Monday, October 25, 2010

Running for the Bay! Marathon and Half Marathon, 10k, 5k - Apalachicola, Fla.

Update: Keith Brantly was NOT a "no show" (see comments at bottom) and I apologize for my poor choice of words and lack of fact checking. Evidently he was at the expo at the scheduled time Friday night and due to being ill he informed the race director he would not be attending on race day. (update on Oct. 28, 2010)

Quote of the Race:
"Ouch!" - The only word mustered up during the first few minutes by Jenny between tears and gasps for breath after crossing the finish line and achieving a Boston Qualification time with nearly 4 minutes to spare.

Location - Apalachicola, Eastpoint & St. George Island, Florida
Cost - Marathon ($79-$99 depending on pre-registration dates), Half-Marathon ($65-$85 depending on pre-registration dates), 10k ($49-$59 depending on pre-registration dates) & 5k ($29-$34 depending on pre-registration dates. Day of registration is unknown, but I do believe it was available.
Year of Running - 1st
Sponsor - K-Swiss, Cliff Bar, Culligan, LaraBar, RoadID, Ultra Running Magazine, RRCA and various other local businesses.
Charity - Website claims "Wounded Warrior Project," but unknown if any funds or what amount of registration fees were actually donated or if that was just a suggestion to the participants to make their own donation.
Number of Participants - 681 total participant finishers. 237 for the Marathon, 266 for the Half, 88 for the 10k, 89 for the 5k and 1 for wheelchair division. (According to results as official results on the race website are not posted as of today).
Available Races - Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10k, 5k
Course Condition - Mostly concrete bridge with a few short sections of asphalt paved road. Most of course is along the road shoulder with little protection from traffic and goes with traffic rather than against (runners on right side of road shoulder). Approximately 1 mile of course was closed to traffic. Overall very poor and dangerous conditions that need major improvements.
Pace Groups - None. When asking the "information" volunteer at the expo about pace groups it quickly became apparent that they had no idea what we were talking about. We were told there would be bicyclist "pacing around" during the race.
Expo - Day before and average for a race of this size. Packet pick-up and expo (1-vendor from what I could tell) was held at the Apalachicola City Hall located at 1 Bay Avenue.

It's sad and perhaps ironically fitting that in an geographic area savaged in recent years by hurricanes and oil spills and desperate for economic recovery would be destined for this horrible fate known as Running for the Bay! Marathon. The idea was good and on paper it looks great! The turnout was even impressive for an inaugural event. We were told nearly 800 were pre-registered. Weather was perfect with a temperature ranging from 58-degrees at the 7 a.m. start to low 80s by Noon. The sky was clear and wind was light to begin with becoming slightly annoying later in the race. Sunrise was beautiful at about 7:48 a.m. The problem at its core lies with the Race Director and what appeared on the surface as a break down in multiple areas of communications, organization, support and logistics. I was part of a party of 11 visitors to this area, all of us eager to spend some money and have a good weekend. Seven of us participated in the race (One 10k, two Half Marathon and 4 marathon). Judging from the amateur design of the race's website and doing some weather research on average conditions for the area we came into the race knowing there could be some quirks and hiccups. None of us could believe what actually happened. As for organization, the race director needs help. From our point of view (and I spoke with him at a very lackluster awards ceremony) he was not a "runner" and needs a basic education on average runner needs. The idea was good. The execution was lacking. The race clearly did not have enough volunteers and race officials did not adequately warn runners what they were getting into. Minutes before the start it was apparent that there was a communication break down as a voice over a loud speaker desperately tried to gather volunteers on a bus. There were a total of 10 port-o-johns for nearly 800 runners at the start line and they were pretty much limited along the course. I only noticed one while I was running the Half Marathon. Also, while standing in line before the race a heavy duty truck pulling a large pontoon boat forced its way through the lines as it was trying to make way to the boat ramps, which should have been closed. Support was seriously lacking in every facet from water, fuel, volunteers, police traffic support, course markers and medical help. The one saving grace were the volunteer bicyclist that seemed to be everywhere trying their hardest to help despite being overwhelmed. Spectators were few and far between. Family members and friends of runners seem to gather around the finish line. There were a few along side the road in Eastpoint, but other than that it was nada. It was not the welcoming crowd of residents lining the streets that race organizers were hoping for and promising on their website. Furthermore, the race was advertised to feature Olympian Keith Brantly. I'm not sure exactly who he is nor was that a deciding factor of my attendance at this race, but as far as I could tell he was a "no show," or they never announced his presence. It was evident that Dane Rauschenberg was in attendance as he had a booth at the expo selling his book and I saw him cross the finish line with the female overall winner.

