The BMW Dallas Marathon is officially in my top three favorite races. I honestly have nothing but positive things to say about my experience with this race, which is rare for me because I am excellent in identifying issues. Every part of this race, though, from the expo to the post-race finish area was executed perfectly. I want to share how things went down for me at the race. But first, I want to share all of the things I loved about the marathon itself, because I hope it’s a race that you consider running in the future. This is going to be an abnormally long post, so thank you for indulging me in my full BMW Dallas Marathon review.
The Dallas Marathon Expo
We got to the expo mid-afternoon on Saturday, and picking up my bib and t-shirt took a collective 3 minutes. They had plenty of volunteers, and everything was incredibly organized, so there were no lines for either area. I will say that the expo was fairly quiet at the time that we got there, but it was all laid out so efficiently that it seemed like it would operate smoothly no matter how many runners there were. The number of vendors at the expo was very reasonable; there were enough to explore and grab a few goodies without feeling like you were trying to escape the labyrinth. Picking up a last minute item like fuel, a hat, or Body Glide would have been no problem. Runners also had the opportunity to meet and greet the pacer captains, which is awesome for runners who plan on sticking with a pacing group.
What I really appreciated, though, was the dedicated kids area. The expo organizers included a bouncy house obstacle course for kids to run through, and it was great. I love being able to share the race experience with my 6 year old, and having little things like this included just helps him enjoy the sport even more. Samuel Adams is one of the races main sponsors, and they also had a nice area set up with a complimentary bar and patio games. The boys played cornhole and connect four while my husband and I shared a beer, for electrolytes of course. Overall, I’d say this was the BEST expo I have seen, and it was perfectly executed.
Staying in Downtown Dallas
My husband booked a hotel downtown near the expo and start, and I’d have to say I really recommend that anyone running this race do the same. My mom lives driving distance to the race, and she booked herself a room downtown as well to avoid the road closures and race day traffic. This is a HUGE race, and it gets really hectic downtown. I will say the organizers do a great job guiding traffic, and it seemed like there were a lot of parking options, but being able to use a real restroom and then hop down to the start is a convenience that doesn’t have a price tag in my opinion.
We chose to stay at the Residence Inn down town, and I’d HIGHLY recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a reasonably priced accommodation. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the complimentary breakfast has so many options, and the indoor pool and gym are very nice. When I looked at hotel rates, the Residence Inn was booking at $155, which is super reasonable for an event weekend. We used points, but I would have gladly paid full price.
The hotel is less than a quarter mile from the start and finish, and less than half a mile to the expo location. Valet parking can be fairly pricey at $32 a night, but there are several overnight lots that are much cheaper but do not offer in and out privileges. We chose to self-park and just walk everywhere for most of the weekend. With the hotel being downtown, we had plenty of options for lunch and dinner. There’s also a Starbucks on the corner, which is not unusual, but certainly convenient for caffeine addicts like myself.
Once again, the starting coral is something that the Dallas Marathon executes just right. In order to be seeded in coral A, women need to have a verified marathon completion of four hours or less. I believe there is also an approved half-marathon time, but I couldn’t find that information on the marathon website. The coral A entries are well monitored, which I appreciate, so that you don’t spend the first mile weaving through runners.
A short video was played on a large monitor right before the start, and it was really inspiring. A few fireworks pop after the countdown, and it honestly just feels like such a well thought out and special event. Usually I hate being stuck in the sea of people that are involved in marathon starts, but the coral moved quickly and I wasn’t standing around for a long period of time, which as so nice.
Dallas Marathon Race Course Highlights
The race is very well spectated, and most of the course is incredibly scenic. The crowds are great, and I noticed that there were so many people cheering on the more difficult sections of the race, which is always really nice. It starts at 8:30am, which is much later than most races I’ve done in the past. The late start is nice in terms of not having to wake up at a ridiculous time to get on the course, but it can mean a later (and warmer) finish than other races.
The race is profiled as “roller,” and starts on a slow downhill, which is the best way to start a 26.2 mile run. The course definitely lives up to its profile, as most of the first and last 10 miles are pretty up and down. The first few miles include a good amount of reasonable rolling hills that conclude right around mile 10. There were one or two uphill portions that felt somewhat challenging, but nothing that interrupt pacing. The first ten miles are a net uphill, but the rolling hills give some downhill sections to break it all up, so you aren’t just running straight uphill for a long period of time.
After mile ten, the course begins a very gradual descent that lasts until right around mile 12. Miles 12-19 are fairly steady, flat miles around the White Rock Lake. This year it was slightly windy off the lake, and for me steady, flat miles can get a little boring, especially at that point in the race. But the lake is so scenic, that I honestly felt really great through this section and had some of my fastest miles here.
