Having registered at nearly just the last minute, our lodging options were limited, though not non-existent. Our first priority when selecting a hotel is being able to walk to the starting line of a race from our room, and our second priority is always price. We won't book a room if the price is outrageous. (Savannah Rock n Roll Half, we love you, but hotel rooms for the weekend of your race were OUTRAGEOUSLY priced!) After some debate we booked a room at The Redmont Hotel in downtown Birmingham. Reviews were questionable, but the room rate was $89, which was worth the risk to us.
We arrived in Birmingham along with a ton of other people. The race was in town that weekend along with Kami Con (Birmingham's version of Comi Con) and a home and garden show, both at the convention center downtown. There were some interesting characters walking around town as a result! We parked in the hotel parking lot and walked less than four blocks to Boutwell Auditorium which was the location of the Mercedes Marathon's race expo, race start, and post-race party. At that point we were thrilled with our choice of The Redmont.
The expo was dominated by the Trak Shak and some other vendors who weren't as memorable. The only real items for sale were those that the Trak Shak was selling, along with merchandise from previous year's marathons. There were free refreshments at the expo, including Coca-Cola for all and beer for adults. Regions Bank had a fun photo op area where runners could don capes, sit on a cruiser bike in front of a fan, and snap photos of themselves "riding" along.
Packet pick-up was a breeze. We gave our bib numbers to a volunteer and received a bag generously filled with race swag. In addition to some gender specific technical shirts, we also received Trak Shak gloves, a Snickers Bar, and a koozie advertising a race in Talladega.
Leaving Boutwell Auditorium, we stopped right next door at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has free admission year round. We took some time to enjoy the impressive collection of art (which includes the largest collection of Wedgewood China in America, some samurai armor, and paintings and sculpture from all over the world.)
One of the museum employees directed us to P.U.B., a place where Justin could watch the afternoon's Georgia Bulldog basketball game and we could both get some food. Our servers were friendly and the hot pretzel appetizer should not be missed! Eating it WILL change your life.
Our experience got a little hairy that night back at The Redmont. First, we had to change rooms after discovering that our shower did nothing more than dribble water. A very apologetic employee switched our room to a suite where we got our much coveted refrigerator for sandwich and Mountain Dew storage.
A good night's sleep is hard to come by before race day as it is, but this night was to be particularly sleepless. At 3:35 a.m. the fire alarm went off. As we scrambled to don warmer clothes and grab our valuables for evacuation, the alarm stopped. Unfortunately the alarm was replaced with the sounds of a brawl coming from outside our third floor window. We observed the brawlers' shenanigans, including many hay-makers thrown, from the safety of our room until we tired of it all and attempted to go back to sleep. At this point we can't recall if it was 30 minutes or an hour later, but the fire alarm was pulled again. We scrambled a little bit more slowly this time, and sure enough, the alarm stopped before we made it out of our room. I am pretty sure the Montagues and the Capulets were still outside the hotel doing a whole lot of yelling, but fortunately not a whole lot of damage to each other or public property.
Our verdict on the hotel: spend thirty more dollars a night for a hotel room a block away where you will hopefully avoid fire alarms, street brawls, and dribbling showers.
Even though I took two minutes to arrive at the start, once the people in my corral started running, they didn't stop. There was no dodging of walkers and socializers... everyone was ready to run! For the next one hour and fifty-two minutes, I enjoyed every moment of my race experience. The course was scenic and composed of gently rolling hills. It ran through the neighborhoods of downtown Birmingham, including the campus of UAB. I felt like I was witnessing Birmingham's progress towards its downtown revitalization. So many buildings are vacant, but so many have been revived and are filling back up. I think this race will look very different in ten years, once Birmingham accomplishes what it has set out to do with downtown.
One of my favorite sites of the race was the Alabama Theater's marquee which read, "Keep Going Mercedes Marathoners." It made me feel like Birmingham had really rolled out the red carpet for all of us runners.
After finishing our food we headed upstairs for a complimentary and generous post-race massage. I am pretty sure my masseuse, Sean, spent a good fifteen minutes helping me stretch out some tired muscles. This was well worth the ten minutes I waited in line.
From there, we left Boutwell and headed back to The Redmont to lay around for a while before touring more of Birmingham.
Final verdict: This race is not to be missed! Swag is generous, course is scenic with perfectly rolling hills, and fan support cannot be beat. The Mercedes Marathon people know their stuff!
Tips for a great Mercedes experience:
1. Stay at a hotel close to the start. Many runners stayed at the Westin, a chain which often caters to runners. This particular one had a great restaurant where many runners came to socialize and eat. We wished we had stayed there!
2. Book your hotel early, Options run out the longer you wait.
3. Do some hill training before this race. It will make the rolling hills seem easy.
For more information on this race visit the Mercedes Marathon website at: http://www.mercedesmarathon.com/