“Running for the Bay!” Revisited – October 23, 2011

Where to begin? Last year the inaugural version of this race was a complete disaster:
– there were too few water stops and those that existed ran out of water on an extremely hot day,
– there were way too few volunteers (I knew we were in trouble when the race director announced over the loudspeaker ON RACE MORNING that they needed volunteers),
– mile markers were not in place at every mile,
– traffic was heavy and lanes for runners were not coned off,
– there was no police or medical presence,
– the course was not well-marked, especially (for me) near the end,
– they ran out of medals (and some of the medals were broken),
– spectators were few and far between,
– post-race food was non-existent, although some people said there were cups of water and some fruit

Despite my usual concerns about inaugural races, I had decided to try the race last year because Apalachicola is only about 4 hour drive from my house. It seemed an easy way to get in another fall marathon without too much expense (although it must be noted that the registration price is a hefty $80). So last year, I drove down after work on Friday, stayed at a Best Western nearby, picked up my race packet at the tiny expo, and experienced the growing pains of a first-time race the next morning. It was not pretty.

Reviews on Marathonguide.com panned the race. Several friends said it was one of the worst marathons they had ever experienced. As a result, it came as a surprise to me when I found out that the race would be held again this year, and in addition to the marathon, half marathon, 5 K, and 10 K, there would also be an ultra! With an open weekend and a desire to use the trip as an excuse to stop in Tallahassee the night before to see my granddaughter, I decided to give the race a second chance.

This year the race was to be held on a Sunday. According to the Race Director (RD), this would decrease the amount of traffic on the roads and give visitors a chance to use Saturday as a travel day. This was not a bad idea, especially considering that many of the complaints had been about traffic. You could tell that the RD was really trying to make improvements and had taken to heart some of the comments and suggestions made by frustrated racers from the previous year. For instance, there was plenty of water at the aid stations, along with snacks like granola bars and peanut butter crackers. However, this was the first time I had ever seen so many unmanned aid stations. The volunteers (all 6 of them) were congregated at the first 2 aid stations (and the last 2 on the way to the finish line) and the turn-around at mile 12.5.

Last year this was a notable race for me because it was the only time I crossed the finish line coming from the WRONG direction! That’s right – because after mile 25/26, there was no one in front of me, no one to tell me where to go, and no sign pointing to the road I should take. I turned on the path I thought was correct – but I was wrong. I finished the race but coming from the opposite direction. I was quickly told my mistake and I rapidly crossed the finish line in the proper direction this time and was handed my medal. I explained that there was no marker or person pointing the way. This year I was very much aware of the ‘right’ way to go and there was also a volunteer pointing the way. However, an extra sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead and then one with an arrow pointing left would be all that is needed to clarify things.

I crossed the finish line in 6:01 chip time. Although I didn’t make my under-6 hour time goal, it sure was close and I was satisfied. The medal and lanyard were beautiful. Post-race food left something to be desired, however: tiny orange slices, tired banana quarters, granola bars, and peanut butter crackers and small cups of water. It didn’t really matter to me, because I had plenty of snacks in my car. I hung around for a bit chatting with some other Maniacs before heading back home.

Apalachicola and St. George’s Island are beautiful. The bridges that lead to both places are long and straight. There are birds, boats, and the Atlantic Ocean. The area is delightfully scenic and peaceful. But those bridges are very VERY long when you are walking over them. They are VERY boring, even if all around you the scenery is magnificent. There is a lot of traffic, even on Sunday, and no orange cones marking the breakdown lane from the travel lanes. Well, to be truthful, there were some orange cones but they were positioned on the bridge side of the road next to the barrier. They may have been intended to hold mile marker signs but the signs were missing. In fact, on my return trip on the St. George Bridge, there just one or two mile markers (while there were at least 5 miles on the bridge itself), so it was hard to tell exactly where I was at any given time. The only spectators were pelicans and two people who came out of their houses to wave at me. That was okay with me; I don’t need cheering crowds. But I did need a respite from those bridges.

It would be lovely to stay on St. George’s Island for a vacation. I would love to rent one of those handsome old 2-story houses facing the ocean. I can picture myself sitting in a comfortable chair on a wraparound porch, a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Maybe someday I will come here with my family and spend a few days. Maybe it will be on race weekend and perhaps I will even try the half marathon (since it only crosses one of those long bridges). But two Running for the Bay marathons is enough for me!

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