Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Race (Pacing) Recap: Snickers Marathon

I started officially pacing a little over a year ago, and it has quickly become one of my favorite ways to experience an event!  I just love giving back to the running community, meeting new people and getting to be a part of someone's (or several someones') running journey.

With several half marathon pacing gigs under my belt, I was ecstatic to be asked to pace the Snickers Marathon in Albany, GA this past weekend.  I have been considering running this race for myself and I figured what better what to check it out than to be a pacer, so I jumped on the chance!

Having not paced a full marathon yet, I had to admit I was somewhat nervous about it all.  It's a lot of miles and people would be counting on me.  But then I was a little relieved when I was asked to pace the 4:10 group.  This is about a minute and a half slower than my marathon goal pace and over two minutes slower than my half marathon pace.  So I figured this would be a great pace for me to make my marathon pacing debut.

The training for this event was pretty simple.  I had just come off a full marathon (the Celebration Marathon) about a month prior, so I figured if I could just keep up my mileage while slowing down my pace, I should be good to go.  Believe it or not, slowing down is harder than it seems so the majority of my runs, including my 21 miler, were all still under 9 minutes.  But I figured once I got out with the crowd, got to chatting and respected the job I had to do, I'd have it under control.

On a side note, I have to tell you how wonderful it is to prepare for a race without having any pressure on myself and my own goals.  Not worrying about speed work, tempo runs or even putting expectations on my long runs was so refreshing.  My body and mind really appreciated the break from the strenuous and stressful training I had been putting myself through for the past eight months!

The race is in Albany, which is a quaint little town in Southwest Georgia.  It was about a four and a half hour drive from Orlando, mostly on the interstate, so the trip wasn't too bad.  Because the race boasts it's flat, fast course, it draws quite a bit of folks from Georgia and its surrounding states who are looking for a marathon PR and/or BQ.  In fact, it was ranked 2016's second best course for Boston qualifying.  (I even met a girl from Chicago and a guy from Denver who made the trip in hopes to BQ.)

Being from Orlando and having participated in races in much larger cities like Chicago and DC, Albany was probably one of, if not the smallest events I have been to.  But there is a lot to be said about those smaller town races.  It's quaint, easy to access and the whole community really comes together to show its support.

The host hotel for the race was the Hilton Garden Inn, which was also where the expo was held.  With the race on a Saturday, the expo was held Friday afternoon/evening.  I rolled into town around 3:30 that afternoon and the expo was just getting kicked off.  Because the town and the event itself are both pretty small (about 1500 runners for the half and full), the expo was pretty tiny too.  It made getting my packet and finding the pacer table a breeze, so that was definitely nice perk.

I met up with the other pacers, learned I would be needed for the 4:15 group instead of the 4:10.  And since I wouldn't be needed to work the table until 5pm, I decided to check in to my room then check out the expo.

The front desk was super busy with runners checking in.  You could tell they were prepared with all hands on deck but it was definitely pretty hectic in there.  I got my room assignment, headed up to relax for a few and decide on my outfit (based on my new pacer shirt) for the morning.  Then headed back down to work the expo and enjoy the pre-race banquet.
 The pasta dinner was surprisingly good.  They had a variety of pastas with marinara and alfredo sauce, with meat and vegetarian options.  There was also salad, bread and cake, along with tea (of course we're in the South) and plenty of water.  I was a little disappointed in the attendance for the meal, but I'm sure everyone wanted to check out the popular BBQ and hometown joints around town.

I got to meet my pacer roomie, Julie, right before dinner and we really hit it off.  She came down from South Carolina and was pacing the 4:30 group.  She is a pretty seasoned pacer and gave me a lot of great advice, and she was really great company so I was happy to get to room with her.  We met back with the other pacers around 9pm for a quick meeting then headed up to our room for the night.  Knowing we had to wake up pretty early, we tried to hit the hay at a decent hour but spent a lot of time chatting before finally falling a sleep.

The race started at 7am and us pacers were to meet in the lobby at 6:20am, so we got up around 5:30 that morning.  With everything already laid out and ready to go in our room, it didn't take long for us to get ready and get going.  

The lobby was packed with runners not wanting to go out into the cold (it was about 36 degrees at the start).  We were able to corral the other pacers and get a quick picture before losing each other again in the crowd.
A nice perk to being in the host hotel right across the street from the starting line was being able to run up to my room for a quick potty break before heading over to the starting line.  Yey for no port-a-potty!!!

I got back down with just enough time to find my fellow pacers and head over to the starting line.  As soon as we walked out of the hotel lobby, I was hit hard by the cold air.  This Florida girl was FREEZING!  But I knew it would make for great weather as the race went on, so I tried to remain positive and keep moving.

The starting line was maybe 100 or so yards from the hotel lobby, so we were there and lined up in no time.  It didn't take long standing in my area to make friends with who was planning to run with me.  I first met some really sweet ladies from Alabama, who would actually run with me almost to the end.  I also saw two people I had met the day before at the expo and met a few others who planned to run with me as well.
The race started right on time at 7am, and we were off...

The half and full marathoners start off together but veer off within a few yards of the start.  Us marathoners took a right turn and made our way through portions of the Albany State campus, which was very pretty.  We ran on the outskirts of a couple of neighborhoods, where residents were already starting to come out and cheer us on, before heading out of town for a beautiful sunrise run on a two lane road.  Around mile 3, we were heading back towards downtown and it felt like the miles were just flying by as I chatted it up with my group.

