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May 19, 2013

Great Lakes Bay Half Marathon review

Short Version:

Finished in 1:50:08(official time); no new PR
Overall place: 64/346
Split time at 5.5 miles:  40:11 (too fast)
Overall pace:  8:25/mile
Overall men:  46/143
Age Group(M40-44): 4/27
Race #44
Half Marathon #14(half #3 in 2013)
Overall, we had good weather but a little warmer than many would like.  The entire race overall was well organized, very nice tech shirt, awesome design on the medal, one of the nicer courses I've run for the half and a home plate stadium finish.  What more could you ask for?  This is one that needs to be on your list.


Registration/Packet Pickup
Registration was very easy and since I was a race ambassador for the race, the race director just set me up in registration.  There were options to mail in your registration or sign up on Active so things were very simple regardless.

My wife and I decided to make it a weekend so we headed to packet pickup the day before race day to get it at the Curling Center in Midland.  It's next to the community center.  We had a little GPS issue but got there with little problems.  This was the perfect size building for the layout of the race.
Packet pickup in Midland
Packet pickup building
As we entered the building, we were greeted with the race information and the sponsors.
Dow races were 10k, 5k, kids run(on Saturday), half & full(on Sunday)
As you can see, there was great organization here with packet pick up and also if you wanted to register for a race here, you could still do so since it stopped on Thursday online.
Large area for packet pickup/registration
As we made our way into the packet pickup, there was a table for other local races.  Since we are not local, I could not see coming up here unless it was for a half or a full marathon but it's nice to see the other races working well together.
Other race information - Love these tables - great information for runners
We were able to walk right up with no waiting.  I gave the volunteer my name and age and she went and got the packet.  One thing I really liked about this is that the packets were all ready to go with your bib, shirt and goodies in it.  I know it's tough to do this for a really large race(and needs many volunteer hours) but this race was less than 1000 runners and it made things easier for the runners.  Of course, it also prevented shirts from being given away to last minute registrations which is what happened to me at my last race.  Overall the packet picket was perfect - in and out!
Pick up - ready to go!
The race even had random prizes for some of the runners.  I was lucky enough to get picked for a $25 gift certificate at the local running store.  What a great idea and a nice surprise for any runner running this race.
Prizes!! Yeah!
I also got an opportunity to meet the race director, Greg Roan.  He was the one to thank for putting all the races together(with the awesome volunteers of course).  A very tough race to direct given the two days of racing and he did a great job in my opinion.
Greg Roen, the Race Director
Before we walked out, there was also a wall of the maps of the races and all the race times.  Look at all those races!
Wall with race map and start times
If you were running the full marathon, they had a pace team out there which is a nice feature to have if you are looking to meet a certain time.  I've run with pacers in the past and they are a great way to keep you from going out too fast like I did.
You could run with paces in the full
There were also a few vendors selling their merchandise.  A fairly small expo but then I would not expect it to be large given the number of runners.
Small expo with some local companies
Since I won a gift certificate, after we left packet pickup, we stopped by Runners in Midland and I picked up a new water bottle to run with.  It was also nice to see another running store in Michigan and they were very friendly and helpful.
Runner's Store in Midland
Start Area
The start of the races were at Dow Diamond in Midland.  This is an awesome and unique place to start and finish a race.  Of course, Dow was a main sponsor of the race, given they are headquartered here.  Having the ballpark open to the runners was a real treat.  I've not gone to a baseball game here but it looks like it would be a great time and worth another trip to see a game.  It's a very nice structure.
Dow Diamond - Home of the Loons
Here's a close up of the entrance.  You go up a flight of stairs through the gates.
Dow Diamond entrance
When you got upstairs, the race had packet pickup set up here as well so if you could not make it the day before, you could come the morning of and pick it up.  ALL races(except majors) should have both pre-race day pickup and race day pickup just in case you are not able to get in the area the day before and was happy to see they provided both.   I could have gone the day of but thought it would be nice to get away for the night.
Race Day pickup
We also were able to get a sneak preview of the finish line right on home plate.  It made it so exciting to be able to see the finish so you knew what to look forward to at the end of the race.

