Having run 13 different such races in 10 different states, I'd say I'm qualified to post about this subject. All RRs are posted on the side with the exception of Seaside and Memphis, which were done in 2007 before I started this blog. I have no plans to race in all 50 states but would like to hit at least 25 and have joined the site http://www.half2run.com/ for that purpose. This subject will be re-visited in the future. Let me start out with the superlatives:
Best fans: No doubt. Fargo, North Dakota all the way. Spectators braved temps in the 30s (fairly warm for them) and were out at almost every turn screaming encouragement.
Best medal: Banco Popular Chicago. Long black ribbon and nice looking gold medal with the city skyline.
Best cause- Bar none, Memphis St. Jude. No comments needed.
Best expo- Split decision here. You could spend a whole day in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome browsing through all those vendors but in Huntsville, I scored a deal on $10 running shorts and though small, it had just about all I wanted.
Best organization: Toss up here as well. Mercedes has been flawless every year but it's hard to top Huntsville with the expo and host hotel literally out the door from the start/finish line.
Best prestige: Eugene, Oregon. My first marathon running in the footsteps of legends such as Prefontaine and the course has since been changed to a finish on the track at Heyward Field. Wow. I wished I had waited to run this one but I couldn't think of a better place for my debut.
Best scenery: Lots of good ones in this category. I liked the lakeside views in CDA, Chicago and Baton Rouge as well as the city streets of Atlanta. The winner is Memphis because of its variety. It's a mix of residential, riverside, parks and city views.
Best schwag: Mercedes by far. Cool finishers shirt and it's been either a hat or cotton t-shirt for signing up and of course, who can forget that iconic medal with the Mercedes emblem?
1. Mercedes Birmingham- Yes, I'm probably biased because it's my home race but again, organization is flawless, schwag is terrific and I've also enjoyed the beer and barbeque indoors afterwards. The course is not particularly scenic but has its highlights and is flat enough to be a PR course.
2. Memphis St. Jude- Probably the most fun I've ever had in a race and my time of 1:48 was a massive PR at the time. Scenery is great and the organization is very good not to mention that you can't beat the cause. I hope to run this again soon.
3. Baton Rouge Beach- This selection could be controversial because I've heard that the full marathon is poorly supported but I had a terrific experience in the half. Great scenic course that included the LSU campus, lakeside areas and upscale residential areas. The fact that I PR'd and placed in my age group likely colors my view of this race.
1. Country Music Nashville- Just an all around bad day for me. It has a good medal and the post-race concert was a nice touch. However, it was very pricey from the race entry, hotel and shuttle. It didn't help either that I melted down in humid conditions and had to walk/jog the last 2 miles. The sports drink Cytomax was the culprit. What's wrong with Gatorade? Up to this point, I had been very lucky with my health on race day but luck ran out on this day. If you need Tennessee, run Memphis and skip this one.
2. Run for Life in Madison, MS- Good schwag and fans but several upsetting details. I placed in my age group but there were no awards. Also, the course had been advertised as flat but the first 6 miles were rolling and there was a monster hill in Mile 12 and another in Mile 13. The course may have been long as well and it didn't help that I injured my knee here. Tupelo and MS Blues in Jackson are likely better options in the state of Miss'Sippy.
3. Coeur d'Alene- Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I went here to race. It's a beautiful area and the course was scenic and fairly flat. However, I cannot excuse the fact that by the RD's own admission, the half course was long by .2 miles yet times were not adjusted. If I was going for a NYC qualifier and missed it by less than a minute, I'd be extremely angry. Decent medal but expo was minimal and shirt was lame. If you're looking for a nice area with outdoor activities and are not concerned about your time, by all means run this one.
Middle of the pack:
I did not mention these two in superlatives or worst overall so here goes.
Seaside- Worth doing but not as scenic or as flat as expected but it hold special significance because it was my debut half. Probably better options in Florida.
Scenic City- Chattanooga- Does not rate on the same level as Memphis but it's also worth doing. Well organized but does not have all the bells and whistles of a large race. Medal was a bit weak but in a small race, I'll cut some slack. Good scenery in a course that was moderately difficult but does not preclude a PR.