This race was an opportunity to return to beautiful Savannah, GA, the site of our first half marathon. Since it was a women's race, it was also an opportunity for one of us to attempt to catch up to the other in total number of half marathons run. Since Savannah is only a hop, skip, and a jump from our home base, signing up for this inaugural event was a no-brainer.
The Fashion and Fitness Expo was held in downtown Savannah in one of the ballrooms at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto Hotel (also the race's host hotel). The ballroom was a fitting location for a fashion and fitness event, where chandeliers crowned the area selling official race merchandise. Runners were first directed to the bib pick-up line where (as of 8 pm) there was no line in which to wait. From there we were directed to pick up our participant gift (as opposed to the typical race shirt), a New Balance deluxe tote bag. We were then free to browse the rest of the expo. Hopefully this first event was a success, and future expos will host a larger and greater number of vendors. While we were super excited to pick up some freebies from Publix, we didn't buy any of the highly priced New Balance race merchandise and were left with only a few other vendors to visit. Byrd's Cookies and The Salt Table made it worth our while as they were giving out free samples. What we liked most of all was that the expo was open from 10 am to 9 pm, so even after fighting Friday night traffic at home, we still arrived at the expo with time to spare. Anyone unable to make even the 9 pm deadline also had the option of picking up a race packet on the Saturday morning of the race.
Hotels in downtown Savannah are costly, though for this race the rates weren't as inflated as they are for the Rock-N-Roll half marathon. Runners can stay right across the street from the race start and finish at the luxury hotel, Mansion on Forsyth Park. The race's host hotel was more reasonably priced, as was our stay at the B Historic, which was about half the price of Mansion. Both the Hilton and B Historic were located less than a mile from the start, so they made for a good, walking warm-up before the race.
Places to Eat
If you are anything like us, you will likely eat at whatever establishment is close to your hotel. For those staying at B Historic, try The Distillery. It had a good variety of meal options, there was no wait on the Friday before the race, and it was within walking distance of our hotel.
Anyone interested in a memorable meal has a large variety of options to choose from. While in Savannah, many people make the attempt to eat at Lady & Sons, popular due to the fact that it is a Paula Deen restaurant. You can give it a try, but be prepared for a long wait. Another memorable option is Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room where patrons eat family style from the constantly changing menu.
For anyone wanting to eat on River Street, which many enjoy experiencing due to the lack of laws prohibiting open containers, a plethora of options exist. The hotel's desk clerk recommended Huey's, but we couldn't wait the 90 minutes for lunch. Instead, we went upstairs to Tubby's Tank House where we thoroughly enjoyed each of our three meals and the fact that there was no wait.
We've said this a lot in the last six months. This was one of the prettiest courses we've ever run, and its beauty was due mostly to the miles of stately homes, magnificent live oak trees, and even the sometimes dilapidated splendor that is Savannah. Though every time we return to Savannah the city seems more and more revitalized, there are still pockets of decaying beauty that are just as awe-inspiring as the manicured lawns of the Historic District. Every mile of the Publix Women's Savannah Half Marathon was beautiful. It's tempting to tell runners to experience this race with a friend, run easy, and enjoy the feast for the eyes that has been set before them. With that being said, the late March race date, manageable race size (2300 runners), and flat course make this event one for a potential PR.
There was music to entertain runners at a few points along the course.
Aid stations for this event were located every two miles, and if they were stocked with more than water, I didn't grab those cups. (Rumor has it that sports drinks were available.) Anyone running this event should know there is no energy gel located anywhere along the course. Bring your own!
Prior to the race, the port-a-let situation looked manageable, and race organizers appeared to have planned for 2,300 female athletes, pre-race.
A delightful surprise to this event was that it never seemed overly crowded, or even crowded at all. In a way, it feels as if we got some of the benefits of a big race without all the hassle. The start was manageable and, as a 1:50 half marathoner, I started close the front, and didn't have to do any dodging during the race's first half mile. Most participants were running a 2:00 pace or slower, making the race accommodating to just about any runner or walker. Many of the streets were closed, allowing runners free reign of the roads. Police were stationed all over the course, ensuring traffic didn't impede runners' experiences. Additionally, it seemed fairly laid back, with even a bicyclist or two pacing a runner, and a spectator jogging here or there with a family member. Of note, few volunteers were out on the course directing runners. Be sure to follow the arrows painted on the ground if you're unsure of which turn to take.
If you run this race for any reason, run it for the course. It was one of the best. Don't miss out on experiencing it.
Post-race, runners were draped with tasteful finisher medals, encouraged to snap a photo, and corralled down a chute that offered up all the usual post-race fare: bagels, bananas, muffins, Powerade, etc.
Forsyth Park was set up much like Savannah's famed squares, with the gear check, stage, merchandise vendor, beer tent, and solutions center all surrounding an open space area for runners. We partook in at least four free samples of Natalie's juice, snapped some photos in the lovely park setting, and listened to a fun little band sing some pop songs better than the original singers. After chatting with some personable ladies from Tennessee, we hung out long enough to enjoy the awards ceremony. The top race finishers were awarded with cash and Satchel bracelets. Though men were invited to run this race, only females received awards. It was a little disappointing that though only the female half of the population received awards, age groups were still in 10 year increments rather than five. Needless to say, it was a short awards ceremony. Race organizers, please consider offering awards to age groups in five year increments, allowing you to recognize more runners!
I hope this event was enough of a success that its second running takes place next year. After attempting to run a PR, it will be nice to run leisurely through the streets of Savannah with a running buddy, finish the race, and enjoy reclining on the lawn of Forsyth Park before a day of shopping and strolling in downtown Savannah.
Tips for Running a Successful Publix Savannah Women's Half Marathon
- This is an easy race to run. There is very little a runner can do to mess it up. My only suggestion: bring your own energy gel as none was provided on the course.
- Don't expect a race t-shirt. This year’s finisher "gift" was an attractive duffle bag I'll be taking to all future races.
For more information visit http://www.savannahwomenshalf.com/.