Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gulf Shores Half Marathon

Way back when I planned this trip, it was going to include running a half marathon on the second weekend in New Orleans, the Rock n Roll Half Marathon. But then things got complicated. I don't usually like doing races where the start line and the finish line are in two different places. This means either a shuttle bus to the start or, even worse, a shuttle bus back to the start from the finish line. When I was trying to complete my 50 states goal, I sometimes didn't have a choice but to sign up for a race where this was the case. But this was only because there weren't many good alternative races to choose from.

With my 50 states goal complete, I can now be very picky about what races I want to run. Easy to say, but sometimes the hype takes over where the brain leaves off. This was the case for me in signing up for the New Orleans Rock n Roll race. Only afterward did I have second thoughts about the really distasteful logistics of getting from the finish line back to the hotel. First of all, it meant staying another night in New Orleans because I wouldn't get back to the hotel before check out time. Then there's that $200 a night price tag for the hotel.

So why not just blow that New Orleans race off, cancel the two nights at that expensive hotel, and find another race somewhere between Panama City and home for that day. And that's how the Gulf Coast Series Gulf Shores, AL race ended up on my calendar at the last minute.

Gulf Coast Series is a fun set of races...there are three of them, one in Pensacola Beach, one in Mandeville, and this one in Gulf Shores. I ran the Pensacola Beach race back in 2012. They're small races, but very well done. This was going to be a very low key race. I found a $59 a night motel within walking distance of the start/finish line, which was at Lulu's, a fun restaurant on the ICW.

I got to Lulu's around 3:30 PM, picked up my race packet, then backtracked about a mile to a Subway Sandwich shop I'd spotted on my way in. Then I got checked into the little motel, Country Hearth Inn. It was small, an older property with exterior entrances, but the rooms were all freshly remodeled and spotless. I ate my sandwich, watched TV, then set my alarm for a 5:30 AM wake up.

It was just a short and easy walk to the start line. Clearly it was a very small race. I met up with a couple of other members of our Half Fanatics running group for a group photo just before the race started.
Me, Karen, and John at the start line

The route was very pretty despite the huge bridge we had to cross in the first mile and then in the last mile. After that first bridge crossing, the race route took us around a really pretty lake, along the seacoast for about a mile, then back toward the finish line and over that colossal bridge one more time.

Bridge over the ICW. We had to cross it in mile 1 and again in mile 12.
View from top of bridge, looking down at Lulu's

Because the race was so small, and because I am older and slower, I found myself pretty much out there by myself. I could see a person about 1/2 mile ahead of me, and a fellow just 1/4 mile or so behind me.

At one point along the route, as it took us away from the beach and back along the lake, I could hear an osprey call, ringing loud and clear. I began to look for a nest and then, as I rounded a slight bend in the road, there it was directly in front of me! I could see the female osprey sitting in the nest calling, and soon the male swooped in, in response to her calls. Awesome!! The next race water station was nearby and I commented to one of the volunteers. She told me there were two other nest platforms nearby and the osprey had been fishing all morning in the water just across the roadway. Sure enough, just as she said this, an osprey swooped down and snatched up a fish out of the water. My day was complete!!

Race from my Garmin GPS watch

I finally got to the finish line, collected my finisher medal, and then headed over to the outdoor bar to collect my free beer. I sat on a bench to chat with my new Half Fanatic running friend Karen and to drink my beer. It was a very pleasant and fun morning! Then I remembered to check with the race staff, see if I'd placed in my age group...and sure enough! First place in my age group!

Gulf Shores finisher and practicality

I'd asked for leniency on the 11:00 AM checkout when I'd first checked in. Thankfully the motel agreed. But I was quick, and managed to get back to the motel, showered, dressed, packed and out of the room by 11:30 AM.

Good stuff!

I had another free room booked in Lafayette, LA and that's where I headed. I'd be there by 5:30 PM. I was pretty tired and even though I briefly considered not stopping in Lafayette but driving straight through to home, I knew I didn't have it in me, I stuck with my plan, stopping at the Racetrac gas station across the street from the Hampton Inn and picking up a very good turkey sandwich, chips, a can of Wicked Ale, and some M&M's for dinner. The next morning I hit the road toward home with just 200 miles to drive before pulling into my own driveway.

Now I can add the Gulf Shores finisher medal to the Pensacola Beach finisher medal...two out of the three races in the Gulf Coast Series of races!

Gulf Shores and Pensacola Beach race medals

1 comment:

  1. 2 down, 1 to go. How very cool to see the osprey along the route. That along would give me the boost to finish I think.