Throughout this journey, I have come across some races that I have written down as the “must do” for a state. They may not align with the schedule for that year but I will make them work at some point. This was the case for the Little Rock Marathon. I’m not a sucker for overhyped races but from all that I read and saw on the socials about this race, it was a party for 26 miles. I wanted to be a part of it! Luckily with the Mississippi Blues marathon being moved for leap year (even though they didn’t play into that at all) it aligned for the back to back.
Race: Little Rock Marathon
Location: Little Rock, AR
Date: March 1, 2020
After packing up at the hotel, we made our way out to grab a bite to eat before making the 4.5 hour drive from Jackson to Little Rock. Kaela had a decent breakfast at the hotel after seeing me on the course around mile 19, so since she wasn’t needing much I decided to make it a quick stop. We made our way over to Cookout for milkshakes and snacks. I just wanted some calories so I ordered two cheese quesadillas, an order of hushpuppies and of course finished it off with a cookies and cream milkshake. The folks in front of us in the drive-thru must have ordered a good bit as it was taking a little while. I hopped out of the car and started doing stretches next to the car. I’m sure I looked funny while it was 70+ degrees and I was in tights and compression socks doing some deep stretching. I didn’t care though, I didn’t want everything to lock up.
Once we got our food we got on the highway heading west to Arkansas. There were two different routes that were saying the same time of arrival. One was more interstate and the other was more country highway. We opted to take the scenic route because you never know what you’ll find. We made our way through a few small towns while passing by a ton of fields of cotton and grain. There were multiple instances of crop planes spraying fields. It was so interesting to just watch them make the back and forth maneuvers hitting different areas of the fields. It was a relaxing trip with simple conversation about the previous race from my perspective and how she spent the day. We stopped once to get gas a little over half way which allowed me to use the restroom and stretch my legs again. I have realized the importance of stretching on those long drives between back to backs so I make sure to get them in.
We arrived in Little Rock around 4:30pm and headed directly to the expo. The expo was located at the convention center in the historic downtown area. Parking was limited in the area so Kaela dropped me off at the door and then went around to find a spot. Walking was a little tough after sitting in the car for a bit but my new Oofos sandals made my feet feel like walking on clouds. The expo was decent size with lots of vendors and a good handful of free things. At least one of the expos of the weekend was a real expo (#truthburn). After getting my bib and participant bag, I joined a line for some sample tables. As I walked up the volunteers were telling us to take boxes of the items, since there were only a few more hours of the expo but lots of items left. I left there with 4 boxes of instant rice mixes and a handful of chips and bars. When I got back to the car, Kaela laughed at the amount of things I had picked up.
We didn’t have the opportunity to stay as close to the course as we did in Jackson. Most of the hotels in downtown Little Rock were not pet friendly so we had to stay a little further west. On the way to the hotel we looked up some options for dinner and noticed a pizza place, American Pie Pizza, located just across the street from our hotel. We called in an order and it allowed enough time to check into the hotel, bring our stuff up to the room and then go pick up our pizzas. We opted for two individual pizzas so Kaela could get a little more substance than just veggies (again).
After dinner, Kaela started to clean up to relax before bed while I imported and processed photos from the day and updated my Tableau dashboard data. Folks from work were keeping an eye on the dashboard to see how I did so I wanted to make sure I updated it in a timely manner. I cleaned up and got a good bit of stretching in before laying down in bed by 9pm. The afternoon/evening went smoothly and it was nice to be in a groove with our plan so we could just relax and make sure I got a good night sleep.
I woke up to my alarm at 5:14am. I prepared my breakfast while I went through my normal pre-race routine. I was reading the verse of the day on my Bible app and it was quite fitting for the day.
“We can make plans, but the Lord determines our steps…” – Proverbs 16:9
My body was a little bit sore and I knew, as it always is with the back to backs, that I was going to need an extra bit of strength to push to the goal. I had just missed the goal of 4:15 in Jackson and was going to try and keep it under 4:20 in Little Rock. My goal was to leave the hotel by 7, but per Kaela’s estimate we wouldn’t leave until about 7:15. She’s always right.
