I recently came across Eventbrite, the world’s largest self-service ticketing platform, which helps people find and plan events. It inspired me to share a blog post about my Best (or Worst) Running Experiences. Hopefully, this post will help you when planning for your next race. You might want to add a few of these races to your bucket list.
My love for running began in the Spring of 2012. Since then, I've ran 36 5K's, eight 10K's, two 15K's, two 4 Milers, one 10 Miler, 13 Half Marathons, and two Full Marathons. Most of my races are local, but I have traveled to races in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Florida. I don't have a 50 states goal in mind, but I would love to run all of the Southern states.
I've had so many wonderful race experiences that I couldn't narrow this post down to just one race. Instead, I've decided to rank my race experiences into 10 categories.
Best Charity Race
Hands down, the best charity race is St.Jude Memphis Marathon. I've participated in St.Jude Memphis Marathon weekend the past three years. After a disappointing race cancellation in 2013, I returned in 2014 and 2015 to run my 1st and 2nd full marathons. This event attracts 20,000 runners for the Family Fun Run, 5K, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay, and Full Marathon. Participants can register as St.Jude Heroes and raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Over $8 million dollars was raised in previous years.
Some course highlights include the Riverfront, Beale Street, Bass Pro Pyramid, Memphis Zoo, Rhodes College, Sun Studios, and the historic Cooper Young community. My favorite part of the course is running through the campus of St. Jude where runners are cheered on by the true heroes: the children of St. Jude and their families.
I think everyone should experience this race at least once in their lifetime. I would highly recommend it to first time half or full marathoners.
Best Race Series
My opinion is a bit biased because I've only participated in one race series. However, the Gulf Coast Half Marathon Series is top notch. If you love running beach towns, this is the race series for you. There are three races in the series: Gulf Shores, AL (late Feb/early March), Pensacola Beach, FL (April), and Mandeville, LA (October).
This series is always well organized. Local organizations show great support at these races volunteering at water stops. The water stops are awesome! The best water stations receive a cash prize for their organization. The parrot heads were in Gulf Shores and cute guys in speedos were in Mandeville. The pre/post race venues offer great views of the water with live music, plenty of food, and drinks. I absolutely love the soft blend cotton t-shirts with cute designs and the medals which double as bottle openers. Last year was my first year to participate in all three races in the series. I received a special medal for running all three races.
The Big Beach Marathon and Half Marathon in Gulf Shores, AL was a well organized, fun inaugural race. The full marathon course was a certified Boston Qualifier. I debated running the full, but I eventually settled on the half marathon. The only disappointment of this race was that the half marathon course wasn't certified and it was long. The course map on the official website confirms that the course was 13.47 miles.
The race started at the Hangout and ran down 59 towards Fort Morgan Road then along the paved Backcountry Trails. The final miles ran on Perdido Beach Blvd back towards the Hangout. There were plenty of water stops on the course. There were not many spectators along the trail system, but it didn't affect me. I enjoyed the peacefulness of the trails. The volunteers did a great job directing traffic on the busy portion of Perdido Beach Blvd.
I loved the design of the t-shirt and medals. The Hangout provided boxed lunches with sandwiches, chips, fruits, and cookies at the post race party.
Louisiana is known for being pancake flat. My first half marathon was Rock n' Roll New Orleans. I ran a conservative race. My main goal was to finish under 2:30. I would love to run this race again to see how I could improve my time on this flat, fast course.
I ran my first and only sub 2:00 half marathon at the Gulf Coast Half in Mandeville, LA. This course runs along the paved trails of Fontainebleau Park, through downtown Mandeville and back. This course is perfect for a PR.
My second fastest half marathon time is currently from the Gulf Coast Half in Pensacola Beach, FL. This down and back course runs along Casino Beach Blvd with views of beach cottages and the gulf. This course is also flat and fast if you can endure a little headwind in the first half.
I am not a fan of hills, so I tend to avoid hilly courses. I like to support the Montgomery Half Marathon because it is so close to home and it raises money for local charities. This is a great event for the city of Montgomery. This was the second year they offered the Boston Qualifying full marathon course in addition to the half marathon and 5K. This race attracts over 1,000 people to the city of Montgomery.
