So where do I start with this race report? For me, the race was challenging, great, and complete. The threat of severe weather created mass confusion and many runners didn't finish the race. Volunteers and police officers warned runners of incoming weather, strongly suggesting (and some even ordering) us off the course. Many of us ignored the warnings and pressed on. Others acquiesced, obeying the orders and headed for a rendezvous point to be picked up by bus. Many are complaining about the way the race was handled, but I'm convinced the race directors made the best decision they could with the information available at the time.
Before I get into my recap, I'd like to shout out a big thank you to the race directors and staff, volunteers, and the police officers who braved the elements to make this race possible for all us runners. I can't imagine standing in one place in the cold, wind, and rain for that long. But they did! Even after we were told to quit, after we were told there would be no more support, after we were told to run at our own risk, there were many volunteers, policemen, and Tom & Hobbit out on the course to support us. I hope and pray that God blesses each and every one of you. You certainly blessed us out there yesterday!
Now to the recap!
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. ~ James 1:2-3
We were warned about the incoming bad weather, well in advance. All week I'd been watching forecasts. Though many disagreed, taken together they all pointed toward a pretty high risk of unpleasant running conditions on race day. As each day passed, the forecasts came closer and closer together, zeroing in on rain and cold. A big Arctic cold front was pushing down on us, threatening storms and cold on race day. Though we all hoped it would hold off until after the race, it would turn out just about exactly like they predicted before the race was over.
I had friends coming in to stay with us from out of state for the race. So on Saturday morning, we headed to the airport to pick them up. All made their flights, and all their flights were on time, so the weekend was starting off on the right foot. We left the airport for home so they could get settled in before heading out again for our pre-race dinner. After a good meal, we returned to the house to make final preparations for the race.
My friends, Ashley and Roger, were taking advantage of the early start, so we headed to Little Rock to get them off at 6 AM. The weather was great for the early start, mid 50s temperatures and no rain yet. My other friend, Rrrick Karampatsos, who stayed with us this weekend, and I wandered around a little to kill the next couple of hours before it was our turn to start.
Rrrick is the author of Heading Toward the Final Finish Line, a book filled with stories of his journey as a runner and Christian, especially how those two roles have worked together in his life. Many of his adventures during his pursuit to run a marathon in all 50 states are documented, revealing how Christ turned him from a cripple to a marathoner, and then used his running to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rrrick and I had corresponded for quite some time, but we never met until this weekend. His book was a gift from my friend, Jesse, after Amanda died. Reading of his running ministry helped me with ideas to start Running with Amanda. We'd talked of running a marathon together for quite some time, and now we finally had the opportunity.
The RaceAround 7:30, we made our way to the start corrals and found several other friends I'd planned to run with. Rick (not Rrrick), Debbie, and Isabel were there, all of whom I regularly run with during training. I don't know how often I've said this before, but it's always nice to run with folks you know in a race. The weather was still pretty nice when we joined up, but soon a little drizzle began. Finally, the clock ticked until my watch read 8:00. It was time to start. (Or so we thought.)
All three times I've run at Little Rock before, it didn't take long to reach the start line and be underway. But this year, they were doing things differently. We started in corral H, a pretty good way from the front. Instead of moving forward after the 8 AM start, like we'd always done in the past, we continued to stand where we were. Several minutes passed, and we heard the announcer give the 10 second countdown to start a couple more times. It became clear they were only releasing one corral at a time.
That seemed okay at first, but it took us 35 minutes before we were underway. It was 8:35 when we crossed the start line. If there's anything about this race that I'd like to see changed next year, it's this one. I understand why they want to do the wave start, but it seems like they were letting more time lapse between starts than was necessary. Those runners in the corrals near the back probably didn't get to start until close to 9:00. For a race this size, I just don't see the need for that long of a delay.
But that's my only criticism, and we were finally off and racing! By the time we started though, the rain had begun to fall. The temperature had fallen to 46 from the mid 50s earlier that morning. I wasn't worried though. I'd resolved myself that we'd be running in bad weather before the race ever started. Though we were getting wet, the temps were pretty mild and, even wet, I was pretty comfortable.
The wave start did relieve some of the usual congestion in the first mile and a half. It didn't seem like I had to do as much bobbing and weaving among slower runners to maintain a decent pace. Our little group latched onto the 4:40 pace group and hung with them through this part of the race. We finished the first mile and made the turn heading across the river. As we stepped off the bridge on the North Little Rock side, just a little before mile 2, we went by the pace group, but were still holding on to a pace between 10:00 and 10:30. I felt great with that.
The good thing was that the rain had stopped at this point. Between miles 3 and 4, we ran past a bank sign that claimed the temperature was 380 and I remember thinking it had to be wrong. There was no way that could be accurate because it wasn't that cold outside. We were rocking through here and everything was great. Just before mile 4, I had the pleasure of catching up with a pair of my favorite people on the course -- one of my favorite former students and one of my colleagues running together. I just love seeing people I know out there, so this boosted my already mile high spirits!
