Ok, so I never did an Expectations post, and I’m more than a week late on this Marathon Recap because I was busy making this:
Also, procrastinating. So let’s get to it!
In a nutshell, I was expecting quite a bit of pain. My left hip was hurting from who-know’s-what (not running, since I hadn’t been doing that), and my last marathon (three weeks before Rocket City) was all sorts of pain. Forecasted temps were warm (59 to 73) and I didn’t have any time goals except to beat the sag wagon (cut-off was a hard 6 hours). The course looked like it was drawn by a drunk child with a thick crayon (i.e. lots of twists and turns), so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to that. The website was kind of unfriendly in a weird way, with an overemphasis on disqualification and threats of being pulled off the course if you ran with headphones (which I don’t think was true since I saw several people running with visible headphones), and really, really emphasizing the time cut-off of 6 hours (again saying you’d be pulled from the course at various points if you weren’t on-pace). So, my expectations were pretty low. Luckily, my expectations for a fun time were well exceeded! But not by the race itself…
How To Do The Rocket City Marathon in 5 Easy Steps
- Step 1: Stay at the Embassy Suites.
- Step 2: Go to the Pasta Dinner at the US Space and Rocket Center.
- Step 3: Book a post-race massage at the spa in the hotel.
- Step 4: Eat a steak at Ruth’s Chris in the hotel.
- Step 5: Success!
I stayed at the host hotel, the Embassy Suites, aka race central – the expo is literally connected to the hotel via a 2nd floor skywalk and the start and finish are right behind the hotel. No need to rent a car, as the hotel offers a free shuttle from the airport and the race provides a shuttle to the awesome pasta dinner at night.
Seriously, the pasta dinner was out of this world (pun intended). It’s held at the US Space and Rocket Center underneath a Saturn V Rocket. You literally scoop up your pasta while standing underneath a ginormous rocketship! I couldn’t help but think that if this were held in a NYC museum the tickets would be $200. Instead, they were $25 and included a pretty tasty meal (pasta with choice of marinara or meat sauce, grilled chicken, salad, green beans, bread, butter, and assorted cookies), plus bus transport from the hotel and a motivational speech! This year’s speaker was Traci Falbo, who told her story of going from an overweight, unhappy housewife to one of the top ultra runners in the world. I wish we had more time to explore the space center, but even the brief dinner there was pretty much worth doing the marathon.
It was… meh. Since it’s a surprisingly small race at about 1200 runners, it took me all of 60 seconds to cross the start from the back of the pack. And because the starting line is directly behind the hotel, there’s no need to stand in line for porta potties since you can get from your room to the start in about 120 seconds, give or take. So that was all great, but the course itself was indeed very twisty and not terribly scenic. Lots of suburbs and tons of road crossings, each fully staffed by at least 2 and sometimes 4 uniformed police officers. I saw more police officers than could possibly exist in the entire state of Alabama. Besides the policemen, there wasn’t much on-course entertainment for a headphone-banned race (one band, some cheerleaders, some drummers). The best part of the course was the mile through the Rocket Center, but it went by quickly and then you had another 6 miles to get back to the finish.
Because it was so hot that day (mid-70s, but luckily overcast as the course didn’t have shade), and because several water stations were 3 miles apart, I decided to carry a handheld water bottle for the first time ever (“everything new on race day!”). I probably would have been ok without the water, but psychologically it helped to know I could always take a swig when needed. I would have liked more water stops, but since the high is normally in the 50s, it’s probably not usually a problem.
I also carried my new GoPro Hero4 Session (the little cube one) for the first time but haven’t edited the video yet. Not sure if I like using the Session more than my cell phone for capturing race moments, but someday I hope to do more adventurous things with it than running through suburban Alabama. (Like run through suburban Delaware?)
