Race Recap: The Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama

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On December 14, 2013 we got to run the 37th annual Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL put on by the Huntsville Track Club.

Huntsville is located in the north central part of Alabama and was a 5.5 hour drive for us. The city has around 180,000 residents and is the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and US Army Aviation and Missile Command.

This race is geared toward marathoners as it doesn’t offer any other races except a kids “marathon” later in the morning. The entry fee is very reasonable (around $60) considering the good organization, support and swag.

My First Alabama Marathon

As many of you know I have set a goal to run a marathon in every state! I now have 17 states checked off the list. I’m excited that Trevor and I finally made it down to Northern Alabama to run this great marathon.

Piggly Wiggly

This is how you know you’re in Alabama

Race Expo

The race expo was held in a ballroom of the Holiday Inn and was fairly small. There were some vendors pedaling products and the people were friendly and helpful. We got our race packets easily, browsed around for a while and then went to find something to eat. We settled on a German Restaurant and then went to see the second Hobbit movie.

When we checked-in to our hotel they gave us each a bag with a water and some snacks and we learned that the hotel offered an early breakfast for runners and shuttling to and from the start/finish line on race morning. The race had a pasta dinner with Bart Yasso as the featured speaker and you could also purchase tickets to a post-race dinner and party (which we didn’t do).

Pre Race

The marathon started at 8am and it was nice not to have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to get ready. The forecast for race morning was calling for temps in the 30’s with a high of 50 and 100% chance of rain (it was actually around 46 and windy with 100% humidity for most of the race).

It was raining as we got ready in the morning but then tapered off to a light sprinkle/mist by the time the race started. We were able to park for free fairly near the starting line. Runners waiting for the start were able to congregate in the Holiday Inn and use the bathrooms there or the port-a-pots located near the starting line. We stayed inside until around 15 minutes before the race and then went to the starting line.

There were around 1,400 people running the marathon (although 1,800 signed up) and there were several pace groups but no set starting corrals. The race director gave some announcements, the mayor of Huntsville, Tommy Battle, gave a brief greeting, the national anthem was sung and the starting gun went off.

Looking around I always find it interesting how differently people dress for cooler races. There were men wearing shorts and shirtless, people in full rain gear, and others who covered head to toe in winter gear. We lined up behind the 4:10 group and started with them.

The Course at Rocket City

great job random stranger

photo credit: Rocket City Marathon Facebook Page

This year was the last time that the race would start and finish at the Holiday Inn and run mainly through south Huntsville. Next year the course will go through the Botanical Gardens and around the Space and Rocket Center.

  • The streets were wet and a little slick, in fact one woman fell shortly into the race. During the first couple of miles the race wound through the downtown area and near some historic spots and then continued through neighborhoods the rest of the race.
  • There were some small hills throughout but only about 410 feet of total elevation gain (enough that it took extra effort but didn’t make you want to stop and walk).
  • Course support was good, the aid stations were approximately every 2.5 miles, there was plenty of room to run and intersections were controlled by police or race officials.
  • There were a few spots with a good amount of spectators. The race designated cheer zones and some neighborhoods came out and handed out candy or fruit to the runners. There were several photographers out on the course and they also had people on the course approximately every 3 miles calling out the official time.

I was wearing my heart rate monitor and trying to keep my pace below lactate threshold. For some reason (maybe due to the humidity) in the early part of the race I felt like I was working hard (breathing more heavily than I like) so I tried to keep my pace down. Trevor and I ran mostly together until around mile 14 where we left the 4:10 group in the dust. We got separated around mile 14 and I kept my pace steady and controlled.

By the time I got to mile 20 I was feeling physically and mentally strong. I decided to make a game to see how many people I could pass until the finish. I gave myself one point for every person I passed and would subtract a point for every person that passed me. It really worked well and I really didn’t think about the miles and instead looked ahead for people to “pick” off. I felt kind of like a lion looking for struggling wildebeest (ended up passing 113 people). I used the Generation Ucan protein drink as my fuel and felt great.

The Finish Line

you run better than congress
As I came into the finishing chute area we ran under a huge American flag and there was a good amount of spectators. I finished strong in 4:07:07 (550th place). They announced your name and hometown when you crossed the finish line and I shook Bart Yasso’s hand. While I wish my finishing time would have been sub-4:00 I will never complain about another marathon finish. This was my 9th marathon of the year and 21st overall.