We made the 15 minute drive from our hotel to downtown Little Rock. There were a few race parking lots but all were in the middle of everything and overpriced. I did some research and found out that the meters were free on Sundays, so I scouted out a few roads where we should be able to find parking that allowed easy access to the start and would make leaving after the race easier. Once we found our spot, I applied the last bit of 2Toms (thigh saver) and organized the nutrition that Kaela would be helping provide throughout the morning.
The parking spot was about a half of a mile from the start which allowed me to get my legs a little loose before starting the race. My stomach had been acting up all morning and the walk seemed to intensify the issues. Kaela took my pre-race photo and wished me luck before making her way to her first spot. I made my way down to the start along the Arkansas River. The lines for the porta-potties were long and I knew I only had a few minutes until the start so decided to just head towards the corrals. However, as I turned the corner there was a line of about 6 porta potties that had no line at all. I hung around and within a minute I was able to get into one to take care of business. Feeling much better, I made my way to the corrals.
There were a few entrance points to get into the corrals but they were a bit crowded. I decided to just walk along the side until I could find Parker and Jonathan. With the better layout of a starting setup compared to the day before, finding them wasn’t much trouble at all. I hopped over the concrete divider that separated the road and the sidewalk and worked through runners to join up with them. We chatted about our evenings and mornings as we waited for the race to start. They had stayed closer than we did and were able to sleep in a little bit longer. Parker was on board for the same goal of 4:20 and Jonathan said he would hang with us also even though he had done something crazy like 5 races already in 2020.
The starting gun went off and the corral started moving forward as runners took off. As we were approaching the starting line folks were already running by us. “I’m not running until we cross that start line,” I said to the guys. We hit the start line and we were off!
We made our way by a huge crowd of spectators as we started, definitely bringing some energy to get us going. Taking a right away from the river and up into downtown, we passed by a bar on our left that had a marquee sign promoting “midget wrestling” later in the week. I had a feeling Little Rock was going to be a little bit “different” of a place. Taking another right to head towards the bridge to make our way into North Little Rock, there were still a large group of spectators but just standing there silently, really looking like they were asleep. I gave out a loud (and obnoxious) “woooooo” while waving my arms to get them to liven up. They just looked at me like I had three heads. “I guess you haven’t woken up yet,” I said as we ran on by.
We approached the bridge right at mile one. Kaela was set up on the bridge capturing some photos as we ran on by. When we crested the top of the bridge, we started to lengthen our stride and Parker picked up the pace. Jonathan and I had to reign him in to hold back from all the energy he had ready to go. Parker had made mention in Jackson that he had been starting his last few races too fast which he paid for in the end. I tried to remind him of this and that having run a race the day before we wouldn’t have that extra little bit in the tank at the end to just “get through” so we needed to try to run smart.
On the other side of the bridge there was a brewery that had a beer tent set up handing out beer. Mile 1 was just maybe a little too early to join in on that and we ran on by. Shortly after we got off the bridge it started to rain. It was a light rain but still noticeable. The interesting thing was that it was just on this side of the Little Rock. We looked over the river and noticed the sunshine. The 2 miles in North Little Rock was the only place that had got any rain the entire day.
Before we knew it we were heading back over the bridge with 5k of the race already behind us. The time had gone by quickly as the three of us carried on with conversations just about anything. While we were on the bridge, I heard a lady complimenting another lady about her outfit. I think I failed to mention above but you may have seen in the pictures that everyone is decked out in their neons. The race theme was ‘90s and participants came out full force with it. The lady had said “nice shorts” and in my theme of being annoying during the race, I said “thank you” as I was wearing my bright blue shorty shorts that show a little more leg than I thought I’d ever be comfortable showing.
Back on flat land, we made our way east toward the airport. Kalea was at mile 4 and I wanted to hand off my sunglasses. It wasn’t all that sunny in our face and I’d rather not just carry them along. I was going to throw them off to the side but instead Kaela took off on a run with Bella in tow and camera on her shoulder to catch up with me down the sidewalk to hand off the glasses. She may be able to beat me in a 40 yard dash with her quickness (haha).
The on-course entertainment helped keep our minds busy from thinking about the task at hand. Just before mile 5 there was a spin class doing their workout outside lining both sides of the streets. Men and women on spinning bikes were cheering us on as they got their own workout in. Quite efficiently doing two things at once I must say. At mile 6 we started an out and back that allowed us to cheer on folks that were a few miles ahead of us. We were keeping a pretty consistent pace that felt manageable. The road wound in and out, mixing it up from straight roads that would come later.