A chance to see our home plate finish line - very cool!
As we came around to the back of the ballpark, I snapped a picture so you could get an idea of the ballpark and how nice it is.  Very well kept.  In fact, so much so, I'm surprised they allowed us to run on it.
The stadium before the race start
Since I arrived early enough, I got a chance to see the wheelers start.  Here's a picture just before they started.  If you have not ever seen the wheelers start, it's very inspiring to see them out there.
Wheelers getting ready
Wheelers are started
Five minutes after the wheelers started, the marathoners were on their way.  They started at 7:30am and the half marathoners started at 8am.  Frankly, given the size of the races, I didnt understand why they just didn't have both the full and half runners go at the same time.  It would have been nice to start a little earlier given the heat and it would not have effected many runners since it was a smaller race.  There were 191 total marathoners and 346 half marathoners per the timing company's results.
Full marathon starting
Regardless, at 8am, we were ready to start.  You can see there were more half marathoners than full marathoners and, in my opinion, it was nice to start in a race where you didn't feel overpowered by people.
Runners behind me at the half start
Based on how I ended up, I probably should have been back slightly but the crowd thinned out after about a half mile as you will see in the pictures below. 

Runners in front ready to run
Loved it!  It's my kind of course.  I love a loop course.  I like out and back.  This course sort of had both.  I love running over bridges and a stadium finish is the best you can ask for on a race finish.  There are a couple country roads out there too which I enjoy but some people may not.  I felt like I was there for my normal Sunday run with a few hundred of my closest friends.
Map per Garmin
Here's my splits.  I'm sure you can see the huge problem here.  Why did I go out so fast, I have no idea.  There was no way I was going to hold an under 7:30 pace.  Of course, you can see what happens when you go out too fast - you finish really slow.  Oh, well!  Live and learn.  I will also say that the start was close to sixty and it was probably in the seventies when I finished so thats pretty warm for a half but it is almost June so it's expected to be warm.
Splits per Garmin
This chart tells it all.  My pace suffered but not because of hills.  Check out the elevation.  A fairly flat course overall.

TIming/Elevation per Garmin
Note:  When I take pictures during the race, I don't change my pace or stop in the interest of safety.  I just keep running and I get what I can get from the pictures.  Some come out better than others but they give you a great idea what the course is like.

As we started our run, we took a little run around the stadium so the first part was a little congested but not bad at all.
A run around the stadium to start
Once we got about a half mile out, as you can see below, there was not as many running by me so it made for a really nice start to the day not having to fight with slower paces out there in the beginning.  People seemed to line up where they should have been lined up.
Little hill here - this was the largest hill right at the start but was down hill fairly quick
It's a little hard to see but below you can see the bridge right in the middle that we will eventually run across near the finish.  A great view of the river.
One of our prizes near the end in the background - an incredible bridge called the Tridge to run over
You can see the race had a lane baracaded off for us.  There was not much traffic given it was Sunday morning at 8am so you didn't really need to worry about it too much.  There were a couple places where traffic had to be stopped but overall, traffic was a non issue for the entire race.
Mile 1 - already done and getting warm!
We were already starting to get into the country within the second mile. as you can see below.
Long stretch of road in the beginning
Mile 2
Getting into the country neighborhood
Mile 3 here we come
More running in the country
You should also note that I came in 68th place so there were not tons of people running ahead of me.  I know it looks like there are hardly any around me but there was always a couple runners nearby along with the occasional spectator.  If you need lots of support from crowds, you won't like this race.  There is great support at the aid stations and a few residents here and there but overall, it's a very quite race.
Mile 4
More country roads - very nice and beautiful area
It was nice to hit mile five and finally get a little shade.  This road provided some nice relief from the sun for a little bit.
Mile 5 with some sun relief
The course did a nice job having port-o-potties at strategic locations and, while I didn't use them, it's nice that they were there.
Port o potty on course - back in the sun
Mile 6 with beautiful country roads
Some great volunteers supporting the race
This with where @tbitz passed me; he's in the yellow and killed it out there with a 1:40:23
One of the best parts of the course were on the paved trails which started about mile 7 into the race and they took you almost the rest of the the way to the finish line.
Onto the paved trail
Mile 7 on the trail - I love the curves of the trail
The trails are beautiful - the locals are blessed
More trails in the sun
More port-o-potties - the race was well prepared
Back on the trail
One of the great things of running on the trails is that you get the occasional treat like running over this wooden bridge.  It's nothing fancy but it's the little things when you are out there racing that keep you going.
Wooden bridge on the trails - love this part
Mile 8 and some shade thankfully
The gravel road was an out and back portion of the race which was needed to get their 13.1 miles in.  This was a great design by the race director because he had the ability to adjust the track here so the turnaround would be just right for a proper distance.  One of my biggest pet peeves is not getting to 13.1 and this course came in a 13.14 on my Garmin and you can't get much better than that.
A little out and back on a gravel road
Mile 9 and coming off the gravel