At mile 19, you hit a short descent, and then a rather imposing uphill section at mile 20. Miles 20-21 are the most challenging section of the race, with the steep and long uphill on tired legs. This is forgiven, though, as the last 10k of the race is almost exclusively gradual downhill. It is not the type of downhill that requires any sort of technical training or adjustment in stride, but definitely gives the runner a little pep in their step in the last section.
My Garmin registered 507 feet of elevation change. This is just slightly less than what I have registered for both Austin and the Silos District marathons.
It seemed like there was water about every two miles, and fueling stations about every four miles. I really like this strategy, as I always stop at water stations, and water every mile can be a little tricky with pacing and avoiding bathrooms. Water every other mile works well in cooler temps, but might be more challenging for some runners on warmer years. I would encourage runners to really ensure they are well hydrated and have taken an electrolyte supplement beforehand. Runners who rely on water ever mile should be prepared to carry a small handheld to fill in the gaps.
A link for the Dallas Marathon course map can be found here.
The last 400m of the race have markers at 400m, 200m, and 100m, which is really great motivation for the last hard push. The spectators in the finish area are great, and the emcee seemed like he announced every single marathon runner finishing. My husband said that the race is really well organized for spectators, and it was very easy to find the finish line area. After the finish line, there is a fairly long walk through the medal, finisher shirt pick up, and fueling area. It was a bit longer than I wanted to walk after running 26.4 miles, but it forces you to not sit immediately after, which is tempting but not great for recovery.
The finish area volunteers, though, were great. I stopped a couple of times with stomach cramps, and while I was asked if I was ok, no one was pushy and told me I needed to keep moving. I’ve experienced this at several races, and honestly, if I had more energy after a marathon it would be hard not to retaliate. I know I just ran 26 miles, and I’m trying really hard not to die, pee my pants, or fall on my face. I don’t need to be told to keep moving when I just need 7 seconds to get myself collected.
The finish line goodies are also well done. The staples of water, PowerAde, and bananas are all available fairly quickly. TacoDeli provided breakfast tacos, and there were lots of other options, including UCAN bars and chocolate milk. What I really appreciate with this race, is the fact that they give runners both a t-shirt and long sleeve technical shirt for finishers. Both shirts are great quality. I can’t tell you the number of race shirts that I’ve gotten that are just garbage in terms in quality, and I love the fact that Dallas gives you something you will actually wear in the future. Not just a trash bag shirt with the race name on it that turns into a carwash rag.
There are plenty of areas close to the finish for sitting and getting yourself back in one piece. Samuel Adams also does things right and has patio games set up for families to enjoy; another nice feature if you have kiddos that are spectating. Every runner had two coupons for free beer or Truly seltzer, and there were food trucks that were conveniently located. Friends and families could have spent a very comfortable morning spectating and hanging out without getting bored.
VIP Pegasus Lounge
My mom was kind enough to score us VIP passes, and my husband really enjoyed hanging out in the Pegasus lounge area for most of the morning. They had a great breakfast/brunch buffet, Samuel Adams refreshments, and heat lamps for the cooler morning. I arrived right at the start of the race, but if I had driven in I would have really loved being able to hang out in that area. After the race, I grabbed some fruit, a muffin, a beer, and got a nice calf massage. We didn’t hang out for too long, but they had private port-a-potties and a great covered area to block out the sun. The VIP passes were well worth the money, especially for my husband who spent all morning on the course cheering and spectating.
My Experience at the BMW Dallas Marathon
Outside of the amazing course, I want to share how the race went for me personally. We started traveling the Wednesday before the race, and at that time the temperatures were projected to be in the low 40’s to high 50’s. I hate overpacking, and didn’t think the temps would increase as much as they did, so the lightest race gear I packed was a thin long sleeve and shorts. When I woke up on race morning, it was already 54, with a projected high of mid 70s. So much warmer than expected.
I had a couple of tank tops packed for my taper runs, and thankfully I had the opportunity to wash them at my dad’s. My husband suggested I wear a tank with the light long sleeve to toss after a mile or two. But I really like that long sleeve. So instead, I opted to wear my tank under a t-shirt that I’m not all that attached to, and I ended up tossing it just before the start. It warmed up pretty fast, so I was happy with the decision. I had a little GI upset, but attributed it to race nerves and got ready.
The first 8 miles clicked by pretty quickly, and I really enjoyed all of the race support. The rollers were a little challenging, but gave me something to focus on. My pace was fairly consistent after the first mile. I was hitting 7:50-8:10, which fluctuated with the rollers, but I was really happy with how things were going so far. I knew I was right on pace for a 3:30 split if I could hold on for the rest of the race. I took a gel right around mile 10, and noticed it was warm, which is not particularly appealing.
