Archive for March, 2012

Arkansas

If you are going to run in the state of Arkansas, I would imagine Little Rock would be the location of destination. I debated which Arkansas marathon to run (there was one named Hogeye – yes, the name had me) but ultimately any marathon runner knows Little Rock is one of those marathons that every runner must do. They really go all out and make the event exclusive usually selling out two months in advance. Like you would never expect Fargo to be a destination for runners, you could say the same about Little Rock, Arkansas. I arrived in town and was invited to dinner with my buddy John Wayne…

Is there comfort in numbers I thought to myself while sitting down to dinner before the marathon. Here I was at a table with 18 other people and I know of at least 13 of us were getting ready to run yet another marathon – 2013 Little Rock. There we were about to enjoy an Italian meal, which is comfort food at least, before another big run and I was wondering if I even belonged at the table? Did I belong in a group this exclusive?

No one outside of marathoning would probably think I could be impressed by other racers when I have already put down 15 states and 19 marathons overall. But this was one impressive group of individuals! There were at least  five runners from the Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners! I mean these people have prizes and awards for people who run the most miles per year! This group makes 15 states seem miniscule – like something they would do in one year. I am friends with more than a couple of them and they all have a run every other weekend if not every weekend.

I log maybe, maybe 25 miles a week. Then there was Dave Mari – that guy has run at least a half marathon every weekend this year so far and if you are a marathon runner, how do you not know Dave? He takes pictures of everyone – he celebrates running like most people do bars. I would call him running’s biggest cheerleader actually. Dave just makes you feel good to run

Shannon Hayes was two seats down from me – 40 states and all sub four hours and several a marathoner’s dream girl. Along with a couple fast friends who were all hoping to qualify for Boston.

Chuck Engle was sitting kitty corner (actually it’s kaddy corner but that is beside the point) and who is he? They introduced him before the marathon saying “Chuck Engle is here today!” and he has won a marathon in every state. When you are Chuck Engle good? They pay you to come to the marathon – you don’t worry about paying that entry fee.

And who was I with? My buddy John Wayne. Oh yeah just 43 states and all sub 4. He is currently on a streak of 19 straight weeks running a marathon. After dinner Chuck and he discussed how he would become the youngest member of the 50 sub 4 club to finish the feat. He is just 23.

To say I felt a little intimidated would be an understatement. Was there comfort in numbers? To be honest I was just happy to be there. The group was honest, genuine and Chuck really had some interesting insights. One thing he did say to me later was that he thought runners were not taking the sport seriously enough and acting like running was just a goof or perhaps a lark – acting silly while walking or jogging along. I have to say I understand how he feels but his words “run more” at the end of his message probably hit truer than any other words he said that night or in our conversations since.

For Christmas my mother bought a book for me called “Born to Run”. I thought it was a nice thought and decided to read it when I got on the airplane to Louisiana and the book has shaped me ever since. I just liked the ideas – running does not cause injuries, running wrong causes injuries. Running should be enjoyed because it is natural. And mostly there is no such thing as too much running. I now run every day rather than every other day and put it two a days whenever I can.

But as we sat there talking and enjoying marginal food, I was just happy to be there. Next up, was the marathon the next day and seriously, if you want to consider running 26.2? Little Rock is a fantastic place to do it. They pride themselves on the largest medal – seriously the size of a good sized saucer. They theme every year – this year was disco and celebrate the year before was Greek. They have permanent mile markers set up in the city showing you just how important the event is and the crowds are quite good. The expo was fantastic and I only wish I could have spent more time looking at the booths. They even had a lipstick event so your end photo could be better! That was a first.

The race started off and I was just off! I did not think I was going that fast but when I hit the 10K point at 41 and a half minutes I knew I should really start to pace myself. Sadly, I only dropped off after that. The run went along fine and the trick hip that slows me down on every marathon did kick in around Mile 14 which was fine because miles 13-16 were pretty much a steady uphill climb. That seemed just about right. I would just never be the same after that – slowing down and struggling to get my form. I made it to Mile 18 and ran into marathon friend Dave Mari from the night before who started snapping crazy pictures of me with his friend and almost made me stop. I loved the fact they were both like no go and waving me forward when I started to slow down.

