This is the 'biggie'. In my "Mission to Maniac Membership", this is the qualifying race that will bring my quest to a successful completion. The road to this point has been long, time consuming, and focused. I feel good, confident, and excited about heading to Little Rock, earning that HUGE Finisher's Medal, and becoming a Marathon Maniac!
The adventure began on Saturday morning with the flight from O'Hare to Little Rock. The plane was delayed 45 minutes waiting for de-icing. The pilot poured on some speed so we arrived only 15 minutes late. After a quick cab ride to the Hampton Inn, I was able to check-in right away. I dropped everything in the room and headed to the Expo!
The convention center, only a 5-10 minute walk away, was where the expo was held. I picked up my race packet, found Clif Bloks that I needed, and toured all the vendors. The expo was of a nice size but definitely smaller than I had expected. I met up with Eddie and two of his Team AllEars friends Holly and Dave Aulen, who were really nice (and from the Chicagoland area!). We decided to go have lunch at Bosco's, where they brew their own beers. So we tried our some very good beer while enjoying a great lunch, good conversation, and a lot of laughter.
Then we returned to the expo, where we ran into Michael Miller, Keith Schlottman, Derek Ralston, and Jeff Davenport. We needed to get Eddie and Michael registered for Early Start and then attend the mandatory meeting for those doing the Early Start. The room was packed so it looked like there was going to be several hundred people starting at 6:00am the next morning.
Then I headed back to the hotel, where I ran into Jen Luegers, Abbi Beuby Auger, Dave Mari, and a bunch of other Maniacs who were also staying there. I also met up with WISHer Susie Capehart and her husband, and we decided to go to dinner where we enjoyed some tasty pizza with another couple! On our way there, we passed Eddie and his friends who were at the restaurant next door!.
When I went to the hotel to get some sleep, I noticed the faint smell of cigarette smoke in the room. Turned out it was coming from the bathroom! Yuck! So after complaining to the Front Desk, they agreed to move me to a new room the next day. But at least I did get to bed for a good night's sleep.
The alarm went off at 4AM and I was ready to get started! I had everything already laid out, including my pre-race breakfast food. I got dressed, gathered all my race gear, and headed downstairs to eat my breakfast. I met up with Abbi and we headed to the 5:30am Maniac group photo at the Martial Arts Gateway.
It was dark and a lot colder (at 29F) than I was hoping for, being in the south. But, I was prepared for it so I had my throwaway clothes to keep me warm. With a minute before 6:00am, the National Anthem was sung and the race began! Because we opted for the Early Start option , we were told we had to stay with the 6-hour pacers and not pass them until after the elite runners had passed by (which happened around Mile 15). If you finished too fast, you risked disqualification.
At race start, I couldn't find Eddie, Holly, or Michael so I ran with Abbi and a few other Maniacs. Luckily, Eddie found me as we reached the Broadway Bridge around Mile 3. Running with them, Abbi, and many other Maniacs made the race truly memorable! I got to run with Eddie, Holly, and Michael through the first 13 miles, and we had a blast the entire time! When I first started running races, I ran by myself. But whenever I had a chance to run with friends (like Mike Rice or my W.I.S.H. friends, or buddies from the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs), the race was always a much more fun experience. Running with friends may not always result in a PR (sometimes it does!) but it always results in tons of fun and remarkable event!
One of the cool things that occurred during this race was finally getting to meet The Endorphin Dude (Tony Nyugen)!! I have been communicating with him for about a year on FaceBook but never had the chance to meet him. So I was especially excited when I ran into him on the course around Mile 15! Tony is a great guy, and it was awesome having the chance to talk with him in person. We ran together for a solid 3 miles before I continued ahead. (I would run into Tony later at Mile 23.5).
For the most part, the race was pretty flat. There were definitely some hill inclines between Miles 14-16, a nice downhill around Mile 17, and a steady uphill incline from Mile 24-25.5. But other than those, it was flat. There is not a ton to see in Little Rock, but the race course definitely takes you passed everything worth seeing -- The Clinton Library, the Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, and a few other noteworthy sites. And the race support was fantastic!
