Friday, March 7, 2014

Little Rock Marathon 2014 (EPIC!!)


Little Rock Marathon (26.2 miles)
0:00:00 DNF!
(My first ever DNF - hooray!!)
Average Pace 00:00/mile

Well, I finally did it.  I did the one thing that I've said for years I didn't know if I'd ever do.  I went for a marathon.

If you want to read more about why I picked this race (which will become more obvious as this recap goes on), or if you want to read my training plan, click here

If you want to read more about what business and activities I frequented while in Little Rock and NOT running, click here.

If you're here for the "other" option, to read the race recap, stick with me.  Because this is going to be one heck of a story.

Here we go!


For the last few years, I've been hearing about a "little" race.  And by little, I mean - a marathon with a frickin' huge finisher's medal in Little Rock, Arkansas.

When it seemed like I could not be any more in love with the finisher's medal from 2012:

Yes, that's a spinning disco ball in the center

They released this beauty in 2013:

Check out those giant rhinestones in the horseshoe!!

I think I always knew this would be my first marathon.  But, the second I saw the 2013 medal, that was it.  As soon as registration opened for 2014, I was in.

Little did I know at the time that the theme of this race would be ... "Epic".  When it was announced some time in fall of 2013, it seemed fitting for my first Marathon.  If I only knew then how EPIC the race would really turn out to be...


As most of you know by now, my husband is not a runner.  But he IS a hobbyist pilot.  So when I told him I wanted to do this race, he was down... simply for the fact that he could fly his plane somewhere new.

Great!  Seems like a match made in heaven.  A husband who likes to fly, a wife who wants to marathon in some odd location that would be normally a 12-13 hour drive, and an airplane named Bubba who can change that journey into a 4 hour jaunt.  No problem!!

Except for when it's foul weather.

For a few days building up to marathon weekend, the weather was starting to look spotty not only here at home, but also down south for the marathon.  After days and days of checking, watching, fidgeting and hoping, one thing became clear.

We were going to have to leave Bubba home alone and drive this baby.


Since I was NOT looking forward to doing an entire day of driving, I convinced my husband to leave Minneapolis Thursday evening and get as far south as possible before calling it a night at a cheap hotel.

Whoo - hubba hubba.

Actually, more like chugga-chugga.

In using the all powerful, all knowing Google maps search, I had found a little hotel in Osceola, Iowa that was only $59 a night.  It didn't look too fancy, but reviews said it was clean and had new pillow top mattresses, so I thought it would be worth a shot.  What I neglected to weigh properly in my decision making was the fact that the hotel was just across the street from an active rail line ... that ran all - night - long.


Oh well.  By the time we could be upset about it, it was time to check out anyway.  We enjoyed our free "continental breakfast" (which in a cheap hotel in southern Iowa near a train track means instant oatmeal, hot water, bagels, coffee and juice), and were on our way.

Thankfully, the rest of the drive from Iowa through Missouri was fairly uneventful.  But once we hit Arkansas, that's when things got interesting.

First off, what does it say about a state when one of the first billboards you see when you cross the border is advertising the wait time at the local ER?

I'm not kidding.  You know those Powerball billboards with the giant LED numbers on it that can change based on the current jackpot?  The billboard in Arkansas, right by the border, was advertising the current wait time in minutes for ER service.

Which, at the time, was 15 minutes.

With nothing else to do while driving but debate why this sign was helpful, my husband came up with a scenario.

"What if some gangsta thug was like, driving down the highway with his buddy who had a bullet wound to the gut, and they saw the wait time was 60 minutes?  The guy who was shot might be like 'Naw, it's good - lets go get some Arby's first.  We got time.'"


I only sigh because I could definitely see that happening in this day and age.


I started to wonder - is this what I signed up for on this trip? 

I mean, I had ideas:

But I didn't have these kinds of ideas:

Well, no turning back now.  We kept on goin'.

In what seemed like no time at all, we had arrived to our hotel.  And while the staff member that checked me in was friendly and professional, he didn't "get" the marathon.  At all.  He actually looked at me and said "Minnesota?!  What the heck is it about this marathon, anyway???"

I explained to him the finishers medal, and he was like: "Are you serious?  Like Flava-flav style?"

Yeah, boooiii.

Word up.

Since we had made such great time, and had already settled into the hotel, we unexpectantly had plenty of time to swing by the expo on Friday night to pick up my race packet.  The expo was pretty much what you'd expect - various booths, some clearance running gear, etc.  After perusing a few of the race specific shirts (of which I bought none), and buying a few spare GUs, we headed out.

