The Rocket City Marathon was my 25th total marathon, and Alabama was my 16th different state. The course wasn't remarkable as it mostly darted through neighborhoods and along highways. In fact, next year they are using a completely new course that actually goes by some of the attractions. And, this year it rained a lot before the race and on and off during the race. Plus, I was coming down with a cold so it turned out that my accomplishment would be simply to add another state. It is still amazing to think back that I ran my first marathon in 2004 and have run 25 total. It wasn't until my 16th that I even heard about the 50 State Club to strive to finish. And that is what brought me to Alabama on a rainy day in December.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express because it was the official hotel, hosted the packet pick-up, pasta dinner, and after party - plus the race started steps from the entrance. However, after over 20 years as the race host hotel, it is closing. We found that fact out weeks before the race leaving us no real alternatives. Had we known they were tearing down the hotel for a reason (i.e. it was awful), we'd have booked a room across the street at the Embassy Suites. But, a weekend without hot water and the usual amenities you expect from a hotel isn't too bad.
The course itself wasn't especially inspiring. It started just outside the host hotel and all I really remember are the many neighborhoods and a long stretch of highway that was a wall of wind. That headwind was positioned right at the halfway point, and until then, I was on pace for 3:03-05. What I really couldn't believe was how I was still running equal effort, but my pace slowed by 15-30 seconds a mile. I tried to hold on, but at mile 17, when we turned and the wind was no longer bearing down on us, my legs were gone. At that point, finishing times went through my head as I readjusted my goals. On the way, I passed a young runner, Ryan Evans, who stood out due to his long blonde dreadlocks. I tried to inspire him to stay with him down the stretch, using various coaching insights such as asking him what story will he tell tomorrow and that it is only a few more miles. He stayed with me for a bit, swapping leads as he'd slow to walk then run and pass me and walk some more. He finally ditched me with 2-3 miles to go at a water stop. Later, I checked him times and he struggled in around 3:30. I held it together as best I could and put in a solid final mile to finish in 3:16:26 - my sixth fastest marathon. I was 92nd out of over 1300 finishers and 11th in my age group 35-39. It wasn't a Boston qualifier, but considering the obstacles, I'm pleased with the result.
After the race, Laura and I went to the NASA Rocket Center and toured. It was neat to see where they have Space Camp and go through the history of our space program. I even broke down and bought souvenirs for my niece and nephew. For dinner, we went to a brew pub in town and enjoyed a sampling of beers. Laura wasn't feeling well, so I went to the post race party solo. I met some runners from Pennsylvania who happened to be hanging out with Bart Yasso, so I joined them. It turns out they are his neighbors - not a bad neighbor to have! It was a very cool experience to hear the stories first hand. I even managed to connect him with a friend starting a Lyme Disease foundation.
At the airport, Ryan's dad found me and thanked me for helping his son. They are from Minnesota and were headed home, obviously. While my marathon wasn't what I hoped, it was very meaningful to be thanked for doing what comes naturally - trying to help a fellow runner. That's one of the things I love so much about running - we may be competing with each other, but we compete in a way that helps us run faster and reach goals we couldn't alone.
I am still planning my 2014 race calendar. Boston is on the schedule, and I am considering adding Washington State with the Vancouver USA Marathon. I'm open to suggestions for the fall. 2013 was an amazing year for running - highlighted with the Boston Marathon and all that transpired - here's to an even better 2014!
Bart Yasso as the guest speaker at the pasta dinner. They also had a runner's fashion show as local runners walked the runway in the latest sports apparel.
Ready to run Rocket City!
Maybe going on the Mars shuttle ride wasn't smart. Milk was a bad idea! (Kidding - I didn't hurl)
Laura where they faked the moon landing (again, kidding!).
Playing around in the command service module.
Posing at the NASA Rocket Center.
Laura enjoying herself.
We sampled the beer on tap at the brew pub.
At the race party with my new running friend, Ryan.
Just hanging out with Bar Yasso and friends - no big deal.