Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What the Hell is in Little Rock?

So, want to try something fun?

Here's what you do.

Start training for a marathon.  Don't tell anyone you're doing it.  Then, on the weekend of your race, just tell people you are taking an extended weekend away to visit Arkansas.

The reaction you get will go something like this:

*Blank stare*
*Long, awkward pause*
*Internal thoughts leading them to wonder what the hell is in Little Rock.*

And then finally, the person you are talking to will politely say "Ooooh.... do you have family down there?"

I'm not exaggerating.  Last week, I told no less than 4 people (maybe even more) that I was going down to Little Rock, Arkansas.  Not knowing that I was running the race, the response I got from each person was exactly the same as the above.  Exactly

To be fair, I have to be honest - I think I would likely have the same reaction if someone told me they were going to Arkansas.

Besides, it didn't help that I kept joking with everyone, after their response, that I needed to pack my banjo.

Ugh.  Why did I go to Little Rock again?

Oh right.  Because I trained for this and wanted this (spoiler alert - but let's face it, you know I didn't leave without getting that medal anyway):

 Not a flattering photo. 
Blame my husband.

At this point I have to say, I know.  You're dying to hear my race recap.  Don't worry, it's coming. 

HOWEVER, considering I spent 17 hours in a car yesterday coming home (thanks for the freezing sleet storm and fantastic driving conditions, Arkansas), I need more time to work on my recap.

So, in the meantime, why don't I mention a few highlights of "what the hell IS in Little Rock"?

First off, a decent hotel, that's what.  This is paramount if you're going to be spending the night, anyway.  So I'll start by saying I stayed at the Little Rock Holiday Inn Presidential:

It was about 5-6 blocks walking distance to the start/finish line of the marathon, and also reasonably close to the convention center hosting the packet pick up and post race party.

The staff was friendly, the rooms were nice, and everything was well furnished.  They even had a pre-race buffet sitting out for runners (juice, granola bars, etc. - very nice).  The only down side was that the highway noise was constant, but minor - almost like a white noise that lulled you to sleep, and I got stuck in a room with adjoining doors on each side (and I had the pleasure of knowing every Disney movie and drunken story my neighbors cared to air to the world).

Oh, that and... the very cheesey ad campaigns the hotel used.  Throughout the hotel, and on the massive interstate billboards.  Seriously, is it 1994?!

I think the owner must be very proud of his hotsy-totsy wife.  Or "niece".  Or something.


I found this hotel through the race organizer's suggested travel service, and booking with them went very smoothly.  And yes, I will admit - this wasn't the race's sponsor hotel.  But at $100 a night, the cost savings was worth not being connected to the convention center.

Moving on.

Once you cover lodging, you need food - right? 

Well, don't worry.  You will DEFINATLY not have a problem with this in Little Rock.

The first night, since we got in early and snuck into the packet pickup before it closed, we happened upon Irinia's Pizza.  It was just kitty corner from the convention center and seemed worth a shot.


I have to say - my husband and I were VERY pleasantly surprised by this accidental find.  The pizza was quite good, with a delicious crust, and very reasonably priced.  We split the small "clean the floor" pizza (basically a supreme, shown above), a large salad (no extras added), and each tried out a locally brewed beer called Diamond Bear (they had the seasonal hoppy option on tap, which was fantastic).  I think our total bill was $20-25, with great service to boot.  I couldn't have been happier.

Wanting to save money on food as much as possible, after dinner at Irinia's ... I strong armed my husband into hitting up the local Wal-Mart Supercenter to buy bananas, granola bars and other miscellaneous breakfast food. 


Arkansas + Friday Night + Wal-Mart Supercenter. 

Not fun. 

And, FYI, I have officially been banned from requesting to go to Wal-Mart while traveling with my husband.  He pointed out that I apparently did not learn my lesson in Kansas.  The whole experience became even more irritating to him when he discovered later that there was a Kroger less than 5 minutes drive from our hotel. 

Take that as a tip, folks - go to the Kroger instead.  Enough said.

Back on track.

