The race is super fun because they change the theme every single year. They make a big deal about announcing the theme and revealing the medal. Every year I've had something going on around the time of that race that prevented me from doing it but I had it on my radar last year as I started trying to get my endurance back up. And then they had the big theme reveal:
The whole idea of a "QUEST" was right up my ally. I decided right then I was going to register. But I had to wait until December to register and to see the medal:
The idea of doing a marathon is all well and good, but the actual training and running of it is quite another. When I registered I put together a training plan for myself and set out to make my comeback my "quest"...
However, my return into the world of endurance sports was not what I expected it to be. I realized I simply do not have the energy or strength that I really NEED in order to properly train.
Leading up to this race I keep reminding myself that it has an EIGHT HOUR cut off time!! They ENCOURAGE walkers!! With my marathon PR being 4:2?, and having done that talking the entire time, and speeding up the last two miles, the thought of doing an EIGHT hour marathon was a little sad but the thought of being able to do a marathon at all after all I've been through the last two years thrilled me to my core! I spent a lot of time in the beginning of the year on my walking treadmill (it only goes up to 2 miles an hour!). One day I got a full FIVE hours on that thing!
I did a few "long runs" but really I think my longest was only about 6 or 7 miles until the Hot Chocolate 15k turned 7 miler. My training was woefully inadequate to say the least. But ...EIGHT HOURS to WALK a marathon? To me, that boiled down to mental toughness.
I was right.
And I was wrong.
My daughter, potato2ironman was signed up for her first half marathon so we planned to stay together until the half/full split at mile 11. Her cutoff was four hours. Her training was as inadequate as mine was. Really it was even less because she wasn't on the walking treadmill leading up to the race and she didn't have the benefit of past experiences to draw from.
Also doing the race was a guy I've adopted as my brother and (a well seasoned/experienced marathon race-walker), his daughter (for her second marathon), a friend from Huntsville doing the half, an athlete I've been coaching since I first started who is now more of a friend than "an athlete I coach", and my husband! Originally he said he was going to do the race WITH me, but that was when he thought I'd be running more than walking!
My "frathlete" was coming from Canada so we rented a house for the week she was going to be in town in my all time favorite part of town, Hillcrest. I got to see my best friend (sister) and my son before she got into town and then we settled in until Dwayne, Ashley and her boyfriend got there the next day.
The expo was AMAZING!!! It was exactly what I like race expos to be--LIVELY!! It was FULL of cool vendors (90% of which had something to do with running), and FULL of participants. That's fairly easy to do when you have like ten thousand people doing your race weekend! (I don't know how many they have doing the race, but they have a 5k, 10k, half and full marathon plus a kids race.) They had a cool stage area with big self stations, and really cool vendors. I had two favorites...a lady selling race charms (like for necklaces) and another one called 73Threads. I'm not going to gush over just how much I loved them, but I did spend a good bit of money at their booth...and I did invite them to come to the Rocket City Marathon expo...and I did a happy dance when they said yes!!! :D. ((The pendant person can't come to our expo because she is from Dallas and their marathon weekend is the same as ours...bummer.))
We decided to just go to the grocery store for dinner foods since we all had different pre-race dietary needs. And then we turned in fairly early.
Race morning we were all up and about well before sunrise and at the race start in time for the obligatory bathroom stops and photos!
Ashley and I lined up at the very back. We sough out the 8 hour pacers (who we found out were NOT the sweepers*). After what happened to us at the Hot Chocolate 15k turned 7 miler, we didn't want to take any chances with cutoffs. As we lined up I went to make friend with the cops who I thought would be following us all day* and then I met someone who, little did I know, would come in handy closer to the end of the race... a self proclaimed "Fire Ball Aid Station".
Let me explain...this participant had a full Camelbak running bladder ful of Fire Ball cinnamon whiskey!! (Yes, I did have to verify this for myself...I figured the alcohol would kill any germs from the spout...)