There's a small general aviation airport in Apalachicola, but otherwise your best bets are flying into Tallahassee or Panama City, both a little more than an hour drive away. A car is a must to get around as public transportation is not readily available. I suppose you could come in on a shrimp boat.

Not too shabby. This is one part where the race organizers came through with their promises. Inside the race packets were a really nice Zorrell tech T-shirt (white in color) with race logo on the front and sponsors on the back. There was the normal coupons (Road ID order form, etc.) and Cliff Bars, Larabars and Cascadia Farms cereal.

The finisher medals for Half and Full Marathon are absolutely beautiful with a spinning center section and even a pearl embedded on the front. Only problem is they started breaking as runners walked around post-race with them around their necks! The center section is prone to falling out! Overall men's and women's winners received K-Swiss shoes. Age division finishers were given various sponsor swag including towels, water bottles and lanyards, but nothing too special. The race director personally told me that certificates would be mailed to all top finishers, but I'll believe it when I see it. The post race food was one of the biggest downfalls of this race. It consisted of soda cans (Coke products), potato chips, cliff bars (which they ran out of toward the end of the race), water in small cups and mixed-from-powder Gatorade in small cups. After catching my breath at the finish line I had to repeatedly go back again and again for additional cups of fluids simply because the portions were too small. Seriously, how hard is it to have some bananas or oranges or bagels at the finish line??? Again, if race officials had better informed runners of exactly what would be provided at the finish line I'm sure more participants would have been better prepared by providing their own post-race recovery food and hydration.

