Boy, this is going to hurt me. I really hate to do this. But I have to do a negative race review.
I didn't want to dislike this marathon! I wanted to be able to say, "this is a teeny tiny hidden gem race that only costs $5 and the finishers medals are real gold oh and by the way Brett Favre happened to be in his hometown on a bye week and personally cheered me on and asked for my autograph." Alas, no. I want to love this marathon: I PR'd, won first in my age group, and it's close by. I should be infatuated. Instead I'm unimpressed.
So here's the deal. The Gulf Coast Marathon is tiny, it's cheap, and it's totally flat. Those are the good things. But it is the most boring course ever. The gulf coast is pretty, but for some reason this race is run around the Stennis Space Center instead of on a beach or in a quaint town. So if you like looking at the backs of ugly buildings, this race is for you. It's a double loop (dullsville) and there are so few runners you're often by yourself. You don't have any fan support (literally there was not one single spectator in 26 miles; I was alone for so long I practically lost my language skills and used pigeon sign language for the rest of the day). This is because the space center is a secure facility - you have to go through security and show ID and insurance and explain why you're there, blah blah. Who's going to do that just to watch a race? It's nice that you get a long sleeved T and a medal, although there have been misspellings on the T or the medal for the past two years *tacky*.
My real gripe, though, is the course support. Yeah, not only am I insulting a small-town marathon, I'm actually insulting the VOLUNTEERS. Now I totally feel like a turd. See, before the race we were promised a Hammer-gel stop. There was none. I spoke to five of the top six finishers and none of them had seen any at all (Abe actually asked for gel on the course and was told "All we have is hard candy."). There was some gatorade on the course, but it was 50% water because one of the volunteers bringing the gatorade didn't show. Frankly, half-water isn't enough calories if you don't have gels either. Now while I'm talking about gatorade let me talk about the water stops. OMG what a cluster. It seemed that none of the volunteers had worked a water stop before. No one was holding out cups - they were just standing there. I would kind of call out, "Gatorade?" and they MIGHT hand me one (I usually drink two) or they might just motion me to the table! And in many instances volunteers were actually in the race way, blocking the water, and I had to stop and go around them to reach a cup. I've never seen anything like this. At several stops people were getting backed up and having to completely stop, especially while the half was still going on. Lest you think I am making this up, I actually got this pic straight off their website: See? Not lying.
I have no idea what was going on with this, but David reminded me that when we ran a 10k last year hosted by the same group, the water scenario was the same.
My other complaint is that at one point I got lost because a volunteer was sitting on the arrow-cone, so I asked for directions. He looked confused but told me to go straight, which was not correct. But worse is that when I and another lost runner asked for directions once we realized we were off-course, FOUR volunteers could not tell us where to go. They did not know the course at all, and the one who had been sitting on the cone could not remember which way the cardboard arrow had been pointing. So we got lost and then had to guess the correct direction! This wasted a lot of time - not just running the wrong way, but standing around debating what was the right way (I studied the course map before the race but since most of the roads aren't marked, it didn't help a lot).
So those are my gripes. I love the idea of a small, close-by marathon, but it really really needs better organization and effort. If that means upping the price, I'll pay it.
PS - the race director himself has won his own race two years in a row. Is he encouraging poor course support to give himself an advantage? Something to think about. Right after I think about who really shot JFK and consider if we ever landed on the moon or if those pictures are photoshopped.