An Honest Evaluation–Course Review of the Spinx Marathon

I’m glad I saved this post until last. A day or so after the race I was actually pretty upset about a few things concerning the course but I feel more sane about it now. 😀

I did learn a lot from this course. (I also hope that perhaps someone who participates in the organization of this race will read this and perhaps make some changes because I really do want this race to do well and be successful.)

I’ll organize this into pros and cons.

Pros

1. The timing of the race.
South Carolina can be very warm in the summer. Okay, South Carolina is always very warm in the summer. While a large portion of training for this race took place in the hot weather the decrease of humidity is a welcome relief. Most South Carolina Octobers are not exceptionally cool either. (This year is an exception of course.) This race is very well timed.

2. Expo
Of course, the expo is nothing like the San Francisco marathon but if I compared the two I would be comparing apples and oranges. Instead I’ll compare this year’s expo and last years. Last year I didn’t know what to expect yet was still underwhelmed. There were a few vendors but nothing that really stood out. This year I could tell that the Greenville Track Club had done an excellent job recruiting vendors. There weren’t any free samples (not a requirement but I really like them :D) but all the vendors were enthusiastic and not too pushy either.

3. The start/finish line
I love that Spinx is based around Flour Field. Having the start at the baseball stadium provides actual bathrooms and this year a place to stand out of the wind. The finish is also incredible inspiring because the finish is near home plate. The concourse is also an excellent place to set up the vendors for the expo or the food, water other other post-race amenities.

4. The general location of the race
This one is personal. I love the fact that my first marathon was in my hometown. It made a huge difference not having to drive a long time to the start or not to have to fly somewhere in order to race.

Cons

Before I get into them I want to stress that I really do like Spinx but that every race has flaws that could be improved. I think one of the reasons that I’m writing this post at all (I’ve never written a post like this before) is because I do care so much about this race. It was after all my first half-marathon last year and my first marathon this year.

1. Staffing at the water stations
I know that the race organizers depend on volunteers for this. Some years you’ll get this but others you won’t. With the exception of a couple water stations the support was lackluster. In fact, at one station there were only 2 people there. I know that was running towards the back of the pack (I’ll talk about this a little more later too) but I believe that back of the pack runners are the ones that could profit the most from tremendous spectator support.

2. Placement of the gels
Spinx offered gels at miles 13, 15, and 17. The logic behind spacing these stations at the middle of the race only 2 mile apart escapes me. The consequence was that by the time I reached mile 13 only 2 gels remained. Once I passed that station had no gels to offer the 50 or so runners behind me. There were gels available at the other two stations and I didn’t stop to ask about the supply. I assume that most runners took the gel at mile 13 and not at the others. (I took one at all 3 with 1 left over after the race to use later.) Perhaps these stations could have been situated 3 miles apart or come a little earlier or a little later in the race? I’m not sure what would have best.

3. The course, specifically the Swamp Rabbit Trail
Don’t get me wrong. The trail was beautiful with falling leaves and changing colors. I loved running on the trail for the half marathon but we weren’t on it that long. I think 40-60% of the marathon is on the trail. The consequence is a dearth of spectators for several miles with the exception of intersections and water stations. I suppose if this had been an unfamiliar trail it wouldn’t have been as off-putting for me. Instead, this trail was one I trained on by myself. In the early miles when I was running by myself (before I caught up to James and Rachel) it felt like a glorified training run and that really messed with my head.

4. The post-race food
Before the race and just after the finish I looked forward to an excellent selection of food. I knew from previous experience that there was quite a variety. I was sorely disappointed when I got to the top of the stairs and saw a couple boxes of bananas and a couple boxes of sandwiches. In addition to that I saw no volunteers in that area. I ended up getting nothing post race. (I hate bananas post-race and I just didn’t want the half of a sandwich.) My problem with this is the fact that I finished an hour before the course closed. I think it’s reasonable to expect the same selections for the marathon that all the half-marathoners and faster marathoners receive. (One review of the half-marathon I read gave glowing reviews to the post-race food. Too bad I didn’t finish 2 hours sooner.)

5. Lack of chip timing
I’m very thankful for my Garmin. Without my Garmin I wouldn’t have known that I actually finished just under 5 hours. My gun time was 5:00:54. I waited patiently for the chip times to be released. When I went back to check I saw that both the 5k and the half-marathon had chip times but the marathon did not. I gave it a little more time but nothing else was updated so I posed the question on the Greenville Track Club Facebook page. The answer? Since there were so few marathon runners it would have been too expensive. Seriously? This is the thing that upset me the most. All of the races used the same finish line and start line. How hard would it have been to use chip times for the marathon. Those people put a whole lot more training into their race than everyone else, plus they paid more.

This entry is getting very long so I’ll bring it to a close here. I don’t think I will run a Spinx Run Fest race again but not because I hate the course and the organizers. It’s simply because there are so many races that I want to run that repeating a less than spectacular race doesn’t seem worthwhile.

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