Mile 10, heading back(from the out and back)
After about mile 10, you end up back on the trails again which I love.  It's a beautiful area to run.  They kind of feel like the area where I train.
Back on the trails which are an excellent resource for the area
Mile 11
More wooden bridges - heaven
While I'm sure it was not planned by the race, it was nice to run here where they were practicing baseball.  It was nice to get your mind off of running and moving towards the finish.
Baseball practice next to the trail
Mile 12
This was one of the best areas to finish up the race.  These bridges are a jewel in the area called the Tridge.  I just wish I had something like this to run across daily on my training runs.  This was spectacular.  It was one of my favorite parts of the entire race.
One of the best bridges I've ever run across
Another view - incredible
View after we are off the bridge and still running
While you can't see it, this was a nice run past the river and under a road.  It was landscaped very nice and not what you would expect under a bridge like this.
Heading back to the finish - this is along the water
Ah finally, I was getting close to the finish line.
Close to Dow Diamond
This was another great and unique part to the race.  How often can you say you finished a race on home plate?  You felt incredible coming into the stadium here because you could hear the announcer calling off names.
Coming into Dow Diamond - feeling like a rock star
When I got in, I didn't expect to be running around in the outfield.  It was a very special finish and while there are many reasons to run this course, this is probably the best reason.
Run around in the outfield
Here I am coming down the out of bounds line and into the third base line towards that home plate finish.  The guy in the picture below was reading off bib numbers so the announcer could call your name.  It makes for a very special ending to your race - very personalized
Almost to the finish ahead
Finish straight
Aid Stations
These are only a couple pictures of the aid stations but there were plenty of them and they were stocked with water, GU Brew, GU, pretzels.  I even saw rice krispy treats -ha!  A great bunch of volunteers at all the aid stations and they has some high school kids that did a great job cheering you on.
Very supportive
Band playing
Finish area
After you cross the finish line, a volunteer handed you your medal and you could grab a water.  There was also room to stretch if you needed to which I did badly.  If you had family that came to watch you finish, they could sit in the stands and see you finish the race.

Around the corner was a tunnel leading out of the stadium where they had the food set up.  As you can see, they had all  kinds of treats to pick from including, granola bars, pretzels, bagels, even sandwiches. They also had orange slices, apple slices, bananas, water and GU Brew.  A really well stocked finish line food area.  Plenty of food and also plenty of volunteers to help you if needed.
Lots of food to choose
Lots of fruit as well
As I was eating my bagel, I looked up and saw Andrea.  We talked for a few minutes about the race and then got a quick picture together on the field.
Finally caught up with Andrea at the finish
For your race entry, you received a semi-closed, supported course with a good design.  You received a goodie bag shown below which is nice and showed the races on both sides of the bag.  There were some freebies in there too.  I was fortunate enough to win a $25 gift certificate but the race also had many other prizes to give away as well.  In addition, you received a tech race shirt which happens to be one of my favorites. I'm not a huge white shirt fan but this has a nice green part to it as well on the sides and has a really great race logo on the front.  It's one that I'm sure I will wear in training all the time.