Before I left, I decided I better double check that my bag had everything I expected.  It did.  But something about seeing my name on the bib at that second made reality sink in... I was about to run my first marathon.

*Deep breath - I can do this*


The next morning, with nothing else really better to do, my husband and I ended up wandering around by the kids run (accidentally).  We got a kick out of watching the kids finish with such determined looks on their faces.  Even funnier was the fact that some of the kids had adult pacers - who  were just as obnoxious and chipper as they are for adult runs.  I told my husband to imagine listening to them when you're on mile 22 of a marathon course and trying NOT to kick them in the nuts.  He just shook his head and shuttered to himself. 

As I watched the kids run to the finish line, the first wave of marathon nerves hit.  Thank goodness I had on big sunglasses and could hide it some. 

*Clears throat* Hey, is it lunch time yet?

While we wandered looking for a lunch spot, we came across the official start line.  Of course, I couldn't waste an opportunity.


After lunch, we spent the afternoon touring the local brewery, hanging out in our hotel room, and eating an early dinner.  When I came home that evening, another wave of nerves hit as I was setting things out in the bathroom.

*Deep breath - I can do this*



And mantra was born.


After an evening of somewhat restless sleep, I rolled over to see it was almost time for me to wake up.  Rather than trying to milk the clock for a few more minutes of sleep, I just decided it's time and got out of bed.

As I ate my standard pre-race banana and tried to enjoy a granola bar, my husband made me some coffee.  (Yes, I decided to have standard, caffeinated joe for race weekend, since I hear it helps with endurance... and other things pre-race *wink*.)

Knowing the situation wasn't going to be good, I checked the weather one last time.  To my surprise, it was predicted to look a little better than I had expected, in that it wasn't going to be pouring rain the ENTIRE race.  But it was now going to be 30 degrees and 15-20 mph winds.  Super.

Having my usual "what do I wear" struggle, I decided on a pair of winter weight tights, a t-shirt underneath my wonder woman dress, a wind breaker ... and for the first time ever, a hat.  That was hot pink and went with nothing else I was wearing.  SEX-AAAYYY!

Also, worried about the rain, I ensured I had PLENTY of anti-chafe protection in place.  I even did the backs of my knees and ankles in case the water made my tights bunch up and chafe in an odd spot.

By 6:30 I was fully suited up and stuck in a bubble, nothing seemed real.  Until I pinned on my bib.  Then, I finally freaked out.

I can't do this.  I can't.

My husband, the slow and steady balance to my wild and crazy, simply said "you've worked hard for this, you will be just fine". 

And that was it.  I knew I would be.

*Deep breath - I can do this.  I can and I will.*


The race was scheduled to start at 8am, with rules stating we were to be in corals by 7:30, so we headed over around 7am.

With a little time to kill, my husband helped take a few photos.

Finally, I bit the bullet, said my goodbyes, and got in my coral.

*I can and I will.*

While there, I made friends with a local lady who got a real kick out of me being from Minnesota.  Apparently the Arkansas folks like us northerners?  Anyway, we made small talk and took in the crowds, evaluating everyone's gear based on the weather predictions.  Rain ponchos, garbage bags, wind breakers ... wait, a guy in a straw cowboy hat and denim overalls? WTH!

My new friend turns to me and says "Did you see that, hun?  A guy in overalls.  You can go home and tell all your friends that we run like that down here."  *Scarcastic grin.*

As we stood around waiting, and waiting, and waiting... my friend and I both noticed there was a barefoot runner next to us.  I've seen this quite a few times now, so it's nothing new to me.  But my friend was pretty amused. 

"Look at that" she said.  "You should take a picture with her and go home to tell all your friends we run barefoot down here, too!!"

At least she had a good sense of humor about the reputation of her home state.  And we both got a few good snickers out of it.

As we continued to wait in the coral, and inch forward at a painfully slow pace, our luck ran out.  The skies opened up for the first heavy downpour.  I was only grateful at that point to be surrounded by so many other people to help absorb some of the water, since my feet managed to stay pretty dry.

Finally, finally, 40 some minutes after the first gun, my husband took one last snap shot and we were off.


The first few miles went by in a blur.  I remember seeing my husband unexpectantly in the first mile or so, because the course snaked back in on itself at that point and came within a block or so from the start.  He had decided to wait and watch for me to pass, and managed to get a decent shot.

Then, around mile 6 or 7, the course passed our hotel.  We knew there was a chance to get one last good photo in, so my husband waited to catch me again.

