Sunday, January 29, 2012

Race 13 Callaway Gardens Half Marathon

The Day Before

Since the Callaway Half was on Sunday, we decided to head down on Saturday to visit FDR’s Little White House in Warms Springs, Georgia.  It was only a few miles away from Callaway.  Not only did we see the museum, watch a film, walk the grounds, we also got to go inside the Little White House.  I learned a lot from this visit. 

This is the portrait that was being painted when FDR had his stroke. 

After leaving there we drove through FDR State Park.  It’s about 9,000 acres with more than 40 miles of trails – must come back and hike this someday!

Hotel Check In

Callaway Gardens is about 13,000 acres and they have multiple places to stay – and they are not close to each other.  I was naïve about being able to find our place once we arrived on the grounds.  It took 10-15 (and that was with directions) miles to finally get to our place.  In checking in I had to sign this document acknowledging rate, check out day,…  pretty standard stuff.  However, I notice this little blurb at the bottom:  Fees if you are late checking out:  15 minutes late - $75.00, 30 minutes late - $100.00…  What!?  So I ask for a late checkout, hoping to come back to the room and shower after the half.  The guy tells me he can’t do that because he does not know their schedule in the morning.  Um, okay, how do I go about requesting a late checkout?  Told me "call in the morning and they’ll be able to tell me".  I told him, “I’ll be up really early, like 4:30 AM”.  He said "no problem, just give them a call".  Hmmm, okay.

Also, although their website advertised that you can get the "Fitness Series" room rate, it was exactly the same rate that anyone could get online.  Hmmm...

Pasta Dinner

We were underwhelmed with the local dining options in Pine Mountain, so we just decided to have the pasta dinner on the grounds at Callaway.  I had received a one line email a few days earlier from them, it simply said:

Callaway Gardens will host a pasta dinner Saturday evening at the Mountain Creek Inn.  Pay at the door

Little did we know that we would enjoy this incredibly under-planned, no one seems to have a clue, what else could go wrong,… pasta dinner!  Honest, the comedy value of what we witnessed was great.  It almost like what a pasta bar might be if it was planned by the Three Stooges, George Costanza, and Kramer!   They could not do anything right.  I do not know if they just did not plan properly, if they did not schedule enough people, if they’ve never done this before,…  People were leaving left & right, they would have everything on the pasta bar except plates, someone would bring it to their attention, they’d smile and say, "they’re bringing plates out right now".  But they didn’t.  So folks who already had plates (prior servings) would come up to the line and get more pasta.  By the time the plates got put out, the pasta was gone for the people who were waiting for plates!  And it would be 15-20 minutes for more pasta to come out – and then something else, like sauce would be out.  This went on for an hour and a half!  We were beginning to think that this was for the TV show Punk’d or something like it.  Don’t get me wrong – the staff folks were great – polite, respectful – this was not their fault.  My wife and I both agreed watching this happen was funnier than anything we could have watched on the TV back in the room!

Morning of the Race

Woke up around 4:00 AM to a super clear sky and 33 degrees.  Made coffee in the room, ate my race day morning bagel and decided take advantage of the Pine Mountain (very little light pollution) clear sky.  The other day I posted about the Star Walk app – and I did have my iPad with me.  It was fantastic!  Located Mars and saw & identified all the stars in the Big Dipper.  Although at 33 degrees, did not stay outside too long doing this.  But it was a good clear sky. 

So it’s about 5:00 AM by this point, so instead of calling down to the front desk about that late checkout, I just decided to walk over.  The woman at the front desk tells me, “oh I can’t do that for you, I’m from the night shift, you have to wait to 7:00 when the morning shift comes in”.   I told her that the guy at check-in said this would be no problem at 4:30 AM for you to do this.  So now I’m thinking, after the Three Stooges, George Costanza, and Kramer designed the Pasta Bar, they must have moved on to develop the "Avoid giving the customer a late checkout" procedure!  

The Race

They had the start set up right next to this very large tent structure where we picked up our bib, ankle bracelet, shirt the day before.  It was warmer inside than the 33 degrees outside, so most folks made their way into the tent.  It was nice in there.  Some guy, probably the RD, started making some announcements inside the tent.  The one that got my attention – “Callaway does not allow portalets on the property”.  Their instructions went on to tells that we will be passing some buildings while going through  the 13,000 acres, and it is possible that they might have a bathroom in it.  They will not be marked .  So, pretty much we have to search around and/or look inside buildings to see if there might be a bathroom.  The absolute first thought that came into my head – after the Three Stooges, George Costanza, and Kramer designed the other two things mentioned earlier, they designed the porta-potty strategy for the races!!!

