Race recap: What did the kitty cat say when it saw Kristin? PRrrrr. Unexpectedly, we just tore it up and Kristin set a new Personal Record (PR) by over a minute, which neither of us expected to do on this fairly challenging course. The first few miles we got off to a solid pace, partly because it was freakishly cold and we were just running to warm up. Most runners did a good job of lining up by actual pace, which was a welcome change from the normal mess created when runners line up based on what pace they wish they could run. Don’t get me wrong, I love that people are out running but lining up drastically faster than you expect to run can create a seriously log-jam. Around mile 2 we ran past the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Museum (a real highlight and eye opening experience). It felt surreal to think that we were running on the same streets that Martin Luther King and countless other people used as “home base” in their defiant marches in Birmingham in the pursuit to win civil right equality. Around mile 4 we passed the Ronald McDonald House and the Children’s Hospital before continuing South through the University of Alabama’s campus. After a 150 degree turn around the St. George Church, that for some reason was really fun even though it was slightly uphill (maybe because it gave us a great view of runners both in front and behind us) we began a gradual 125ft climb that lasted for the next 2 miles. Just past mile 7 was the 5-points South intersection, which was mobbed with spectators cheering encouraging words. Awesome. After grabbing a few gummy bears from an enthusiastic spectator we ran past the incredibly scenic Caldwell, Rhodes and Rushton parks. Somewhere in this section of the course we were both some immersed in the gorgeous parks, lined with historic homes that we missed a mile – we ran the mile, but we just didn’t notice we were running and the miles just ticked off seamlessly. By mile 10 we had gotten through most of the tough hills and as I glanced at my watch I knew Kristin would be close to PR pace if we could stay strong through the final 5k. Just past 11 my right hip started to flare up – a new injury for me that I am not thrilled with – but when I saw Kristin starting to push the pace I wasn’t going to ruin Kristin’s run by slowing down. At mile 12 I looked at my watch once more and thought to myself, if we run this last mile in 8:00 pace Kristin will beat her best time. What I didn’t expect was for Kristin to put on the afterburners and fly to finish in a final mile of 7:16 and set her best time by over a minute! Great race, as simple as that.
Highlight: A week after running a half in South Carolina, being a part of Kristin’s PR on what we both consider to be a really great course – just large enough, without being mammoth, knowledgeable volunteers, terrain that keeps you fresh and excited without pounding you into submission and perfect weather to race in the South.
Tip: Post-race we were handed a really nice embroidered dry-fit finisher hat! I almost picked up a hat at the expo, so I was really excited to get one included in the race. If possible, stay at the Hampton Inn at Lynn Park, it is <0.1 miles to start/finish. Very reasonable rates and the ease of access was unparalleled.
Day 1 (Saturday):
I had never been to Atlanta before, so I was excited to spend a bit of time enjoying the city before driving out to Birmingham. We’d heard great things about the Highland Bakery, and apparently so had the rest of the city – the place was jam packed. After staving our hunger pains with a mini donut from the bakery (reminded me of an Entemann’s, so not exactly gourmet) we waited another 30 minutes and were seated. The restaurant was crazy busy, but the ham and cheese with fresh grits really hit the spot. The breakfasts we saw other patrons enjoying looked really good too, but we were both over the moon with the super fresh and tasty ham and melted cheese. If you’re not afraid of a wait this is a good spot.
We waved goodbye to Atlanta and began our road trip (pretty straight shot) to Birmingham.
Luckily we arrived in time to visit the Civil Rights Institute – actually as we pulled up to the museum it started snowing and we were wondering aloud if it was warmer in Chicago. This is a “can’t miss” attraction in Birmingham, not just because of the historical significance of the area to the civil rights movement, but because the museum was incredibly well thought out and the exhibits were interesting, informational and visually stimulating. Not having grown up during the civil rights movement it was pretty incredible to read/ hear/ see the stories of the courage people had to promote equality regardless of race. Make the time to visit this museum, you will be glad you did.
We stopped in for a beer at Good People Brewing Company and neither of us wanted to leave. The brewery and tasting area are in a super open setting, with a ping pong ball table, adult sized Jenga table, bags and even a small stage with a singer strumming away on this guitar. If we lived in Birmingham they would know our names here, because the beer is very good and the friendly atmosphere made us feel at home. Despite knowing that we were racing the next morning we stuck around and split a second beer, because we were having a great time chatting with a few locals and just soaking it all in. Does life get better than this?