Just after the 10k mark there was an aid station. I had gotten ahead of Parker and Jonathan, who got caught up in the crowd making their way to get a cup. I slowed down pace to allow them opportunity to drink and catch back up but noticed only Parker made his way. Parker had mentioned that Jonathan had gotten slowed down by getting a cup. We made the turn and didn’t see him on the other side so assumed he stopped in the porta-potty for a break (come to think of it, I never asked what happened there). Regardless of the situation, Jonathan was out of the group run and it was Parker and I moving forward.
On this side of the turn the wind was directly in our face. Every once in a while a strong gust would come and it felt like we were standing still. It was fun doubling back on the rest of the field of runners. Cheering each other on as we based on by; yelling out encouragement to pace groups as they made their way to the turn around. At mile 8 we hit a slow climb that would last a mile. There were a few steep spots but it was just a grind the whole time. Parker and I had the same attitude at this point in the race: we just wanted to enjoy our time out on the road and take in all the race had to offer. And we were rewarded at the end of the climb: A huge crowd of spectators and “home made” aid stations from local businesses. After some beer, a cookie and a mimosa, I couldn’t get the smirk off my face!
We took a left on Commerce Street and enjoyed a slight downhill as we passed a park on our left and soon after crossed over the freeway. After two quick rights, we were on Main Street and once again were greeted by lively non-official aid stations, the first of which was something I had never seen on a run before. A local church had set up a “communion on the run” aid station passing out communion elements to those running by. A block or so later there were a few folks grilling up pineapple for runners. Parker and I had joked that this may be the only race we have done that provided a full meal. I knew I was going to be seeing Kaela in less than half a mile just past mile 10, so I grabbed an extra pineapple piece for her to enjoy. We crossed over the freeway again and then took a quick left. Kaela was set up on the turn taking photos. She gave me a puzzled look as I ran directly towards her instead of around the corner and then looked more puzzled when I handed her a piece of pineapple and then ran away.
If you are counting the turns, we just took two quick lefts and were crossing the freeway once again. The next section of the course was mostly residential with some ever so rolling hills. Around mile 11, there were some folks outside their homes handing out bottles of water to the runners. I always appreciate when people are out there but being handed full bottles of water is mostly a waste when all we really want is a sip. There was one guy though that had some small gatorades in his hand, but I had already committed to going around those making their way to grab a bottle. I made eye contact with the gentleman and motioned him to toss it. This guy must have practiced his Manning to Harrison lob drop because he placed it perfectly in my hands without me having to break my stride. Right then I knew I was having a blast during this race and wanted to just keep soaking it in!
Shortly after the pass of the day, the half marathoners were splitting from the marathon group. I knew this race was half marathon heavy so we were going to have fewer footsteps around us going forward. I tried to motion folks to join us for a little bit longer of an adventure, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. We had a long straight away before taking a right, heading north for a block and then right again to head back (up hill) the same direction we came from. Around mile 13, we joined back up with the half marathoners about a tenth of a mile north of where we split with them. I kept asking them how they found the shortcut on the course. I did end up getting a few sympathy laughs with the dad jokes.
We made our way mostly downhill passing some aid stations with snacks. I picked up some fruit slices (the sugar gelatin kind, not real fruit) and a few more cookies. Crossing the freeway again (for the last time), we approached the last split of the half and the full marathon course. Again I tried talking folks into hanging out with Parker and me a little longer but they were so close to the finish, I couldn’t blame them for just wanting to get a beer. Kaela was set up at our left turn at around mile 14 to continue on the marathon course. I applied some glide, grabbed some salt tabs and two gels for the rest of the race. The transition took a little longer than expected and Parker was ¼ mile up the road by the time I had kissed Kaela and thanked her for being out on the course as this was the last time I would see her until the finish. Luckily the difference was downhill and Parker and I wanted to run together so he slowed down to give me an opportunity to catch up.