After that, I was on my own.  I was a little nervous knowing that.

*I can and I will.*


Since the course was going to take me around 5 hours to complete, I tried not to focus too much on any one thing, or to think too much about how far I had left to go.  In doing so, unfortunately, a lot of the miles during this race blurred together for me.

I did, in fact, see a banjo player with a harmonica around his neck somewhere in the first 8 or 9 miles, and remember passing a bunch of churches around what I think was miles 10 through 12.  There were some course splits as well, since the 10K and half marathoners needed a stop point.  Each time I passed one of those turn offs, I secretly wished I could get out of the rainy, misty weather and just go home.  But that's also what separates the boys from the men.

*I can and I will*


Right around the 13 mile mark, or maybe it was 14, the cold weather started to catch up with me.  I had felt like I needed to pee ever since the rain drenched me at the start coral, but there was no holding it any more.  Unfortunately, it was also right where the course passed the governor's mansion.  I'm ashamed to say, I gave up shaking the governor's hand for a pee break (and also, didn't want to shake his hand afterwards, given there were no washing stations - yuck). 

I think this is the first ever time I've stopped on course to use a bathroom.  I don't recall ever doing it before.  But then again, I've never ran this far on a course before.

The break was fine, technically.  I suppose I shouldn't keep talking about it.  But I do want to add that the stop was not quick.  You try taking less than 5 minutes when everything you are wearing is wet and plastered to your skin.  Like putting on a wet swimsuit - things get stuck in very odd places.


Finally, around mile 14 or 15, I started my "survive this thing" strategy.  I felt ok, aside from being VERY tight in the legs due to the cold, so it wasn't that I was feeling bad.  But, I had always planned that at the base of the hill that went from about mile 15 to 17, I was going to take a walk break.  I figured that I would save my energy, rather than burning it on a 2-3 mile incline, and then do the best I could on the last 8-9 miles of the course.

I now regret that plan.  (You'll see why on the map further below).

As I hit around mile 15, I was feeling good.  In fact, I hardly needed my mantra. 

And then it all fell apart.

Suddenly, a police car drove by with lights flashing and bull horn out.  "Wah-wah-wah, wah-wah, wah-wah-wah, cancelled".

There were a dozen or so people ahead of me, and a handful behind me as well.  We all looked around at each other, dazed.  It was a very Charlie Brown moment.

I yelled up to the people ahead of me and asked what happened.  They didn't hear me.

I yelled again. They still didn't hear me.

Finally, losing patience, I figured... when in Arkansas...


Yeah, I went there.  But whatever, it worked!!  All three of the people ahead of me snapped their heads back and responded that the course had been closed due to some worse weather coming, and that we had to leave.


I am somewhere on mile 15 or 16.  It is freezing cold.  I'm drenched to my underwear.  It's the farthest possible point from the finish line.  What.  The.  Hell.

A bunch of us start to clump up at this point, talking about what happened, and trying to decide what to do.  Several people want to continue on anyway, and some wonder how we're to get back.

A bunch more police and course workers on bikes go by, and each one of them tell us the same story.  The race has been cancelled.  If we continue on, we do so at our own risk.  Otherwise, we may cut off the course and head to the local Wal-Mart to await a shuttle.

I ask a spectator that I pass how far I am from the Wal-Mart.  He tells me it's another 3-4 miles.

Are you f-ing kidding me?!  If they aren't going to let us finish, then come get us here on the course.  Don't make us get to mile 20 of the marathon and THEN force us off.

A few spectators on course take pity on us, and start handing out cans of beer.  I always seem to be a bit early or late, and miss all these chances - BOO!

And when things can't get any worse, the mist clears and it starts to rain again.  Hard.  With the wind picking up.  And thunder.

A switch flips in my head.  I check out.  It's no longer "I can and I will." It's just - I want to go home.  My hands are so cold that I can't feel them anymore.  My fingers are locking up and I cannot bend or unbend them.  I try to stay warm by tucking my hands under my armpits and keep trudging forward.  My pace in the last two miles shows the switch, too.  I went from an average of 10-11 minutes per mile to 15 and 20 minutes per mile.  Ugh.

Behind me, the police are picking up the cones and letting traffic go through.  Ahead of me, since they have steered me off course and down a side street, there is nothing.  I am walking on a road that is open to traffic, with nothing to protect me except the sag wagon on my butt and a handful of runners around me.

But of course, the sag wagon doesn't offer to DRIVE any of us to the pick up point.