The Air Force does a fantastic job volunteering on the course and directing traffic at busy intersections along with the MPD. The course runs through many historical sites and neighborhoods. There's plenty of support on course with well stocked aid stations. The finish line is located in the Riverwalk Stadium home of the Montgomery Biscuits baseball team. The mayor of Montgomery, Todd Strange is there to congratulate the runners as they cross the finish. After the race, there's plenty of food and entertainment and post race massages.
If you want to check Alabama's historic capitol city of Montgomery off your list, this is the race for you. I just wouldn't expect a PR, unless you train on hills.
Best Weekend Experience
I've ran the Shrimp Festival 10K the past three years. This race is a scorcher year after year. As much as I dread the heat, I keep coming back for the total weekend experience. This race is held each year during the National Shrimp Festival weekend.
The Shrimp Festival 5K/10K starts at the Orange Beach Sports Complex and runs through the paved Backcountry Trails. There are several hundred participants. All net proceeds of the run are donated to Coastal Baldwin Education Enrichment Foundation, benefiting the local Gulf Shores & Orange Beach public schools.
The t-shirt design is the same each year, but it's cute and colorful. I've been fortunate to place in my age group the past two years. The medal is the same cute design that's on the t-shirt. The post race offers live music and plenty of food including pizza, pasta, and drinks.
Most Scenic Course
The Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Mandeville, LA was by far the most scenic of the three races in the Gulf Coast Series. I love the charm of Mandeville. The homes are beautiful. The shops and restaurants are small and quaint. I loved running Fontainebleau Park with the oak trees covered in Spanish moss and the views of Lake Pontchartrain on the course were breathtaking.
Best Start Line
The Blue Angel Rock n' Fly Half Marathon has an awesome start line atmosphere. Rock music selected by the participants was played on the huge jumbotron. The color guard performed and the National Anthem was electrifying on the electric guitar. Confetti cannons shot confetti in the air as we took off to more rock music. There was supposed to be a fly over, but they were unable to do it this year due to the weather.
This race did not disappoint. I loved the course on the NAS Pensacola. There were 10 well stocked water stations on course along with music stations to keep runners motivated. The t-shirt design and medal was awesome! There was plenty of food including pizza and Jimmy Johns sandwiches and live music at the post race party.
Most Emotional/Memorable Finish
I'll never forget my first marathon that I ran at St.Jude Memphis Marathon in memory of my brother Raymond who lost his battle to two types of cancer both diagnosed in the last year of his life. My family was cheering for me as I made the final turn into Autozone Park. On my iPod, Pharrell Williams "Happy" was playing. I always thought Raymond would love that song. Tears filled my eyes as I looked up to the Heavens and said, "This one's for you." I could feel his presence with me throughout the race, but especially at the finish. I will continue to run full marathons in hopes to improve my time, but none will ever compare to my first experience.
Another emotional/memorable finish was at the Gulf Coast Half in Mandeville. I dreamed of running a sub 2:00 half marathon for quite some time. I reached mile 12 right at 1:50. I had less than 10 minutes to run just over a mile. I pushed hard that last mile. My heart was beating out of my chest. When I crossed the finish, the clock read 2:00:13. I knew my chip time would be faster, but by how much I wondered. It took me a while to get up the courage to check my official result. I didn't think I made it. When they printed my result, the paper read 1:59:57. I was thrilled!
A favorite local 5K, Ryan's Run, partnered with Ainsley's Angels this past year. Ainsley's Angels is an organization that ensures everyone can experience endurance events. My mom and I got to run with an assisted athlete, Kylie. This was my most rewarding race experience. I'll never forget how Kylie's face lit up when we approached the finish line. She sat up in her stroller and threw her hands in the air with the biggest smile on her face. This wasn't Kylie's first race. She knew how to embrace the finish line.
Most Disappointing Finish
My most disappointing finish was at the Sea Turtle Half Marathon in Gulf Shores, AL. This is another course that I would consider to be flat and fast. Many runners PR'd on this course. I wasn't feeling well on race day, my knees started bugging me during the race, and I walked most of the second half. This is my slowest half marathon to date.
This was a nice half marathon despite my disappointing time. I loved the down and back route along West Beach. The long sleeved tech shirt and medal were cute. The Hangout was the perfect pre/post race venue. They provided boxed lunches at the finish with sandwiches, chips, fruit salad, and a cookie.
I could go on and on about my race experiences. These are only a few. What do you look forward to the most at running events? What are some of your best or worst race experiences?