I was looking for a nice winter marathon to try and lower my time and work on a new short-term training program. Due to the many positive reviews, I went with the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL.
Rocket City Marathon is really a marathoner’s marathon. The only event of the weekend is the marathon and headphones are not allowed (one of the few marathons post-USATF rule modification that still does not allow them). I planned on attending this marathon and wanted to do it at no cost (or at least very little), of course!
The marathon fee itself is quite low in comparison to most marathons. It is $50 and the goods that the entrants get are really great – a long-sleeve Nike tech shirt, tech hat, and a quality medal. So, as with any marathon, unless you are an elite runner with an invite, the marathon fee is something that is not avoidable.
One of the reasons I chose to use miles was due to the fact that my wife was due with our baby about a month after the race. If I had to cancel, I could get my miles back at no cost (since I am a Diamond Medallion member with Delta). It took 25,000 miles from my Delta account to get the exact flights I wanted to Huntsville.
Next, I used 5,000 ThankYou network points to book a room at the La Quinta in town. For the rental car, I was going to use one of my Avis Free Day certificates. However, when I looked at the prices, I saw it would only cost me $15 after taxes for a rental car for the day. I opted to use cash for the rental and save the certificates for another day.
I was upgraded 6 days before the flights. The only thing about the itinerary I booked was that I booked an evening flight down to Huntsville so I only had to be away from home for the shortest time possible. However, as the trip got closer, the weather reports were looking like there may be snow and I really did not want to have that flight cancelled due to the weather as it was the last one of the day.
So, the day of, I used one of my perks as a Delta elite flyer and did a Same-Day-Confirmed to an earlier flight. Using that option, I had to call 3 hours before the flight I wanted to take was due to depart to get the seats. Thanks to my ExpertFlyer subscription, I was able to tell how many seats were left on the flights I was looking at. I saw that there were only a couple of seats left and it turned out that I got the last seat on the flight! Thanks to my Diamond status, I was upgraded on the Rochester – Atlanta flight and put on the upgrade list for the Atlanta – Huntsville flight.
I got into Atlanta on time and ended up having to wait longer than planned, thanks to a delay with the incoming plane. I started getting nervous as the flight kept getting pushed back. I went to the Delta Sky Club (a Sky Club membership is comped to Diamond Medallions) and asked them to check on my flight options. One of the best things about the Sky Club has to be the agents that staff it. They were able to put me on the flight after my schedule flight (actually, it was the original flight I was on when I booked the ticket!) as protection in case my flight was delayed any further.
Pre-Race Dinner – At Atlanta’s Sbarros
I knew that I was not going to make the pasta dinner in Huntsville, so my pre-marathon dinner ended up taking place at the Sbarro’s in Atlanta airport! For $8, it worked quite well! After my dinner was over, I went back to the gate to wait for the flight. I was shocked to see how many people were on the upgrade list. There were no seats available in First anyway and I was about 6 down on the list, so I ended up sitting the first row of the Economy cabin (one more nice thing about having elite status is selecting preferred seating).
Since I rarely check luggage, I was able to get to the rental car lot first. The Avis agent asked me if I wanted to keep the subcompact that I had booked – I said, “Uhh, no!” As an Avis’ President’s Club member, I normally receive a two-class upgrade, based on availability. He thought that since I had booked the subcompact, I actually wanted that one – nope! Instead, he gave me a nice Ford Fusion.
Total cost for my transportation and lodging – 25,000 miles, 5,000 ThankYou network points, and $25. Not bad! The actual cost would have been $340 for the flight bringing the redemption value to 1.3 cents per mile. That is definitely not optimal, but it worked best for me at the time. The 25,000 miles could be earned with one credit card application – annual fee waived the first year!
The expo and start/finish line was located at the host hotel. Despite the 1,500 marathon entrants, parking was very easy. It was great to be able to park so close to the start, especially since the race morning was a lot colder than it was supposed to be – in the 20s!
There were pace groups for all the Boston Marathon qualifying times. I lined up with the 3:30 group. We started with a nice sized group. The marathon course was quite flat. The miles went by quickly. The aid stations were well-stocked and the volunteers were incredibly helpful. My goal that day had been for a sub-3:30. I stayed with the pace group for about 10 miles before moving ahead of them at an aid station knowing that I was going to have to find a restroom at some point. I felt good enough that I started thinking about a 3:27.
Problems started coming along Bailey Cove Road. It was the one spot where I wish I had been able to use a MP3 player – it is a 5 mile (or so) straight road. Halfway along that, we encountered our first serious headwinds. They lasted about 6 miles. It really began affecting my asthma and my pace began to slip around mile 20. I still finished under 3:40 and was able to get a PR.
The finish line was more low-key than I had expected, but it was great to be able to finish and walk a couple of hundred yards through the hotel and the parking lot to my car. I was on the road again in no time (about 15 minutes after crossing the finish line) and headed for the airport.
Here were my mile splits:
Total – 3:38 Pace – 8:18
It was a great race with great people. I was in town for only about 15 hours, but enjoyed all that I was able to see of the city while I was there. Overall, a great experience! Would I do it again? Absolutely!