Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Very Good Alabama Race Revisited

As marathon events go, the Birmingham Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon event is pretty high on the list of must-do races. I first did this half marathon in 2013. It was bitterly cold at the start - temps in the low 20's - and I had considerably less experience with hilly marathon courses. But I did it, I finished the race, and filed it away as one that was worth repeating in the future, once I'd finished my 50 States quest.

So in 2016, as I was planning my 2017 race calendar, I took a look at this race again. A few of my running friends were planning to do this race, so I went ahead and registered for the half marathon on Sunday and the 5k on Saturday.

My calendar gets pretty full this time of year, with races and play rehearsals. If I wanted to do this race, I'd need to be home for rehearsals Friday morning before leaving for Birmingham that afternoon.

With a 2 PM flight departure from Bush Intercontinental in Houston, I was able to attend rehearsals that morning and also avoid the morning rush hour traffic. I arrived in Birmingham at 3:30 PM and had a delightfully charming cab driver take me to the hotel. He'd been a cab driver in B'ham for 30 years, so when we ran into heavy rush hour traffic backed up on the interstate, he whipped over to the exit ramp, took local streets only a cabbie would know about, and got me to the hotel minutes later.

Race expo at historic Boutwell Auditorium
I got checked into my very nice room at the Westin, then walked to the historic Boutwell Auditorium to the race expo and packet pickup. Then it was back to the hotel and to the adjacent coffee house to get a cappuccino.. I was hungry but was only in the mood for room service for dinner. I laid my things out for the 5k race the next morning, then enjoyed my dinner in front of the TV.

5k race day morning! I woke, ate Cheerios and some of the fruit plate I'd ordered the night before, then got dressed for the race and headed for the elevator. It was cool but very humid with chance of rain.

Fellow 50 Stater Kimara a the 5k start line.

I wore capri's, a long-sleeve shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover on top. And the cool superhero cape they gave each of us to wear. It was way too many clothes! I was sweating and hot within the first mile. By the time I had the finish line in sight, I was more than glad to be nearly done. How could I have under-estimated the "feels like" temps for this little 5K race?

5k race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch
nearing 5k finish line...super hero cape flying!

I received my finisher medal - a cute little superhero - then walked back to the hotel. A cappuccino sounded like a good idea. I lingered over my creamy, rich and very good cappuccino in the hotel lobby seating area, then made my way slowly back to my room to get cleaned up.

5k finisher medal and enjoying an excellent cappuccino

Tonight we had a 50 States Marathon Club dinner meet-up at a cool little cafe in the Five Points South area of Birmingham. It's always nice to see my fellow running friends, and this little restaurant was a real gem, suggested by one of the members who's local to the area. They took good care of us and the food was great! An Uber ride back to the hotel and I laid out my things for the half marathon the next morning and then chilled out for the rest of the evening.

Delta Blues restaurant on Cobb Lane in Five Point South.

Lovely patio and entrance to Delta Blues.

Our pre-race dinner group at Delta Blues

Half marathon day morning came too soon. I didn't sleep well, waking up frequently all night long. Ugh! I got dressed, left the hotel, and walked to the start line. I almost immediately spotted some of our 50 States club members and we all posed for a selfie.

A few of us 50 Staters at the start line for the marathon/half marathon

The half marathon route was nearly identical to the route when I did it in 2013. The big difference, however, was the weather. That year it was freezing cold, this year it was warm and muggy. I wore shorts but didn't bring a short sleeve running shirt with me, not expecting it to be so warm. Fortunately, my shirt was very lightweight and I could push the long sleeves up to my elbows. But still....
Half marathon race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Things were going well for the first half of the half marathon, but when it started to get very hilly, and I started to get overheated, the wheels started to come off for me. I struggled up the long hill mid-course, and then again at around mile 8 or 9, after the long downhill section. Several times I worried I wasn't going to be able to finish. My legs felt like lead, I was beginning to feel dizzy, and I couldn't catch my breath.

I realized I was experiencing an A-Fib episode. It had been years since I'd had this happen. Last time I could remember was during the Flying Pig Half Marathon in 2012. I continued to struggle along, pausing frequently to let my heart rate slow and hopefully normalize. Finally, at the mile 12 aid station, I spotted a cot in the first aid tent and headed that way. I knew I needed to get off my feet. I announced that I needed to lie down and then proceeded to do so.

One of the really sweet and very nice gals working First Aid immediately came over to me. I let her know that I was also a health care professional and that I was overheated and possibly hypovolemic, despite having made a point of regularly ingesting fluids along the way. I laid back, raised my legs to improve blood flow to my head. I ingested one of my energy gels and she brought me a cup of water. Within a few minutes I felt my heart rate slow and stabilize and the dizziness subsided.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Mercedes Half Marathon finisher1

I thanked her profusely for her help and continued on. The improvement was dramatic. I was able to resume my normal pace and make it to the finish line with no further problems. I collected my finisher medal and then walked back to the hotel without even stopping to take advantage of the free meal at the finish line. I'm never hungry immediately after finishing a half marathon.

Back at the hotel, I bought a cappuccino to bring back to the room, where I had food and snacks waiting for me. I'd arranged for a late checkout, so took advantage of that extra time to get my feet up and let my heart rate calm down. It was still erratic, still in a bit of A-Fib, but only sporadically at this point.
A sandwich and a Starbucks at the airport, waiting to fly home

I showered, dressed, and then checked out and waited for the free hotel shuttle bus to take me to the airport. I knew I'd be getting to the airport way too early for my flight, but also knew I'd feel more comfortable knowing I was at the gate in plenty of time. I bought a sandwich and a smoked butterscotch cappuccino at Starbucks and then kicked back with my Kindle Fire and relaxed while I waited for my flight.

Next up for me: A friend is coming in from NYC to run the Austin Half Marathon. He's scheduled to sing the national anthem at the start of this race and I'm excited that I have the opportunity to host him at my house overnight and then ride with him to Austin.

1 comment:

  1. How cool the they gave out superhero capes at the 5k.

    Glad things turned out well at the half. Scary when there is a heart episode but at least you knew what it was and how to handle it. Congrats on another finish!