As road running becomes increasingly popular in our country, it seems new races are popping up left and right. As a runner and consumer, it can be hard to decipher between which new races are worth your time and money, and which new races are simply an unorganized money grab…as unfortunately many have already proven to be. Thankfully, the race report I’m about to provide isn’t one of those aforementioned races that seems to put the runner’s experience last. Quite the opposite. Despite only being in its second year, the All American Marathon has laid the groundwork to become worthy of finding a spot on any runner’s “must do” list, and I am honored to have been able to run this race and share this review with you.
About two months ago I received an email from the Fayetteville, North Carolina Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, asking if I was interested in coming down to run the 2nd annual All American Marathon. Despite the fact that I’m not in marathon condition, I’ve been waiting for a kick in the pants to get back to long distance running, and I figured this was it. So I happily accepted. The All American Marathon is a point to point race that runs through both historic Fayetteville as well as Ft. Bragg, home of US Army airborne forces and Special Forces. In combining a review and recap together, I will warn you that this a long post. I won’t be entirely offended (only just a little) if you simply look at the pictures and fast forward to the summary at the end.
We arrived late Friday afternoon and checked into our amazing accommodations (more on our Fayetteville travel experience in the next post), had dinner with our gracious hostess Melody, and then headed to the race expo to pick up our packets. The All American Marathon was expecting about 4,000 runners between the full marathon, Mike to Mike half marathon, and All American 5K, but it felt as though they were set up for ten times the number of participants. We arrived at the Crown Arena where we were met with friendly volunteer after friendly volunteer directing traffic, directing us to find our bib numbers, and directing us to the tables with bibs and shirts. There were many things that stood out about this race, but the friendly volunteers are near the top of the list. Perhaps every race needs a bit of Southern Hospitality!
The race expo, though small, had potential to be mighty. The space was large, and was only partially filled with sponsor tables, and just a few vendors. I think as the race grows, the number of vendors will increase. There was certainly enough room for more. The expo was open both Friday and Saturday before the race, to allow runner’s ample time to pick up their gear.
After picking up our bibs, shirts, and other race swag, we stumbled upon our friend Gene at the Generation U Can table. Actually “stumbled” is a bit of a misnomer; having never actually met Gene in person before, Geoff and I did an awkward walk by-don’t make direct eye contact -and whisper to each other “is that our friend Gene? I think so? No, maybe not? I’m not sure?” Thankfully he came towards us in our moment of confusion and introduced himself. Gene, it was so great to finally meet you!
A quick, and in my opinion very important, note on the sponsor Generation UCAN: Gen UCAN was being served at the race aid stations, both in the form of their electrolyte mix and SuperStarch carbohydrate mix. As we all know, trying something new on race day can be a recipe for disaster. However, All American Marathon and Gen UCAN solved this problem by offering free samples of both products to all registered participants WELL in advance of the race. I got mine in the mail just about a week after I registered, so I was able to test the product, and more importantly, my GI system’s reaction to it, before the race. This was an incredible idea, and something more races should consider doing.
The race packets included a personalized bib, a gender specific tech t shirt, a collapsible water bottle, and a few other sponsor samples, such as antibacterial spray and lip balm.
Saturday night we attended the pre-race pasta party. This may be my only complaint of the weekend: the dinner was from 4-6 pm. This was incredibly early, at least for my dinner eating taste. We arrived at 5:30, only to have missed the guest speaker (our fault) and to find the volunteers already disassembling the tables.
Regardless, the volunteers were still incredibly friendly and welcoming, and never once rushed us. We feasted on all you can eat pasta, salad, garlic bread, veggies, and cookies. There were both meat and vegetarian options for the pasta, and of course, all the water and Southern sweet tea you could drink. For $15 a ticket, I felt this was certainly ample food, and took the guess work out of trying to find somewhere to dine (with “safe” pre-race food) the night before the marathon.
Marathon morning we awoke to a 5:00 am alarm, dressed, did all of the pre-race rituals (body glide, etc, you know the drill) and hopped into the car to head downtown. There were a number of street closures that left me feeling unsure of where to park, but thankfully the local police were incredibly helpful in pointing us in the right direction. The city of Fayetteville had opened up nearly EVERY parking lot downtown – both public and private – for runners to use, at no cost. We were able to park about a half mile from the race start, which was held at Festival Park. The pre race staging area contained a bag drop, and PLENTY of port-a-potties. Eventually we shed our layers and headed into the corral. There were pace leaders for both the half and the full, allowing us to judge where to seed ourselves in the corral. There was a quick speech from the Mayor, another from commander Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, the singing of the National Anthem, the count down to the start, and lastly the firing of a Howitzer to send us on our way at 7:00 am.
