Since Mobile is relatively brief 6 hour drive from my home, the First Light Marathon is always a tempting race to do. This past Sunday was the third time I visited this town for the race. I usually leave work a bit early and drive to Tallahassee to spend the night with my son and his family. Then I leave early the next morning, making the drive even shorter. The races (there is a half marathon, relay, and fun run as well as the full) benefit L’Arche Mobile, a community for people with intellectual disabilities. The “medals” are wooden disks with decals on them; members of L’Arche Mobile not only make the medals but also award them to participants at the finish of the race.
The host hotel is the Admiral Semmes but after staying there the preceding 2 years, I decided to stay at the newer Holiday Inn just a block away. While the small expo and packet pickup are at the Admiral Semmes, the actual starting line is directly in front of the Holiday Inn, so it made sense to try it. I’m glad I did – the price was comparable and the hotel is very clean and accommodating. I had to change my room the first night because I was directly under the Lounge and Bar where a band and dancing was taking place. No problem – I was quickly given another room on a quieter floor.
The weather report called for 80% chance of rain on race day but the rain fortunately held off until much later that night. But it was definitely cold – in the low thirties and it really never warmed up much beyond that. However, last year the temps were in the teens and had a wind chill of 10 degrees so it could have been worse. And north of us, the southern states were experiencing snow and ice, so we were indeed lucky.
The course has a 7 hour time limit which makes it very walker-friendly. No chip timing, but the field is small enough that just about everyone crosses the start line within minutes. While it is a point to point course, the start and finish are within a few blocks of each other in downtown Mobile. This makes it easy to get to the starting line and back to the hotel. Aid stations are every few miles, with water, Gatorade, and enthusiastic volunteers who braved the cold to stay at their posts even for back of the packers like myself. A few of the aid stations also had candy and cookies. The course winds through various neighborhoods, some upscale, others not, by several colleges including Springhill College and the University of Southern Alabama, and – my favorite section – through the Mobile Botanical Gardens.
The pasta meal the night before the race and the post-race meal are both included in the price of registration. Although I don’t go to the pasta feed, I always get my plate of BBQ chicken and coleslaw after the race. This year the coleslaw was sort of ordinary, not the super stellar kind they had the previous two years (and worth coming back to do the race just for that treat), but it was still delicious. There were also sides of green beans and beans and rice as well as hot chicken noodle soup. And there was apple pie for dessert (and ice cream but it was way too cold for that!). The shirt is a long sleeve cotton shirt – my favorite. I give away most of the tech shirts I get but I actually wear the cotton ones.
There is a racewalking category but I enter just as a ‘runner’ so if I feel like running the downhills, I can. Besides, my racewalking technique leaves a lot to be desired. I would rather just consider myself a speed or power walker. Usually I manage to place in the senior master’s category because awards go 5 deep. This year I finished fifth as a senior master, with a time of 5:48 (better than last year’s 5:55).
Mobile as a city is a bit run down at the seams but still retains a certain Southern charm. I enjoy visiting a favorite bookstore, Bienville Books, on Dauphin Street – I can always find several used books to buy at good prices, and since I am driving, I can stock up without having to worry about how to fit them in my luggage. On previous trips I have visited the Museum of Mobile, spending quite a bit of time at the exhibits (on that trip there were displays of horse-racing in Alabama, slavery and its aftereffects in the South, and pirates in the Gulf).
This race is definitely a good race for 50 staters who want to check off Alabama or walkers who want an enjoyable (if cold) winter marathon.