Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mercedes Half Marathon Race Recap

This race has been on my radar for a while. I've said in the past that I don't choose races for the bling, but when I saw the medals from past years of this race, I knew that I wanted in. Holly and I had discussed getting together for an early spring half and made plans to run this one. I found a good flight, she found a hotel, and we were set.

The week before the race, our plans threatened to come unraveled. Between a huge snowstorm the day before I was set to leave and my very real fear of contracting the plague aka influenza that seemed to be afflicting every child I saw in my clinic, it seemed that we might not get to do this race at all. Fortunately, everything fell into place and early Saturday morning, I was Alabama bound.

photo credit: Holly

Holly picked me up at the airport and the adventure began. In contrast to the frozen tundra I left behind in Chicago, Birmingham was foggy and humid, but rather warm, with temperatures in the 60s. It was too early to check in to our hotel, so we got something to eat and then headed to the expo, which was close to our hotel. The expo had a good selection of vendors including Tailwind! We picked up our bibs and packets. The t-shirts were really cute- a cotton v-neck. They ran small, though, and we had to exchange them for larger sizes, which was NBD.


We headed over to the Good People Brewing Company tent to sample the beers they would be serving after the race. I could write a whole post on the beer alone. The beer was fantastic. My favorite was the Saison, but they were all good. My homebrewing husband texted me to let me know the IPA was voted the best in Alabama and I can see why. We sampled all the beers and then sampled them again, just to make sure. While we were sampling, Holly recognized a few local runners from social media and we introduced ourselves. It's so fun when this happens, isn't it? We were waiting for Val, with whom Holly runs quite a few races. In the meantime, we took some pictures and persued the merchandise.





with Val aka icecreamrunner
After the expo, we checked into our hotel. Holly wanted me to see the Vulcan, which is a Birmingham landmark. On the way there, we drove some of the race course. Oh my, it was hilly. I started feeling a little anxious about the race. Holly compared the hills to the Door County Half Marathon that we ran last year. That didn't make me feel any better! We had dinner, and exhausted, went back to the room. I bet we were both asleep by 9:30!

The Vulcan watches over the city from the top of Red Mountain
Cue the forboding music...
Race morning we were up a little after 5. I didn't sleep well, feeling kind of anxious about those hills we drove the night before. We checked the weather and there was no rain on the radar. The humidity was 95% and the temperature was 66. It was going to be a tough race. I was so glad I threw a tank top in my bag at the last minute. I forgot to pack my Spibelt, but fortunately, the INKnBURN skirt I was wearing has 2 large pockets on the shorts. My phone went in one and a pack of Tailwind in the other. I had my handheld filled with Tailwind. We walked the 3 blocks to the start line, and we found Val. There were a pretty good number of runners and we lined up with the 9-10 minute milers. It wasn't long and we were off!

Race day conditions according to WTF weather app
I planned on doing my 4:1 run/walk intervals after mile 1. Actually, a lot of runners around me were doing run/walk intervals. This was the first race that I noticed that. For the first couple of miles, I did ok. But the humidity really started taking a toll on my pacing, and by mile 3, when I saw the iconic Alabama theater sign, I broke my rule about not taking pictures during a race to snap a photo. I knew by then that this race was going to be tough and I may as well enjoy it. 

The iconic Alabama theater sign

We also ran through this neon-lit underpass "Light Rails". Very cool and totally unexpected!
We wound around downtown Birmingham for another mile or so and then we began to encounter some hills. At first, they were smaller rolling hills but soon enough we started to climb. The run/walk intervals gave way to walking up hills and running down.

I started feeling some friction on the back of my right foot and at mile 6, I stopped at the medical tent to get it taken care of before it got worse. The doctor put some Vaseline gauze on the blister that had formed and wrapped it with some stretchy tape. I headed back out.We continued the climbing and then at mile 8-9
 came a blissful long descent that wound around a park and through a beautiful historic neighborhood. I skipped my intervals altogether on this descent and flew down the hill. That felt amazing. While this part of the course was net downhill, there were still a few uphill climbs.