The finish line was inside the convention center, which was nice (you don’t run inside much – just a few yards to the finish). There was plenty of food (chocolate milk, ice cream sandwiches, two flavors of Moon Pie, bananas, made-to-order PB&J sandwiches on super thick bread, and chicken noodle soup) and plenty of seats inside to enjoy the food and watch the other runners finish. It’s also worth noting that all the race photos are free! That’s pretty amazing for a $67 race.
I got my first ever post-race massage only a couple hours after crossing the finish line (at the Spa Botanica in the hotel, 80 minutes for $110 plus tip). It was ok at the time, but the next day I was much less sore than normal, so maybe it helped? I also ate a steak at Ruth’s Chris in the hotel, so maybe that helped, too.
I flew out the next afternoon which left me plenty of time to wander the area behind the hotel and check out all the sponsored Christmas trees and visit the small Huntsville Museum of Art ($12 admission for adults). There isn’t much to do if you don’t have a car (and maybe even if you do have a car?) so it’s definitely a quick in-and-out type of race. They’re building a big new shopping complex directly across from the hotel (CityCentre at Big Spring), but for now the party is basically the hotel. That’s not to say it’s not a good party – I loved my weekend in Huntsville! The convenience, the steakhouse, the spa, the pasta dinner – it was a great time, even if it had little to do with running the race itself!
In related news, I ran the last 7 miles of this race while chatting with a friendly Marathon Maniac, who stuck with me even as I slowed to walking (most of the last 2 miles). But he got me across the finish, and since it was my Marathon Maniac qualifying race, I’m now a Maniac, too! I have no plans on chasing stars (“leveling up,” or running increasing numbers of marathons in decreasing amounts of time), but luckily once you’re in, you’re in, and I’ll never have to run 3 marathons in 3 months again (unless I want to…).
Thinking of Running Rocket City?
Follow the steps above to cross Alabama off your list!
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of over 5:30 hours. Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 8/10 – Hunstville’s airport isn’t very big, but once you get there (I had to fly through Charlotte, NC), it’s pretty easy – the hotel runs a free shuttle from the airport, and the pasta dinner ticket comes with free transport (a bus from the hotel), and both the expo and race start/finish is right behind the hotel – so it’s all very compact and simple. However, there’s not a lot to walk to once you’re there (besides the Art Museum), so it’s a good thing the hotel is so self-sufficient.
- Staying There – 9.5/10 – I loved the hotel (the Embassy Suites Huntsville), and it would have been a 10 except there was a screw-up regarding the shuttle to the airport and I could have missed my flight – but otherwise it was great! The rooms are huge and quiet (so quiet!). There’s a decent-sized gift shop with plenty of snacks and water and stuff, a Ruth Chris’s steakhouse in the lobby, a decent-looking pool and small gym, and an on-site spa. There’s also free breakfast every morning and a “manager’s reception” with snacks every evening. With taxes it was $141/night – not bad for all the included perks!
- Cost & Registration – 10/10 – I paid $67 for the race (with processing fees), which got me all that finisher food noted above, plus a short-sleeved tech shirt, decent medal, and tech hat handed to you when you cross the finish! Oh, and the race photos are also included! It’s a great deal. And don’t forget that amazing pasta dinner for an additional $25.
- Organization – 7.5/10 – The website wasn’t great, and I hated the course map (quite confusing and not easy to print), but the expo and race itself went smoothly.
- Course – 6/10 – Not terribly scenic, tons of turns, some double-backing on the same sections, and not enough water stops. But it was closed to traffic and didn’t have much highway, so it wasn’t terrible.
- Crowd – 3/10 – Wasn’t expecting a crowd, and didn’t find one.
- Other Factors – 8/10 – Two words – Pasta Dinner.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – The overall rating is high because it was such an enjoyable weekend, but don’t expect much from the course itself.
20 down, 30 to go! My next marathon is Mississippi Blues in Jackson, MS, on January 9th, just two and a half weeks away!
Have you been running in this winter heat? What are your plans for the holidays? Did you make and/or eat any Christmas cookies? Share in the comments!