I'm going to keep this as short as I can as I've already pretty much trashed the race in the above review and I HATE being negative. I hate anything that makes me be negative so I'm going to focus on the positives for a bit.
We got to the race about 45 minutes early and found it super easy to park within a few hundred feet of the start line. We stood in the bathrooms lines for the majority of our pre-race time and almost got run over by a truck pulling a boat! The announcer had all 700-800 runners line up telling us to get in order, fast runners up front and slow runners at the rear. They gave the hand-crank wheelchair dude (he was the only one) a 2-minute head start and then they blew the horn and we were off. It was dark and initially crowded. Kind of a clusterf*ck as we turned the corner to go over the first section of high rise bridge. There was significant camber and while it did not affect me I'm sure it bothered some runners. The next 5 miles were basically into the sunrise and amazingly beautiful. It looked like the horizon was on fire as early morning rays of light breached the bay.
Listening to Metallica's Ecstasy of Gold from the S&M Album on my iPod, I hit replay and listened to it twice as it was totally surreal. I had worked hard in the days prior to this race on my playlist. It has been a long time since I listened to music during a race and I was stoked about my selection of songs. I even calculated the time of where I'd be at different sections of the race to what music would play. Then at mile 3, or near the 10k turnaround spot, I noticed something. It was quiet. Why can I hear myself breathing so hard, I pondered to myself? It's funny how when you're running it takes a long time sometimes to figure something out. A minute or two later I realize there's no music playing. I check my 5-year-old, 20-gig, iPod Photo and it's dead. I play with it, frantically trying to get it to come alive. I do a hard reboot. Then it's apparently obvious that the battery is dead. It was fresh off the charger and it only lasted 20-something minutes. With 10 miles left to run I grunted at the thought of no music.
So be it.
Last month, I ran to a PR finish at the Delta Lake Marathon in New York with no music. I will do it again!
As I arrive in Eastport, coming off nearly 5 miles of concrete bridges with heavy high speed traffic, I'm feeling pretty good. My legs are fine. My breathing is fine. I'm relaxed and on pace by my best mental calculation to finish around 1:45:00. This would be awesome and I celebrate the thought of such an achievement for a few seconds. There is a section of road closed to traffic so the fear of being annihilated by a car temporarily eases up and I settle in with the runners around me. There a few girls behind me, a few guys in front and an aid station on the horizon. I pull out a GU and slam it. I haven't taken any hydration yet and honestly can't remember seeing any aid stations. I think they were setting up around mile 1, but I must have been too early because they didn't have any water out yet. Now it's mile 6 and while I don't feel like I need anything yet, I force myself to take some water and my own personal GU. We were lucky enough to be staying on the beach on St. George Island so we got a preview of the course a hour before the start as we drove in to Apalachicola. All of us were silently horrified by the complete lack of aid stations so close to the race start. The mile marker signs were there, but we saw them there the day before and what's worse is some of them were blown down or blown away. I could tell Jenny was freaked out. She is attempting to Boston Qualify in the full marathon and did not bring a hydration pack because the race's website claimed there would be aid stations nearly every mile.
Soon it's time to split away from the full marathoners and head back to Apalachicola. I turn the corner and realize I'm completely alone. The pack of runners I've been pacing with all continued on with the full marathon. There's a ditch alongside the road. The thought crosses my mind of ripping off my dead iPod and tossing it into the ditch as hard as I can. It's strapped to my arm and bulky. It's providing "mental drag." The only thing that holds me back is the fact that you can get a discount from Apple if you recycle an old iPod when you buy a new one. I need all the discounts I can get.
As I approach state road 98 to make the turn back to Apalachicola there's a police officer that stops oncoming traffic just for me as I'm still alone. I thank her and continue on down the course. It's now that I realize how poorly marked this course is... I'm thankful I reviewed the map before and was familiar with it from driving it, but holy crap you could get lost without any other runners to follow! I can see a girl and a guy about three football fields ahead of me. We're running on the right-hand shoulder of a busy road so it's unnerving not being able to see approaching traffic. So far there's been quite the random collection of road debris including fun noodles, sharp aluminum siding, a headless seagull, a dead raccoon, hundreds of dead monarch butterflies and too many different types of trash to list. If this race was in my city I would be embarrassed of the trash along the course. The scenery is beautiful though as I can see for miles across the bay. Pelicans are constantly flying over and there's now a light breeze at my back. The sun is out, but I'm not hot yet.
I push on and realize I have no clue of how far I have left to run. The last mile marker I saw was mile 6. I'm on the bridges so I know there's less than 5-miles left. There's no water or aid stations and for the first time I start to feel fatigued. The guy in front of me slows and I start to gain ground on him. He's clearly thirsty like me. The girl seems to slow, but speeds up so I can't seem to catch her. Then I feel myself slowing. I feel as if it continue this hard I WILL relieve myself of whatever is residing in my stomach. That would not be fun, so I slow even more.
There's a sign on the opposite side of the road and as I look back I see it's the 10k turnaround marker. Now I can figure that I have about 3 miles left to go and that I've been running for more than 4 miles with no water options. Surrounded by water, water everywhere... but not a drop to drink!
There's a small strip of land, maybe 1/2 mile, between the long flat bridge I'm coming off of and a high rise bridge leading over the channel and down into the city of Apalachicola. This is the final mile or so of the race. At this point there are two, TWO, aid stations set up in this 1/2 mile or so stretch. At the first one I take water and thank the volunteer. At the second one I take water and dump it on my head. I've now got this damn bridge to climb. I almost have to walk about halfway up. I pass a 10k walker and make a commit about who's idea this bridge was and we laugh. At the top I'm about ready to puke, but I can hear the music at the finish line. I manage to get back on pace going downhill (my strength) and cross the finish line under the bridge with a PR of more than a minute!
A few minutes later, Katie (who just ran a full marathon last weekend) crosses the Half Marathon finish line. After catching our breath and meeting up with some of our other friends (including husbands of some of the girls out there running the full marathon), it's not even a question or a discussion. We simply get in one of the cars and drive to the nearest convenient store where we buy lots of cold water bottles and Gatorade. Speeding down the course with great concern for all the runners including our friends somewhere up ahead with no support, we do take note that there are now more aid stations set up than when we ran the course. We find Jenny first around mile 18 and offer hydration. She refuses and we cheer her on. Next comes Michelle, who also refuses, but is happy to see us along the course. Then we find Danielle and Allison. They're all looking good and strong, but some other runners aren't as fortunate. On the bridge to to St. George Island we hand out nearly all the water and Gatorade to every desperate runner we see. They are thankful and I wonder if the knew we did this on our own or if they simply thought we were volunteers in a car? The most horrific thing I witnessed in this race was a large bottle of water and a stack of empty cups at mile 20 on the ground on a bridge with nobody around it. The last thing any runner wants to do at mile 20 of a marathon is stop running, bend over to ground level and pour themselves a drink! At least as we headed back to the finish line there were some bicyclist pouring as much water as they could for the runners.
We are back at the finish line a short while later and waiting for our runners to finish. Jenny needs a 3:40:00 or better time to qualify for Boston and the race clock passes 3:30:00. I run up to the bridge to look for her and she's nowhere to be seen. I check my watch and it's now 3:33:00. I get very anxious and then I see a familiar stride at the top! Will she make it? I think back to my finish and the time it too me to get from there to the finish line and realize she has plenty of time. As she comes down the bridge I yell out that she's doing great! She goes right and I go left taking the short route. We all cheer her in at the finish line. She's a mix of smiles and tears and can hardly talk. After about 30 seconds she manages to get out a soft "ouch."
That pretty much sums up the race... ouch. But hey, she's a Boston Qualifer with nearly 4 minutes to spare.
All the other girls finish strong and we spend the rest of the day relaxing poor side and grilling out along the beach of St. George Island. The environment for this race was great. It was the organization that sucked. It's the first year, but not having enough water, volunteers or medical help is NOT excusable.
I hope they have this race again next year, but realistically, I can't recommend it to anyone. The race director needs to take everything he has and throw it out the window. Wipe the slate clean, forget everything he thinks he knows about running a race, and start over with the help of a strong running organization. There are some seriously dangerous flaws in this race that must be corrected or the race should never be held again.