We left that area and ran through an industrial area that took us over and along some railroad tracks, for several miles. At this point, I had to really dig deep. I resumed my intervals but I was moving really slow. I was in good company. Everyone around me was walking. I don't recall ever running a race where so many people were walking. That humidity was no joke.

Finally, mile 12 and we turned back towards downtown. We ran under a tunnel and up an incline to the park where the finish was. That last 100 yards snaked around the park. It felt like the longest part of the race. We all literally shuffled our way to the finish line. I heard the announcer call my name as I crossed the timing mat. I got my medal and posed for the photographers.

Holly and Val had finished about 5 minutes before me. We compared notes and talked about the humidity. There was a nice spread of the usual finish line foods. There was also a finisher gift, a beach towel! Very nice.



Holly and I made our way out of the finisher area and headed to the indoor stadium for the post-race party. We made a beeline for the beer, got some barbecued pork courtesy of Jim and Nicks, a local BBQ chain, and sang along to Sweet Home Alabama with the band. We made our way back to the hotel in the pouring rain. Funny, it didn't rain much at all during the race!


I absolutely loved this race. Yes, it was a personal worst finish time for me. Am I disappointed with my finish time? All things considered, no. The humidity was brutal-something you could not have trained for unless you live in the tropics. Although I did no hill training for this race, CrossFit prepared me well for the hills, which was a pleasant surprise! There were aid stations throughout the course and the volunteers were enthusiastic. There were a lot of people on the course, cheering us on. The course itself was really interesting, showcasing the different areas of Birmingham. The post-race party was excellent. This is a really fun race and I would definitely do it again.





Have you ever run the Mercedes Half Marathon? There is a full marathon too, which is just another loop of the half. Ugh. Do you struggle with hills? Humidity? Would you pick a race just for the bling?

I'm linking up with Tuesdays on the Run aka Marcia, Erika, and Patti as well as Coaches' Corner aka Debbie, Rachel, and Lora.



71 comments :

  1. Great job and great attitude. Hills and humidity are two things we are not prepared for right now!! When I saw Birmingham - I thought hills! Yup, been there but have not raced there!

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    1. This is a great race, Erica--if you get the chance to run it, I would!

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  2. Just curious...are your run/walk intervals 4 min/1 min or 4 miles/1 mile? I'm now a run/walk interval runner as well, but haven't yet raced with my new strategy.

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    1. I do 4 minutes run, 1 minute walk. I set my Garmin to alarm when it's time to switch. As did everyone around me at the race--LOL!

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  3. I say good job.

    Most runners would be happy with that time on a good day.

    I suck on hills. And this winter has been so cold. Definitely didn’t prepare you for those temps.

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    1. Thank you--considering that I came in 13 out of 67 in my AG, it's clear that everyone was struggling. Misery loves company!

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  4. What a crazy journey! It sounds like amazing fun, and that neon-lit underpass is so cool!

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    1. This was a fun one and worth all the angst!

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  5. Sounds like such a fun whirl wind adventure! After my forced sabbatical last summer, I will never complain about the heat/humidity of summer (or anytime LOL), so I would have been in absolute heaven. And with Holly along for the ride and a great race? Total triple win ;-) Glad you were able to get there!

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    1. Clearly your idea of heaven is very different from mine. This was a slog and even the locals were complaining about it. But hey, to each his own, right?

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  6. Great job Wendy! Dealing with humidity and hills is no joke and I think you did a fabulous job.

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    1. Finishing was truly winning! I had that bling on my mind...

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  7. That weather sounds like what most of my races ended up being - and it's just rough to run in that kind of humidity and warm temperature...it really does become a slog to the finish, with everyone looking like the walking dead. So glad to hear you enjoyed the race, despite the brutal conditions, and hey, getting to spend time with a good running friend is awesome!

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    1. I've run a lot of humid races and this was the first time I've seen exactly what you describe as the walking dead! Thinking that our humidity, no matter how bad, is no match for the south!

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  8. So glad everything worked out for you given the crazy weather challenges. There are certain races I'd run for the bling. That is one of them!

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    1. You definitely need to put this one on your list! I wish you could have joined us.

