Friday, February 3, 2012

Callaway Gardens Half Marathon Race Report

This past weekend I paid my first visit to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA, and ran in the "Fitness Series" half marathon held within the 13,000 acre resort community. Since I've been slightly (barely) more focused on preparing for an upcoming ultra marathon, I was pleased when my friend Janie accepted my offer to pace her.

Warm Up

Amanda the Stowaway
I headed over Saturday afternoon and along the way picked up a hitchhiker in Opelika. The McQueens caught up with me at Starbucks, and before I knew it Amanda and I were on our way while Tim and Lincoln continued on listening to the soothing sounds of NPR. We took the scenic route to the expo (No, I wasn't lost. I still had gas.), picked up our race packets and then scouted most of the course until we stumbled upon the hotel. Off to an interesting, but good start!

After checking in and coordinating plans through a text messaging blitz our entire group met up in the hotel lobby for drinks. Shortly after that we all made our way to the Carriage and Horses Restaurant for dinner. I'd researched restaurants a few days before, and had a hunch it would be a better option than Three Lil Pigs BBQ or the Whistling Pig Cafe. Fortunately, it was a hit. The food and service were good, and the entertainment was out of this world. The two-man band that took requests wasn't too bad, either. ;)

The Crew!
We all met up at the huge tent by the starting line on Sunday morning and took some photos for posterity. I looked around for fellow dailymiler, Skip, as I knew he was there for his first half marathon, but couldn't find him anywhere in the small crowd. Janie and I then went out for a warm-up run, last-minute bathroom breaks and stopped by the car to drop off extra clothing. As we made our way to the starting line a man approached me with his hand outstretched. Seeing the confused look on my face, Skip re-introduced himself! I didn't recognize him because he'd lost so much weight!


The race began promptly at 8am (contrary to what I read on an review) and the course took us past Robin Lake on our right. The pace was a little quicker than what I wanted in the early miles, but considering the gentle descent we were still doing just fine.

Normally, this is where I'd dissect my race. But since it was Janie's and I was just along for the ride, I'll comment only on the event itself.

  • The Course: I thought it was great. Even though everything was dormant it was still pretty, and I really liked the elevation. The hills we encountered from miles 5 thru 8 were challenging, though not insurmountable. There were a couple of tight turns that made things interesting, but overall it was a good course.

  • Aid Stations: While there were plenty, I was surprised to find that volunteers at them were not handing drinks to the participants. Instead, they just had cups of water and Gatorade sitting on the tables and you had to find what you were looking for. It wasn't an issue for me since I wasn't racing, but I could see where someone serious about their time would be peeved. Once I figured out what was going on I told Janie to continue on and started grabbing a cup of water for each of us.

    Another thing about the aid stations I didn't like was the placement of a couple of them. At least two were on tight turns that created bottlenecks. At one of them I accidentally stepped in front of someone after picking up cups. I hate being that guy.

  • Finish Line: It seemed like the only normal thing going on at the finish line was the announcer calling out finisher's names. After Janie and I crossed we stood just beyond the timing mats trying to collect ourselves. All of a sudden I heard a young man asking us for our timing bracelets. Most races have the volunteers take them off for you, and for good reason. Even though I wasn't the mess I usually am after a race, I still had a difficult time removing them first from my leg and then hers'.

    About 10-15 minutes later I realized we didn't have our finishers' medals. I looked around and noticed that nobody else did, either. We made our way back to the finish and a single woman was there handing them out as quickly as she could. It was kind of comical.

  • Awards Ceremony: I've never seen an awards ceremony begin early before, but that's exactly what they did. A few of us had gone back to the hotel to quickly shower up and change, and even though we returned a few minutes before 11am, they'd already started.

    Also strange was that they didn't give out awards to overall winners or masters/senior-masters groups. Everything was strictly by age group.

Cool Down

Post-Race Glow!
Afterwards we all gathered inside the tent, trying to recover. Skip finished just a minute after Janie and me, and I really enjoyed hearing about how his first half marathon went. It was also great seeing his wife, Susan, and their three daughters, and thrilling to hear that Erin had won the 5k earlier!

As the rest of our "crew" filed into the tent it was fun hearing about their races. It turned out that Barbara won her age group and Amanda took second in hers! A great day all around!

So, what was the outcome of Janie's race? Well, she kicked ass. All the hard work she put in training the weeks leading up paid off with a PR, 3rd place overall female finish and she won her age group! 

Goal Achieved!
I've had the opportunity to pace people at a few races now, and whenever I offer I'm amused at the surprised looks I get. I guess it's difficult to understand why anyone would "give up" their race to help someone else? Thing is, I think there are few things better than helping someone achieve their goals. If I'd run my own race I wouldn't have this shared experience with Janie. I wouldn't have been there in the early miles to chat and see how effortlessly they went by for her. I would have missed seeing how she dealt with all the challenges the course threw at her. And witnessing her dig deep the last couple of miles and finish strong never would have happened. Racing for myself is fun, challenging and sometimes rewarding, but it can pale in comparison to seeing someone else realize their goals.

Edit: Roxy's comment below made me realize that in my haste to wrap this report up I neglected to make clear how much I enjoyed the event. The few shortcomings I outlined above didn't detract from a great experience overall, and I'd recommend this race to anyone looking for a challenging, fun half marathon.


For another perspective on this race check out this great review by Scott Sarisky. And as soon as Amanda gets around to posting her report I'll add a link to it --> here!


  1. Great recap, Drew! You captured the weaknesses in race organization honestly without being demeaning to the organizers. And great job pacing Janie. That is really cool and I have not reached that level yet. But you help make it an attractive goal. Good luck as you continue preparing for your ultra!

    1. Thanks, Roxy! Your comment made me realize I left off one important thing on this report. See the edit above!

  2. I "paced" runners a few times at smaller races. It is much more fun than racing. This was a fun weekend.

    1. It sure was a lot of fun, Duane. Glad you were a part of it. :)