided this was to be a training run since reviews said it was a hilly course, so the first few miles were me trying to pace myself. Everytime I found myself breathing in any way heavily I slowed down and even stopped for pictures. 
Around the half way point I started to feel a bit tired but I think I just need the restroom so, at mile 7, I stopped. That added a good three minutes, mostly waiting, to my time but it was really nice to dry my face and ears (my headphones kept slipping out) and blow my nose. 
The mile after that I took a gel and that got me a bit out of breath so I walked a little to get it down and then continued on. After this something happened. We hit a good half mile stretch of downhill and I went with the hill, running fast. It got my legs turning over well and even hitting the next uphill I kept feeling stronger and stronger.
 I just decided to keep it up and right to the end I felt fantastic. I'm glad I went with the good feeling because I love finishing a race strong. No matter the finish time it always feels amazing. If you take out the potty stop I actually ran around the same time as my last race but it felt SOOO different.

There were aid stations and port-a-johns every single mile and a fair amount of spectators so the miles ticked by really quickly. There were also bananas, orange slices and GU gels given out at certain points. The only part of the stellar course support that I wouldn't have liked as a marathoner were the digital timing clocks at each mile...or more accurately the mile markers. Looking at those I was so glad I wasn't running the full, it'd be so depressing knowing I had another loop to do.

 Overall the course was no where nearly as hilly as I thought it would be. Most of it was steady inclines but nothing too steep, in fact the steepest section was downhill. Birmingham is definitely an interesting city to run through with a variety of city scenery to keep you occupied. I saw a lot of architecturally beautiful buildings that were crumbling and sad, but then other areas you could see where some urban regeneration was occurring. The runners were also pretty crowded together...not badly but enough that you always passed someone or were being passed or had a running shirt to check out. All in all if you need to be constantly thinking about stuff this is a good one to run.

I ran as hard as I could through the finishing chute and crossed the line feeling pretty chuffed with myself. I got a medal and then as I was picking up some food a lady tapped me on the back and told me that she had been trying to catch me for a couple of miles but couldn't and basically told me I inspired her to run faster for those miles. My head is now the size of a house ;) but I thought that was sweet that she took the time to find me. At the finish there was water powerade, bananas and  oranges. Then the post-race was BBQ which I avoided since I assumed there would be nothing for me to eat there.

As well as the medal I picked up a nice beach towel which I hope to put to good use this summer. I know there were massages as well but I avoided all that and went back to the hotel to get out of my wet clothes (it rained for most of the race). Subway provided my post-race meal and I sat and relaxed for an hour before we hit the road. After playing dogdums with Atlanta traffic (which is crazy), on drive fuel provided by Starbucks, we made it home for around 6pm. We had planned on some hiking near Birmingham but the weather was too bad so it was good to leave and get home before dark.

I was very happy that this was my Alabama race it was definitely worth the drive. Official Chip Time: 1.59.27


  1. Yay for a new state! And yes - much better pacing than the last half, right? WTG! I would be trying to chase you like that lady was, too! Look at those awesome splits! Congrats! :)