Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rocket City Marathon Review

2011 Rocket City Marathon
December 10, 2011
Huntsville, Alabama
17th Marathon Completed
My Overall Experience ... 3 out of 5

Spoiler Alert...
  • Really regret not planning this as an "A" race this year - probably the fastest course I've ever ran
  • Good winter marathon, needs some modernizing
  • Nice pre and post-race organization - runner "recovery" area was actually in a hotel
  • Great heated tents for supporters along the course
  • Weather was cool, but not an issue at all
  • Not enough water at the end - 3 stops in last 6 miles
  • Course mix-up at mile 15, local police had to correct during the race weaving in and out of runners
  • Organizers way too worried about "no-headphone" rule - it was their obvious focus throughout the weekend
  • Least favorite marathon medal I've received so far
  • Probably least favorite shirt I've received so far, but cool "finisher" hat at the end
  • After PR'ing 3 weeks prior, ran a fairly slow, but satisfying race
  • Finish time of 3:38:06, 8:19/pace, but not really too worried about the clock in this one
  • Based on my performance, the race, and the city - a very forgettable marathon

Finisher Medal ...
2011 Rocket City Marathon Medal
Probably my least favorite so far (but I'm not really a "medal guy", so not a big deal)
Huntsville, Alabama
Space Shuttle Pathfinder in "Rocket Park"
At The U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville, Alabama is a nice "Southern" city located in the Northern portion of the State.  The city got it's nickname "Rocket City" because of it's strong ties to the United States Space industry.  But maybe because of its highly technological background, or simply the Northern geographical location in the State, it hardly seemed like a typical Southern U.S. city.  In fact, I've been to Birmingham, Alabama a few times, and the two cities couldn't be more contrasting.  I love the South - it's my favorite area of the United States, but Huntsville felt exactly like most Northern and Midwestern cities I've visited.

Vietnam War Memorial
Downtown Huntsville was modern, clean, and well kept. If you looked hard enough, you could find evidence of it's Southern heritage, but mostly it seemed very corporate.  As always, I stayed at the Hampton Inn.  This one was located by the Airport, which was near a suburban area with the typical shopping centers and restaurants.  The traffic was bumper-to-bumper most of the time in this area, probably due to Christmas shoppers.

Also located in this area of Huntsville was the U.S. Space And Rocket Center.  The city is one of the original pioneers of U.S. space exploration.  In fact, many of the original rockets and satellites are housed here as a giant Space museum.   I didn't have time to go on the tour, which would have been awesome, but I did get a few cool pictures of the rockets and space shuttle parked outside the facility.  You could literally see the giant rockets from miles away on the highway.   I was amazed at how big the actual vessels were in real life.  And it's unbelievable how much power and fuel it takes to launch these enormous projectiles into space.  All-in-all I found Huntsville, Alabama to be a very nice place to visit for a marathon.  But unfortunately other than the Space Center, there wasn't much there that stood out from every other medium-sized U.S. city I've been to or lived in.  It's not that there was anything bad about Huntsville, I just expected more Southern culture.

Really Rocket City ... THIS is how you say "Hello!"
Packet Pick-Up &
Getting the "No Headphone" Point Across
The pre-race Expo and packet pick-up were very small, but well organized.  They were held in a Conference Room at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Downtown Huntsville.  The hotel was actually the location of both the starting and finish lines.   It was an awesome setup because we got to wait inside the hotel until the race started, and then relax again inside the hotel immediately after the race ended.

The very first thing I saw as I entered the room where the Expo was held was a sign on the door stating "NO HEADPHONES".  I'm not kidding - it was literally the FRIGGIN' VERY FIRST THING posted on the door into the marathon!!!  Not "Welcome to Alabama", or "Hey Y'all", or "Check Out Our Rockets", or maybe even "THANK YOU FOR TRAVELLING TO OUR CITY AND SPENDING A  LOT OF MONEY HERE" ... but a warning about the potentially lethal dangers of iPods, MP3's, or music players of any kind.  Considering how I feel about this whole outdated & elitist rule, I felt it was a "very appropriate" warm welcome.