About 8 minutes after the "actual" start of the race, we crossed the start line...and it started to sprinkle rain! At least it wasn't freezing cold like the last race Ashley and I did together.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the first 11 miles with Ashley. She is a very fun person to be in a race with. We were cheering the spectators and dancing and cutting up. Even when it started raining much harder, she was having as much fun as I was. She had been having some issues with her shoes leading up to the race and ended up having to get new shoes so I was worried about her but as long as we were walking, she was fine. It bothered her if we tried to run much so we just kept our pace up enough to stay with the 8 hour pacers.
It wasn't until about mile 6 or so that I started doing some math. We were WAY ahead of the pace we thought we were. That's when we found out the 8 hour pacers were banking time on the front half of the course because they knew the second half of the marathon course was much slower! That was fine for me, but it meant Ashley was going much faster than she had intended. When we found that out, we slowed down.
Let me just say, I LOVED the course. I loved everything about it. It's HILLY and it has a TON of turns. It goes through some "less desirable" parts of town but it also goes by some of the best Little Rock has to offer. There's even a short bit on the North side of the river. There were lots of spectators (even for those of us in the back of the pack), and the aid stations were all ROCKING. The police were INCREDIBLY friendly, and every single road was protected by police or crossing guard type workers. There was some great music on the course and SEVERAL things to take pictures of along the way. When they say they encourage walkers, they REALLY MEAN IT!! I never felt like I was pulling up the rear of anything. ((Part of that is because I wasn't....turns out, from what I understand, they have an 8 hour cut off for official finishers, but they don't actually cut anyone off. The police roll behind the last people in there race no matter how slow they are!! I NEVER saw them behind me even one time.))
At the half/full split off I said goodbye to Ashley as she headed out to finisher her race alone, and I forged ahead, knowing I still had another 15ish miles to go! It had rained off and on the whole morning and I was pretty soaked, but I wasn't cold and I had good layers to add/subtract as needed. But I was VERY sad to lose my running buddy. I strongly considered cutting my race in half, but I REALLY wanted that marathon medal, and I wanted Ashley to have the chance to do finish this super hard thing on her own. I knew she could do it and I hoped I could too.
I decided I wanted to catch up to the eight hour pacers so I started a nice run/walk by feel. I was feeling strong but I knew there were hills coming and I still had 15 miles ahead of me.
About an hour went by when I got the text saying Ashley had finished!!! I started crying and telling anyone who would listen around me that my daughter just finished her first half marathon!!! They all cheered with me!! :D
I finally caught, and passed the 8 hour group! I was feeling really strong and full of myself but I was feeling a little bit of a hot spot on the bottom of my left foot. It wasn't a fully on blister yet, but it was certainly threatening to get there. I decided there was northing I could do about it, so I kept run/walking along. Not like I would quit over something like that....
And then we hit the real hills...and then it started POURING down rain. It was so hard I thought it might be HAILING!! I actually started laughing. I was coming up to an aid station on the outskirts of Hillcrest (only about 1/2 mile from the house had rented). There was a group of kids working it who were having a RIDICULOUS amount of fun dancing in the rain. Seeing them dancing and laughing reminded me that rain isn't a bad thing! That was just what I needed to keep me moving away from the rent house that was calling my name, bidding me to quit early and just rest!!
Up a huge hill...the one I thought would be the worst because it was SO long....through Alsop Park (the perfect scene for an episode of Criminal Minds thanks to the feeling of isolation in the woods), and down to the river.
Can I say, I love the Arkansas River? I love Rebsamen Park and the Arkansas River Trail (a greenway that runs along side the river although you can't actually SEE the river). But by the time I got there my foot was HURTING. I wasn't able to run much because that hot spot had bloomed and was a squishy, burning, full-on blister. Every other part of me felt GREAT except my stinking foot. The part of the course that runs by the river is a VERY VERY VERY long, flat, straight out and back. It felt like it would never end. When I hit the turn around point I saw the Fireball Aidstation gal!!!
Can I say, Fireball really DOES take pain away? I probably would have finished about 30 minutes ahead of where I did if I had a little flask of that to carry with me!! (Either that or I wouldn't have made it back at all...either way I think I would have been happy!)