With the first night's dinner and all breakfasts covered, we were left with Saturday lunch & dinner.  (Sunday's dinner was the post-race party, and lunch that day ended up being post-race snacks for me in the hotel, since the dinner started at 4 and it was close to 2 when I got back).

Saturday for lunch, we considered going to the River Market ... but, I guess you could call it a food court?  I think it is officially called Market Hall, and is on President Clinton Avenue, not too far from the race start/finish areas.

Although there were lots of fun options, and I was tempted to stay, I wanted to be somewhere a little more quiet/relaxing the day before my first marathon attempt.  So instead, we went about half a block down the street to a sit down brew pub place called Bosco's.

This place left me feeling a little ... meh.  Boscos was just ok.  The food was a bit expensive for what you got, and their in house brewed beers were not nearly as good as the Diamond Bear we had the day before.  I had the Portobello Club Sandwich with sweet potato fries and my husband had the Oyster Poo'boy with a side salad.  Both were fine, but nothing special.  Looking back on it, I wish we would have stayed at the River Market / Market Hall food area.

The last place we ended up eating was Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro. 

Thank goodness we went for an EARLY dinner (just before 5 pm check in).  They were booked to the gills with reservations, and only had a 2 seat table open ... which worked out perfect for us.

The food here was fantastic.  I threw caution to the wind a tad and shared a cheese dip appetizer with my husband, and then ordered the cheese tortellini with truffle mushroom & tarragon cream sauce.  My husband had a saffron creole rice dish with shrimp that was also very good.  (I know this was a marginal choice the night before a marathon, but remember... this girl = stomach of steel... most of the time, anyway).

Although dinner was great, the highlight for me was the dip. I kid you not, that cheese dip was HUGE.  It could have fed a family of 6 for dinner, not just an appetizer.

Yes, that is a soup spoon in that bowl.  It is to scale.

Yes, we managed to put a sizable dent in the dip.  Just the two of us.

Don't judge.

Aside from food, I had some sprite (a pre-race ritual for me now), and my husband had a beer.  Our total tab ended up being around $60 pre tip, but was worth every penny.  Delicious!!

OK.  So I've covered lodging and food.  What the hell ELSE is there to do in Little Rock?

Well, on marathon weekend, it's pretty fun to spectate in some of the events going on.  We spent some time Saturday mid day walking down President Clinton Avenue, oogling shops and watching the kids in their fun run.  So cute!!  And I even got to see a little girl who reminded me of myself at about 6 years old - chubby, trying so hard, and not wanting to break down in frustration when realizing she's pretty much in last place.  I cheered her so hard that I got a little teary eyed.  I wish I had race opportunities like that when I was a kid, man!!

While spectating, I started to get some major marathon nerves and was getting a tad weepy.  Since touring some of the local historic sights seemed way too serious given my condition, I proposed we check out the Diamond Bear brewery - which apparently offered a public tour at 3pm on Saturday.


The tour was fun, and definitely one of the SMALLEST breweries we've ever toured (we've been to Surly prior to the upgrade, Summit, Leinie's, Miller and Coors).  There wasn't really much to see, since it was essentially a 2 stall garage with extended work area, so most of the tour was a verbal history of brewing in America, and details about Diamond Bear itself. 

Overall, the tour guide was very nice, but a little long winded.  Oh well, what else were we going to do for an hour or two, anyway?  And in the end, it was worth it.  For $7 each, we got 3 samples of beer, a tour, and a commemorative pint glass.  Plus I got to drown my nerves a bit.  Not too shabby.

One last thing I really wished I would have been able to do before I left Little Rock was to ride the trolleys.  They don't go far, but how cute are they?

Unfortunately, after eating my way through Little Rock and taking a Brewery Tour, I needed to have some me time to rest and prep for the marathon.  So, that didn't end up happening. 

But, don't worry too much about that ... there's always next year... and you'll see why I say this in my race recap in a few days!!


  1. I visited Little Rock on business once a few years ago. It is a surprisingly quaint little town! There is a lot more there to see and do than it gets credit for!

    1. I know! It's actually a cute little place!! I wouldn't be in a hurry to plan a trip there, since it's such a haul from Minneapolis, but I'm glad I got to see it!