Small Expo & Packet Pick-Up
The volunteers handing out bib numbers were very friendly, but it was more of the same.  After asking for identification for my race packet (because ya know - there are literally thousands of people who show up for races and try to steal bib numbers and timing chips), they again reminded me "Remember, headphones aren't allowed!"  Not a "Hi, where are you from?", or "Are you ready for the big race tomorrow?", or "THANK YOU FOR TRAVELLING TO OUR CITY AND SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY HERE" ... but instead another admonition about headphone hazards.  Yeah, I get it!

But at the starting line, the Rocket City Marathon race directors finally made it clear what this rule was really all about.  As the 65 year old P.A. announcer read a written statement about how running a marathon could potentially kill you (literally, this is what he said), he also tacked on a, "Remember folks ... headphones are not allowed ... we want you to enjoy the beauty of our city and the fellowship of running with other runners ...  there is no need for outside interference from loud music from iPods or MP3 players."  Ah thank you ... that's all you had to say!  Instead of this B.S. about "our insurance policy won't allow it" or "it's a safety issue" ... just say "We here at Rocket City feel that even though 80% of runners today use headphones, we don't like them ... we don't feel you're a real runner if you use them ... and we are a little above them!"  I would have had a whole lot more respect for them if they would've just shown their true colors and been honest from the beginning ... even though it was blatantly obvious a along.  Just say you don't like 'em homie!  Don't hide behind some transparent rule.

The race packet was small and simple, which I liked.  I wasn't crazy about the technical t-shirt, but this was just a personal preference.  I'm sure some people loved it.  The bibs were assigned from "fastest runner to slowest runner".  You had to report your most recent time and your PR when you signed up for the race, and then your bib number was ranked according to your time.  My bib number was 106 out of about 1,100 - which was pretty cool because I had a "lowerish number" and got to start toward the front.  But I could understand where a lot of people would have a problem with this "ranking" system.  I'm always very aware of my times and am always trying to improve - but it's just to track my personal progression - it in no way is to place myself in some sort of category from fastest to slowest.  I'm not sure being able to compare other runners by what number you are wearing was necessary - like, "Oh look, that guy's a 900 number, he must be really slow!"  or, "Wow, she's a double digit - she must fly!" ... but hey, I think headphones should be allowed, so what do I know!  

I did a pretty good job maintaining a healthy diet the few days leading up to the race.  I've been eating a lot more salads lately with a little less protein.  I've also really been trying to reduce my gluten intake.  Not because I have trouble with it or anything ... but just experimenting to find out how my body reacts.  And accordingly, I've stopped eating near as much bread.  However I did have a Subway Turkey on Wheat a couple of times on Thursday and Friday before the race.  But other than that, I didn't carb up near as much as usual and felt totally fine throughout the race.

After the race however, I went to Five Guys Burgers!  I have no idea why.  I've only eaten there one other time in my life.  Plus, I really only eat red meat about once a week.  But for some it seemed to call my name as I drove by after the race.  Of course I had to have some fries too.  If you've ever been to Five Guys Burgers, you know you get like a whole grocery sack full of fries.  No wonder everyone in this country is 50 lbs over weight.  But it tasted so good - so sue me!!! Plus, I'm fairly sure double cheeseburgers are good recovery meals after a long run.

Race & Course
I had PR'd at Tulsa about 3 weeks before this race.   It was really a "tactical error" on my part because Tulsa was a much tougher course than this one.  (After running this one I knew I would have been a lot faster on my PR.)  So from about a week after I ran in Oklahoma, I wasn't really feelin' this one.  In fact I told Michael a few days before the race that I really didn't want to run it.  But I had already paid so I decided to go anyway.  Plus, Rachelle of "Running For Trevor" commented on my blog after I had complained about the weather, "I suggest you put on your big girl panties and go out there and make the best of it."  To date, it was my most favorite comment anyone has ever left!  I wondered how she knew I wore women's underwear, but more importantly I didn't want let this great runner down!  So off I went.

Wasn't really feelin' 26.2 on Saturday
The forecast for Saturday was a little chilly leading up to the race.  It was supposed to be in the mid 30's with 12-15mph winds.   But when I woke up that morning, it was about 38 degrees, with only about 8mph wind.  I probably really overdressed for the race, but the temperature and wind were never an issue at all.   

I drove into town for the race and waited around in the lobby of the Holiday Inn.  It was nice and warm.  It was kinda funny to hear all of the local folks talking about how "frigid" it was outside.  I didn't think it was too bad.