A bunch of us runners start to have a hate spiral.  We can't understand why we're being treated like this, and why there isn't a better rescue plan given the extreme weather rolling in.

More and more runners disappear as good Samaritans offer people rides back to the finish line.

Finally, I am one of four runners in a clump working their way down the hill.  A cop takes pity on us, and offers us a ride to the finish line.  I end up in the back seat of an unmarked squad car with two women, lights flashing.  Finally, the last runner relents and gets in with us. 

This is the best part: he was dressed like Wolverine.  Full on foam padded muscles, razor paws, and drinking what must be his third beer - a 24 ounce can of Coors Light.  He simply hops in the front seat of the squad car and says "I'll do you a favor and get off course, but I'm not giving up my beer.  I won't tell if you won't tell."

True story.


The cop car eventually makes it to about 1/2 block away from the finish line.  While the ladies in back try to talk the officer into taking a photo with them, I am D-O-N-E done.  I thank the officer for the ride, hop out, join in the stream of runners who are actually FINISHING their marathon, and waddle to the finish.  My cold muscles had locked up during the car ride, and I could barely manage a walking pace.

To add insult to injury, Bart Yasso decides to pick me of all people to single out and recognize.  He reads my name on my bib and says "Natalie, congratulations on YOUR marathon finish."  All I can do is shake my head, and hang it in shame.

Whatever, at this point, I figure I did my best.  I take a space blanket, a finishers medal, grab all the snacks I can handle, and head for the hotel... snickering to myself  as I go, since my time will show something like a 3:30 marathon finish if it picked up my chip when I crossed the mat.


Back at the hotel, I decide it's safe to finally take my phone out of it's zip loc bag, and I see I've got a back log of texts. 

Turns out, I missed out on the best remote location support team I could ever have:

That perks me up a little.  Well, that and the fact that I did end up getting my medal, even though it was only for a partial finish.

After drowning my misery in the free ho-hos I got at the finish, taking a hot shower, and mulling over the situation with my husband, my mood starts to lift.  And, I suppose seeing the massive lightning strikes out my hotel window helped a little, too. 


Later that night, we head to the post-race dinner.  It was ok, but I think it may have been a little more awesome to me if the food wasn't so ... blah.  It was basically some sort of BBQ meat, green beans, white rice and rolls.  That's it.  No mac & cheese, no black eyed peas, no mashed potatoes... nothing you would have expected at a real down south home style meal.  I did manage to find the side stand serving up hot dogs, and a TINY chocolate fondue fountain with marshmallows, so that helped a little. That, and watching a 50+ year old woman twerk in the middle of the dance floor, by herself, while the rest of us ate dinner.  Did I mention there was an open bar?  LOL!

Best water stop ever.

Aside from eating and music, there were a few other fun things to do.  I decided to take advantage those things, since I wasn't in a drinking mood.

Sorry to say, my husband wasn't really "feeling" the post race party, so we didn't say long.  Eventually, we headed back to our hotel.  Once there, I decided maybe I was in a drinking mood, and chose to drown my final sorrow. 

Ah.  Ice cream and booze.  Much better.


The whole ride home, the next day, all I could do was fret over my near miss.  Although I didn't think it would be such a big deal to become a "marathoner", I realized I was pretty bummed out.  I was so close to grabbing that brass ring, and it slipped right out of my finger tips.

And, my husband even said, he was watching me via the GPS in my phone, and he was upset for me.  He said I was keeping perfect pace for my 5 hour goal based on what he could see.  Then, he showed me where he last tracked me on the marathon map - I had made it through the most difficult parts of the course, and was about to roll down the hill to the final out and back to finish.

When I looked at where I was compared to my GPS watch, I realized he was right.

And given the confusion and my much slowed pace post mile 15, I kept a pretty dang good time.


Ugh.  So close, yet so far away.  Had I kept running instead of walking the hills around mile 14/15, I would have avoided the entire police escort situation by hitting the out & back portion of the course (the final 6-7 miles of the race) prior to them being able to find me.  That means I would have finished.  Instead, I did not.


In the end, I can't say that I'm sorry I gave this a try.  I also can't say it was a bad day.  I knew it was going to be a challenging event, and I knew the weather was a risk.  I'm not sorry gave it a shot, or that I came away with an awesome stinking medal.

Besides, it made me feel a little like this:


Now that I've been thwarted on this course, I'm torn... maybe I need to give it a go again next year?!  Stay tuned...


And that's the story of how race bib # 38 joined my collection.  Here's to another race soon... and I bet it will be a marathon make-up in the next few months!!

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