The start ran us straight down Hay Street and past the historical Market House, where a woman was serenading us with a live acoustic version of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself. I wouldn’t have believed acoustic versions of Eminem to be a real “thing”, but it was, and she did a great job making Eminem sound …happy.
The weather for this race could not have been more perfect. Low 60’s, with overcast skies left me, queen of always freezing cold, more than comfortable in shorts, a tank top, and arm sleeves. Last year the race was held in May, and ended up being far too hot. Needless to say the change in date worked out perfectly.
Geoff and I had only one plan for this race: finish. Between a brutal winter, treadmill running, and my surgery 5 weeks earlier, I hadn’t specifically trained to run a marathon, but trusted in my body and experience to carry me through. We spent the first few miles of the race keeping a close eye on our pace, trying to maintain a 9:20-9:30 pace. Every few minutes or so one of us would yell “pace”, and we would realize we were hauling along at a sub 9…or sometimes a sub 8…and would have to reel the pace back in. We were also smoked by countless British Army Paratroopers that were running the Mike to Mike half marathon with full rucksacks. It was unreal to watch how fast they could move with those packs.
The first few miles ran us through downtown, and then we headed up a decent sized hill into a rural neighborhood. There were aid stations every single mile serving water and Generation UCAN hydration mix. Though I’ve already mentioned it above, I NEED to reiterate: the volunteers were out of this world. I’ve run countless races where the volunteers were bored teenagers (and even adults) who would barely grunt at you as you ran by, acting as though we have highly inconvenienced them and ruined their weekend morning. Not at the case at the All American Marathon. There were people of all ages at the aid stations, every single one of them seemed genuinely excited to be there, handing you whatever you needed, cheering for you (most times by name!) and telling you how awesome you were doing. It was incredible and so very much appreciated. THANK YOU, volunteers!
In addition to the frequent water and hydration stops were a handful of unexpected nutrition stops, which included the Generation UCAN superstarch carbohydrate mix, Clif Bloks, gels, trail mix, bananas, pretzels, and more. I’m used to marathons offering one gel stop at maybe mile 18, and that’s it. Not the case with All American Marathon. Had I known, I could have carried absolutely NOTHING as far as hydration and nutrition goes, and would have been just fine, thanks to these amazing aid stations.
After a decent stretch on the All American highway, we passed one of the highlights of this race: the Wear Blue Mile. The Wear Blue mile consisted of posters depicting soldiers that have fallen as well as numerous American flags with a black ribbon bearing the names of fallen soldiers. It was a humbling and incredibly emotional experience to run by the faces and names of these men and women that have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
Shortly after the Wear Blue mile we entered Ft. Bragg, and at mile 10, split off from the half marathon crowd.
And it became incredibly quiet. As it turns out, there were less than 600 full marathon runners (at least according to the results page). Personally, I enjoyed that the road opened up and things quieted down, as I had my best friend by my side to keep me company (aww). Now as far as the course itself goes, I’m not going to lie and say it was traditionally scenic and beautiful. It wasn’t, at all. It was very drab, and very industrial. But that was likely because 16+ miles of it was run on Ft. Bragg, the largest military base in our country, where over 57,000 troops are stationed. Aesthetics aside, it was an incredible experience to run through the base. As a civilian with zero military background in my upbringing, it was really neat to run by hundreds and hundreds and military vehicles, tanks, and other equipment, as well as firing ranges, training facilities (you know I wanted to hop the fence onto the Army Rangers obstacle course!), and of course the massive Pope Airfield (of which I obeyed the “no photos” signs and thus took no photos of the airfield.)
The course itself was pretty straight and narrow, with a lot of long straight sections. Though the course isn’t one I would describe as “hilly”, but it also wasn’t necessarily flat; with just over 900 feet of total elevation gain throughout the course it was hillier than anticipated.
Military police, personnel, and volunteers were stationed at every single intersection, ensuring the course stayed safe and closed to oncoming traffic. While the spectators were much fewer and far between, the ones that were out there were amazing. Occasionally we would pass a military vehicle with speakers blaring some sort of music. So even though the runners were sparse, we weren’t left feeling alone.
My legs started screaming at me just before mile 13. Not even halfway into the race and I was in pain. Thankfully, this wasn’t my first
rodeo marathon, and I knew the best thing I could do was take it mile by mile. We ran to each water stop and walked through each one. Oh, and for the record, we stopped at 11 of the port-a-potties. Yes, ELEVEN. Geoff has the bladder of a small Chihuahua…and truth be told, I overhydrated myself.
