Alabama | Mercedes Benz Marathon

This year, I wanted to give Kaela the best possible Valentines Day gift that I could imagine. She was going to have the pleasure of watching me run 26 miles and 385 yards through Birmingham, Alabama. That is every girls dream right? Obviously, I am joking about getting her such a “gift”, but that is exactly what happened as we headed south to Alabama for the Mercedes Marathon over Valentines Day weekend.
Race: Mercedes Marathon
Location: Birmingham, AL
Date: 2/14/2016
Finishing Time: 4:32:50

The race was on Sunday (which happened to be actually Valentines day), so we decided to leave Friday morning in order to allow some time to relax the day before the race. Originally when planning the trip, we were supposed to stay with some friends that lived about an hour away from Birmingham, but apparently going on a cruise with your family is better than having us stay at your house and eat all your food. The drive was just over 9 hours in total (which was really only 8 with time change) but didn’t feel all that long as the weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire way. Besides a few big cities along the way, we were treated with beautiful views as we cruised down I-65.

Wearing BMW gear to Mercedes marathon

We arrived in Birmingham in the late afternoon and checked into hotel. Birmingham was smaller than that I had though when I was searching for a hotel, with only a handful near the start of the race and even fewer that allowed pets. We ended up staying at the Westin in Uptown Birmingham (recurring theme staying at the Westin, but they are awesome). Since we arrived a little earlier than expected, I decided that might be easier to just head down to expo now, rather than spending time on Saturday getting it done. We walked the 1/2 mile to the expo at the Boutwell Auditorium. Kaela had Bella in her carrier bag and since we didn’t see any signs prohibiting pets, I told her to just walk in with her and hope no one says anything. This was Kaela’s first expo that she was able to see in action. I walked around and explained how the bib pick up worked and all the free samples that were being passed out. The expo was a little light on exhibitors, but I was glad she was able to experience that process with me. After the expo, we took a longer way back to the hotel, just to walk around a bit before grabbing dinner and calling it a night.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to get my morning run in and see the 5k that was taking place as a part of the race weekend. I did a 2.5 mile loop around downtown before making it to watch the start. Birmingham had a much different feel than I was expecting. As I ran through the heart of downtown, there were more vacant office buildings and store fronts than those in operation. It wasn’t that it was a dirty desolate place (the streets were actually very clean), but it felt sort of “ghostly” in the fact that block after block just empty buildings lined the street.
After a few wrong turns, I finally made it to the start and cheer on all the runners participating in the Super Hero 5k. It was great seeing all the kids, and quite a few adults, dressed up in super hero costumes waking up early to run in the cold morning. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to bring up the weather. Remember how I said we had absolutely gorgeous weather on the drive down? Well we must have used it all up because it got cold! When I walked out the hotel on Saturday it was only 30 degrees. I had been training all winter in the colder weather but I was hoping when race day came that the temperatures would be a little more forgiving. After watching everyone get through the start, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the day.

We left the hotel to go to grocery store to pick up some water and last minute items I forgot to pack before heading around to grab lunch. Up to this point I had always been a little cautious of the foods I ate the days leading a race but since no matter what I did eat ended with stomach pains, I decided that I was just going to eat whatever I want. We found this amazing wood fire pizza place called Post Office Pies, which just happened to be right next to Avondale Brewing Company (convenient right?) I picked up two large pizzas and then Kaela and I shared a flight of beer while we ate. This was very risky trying something new the day before a race, but I thought perhaps all the other times I was overthinking it all and maybe switching it up could help. Few hours later, I had some delicious pasta before gathering everything in preparation for race day. Bed time!

