Let me preface this by saying you are in for a LONG post.
Friday night I did eventually get my stuff packed for the weekend and slept terribly. I woke up at 5:30am on Saturday to shower, finish packing and hit the road with my mom and aunt to Little Rock, Arkansas. We wanted to find a Cracker Barrel to have breakfast at, but unfortunately the route we took only lead us through countrysides of Missouri, even gas stations being hard to come by.
Eventually we were all getting hangry and pulled off a random road that looked civilized and ran into this little gem, Mary Dean’s Diner. I’m not usually one for ‘diner’ food, but we were all so hungry and the food was awesome. This was a small town diner for small town people, and it was adorable.
When was the last time you saw food this cheap? How about pretty close to never.
With full bellies, we hopped right back on the road en route to Little Rock. We made great time and actually got into town before we could even check into the hotel, so we made our way right to the expo.
The weather was absolutely perfect and after sitting in the car for 7+ hours it was great to be able to walk around. Most race expos are pretty much the same from what I’ve found, Little Rock’s was very organized, had great vendors, and I really liked that they had more unique event merchandise for sale than other races.
I ran into some local running friends, and it was nice to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar place! The expos are usually when I start to get excited about the race, but my nerves were surprisingly absent even at the expo.
After picking up my packet, I reunited with my mom and aunt who had been meandering, and I told them that Bart Yasso was at the expo and I really wanted a picture with him. He designed a workout that many runners and marathoners incorporate into their training plans called Yasso 800’s, he is the chief running officer at Runner’s World Magazine, an author and of course, a seasoned runner. Needless to say I totally geeked out and got to talk to him for a short while, and soaked in every bit of advice he gave me for Sunday’s race.
He also told us he was announcing names at the finish line of the race, and I think I was looking more forward to him announcing my name than finishing the actual marathon!
We got checked into our hotel and hung out for a little bit before we all agreed we were hungry for dinner at 5:30pm. Being the prepared person I am, I had researched restaurants in advance and we went to Big Orange for gourmet burgers. I am pretty cautious about what I eat the night before a race and ended up getting the blacked tilapia ‘burgerwich’ which was so delicious. My mom was just happy that she got to watch college basketball. Easy to please, I tell ya.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and I couldn’t stop yawning. Nerves had sort of set in for the race yet and road trips make me feel super greasy and gross, so I stood in the shower for about half an hour to help relax. I wasn’t near as nervous for this race as I was my first one, it was strange. I didn’t miss my stomach flopping around but my energy levels still weren’t ‘there.’ I hopped in bed and proceeded to watch college basketball which I think is a great way to spend the night before the race.
I didn’t even make it to half time. I can’t remember the last time I fell asleep before 10pm, but Saturday night was a new record for me. But because my body has gotten used to an average of 6 hours of sleep per night, I was up at 3:30am ready to race. Too bad we weren’t leaving the hotel until nearly three hours later! I was up and down until my alarm went off around 5:15am.
Generally, you’re not supposed to try anything new (food, clothes, etc.) the day of a race and I’m also not usually one for energy drinks, but I did do an 18 mile training run after two iced coffees and the run went great, so before the trip I picked up a low-carb Monster and drank about a third of it with my breakfast of egg whites, Ezekiel bread and water.
Finally, excitement hit me! Maybe a little of it was the caffeine too, but I skipped out of the bathroom just before 6am on Sunday and was ready to rock! ‘I’m gonna run a marathon today!!!’ I was excited to run 26.2 miles. What?? Crazy crazy crazy.
More than anything, I was excited and thankful to be able to run this marathon, because a couple of weeks ago I was sad and mopey, thinking that this marathon could potentially not happen for me this year.
We packed up all of our stuff because we weren’t coming back to the hotel, said our ritual pre-race group prayer, and were on our way to the race!
Little Rock greeted us with a perfectly beautiful and crisp race morning!
Before anything happened, I had to take care of business. Yet another pre-race ritual, visit the porta-potties at least two times before the race, even if you don’t have to go.
Then stand around and wait for the race to start
and talk to other runners and make new friends with them while standing around
Then get in your start corral and stand around and wait some more.
Okay, enough with the waiting. One of the things that blew me away with Arkansas and the community of Little Rock is how FRIENDLY and NICE people are!! Plus their accents, oh man did I love their accents. This race was bigger than Tulsa which I really liked, and the people we so awesome. I talked to probably seven or eight new people consistently before the race started, which doesn’t seem to happen frequently in races I’ve done.