Around mile 17 or 18 I hit the proverbial wall. It was far too soon, and I recognized it was likely due to glycogen depletion. In other words, I needed to EAT. I scarfed down two Clif Bloks and a handful of pretzels from the aid station. I felt bloated, and the scar tissue on my abdomen from my recent surgery was sore from the bulging, but I powered through. Within 15 minutes, I was back to my good old self…with incredibly sore quadriceps. I could tell my blood sugar had returned to normal when I suddenly felt compelled to not stop talking. Around this same time, we saw a plane fly overhead and four paratroopers jumped out. I started asking Geoff, a former army paratrooper once stationed at Ft. Bragg himself, a gazillion questions. “How high are they? How fast are they falling? How do they make sure their parachutes don’t get tangled?” After about the 4th of 5th question, I could tell he had hit the wall himself, and the running of my mouth was not a welcome distraction. So he filmed me rambling about the race instead, right at that point where you begin to wonder “why do I do this again?” I apologize for the “shmootz” on the GoPro lens.
With no goal other than to finish (a PR was not happening for either of us due to the lack of training) we took our time and walked when we felt it was necessary. And it was becoming increasingly necessary during the last 3 miles. But despite our pace slowing down, the enthusiasm from the race staff and volunteers never waivered. They were simply amazing. During a point in the race where it can feel like a death march, the volunteers ensured the overall atmosphere maintained a positive vibe.
Finally we passed the 25 mile mark, then eventually rounded a corner to see the original Iron Mike statue, and the start of the long chute to the finish line. My legs have never been so happy to see a finish line. Despite the fact that we were finishing in the middle of the marathon pack, and long after the half marathoners had finished, there were still plenty of people out cheering us in to the finish.
I regret not filming the finish line, (I was slightly preoccupied with, well, finishing) but it was a great experience. Our official time: 4:40:04. Our names were announced as we crossed the finish line, and medals placed around our neck by military personnel in their dress attire (forgive me for not knowing the proper terminology here…but needless to say they looked very dapper and it was a nice touch.)
After we were given our medals, we were ushered through a food tent (muffins, granola bars, pretzels, fruit, trail mix, and more) and then given an amazing finishers gift: a full size backpack embroidered with the race logo.
It was a fantastic touch, and held so much more “stuff” than I would have expected (including our food, our checked bags, shoes, you get the idea!) There were a bunch of tents set up around the festival area, but to be honest I was far too exhausted to check them out. So we hobbled over to the shuttle area, where 6 shuttles were waiting to take us back downtown to our cars. We waited all of 2 minutes for the shuttle to fill up and we were on our way back to the start line and our cars.
Race Organization: A+ I have absolutely zero complaints; the race appeared to be flawlessly executed from start to finish.
Course Markings: A+ Again, flawless. There was never a point where I questioned if I was headed in the right direction.
Course/terrain: B A lot of straightaways, and the pavement on Ft. Bragg itself has seen better days (lots of cracks, holes, etc). But I’m a spoiled Vermont mountain trail runner, so perhaps I’m not used to the pavement anymore. It is relatively flat and a Boston qualifier early in the season, so if a BQ is important to you, this race should be a consideration.
Course views: B (subjective, of course) The “views” are not scenic in the traditional sense, but you get to see A LOT of interesting parts of Ft. Bragg. This would be an incredible race for anyone who is even remotely interested in military equipment, history, etc.
Aid Stations/volunteers: A++++ Water and electrolyte mix every mile, porta-potties every mile, nutrition every 3-4 miles. A plethora of incredibly enthusiastic, helpful, smiling volunteers.
Race Swag: A+ Gender specific tech tees, extra goodies in the packet pickup bag, beautiful medals and a very useful finishers backpack. I couldn’t ask for more!
For my medal friends…
In closing, I only see this particular race getting better with time. As I mentioned at the very beginning, the organizers have laid the ground work to allow the All American Marathon to become a much larger race, one that can compete with the likes of some of the major, more popular races…except it currently ISN’T huge, which only adds to it’s appeal. The marathon is cut off at a generous 7 hour time limit, with a 4 hour limit for the half marathon and no time cutoff for the 5K. The All American Marathon is held during a perfect time of year, in my opinion, before the Southern heat kicks in, and just at the right time of late winter/early spring when us Northerners feel the need to escape the brutal winter weather. It’s a relatively flat course and a Boston Marathon qualifier very early in the season. The town of Fayetteville is incredibly accommodating, and there is plenty to do for both individuals and families alike (more on that in the next post).
In short, there is not a single reason I wouldn’t recommend this race. Thank you again, All American Marathon and the city of Fayetteville for a fantastic weekend.