The race expo was held at the Radisson Convention Center at Radisson Resort on the Port. The resort was also the race's host hotel and apparently the hotel of choice for those leaving from the nearby cruise terminal. Needless to say, parking was in short supply, but someone had hired parking lot attendants to direct traffic and find parking spaces for people where there were none. We were instructed to double park behind cruisers as they wouldn't be returning to their cars before the expo's conclusion.
After a short invigorating walk to the convention center from our parking spot, we arrived 90 minutes before the closing of the medium sized race expo. There were no lines to pick up our participant guides and race bibs, and though the line to pick up our long sleeve technical t-shirts was long, it moved quickly. We were disappointed to discover that neither of the shirt sizes we had ordered were available. Note to runners of this race: if you want the correct size shirt, be sure to arrive at the expo early or take advantage of the week-long packet-pickup option at the Running Zone, a local running store. Luck was with us in the end as the men's small fit my long arms perfectly (Note to female runners with long arms, don't order women's sizes. The sleeves are always too short!) and the volunteers found a box of men's larges and yelled for Justin to come back for the correct size.
We spent about fifteen more minutes browsing the expo, mostly at the one vendor selling GU and official race merchandise. There were some fun photo opportunities at the expo. We recommend donning your space race shirt, posing with the astronaut statue, and snapping some pictures.
We put a small amount of effort in, in attempt to find a hotel within walking distance to the start, but there were none to be had. We opted instead for the race's host hotel, the Radisson, which offered free shuttles to the starting line on race morning. The race also offered shuttles from other area hotels (14 of them, including all the usual hotel suspects like Marriott, Hampton Inn, Best Western, and more). Locals had the option to park at Merritt Square Mall and take a shuttle to the race start.
Though the Radisson was bursting at the seams with guests, plenty of staff members (garbed in Space Coast Marathon t-shirts) were on hand to accommodate everyone. After a sound five hours of sleep on one of the hotel's Sleep Number beds, we woke up in time to catch the 5 am shuttle to the 6 am start in downtown Cocoa Beach.
Places to Eat
Mere steps from the Radisson was Kelsey's Restaurant & Pizzeria. We ventured out towards the starting line the night before the race, just to investigate. Along the way we found Merritt Island Square Mall and a bevy of chain restaurants like Olive Garden and Carraba's. If you sit outside at Carraba's you can avoid the long wait required for an indoor seat.
The course began and ended in Riverfront Park, an ideal location for a number of reasons. Sufficient port-a-lets were lined up along one side of the square, far enough away from the action to not be an eyesore, but close enough to the race start to be convenient. The park's restrooms with flushable toilets were also open and available for anyone who wanted to brave the extra long line. Bag check was located in a tent in the middle of the park, manned by volunteers in NASA costumes. This was the first time we took advantage of a bag check and we found it to be super easy. After stuffing a clear drawstring bag with dry clothes, we stuck a sticker with one of our bib numbers on the outside and left it for pickup at the end of the race.
The park's stage was set up for the awards ceremony later in the day, and circling the stage was paved pavilion whose circumference would later act as the finish of the race.
The out and back course began a block from the park on Brevard Ave. Because it was still dark at the 6 am start, it was easy to see the giant screen displaying a shuttle liftoff that started the race. After a quick exit from downtown Cocoa Beach, the course took us along Rockledge Drive and the Indian River. All runners were treated to sunrise over the river on the left and some beautiful Cocoa Beach homes on the right, many of which were twinkling with Christmas lights. Aid stations were located about every two miles and were stocked with water and Gatorade, and with GU at mile 8. Many volunteers were dressed for the race's theme, and we were handed waters from astronauts, superheroes, Star Wars characters, and some regular (and generous) earthlings. One private home was throwing a tailgate party, and cooking eggs and bacon and passing both out to runners. Fans could also be found throughout the course, holding signs and cheering runners on. It wasn't a problem for one fan to bike the course and cheer on his people every mile or so. Due to the out and back nature of this course, frontrunners like Justin got a ton of support from fans and runners alike. He declares this race to have one of the friendliest running crowds.
After turning around at mile 6.5, all half marathoners ran back along the river and into downtown Cocoa Beach. We circled the pavilion and crossed the finish line where the race announcer called out names of finishers. Volunteers handed runners impressively large Challenger finisher medals and we proceeded onward toward water, a photo op, and all the post-race party had to offer. Justin had already taken advantage at the Racejoy tent and learned he had placed first in his age group. As we waited for the 9:30 awards ceremony to begin we snapped photos of ourselves with more astronaut statues, refueled with the pizza, egg, and pancake breakfast, washed down with a Coke for me and a beer or two for Justin. We cheered on the first few marathoners to cross the finish line and from there made our way to the stage. Bart Yasso and former astronaut Mile McCulley presented Justin and the other award winners with framed Challenger photos and water bottles.
From there we proceeded to the shuttle area where we boarded a bus back to the Radisson. While we did not wait at all for our shuttle, there was apparently a long enough wait earlier that people were complaining about it via Twitter. We recommend leaving the post-race party around ten if you want to avoid any wait time.
This race is worth traveling to for many reasons. It's a medium sized race with big race perks, like Bart Yasso, all-you-can-eat post race food, costumes, and a fun theme. The course is one of the most beautiful we've run; the 6 am start time probably exists for a number of reasons, but surely one of them is to allow runners to watch the sun rise over the Indian River.
Tips for a Successful Space Coast Half Marathon
- Register for this race early; it sells out.
- As a nod to the space theme, consider wearing anything from a NASA t-shirt to alien sunglasses to a full-on costume. It was lots of fun to see how different people gave their own nod to the Space Coast.
- Be prepared for a very early start. It means you won't need sunglasses for the first two hours of the race, but you will be running in the dark. I was glad to be wearing my Nite Beams visor which lit the path ahead.
- Don't worry about staying close to the starting line. The shuttles from any of the area hotels will get you to the race just in time.
For more information on the Space Coast Half Marathon visit www.spacecoastmarathon.com.