At the end of the street was the state capitol building which made for some great sight seeing on the run. As we wrapped around the building, I made a comment to Parker that this would make a great backdrop for a race photo. Around the very next corner there were some race photographers getting a side view of the photograph I imagined. Leaving the capitol area, we turned left on Boone Street and this is where we had to dig deep. We kept overhearing from other runners early in the race about the climbs of the race but to this point we hadn’t dealt with anything all that terrible. Well this was the moment that changed. We took that left and saw the long climb that was in front of us. Parker and I came up with a plan to just slow down our pace a little bit but not to walk the climb. Knowing how heavy our legs were from the race the day before I knew that if we started walking those extra steps would beat us up. So we started the climb. We passed by a ton of folks that had just decided that they were going to walk.
After about a mile of the climb we had approached a main intersection where an official aid station was set up. It was also nice as it had leveled off for just a moment at the water stop. I used this time to eat a gel and have some water without having to worry about choking due to short breath while climbing. It was short lived but much appreciated. We would spend the next two miles going uphill. The first mile was just as steep as the first hill section and the second was gradual enough that you couldn’t see but our legs could feel it. We passed by some nice homes and then that turned into boutique shops. Just like we had experienced through the first 16 miles of the race, homemade aid stations all over the place with an array of goodies for us to enjoy. We had some beer, found another “tots and shots” set up and even ran across a Girl Scout cookie stand offering Thin Mints. I made a request for Samoas and was informed they did not have any but they did have Tag-a-longs. Yes, I did stop the run for a few Tag-a-longs. Parker and I just laughed about all the food and drink, which I really think was just a way for us to cope with the exhaustion that was setting in from the long climb. Shortly after mile 17, however, the climb would come to an end.
In the climb that took us 2.5 miles to head up, we would spend the next 1.25 mile going down the same amount. Right as we started the steep descent there was a couple outside their house offering beer. Now as other people had set up I was expecting a dixie cup with a shot of beer in it just to get the taste. Nope, they were opening up full cans and handing them to each runner that seemed so inclined. I was one of those runners. I took a few big gulps before placing the can down on the road not too far from where they were so they could grab it when cleaning up (I hope).
This downhill was steep. I decided that I was going to let gravity take over and just fly down the hill. Looking back at my pace, I hung out in the low 8 min/mi range for the descent while we had been running in the mid 9’s. I felt like Parker was close behind and wasn’t trying to lose him but I just wanted to get this quad killer out of the way and make my way down. I took the tangents down the windy road passing people and the left and right going for the most direct way downhill. I didn’t want to turn and look to see where Parker was as I was afraid that if I took my eyes off the road I would end up tumbling down. My plan was just to keep it in gear and at the bottom slow it back down and wait for him to catch up.
At the end of the hill we had a short flat section before heading to an overpass over railroad tracks. I decided to keep the pace moving along until the overpass and then walk the incline. When I had stopped down to a walk, Parker was right there with me. He had said he saw me take off downhill and decided to just follow suit. I guess we both decided to make poor decisions at that point in the race.
We were spent. We walked up and down the overpass until making it to the last out and back section of the course. We made our way to a slow run pace, working to make it to the turnaround at mile 21.5. It was during this stretch that we had the one situation you really don’t want when running with someone else, complete silence. That meant we both were hurting and didn’t know what to say to spark something in each other. We watched the 4:20 pace group come and go past us. We had the thought to try and keep up with them but the thought didn’t last long before they pulled away.
We made it to the turnaround and were greeted and the aid station of all aid stations. From PB&J sandwiches, to pickles and chips, to Coke, they had anything and everything we could have wanted. Leaving the aid station they had a “wall” sign that of course we put our names on, mostly because it gave us another moment to catch our breath. Heading back on the course, a timer said we had just 5k left. In my head I knew that wasn’t right, but I didn’t have the energy to try and correct him. We doubled back similar to the route that took us to the turnaround exactly on the bike bath that hugged the edge of the golf course. We enjoyed the road on the way out.
At the actual 5k remaining spot, Parker and I decided to take a short walk break. We may have been 15 seconds into the walk when the 4:30 pace group came up and I said “screw it, let’s try to stay with them.” Parker agreed and that’s what we did, or at least tried to. The wind was hitting us hard again in the face (even though we were running a different direction than earlier, stupid wind) and it was making it even harder to keep up the pace. Just under a mile after we started with the group we made our way to an aid station. The pace leader had said to walk through the station and get fluids and food and then start back to join him. Parker and I decided that the walking pace was suiting us much better.