One of the first things, I thought about when I woke up was how I really could get used to being so close to the starting line and getting to sleep in just a bit longer. I sat at desk in the hotel room and read a passage from the Bible as I ate. For the first race of 2016, I went back to Philippians 4 as that is my main focus for this entire journey; understanding that ALL things are possible in God. After a pre-race instant weight drop (you get it?), I checked the weather to make a decision on what I was going to wear. 26 DEGREES!!! Race start was going to be in upper 20’s with the high only reaching mid 40’s.  I decided that long sleeve shirt would definitely be needed. I packed a “drop bag” that Kaela would carry in case I got too warm. Grabbing all of my items, we made the short walk down to the starting line.

This type of course was going to be a first for me. It was a double loop marathon, meaning that I would be doing the same thing twice before making it to the finish. I had mixed opinions on it but in the end I was ok with it because it would give me visual cues to what was coming on that second loop. Since it was a loop, Kaela was able to see me at multiple points with not much effort. After all, my wife was standing outside in literal freezing weather watching me run on Valentines Day #wifeoftheyear! I gave her and Bella a kiss before making my way to my corral. As I always do, I said a quick prayer thanking God for the opportunities and abilities he has blessed me with. I turned my trucker hat around and put on my sunglasses, it was now game time!

I didn’t have a hard time goal for this race but I did want to run a good race and maybe in the process get a PR. I started with the 4:15 pace group as that pace felt comfortable at the start. In the first mile we had a small climb and then a long downhill heading back to the area that I had ran the day before. It was interesting seeing the 14 mile marker when I was just in the first mile. I started to have some thoughts about how I hoped to feel when I reached this point again. But I quickly snapped out of that trying not to think that far ahead. In the first couple miles, I started to warm up and decided that gloves needed to come off. As I looked around me, you would have thought we were about to trek to the North Pole with most of the runners bundled up in layers to fight the unusually cold weather for the South. At mile 3 we had a turn to head towards UAB and this was the first spot to see Kaela. As I passed by I tossed an extra Gu I was given on the course so she could put in my bag in case I needed it when I saw her again at mile 14.

Guy was running in UPS uniform carrying a package.
I was surprised that there were quite a few people out cheering on the course, especially in the chilly weather. There was a guy with a megaphone saying that he swears he saw the finish just right around the corner (I saw him 4 times over the course of the race). Just before mile 4, there was a race sponsor set up with a La-Z-Boy recliner offering a seat for anyone that needed it. I thought that it was a little early in the race for that but I might have to take them up on that offer the second time around. For the next few miles, we went through some of UAB before making a turn into some surrounding neighborhoods. Turned into a few rolling hills on some pretty beat up roads. Just after mile 6, we passed by a house with some college aged folks dressed in pajamas and costumes. They were cheering on runners from their porch bringing some of the best energy that I felt on the course from spectators.
The hills went from rolling to constant as we approached the toughest part of the course. There was a few mile stretch of uphill with only a few “breaks” of flat ground. I backed off my pace in order to maintain my effort. We ran up a windy road that had houses on our right and some beautiful parks on our left. People were on the sidewalks or sitting on their porches and cheering us on as we passed by. There was a guy that was outside with his dog  giving encouragement to us, when I thanked him for being out and supporting, he said to me “No, thank you for running. I am usually outside cheering to no one.” That was the laugh that I needed to get me up the rest of the hill. The road was just as windy heading down to the mile 9 marker. As I approached the marker, I thought that I was done with the worst and was ready to make my way back around to the start for my second lap. I was wrong.  We took a right on Clairmont Ave and just looked up at the fun that was ahead, another long climb. I tackled it just as the previous incline and the accelerated as I went down the other side. By the time I got to mile 10, I was a little spent from rolling hills but we were heading back towards the start and more importantly back on flat ground.
Around mile 2 I decided that the 4:15 pacers were going a little slow for my liking and I just maintained my comfortable pace that I knew was for a similar finish. Well they obviously knew more about the course that I did (imagine that) and they caught up to me just before mile 11. We approached 20th Street a little over 12 miles in and this was the road that would take the half marathoners to the finish and take the marathoners back out. The pace group went from about 15 people to 5 as we took a right on 5th Ave to start the second loop. Hit a small hill and at the bottom looked up to see Kaela up at the next intersection. I stopped and gave her my gloves and neck wrap, grabbed some coconut water, gave her a kiss and got back to it. With the short stop, the pace group had gotten ahead of me and I decided that it was better idea to just maintain the pace I was comfortable with, rather than trying to sprint to catch them down the hill. The first aid station we reached on second loop was a sign that this loop was going to be lonely. There were just a handful of volunteers and a ton of empty tables that were no longer in use. I looked up the road and could only spot about 20 or so runners on the straight away. I spent the next few miles focusing on my stride as we went around downtown Birmingham and through UAB.
Around mile 16, some stomach pain started to creep in. Maybe all that delicious food and beer was not a good idea the day before a race. And also, that recliner that was setup at my 3 was no longer around and it would have been perfect to have at this point. Thinking about it, there wasn’t much of anything around anymore. Spectators only stuck around for the first loop and it caused me to start to overthink with no additional positive encouragement. When I hit mile 18, my mind got the best of me and I told myself that a short walk break would help loosen up my legs and relieve some of my stomach discomfort. Once again, I was wrong. The next few miles were a struggle to keep my feet underneath me as that walk break messed up any groove I had in my stride. I turned to a power walk on uphills and made up the time on the other end when hitting the rolling hills.
Remember that house with the people in pajamas? They were still outside cheering just as loud as they were a few hours before. By this point they were quite drunk and it gave me a good laugh in all the pain I was in. I tackled the next few miles of uphill the best I could, walking when my stomach would not allow me to run. By the time I made it to the bottom my legs were completely spent and stomach was in knots. I came up to a guy that helped get me into gear and push a slow pace just to keep me moving forward. He was pacing for under 4 hours but had some issues early in the first lap and was just doing all he good to keep moving forward. I kept up with him as long as I could before I told him to finish strong and that I would see him at the finish.