I had driven the course the day before and when the race started was immediately reminded of how flat it was.  There was only 410ft of elevation gain on the whole course.  And the very few "hills" were very very gently rolling.  The course was a breeze!  I know looking back in a few years, I'll wish I would used this race as an "A" race for the latter part of 2011.  You find many courses as flat and as fast as this one!

I'm a HUGE headphone user when I run, so I was a little concerned with no headphones for this fairly boring and uneventful marathon.  I had ran a couple of marathons before without headphones, so I obviously knew I could do it.  I just didn't want to.  But it was never really that big of an issue.

I decided to just run an average race without being that concerned with the clock and felt really good for most of the race.  I had been working on changing my running form and foot strike a little over the previous few weeks.  So I decided just to see how far I could go using a forefoot strike (the Pose method).  It worked great and I really only stared totally midfoot striking at about mile 20.  My calves were a littler sorer than normal the next day, but that was it - everything else felt fine with almost no soreness!

The best street in Huntsville ... maybe EVER!!!
The race started in the downtown area and took runners through some of the historic areas, which were really cool.  After about two miles of that though, it was strictly residential for the rest of the race.  House after house ... average neighborhood after neighborhood.  But it was a nice, clean, average sized town.  Overall, the course was a little boring, but not bad.

At about mile 10 we crossed Weatherly Road!  (My name is Jim Weatherly)  It was really cool ... a whole street named after me!  I had seen streets with my kid's first names on them several times in the past, but never Weatherly.  Several people running close to  me commented on what a great street it was.  They had never seen such a wonderful road and were honored to cross it during the race.  That really meant a lot to me.  (Or ... it was just another random street to them.)

At mile 15 we had a little mix up.  As we turned back North toward downtown, all of the runners crossed into the South-bound lane based on the way the cones were set up.  I noticed that a couple of cars came really close to us a really high speed.  All of the sudden a police officer started weaving in and out of the runners in his cruiser announcing, "All runners need to be in the North-bound lane!  All runners move over immediately!"  As we did, a couple of more cars breezed by.  Kind of unsafe.  It wasn't a huge deal other than it broke your focus and pace a little.  After this mile long stretch, everything was back to normal.

I felt great until about mile 20.  I was a little faster than my PR time, but didn't feel overly stressed at all.  But at mile 20 is where I usually have to bear down and concentrate on pace and keeping my legs moving quickly.  As I said before, I had just went through this exercise three weeks prior ... and really didn't have a strong enough will to do again on Saturday.  So I slowed down.  I mean WAAAAAAAYYYYY down.  At that point I was averaging about 7:20-7:30/mile, but I started charting miles at 9:30-9:45.  But I really didn't care.  It's not like I hit the wall or anything ... I just really lost interest.  Don't get me wrong - I was tired.  But more than anything, nearly 3,000 miles of running, 9 marathons, and 17 races in 2011 had finally caught up with me.  I was mentally spent and just couldn't focus.  I didn't quit - but my pace was very slow and all I wanted to do was cross the finish line and get back to Kansas City.
Fast flat 2011 Rocket City Marathon Elevation - only 410' of elevation gain

One thing that wasn't great about the race was the water situation.  It was okay until mile 20, but from there on, there were only three (maybe 4) water stops.  Typically in a marathon, the water stops are placed at every mile for the last 6.  But not here.  It was a little frustrating because I really needed the fluid.  I'm sure they had it posted on their website prior to the race right next the "no headphone" rule, but if they did, I missed it.

Idiot in an orange Finisher's Cap
At about mile 24 I started talking to a guy named Bill who had just ran 3 weeks before in Nashville, and was apparently experiencing the same thing as me.  We chatted a little and then decided to run the last two miles together.  He was a really cool guy and we really helped each other finish.  He was probably getting a little annoyed with me because I think he was really hurting, but I was fine ... I just wanted to be done.  To pass the last few miles I started talking to almost everyone we passed.  I asked a lady who had a Marine Corps Marathon shirt on, "Hey, when did you run the Marine Corps Marathon?"  She was dying, and snapped "I dunno!"  So as we passed, I said "Okay, you're lookin' good - finish strong!"  Then we passed a guy with a Country Music Marathon hat on and I asked him, "Is that a hilly marathon?"  He gasped, "Yeah."  I wasn't trying to be a wise guy or anything - I just didn't feel that bad and felt like talking.  I asked a crowd of people at mile 25, "Have any girls passed me yet?" (my usual marathon joke)  They just laughed and said, "Yeah a couple!" 

