Grand Rapids was my second marathon. My first was the Chicago Marathon, so it was quite a different experience. I was looking for a smaller race, with a course that was not completely urban. I found the Grand Rapids website and I appreciated the race director’s humor. You can’t be completely serious and run a marathon!
Packet pickup was at the YMCA. It is a beautiful, huge building, easy to find and there was plentiful parking. There was a midsize expo and pickup was smooth. There is a half marathon and marathon relay that starts at the same time as the full marathon. There is a one hour earlier start for “Velocity Challenged” runners, runners that expect not to finish in the 6 hour cutoff. Unfortunately you would have to start in the dark if you opt for this. The regular race start was 8 AM.
The weather had gotten colder again, last weekend it was close to 80, but temps at race start was a calm 32 with temps not reaching 50 by race end. I opted to wear mittens, a short sleeve shirt, a Nike vest, shorts, knee high compression socks, and arm warmers. I figured this would give me the most options to shed clothes. I also had a sweatshirt which I handed off to my husband at the race start.
We stayed at the Amway Grand, which was super nice and easy walking distance to the race start. Lineup was not by corral or expected pace, you could start wherever you wanted. I found a spot behind the 4:29 pacer. My goal for this race was to finish by 4:30. The pace groups were named after celebrities (and based on their marathon times) and the 4:29 pace group was the Oprah group.
The first part of the race is through downtown Grand Rapids. Then you head out towards Millennium Park. Most of the race is then on paved trails that wind through the park. It was sunny but the park offered a lot of shade. The course was fairly flat, there is one small hill before mile 12 and some gentle, long slopes at the end. There are beautiful views of lakes in the park and the fall colors were spectacular.
The number of runners is perfect, the half marathon split off around 8.5 miles and it was very clear for the end of the race. The only issue I had passing was one set of 3 runners that were walking in the middle of the path, and the runners that would suddenly stop and start walking wherever they were, instead of moving to the side. There are people riding bikes on the path, probably there to spectate, so I would stay on the right. There is a long out and back section, which I didn’t mind. It was motivating for me to see other runners coming in the other direction. Even the fast ones, I give them props. It was interesting to have relay teams, occasionally someone would go flying past me, I assume that they were fresh relay runners!
There were a fair number of spectators on the course and they are friendly. The volunteers were also great, cheering on the runners. There were a variety of food and drinks at the water stops, which were spaced about 1.5 miles apart. Gu, oranges, bananas, pretzels, gummy bears, and cookies were available. Two of the later water stops had pickle juice (believed to help with cramps). I did try the pickle juice, since I had cramps. I don’t know if the pickle juice helped, but I can now say that I had pickle juice during a race. 🙂
A thing that annoys me is runners that throw their garbage (cups, gel packets, etc) wherever they want. This is not Chicago, where street sweepers will come along and collect all the trash after the race in one swoop. This is a trail in a park. Someone else has to pick up the garbage. Seriously, all runners should just throw garbage away properly.
I tried to stay around 10 minute miles, which worked for most of the race. Until the end. Then I was a little over a 10 minute mile pace. The last 3 miles were hard. Really hard. Probably the hardest 3 miles that I have ever run. Everything hurt, my middle back, my calves, the bottoms of my feet. I skipped the last few water stops since I walk the water stops. I figured if I started walking then I wouldn’t want to run again and I wouldn’t be able to make the time up either.
I had headphones on for music, but I took them off at the end of the race. The spectators near the finish line were crazy! They yelled for everyone. Two turns away from the finish, some guys came out onto the course to give me high fives. They announced names at the finish, and the race director was in the middle of the finish chute, shaking hands with finishers. He shook my hand and gave me a hug. A guy sprinted past me at the finish. I assume he was a relay runner. If you can finish a marathon at a sprint, at close to 4.5 hours, then something is wrong. 😉
I don’t eat a lot after a race, but there was a variety of food, including Wendy’s chili. I grabbed a bottle of chocolate milk and sat down. There was a beer garden, with unlimited beer from New Holland Brewery. The Beer Garden was very crowded, though I did find a seat there.
Overall, it was a great marathon experience. The email communication from the race director is fun. I would recommend this race if you enjoy a smaller marathon in an area with paved trails but with also a city atmosphere.
Age Group: 27/55