We made our way back by the host hotel and up into town.  The crowd support at this point was incredible.  Several local high school students lined the right side of the road and they were hooting and hollering it up for us.  It was a lot of fun.

We made our way through part of downtown then headed back onto what seemed to be a highway for a good stretch.  I was a little disappointed we didn't run through more of the city, I love getting to see old office buildings and homes, plus I really enjoyed the crowd support.

The next several miles were a pretty straight shot with some slight inclines and declines but no major hills.  Shortly after mile 8, we wove through another part of the campus and headed back on to the major road.  Then we took a sharp right and entered the series of neighborhoods we would be running through for the next several miles.

The sun was fully up and it had warmed up quite a bit by the time we passed the 10 mile mark, but it was still really nice out. We had left the major roads, campuses and city buildings, and were running strictly through neighborhoods at this point.  The next few miles were through a beautiful golf community.  The homes were lovely, there were a lot of large old trees providing great shade and the residents were out to show their support.  Shortly after mile 12, we came upon the sneaky hill we were warned about, but it was short lived and we crushed it!

When we passed the half way mark, I had a few runners who I met at the start still with me along with several others who we had picked up along the way.  Passing that half mark gave many of them a sense of accomplishment and hope for the rest of the run, so we were rolling at this point.

For the next few miles, we ran through the golf community and into another neighborhood that skirted around a lake.  The people directing traffic and cheering for through these miles were Marines from the local base, so that made my day since I'm a military brat (both my mom and dad were Marines)!

Unfortunately, between mile 16-18 I could feel myself losing a few runners.  I did my best to encourage and push them, but the pace I was at was still a bit fast since I had built in walks for water stations, and it was obvious it was difficult for them to keep up.  On a positive, I did have a few runners start to break away from the pack and push ahead.  I was excited to see they ran conservatively with me and were ready to kick it up.

We came out of the neighborhood and headed back onto a major road by mile 20ish.

We were running directly into the sun for about a mile and a half (maybe even a little more) some time after mile 20.  It was a major road so we were filed into one traffic lane.  The sun was pretty warm at this point and there was a bit of an incline, but there was great crowd support being on a major road.  I had lost most of my core group but had picked up some new runners who had fallen back from their faster group and had hoped to at least stay with me at this point.

With about three and a half to four miles left to go, we left the main drag and made our way back through neighborhoods.  By this point, I now longer had anyone running with me and I started to become a little lonely!  As I passed by runners who were falling back, I tried to push and encourage them to keep with me.  A few did for a while, some were able to go on ahead, but most fell back behind.

With a little over a mile to go, we made our way back into town.  A volunteer had shouted that it would be mostly downhill from there.  I chuckled to myself because there aren't many times that's actually a good term to us, but it is definitely nice to hear the term "downhill" when finishing up a marathon.

We cut through some city streets as we headed back towards downtown.  I almost caught up with one of my original ladies when I saw her walking.  I shouted to her she was almost there and to push through.  She did and I was so proud of her!

With less than a half mile to go, we took a sharp left and were on a side walk.  We went through an opening between two buildings then through a gate that would take us along the river and to the finish.  I could hear the race DJ and the crowd (and of course knew how much further from my watch) and was excited I was almost there.
All alone (I lost everyone at this point), I crossed the finish line at 4:14:12, about 48s faster than the posted goal time and 18s faster than I was supposed to run.  All in all not too bad of a finish for my first full marathon pacing gig.

For a smaller race, the finish line area was really nice.  There was a large sign with a time clock, a race DJ and even bleachers for spectators.  There really wasn't much for food and entertainment, but the river and of course all the sunshine made for a nice post race relaxation and catching up on the days events.
The pacers had a small VIP tent with sandwiches so we all met up there to discuss how it went for us.  Most all of us met our mark and has some great stories to share from our group.  I was able to meet up with a few ladies I had started the race with.  Though we did not finish together, both met their goal time and a BQ.  I also found a man who had ran with me a good chunk of the middle miles but lost shortly after 20.  He came in not too far behind me for his first ever marathon finish.  He and his family were so proud!

With not a whole lot going on post race and the long drive I still head ahead of mine, I made the 5 minute walk back to the hotel to shower up and head home.

I'm glad I was able to experience the Snickers Marathon as a race pacer.  It was a great introduction to marathon pacing in a smaller, less overwhelming event.  The course itself was a pretty good one and the crowd really come out to show it's support.  I will definitely consider coming back to pace and possibly race this one myself in years to come.

Here are a few final pros and cons to the Albany Snickers Marathon...
  • Relatively flat, fast course
  • Small event, easy to access expo and race day
  • Good crowd support
  • Awesome pace leaders ;-)
  • Snickers candy in goodie bags
  • Cute medal
  • Host hotel walking distance to start and finish
  • Great for spectators
  • Smaller race in smaller town makes for a non-intimidating event  perfect for first timers
  • Half option if not wanting to do the full
  • There are a few hills (by Florida standards)
  • Course is mostly through neighborhoods and highways, so not terribly exciting but pretty
  • Expo is tiny
  • Not much for swag
  • Not much to see or do in Albany, GA
  • Small, lackluster after party

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