Before the Race
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," -- 1 Peter 3:15
The greatness of this race began long before the 8 AM start this morning. I first knew it was going to be fabulous when I learned several members of the Red Felt Running Club were coming to run Little Rock this year. Four friends from Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania would be here at my hometown race! I'd only actually met the two from Louisiana before. Elena and Aimee were at the Day After the End of the World Marathon in Humble, TX last December. At the Expo on Saturday, I met Ashley and Roger for the first time.
From left to right: Janice, me, Ashley, Roger, Elena, and Aimee
Ashley flew to Louisiana to meet the other two ladies, then they all three climbed into the car for the road trip north. Along the way, Elena got lost picked up a "single white female" (see the photo) who was tired and hungry. I got a phone call early Saturday asking if I had a kennel and some food for her new charge to get her through the weekend. Since we have 6 dogs residing in our home at the current time, I was well-stocked with supplies to oblige.
SWF, tired and hungry
Since Elena had to take care of her new dependent and Roger had a ticket to the pre-race pasta party, we decided a group pre-race dinner wasn't going to work. So my Mother-In-Law, Janice, and I prepped for the race at US Pizza Company. We got home around 7:30 and prepped for race day before hitting the hay.
I always arrive really early at the Little Rock Marathon, so I can get choice parking and see off the early starters. Normally I have several friends starting at 6, so I get there around 5:30. This year was no different so I wanted to cheer them out of the gate. I also always offer to hold a pre-race prayer in TEAM 413's name at 5:40 for the early starters and 7:30 for those starting at 8:00. This year it was only myself and my wife for the early prayer, but a half dozen or so were present for the 7:30 round.
After the prayer at 7:30, we made our way to the port-a-potties one last time, then to the start corrals. I met two friends there who were running the marathon and wanted to beat 2 hours to finish. I agreed to run with them since I'd sort of convinced myself to hit the same mark. We slipped into the open corral only a few minutes before 8 and began trying to snake our way as close to the front as possible. We never managed to get as far up as we wanted to be before the race began. We finally gave up on forward progress about 30 yards behind the 4:40 pace group and waited for the start.
" 1 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." -- Hebrews 12:1-3
I have to say this race report may be a little sketchy on details. The weather was fantastic, the Good Lord had me in what I believe is my best shape ever for running, and my friends were looking for a PR. So, unlike the last couple of marathons I've done, I wasn't soaking in much of the surroundings. I knew the course well enough that I was pretty much narrating it as we huffed and puffed our way through mile after mile.
The funniest thing I remember on the course was a booth that looked something like a makeshift lemonade stand. Only it wasn't for selling lemonade. Instead, the sign posted above the booth read, "Shortcut Maps, $1." We got a good laugh at that but kept pushing through.
We passed the three mile marker with an average pace of around 8:45, running strong. So focused on the next left turn, I failed to notice the water station set up on the right side of the road until we were running over the cups discarded by other runners. Normally, I never pass up water and sports drink in a race but we were by this aid station before I even realized it. No turning back, we pushed on.
At mile 4 I gulped an energy gel and we did hit the water station just past mile 4. We knocked out that 4th mile in 8:34. The last stretch of mile 5 was going up the Broadway Bridge. The bridge and the water stop between miles 4 and 5 slowed our pace to 8:56. We were still running strong and took advantage of a pretty long stretch of elevation loss to push it closing out mile 6. We crossed the timing mats marking the first 10K with my watch showing we'd been running for 54:30. The race results website shows officially we crossed the mat at 54:35, only 2.5 seconds slower than my 10K PR. Still feeling strong!
Miles 7, 8, and 9 were a little tougher than the course had been to that point. We managed these three averaging right at 8:50 miles. In the 10th mile, going up a long climb, I looked back to see one of my running partners walking. I shouted to her and she waved me on. With only 4 miles to go, I knew she could finish. We'd run 10Ks, halves, and even a marathon together, so I knew she could finish. We were still feeling good, so we pulled away going up the hill toward the Governor's Mansion.
Mile 10 turned out to be the slowest for the race at a 9:12 pace, but when we passed that mile marker, we knew we only had a 5K left to go. That was motivation enough to pick up the pace again. Our mile 11 was back down to an 8:36 pace and we had just a little over two miles to the finish. Added bonus...there was a lot of downhill coming in that next 2+ miles! We took advantage.
12 and 13 turned out to be our best miles of the race coming in at 8:17 and 8:15, respectively. With a little over half a mile to go, we linked up with the marathon course again. Only, we were on one side of a divided four lane, with the marathon finishers on the other. We never saw the leaders. They didn't pass us. But a bunch of motorcycle cops did with lights flashing and sirens blaring. That told us the leaders weren't far behind.
Still pushing hard, we made it into the chute and across the finish line. The clock read 2:10:something, but my watch said we were right near 1:55. Turns out, I crossed in exactly 1:55:00 and my friend was 2 seconds behind. That beat my previous best by 4 minutes and 59 seconds for a new PR!
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.," -- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
After the Race
When I crossed the finish line, I was blessed to see my beautiful wife waiting. She had finished the 10K not long before. We posed for a photo op that I'll probably pay to get when they're available. I don't buy race photos often, but this one should be pretty good.
We passed through the area where they handed out snack cakes, goldfish, fruit, etc, grabbing everything we could hold. Then we made our way over to the bag check area to reclaim my drop bag. We loaded the bag with all our loot we'd gathered. But we weren't planning to stick around the finish area. Instead, we walked back to the 25 mile marker on the full marathon course.
Our local running club usually sets up a cheering station on the famed "Dillard's Hill" at mile 25, to cheer on the runners as they face the last tough climb of the course. We got there in time to see the 3 hour pacers come by, but we were the only ones there. We hung out there for about 3 hours before we packed up and headed back, but we had a blast!
We cheered for everyone, those we knew and those we didn't as they headed up the dreaded hill. Some were really appreciative, some didn't acknowledge us, and some acted as if we were on their nerves. I didn't take offense at the latter two categories because I know exactly what they were feeling. I've been there. At mile 25 of a tough race, you really can't expect someone to be themselves. But most were in the first category, friendly and grateful.
We stayed until we'd seen almost everyone we knew come off the course, then walked back to the finish area to see our out-of-town friends off, then headed for home. All-in-all, this was a fantastic experience! Next year I plan to run the full and I already can't wait!
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