Up to this point, I had been running at a comfortable 12:30-13:45 pace. Having already run two Fulls this year, I was not as worried about my time as I was about finishing the race feeling strong and without injury. And I really wanted to focus on maintaining a consistent pace during the race (as opposed to my usual faster 'first 13' followed by a slower second 13). And I was pleased that I was keeping to my plan. Plus, I wanted to enjoy this particular race.
When I reached Mile 20 (and they had a special mini celebration set up there), I felt really good. I never hit "the wall" in this race. I had energy the entire 26.2 miles.
After passing Mile 20, I was really excited! I felt really strong; I was running well (doing 4/1 intervals); and I was on pace for a possible PR if I could keep to a 12:00/mm pace. So I was feeling really positive! Of course, that was when it happened. At Mile 23.5, my calves were beginning to twitch so I stopped to do some stretching. But when I started running again, I experienced a really sharp pain in my right hip! Painful enough that I stopped running immediately.
I tried doing some stretching and massaging the area. But when I tried to run, it would hurt. So I decided to play it smart and just walk for a while to avoid causing injury. As I walked, The Endorphin Dude caught up with me and walked with me for about 1/2 mile. I really appreciated him doing that. We talked for a good while, until he had to get going to catch up with his friends (he was pacing a friend to a new PR).
So I kept moving forward, talking to people, and trying to stay positive. I knew that walking meant giving up on the chance for a PR, but that walking was the best decision to make. It also meant walking that last uphill climb, which kept the stress off my hips. When I reached Mile 25.5, I could feel the end of the race approaching. I decided not to take advantage of the 'beer station' before that last bridge (hmmm... maybe I should have!) because at this point, I did not want to slow down.
I wanted to finish the race running, so I gave it another try. The good news was that the hip was sore but didn't otherwise complain. So I was able to run the remaining distance to the finish line, getting a high-five from Bart Yasso within 50 yards of the Finish mat!!! As I finished the race, and walked further down the runner's shoot, I saw The Endorphin Dude! He came over to me as I received my HUGE medal and yelled out "We have a newly minted Maniac here!" We took photos together, and several Maniacs in the area congratulated me.
I walked over to the Perks Tent to get something to eat, and ran into Eddie, Holly, Dave, and Michael coming out. I was glad that I got to see them, as they finished before me. We took a group photo before I grabbed a slice of pizza and a cookie to munch on. I really just wanted to sit down and give that hip a rest. I sat there for a good 10 minutes before heading back to the hotel.
On the way back, I ran into Susie, who had just finished the Half Marathon! How cool was that! We discussed meeting up later for the post-race party. I really needed to shower and do some stretching. I also wanted to find out what the hotel was going to do regarding moving me to a room that didn't smell like cigarette smoke. Well, they weren't quite ready for the move yet (which was fine because I just wanted to lay down for a while).
The first thing I did when I got into my room was send an email to the Marathon Maniacs to let them know I finished the race! I wanted to get that response saying I was a Maniac!!! Then I was able to shower and do some good hip/glute stretches before meeting up with Eddie and the AllEars team for drinks.
After that, it was time to go to the post-race party so I met up with Susie and we walked over to the convention center. Man, the party was pretty big. We piled the tasty food on our plates, got some sodas, and chowed down! They had a dance floor set up, and a DJ was playing good tunes and trying to get people up to dance. It was surprising to see that marathoners still had the ability to get out there and dance!
After the party, I went back to the hotel. They moved me to a different room which was nice. I spent the rest of the evening just resting. I got my Maniac confirmation email around that time, which was awesome!!! And I had a great night's sleep!
Monday morning was pretty calm. I had a good breakfast at the hotel and then got a ride from the Capeharts to the airport (which was very nice of them to do). The flight home was uneventful. I thought it was funny that because the medal was so huge, I had to take it out of my bag and place it in its own 'bin' so that it would go through the xray machine separately.
The Little Rock Marathon was a well organized, fun race experience with tons of support along the race course. Definitely a highlight of my race experiences thus far, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun marathon race. And, having that medal as part of your medal display just can't be beat!