Photos to come soon!

My official stats*:
15th out of 266 total Half Marathon finishers
1st in my age division out of 12
Net Time: 1:49:14 (personal record)
Gun Time: 1:49:37
Average pace: 8:20

Running for the Bay! Half Marathon grade = D-

*As I write this I'm still confused about what place I actually finished. I was announced by the race director at the awards ceremony as 1st in my age division and that's what I'm recorded on the official race results "here." However, according to results I'm 2nd place in my age division with the 3rd place overall male finisher taking 1st in my age division. He's clearly beaten me and is in my age group, but not listed as in my age group division. This is yet another failure in the organization and execution of this event. All I can say is WTF and it's not a big deal to me as I don't consider myself competitive and all I care about is the PR, which I got.


  1. wow, this sounds crazy! congrats on PR, especially in such adverse conditions. I do hope the race director reads this post, and others who were involved in the race's organization, so they can learn from it for next year. definitely sounds like a good idea for a race but then just thrown together with little thought. glad you all made it to the end safely! And of course, congrats to Jenny, too!!

  2. Damn I almost did this for my marathon too. Thank god I avoided this cluster fuck of a race...that sucks!

  3. Congrats to both you and Jenny!!! Can't believe how disorganized this race was! You guys are both rockstars for making the most out of it!!!

  4. I ran this race also, and I did the full like Jenny, and I pretty much agree with every single thing you said. I hated to be so negative in what I wrote about the race, but it was all true. My boyfriend and his parents met us at 5 spots on the course with water and Gatorade and I may have actually died without it. Great job on a tough race!

  5. Congrats on your PR and thanks a bunch to you and a lot of other nice folks who helped out the slower runners/walkers who were promised the moon and a finish line open for 8 hours.

    (someone went to their home to get me some bandaids for a blister because ther was no medical aid to be found... who WAS that masked man?)

  6. Wow, it sounds like you had a great half marathon! Congrats on your speedy PR! Damn, I would kill for that time...I was so hoping to get mine down to 1:50 this year:)

    Take care:) BTW, I love the picture of the in your last post!

  7. Hello, regarding your comment, "Furthermore, the race was advertised to feature Olympian Keith Brantly. I'm not sure exactly who he is nor was that a deciding factor of my attendance at this race, but as far as I could tell he was a "no show," or they never announced his presence." I drove 4.5 hours from Jacksonville on Friday afternoon, even though I had come down with the flu. I was at the Expo the night before the race at 7PM just as the Race Director had asked. And while I had full intentions of being at the event the next morning, I had to stay 70 miles away in Tallahassee the night before race. When I woke up to travel the morning of the event, I was more ill than the night before. Rather than spread my illness around, I decided to stay away from the race. I let the race director know that I would not be coming in the morning. In four decades of competitive running I've never been a "No Show." Even though you don't know who I am, Olympian or I'm disappointed I was unable to meet you. Even though I've only run 2:12:30 for the marathon, the idea was for me to observe the event and consult with the organizers on how to make the event better. Still your input is helpful. I'm hopeful I meet you soon.

    Respectfully, Keith Brantly

  8. I am a "local" runner and was contacted by the chamber of commerce months ago for my advice regarding them promoting/endorsing this event. It was originally scheduled for July. I emailed the race director forwarning him of running on concrete, on the bridges with traffic, limited medical personel, limited volunteers,no places for adequate water stops, and it being too hot in July or October. I suggested St george Island in the winter time but got no response> I saw all of these problems coming. He will need to get the blessing of local organizations in order to get a DOT permit. I would suggest anyone concerned to contact the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce.