Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Cold and Hilly Half Marathon in Birmingham


I'd leave it at that, but there's more to tell.  I mean, really, there's got to be a story about 24 degrees at 6:30 AM, standing at the start line, shivering in the cold, waiting for the race to start.

I watched the weather carefully the week leading up to the race and was actually feeling a bit of horror as the forecasted temperatures inched lower and lower all week.  Living in south Texas, I don't own a lot of cold weather running gear, don't even have much experience running in cold weather.  When temps are forecasted to be below about 40 degrees, I know I need only put off that run for a day or even a few hours and it will soon warm up.  So watching as the forecasted temperature for this race crept down into the mid-20's, I was starting to panic a bit.  I actually had some misgivings signing up for this race, worried that it would be cold.  Birmingham seemed a little far north to be holding a marathon in mid-February.

Needless to say, more than half my suitcase was filled with "contingency" running gear.  Long sleeves, heavier long sleeves, capris, long pants, even a pair of shorts.  Two pair of gloves.  Two different lengths of socks.  I even made a quick trip to Walmart the day before leaving to buy a cheap but heavy sweatshirt I could wear at the start of the race and then discard as I warmed up.  As I was cramming all of this into my suitcase, it was sunny and in the mid 60's outside in my home town.  Hard to imagine what mid-twenties was going to feel like. 

The night before the race I made my decision on what to wear and laid it all out.  I decided to eschew the throwaway sweatshirt for my heaviest long-sleeve, funnel-neck running top with a tank bra under it.  On race day morning I pulled on all of those clothes that I'd laid out the night before:  long pants, tank bra, heaviest long-sleeved running shirt I own, gloves, kerchief around my neck, running cap.  And then I braced myself as I walked out the door of the hotel and the cold air hit me. 

It wasn't too bad at first, but as the cold seeped in around the edges, insinuating itself in between the layers, I began to shiver.  And I shivered all the way over to the start line area where I found my place in the corral.  It was a long 20 minute shivering wait as, first the wheelchair entrants were started and then, 10 minutes later, the front of the running pack was turned loose.  By the time those of us in the back of the pack inched our way up to the start line, my hands were so cold they hurt and I was stiff with cold.  I felt like the Frankenstein monster as I tried to break into a run!

My Garmin tracks

But after about two miles, my hands stopped hurting and my gait loosened up and I could enjoy the race and the Baltimore scenery that was surrounding me.  We ran a big square going north of the downtown, then headed back through the downtown and south.  We ran past hospitals, past a new stadium under construction, then started heading uphill through 5 Points South and peaking in the Country Club Historic District.

Course Elevation graph from my Garmin watch.  Over 900 feet of total elevation climb

Then a nice curvy downhill section began and this is where the full marathon lead runner lapped me as he headed back toward the downtown area on his second loop and to the finish line.  While it reminds me of just how old and slow I am, it is always a thrill when the route is designed in a way that we get to see the lead runners.  They're like poetry in motion.  Not a single wasted movement, not a single ounce of extra fat on their lean, thin legs. 

My self-assessment of my performance is based on how much time has elapsed when I pass the 9 mile marker.  If it's under two hours then I know I'm on track for a sub-three hour half marathon time.  As long as I can continue to turn in sub-three hour times, I know that I'm staving off old age and decrepitude.  At my age, I know that sub-three hours will put me well into the top half of my age/gender group and I'm happy with this.  I'm years beyond setting a new personal best time so at this point it's just about not getting slower if I can help it. 

Crossing the finish line
By mile 10 we were out of the hilly section and it was mostly flat all the way to the finish line...well, except for a little rise heading up toward Linn Park.   Then it was across the finish line, into the finisher's chute to get my finisher's medal, and past the table holding bottles of Powerade, orange slices, and bananas. 

As I started to exit the finish line chute area, a female volunteer said, "don't forget your hat."  I had no idea if she was talking to me or even what she was talking about.  I still had my own hat on my hat, so she must be talking to someone else.  But then a fellow grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the side, where he looked down an me, smiling, and said, "You almost forgot your hat."  My finisher's hat!!  I did not know about this additional bit of swag!!

I walked quickly back to the hotel, got showered, dressed, jammed my dirty clothes into a bag and stuffed it into my suitcase and checked out.  I'd called a Ride To Eat and friend Don Norwood selected the restaurant - Diplomat Deli - south of the city.  It would take me about 15 minutes to get there and I knew I'd be one of the last to arrive. 

I grabbed a large Latte at a nearby McDonald's before pulling into the Diplomat deli parking lot.  I was thrilled to see a number of BMW's of various models sitting outside. 

A big bowl of gumbo for me and I was a happy camper!!  Then it was off to Mandeville to spend a few days with son and grandkids!


The finisher's medal:

What the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Coming up next:  The Famously Hot Marathon in Columbia SC and the Publix Marathon in Atlanta GA.


  1. Wow, that is cold to be starting a race..... I am glad you warmed up by mile two. I'd have been too frozen waiting that 20 minutes.

    Great job on another half marathon down.

    Have fun visiting with family.

  2. The is starting to look filled in, especially with the 2 coming up