But there was one truth Chuck warned us about the night before – you think the race is over after that 3 mile climb but two the large hills at miles 24 and 25 really kill you more than that long three mile climb – almost like kicking you when you are down and think the beating is almost over. But I made it over the climbs eventually and completed the course in 3:18 – not even close to a personal record but my goal for this day was below 3:20. I had been running a lot of flat courses lately and to complete a tough course within 10 minutes of my personal record was certainly reward enough. Overall I was 66th and anywhere under 100 in a race with almost 2,000 always feels good. I do need to run more.

I ended the run, got that huge ass medal and looked for other finishers. My aunt was there and she had already completed her half. But everyone else I knew was nowhere to be found except for poor, poor Paul – one of the Ozark runners. He had a sprained ankle and could not complete the race on this day. I really felt for him – what would it feel like to drive five hours and then not finish and get the medal? I don’t think my thoughts could compare to what he felt. I wanted so bad to stay and see John bring in Shannon and the other girl he was pacing to come in but time is a cruel mistress and I had to go to get back home by midnight. Sigh.

Overall, I would say Little Rock is an impressive and fantastic marathon. The marathon is twice as large as the half and it is one place where they really put an emphasis on running the full boat versus the half. I ran the race without headphones and thought the they had more than enough entertainment to get me through. My aunt would later comment that it lacked the party atmosphere that she thought it would, but I disagreed. Was it Fargo (yes I know, Fargo)? No it was quite Fargo but I got to run by the state capitol, some pretty good hills, and some nice little neighborhoods. I saw a nice park and an impressive view of downtown Little Rock. I had a fantastic time! Thank you Little Rock. I hope to return.

As for the comfort in numbers? I would say yes, a marathon is definitely a lot of number of people so there is comfort there but then again I feel much more comfortable up front where there are fewer of us. Perhaps I just seem to have comfort in smaller numbers. Oddly enough, that brings me back to my writing. After the race I saw three or four other runners blogging about Little Rock and I thought maybe it was time to give it up? Does the world need another writing runner? It seemed so cliche. But I will go with the comfort in numbers and continue to write. Once again comfort just in smaller numbers.

Hopefully I can just Write More.

Missouri

So Fargo had ended and the leg hurt in June.

Now it was August and I was not sure if it was time for me to run again but it was like an old runner’s adage – when it doubt run through it! And if it doesn’t exist you can credit to me today. Runners are a freak creature. Everyone and their dog will tell them to quit through injuries, pain and whatever fresh hell we choose to find but only after serious consequence do we stop and then there are no guarantees that will last for long. I was in a bad place with my left leg. Fargo had been nothing but pain and I had quit for three months.

The funny part? The leg didn’t feel better, heck half a year later it still doesn’t feel much better. So I had enough of waiting around and needed a marathon. I picked Mississippi. It was a ways away but in Tupelo where Elvis hailed from and I could find someone to go with me, right? Full up. So I chose Missouri. It was close and about the same topography as Iowa so it was going to be flat, right? And close to home so I could find someone to go with me, right? Wrong on both accounts.

I will never forget all week leading up to that marathon I was sure someone would volunteer to go with me to Missouri. I had never done one of these trips alone and though it was just one night, like I wanted to do it alone? Well I was alone and it was Friday night before I left. I was starting to doubt myself and decided to go check out the course. What? The marathon in Columbia, Missouri prided itself on its toughness? Sure enough, it claimed to have seven major hills and not for the weak. I almost didn’t even go based on that information! But I had already put in my $35 plus the hotel room so I decided to make the trek and not give up before I even tried – Alone. Cue the Heart guitars.

I arrived into the Howard Johnson – another first for me never stayed at one of those before! And went to the expo which was just in a hotel lobby of sorts, picked up my shirt and left. This was not going to be a large affair – it was obvious in every way.

