Monday, March 10, 2014

Marathon PR!! My EPIC Little Rock Marathon Race Report

Okay, so it was my first marathon and this year's theme was "epic," but anyway...

Due to several factors, my training did not proceed according to plan.  Modifications are always necessary, but I had several major challenges to face during this training cycle.  Getting the flu (or food poisoning) and two colds caused interruptions.  I also had some knee pain during my longest training runs that slowed me down significantly at times.  The biggest challenge was the weather, specifically the bitterly cold temperatures and heavy winter precipitation.  Oh, and my refusal to run inside on treadmills or eleven-laps-per-mile tracks.  I did actually run on a treadmill for an hour on a particularly icy day.  It. Was. Agony.  And, I was actually sore the next day; so sore, in fact, that I had to cut short that day's run.  I braved the cold temps and wind and snow and ice and slush when I deemed it safe.  I am sure non-runners who saw me thought I was absolutely crazy for being out (that usually just encourages me.)  Heck, a lot of runners thought I was crazy!  Even though I was out on the road getting the time and miles under my feet, my pace was much slower than I had hoped, ultimately limiting the resulting training effects.  So, overall, I did not complete the total volume of running at the desired intensity that I had planned.

Carb-loading at Big Whiskey's
Regardless, I was committed.  Nearing race day, I just modified my goals, increasing my desired finish times and thinking maybe I would be satisfied to just finish, which is totally uncharacteristic of me.  I generally was not concerned about the distance.  I knew it would not be easy, but I trusted my training which included five runs over eighteen miles/three hours.  My recent knee pain had me worried though.  My last long run, I actually limped due to the pain.  As we entered the ten-day weather forecast window, I checked it daily through several outlets.  The expected temperature looked good--50s (ideal, by the way,) but rain was predicted.  As we neared race day, the forecast became more consistent: mid to high 50s to start, cooling to 40ish by midday; 50-100% chance of rain, turning to sleet later. 

Pre-race dinner at Copper Grill
We (my wife, Pat, and I) arrived in Little Rock around midday on Saturday, the day before the race, and went directly to the expo.   There, we were able to visit with several members of Heartland Road Runners and Walkers Club, two of whom were volunteers at packet pick-up.  After a short walk around the expected running and race-related booths, we walked to nearby Big Whiskey's for lunch.  Afterward, we checked in to the hotel and relaxed for a while.  I took this time to get my race day gear and clothes ready as well.  In the evening we joined a group of Heartland Road Runners for a leisurely and entertaining dinner at Copper Grill.  There, we were also able visit with another group from the club and learned about Black Girls RUN! from another diner.  Great meal by the way--I would return to Little Rock just to eat there again.

The calm before the storm
Race morning, after a decent night's sleep, I was up around five to get an early breakfast in the hotel lobby.  It was quiet initially, but I was soon joined by other runners including some Quincy folks.  An early start gave me plenty of time to prepare for my race, reviewing the weather forecast and radar and finalizing my clothing and gear selections.  The forecast had not changed much and the radar looked clear for now, but the green areas kept getting bigger.  I opted for shorts, t-shirt, rain jacket, and a cap to keep the rain out of my face.

Gearing up
A little after seven, Pat and I exited the hotel to a light rain on our way to the River Market to meet our fellow club members for a group photo.  After chatting for a while and making my final gear preparations and handing off my extra stuff to Pat, we then stepped outside as a group and took a few snaps.  I dropped Pat off at the Perks Pavilion where she would get VIP treatment as she waited for me to finish.  Then, I headed to C corral at the start.  By the time I got there the corrals where quite full and I only made it up to D.  The rain was picking up and I started to notice the wind.  Volunteers were passing out trash bags as makeshift raincoats. I was cool, but knew I would warm up when I started running.

Heartland Road Runners ready to (Little) Rock it!
I think I arrived in the corrals at about 7:50, thinking that I would be starting soon since I was in one of the early corrals.  As I said, I made it to D, so I thought I would be fourth to go.  However, they were separating the starting groups in some other manner, into apparently smaller groups, so I was in the seventh or so group to start, taking off about 16:30 after the elites, I think.  Finally...after several months of training including lots of solo miles, I was starting my first marathon with about 15,000 of my closest friends on a cold, wet, and windy late winter's day in Arkansas.

I started off a bit fast as so many of us are wont to do.  During the first one to two miles I slowed down to around nine minutes per mile and settled in.  Considering my training, I thought that was a reasonable goal and I really wanted to stay under four hours (9:09/mile).  I ran alone most of the time, I could not seem to find anyone who was staying at my pace.  Even when I encountered the four-hour pace group, we seesawed back and forth.  That was okay for me most of the time; I am usually lost in my thoughts anyway.  I continued solo, taking a Gu every thirty to forty-five minutes, drinking a little water every time it was offered, and visiting nearly every porta-potty I saw!  I tried to thank as many volunteers as I could and encourage fellow runners when it seemed they needed it (when I could spare the motivation.)