With just a few miles left, someone had set up a make-shift aid station, stocked with all different types of snacks. I opted for the trail mix and pickles, and it was exactly what I needed. My stomach settled enough for me to maintain a decent pace and I pushed on towards the finish. As we approached the location where we had split to go into the second lap, there was not a single spectator around. Running in the quiet downtown area, that was already eerie enough, was amplified with the lack of foot traffic.

I made the turn that put the finish line in sight and caught a glimpse of Kaela waiting for me. I hung my head a little bit because of me falling off pace, she ended up having to stand in the cold that much longer. I took the final turn towards the finish and put the pedal to the floor passing 3 other runners in the final stretch. I crossed the finish and it took everything in me not to break into tears in disappointment from how I preformed the last 8 miles of race, especially in something I should have been able to push through. I had to keep my head up though because when it was all said and done, I did complete a marathon. As I made my way through the finishers area, I received my medal and an additional finishers gift of a seat towel (they even gave me two!). I met Kaela and hobbled across the street to the after party to get some delicious BBQ. They had free beer, but after a few bites of food my stomach went back in knots and there was no way I was going to be able to drink a beer.

We headed back to hotel to get me cleaned up before getting on the road. Instead of heading back to Ohio, we decided to head to NC to visit my brother in law and family. However, the 8 hour trip turned into just over 10 hours due to a random crazy snow/ice storm that hit Western NC. Adding to Kaela’s already long list of accolades for wife of the year, she drove the entire way to allow me to get some sleep. Did I luck out or what?

Alright time to sum it all up! This was honestly the first race that I really had mixed feelings about. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the race, but there wasn’t anything that made it memorable either. The volunteers were great at the aid stations, but other than that there wasn’t much crowd support throughout the course, especially on the second loop. Birmingham for the most part seemed empty and not having much life and energy. Now I know it may be because it was in the low 30’s in February, but I’m just sharing my experience from the race.
I am very excited to share the next adventure with you, when I take you with me on my journey for a PR with one of my best friends. Next stop “WELCOME TO ATLANTA WHERE THE PLAYAS PLAY…”

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