A little history on the Heart of America Marathon located in Columbia, Missouri. It is the oldest marathon this side of the Mississippi and really did start out as a bet between two friends that neither could complete the feat that included a run up a hill that seemed to go straight up. Like every endurance test, eventually others joined in and then it became an annual tradition. It is known as one of the toughest marathons around and that hill of Easly is one of the tougher climbs in the Midwest at least. Only around 200 runners signed up in 2011 and it is a race where you may run by yourself for long periods of time – not that many people pass you when you start to lag. There aren’t even that many to begin with.

I showed up the next morning nervous about parking my car in a hotel parking lot for 4 hours with the keys in the car and not knowing another person at the race. I saw a guy in a Marathon Maniacs shirt and introduced myself telling him I was interested in the club. His name was Scott and when I saw he wore headphones I told him I wanted to but forgot my hat unfortunately. He told me he had an extra hat and gave me a hat from inside the car. He was a great guy and a big reason why I joined the Maniacs – just great people. He even found me on Facebook and we are friends to this day. I only wish we would have planned a race since as it is always great to see friends met along the way.

The race began and what did I think of the tough course? Pretty easy actually and then when we hit the first hill – this was not going to be that bad at all! Then the next hill? Pathetic even. Then the next hill – does this thing ever end and then the realization that the second hill was not one of the seven killer hills? But it was just some hill! Another hill before Easley Hill? This one was fine but just irritating and I could walk it but then what about this major hill coming up? And I could now hear people catching me and I was dying and at the halfway point that hill was coming and SLAM! There it was and I started to climb it just as two guys started to nip at my heels. I was pretty much as frantic as the writing suggests.

I saw a biker in front of me get off his bike and start to walk. I heard the guys behind me stop and start to walk. I kept climbing not stopping to walk – this was the only chance I had to keep ahead – to never give up. I made it up that horrible hill that did seem to go straight up without ever stopping to walk. The other two guys did pass me a mile and a half later but it was worth it. I kept going and when the other three hills came along the way, I did not stop on any of them either. I just kept going. I was getting slower much slower and my left leg was killing me but I just kept moving without stopping to walk. The final hill was killer and I was passed by three other runners as I moved along. It was almost exactly the same hill as the first I had encountered that morning and now it was pure pain and one of the worst hills I had ever encountered. Funny how much changes in 20 plus miles!

I remember a car behind me waiting for me to get up the hill so they could get in the turning lane. I felt sorry for it. I watched as car after car whizzed by and realized why you should not wear headphones on this run. It was not the most secure thing. I was a bit scared of running by myself with those headphones on. Of course I didn’t take them off as I ran the last couple miles through the city streets of Columbia and towards the downtown area. I crossed the finish line in just over three and a half hours. It was not a great time but considering the difficulty of the course – it was the best time I ever had.

The race was over and there was a bus back to the hotel but I did not feel like waiting for it and instead walked across the fantastic University of Missouri campus and was impressed with how beautiful it was. I wish I spent more time visiting these places rather than just running them.and this one was hard – only met Scott and too late to actually hit the town. I put his hat above the front tire on the passenger side, saw my car with the keys still in it, and went back to the hotel and got out before check out. The drive home was awful but that due to a tire going down – nothing to do with the run.

When runners talk about favorite marathons and least favorite – they forget all the ones inbetween. This really was one of my most important marathons – the first one I ran the distance and the first one I just said forget the pain and just ran through it tired of the aching reminder that never left me anyway. On top of that? Heart of America gives a runner street cred – it is tough, hilly as all get out and not exactly one you travel to. They keep it cheap and do not pull out all the stops. Even the medal I got was pretty cheap.

But there are few medals I am prouder of and in the end, I will always stick by that runner’s creed – “Just run through it.” There are runs that will forever define who we are as runners – and this is it for me – remember we are all in this together, times do not always matter, and never give up even when everyone else is telling you to.