Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Monday, January 30, 2012

22 Miles on the Little Rock Marathon Course

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."--Philippians 4:13

Yes. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Even run 22 miles on a Saturday morning.

Until now, the longest training run I'd made was 20 miles. That was the longest I did for the Marine Corps Marathon, and I did two more since while training for Little Rock. But yesterday, a friend who is also running Little Rock had a 22 mile run planned on the Little Rock course. Several of us from the Cabot Country Cruisers made the short trip to make the run.

We met here in Cabot and traveled in a sort of caravan to Riverfront Park in North Little Rock. We parked inside the flood wall of the Arkansas River, right in front of the WWII submarine that now serves as a maritime museum for central Arkansas. Just a few steps took us to Riverfront Drive at almost mile 4 on the marathon course.

There was a strong wind out of the west as we stepped off, a biting cold wind that made me wonder why I had not brought more clothes. When I stepped out the front door earlier that morning the wind wasn't blowing and the temperature felt mild. I knew I'd be plenty warm once we got into the run, so I only wore shorts and my TEAM 413 t-shirt. When we left Riverfront Park to begin the run, I was wishing I had on gloves, a hat, and long pants! I was colder than I can ever remember being on a run.

The brutal cold didn't last long though. In fact, by the time we reached the I-30 frontage road, a little more than 2 miles in, I had completely forgotten the cold. Weatherwise, the rest of the run couldn't have gone much better. I really don't know what the temperature finally reached, but I never got too hot and never got cold again until after we finished the run.

Four of us left the others pretty early, led by a lady in our group who left out at a quick clip. The others planned to do a walk-run routine, running 40 seconds then walking 20, for the entire route. I've never tried it, but I just don't think it would be my style. Toward the end of a long run I may resort to a walk-run method just to try and survive the last few miles, but I don't think I'd like it from beginning to end. Lucky for me, there were 3 others in our group who felt the same.

We ran by lots of people who asked us if we were running the marathon and most everyone we encountered was courteous. People who lived along the route were quite pleasant and acted as if they were accustomed to seeing runners out getting ready for the upcoming race. Most motorists were courteous too. But not all of them.

Though traffic is fairly light early on a Saturday morning, it's still present. On race day, of course, the route is closed to traffic for runners' safety, but we runners have to share the road while training. Most drivers move over whenever possible to give those of us on foot a little more room. Sometimes though, someone has to act downright stupid. Such was the case about 5 miles into our run.

We'd turned onto Chester St. headed toward the governor's mansion and were nearing the bridge to cross I-630. A block or so ahead we saw traffic in both oncoming lanes stopped at a light. The road was plenty wide there and gave us no reason to worry when the light turned and the vehicles began moving toward us. But the guy driving the car in our lane decided to be a jerk.

He might have thought he was being funny or cute, or he might have been just plain mean. Either way, his actions were inexcusable. Looking right at us as he approached, he intentionally turned his wheel to force us off the road. The ladies were up front and leaped onto the curb while we guys moved as far to the edge of the road as possible. He came so close I instinctively reached out and hit his car while yelling to tell him how stupid he was. He never looked back and never slowed down.

One might expect such idiocy out of a young kid, thinking he was being funny without recognizing the danger, but this was an older guy, probably in his 60's. Unfortunately, jerks like this are going to be encountered from time to time if you put in a lot of miles on the road.

But just like always, God kept us safe and protected us from this imbecilic idiot.

After that encounter, we began the long incline leading to the governor's mansion. At this point, we were about 5 miles into our run but about the 9 mile marker on the marathon course. This is a part of the half marathon course too, a part that I thought I remembered well from two years ago when I did my first half. But this didn't seem to be the hill I remembered from that race.

It hardly resembled a hill at all. That's funny because one of the most memorable moments of that first half marathon came at the base of that hill. I remember seeing a guy holding a sign there that said, "It's all downhill from here." I saw his sign and looked up the hill just past him thinking the guy was a total jerk. I walked up most of it two years ago and felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest. This time I hardly noticed it as we just kept running.

Things were a little different a little farther along the course. Not far past the state capitol, the hill at the Arkansas School for the Deaf seemed much bigger than I remembered! This is just past the halfway point on the marathon course so I never ran it two years ago, but I did run it a couple months ago. It was my first run with the Little Rock Marathon Training Group, a 10 mile run that started in front of the capitol. That day, we weren't even a mile in and still had fresh legs as I climbed the hill. Saturday was different.

It seemed steeper and longer than last time. Here our little group of four began to spread out. Our friend who had stepped off so quickly at the start began to leave us behind and another of our group was falling back. That left two of us in between. We walked a pretty good way up the hill.

When we got to the top, our leader was about a quarter of a mile ahead and I told my friend I was going to try to keep her in sight. Gravity pulled me down the hill and it looked like I might be able to catch up. Until I reached the bottom that is.

The next two miles were uphill on Kavanaugh, the largest and longest climb on the route. It took everything I had just to stay close enough to catch a glimpse of her every once in a while. I didn't catch her until she stopped after making the turn off Kavanaugh onto Lookout at the top. I was lucky she stopped because I had already decided I was giving up on the idea of catching her if I couldn't see her when I reached that point.

But then we were rewarded with the two mile downhill stretch down Lookout. It was pretty uneventful but traffic was unexpectedly heavy along the narrow, twisting road. We reached the bottom and found out why. A police officer was detouring traffic off Cantrell onto Lookout due to utility work. No worries though because we were now past the worst hills on the course.

Next came the dreaded out and back portion along the river. It's not steep and traffic's plenty light. It's just long, flat, and boring. About two and half miles out and three and a half miles back on the same long, flat, boring road. Lucky we were running in a group or the boredom might have gotten to me.

On the out and back we met up with the last of our group and managed to all get back together for a minute. Then we split again with me following my friend I'd chased up the big hill earlier. The miles ticked agonizingly by until we finally reached the turn back onto Cantrell.

We crossed the large bridge over the railroad tracks in front of Cajun's Wharf, facing heavy traffic with no shoulder and pinned against the guardrail. I took the lead here and waved my white paper with the route on it at every oncoming vehicle. My small, makeshift flag did the trick as most moved into the left lane and the others gave us as wide a berth as possible.

We were less than two miles from the end of our route at that time and the last big hill loomed. Dillard's Hill we call it. So named because on the left sits the corporate headquarters of the department store. We ran about halfway up the hill and walked the rest of the way to the top. On the way up we passed the 25 mile marker for the marathon. We were less than one mile from the end of our 22 mile run when we topped that last big hill.

That last mile on Cantrell saw me again waving my little flag to make sure oncoming cars saw us. Then we finally cruised into Riverfront Park where the finish line will be on race day.

The longest training run I'd ever done, over 22 miles, was finished and I can now say I've run on every inch of the Little Rock Marathon course. I'm not sure exactly how long it took us to finish, but I was quite pleased that I didn't have to lay down and roll around in cramps afterward.

All in all it was a great run with some great people and an all around great time. Less than 5 weeks now before race day and I'm feeling more and more ready with each run. I feel better prepared, mentally and physically, than I was for my first marathon.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. "--Colossians 3:17

Like always, I have to give thanks to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for giving me the strength, desire, and motivation to keep training and racing. It's an awesome feeling to know that He is looking after me.



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