Because I had made it to bed at 9:30pm on Saturday night, I felt pretty well-rested waking up at 6:30am. Aaron had warned me the night before that he was going to get up at 5am in order to eat breakfast and shower, an idea I pooh-poohed. Why would you shower before you run a marathon? It made no sense to me, though he said he didn’t know anyone who didn’t shower beforehand. So strange to me! So I pose this question to all of you: do you shower the morning of a marathon or ultra? (Sorry, short distancers need not answer… I definitely shower before short distances because you don’t get as sweaty/gross).
Anyway, the funny thing about this was that when I woke up and looked in the mirror, I realized that my hair was disgustingly greasy already. Normally I’d let it go, but because I had a flight to catch immediately after finishing and wasn’t going to have time to shower then, I decided I should at least start with clean hair to minimize the damage. So much for Aaron believing me that I don’t shower before a marathon!
I was a little worried about having enough time to get ready, because I hadn’t planned for a shower or to dry my hair, but I ended up ready in plenty of time. We walked outside into some gorgeous, balmy weather (okay, so it was 47, but that felt like heaven to my northeast self!), and I knew that just wearing a tank and skirt was the right choice. After dropping off all my stuff at my car (since I wouldn’t be going back to the hotel), Aaron and I headed over to the start a few blocks away. Once we got there, we separated, and I spent the last twenty minutes using the portapotty, calling my mom, and chatting with some other Maniacs I found in a cluster. I also snapped a quick pic with the cut-out board they had near the corrals (not sure why this was at the start instead of the finish, but it’s still cool!).
Finally, we lined up. I ditched my space blanket coverup even before the race started, and soon it seemed the start was approaching. There was no National Anthem or other words, but all of a sudden the music blared: “I want it all. I want it all. I want it all… and I want it NOW!” And on the word “now”, a shower of confetti streamed out over the starting line as the runners took off. What a cool way to start a race! I loved running through the confetti, and threw my arms up in the air as I did so, feeling like I had already won something 🙂
The route turned in circles a bit as we went, reminding me a lot of the start of the Quad Cities Marathon in Moline. After mile 2 or so, I started feeling something I hadn’t felt in years: a stitch in my stomach. That was what used to happen to me in high school gym class when I attempted to run the mile (and failed). Why on earth was it back? I tried to take really deep breaths, but was a bit constricted by my fuel belt and heart rate monitor. Luckily, in another mile or so it faded away and was gone – but how scary! I don’t know why on earth that would come back; I thought it was something I had outgrown.
Soon we crossed over a bridge to North Little Rock and I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace (without looking at my watch). At mile 5, I slowed to a walk to drink some water… and the 3:40 group passed me. Whoa! I guess I had been going a bit faster than I thought. Soon after that, I passed mile 7 and glanced at my watch… to find that it was only 59 minutes into the race. Wow! I wasn’t exhausted at that point the way I was in Austin after going out fast, which was great, and I began to harbor hopes of maybe even coming in sub-4 (with 4:00 even being the approximate goal I had set).
Shortly after mile 8, I gratefully accepted a cup of beer from a spectator, and boy, was it good. Some runners around me looked appalled that I actually took it, but I knew that a 4 oz taste of beer wasn’t going to get me drunk – it would just provide a nice round of carbs, carbonation, and a little bit of relaxation. And who doesn’t need that at mile 8 in a marathon?! 🙂
I was happy to see mile 10, and there was an arch of balloons for us to run through when we got there – super. Soon after that, we split from the half-marathoners… and then came back together with them again a mile later. It was so surreal to be running and then see a steady stream of runners coming from another direction to merge with us! I’ve never experienced that before in a race – usually you either stay together right until the half-marathoners finish, or you split and never see them again (at least, not running together). I was glad to be running with them though – I always enjoy seeing how people run when they’re close to the end of their race, and I had a lot of fun encouraging half-marathoners whose pace was flagging. After telling one woman that she had less than a mile to the finish, she picked it up from a walk and ran with me until we split, which was great. Kim hadn’t run in several months after having surgery on her foot, so it was really great that she was out there for a half-marathon. Between the two of us, we encouraged a few other walkers to join us in running, and it was neat that when I left her for the last time, she had a mini pace group around her of people who were determined to run it in 🙂
Once the race split, the field cut dramatically… but there was still a nice crowd of people to run with. At our halfway point, we crossed some chip mats that would give us our split time, and I was happy to see that I did the first half in 1:56… almost on pace for a 3:50 finish! However, I knew that the tough hills were in the second half, and also that that’s where fatigue would really set in. With this in mind, I tried to gear myself up for the mental challenge that I knew would be up ahead: miles 14 and 15 were one big long hill, and it would take a lot of mental strength to get to the top without giving up for lack of a break.
Fortunately, the elevation map proved to be a bit misleading. While I felt the hill in mile 14, it seemed like mile 15 was pretty flat, and even had a few dips down in it. I worried about that – had I remembered the miles wrong? Was the big hill at mile 16 and still to come? We crested a short and not-too-difficult hill as we approached mile 16, and a spectator told us that it was “all downhill from here.” Really? Or would this be like the older gentleman at mile 2 who told us “you’re almost done!” 🙂
Well, this spectator turned out to be much more accurate. Shortly after crossing mile 16, we wound our way through the streets and then came upon a huge and glorious downhill. Unlike the runners around me who tried to rein in their legs and maintain a moderate pace on the downhill, I let my legs just go until I felt like I was flying. What a rush! I glanced down at my watch and found that I was running a – wait for it – 6:30 pace! Gosh, it felt fantastic. It reminded me of mile 8 or so in the San Francisco Marathon, where you just got to fly down this mountain at breakneck speed. It’s those moments in a marathon that just make me really appreciate running and how much it can be like flying 🙂
After the gorgeously long one mile downhill, the course flattened out for a 5 mile out-and-back section along the river – 2.5 miles out, 2.5 miles back. I got to that section too late to see the male leaders on their way back, but I saw what I think were the leading ladies as well as a bunch of other elite men. I also started seeing a lot of walkers who had taken the 6am early start and were two hours ahead of the rest of us. At the front of the pack, it was very easy to tell who was elite and who had taken the early start, but as I progressed and the runners going the other direction were more mortal, it became hard to tell who had taken the early start and who had run a hard 20 miles but was now too tired and was walking it in 🙂
At mile 18, I started feeling tired, and this became the point where I started employing the “just hang on” strategy that worked so well for me in Austin. I suppose it’s progress that this time it happened at mile 18 instead of mile 8, but I wish it hadn’t happened at all! Trying to run through that kind of exhaustion is just no fun at all.