The course had a lot of turns and a lot of rolling hills which, I suppose, broke the monotony.  I do not recall thinking the hills were too tough; I guess I trained appropriately for them.  On each out-and-back section, I scanned the crowd for my fellow Heartland Road Runners, cheering them on when I found them.  Because of the weather, the crowds seemed small, but the folks who were out certainly did not lack enthusiasm.  There were numerous home-made posters that made me laugh.  One guy, I saw every few miles with a different sign.  Apparently, he was there to cheer on his wife.  I saw him at the finish line and thanked him for all his signs and accompanying giggles.  One of his signs is my all-time favorite marathon sign: "WORST PARADE EVER!"  Always gives me a chuckle.  Another was "PEE NOW, POOP LATER.  NEVER TRUST A FART."

Feeling good!
I found little interesting scenery on the course.  Perhaps it was just a result of the dreary day.  There were some interesting architecture and homes at times.  The capitol building was impressive, of course.  We also ran past the historic Central High School.  The one memorable hill--I think it was Kavanaugh Boulevard--which is a two to three mile climb, was in a nice neighborhood with interesting shops and restaurants and homes, paralleling a wooded area.

That describes the first twenty miles or so of my race.  However, somewhere between fifteen and eighteen miles, my knees started to hurt.  It was not bad initially, but was irritated by the long hill, reinforcing my suspicion that the cause is IT band.  I maintained my pace on the climb and accelerated on the descent afterward, still on target for a four-hour finish.  At around mile eighteen, the course starts a long, flat, out-and-back section through a park up to around mile twenty-four.  This was where my race and, I suppose, everyone's race got interesting.  The pain that was alleviated by the downhill returned on the flat and increased in intensity.  I had been staying close to the four-hour pace group, but at around twenty-one miles, I watched them slip away along with my sub-4:00 finish.  My knee pain was forcing me to walk quite a bit.

Soon after, word came to the course that storms containing high winds and hail were nearing and the course was closing.  We could seek shelter there in the park or continue on to Wal-Mart where buses would take us back to the start.  I continued.  Later, a police officer was repeating an announcement that the race was cancelled, that buses were coming, and that proceeding would be at our own risk.  When I first heard the message, I had mixed feelings.  Part of me said "I can stop!"  The other part said "What a waste of my time and effort!"  Anyway, I continued running/walking as well as I could, looking for Wal-Mart and waiting for some official person to force me off the course.

We made it!
Somewhere around twenty-four miles, Claudia, a fellow club member, caught up to me.  Unsure whether we should stop or continue, both of us hurting, we soldiered on together along with most of the other racers.  We never saw Wal-Mart and kept getting closer to the finish.  Also, the conditions had not seemed to worsen.  So, we struggled onward.

Apparently, the message of cancellation was a miscommunication.  When we arrived at the finish line, while it may have been a bit quieter due to the conditions, it certainly was intact.  We crossed together arm-in-arm, all smiles.  We finished a marathon!  What a relief!  Although I had been cool all morning, I was not very uncomfortable.  However, once I crossed the finish line, I immediately started shivering uncontrollably.  Somewhere near the finish I had seen a sign with the temperature: 37 degrees!  We got our big-ass medals, some snacks (that we could barely hold on to with our numb hands), and a space blanket each.  We quickly found Pat at the Perks Pavilion and made our way back to our hotel, limping and shivering.  After a hot shower, a quick rub-down from my physical therapist wife, dry clothes, and about an hour buried under the covers in bed, I finally stopped shivering.


After a little recovery time in the room, the seven of us from Quincy who were staying a second night in the hotel basically took over the lobby.  We shared our race stories.  All of us had finished (other than Pat, of course) and Mindy even qualified for Boston!  Several took turns with the foam roller and we laughed at each of us trying and failing to rise from chairs and walk with dignity.  We shared snacks and drinks, later ordering pizza and watching the Oscars.  Other than actually finishing the race, this was the highlight of my Little Rock weekend.

Pizza and The Oscars
Our epic continued the following day.  Little Rock and the surrounding region received about two inches of ice and sleet overnight.  We soon discovered that the state of Arkansas apparently is not equipped to handle frozen precipitation; I40 was basically untouched.  It took us over seven hours to travel the 120 miles to the intersection of I40 and I55.  Then, Pat started feeling ill, so much so that we stopped in Memphis for the night.  Of course, we couldn't have traveled much farther anyway.  Pat was still ill in the morning, so we stayed another day.  While Pat slept, I was able to explore Memphis a little.  On Wednesday, Pat was ready to travel and we headed north through Tennessee, traveling on mostly clear roads, arriving at home that evening and ending our five-day adventure.

Most of the Heartland Road Runners who ran Little Rock, back in Quincy
I am pleased to have completed a marathon, albeit slower than planned.  It certainly was a learning experience as a runner and as a coach, which was a primary goal.  I have no current plans to do another, but I have learned not to say "never."  I may want to go faster!