After all of the waiting, it was finally time to start the race! I didn’t have a specific time goal in mind, but I situated myself right behind the 5:10 pacers. Honestly, I did much less mental preparation for this race than I have for any other race in the past. All I did was remind myself why I was running this race and to fully enjoy it, and with the sign on my back I hoped to encourage other runners as well.
Bart had told me that the first half of the race was deceivingly fast, and he was right. It was flat with a few rolling hills, and I did start out faster than I should have, but not so fast that I wouldn’t have enough energy for the tail end of the race. Since I almost always run by ‘feel’ anyways, that’s what I did. I set into a comfortable pace and just kept along. From mile one, people were reading and commenting on my shirt, I got many congratulations on the surgery, people telling me I was an inspiration, and others agreeing on how great God is.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to some of the comments, but I just made sure that I encouraged every person who was encouraging me. Whether it be talking with them for portions of the race, to telling them that they were amazing for being out running a marathon, I made it a goal to consistently build others up.
The course started in downtown Little Rock, going over bridges and up and down baby hills, with great crowd support the whole entire time.
I loved running over the Arkansas River on that bridge, but maybe because it was a decline?
Before I knew it, we were already past five miles. I hadn’t run more than five miles in the past two weeks, and bad thoughts tried to creep in my head but I left those in the dust.
My mom and aunt were staked out between miles 8 and 9, which also happened to be the location of the first semi-vertical uphill of the race
I was also talking to my mom while running and she managed to capture this hilarious beauty of a photo. Apparently running hills makes your hamstrings stick out more than normal. Sigh.
Now is where I talk solely about the race. This point was be the last I saw my mom and aunt until the finish line, because the course was so spread out.
The first eight miles of the race truly did fly by, they felt like nothing which is quite unusual for me. I was still hanging close with the 5:10 pacers and met a couple of ladies in that group who were running their first marathon. It was so fun getting to cheer them on while we were running, all the way up to the finish line. After we ran through downtown, we hit more residential parts of Arkansas, and eventually the state capitol and the governor’s house, and the governor of Arkansas himself was out cheering on all the runners.
Oh, and for the first time ever, I hit up the porta-potty during a race. I couldn’t imagine running any further without stopping (especially with my kidney issue), and felt SO much better afterwards. I had always been nervous about having to go to the bathroom during a race, but I had to overcome my fear. It took less than a minute and I was back on the course, but by this time I was well separate from my pace group.
The area where the capitol is located was absolutely beautiful. We continued on residential areas and again, the course support was amazing. You could tell that the marathon is a big deal in Arkansas because many of the houses we passed had music playing out of speakers from their porch, and many families were out tailgating, I’m not kidding! There was one house with people who had tables set up of champagne and orange juice for mimosas, bloody mary mix and vodka for bloody mary’s, AND they were grilling right there on the side of the course. If you ask me that is just plain rude to be having a good time and grilling out while thousands of runners pass by with over ten miles to finish a race 🙂
For every group of tailgaters, there was also a group of church people! Many of them couldn’t have service Sunday morning because the course ran right along where their church was located and the roads were closed, so they still had their congregations our cheering us on with pom-poms, cowbells and gospel choirs. This was the south, after all!
The miles came, some seemed longer than others. Miles 11-15 really dragged on for some reason. Oh wait, I know why…this was probably the hilliest portion of the race. The race course had started to lead us into some winding back roads of Arkansas, and winding back roads in Arkansas means there are hills. None of the climbs were particularly steep, but they lasted forrrrreverrrrrr. I was also waiting for this ‘dreaded downhill’ I had been warned of on the course elevation chart and also by Mr. Yasso around mile 16. I took my first real walk break up the hill at mile 14 or 15, I can’t remember which one it was, but I needed to walk. That hill was kicking my butt.
Then there were more hills, again, not steep, but winding and long and I was convinced I would never see a downhill. Turns out the real downhill didn’t happen until mile 17, and Bart warned me to not go down it too fast because it would kill my quads and I would be hurting for the rest of the race. I did exactly what he advised in adjusting my form, but still, halfway down, I felt every step in my quads. Man oh man, did I feel it.