Compounding my lack of energy was the fact that this out-and-back was especially windy. I had noticed the wind a bit throughout the race, but it wasn’t terrible – just noticeable. Here, I really felt it – I actually had tears pouring down my cheeks because of the wind! I hoped no one else noticed – I’m always afraid that if I’m crying or otherwise looking like I’m in bad shape, some volunteer is going to pull me off the course and not allow me to finish.
Around mile 20, I passed Larry Macon (my favorite!) and Paula Boone (50 State Club founder), which was fun. They had taken the early start and seemed to be having a great time walking together. Larry couldn’t believe I was up to my 40th state already, and he and Paula were really excited about my finish in a few months. I am too!
Which reminds me – I get asked a lot what I think about when I’m running. Lately, I think a lot about my 50 State finish and how I want it to be. The Minneapolis Marathon race organization seems to be really eager to accommodate me, so today I started wondering if I can get them to play a special song when I’m coming down the finish chute… and if so, what that special song could be. So many good choices from my marathon power songs playlist! I’ve also thought a lot about whether I want to run with friends or just by myself and meet whomever along the way, what I want to wear, and who I want to be there at the finish. Suggestions for those things (and anything else) are always welcome 🙂
Finally, I hit mile 23 and the end of the out-and-back. Only about 5k to go! Unfortunately, this didn’t give me a wave of energy like it sometimes does. Back at mile 20, I had calculated that if I could just maintain a 9:30 pace (not too fast for me these days, even at the end of a race), I’d make 4 hours. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to do that, and now I realized that the only way I’d break or meet 4 hours would be if I really picked up the pace – something that was not possible for me at that point.
I also feared the one last hill that I knew was coming at mile 25. What an awful place for a hill! Steamtown had one in the same exact place and I just hated it. If you’re on pace for a PR or some other incredible time, you might be able to swing powering up it… but most of the time, I find myself just giving up and walking it and not caring. This time, I did just that, but at least used the time to pull out my Droid and change the music from my Marathon – Country playlist to my Marathon – Power Songs playlist. I usually do that about 30 minutes from the end, and because of that usually finish to one of the same few songs, so I was curious to see where I’d finish this time having started it so late.
The one perk of that big uphill at mile 25 was that we got a nice downhill coming off it. I didn’t quite fly this time, but I did get a good pace going, and the combination of that and my new playlist got me motivated again. I was less than ten minutes away from finishing my 40th state! Let the final countdown begin 🙂
Right after we reached the base of the hill and the course flattened out, we passed a booth on the side of the road sponsored by L’Oreal – the lipstick station! Volunteers had tons of lipsticks that you could put on to be “ready for your closeup” at the end of the race. What a cute idea! I wanted to stop, but I was on the other side of the road, and just wasn’t motivated enough by the lipstick to take the extra steps to cross the road. But what a neat idea! More races should put that in – it’s definitely a cute touch, though I do wonder how many people actually stop for it.
As we neared the finish, we started seeing more and more spectators (though I should note that there was actually a fair smattering of them all throughout the course). There was a group walking along the side of the road as we approached mile 26, and at first I feared that they would get in the way of my trademark kiss-my-hand-then-slap-the-26-mile-mark move. Luckily, they passed it just before I did, so I was able to do it. That’s the first time I’ve gotten to do it in a while! Unfortunately, I was still too tired to do the other part of that routine – switching to a sprint right after slapping the sign.
However, I wasn’t too tired to put a huge smile on my face and pick up the pace just a little bit so I was finishing strong. As we approached the finish and the crowds of spectators got bigger, the applause multiplied, which further boosted my mood. I had done it! Forty states down, and now to my long-awaited final countdown of my last ten. I couldn’t believe it.
As soon as the finish line got in sight (probably about 0.05 miles to go), I decided I was going to go for it – and kicked it up to my signature sprint, passing several people (including a few who looked like they were in my age group!) on the way. I crossed the finish line with my watch showing 4:03:02… a time I hoped would “officially” be somewhere in the 4:02s, depending on how accurately I had started my Garmin.
After I crossed, it was now time for the biggest athletic challenge of all: using my not-well-trained neck muscles to raise my head after they put the gigantic medal on. You think I’m joking, but the Little Rock Marathon is known for having the biggest finishers’ medal in the country, and they are not joking around with that honor! It’s the size of my whole face, and weighs at least 5 pounds. Good thing they put it on a really sturdy ribbon that wouldn’t break!
Overall, I’m pleased with my performance. Now the question just becomes how to a) fit the medal on my medal board (it’s too big!) and b) prevent my medal board from falling off the wall with the addition of the Little Rock medal (it’s too heavy!). I may just have to settle for propping it up on my dresser 🙂
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 384/1543
Gender place: 78/573
Age group place: 6/38 (F20-24)