The overall male winner was Josh Whitehead, 35 years old from Madison, AL who finished in 2:27:25. The female winner was Justine Mudy- originally from Poland but going to college in GA, in 2:46:45.

I decided to stick around the finish line to see Trevor come in. He had predicted earlier that he’d finish around 4:30. I actually haven’t stayed at many finish lines and I enjoyed watching the runners come in while chatting with other finishers and spectators. Some finishers were jubilant and finished strong, others drug themselves across the line and looked barely coherent. If you ever need some inspiration go cheer at the end of a marathon!

Volunteers were plentiful at the finish line and they put a space blanket around you, walked you to the medal location and to the hydration table. The race swag at Rocket City this year was a nice gender-specific neon yellow race shirt, a black logo hat for finishers and a large rocket themed medal. Pretty cool in my book!

Trevor was Not in his Finest Form

I began to get worried when 4:30, 4:40 and 4:50 came along and Trevor hadn’t appeared. All kinds of scenarios went through my mind. He eventually finished in 4:53:23 (1040th place) and had this pasty color to his face.

We walked inside the hotel where the post-race food was located and Trevor found a place to sit down while I went to get us some food. The post-race food was great (water, sports drink, chocolate milk, bananas, grapes, moon pies, ice cream sandwiches, bagels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot vegetable soup with crackers) and it was nice to be inside to eat. Trevor managed a little soup and told tales of his GI distress during the last few miles of the marathon while I inhaled everything in sight.

We began making our way back to the car with Trevor trailing behind. Soon I heard the sounds of a vomit-fest going on in the nearby bushes (not the way Trevor wanted to celebrate post-marathon). I went to get the car, picked Trevor up and we went back to the hotel where he promptly laid down while I showered. The story does get better because an hour later he was asking me if I wanted BBQ or Indian food for lunch. We enjoyed a nice post-race meal and then started our drive back home.

The Rocket City Marathon is a great December race that is reasonably priced, well-organized and supported and offers great food and swag. I enjoyed running my first Alabama marathon and last marathon of 2013.

Rocket City Marathon Medal

Quick Tip: Running in Cold Rainy Conditions

I saw that the weather for the Rocket City marathon was cold and rainy. I have never run a marathon in wet and cold weather. How do you prepare differently for these conditions? Do you treat it the same as if it were just very cold? Tom

Thanks for the question Tom, here is what I recommend,

  • Dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer. You should be cool the first mile or two and then warm up nicely. When looking at the temperature consider the wind chill too.
  • Know yourself- are you usually cool or warm on long runs?
  • Bring a throw-away shirt or wear a garbage bag to stay dry.
  • Wear warm wicking socks (Smart Wool is a good brand) and dress in well-fitted wicking layers (you don’t want loose clothing that will absorb moisture). Consider a base layer (long sleeve shirt or short sleeves with arm warmers). Wear running tights or shorts and compression socks (this will vary based on the temperature).
  • Wear a brimmed hat or visor to keep the rain out of your face (and ear warmers if you need it).
  • Wear some light gloves (knit gloves from a dollar store work well).
  • Body Glide or Aquaphor on your lips and cheeks can help prevent wind burn.
  • Post-race change quickly out of your wet clothes into something warm and dry and sip a warm beverage.

4 Responses to Race Recap: The Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama

  1. Angie Spencer December 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Have you run the Rocket City Marathon before? Do you ever play mental “games” while running?

  2. Trevor C December 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Your comment about not running when you don’t feel right hit home.

    During my groups long run this Sunday one of our runners passed out, he said he was a little dizzy and then he woke up in the snow bank with the group gathered around him.

    It was fairly cool (-15C) and we were about 1 mile into the run though 12″ of new snow. The guy was 45 yo and a marathoner so not a noob. Luckily he was not the last person in the group, I was just ahead of him and didn’t even hear him fall.

    It made us rethink about how often we shoulder check to make sure everyone is still with us.

    He is doing well and not running until he gets tested but it made a lot of us 2nd guess about running alone.

    • Angie Spencer December 20, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      Wow, I’m definitely glad that guy in your running group wasn’t running alone that day. It’s a good lesson to not forge ahead if you start feeling dizzy or sick. Hopefully everything checks out okay with him!

  3. Cintia January 20, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    Oh! I hope you can run Houston at some point. Great race!

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