The medal - OMG!  I love this design.  It's a high quality medal and looks really nice.  I love the bronze color and the simple design of it.  If you ran the full, you received a silver medal which was larger too.  It's one of my favorite medals I've received for the half marathon showing Michigan off.  Very nice.
Nice cinch bag - nice color too.
Back of cinch bag
Great design of shirt - love the green on the side too
Medal with colorful ribbon
Medal - Front

Medal back
$25 gift card
My purchase with the gift card
The organization was very good.  The race director did a good job getting back to me on any questions.  They had a Facebook page as well that you could get information from and they responded promptly on it.  There were several e-mails from the race director with instructions for the race and they also had a website.  I do think they could take advantage of their website more next year and make sure to include all information on it.  Many people sign up because they want the medal but it's not mentioned on the website.  My suggestion is to show this years so people know.  Race day packet pickup was decided about a month out from the race.  That needs to be in there months in advance to get more runners signing up.  Some runners will come if they can pick up that day only but getting all this information to the runners is key and the website and Facebook is key to that.

The medal company they used made a date error on the medal ribbon but the race promptly alerted the runners they would be mailing a new ribbon to everyone when they come in.   Frankly, I didn't even notice it until they e-mailed us letting us know they were sorry for the error.  It just goes to show you the class the race director/staff has and that they are concerned with keeping their runners happy.  I note this as a positive experience and not one the race could have controlled but took control when they could.

Overall, though, the organization in packet pickup, race day, and communication was great which made for a great race experience.

So the big question is, would I do this race again?  Absolutely I would do the race again.  It's a great course, good variety of finish line food, awesome shirt and medal, good organization and a home plate stadium finish.  So as you look next year for races to try, I recommend this be a race that you consider.  I personally had a great time with it and happy that I was involved in it this year.
Completion - Half #14
Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Note:  I received a complimentary race entry in exchange for this race review.  All opinions on this review are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.


  1. Love your blog! While I am only a short distant runner (5k) and a long distant walker - I walked the half in this race - I totally agree with your comments! Loved the course; great volunteers; great supporters at the water stations. The one thing that I disliked about the course was the turn-around. HATE turnarounds, but I guess I would rather do it than end up short on mileage. I also hit a wall about mile 11, and that sidewalk leading into the stadium went on forever! But it was nice to see people who had already finished wearing their medals along that stretch offering support and motivation, as well as more volunteers giving encouragement. Loved the finish around the outfield and crossing homeplate! Definitely planning on doing this race again.

  2. Looks like a really cool course! Did anyone slide into the home plate finish haha
    Good job out there in hot is tough to keep it going when you start out too fast but you held it together, way to go.

  3. I'm definitely going to have to put this on my radar for next year, looks like a good one and we have family in the area. Congrats on another half!

  4. Glad you had a nice race! Surprised at the small turnout for a race so well advertised. I think the high fees scared some people off. Can't do 90 to 100 for a half in addition to long drive. I would definately consider if fee was less...

  5. I love that this finish line was on a baseball field! SO cool! Looks like a fun did great!

  6. Congratulations on your finish & thanks for the review I will definitely keep this one in mind for next year. Does the Run/Walk on Saturday end on the field as well? Always looking for "fun" 5K's for my oldest...

  7. Thanks for the awesome and thorough recap -I feel like I was there! I LOVE your pictures -what camera are you using on the run to take them?? So impressed.

    I think you've convinced me to do this race next year. Though the quietness of the course is a little scary, I know I can handle it! The trails and bridges all luck so great!

    Congrats on a great race!

    1. A Panasonic Lumix point and shoot. Takes practice to run and shoot clearly.

  8. Great job in the race, Jeff! Looks like it was a nice course and well organized. That's awesome that you won the gift card too!

  9. Great recap! Looks like it was a lovely course - I might have to add this one to my race calendar next year. And nice job on getting clear, focused photos while running!