So, there’s three marathons in my legs now.
Man, can I feel the third one.
Missy and I headed out for the San Antonio Marathon and half (me full, Missy half – she had ITB troubles this summer) on Sunday. The day was pretty close to perfect for a marathon – crisp and cool at the start, rising to the mid 70’s by noon. The course was great, too – flat, flat, (mostly) pretty decent pavement, great spectator turnout, good support with drink, gels, and water, and great volunteers.
And we will for sure look at Saturns the next time we need a car – man, did they do a great job as a sponsor. I don’t generally like to shill for companies, but Saturn was there with good stuff all the way through the race – good pace tattoos at the expo, heaters and hats at the start, and the only bit of shade at the finish.
Running was as good as running a marathon can be. I was absolutely great until about mile 21, and then everything went to crap. I think that my big mistake was to take a little bit of a walk break there, and I couldn’t get momentum back after that. I walk-ran through the Kappa Kappa Delta water stop just past mile 24, but from about mile 25 on, I kept having pretty intense cramps in my calves and left thigh.
Which drove me crazy. I’ve been listening to my lovely wife about the beauty of pacing, and even though I felt great at the start of the race, I fought the urge to RUN and kept right at the 8:55/9:00 pace that the tattoo required for a 3:55 finish. So the miles clicked on, and as I crossed the halfway point, I could really feel the difference between this race and the others that I’ve done – there was plenty of zip left in my legs. So, when I walked and couldn’t really get going again at 21, I was frustrated.
I lost 15 minutes in the last 5 miles, finishing in 4:11, for a PR.
AND, I’m happy about the marathon thing for the first time ever. If you look back to 2005, you’ll read about a bit of post-marathon depression on my part. This time, I’m pretty psyched about the whole experience, I think largely because I did a much better job sticking to the training program, modifying it only slightly to account for life, sickness, and motivation.
This was an inaugural marathon, so the City and the organizers have more than a couple of bugs to work out:
- NO COFFEE! First, I think that this is pretty close to being a violation of the Geneva Convention – having people stand around at the crack of dawn without providing anything warm and caffeinated. Made even worse by the fact that the race brochure SPECIFICALLY STATED that there would be COFFEE AND BAGLES at the beginning. I’m kicking myself for passing a half dozen Starbucks, Krispy Kremes, and Taco Cabanas without getting coffee.
- NO SHELTER! The start was at the Lions Field just south of Brackenridge Park, rather than in the park itself. So, there was no where to stand in the dry if it had been raining, and no way to stand under something to stay warm-ish in the 30 degree morning. If it had been a typical San Antonio November morning, we probably would have been OK. Saturn had some patio heaters – 30,000 runners tried to huddle under them.
- PLENTY OF POTTIES.
- GREAT ACTUAL RACE START – The Rock and/or Roll series uses “Corrals” for the start, where groups of about 1,000 runners are set off spaced about 60-90 seconds. The beauty of this is that there’s not the usual pre-race shuffle for the first mile. The drawback is that if you’re back in corral 30, you don’t start until at least 60 minutes after the leaders.
- Parking – plenty of parking at the ATT Center, and since we were there 2 hours before the race start, we had no problems getting a shuttle.
I think that 90 minutes standing and shivering before the start may have had something to do with the crash at mile 21. We’d brought throw-away sweats for the start, but should have brought some space blankets, too.
- THE ALAMODOME STINKS. After 26.2 relatively flat miles, there’s a dip to go under the freeway, then a hill for an onramp, then a downhill and a 90 degree turn for the bus loading-unloading ramp, and then a hill and a 90 degree corner to the finish line. Blows.
- THE ALAMODOME STINKS PART II. After you get through the finish line support (great, by the way – plenty of food, plenty of volunteers), you’re out in the middle of a big parking lot. No grass, no benches, no trees.
- THE ALAMODOME STINKS PART III – NO SHADE. So, you’ve just run 26.2 miles on a pretty sunny course, and it’s afternoon in South Texas. Of course you don’t want shade. NOT. Seriously, the only shade was in the Saturn Tent, and in the potties. No tent under which to watch the entertainment. It hits 85 some afternoons in November; this could have been a disaster.
- THE ALAMODOME STINKS PART IV – NO PARKING. So, by using the Alamodome for the finish, the organizers eliminated almost all the excess parking in downtown San Antonio. They’d tried to mitigate it by having parking at the AT&T Center just east of Downtown and running shuttles, but the buses didn’t work – we stood in line (Did I mention there’s no shade?) for about an hour before we got on the bus.
How I’d Fix It
- MOVE THE START TO BRACKENRIDGE PARK instead of the Lions Fields. Starting in the park would solve the shelter at the beginning part, as it’s pretty well wooded, which feels much warmer, or would block some of the rain. There’s also stuff on which to sit at the start. You could bring the shuttles off of Hildebrand into the park, and have them get back on 281 to make another run by taking them out on Mulberry.
- MOVE THE FINISH TO HEMISFAIR PLAZA. Starting another half mile up Broadway at Brackenridge would let you finish at Hemisfair without having to change much of the course. There’s a bunch of advantages here:
- YOU COULD HAVE PARKING AT THE ALAMODOME
- THERE”S SHADE IN THE HEMISFAIR PARK
- NO HILLS ON THE RUN-IN TO THE FINISH
- STUFF UPON WHICH TO SIT WHILE RECOVERING
- YOU CAN RIDE THE SPACE NEEDLE THERE
- Easier access to downtown hotels
And that’s honestly about it. Shade at the finish and coffee at the start could have made this my favorite marathon ever. As it is, I don’t think that we’ll go through the trouble of running this race again – there’s more than enough cool local options in New England, and enough other destination races to do that our trips to San Antonio ought to go back to being just about family.
Oh, I’d also like to comment about the walkers – there were a TON of them. Miles 22-24 shared part of the course with miles 11.5-13, and the last two miles of the marathon and half courses were on the same road. There were probably more half-marathon walkers finishing the half as I was coming to the finish line for the full, and plenty of marathoners hitting mile 12 as I was going past the other way. And, even with the corral start, I passed a lot of walkers in the first few miles.
All in all, it’s a pretty decent race – the course is great, and if the weather