Once the last big uphill portion ended, and the descent started at mile 12, I knew things were going well. I noticed that my stomach cramped just slightly every time I drank water, but it felt so mild I didn’t think it would impact anything. So I got that wrong. The middle section of the race is mostly flat around the lake. There were some headwinds around the lake, but the area is so scenic, I didn’t really mind. It’s also nothing compared to the 15-20mph winds we sometimes get on the coast. At mile 15 I took another hot gel that made me a little nauseous, but nothing problematic.
At mile 16, my legs started to feel a little heavy, but you have to expect that you’ll start to feel tired at this point in a race. Miles 13-18 I was averaging 7:55 miles, and was feeling so freaking great. I knew it would be challenging in the last 10k to hold my pace, but my breathing was great. My legs were cooperating. And I wasn’t feeling any major pain yet. By mile 18, I honestly thought that I’d have to fight for a sub 3:30, but I had come so far, there was no way I wasn’t going to get that time. I know the depths of my stubbornness, and there was no way I’d let myself lose the pace at this point just because it hurt or I was tired.
Mile 20 welcomed me with a giant, steep, uphill. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but I knew it was coming, and I was mentally ready to take it on. I started the uphill, and about halfway up, my stomach cramped. And not in a little way. More like a knife to the unsuspecting gut way. I tried to breathe through it for a few steps, but I couldn’t keep my body upright and continue to run with the cramp. I stopped to walk, and immediately knew I needed to stop stop.
My stomach basically let me know, “if you keep moving, you’re going to crap your pants.”
Now I am stubborn about my goals. I really want that Boston Qualifying time. But I am just not one of those runners who is willing to poop on themselves and keep running. There aren’t very many things I’m too proud to do, but crapping my pants mid-run is one of those things. So I stopped for a few moments, took some breaths, and let it pass. I walked for about 15 seconds after, and kept going. I looked at my watch and I knew then that my chances of making up for those 40 seconds would be hard.
I decided to give it my best shot and keep moving. The nausea continued on and off for the next mile or so, but my stomach wasn’t cramping, so I kept moving forward. My legs felt pretty heavy, and I knew I needed to take one more gel if I wanted to have a shot of being able to keep moving. I wasn’t thrilled about what my stomach might do with that gel, but I had to try. At 21 I took half of my final gel, and enjoyed another “poop your pants” cramp that stopped me in my tracks shortly after. I chose not to finish the gel.
Running is a fun sport. You never know if you’re going to walk away with an insane PR, or lose the last semblance of decency that you’ve held on to, or both! After my second close call, I knew my 3:30 was gone. I had about 4 more miles to go, and I had a choice. I could slow down to a comfortable 9:30 pace, and still finish around 3:45 with a strong PR, and pray that the slowed pace would keep me from having a bathroom emergency. Or I could run as strong as I could as much as I could and see where I landed.
I chose the second. I had to stop about three more times in the final four miles to keep everything…contained…if you will. My overall paces were not great, but I’m glad that I pushed myself. I’m glad that I chose to fight as hard as I could rather than let myself cruise. I don’t think the finish time difference between the options was all that significant, but I had no way of knowing if maybe my stomach would chill and let me keeping running strong if I didn’t let myself run strong.
The last mile was rough for me. I stopped at least twice. But once I saw the 400m sign, I thought I *might* be able to sprint enough to get me in just under 3:40. I pulled every ounce of energy left in my legs, I said a prayer that I didn’t lose control of my bowels in front of all the race finish spectators, and I hauled what little butt I had left. I crossed at 3:40:44. I’m a 3:40 marathoner ya’ll!
I’m honestly so happy with my time and with my effort. I walked away with a 14 minute PR, and I didn’t throw myself a pity party and give up when I knew my a-goal was done. I didn’t race conservatively. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could. I’ve never been able to hold on to an overall 8:00 pace for 20 miles, and on Sunday, I did. My strength and fitness gains in this last training cycle are so much greater than any other training block I’ve ever done.
This is the first time I can say without a doubt that I KNOW a Boston Qualifying time is within my ability. I’ve believed it was possible for a long time, but now I know it’s coming. And it feels amazing to type that out. It sucks that my stomach didn’t stay on board for the last 10k, and I’m bummed that I don’t get to say I’m a qualifier today. But I am so freaking proud of my training, my effort, and my race performance. The Dallas Marathon was an absolute game changer for me mentally. That BQ is in my sights, and I can’t wait to grab it.