But the Fireball anesthesia "shot" didn't last long. My foot was hurting. I couldn't really run at all from the squishy pain. No matter what I tried, I would involuntarily shift my weight which would have caused some other issues that I just didn't want to deal with. At one point I was texting with Dwayne (yes, texting in a "race"...I was WALKING for crying out loud!)...that man actually suggested I QUIT!! It was mile 23.5!! He thought he was trying to be supportive but I quickly told him that was NOT what I needed to hear.... I had less than 3 miles to go. I needed to hear him tell me to suck it up buttercup and get myself to the finish line no matter what. ((That's almost exactly what Bilbo told me when I was winging and complaining to her!))
I forgot to say that earlier in the race Ashley and I saw my "sister" and her kids along with Ashley's boyfriend. It's always so wonderful to see spectators, but it's especially wonderful to see YOUR spectators. I was feeling pretty down when I saw my cheering squad...my sister, her kids. my daughter (wearing her medal), her boyfriend and my son who drove over an hour to come cheer for me! Seeing them was WAY better than Fireball! It gave me what I needed to get through my one last challenge.
Before I get to that, can I just take a minute say, it's HARD work to spectate a race!!? You don't train for it. You don't have the excitement of the course moving around you. You have the stress of trying to be at a certain place at a certain time...a time you have no perfect way to know because your runner can speed up or slow down along the way (that is IF you have a tracker on your runner, which I did but most of the time you don't). And, it's fun to cheer for runners, but it's really YOUR runner you are wanting to see, and you only get to see them for a fleeting moment in time. It's hard work. If someone comes to cheer for you at a race...they seriously LOVE you.
When we drove the course before the race I made a point to say the long climb leading into Hillcrest was going to be the hardest for me. It's just such a long climb that never seems to end... But Dwayne said a short little hill at the end would be the worst because it was at the end (like mile 25) and it was steep. But I said he was wrong because it was so short.
Can I just say he was ...right... (again). Holy hills Batman. When I saw that thing I just wanted to cry. There was a gal close to me who asked me if we were really going the right way! (She didn't know!?) I told her we had to be since the road was closed and there were a ton of other "runners" (walkers) ahead of us! It was stinking HARD to get up that dang hill. I don't think it would have been an issue if not for that blister. I had energy (thankfully), and (other than the pain in my foot) I was feeling really good about the day. It's funny how one (not so) little thing than derail all the other things.
After I got over the hill Dwayne was telling me I was super close but it felt like I was still miles and miles away. He told me where he was waiting for me so I started searching for him. ((It wasn't hard, there was pretty much NO ONE out there, but I can't see very well...)) Right before I got to him I came upon the "Lipstick Station"! North Little Rock is home to a Mabeline factory, and they are sponsors of the race. They have a tent set up at the 26 mile marker where you can actually put on lipstick and primp before your big finish! (No, I didn't stop, but I did let her give me some lipstick that I quickly gave to Dwayne to carry!) He gave me a big kisss and I slowly jogged by my cheering section through the finish!!
Can I just say that finish was one of the sweetest moments I've had. It seriously ranks up there with my Ironman finishes and my Mountain Mist finish. Honestly, I think it was "better" than my first marathon finish. When I did my first marathon, I had trained hard. My longest run leading up was 22 miles (or close to it). I had done like 90% of the training the Fleet Feet training group plan had prescribed. I wasn't positive I could finish, but I was fairly confident. For this one, I had NO IDEA if I'd be able to finish it or not. I wasn't willing to risk injury (a blister is not an injury by my definition even though it was painful). And I had NOT trained. I felt confident in my mental toughness to get through a hard thing, but sometimes the hard thing wins. The ONLY reason I was able to do it was the 8 hour "cutoff"...my finish time was right around 7:45!! But that's why I picked this race. Okay, the medal is why I picked it, the cutoff is why I was okay signing up even though I wasn't sure how "training" was going to go.
Can I just say I LOVED this race? I will certainly do it again. I hope I'll be trained next time. I hope it doesn't rain next time. Either way, I know I'll have a great experience next time.
Oh...and I took one ONE HUNDRED PICTURES during this race!!! Quote from Dwayne "we had a totally different race experience"... Yes we did, baby! Yes we did!! I'm so very glad I did or I might have forgotten all the wonderful memories from this race!!
Thanks for joining me on this journey!