With about 2 miles left, we turned off the road and onto a bike path that resembled the end of the Morgantown marathon. We were only on it for a half mile before we turned back on the main road headed towards another overpass, but this one was a little steeper. Right before the turn there was a party crew of an aid station and we grabbed yet another beer because why not. Originally I thought we would walk the overpass, but being so close we decided to just push it and get it over with. We crushed the climb but were quickly deflated when we hit the top. We could see in the distance that this overpass was the false summit of the end of the race and that we would be climbing a hill that we literally could not see the top of from our angle.
We powered down the back side of the overpass and were greeted by an aid station of what I am guessing were high school aged kids. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and then noticed one of the kids had a box of Cheez-its held between his arm and chest. As I approached him I reached out for what he thought was asking for the water in his hands, then I reached in the box to grab a handful of Cheez-its. The kids just froze as his friends all laughed as he had no idea what happened as I just continued moving on by. I ate my stash and then took a sip or two of Gatorade as my last bit of fuel to tackle this monster of a hill. After I drank enough of the cup I noticed a trash can along the side of the road and decided to do my best lob to throw it away. Not only did I miss, but it landed on the ground and splashed up to get all over the pants of a Little Rock police officer that was blocking traffic. I apologized up and down and started to go back to pick up the cup. He laughed it off and told me to keep going as he would get it.
We trekked up the hill just taking every step with purpose and trying to move forward as quickly as we could knowing that once we hit the top it was literally downhill the rest of the race (so we were told). We hit a mile left and picked up the pace. It’s crazy how much energy we still had in the tank. Just a few miles ago a 10:30 pace seemed undoable, but in this final stretch we were putting down low 9’s as we could hear the music at the finish line getting louder and louder with each step. Just before the finish there was a lipstick stand for you to get all glamoured up for your finishers photos. Parker and I passed on the idea and just kept the pace moving. I felt like he was pushing to the finish and afterwards he said he thought I was doing the same. I guess after spending 52 miles on the road in two days you just get into each other’s heads. We approached the finish line and I was so focused on it that I didn’t even notice Kaela waving and screaming my name while taking pictures.
After crossing I gave Parker a high five and just stopped a moment to catch my breath. We pushed hard at the end and took the last bit of energy I had out of me (good thing I grabbed those Cheez-its). They placed the dinner plate medal around my neck which just added to the strain my body was feeling. We made our way through the finishers area, getting some pasta, chocolate milk, beer, you know all the post-race essentials. Kaela was waiting outside the barrier and helped guide us to an open table. The post race was set up where the expo was so it was nice to be in a climate controlled room, but it was not nice being in a room with hundreds of smelly people that just ran 13.1 or 26.2 miles. I tried to eat but started to get light headed and just rested my head on the table. Once I could gather myself I ate a little bit of food and chocolate milk to get something back in my system. Hard to think with all that I ate on the course that I would still be hungry.
I hobbled over to the bathroom to wipe down and put on some fresh clothes. I made my way back to the table to chat with Kaela and Parker while we waited for Jonathan to finish. After waiting about 20 minutes we realized that we really needed to get on the road as we had a long journey to start today. I thanked Parker for his company and conversation over the last two days and said we need to plan to do something stupid like it again soon. Out of the convention center and a short walk to the car we were on our way. We made a stop at Nick’s Catfish (against Kaela’s wishes) for dinner outside of Little Rock and continued on before stopping in Kentucky for the night.
This race was so great! Even though I didn’t hit the goal of back to back under 4:15 or even a goal of 4:20 for this race, I could not be happier with the weekend. Little Rock put on a party for the runners today and even though the second half of the course was challenging with the climbs and falls, it made for a memorable race. Add to that the fact I got to run with a friend for both of them made it just that much better.
Well, I am just getting around to writing this recap a few months after the race during the COVID-19 pandemic and my next race was supposed to be the Boston Marathon. However it was moved to the fall, and then just two weeks ago it was decided that it would not be happening at all now in 2020. So for now I don’t know the next state that I will have the opportunity to do pending the race calendar. However, my plan at Boston was to go for a PR and on 4/20 (Marathon Monday) I ran my own virtual Boston marathon around the trails of Columbus and ran a 3:49 marathon. Now it’s a personal best for the distance but I am not counting it as my marathon PR since it was not done on a race day. For now I will have to wait until that next opportunity to see what I can do.
Thanks for coming along with me on this journey and I look forward to what’s next!