Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Little Rock, LONG race, BIG Bling!!!

26.2....SQUARED!!  Here's how it all went down.  It was a blustery day landing in Little Rock on Friday March 2, 2012 and the plane let us know such by suddenly swaying violently side to side and then dropping.  Thankfully, maybe more "obviously," I made it safe and sound although I got my heart rate up higher than any run could!!

My Mom was there waiting for me and we headed over (yes, within 5 minutes of being off the plane, I was in the car....Yay for carry-on baggage, pre-printed boarding passes, and small airports!) to my Dad's work on the other side of the airport.  Said hello and was STARVING so we headed to downtown to grab a bite to eat and hit up the Expo!!  Giggity Giggity, I love Expo's!!!

Grub was grabbed at the Flying Saucer, a cool little pub right on the main street with lots of beer and decent food.  Can you see where it gets its name?

Ok, on to the expo!  Being as I was in the land of Clinton, I figured I'd share with you the "Wall O' Clinton" that is a permanent fixture at the Convention Center.

The whole entire process of this marathon was smooth and user friendly.  Seriously, I was actually suppose to run this marathon last year as my first marathon and got seriously ill a few days before hand flying home from Australia and couldn't run.  I was able to defer my entry, without paying a single penny more, to this year's race.  (Thank goodness I ran this years and not last cause just wait until you see this medal!!!)
The theme was "disco" and they had the whole expo set up like it was a disco, complete with a GIANT disco ball in the middle of the ceiling...and I mean GIANT!!  The registration table, besides offering packet pick up and "I forgot my confirmation sheet" services, also offered miracles.  Yes, miracles.  Anyone who runs will know just how important this service is:)

I got my packet, my shirt, checked out the free samples and the booths, and even got a free 45 minute massage that really seemed to help.  I had been having the cramping, numbing issue with the bottom of my feet for a few weeks now and it definitely stems from my hips, glutes, and IT band.  I think this did the trick cause I did a 2.1 mile shake it out run around the lake my parents apartment is on later that night and it felt great!!!

Alright, so now it's race day.  Sunday March 4, 2012, 6:45am.  We leave the apartment to make sure we don't get stuck in any downtown race traffic due to runners getting dropped off, roads being closed, early starters, etc... Not even an issue.  Not even the teensiest bit of an issue.  Except I forgot to put on deodorant.  OOPS.  Not the biggest issue in terms of things that could have gone wrong but since it was suppose to be 70 degrees by the time I finished, deodorant would be nice to have.  Thankfully the people of Little Rock, and all the local businesses, were so happy to have us there in their town that the folks at the Marriott right in front of the starting line had their little shop open for "forgotten toiletries" and I was able to get deodorant no problem.  They were even welcoming non-guests to sit in their lobby to stay warm while we waited for the bewitching hour and were helping facilitate the bathroom lines.  THAT won't happen anywhere else, guaranteed.

Starting corrals were as follows: A (or "I'm Kenyan/Kenyan on the inside"), B (or "Almost Kenyan"), C (or "Some other non westernized countryman") and Open (or "The rest of us slow-ass white folk).  Guess which one I was in? :)

I stuck with the 4:55 pacers for most of the race, however their idea of "bagging time" seriously hurt at the end and I wound up 6 minutes behind them.  They were running 10:00-10:30's most of the race.

Courtesy of Dan's Marathon blog
The first 10 miles went by really easily, as they usually do in this sort of race, and I got to see my parents at the start, 3, 8, 10, and 13, mile markers as we wound through the streets of downtown Little Rock starting by the River Market District, then making our way to the Governor's Mansion (who was outside waving and cheering us on...Mayor too at mile 6!!!  I'm telling you, these people LOVED having us there!).

We then made our way by the Little Rock Central High School where the Little Rock 9 became infamous with the desegregation of our nation's schools.  Mile 13.1 was right at the capitol building.  Beautiful building but also the point where you know it's about to get serious.  The half way point marked the beginning of the long 2+ mile serpentine hill climb to the Heights district of Little Rock (or the "old money" as my Dad says).  It wasn't really that bad of a climb.  Fairly gradual, with one or two places where it flattened out before starting to climb again.  I ran the whole thing with no problem.  At that point, going up, anything besides flat, felt good on my legs!  The people cheering on the hill were great and one guy even told me I had the "best shirt out there" (which I totally did:))

Mile 16 began the downhill portion of this course and I gotta tell you, as I'm sure you know, it hurt just a bit.  Parts of it were REALLY steep and the knees were not appreciating it.  I made it, improved a bit on my pace for obvious reasons, passed the 8:00 and 7:45 pace groups (who started at 6am warming up the course for us:)) and then made a left onto the Cantrell/Riverside Drive out and back portion of the race.

At this point, things are starting to hurt and the out and back has no breeze anymore and it's getting pretty warm.  Mile 20 welcomed us to "the wall" under a giant blown up archway.  This race was awesome for another reason: at Mile 20.5 on the start of the return to town and the last 10k, there is a sheet drawn like a wall and it has sharpies for anyone who wants to sign it to do so:)  Little touches make the biggest difference!

The Final Climb
Courtesy of the Little Rock Democrat-Gazette
I walked and ran this bit, and then decided I'm gonna hurt no matter what so suck it up buttercup and get your ass in gear (yes, that is verbatim from my brain).  We, however, had one more hill to conquer after the 25 mile marker.  It was a little bit tough at that point but I saw my time, that I could possibly hit the under 5 hour mark, and knew that 1.2 miles was it.  That was all that was left to this race.  It hurt less to run so I picked it up a bit (this was NOT something I could do at the Marine Corps Marathon in DC so go me!!!).  I managed to run the last 1.2 miles at a 9:30 pace (amazing for me that far in) and it actually really barely hurt to run that fast.  It felt BETTER, in fact.

I powered through that last 1.2 and felt like a rock star!  I didn't meet the under 5 hour mark but I DID manage to PR the race and shave over THREE minutes off of my marathon time.  Final score? 5:01:48.  Not shabby for me at all!!!  Now here's the best part:

And to give the most fitting description of this medal, one that I could never come up with on my own, I introduce Dan of Dan's Marathon blog:
"I knew it was going to be big, loud and ostentatious.  But it was something else entirely to actually behold it and wear it.  A cheery volunteer lifted an obnoxiously large explosion of purple and grey glitter, a dinner plate sized hunk of tacky that is impossible not to love, and rested it on my weary shoulders.  They definitely delivered on size.  The zero in “2012” in the middle is the size of most large finisher’s medals, so we could spy other marathoners from a mile away." 

My parents took me to a nice steak dinner that night, we finished off the "wacky cake" my Mom made a few days prior, and we watched a movie.  All in all, a fitting end to a long, but wonderful day.  I have to say it is a race worth doing.  The organization, the volunteers, the course, the weather, the extremely welcoming people of Little Rock, and of course, the mammoth sized medal make this a must on anyone's "To-Do" list.

Oh, and that zero in the middle?  Yeah, it spins....Now if only it had LED lights...But that is another year, another race, and another 26.2.