As this post/episode is released, I’m a week out from running the Big Beach Marathon in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
I’m not one for writing a detailed race recap of my performance on race day. So if that’s what you’re looking for…
Yeah, I’m not really that sorry.
What I am up for doing is sharing my perspective on the Big Beach Marathon as someone that has run the race.
What things does this race get right? Where could they improve?
So that’s what I’m doing today.
I’m giving the basics below, but the podcast will have much more detail (ie I’ll probably be rambling like a mofo). So if you want the full scoop, make sure you press play above!
(And if you’re not already subscribed to the show on your phone, get on it eh?)
The Big Beach Marathon
On a scale of good, bad, and meh, the Big Beach Marathon ranks as a mostly good with just a hint of meh.
Are there areas where, at least in my opinion, the race could be a bit better?
But every race has areas where they can improve. I don’t care of you’re talking about Disney, Boston, or Big Beach, no race is perfect.
That said, the Big Beach Marathon definitely gets it mostly right in my book.
Let’s break it down a bit, shall we?
Traveling to/from Gulf Shores isn’t particularly complicated.
Interstate 10 isn’t too far from Gulf Shores, maybe 30-45 minutes, so if you’re driving you can pretty much take the Interstate the whole way.
If you’re flying in, both Pensacola and Mobile are close. Obviously, neither of those airports is a major hub so depending on where you are flying in from you might have to connect through a slightly bigger airport. That said, if you’re thinking of making a trip from out of town to Gulf Shores for the Big Beach Marathon, the travel logistics really shouldn’t be much of an issue for you.
The course for the Big Beach Marathon is pretty much as advertised: flat and fast!
According to my Garmin, the entire Big Beach Marathon course featured a total of 72 feet of elevation change!
So yeah, flat and fast it is!
The majority of the course takes place in Gulf Shores State Park. The park features miles and miles of paved trails for walking/cycling, and I’d estimate 23 of the 26.2 miles were in the park.
While most of the running in the state park was on the paved roads, there were several sections of wooden bridges that we ran over. Most of the bridges were fairly short, maybe a couple of hundred yards in length.
There were a couple of sections of the bridge, near the end of the course, that were pretty long. I wasn’t keeping track during the run, but I’d estimate that those sections combined for at least a couple of miles of bridge running. I didn’t have any issues at all running on the wood bridges, there were sturdy and felt totally safe. But it was something I was definitely not expecting.
One thing that was noticeably absent from this course, and was a bit disappointing, was the lack of beachfront running.
I don’t know about you, but with a name like Big Beach Marathon, I was expecting at least a little bit of running along the beach. But that never really developed.
The start/finish of the race was beachside, but save for the last 100 yds before crossing the finish line, there were almost no beach views while running.
The only other issue that I had with the course was that there were a couple of spots where the signage directing runner traffic was lacking.
Most of the course had more signs that I thought were necessary. But there were two locations within the last ~3 miles that I felt a sign or two would have been really helpful.
Hopefully, the crew behind the Big Beach Marathon will go ahead and address those issues for next year. (And my guess is, they will!)
The expo for the Big Beach Marathon was held in one of the exhibit halls of the host hotel.
The expo was small, but that’s to be expected for a race this size (~1,000 runners).
That said, the expo was well organized and they definitely had a wide selection of items available (fuel, clothes, etc) in case you forgot something and needed to grab a last-minute replacement.
I believe the main non-profit that the race supports is the local zoo, and there were people from the zoo walking around the expo with various animals as well.
Including an opossum.
Yes. An opossum.
As for race day, the start/finish was at the Hangout, which is very appropriately named bar/restaurant on the beach.
When I walked into the courtyard area, I thought maybe I missed something and I was running an ultra instead of “just” a marathon.
They were setting up, before the race, a legit ultra aid station!
It was missing a few key elements, namely potato chips and ginger ale, which let me know this wasn’t a real ultra aid station. But damn if they didn’t try!
The Hangout was open, and since it was so “cold” most of the runners were inside trying to stay warm.
The bathrooms in the Hangout had a long line, as would be expected. But having an option for a proper restroom pre-race was nice! There were also several portapotties outside.
After the race, the Hangout was open for regular business while also catering to the runners that just finished their race.
Right at the finish line, the pickings were slim but overall acceptable.
There was water and Gatorade available, as well as some cookies and bananas.
EMTs were also right there, in case they were needed.
In the courtyard in front of the Hangout, that “ultra” aid station was still there so you could grab some PB&J, candies, or other ultra-type food.
Runners also got a free boxed lunch that contained a choice of wraps (choice of turkey, smoked redfish, or veggie), some chips, and some little cakes for dessert. We also were welcome to partake in two cans of beer, provided by a local brewery.
As for post-race entertainment, there was a local band on the stage (playing mostly covers?) and some outdoor games that you could play while hanging out at the Hangout.
All in all, I have no complaints about the pre/post race amenities.
Seriously, top notch stuff!
I don’t know how you could complain about the bling from the Big Beach Marathon.
It’s big. It’s heavy. And it’s colorful.
Seriously, what more could you want?
As always, the volunteers were awesome!
The folks running the aid stations/water stops were awesome, and definitely did whatever they could to support us on the course.
I did not stay at the host hotel (the Lodge) for the Big Beach Marathon, but one of my athletes did.
He said it was really nice and reasonably priced.
The Lodge was located about a mile from the start/finish line, and there were shuttles available.
That said, while there was no parking at the Hangout there was ample public parking in the area. So whether you stayed at the Lodge or in another hotel/Air BnB, there were no issues with getting to the Hangout and finding a place to park on race morning.
I think my parking spot was about 2 blocks away, which isn’t bad at all!
One other thing that I noticed about the Big Beach Marathon, that maybe was less than ideal, was the on-course bathroom situation.
Early in the race, I noticed several proper bathrooms that were available due to us running in the state park. I was a bit surprised to find that after those first few bathrooms, there were long stretches where no bathrooms or porta potties were available.
You could easily jump off the paved course and get behind a tree or bush to take care of your business, and I saw several runners (both male and female) doing what they needed to do.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, my overall impression of the Big Beach Marathon is mostly good with a coupel of mehs.
I would definitely run this race again, even if I was paying my own way.
And who knows? If all goes well, maybe the folks from Junction 311 and the Big Beach Marathon will invite me back again next year!
Have You Ever Run the Big Beach Marathon? Did You Run it This Year? What are Your Thoughts on This Race?
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