Monday, March 7, 2016

State #28 Little Rock Marathon, AR, Part Two

Morning came earlier than expected, as my body awoke around 4:30 am in anticipation of my 5:30 am alarm. I tried to relax and fall back asleep, but instead, my stomach started to feel like it had butterflies in it and by 5:05 am I was wide awake and ready to get up. I drank my coffee cold due to a lack of microwave in the room, but it was fine and did the trick anyway. After checking in online with news, family and Facebook, I was ready to stretch and dress and eat and go.
Amazing sunrise over the Arkansas River as viewed from my hotel window.
The elevator ride down from the 16th floor of the hotel was slow and crowded.  It was good to be on a high floor, as I managed to get a space in the elevator. The unfortunate part was that our packed elevator stopped at each floor on the way down, unable to accept any other runners. It was slow going, but at least we got there. I waited until about 30 minutes before race time before leaving the hotel, so I could stay warm and use the indoor plumbing as needed. I arrived in my corral about 15 minutes before race start. Not too shabby.
View of starting line as I walked to my corral.
The energy was high at the starting line, and as the announcers did their best to rally the spirits of the crowd, I heard a reference to Runner’s World, which led me to believe that maybe Bart Yasso might be on hand to send us off. Sure enough, as we started and I crossed the starting line, there he was! I waved and yelled his name and he acknowledged me…I love my Bart Yasso sightings! We were off on this lovely morning. Temps were in the mid 40’s. I wore my running skirt and long sleeve shirt, worried that I might be chilly to start. 
Our first bit of road led us through downtown Little Rock and over the bridge to North Little Rock. This part of town had some spirited spectators. The main road was lined with modern apartments/condos. It seemed like a nice neighborhood. We completed a figure eight of loops in North Little Rock, largely in desolate industrial looking areas before heading back over another bridge back into Little Rock. 
At this point in the race, I aligned myself with the 3:55 marathon pacing group (1:57 half). Although I didn’t really have a time goal for this race, I wanted to finish in under two hours, so I figured if I could keep step with this crowd, I’d get to the finish where I hoped. 
We ran through the downtown area and out to the grounds of the Clinton Library and past the Heifer International headquarters. I didn’t realize that organization was in Little Rock. They were a sponsor of the race as well, and were handing out adorable animal pins and Heifer cowbells at the race expo. Their property is right near the Clinton Library. At this point, we started to pass through some residential areas. The homes here reminded me a bit of those in Birmingham, AL. Many were mid-century looking bungalow style homes…just adorable, but like Birmingham, some were in need of renovation. Spectators were rather plentiful throughout this race, which made it livelier along the way. 
Around the halfway point, we passed Mac Arthur Park, and I could’t help but wish they had a DJ blasting Donna Summer tunes. Seriously, a missed opportunity there! But there were lots of people cheering us on. We ran by the Arkansas Arts Center as we turned the corner of the park, and I had to smile at the sign for runners that said, “You are a masterpiece.” How lovely. 
Shortly after this area, we came upon the neighborhood where the grocery store (that I didn’t go to yesterday) was. It was a nice area and would’ve been a fine trip, but I’m glad I rather spent my day at the Presidential library. We cruised on through and before I knew it, we were nearing mile 9 and the Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s Mansion was a surprise for me on the route. I didn’t realize we were going to pass it, and later on I heard that the governor himself was outside cheering on runners. I wouldn’t have known him if he came up and shook my hand, mind you, but I thought it was pretty cool that he was out there spectating.) I couldn’t help but think about the Clintons as I ran past, imagining Chelsea as a little girl playing on the beautiful grounds there. The other homes in the neighborhood were stately and gorgeous as well. 
From the chatter in the crowd around me, specifically from the pacing group, the marathoners and half-marathoners split around mile 11 or so. Up to this point, we’d all been together. I kind of liked having the split so late in the race. It was nice to have everyone together for so many miles. 
Just beyond the Governor’s Mansion, the neighborhood really embraced the race theme of “Game On” and designed the area to look like the game Candyland. There were cotton candy balloon sculptures and candy canes and colored squares drawn on the road. The folks here really got in to the spirit, and it was fun to run through their stretch of road. 
Not long after the Governor’s Mansion came my favorite moment in the race. Just beyond the Candyland area, we passed Central High School. I knew it the moment we came upon it. It was stately and serene and daunting. I couldn’t help but think of the Little Rock Nine and the bravery they had. It was hard to imagine what the neighborhood must have looked like that day with all the military presence and press and protesters and students. I had a brief conversation with a man running next to me, telling him I felt like I should say a little prayer in such a historic place. We discussed the fact that had it been us, we might not have had the guts to do what they did that day. But how incredible that they did. Our world is a better place for it. 
After that, the split of the marathoners and halfers came up quickly. It was on to the finish line! But not without a few more fun moments. The local Sonic restaurant sponsored the “couch potato” mile near the finish line. The sidewalks were lined with comfy couches and chairs, and people were dressed up like Mr. Potato Head. Tater tots were being handed out and everyone was having a blast! This was a definite high point on the course and would have been a fun place for family or friends to hang out in while cheering on participants. Around another corner I got some Mardi Gras beads, and then it was on to the finish.
The last mile always feels so long…why is that!!?? I ran along through the streets I had walked along yesterday on my return trip from Starbucks. I knew I was close to the finish line, but the streets seemed so desolate, and the finish line was nowhere in sight. Finally, I could hear the announcers calling out the names of runners crossing the finish line. I turned the next corner, and there it was! I ran as fast as I could, looking around for Bart Yasso (Runners World Magazine’s Chief Running Officer…) and there he was at the finish line! I gave him a wave and yelled his name just after mine was announced crossing the finish. 
Finish line selfie.
A wave of volunteers greeted us at the finishers chute where I collected my hefty medal and a little necklace that could be used to hold the charm that dangled from my medal, should I choose to wear it as a pendant. Cool. I thanked the volunteers, had my photo taken in the finishers area and exited the chute steps from my hotel. The flow brought us in to the convention center where I got a printout of my (up to that point) finish stats. Next, I headed on to the food area in the lower level. After some chocolate milk, animal crackers and water, I stretched out before heading up to my room.
Sign from expo/finisher's food area.
Life-sized Battleship game in the finish/expo area.
Life-sized Connect Four in the finish/expo area.
My right leg was sore near my psoas. It was tender and I needed to take it easy walking. I knew it would be ok, but for whatever reason it was hurting. I went up to the room to shower and relax before catching the airport shuttle. I hung out in my room correcting some student work via Google and perusing my race results. My official time was 1:53:54, and I placed 9th in my age group. Not bad for a pretty large race!
Medal, shirt and bib.
I met a nice woman on the shuttle, Dana, from Florida, who is also pursuing the 50 states in half marathons. We shared some stories and kept each other company in the airport, as we were on the same flight connecting through Dallas. She turned me on to a website called Athlinks that (somewhat big brother-ish-ly) keeps track of race results. I looked myself up and found most of my races posted there. Cool and weird at the same time. Running friends, look it up. It is kind of a neat way to have all your results in one place. 
The flights home were good, and I was able to blog on the way. Arkansas is officially crossed off the list, and the good folks of Little Rock were lovely hosts. I really enjoyed this beautiful city and would highly recommend this race for other runners. Plus, if you are a full marathon runner, your medal is literally the size of your head. Huge bling! Worth the trip.
Arkansas card.

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