We reached the 5 mile marker crossing the Broadway Bridge and it dawned on me this will probably be the last time I run across this bridge. If things go as planned, they'll tear it down later this year to replace it. If that turns out to be true, next year's marathon course will have to be adjusted to accommodate it. Not sure how they'll change it, but I bet they have a plan. Still, a little sentimental crossing that old bridge for what may be the last time.
The weather was still great as we came back into Little Rock. We made the left turn headed for the 10K timing mat. We covered the first 6.2 miles in 1:05:41. (The clock read 1:40:29, but remember we crossed the starting line 35 minutes after the timer started.) On track for a decent time, still feeling great. As we wove our way through Little Rock, crossing I-630 once, twice, and for the third time, the biggest challenge was the wind, funneled down the streets by the buildings on each side.
Then we headed up the hill toward the Governor's Mansion, made the right turn and passed mile 10. The temperature was dropping by now, but we were still rain-free. It wasn't too cold yet, and it actually felt good as we split off from the Half Marathoners for the first time and headed toward Central High School. (Forgive the blurry pics please. I had my phone in a plastic bag while taking them.) Then it was a nice downhill stretch, with the half marathoners rejoining us for a short stretch before we separated again.
We crossed I-630 again, for the last time in the race. It was along here we felt the first raindrops since early in the race. Nothing major, but the beginning of a storm that would later cause us a lot of discomfort and others their entire race. We marched on, headed for the State Capitol and the halfway point in the race. At 2:17:43, we crossed the mat in front of the Capitol. I was trying to post a picture to Facebook and heard my name called. It was my friend Nathan, spending his day out in the rain trying to catch pictures of Cabot Country Cruisers (our local running club) passing by the Capitol.
The first half was done, but we began to slow down here. The worst of the hills were just ahead, miles 14 through 16. We walked some and ran some as we made both climbs. The first hill in front of the School for the Deaf punishes you with the climb, but rewards you immediately with a nice downhill. Then it's two miles up on Kavanaugh, the longest climb of the course. It's tough because it's long, but not too steep. About halfway up it levels off for just a bit and makes you think it's over. One guy asked us at this point, "Was that the hill?" We just smiled and said, "Oh no." There was still a mile long climb just ahead.
We reached the top and started to make the turn onto Lookout. Here's where things started to turn for the worse. As we made the turn, a police officer at the intersection warned us of approaching storms and told us we'd be diverted at the bottom of the hill. Our spirits sank a little, but we kept going. Halfway down the hill, Rick asked another policeman if they were going to take us off the course. "Yes," was the reply.
It was raining pretty good by now, but we still hadn't seen lightening or heard thunder. We reached the bottom of the hill and were still being directed along the course. Nobody asked anything now and none of the police suggested anything was wrong. We kept going. Over the overpass and approaching Riverfront Drive. A left turn would take us out on the always dreaded out-and-back portion of the course, a right toward the finish line. We passed an intersection before Riverfront where a policeman told us to turn right, go to Walmart, and buses would come and pick us up. But this time, he added something we hadn't heard before.
"The course is closed. If you choose to go on, use the sidewalks and proceed at your own risk," were the words I heard. I told my friends, "I'm going on." We'd already come 18 miles, with only 8 more to finish. We hadn't yet heard the first clap of thunder. We were wet, but we expected that from the start. We came here to run 26.2 miles and, if they weren't going to arrest me for going on, I decided I was going on. They all agreed and we turned left, headed for that mentally draining, always the most challenging part of this course.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
We were running and walking now, pretty convinced of what we'd heard, that the race was cancelled. We were going on to do what we'd set out to do, not for a medal, not for a time, but just to get in the mileage and run what we came to run. I told myself and my friends, "If God doesn't want us to finish this race, we won't be able to." I knew there were pavilions and shelter if it got too bad on the out-and-back where we could take cover if it got bad.
So off we went. We couldn't see many ahead of us, but a few behind us turned our way. It looked like most followed the suggestions of police and turned back. There were many, many runners on the way back in. At that time, I assumed they'd all made it to the turnaround and would finish their race. Some I knew, and would later learn they'd been turned around before reaching the end of the out-and-back. A lot of them wouldn't complete a full 26.2 miles this day.
We trudged on, intent on finishing what we started.
As we passed aid stations, we were told over and over again the race was canceled. A police car passed by, telling us over his PA system to cross the road and head back. We passed one aid station and the volunteers told us again, "The race is canceled. Turn back. It's not safe." I replied, "I know, but I'm crazy." She just shook her head as we passed her heading west.
We passed the 19 mile marker and a little while later could make out the gate that marked 20 miles on the course. We'd been told so many times now the event was canceled, I didn't expect to see it still set up, but there it was. When we reached it, I was even more surprised. The timing mats were still in place and the clock was still running! At 3:37:40, we'd run 20 miles and were still going. It wasn't far now to the official turnaround point. Then we'd have a little more than 5 miles to the finish!