After forcing ourselves to leave Good People, we headed over to Fish Market for dinner. The line was huge, but we were fortunate to spot two open seats at the oyster bar and we’ve learned from our travels that bars usually are first come first serve and almost always offer the entire food menu. As we enjoyed our fresh fish dinners we were serenaded with some saxy music from a live band. Very enjoyable dinner.
Tip: The main restaurant area and the oyster bar are serviced by wait-staff, while the “dining hall” is order at the counter and is a much, much more casual dining experience (think glorified cafeteria). We would recommend the main dining area if you can find a seat.
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
After enjoying breakfast at the super close Hampton Inn, we moseyed to the 16th Street Baptist Church (6th Avenue and 16th Street) and walked the “March Route”, with clearly marked orange signs all the way to city hall, which coincidentally was the finish line of the race (the marathoners were still finishing at that point). The route was very powerful and provided great insight and stories of those involved in and affected by the civil rights movement.
Sloss Furnace is pretty unique. Sloss produced iron for almost 100 years, which at the time was the primary source of Birmingham’s jobs. Now a National Historic Landmark, we enjoyed wandering around the property, which at times seemed surprising that almost no areas were off-limits. This has to be a camera buff’s dream, so many old, odd and rusted gears and sprockets. Not sure how safe this place is, but we enjoyed a quick stop here accompanied by using our cell phones for the free dial-in audio tour.
The good hits just kept on coming! Avondale Brewing Company was another awesome brewery. Unlike other breweries, Avondale was less focused on the production of beer and more focused on the taste and experience. We found a seat at the bar and enjoyed chatting with the bar tender. The outside beer garden was pretty well visited too, but we were more than happy with a seat at the bar. At some point we were starting to get hungry and were thinking we would have to leave our tasty beer behind when the bar tender said that he ordered a food truck for the day. A short time later Off the Hook seafood pulled up outside the bar and opened shop!
What a great experience! We walked right outside, placed our order and the chefs working the food truck even brought our grilled fish and shrimp tacos into the bar when they were ready. Talk about service. The tacos were super fresh and the homemade chips were great too. We couldn’t have planned a better stop if we tried.
A short drive south we decided to visit Vulcan Park, home of the largest cast iron statue in the world! After a quick tour through the museum where we learned the ins and outs of making a 56 foot cast iron statue we opted for the stairs to the top of the statue. The 360 degree views of Birmingham were pretty spectacular, but I was not a fan of the kids running around the tower as fast as they could, or the see through slates down to the ground. I think I was hugging the structure pretty closely while no-fear Kristin was leaning over the ledge to get a better view.
Back in Atlanta we figured that most restaurants would be fairly dead on a Sunday night, and wow were we wrong. We eventually found a seat at the bar in Wisteria, and although the bread came out after our entrees, the molasses rubbed pork tenderloin served with sweet potato soufflé was pretty dog-gone good. We also finally got to try a locally made Sweetwater brew, which was light and paired well with our pork. I can’t imagine how insane this restaurant is on a Friday or Saturday night, as we saw more than one couple with reservations still waiting 20+ minutes for a table.
Day 3 (Monday):
Runner’s World Magazine has a featured Rave Run each month which shows an absolutely awesome place to run. We’re pretty sure our run through the trails of Sweetwater Creek Park fit the bill. The first mile or so on the Red trail had good footing and was really easy to run (even though my hip was angry with me, I couldn’t stop on such a perfectly cool morning in such a peaceful place). Around mile 1 we stopped and checked out the old mill ruins, an old water powered factory which just kind of appeared out of nowhere. The next mile or so we much more rugged and we were forced to walk/ hike most of it down to the falls area. The falls area was pretty unimpressive, but it was still a nice run and a great way to start our day.
Holy traffic Batman! I’m pretty sure I almost lost it after 15 minutes of waiting for a light in downtown Atlanta. Traffic was an absolute disaster. Kristin leaned out of the non-moving car and asked a police officer what was going on and he very politely said the circus was in town. Yes, it certainly was. Much later than we had planned on arriving we found ourselves on the CNN tour, which was pretty cool. It was neat to see how a mega television company operates on a day-to-day basis and to see actually filming going on. Regardless of your political views, the tour was interesting.
Alabama Half Marathon Medals
February 17, 2013: Mercedes Half Marathon
We also added to our cowbell collection with a sweet Mercedes Marathon cowbell with a handle from the race expo!