I have been struggling to write a recap for the Mercedes Marathon, because this race was unlike any other I have run. When people have asked how it went, I’ve just stared blankly and said, “Uh, interesting?”
What I’m going to do is divide my experience into two posts to make this easier on us all—The Race and The Incident. Today, you can read about how I turned Mercedes into a 30-mile training run. Tomorrow, if you make it through my disclaimers, you can read about The Incident.
Darnell and I signed up for the Mercedes Marathon with the intention of using it as a very long training run to prepare for the Lake Martin 50 and 27 next month. With a marathon in town and a long run on the schedule, why not run with 5,000 of your friends and get food and a medal?
Darnell is currently training her tail off to become an ultra runner, while also nursing an ankle injury. In hindsight, a 30-mile road run was not the best idea. But she had been knocking every trail run out of the park, so we decided to test the waters.
As tradition would have it, Mercedes weekend was one of the coldest we’ve had this winter. Low 20s at the start, 40s at the finish, cloudy throughout—my ideal running weather. Until I forcibly had to strip down to my tank top. But that’s a teaser for tomorrow.
Being the hometown race, Mercedes is always full of friends. From racers to pacers to aid station volunteers, bumping into familiar faces throughout the 26.2 miles totally makes up for the noticeable lack of crowd support.
Darnell and I walked over to the start of the race an hour and a half early to log our extra miles before the race started. Because I knew the allure of barbecue and beer would be too strong to continue to run through that finish line. We did a loop around Midtown as the sun rose over the volunteers setting up the Birmingham Track Club water stop. Shout out to you guys—thank you!
Arrogant runner comment—it felt good to run through town wearing our marathon bibs and passing all the runners who were parking their cars and sleepily filing into the start corral. I’m terrible. But, truth.
The first part of the race passed in the typical adrenaline-fueled blur of pre-race photo ops, starting line selfies, muffled speeches, and the National Anthem. And then we were off.
We ran between different groups of friends, treating it as the relaxed long run that it was instead of as a race. Darnell was the ever-obedient student and slowed down whenever I told her to. We hung out for 8 miles with Rachel and her friend Summer, who was running her first half marathon. She rocked it!
We ran through the BUTS aid station (and somehow missed the pancakes and bacon), stopped at her office for some tasty snacks, and ran with a group where I befriended a convict who called me Sunshine. All in all, a decent first loop of the race.
After the dreaded right turn that separates the full marathoners from the cheer of the crowds and the comfort of the finish line, we dropped our pace a little to prepare for another 13 miles of cold and hills.
I kept shooting glances over at Darnell and asking how she felt once I realized that her now-gigantic ankle was affecting her gait. She toughed it out for as long as she could, then made the difficult but right decision to drop out. While she didn’t get her full 30 miles in, she ran a smart 22 miles on a bum ankle and was able to practice her fueling and pacing for Lake Martin. This solidified her badassery, proved that she’s tough enough to be an ultra runner, and prepared her for her upcoming race way more than if she had raced Mercedes.
After sadly parting with Darnell and after The Incident, I took off flying for my next destination—the finish line. I was running alone at this point with a dead phone that could no longer connect me to entertainment, so I made the decision to try and catch my friends in the 5:00 and 4:45 pace groups.
I quickly realized that significantly picking up the pace after already having run 25 miles and feeling like death was a bad idea. During the final 5 miles, my sprint turned into an ugly shuffle turned into a controlled forward falling. Fortunately, downhills and momentum will keep you upright and moving when you feel like you’re about to faint.
I contemplated crying from happiness when I reached (in my mind) the “final hill” at the Chevron station at the top of Highlands Avenue, but figured that I should reserve the sodium in my tears for the remainder of the run.
The final miles passed in a blur. I caught and passed the 5:00 pace group, gained some energy from high-five-ing my way through the BUTS aid station again, threw back another beer in the last mile, and crossed the finish line tired, but satisfied.
Running 30+ miles on the road is stupid. My body hated it when I did the See Tanya Run 50k and was broken for months, and my body hated it just as much this time. My pesky groin made a reappearance, propelling me into a series of doctor appointments so that I can fix this shit before the Lake Martin 50.
On the bright side, I ran a respectably strong long run despite some trials and tribulations, had no post-race soreness, and snagged another gigantic Mercedes emblem. My heart hurts that Darnell didn’t finish with me, but we had a fun 22 miles together and we will tear up those Lake Martin trails soon enough!
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the race recap. Until next year, adios Mercedes Marathon!