Bill and I had really slowed down but made it across the finish line.  We shook hands as we crossed the line and he thanked me for "getting him to the finish".  It really made the day worthwhile!  I felt like I had really helped him.  At the finish line, the volunteers were great!  They gave us our medal and an orange finisher hat.  I had never received a finisher hat for a marathon, so it was pretty cool!

The post race activities were back inside the Holiday Inn where they had a lot of great food and fluids.  Everyone was great and was a nice finishing touch on the marathon!  My finishing time was 3:38:06.  Not a fast time for me, but it was totally fine!  I had a good time and had helped a fellow runner cross the finish line a little faster than he thought he might have if we hadn't met. 

All-in-all, the Rocket City Marathon is a good race that I would run again if I lived closer.  It needs some updating ... in my opinion.  The no headphone rule is outdated and pointless when 80% of the field typically runs with them.  Also, it took until late in the afternoon to post results on their site.  Kind of unacceptable since it is 2011.  Also, it would have been nice if the course was marked correctly and there was more water at miles 20-26.  (But really this is me just bitchin' about the headphone thing.)  At the end of the day, it's a good flat fast winter race that I will highly recommend to anyone who asks!
... be great today!


  1. What an awesome medal and hat!! I love Huntsville, my friend Kristin lives there. Makes me want to do that race so I could visit her!!

    Awesome RR!

  2. You are a marathon machine! Love the medal. Your posts will really help people looking at the same marathons. Lots of details!

  3. Your marathon recaps gets me excited. Can't wait for my first one next summer!

    Great job on this race!

  4. I kind of like the rocket motif, but then, I always wanted to go to Space Camp too. Another good race report, Jim!

  5. I see the beard is still alive...
    so nice of you to stay with Bill! I am sure you made his day!!
    that medal is not pretty...the one I got on Sunday was...a pretty snowflake!

    I would have loved to come accross a chatty funny runner like you to keep me company for the last 2 miles of my half last Sunday!!

    congrats on #17!
    time to come race in SoCal!!!

  6. I'm sorry to hear your Huntsville experience was less than stellar. I've always loved Huntsville...I wish you could've made it to the Space Museum. Maybe saw an IMAX movie. It could have changed your whole experience in Huntsville :)

  7. I dislike the no headphone rule!!! Great recap!

  8. enjoyed your report... and it's always nice to get a running hat

  9. That "Weatherly" street sign is to be stolen and put in your house. If Santa happens to bring it, pretend like you never knew me.

    I licked the screen when I saw that burger, it's like a new thing with me. Helps with weight loss.

    You should mail the race director a set of headphones and a middle finger.

    Congrats on another well earned victory. :)

  10. Yeah!! So pumped that my comment made the blog. I'm generally really nice but for some reason find it so easy to talk to you like your my brother or something. Glad you didn't take it the wrong way.

    Congrats on the race! That city seriously seems way old fashioned and maybe even lamer than ut. Is that even possible?

  11. Thumbs up -- hat
    Thumbs down - water situation
    Thumbs up twice -- miles for 2011
    Thumbs up - finishing time

  12. Great report as usual! Your reports are always so detailed! Sounds like the race went fine overall, but I can believe that you are a little burned out, you've done a lot of running this year!

    If you were running next to me late in a marathon and asking me questions while you seemed to be just cruising, I might be annoyed with you too! lol

  13. Looking into signing up for this race and found your review. Hilarious! The only thing I've heard about this race from other runners is guess what? You can't wear headphones! And they said something about they thought it was a fast course, but that was after they mentioned the headphones. So the race has trained the public to present it as they do. First and foremost, no headphones. Second, oh right, you get to run a marathon. And third, kiss our redneck butts if you like headphones.

    I think I'll still sign up.:)

  14. I never ran this one while living in Alabama, but you got it right about the head phone policy! As for medal, the Merecedes Marathon prob. has the best one of the Alabama marathons!


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