I have put off Arkansas for a long time because I couldn't make up my mind about Little Rock. Let me explain. There are a few good marathons in Arkansas, but Little Rock is the most popular and the biggest. Most people who do it really like it. So why did I hesitate to sign up for it? The medal. Little Rock is known for giving giant (think dinner-plate size), glitzy medals. For many people, this is appealing. For me, it's tacky. A medal the size of a dinner plate would not fit with the rest of my medals. On the other hand, I really, really wanted to do the marathon itself. So I went back and forth -- Little Rock, or Fort Smith or Hogeye? Finally I decided on Little Rock, figuring I could always hang the giant medal on the rack behind the others so it didn't dominate too much.
Because it was almost $500 cheaper, and because I like to drive, I flew to St. Louis instead of Memphis or Little Rock. It's only five hours from Little Rock, what the heck. I have never driven through that part of the country, and always enjoy a chance to see somewhere new. Missouri and Arkansas are both really, really pretty, with beautiful rolling hills and scenic river valleys. I got to downtown Little Rock where the expo was being held. Parking was easy. The expo was good-sized, but I didn't linger. I didn't need anything, and the thing I wanted most was to get to my hotel and sleep.
There were plenty of cheap hotels, another plus for Little Rock. My cheap hotel was about five miles from the start/finish, and it was fine until 9:30 at night when my heater blew up. Seriously. I was reading in bed when there was a pop, flash of light, and smell of burning from the heater. It was completely dead. I had to switch rooms, but not until I waited half an hour for the maintenance guy to come, pull the heater out of the wall (which allowed cold air to seep into the room while I sat in my T-shirt and running shorts and waited for him to be done), and finally tell me he couldn't fix it and I had to change rooms. Perfect night before a marathon! Not really.
I woke up dreading the marathon. It has been a very long time since I looked forward to any marathon. I only have to do two more, and I am very happy about that. At least the weather was good! It was 49 degrees and clear when I left the hotel. There was a high temperature of 60 and light rain forecast. I don't mind light rain with those temps; it was much better than the sizzlefest at A1A.
There was tons of available parking by the start/finish line, and -- another bonus -- runners got to hang out in the convention center. That means two wonderful things: indoor bathrooms, and protection from weather, not that we needed the second one this time. An indoor start area improves marathon mornings by at least 50% if not more.
The sun was rising over the Arkansas River when the race started at 7:00 a.m. Temperatures were perfect -- low humidity but not cold enough to need gloves. I started with the 4:00 pace group. The leader was a local Maniac, and it seemed like he had a friend on every street corner. The course went over the Arkansas River and did a little loop through some neighborhoods before coming back over the river and out to an industrial area. Miles 6 to 9 were a little out and back, followed by more industrial area. There were a lot of rolling hills, but nothing major in the first half. (This race saves those for the back half.) The rain started at Mile 6, but it was gentle as predicted -- at first. Then it became not gentle, and it started to feel a little like Mississippi River. The two pace group leaders noticed this too, as they had also both been at Mississippi River. It still wasn't cold, but it was starting to feel miserable. I wouldn't have brought my phone if I knew it was going to rain this much, and I would have worn a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.
I was still with the 4-hour pace group at the half, but I knew all along I wouldn't finish with them. The pace felt too hard from the beginning, and also I had the same old feeling of "I don't want to be here running this race." I don't really care what my finishing times are anymore. Maybe some day I will care again. The only thing I really cared about was finishing in good enough shape to make my 5-hour drive back to St. Louis without having to pull over and rest too much, because I hadn't really given myself a lot of extra time when booking my flight.
Once we got past the half, the rain slowed down a little, but it was replaced with a lot of climbing. "At least it's not hot and sunny, at least it's not hot and sunny," I kept telling myself, like it was my mantra. Before the pace group disappeared into the distance, I had heard the pacer talking about how he had started fueling with beer because one time it was the only thing available on the course when he was thirsty. He had discovered that it was a perfect fuel because it was carbs, it was fizzy, and it wasn't sweet. I was just thinking about that while I was climbing up and up and up a never-ending hill through a neighborhood that I think was called (appropriately) Hillcrest, when there was a neighborhood aid station with little cups of beer. Why not? I thought, and grabbed one. Oh my GOD. I didn't smile a lot on that hill, but I smiled there after drinking that little Dixie cup of beer. The carbonation was like little tendrils of energy reaching down into my legs, and it got me up that long, long Mile 17 hill almost painlessly.
The uphill was followed by an equally long downhill that was almost enjoyable except that I knew what it was doing to my legs. What feels good now will feel very bad later, I knew, remembering those couple of spikes in the last mile or so on the course elevation map. But before we got to those, we had a long out-and-back along a bike path. The"out" part was about Mile 19 to 21.5, and the "back" part was 21.5 to 23.5 or so. This out and back wasn't as unpleasant as they usually are, although it was a little dispiriting to see how far ahead of me the 4-hour pace group was. Oh well. I never had any intention of pushing hard enough to finish in four hours, not that I could have if I had tried.
There was another beer stop at Mile 24, right before a nasty steep hill. I figured since it was a good idea the first time, it would be a good idea the second time, and took another one. This time it didn't work so well. My stomach was not pleased, and I walked the steep hill. By the time I got to the top, I was able to run the downhill and most of the next nasty uphill. My stomach still wasn't great, though, so I walked a good part of the last half mile and jogged the rest.
The finish was in the same place as the start. The first thing I did was pick up my medal. The medal is not QUITE as big as a dinner plate. It is by far my biggest medal, though, at least the size of my face. It's in the shape of a dragon, since this race was medieval themed. The dragon is black with glitter. It is not the sort of medal you want to wear after running a marathon -- it's heavy, and has many sharp points. So many sharp points that I worried about taking it through security in St. Louis. (I got through OK, although the TSA person checking bags did make a weird face and say, "Is that a DRAGON?" when my suitcase passed through. And it did have to get inspected, by a guy who said, "Wow. Did you win the race or something?" And when I told him no, everyone got one, he smiled and said, "Have a blessed day.") The Little Rock Marathon has a great spread of food like a marathon should. The best thing of all was a giant paper cup filled with pasta in marinara sauce.
Two of my least favorite things after a marathon are having a long drive to an airport and not being able to shower post-race, and I had both of those things this time. I cleaned up in the convention center bathroom -- fresh clothes, a wet washcloth, and deodorant did wonders, especially since it had rained so much that all I had to do was unbraid and rebraid my hair to look like I had just stepped out of the shower (even though I did not smell that way!). Since I hadn't pushed hard in the marathon, I felt fine for my 5.5-hour drive back to St. Louis. (Although I still hate the feeling of having to make a post-race flight that's a long drive from the race. So many things can go wrong!)
48 states are done and I'm down to just two -- Garmin Marathon in Kansas and the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch, one week apart at the end of April. As long as I stay injury-free, I will be MISSION ACCOMPLISHED as of April 29!