Despite this challenge, this was a very enjoyable section of the course. We were on winding roads lined with tall pines, it reminded me of Oregon. I was also by myself for a small section which reminded me of the trails I run on here at home and I loved it, the beauty and serenity were perfect.
From the course map, I was prepared for a long out and back section from about mile 19-22 and good grief, those were the longest three miles of my LIFE! It was some flat, back country Arkansas road, and pain was really setting in. I don’t feel that I ever quite ‘hit the wall’ but this was definitely a challenging part of the race. Seeing all the people that were on the back portion, at miles 21-22 wasn’t encouraging either because they were closer to being done than I was. Then there was the headwind, that was just fantastic. Actually, it was kind of nice because the road was shaded from the hill and the wind was keeping me cool, but the back portion was the exact opposite.
We hit the mile 20 marker which thankfully had a DJ playing great tunes and were coming up on the actual turn around, shortly followed by an aid station. The back portion of this loop was hard. The sun was really getting to me at this point, my face was sun burnt and wind burnt, and my lips were raw. Being mentally tough at this portion of the race was crucial, and after we passed mile 21, I began to feel encouraged. One of my favorite distances to run is five miles, it’s just perfect for me. A lady who I was taking turns passing since mile 17 met up with me and we hung together until near the end of the race.
We shared running chatter, walk breaks, and encouragement. She was wanting to run a sub-5:18 but wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it. Misery really does love company, especially during a marathon. At this point, a lady was talking to me about the surgery and we passed an older man who yelled out, asking about my surgery. I slowed down to talk with him and he snarkily said, “So why are you running?” and all I could think of, was, “To see if I could do it.” His comment hit me, not in a bad way, but I’ll elaborate on that later.
The lady I had been running, walking, and talking with was walking more than I wanted to. I knew I needed to run and get to the finish line, especially with just four miles left, so I wished her luck and continued on. She told me to “Get after it girl!” and that was just the push of motivation I needed.
At this point, I was surprised I was still moving forward. My face and arms were burning, my body ached, and I couldn’t feel my legs. With three-ish miles left we encountered another hill. How cruel! I ran up 85% of it, walked to the crest, then picked up my pace again. To see another hill. We couldn’t catch a break!
One lady who I passed was reading my shirt and said, “You had surgery 18 days ago…but you’re running too fast we can’t read the rest!” This made me smile and pushed me up that last, painful hill with a mile left to go. There were more aid stations in the last 4 miles than in the first 8 miles but I flew by them all because I wanted to get to the finish and to hear Bart Yasso say my name. On the way to the finish I passed a lady who I had been running with in the pace group and I shouted, “You’re about to finish your first marathon!!!!!!” There is nothing like that feeling of finishing your first.
I knew I was going to beat my time in Tulsa and pumped my not-little legs all the way until the end. I almost teared up a little bit, but that feeling was overcome with sheer joy and happiness.
I think I gave my mom this thumbs up as a sign that I wasn’t going to totally pass out.
The only way to describe how I was feeling at this point was that my heart was completely full. I was so stinking happy, and still am.
To me, running this race was completely about being thankful that I serve a God who can overcome anything and everything, every challenge, adversity, whatever it may be. God seriously proved himself to me and I know the overwhelming joy I am experiencing is all from Him.
I faced a lot of questions and criticism leading up to this race, people not sure that I could do it, not sure that it would be safe, and doubting my ability to complete this. I had really felt down and about about my decision to try and finish the marathon. However, I knew that if I didn’t at least go to Little Rock and try, there’s no way I would have been able to live with myself. Not trying and having that faith is worse than trying and not finishing.
I also must say that I did not finish this race by my own ability. I even told other people on the course this, when they told me I was amazing, I told them, “No, God is amazing. I’m not the one doing this,” and that’s how I want my life to be. It’s not by my strength, might, or power, but by His.
This post cannot justify or describe the feelings I have. Like I said, my heart is so full, it’s just bursting! Never did I imagine that it’s possible to feel this strongly about something in my life. Just by running this marathon, my faith has grown past what I thought it could be, my heart has grown, and I have no doubt that the sky is the limit when it comes to anything.
No words…that’s the best way to describe it! I cannot fully express in words the immense joy I am experiencing from this!
As soon as we got in the car to start heading home, I said, “I wanna do that again!” No joke. I’m wishing there was another marathon I could do sooner than later! This was just another step in my journey and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!
As long as I can have Cracker Barrel wherever this journey takes me. Ha!