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  9. Aww...you had me reliving our fun trek through the swamp! It really is such a nice course. I've lived in the south all my life and have never acclimated to extreme humidity like we had this day. If they haven't, everyone should do one race in these conditions for a dose of perspective. GOOD friend. GOOD fun. GOOD course. GOOD bling. GOOD beer. I'm not complaining! So, what're we doing next? (PS: nice recap!)

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    1. I said it above and I just don't think that our humidity can touch what we ran in on Sunday. But there's no one I'd rather suffer with! What are we doing next? Hmmmm....

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  10. 95% humidity - yep sounds like every summer run I've done, but in 75-95 degree weather. The joys of the south - which is why I always crap out on running outside starting around July. :)

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  11. I love the expo photos, it looks like you all had a lot of fun! That's great that the brewery had a tasting tent there :) And way to go on the race, it sounds really tough with the hills and humidity.

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    1. It was so much fun that it made the humidity less of an issue!

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  12. Great job! I've been working on hills a little more lately - my favorite trail helps. Hawaii = warm and humid year round. I've learned to never run without a few Hammer Endurolyte tabs with me (my electrolytes of choice.)

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    1. I made sure to hydrate well the day before and I'm sure all the chips I ate the night before helped me with my salt intake... I was ok. Just had trouble with breathing in the air!

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  13. I'm so proud of you, Wendy! Mercedes Half was my first half marathon! And it's funny b/c everyone who runs this race (not from Bham) talks about the hills. Some even call them mini-mountains. lol I guess I'm used to it...and being that I'm not a super fast runner, I definitely feel it. It's crazy because the last time I ran Mercedes Half the weather was just like it was Sunday. You pushed through and finished strong! Hands down my favorite post-race party with Jim'N'Nicks BBQ and the beer garden! Congrats on your amazing finish!

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    1. I was nervous about the hills and didn't even consider the humidity! I give you a lot of credit for running there! But what a fantastic race!

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  14. Great job on the race especially in the conditions. Humidity is no joke, I live in the South and it is crazy. Even in the winter months, it is still humid. This looks like an awesome race and I love your expo pictures as well as all the bling!

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    1. This was such a fun race! Even in spite of the conditions. I don't know how you southern runners do it all the time. Do you get used to it?

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  15. You did so great considering all the stress and humidity!!! Looks like you had such a great time! We lived in Florida for a while and I've definitely done some humid runs. It actually gets humid like that here in Virginia. Some days it's like slogging through the mud. Ugh!!

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    1. We get humidity in the summer but wow! I was so unprepared for this. Clearly I wasn't alone...

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  16. Congrats on the finish. Sounds like the run/walk method is really catching on! What do you think caused the mid-race blisters?

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    1. I have no idea! I have never had a blister before. My shoe was rubbing the back of my foot--Holly attributed it to the moisture in the air. I"m glad I caught it when I did.

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  17. Humidity and hills are the worst for me! I actually wrote a post once about how hard they are. You did awesome and Im so glad you got to run!

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    1. Thank you! This definitely had the combo pack going for it. I'm just grateful that I got to run too. What a fun weekend it was!

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  18. I enjoyed your recap! This race is still on my bucket list. I was registered for it last year. It was supposed to be my 16th half on the 16th anniversary of the race, but that's when I started having issues with my knee. The humidity was rough this weekend, very muggy. Some of my most fun races are ones when I took it easy and took pictures. I like seeing pictures in recaps. I've been using run/walk for almost a year now since my knee surgery. They definitely help break up a tough run.

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    1. I'm glad you are starting to come back from that surgery. I hope you get to do this one. Even though it's definitely challenging, it is really a great experience. Loved visiting Bham!

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  19. Great job! Any half finish is a victory in my book!
    Humidity is so hard to run in. I'm glad you guys had fun-- so cool that you've connected and become friends!

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    1. I couldn't go all the way there and not cross that finish line! I mean, that bling....

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  20. You 2 always have so much fun together! I love your attitude about not caring that this was not your best race. It's all about finish lines and you crossed it with a smile. Blisters ugh who needs those? Love that weather app I am going to have to get it

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    1. Some races should be run just for fun. I tried to run faster but the conditions just wouldn't let me!

