After an annoyingly wet, snowy, and cold winter, I was pretty sure that the perfect running cure would be a destination race complete with sunshine and warm weather. Naturally, I headed south to cross another state off of my list. Enter Little Rock, Arkansas. Mother Nature may not have cooperated, but I still returned home with wonderful race weekend with friends under my belt, and a GIANT medal around my neck!
I took off with two other friends on Friday afternoon for the 9 1/2 hour drive down to Little Rock. We stopped in Bentonville, AR for the night, and felt somehow obligated to at least go into a Walmart since it happens to be headquartered there. I picked up a cheap throw-away sweatshirt to wear before the race, as it had become evident from the forecast that it wasn’t going to be nearly as warm as I had hoped.
Sleeping in on Saturday morning was a rare treat that I certainly didn’t take for granted. We hit the road and got to Little Rock around 1pm and headed straight for packet pick-up. The expo was quite a bit larger than I had anticipated, and it took an extra surge of will power to avoid spending money on more running gear that I didn’t need (I know you’ve all been there!).
After getting checked into the hotel, food was a priority. We found a great Mexican restaurant based on a recommendation from Tonja’s brother-in-law, and it ended up being the perfect pre-race meal, complete with an excellent margarita! After our late lunch, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit in the hot tub. Incidentally, I wish I could soak in a hot tub before every run. I’m going to need to work on that. 🙂
The race didn’t start until 8AM, so we didn’t have to get up too early (plus we crashed pretty early the night before!). We headed down near the start and met up with another friend who drove up for the race from Mississippi, which was a very nice bonus! As we lined up in the start coral, the 27 degree temperature began to sink into my less-than-fully covered body, and I could feel a bit of the feeling leaving my toes. Was I in Arkansas or Iowa? The echoes of Southern twang and hospitality, along with the lack of snow on the ground provided the distinction I needed to remind myself I was still in a new state running a new marathon.
As the gun sounded, we all shuffled off at a reasonable pace. They released runners in waves, which meant it wasn’t nearly as congested at the start as it would have been otherwise. Kecia and I were running the marathon, and Tonja was running the half-marathon, and luckily, the two courses stuck together for the first 10 or so miles.
I went into the race hoping to break the 4:00 hour barrier, which would be a PR for me, and something I had never done before (my PR entering the race was 4:07). This meant running approximately 9-minute miles. We were all feeling pretty good at the start (hot tub, perhaps?) and we clocked the first mile at 8:43, and I knew we were going a bit fast, but I always start a bit fast so I wasn’t too worried. When the next two miles came in at 8:40 and 8:36, I knew I had to put on the brakes a bit or I was going to be in trouble. We ended up maintaining a bit faster pace for the first half, and crossed the half-way point around 1:55. The first half of the marathon had been a wonderfully flat and comfortable course, and Kecia and I both found ourselves smiling and congratulating ourselves on an excellent marathon choice. Then race #2 started.
Almost as soon as we hit 13.1 miles, the hills appeared. It was as if the marathon itself was scolding us for deciding to keep running. For about the next 3 miles, I’m pretty sure we did nothing but climb hills. We would reach what we thought was a summit, and then turn a corner to find another hill. I was having flashbacks to Kansas City! The hills finally ended, and the initial descent was steep enough that I felt like I was back in Trinidad. After that, the course leveled out for the most part and our miles remained consistent.
This was without a doubt my most consistently paced marathon. I never really hit a wall, and the back-and-forth motivation that Kecia and I had going for us meant we were always pushing each other and maintaining our pace. We did however notice that our Garmins were hitting the miles further and further from the actual race mile markers. We weren’t going out of our way to add distance by any means, but we still seemed to be accumulating additional tenths of a mile with each passing mile we ran.
By the time the end was in sight, we knew we were going to end up running additional distance, but we didn’t care. We pushed through with the finish line in sight, and it felt amazing as always to cross the finish line! My official chip time ended up being 3:57:12, and my Garmin time was 3:54:05…either way, I broke 4 hours!! I was absolutely elated to not only have reached my goal, but done so with so much time to spare. I happily walked up to accept my medal…and just about fell over when they put it on. This was hands-down the largest race medal I had ever seen, and it weighed enough to practically pull both of us down. Tonja was waiting at the finish line, having conquered her half-marathon in style, and we all shared the same happy glow that comes with finishing a race.
After changing out of our race clothes, we had a quick lunch, headed back to the hotel to shower, and hit the road for our 9-hour drive home. I would have normally been happy to stay the night in Little Rock, but I had to teach the next day so getting back became a priority. I was so incredibly thankful that Kecia and Tonja were game to drive home after the race! It was a long drive, and all of our legs were stiff and a bit sore, but we still had a blast along the way. The trip of course wasn’t complete without a stop at the Hillbilly Hideout for snacks and pictures— we were in Arkansas, after all.
We arrived back in Ames around 1AM, just missing most of the next snow storm that was blowing through, and thankful to be home. The lack of sleep made the next day a bit of a challenge for all of us, but the memories and the medals made it all worth it!