And we were off!  My guess, there were maybe 400-500 people doing the race.  So except for the very beginning, it was never crowded.   Oh yeah, I did find one of those bathrooms the guy mentioned, but when I got to the door, it had a note on it:

As far as the actual course, it was a magnificently beautiful!  For me, it had the perfect amount of rolling hills.  I am glad I had the opportunity to do this half marathon. 

The Medal

I was just looking at the medal we got after finishing the race.  I noticed that it was peeling a little bit, so I peeled it back a bit more.  These are recycled medals.  Wow – is it ever cheap!  I guess after the Three Stooges, George Costanza, and Kramer designed all of those other things, they worked on the race medals.  My medal had four round stick-on stickers on it: 

click to enlarge

1st layer:  Callaway Gardens 5K  3rd Place   Age Group Winner
2nd layer:  Carrollton Triathlon  3rd Place  Age Group Winner
3rd layer:  Callaway Gardens Sprint Triathlon 3rd Place Age Group Winner
4th layer:  Callaway Gardens Half-Marathon  

Garmin Stats:

Average Heart Rate: 132, 80% of max for ~3 hours
Average Speed:  4.6 mph;  Pace: 13:07
Time: 2:52

Edit 2/7/2012:  For another perspective on this race, you can also read Drew's race report over on


  1. Hilarious! I did the full yesterday saw some craziness like running out of water and not having anything other than a large sized shirt when I went to packet pick up (pet peeve, why ask me my size when I register if you aren't going to guarantee I get one?). Other than that beautiful course! Makes me want to peel off my medal to see what is underneath. :)

    1. Karen - I know what you mean about the shirts, how difficult can it be? I volunteered for the Thanksgiving Atlanta Half - giving out shirts the day before. It was a disaster, they ran out (didn't receive, order messed up, who knows what/why???) of women's M and L, with thousands still to pick them up. (wished I would have volunteered for a different job :)

  2. I want to peel off my medal too, because mine looks nothing like yours! Mine is a medallion with three cut out stars on the right, and a black ribbon. Hilarious!

    1. Interesting... and that was for the half or did you do the full?

      Sad part, I usually donate my medals to - but this one is well, ummm,...

    2. I didn't know about medals4mettle, so I checked them out. Turns out there's a chapter right here! Thanks for the lead!

  3. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your race and the setting at Callaway Gardens for Sunday's competition.

    I wanted to let you know that yesterday I shared your blog with other members of the Leadership Team so that the issues with misinformation can be corrected for future events. We do have several new team members who need to know more about the Fitness Series and its unique set of circumstances.

    With regards to the restroom facilities, the sign which you posted was a situation that ocurred Sunday morning. The event organizer checked all facilities on the route on Saturday and they were operational...we apologize for this inconvenience.

    To address your concerns and comments on the multiple stickers on your medallion, please know that when overages occur with medals they are going to be used at a later date with the current race information. This isn't a medallion "used" or awarded to a previous is an un-used medallion. While we apologize that your sticker wasn't adhered properly to the medallion, the re-purposing of the medallion for another race is being a good steward of resources. In keeping with Callaway Gardens' non-profit mission of environmental education and land stewardship, re-purposing these medals keeps them from going into the landfill and keeps costs down so that the costs for you the participant are lower. I have made the suggestion to see if previous stickers can be removed in such situations. I love that you donate your medals to - sounds like a great organization.

    You mentioned the Fitness Series Rate being the same as anyone can get...I think you'll find that the case only becuase it is the slower Winter months. The rate will be much more of a deal when it is warmer outside.

    We do hope that you continue to visit and enjoy Callaway Gardens for the Fitness Series or any of the events, activities and seasons that make the Gardens such a special place.

    We wish you luck and safety with your future races and endeavors.

    1. Thank you for the reply. Hopefully next year you will be able to improve the overall management of the event. You might want to consider contacting the folks who put on the Museum of Aviation Marathon/Half Marathon in Warner Robins, Georgia, earlier in January. I had the opportunity to do that race also. They are also a non-profit (I think it supports the Museum?) and their participant count is similar to yours. They put on a very good race, well supported, provided nice medals, arranged to have portalets on the course (this is important for the hundreds of people who are hydrating in preparation for the event), and they charged about 27% less than you did for the entry fee (for the half marathon). They seem to be able to make it all work, for them and for us - maybe they could share some insights with your leadership team. Good luck with your races in the future!