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  21. I was so happy to see you made it out and it sounds like it was just an all-around awesome experience...despite the humidity! I swear I cannot even remember what humidity feels like right now so of course your body was in shock!! Love all the pictures and your endless smile. Keep running happy my friend. It suits you :-)))

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    1. You know it was bad when I was looking forward to coming back to the cold! LOL!

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  22. Sometimes enjoying the journey is more important than a finish time. I absolutely struggle with humidity & it's even harder when you're not acclimated. I think what saved me in NOLA was getting there early -- I know, unfortunately not an option for you -- & the flatness.

    I'm actually thinking about that one for next year, although I might end up doing a shorter race earlier in winter with a friend. It won't be an easy decision!

    Good job, Wendy (and Holly!).

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    1. The hills weren't so bad for me--I've got all those squats and deadlifts under my belt--but I was no match for the humidity. You know my ultimate goal is always to have fun and that I did!

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    2. Humidity is always tough. As long as you had fun, it's all good!

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  23. Congrats on your race! I definitely struggle with hills and try to avoid them during races whenever possible! haha.

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    1. Right? I do love my flatlands here in the midwest...

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  24. That weather - yikes! I know it felt extra tough after months of winter running.

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  25. Yes, you absolutely ran in some tough conditions! Heck, even us Southerners struggle with the humidity! We may be used to living in it but I don't think we are good at running in it either. It just plain sucks the life right out of you. So I say ..great job on a damn good finish time!! Glad you guys had a great trip! P.S. I'd so run that race just for the bling!!!

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    1. I knew it was bad when I was surrounded by locals all walking! That made me feel better. I don't know how you guys train in that stuff.

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  26. I definitely struggle with humidity. It really flare up my exercise induced asthma. Nice job especially considering the tough conditions!

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    1. I don't have asthma but it was sure hard to breathe!

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  27. This sounds like a fun race! Congrats!! Heat and humidity are tough, that's for sure. But damn does that sound nice right about now... #isitsummeryet

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    1. It was nice to wear shorts but no thanks to that humidity.

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  28. Humidity is all I know. Even when it's cold here, it's humid, and that adds a whole different layer to running.

    I'm sorry it was a tough race, but I love your attitude about it and I adore that you had fun! I'm really glad the weather cooperated and you were able to get there and have an awesome time!

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    1. No matter how a race goes, I never ever want to cross a finish line upset about my performance. So if it isn't going well, I always make sure its fun!

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  29. You are goals! Even when the race is tough, you come through and make the most of it. I'm such a baby when it comes to humidity. And that weather app is hilarious.

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    1. If it were easy, everyone would do it, right? LOL. Every race brings its own set of challenges and no matter how well you train, something happens that you didn't plan for.

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  30. Hills & humidity are a tough combination for sure! I'm a wimp when it comes to humidity. Congrats on making it through. Great medal!

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    1. I had that medal on my mind as I slogged along!

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  31. Congratulations on finishing, Wendy! My motto is always "Finishing = Winning"! I even have a shirt with that on it! I probably would not run the Birmingham half because I went to college in AL, so I know about those hills! As for the humidity, well, I live in GA, so I am used to that. Imagine running a half in the spring or summer down here! Finally, I have run a race for the bling before, but not so much anymore. :)

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    1. The hills weren't what did me in, it was the humidity! I knew it was bad when all the local peeps were walking too.

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  32. Great job Wendy! I cannot imagine training and running in this cold weather and then having to run a humid race. Love that you made the best of it. I've never run this race but did run in Birmingham years ago. I remember it being hilly and windy too.

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    1. It was a great race, no matter what the conditions!

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  33. That sounds like such a fun race and I'm glad you and Holly had a great time! Sometimes it's fun to just throw racing out the window and run for fun, and that's what I plan to do at the Grand Tetons Half in June.

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    1. There really wasn't any other option. At this point, I can't hang my hat on a goal finish time. I'm just happy to be out there.

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  34. Great job! Humidity can be brutal, especially when you don't live in it. I got used to Dallas humidity, but Houston humidity is worse. Sounds like you tackled those hill, which is great.

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    1. We can get some pretty humid days in the summer, but nothing like what I experienced this past weekend!

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  35. Love your attitude even when a race doesn't go as well as you'd hoped.

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    1. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow!

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