At the turnaround, we were again told the race was canceled. They were closing down the aid station, but still encouraged us to take anything we wanted. Water, Gatorade, bananas, anything they had. The volunteers knew, maybe by the looks on our faces, or maybe just because we'd kept going this long, that we were going to keep running. And we did.
Now we were on the trail, but there was still a staggered stream of folks behind us making there way to where we just were. We weren't the last ones on the course, and we had a little over 5 miles to go. As we pushed on, the police cars rolled back and forth broadcasting the closure of the race, telling us to seek shelter. When we reached the aid station closest to the 22 mile marker, a volunteer held up a black sign proclaiming "event canceled." She barked out, "The finish line is closed!"
We shuffled past her, intent on reaching our goal. Now a police car was patrolling the road telling us, "If you want a ride to the buses, get in and I'll take you there." I guess they'd figured out that telling us the event was canceled wasn't going to get us to quit. Or maybe they thought the offer of a ride would entice us to quit. Up to now, we were basically told to run or walk to the buses, which were two or three miles down the same course were told was now closed. So even if we'd have quit, we'd have still been proceeding along the course at this point. But the offer of a ride, maybe they thought that would get us to quit.
It didn't. Along this part of the course, we came alongside another Marathon Maniac. She'd come to Little Rock from Las Vegas and didn't want to leave without this marathon counting toward her 50 States status. She was of the same mindset as us -- finish if at all possible. She refused the ride, and kept going too.
We finally reached the end of the River Trail and back onto the street. From everything we'd been told the past several miles, I fully expected to find the traffic control cones taken up, the cops and spectators and volunteers gone, and that we'd be utilizing the bike lanes to proceed. But no! All these were still in place. The cones were there. The police were still controlling traffic. There were still volunteers and even a few spectators along the course. And we were still running on the road.
We passed mile 23! Only a little over a 5K to go!
It was here I looked at my watch. We had 3.2 miles to go after 4 hours and 20 minutes. If we could cover that ground in 40 minutes, we could still finish under 5 hours. I couldn't believe that was still possible, but I told my friends. We kept going.
We reached the turnoff at the 24 mile marker. The policemen there did there obligatory duty telling us we could turn right and ride the bus in, but you could tell they knew that wasn't going to happen. They also offered us Mylar blankets, resigned to help us keep warm in the steadily deteriorating conditions. The wind was picking up. The rain was falling harder. And the temperature was dropping like a rock.
We turned onto the little trail, fully expecting the roads -- starting with the railroad overpass -- to have been opened to traffic. We were convinced that we'd leave the trail and be faced with the hazard of crossing that overpass trying to hug the rail on the few inches of shoulder available. We were convinced cars would be passing us by within inches. But no. The cones were still up. Traffic was still shut down. We were still using the travel lanes and safe from oncoming traffic.
We pressed on.
We walked up the overpass and ran down the other side. At the top, we decided to run to the bottom, then walk up Dillard's Hill. That's the 25 mile mark. When we hit the bottom and started to walk, we were only 1.2 miles from finishing! We'd been told for the past 9 miles that we'd be unable to finish. We kept going, convinced there would be no support, no medals, and no official time. We kept going, not for trinkets or cheers, but to simply accomplish what we'd set out that morning to accomplish. And now we were 1.2 miles from doing just that.
I started singing, "There ain't no stopping us now." One.Point.Two.Miles. That's how far we had left to go. We reached the top of the hill and began to run again, this time with a renewed strength at a faster pace. There were still policemen controlling traffic. There was still an aid station set up. The lipstick station near the 26 mile marker was still operating. As we approached the chute to the finish, we even saw Tom and Hobbitt on the course to cheer us in.
We turned into the chute, with a sub-5 finish still very possible. The clock was still running. We could hear the announcer still calling out names of finishers as they crossed. We stepped it up. At 4:59:28, I crossed the mat just behind my friends. It was finished.
Against all odds, we'd made it. We'd proceeded on faith and a feeling, a feeling that we were supposed to finish a marathon that day and the faith that God would get us through to the end. Right up to the end, we were convinced the accomplishment would be not for official stats, not for recognition, not for a medal, but simply to accomplish what we'd started that morning to accomplish, to run 26.2 miles.
In the end, we got the medal. We got the time. We got to count the marathon. But only because we proceeded on faith. Even when we thought there would be no reward, we kept going because we believed that's what we were supposed to do.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~ Galatians 6:9
I kept going because I believed God sent me out there to run a marathon. I kept going because I knew if He wanted me to stop, He would stop me. I kept going because I believed that even when something appears impossible, that it's still possible with God, if it's according to His will.
I know the Little Rock Marathon folks made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time. I respect them and I appreciate them, for looking out for runners' safety, and for putting on such a great race. They couldn't control the weather, and they made the best of a tough situation. I am grateful for all the police and volunteers who stuck it out in some of the toughest conditions ever for a race. I was blessed to be a part of the 2014 Little Rock Marathon and look forward to 2015!
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.