This weekend was pure fun. I had never been to St. Louis before so I was excited to get a chance to visit the famous Gateway Arch, iconic symbol of the city, and to experience the 15th year of this popular Midwestern marathon. My expectations were mid-range. After 201 marathons and ultras, I had become a bit jaundiced. It would take a combination of lots of good stuff – weather, people, course, hotel, and food – to really wow me. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly enjoyable this weekend turned out to be.
Darcy and I took two short mid-morning flights, first to Atlanta and then on to St. Louis, arriving just past noon. I had pre-arranged a shuttle from the airport to our hotel so after getting our suitcases we found our way to the BEST Express shuttle, just outside exit 12 in the baggage claim area. After a brief wait, our pleasant driver appeared and drove us to the Union Station Doubletree Hotel downtown. This was not one of the host hotels (all of which were Drury Hotels) but it was located just a few blocks from the start and finish lines and less than a mile from the expo.
There are dozens of neat hotels in the downtown area but I highly encourage visitors to St. Louis to consider staying at this Doubletree. It is situated in a restored 100-year-old train station, with a 6-story barrel-vaulted ceiling and a beautiful lobby. However, our first night started out ominously. A wedding was taking place in the huge ballroom downstairs from our room and we were privy to some very loud dance music that played for most of the evening. I refrained from complaining for as long as I could but finally called the front desk to see if we could change our room. After waiting about 10 minutes, I started down to the lobby, half asleep and with a raging headache, and found a hotel representative with a name tag. She asked me what was wrong and I explained. I must have looked pretty disheveled and sleepy but this wonderful lady, Ms. Melodee Griffin (who turned out to be the housekeeping supervisor on her way off duty), took pity on me and helped me find a much quieter room. Needless to say, we gave her a great report on the hotel comment card but I mention her here by name as an additional ‘thank you’ – I must also state that everyone we met in St. Louis responded to us with exceptional courtesy and kindness.
That’s a bit of a digression from my usual race report so I’ll concentrate the rest of this essay on the marathon. Packet pickup was at Chaifetz Auditorium on Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm each day. Although there are shuttles to and from all Drury hotels to the expo, it is within easy walking distance so we decided to take our time and walk. It took only 5 minutes to get my bib with chip and my tee shirt (short-sleeve black tech, gender specific) leaving us plenty of opportunity to saunter around the booths selling race essentials. We walked back a different way so we could have a leisurely lunch at the Schlafly Brewery. Along with my local brew, I had a platter of soft pretzels and melted cheese while Darcy had cider and a ‘plate of swine’ (a local concoction of pork chop, bratwurst, and batter-fried bacon with sides of mashed potatoes and sauerkraut).
After returning to the hotel, I put together my outfit for the next day and tried to relax. Despite the craziness of that first night as noted above, I did manage to get a few hours of restful sleep. My alarm woke me up an hour earlier than usual (!) because I had forgotten to change the time zone. Not to worry; I have done races with much less sleep so I rose, had my bread and coffee, and started to get ready. The original weather forecast called for rain but fortunately there were only a few minor drizzles in the early hours; the rest of the day was cloudy and warm with temperatures in the low 70’s.
On Sunday Darcy walked me to the start line at 6:15 am and we waited while people began filling the 9 corrals. My corral was the last one, naturally, so I tried to position myself up close to the front; that way I could be ahead of the more leisurely walkers who were doing the half marathon. Both full, full relay, and half marathon races began at the same time, 7 am. The corrals were only loosely monitored and the atmosphere was fairly relaxed compared to many races I’ve done. I took this to mean that there were lots of casual runners who were not worried about finishing times or PRs.
The sound system was hard to hear in my corral so if there were speeches or the national anthem, I missed them. But it seemed as though we began on time and shortly after 7 am I crossed the starting line. The course was new this year and I heard several veterans of this race comment that it was a vast improvement over previous courses. As a newcomer to the city, I thought the course was an excellent tour of St. Louis. In the first mile, we first headed right towards the Arch and then crossed over the Mississippi River on the Eads Bridge into East St. Louis, Illinois, where a contingent of local citizens welcomed us, and then returned to Missouri over the MLK Bridge. These 3 miles were known as the Bridge Challenge and were separately calculated for us in our results.
The next half dozen miles took us south to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and then back towards downtown before heading west on Market Street and into bucolic Forest Park. Our return trip took us back along the same route and to the finish line, passing by several universities and hospitals. I wondered about signage along the course (because I didn’t see any signs at all) but because of the long out-and-backs and the judicious use of barricades, signs were essentially unneeded. It was hard to take a wrong turn, even for me, unless I wanted to climb over the waist-high barricades.
The half marathoners were with us right up to mile 13 when they turned towards the finish line. Oh, it was hard to watch them go, knowing I had so many more miles more to cover. I was also concerned that I would be pretty much alone for the rest of the race. However, to my surprise, I could always see several groups of people ahead of me and I could tell there were also people behind me. I never really felt alone or lonely on the course. I even caught up with several Maniacs, including Larry, Matthew, and Frank.
There were plenty of aid stations, lots of wonderful volunteers who cheered us on, and an intriguing course that was never boring. Yes, there were a few hills but they were not very steep. I ran down the hills whenever I could until finally I could run no more; at that point I tried to maintain an even and brisk walking pace. Just past 6 hours, I crossed the finish line, received a large medal from a volunteer, and met up with my husband. Post-race food included fruit cups, bananas, whole grain chips, and a yummy frozen custard sandwich plus a bottle of water. It was a short walk back to our hotel where I was ready for a shower and nap. This marathon was definitely one I would want to do again, only this time I would plan to spend more time sightseeing in St. Louis. The time limit for the marathon is 6 ½ hours so walkers who can maintain a pace just under 15 minutes a mile should have no problem finishing this race. Highly recommended.