A TWO-PART ENTRY:
PART 1 – When the ING Georgia Marathon was first held in 2007, there were horror stories of hot weather, and a lack of on-course aid stations. When you put those two things together, it can spell disaster on race day. In general, it seemed hard to find anyone who had anything nice to say about the race’s debut.
Over the next three years, ING and the race’s local organizers continued to hone the event. By 2010, when I first ran the full marathon, it seemed (at least from this runner’s point-of-view) that the race was running as smoothly as possible. The grumbling had subsided, it seemed. (Unless, of course, you were Tesfaye Sendeku, who was disqualified after he thought he had won.) Then, ING announced it was ending the sponsorship to focus its attention on other more “high profile” marathons, such as New York.
Five years after that inaugural race, Publix grocery stores emerged as the new sponsor for this past weekend’s 2011 marathon. Publix signed a three-year contract through the 2013 race. Like every sporting event, a new corporate sponsor is automatically put into the sometimes unfair position of having to prove itself worthy of the role before it can be trusted.
This was the case with Publix, an 81-year-old chain based in Lakeland, Florida. There are many factors that go into staging an event such as a marathon. In truth, very few of those factors can be controlled by the sponsor. US Road Sports & Entertainment Group does most of the dirty work for the Georgia Marathon & Half Marathon. However, if that behind-the-scenes work goes wrong, it’s the sponsor who usually finds itself in the cross-hairs of the critics.
As race day approached, I found myself wondering if the change of title sponsor was going to have any impact on the actual marathon. After all, the race was truly all that mattered. It was nice that Publix had set up a mini grocery store on the floor of the Georgia Dome during the pre-race expo and handed out free food samples, pushing its line of Greenwise products. However, once the gun went off to start the race at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, none of that would matter.
It seemed unlikely that there would be any issues, but you can never tell when it comes to these sort of things. I’m pleased to say, from my personal perspective, Publix proved itself to be worthy of its new role. Once on the course, every aid station was packed with well-coordinated volunteers handing out Gatorade, water, bananas, orange wedges and GU gels. I stuck with my plan of grabbing a small cup of Gatorade at almost every station to maintain my sodium levels. I had packed my own GUs, but it was good to know they were available, if needed.
One of the few glitches I saw was at the mile marker points. A handful of the timing clocks weren’t working for some reason. I had my own watch so that wasn’t much of a concern for me. However, if you were relying on the clocks for your pace, this could have been very annoying.
And while I didn’t count them all, it seemed to me that there were actually more aid stations than there were in the 2010 race. I could be wrong, but I never once reached a point during the race where I was thinking “man, how far until my next cup of Gatorade?” In fact, I even skipped the station on the campus of Agnes Scott College because I was starting to feel that I had drank too much. As I told one of the race’s marketing directors soon after I crossed the finish line, “it’s always better to have too many aid stations, than not enough.”
(Note: I was disappointed that Agnes Scott was so tame this year. In 2010, the college turned out in full force with bands playing, etc. This year, there were only a handful of people at the aid station. Spring Break, I guess.)
The only other real issue I heard about concerned volunteers at the finish area stuffing the bags of the early finishers full of food, leading to a shortage of food for later finishing runners. A friend of mine wrote about it here. I met some friends after the race and didn’t have to worry about the food being handed out. I didn’t experience any of this so I can’t really say what caused the problem.
Lastly, one thing that can often get overlooked at a race are the finisher’s medals. Everybody loves bling and this year’s marathon medal didn’t disappoint. Here’s a picture of it from another friend’s blog.
PART 2 (my personal race report) will follow soon.