Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Little Rock Half Marathon Part 2 - RACE DAY

   The hardest part of race morning was trying to figure out what to wear for the race. Unlike most race days which get progressively warmer as the day goes on, this day started out at 54 degrees but was supposed to drop below freezing before the day was over. There was also a high percentage of rain. I decided on tights and two shirts (one long and one short), and just hoped that I finished the race before it got too cold. While it had been sprinkling some, the majority of the rain was supposed to hold off until after the noon, so I left my rain jacket at the hotel. It's a great jacket, but it doesn't breathe at all and I was afraid I'd get too hot. Funny to think about that now.

Ready to go!

   The race started at 8:00, but we had to catch a shuttle from the hotel down to the race site.  Since I'm a crazy, Type-A personality, I made everyone catch the 6:30 am shuttle. I was afraid that there would be a long line for the shuttles and we might have to wait a bit. Turns out, most people were more afraid of the weather than not catching a shuttle, so there weren't that many people waiting. We got right on an almost empty shuttle. The trip down to the race start was pretty interesting. And by interesting, I mean terrifying. The shuttle was one of those old-timey cable-car looking things that, I think, are mainly used for tourists and are generally driven at slow speeds while people are taking pictures of random sights. Our driver took our shuttle down the highway as if it were a normal car. The thing was kind of shaking and actually hydroplaned a bit from standing water a few times.  It was then we realized that we didn't have any seat belts and that we were basically riding in a deathtrap. I was picturing the newspaper headlines the next morning "TRAGEDY AT THE MARATHON! SHUTTLE OVER TURNS ON THE WAY TO THE RACE!"
   Fortunately, that didn't happen, and we made it to the drop-off point in one piece. Or what was sort of the drop-off point. Apparently, the shuttle driver was supposed to drop us off at one spot next to the race start, but couldn't because the early start marathoners were already out on the course and the roads were closed.  He got stopped by some course volunteers who made him drop us off at the corner of "I don't know where we are" and "What way to the race start?" Seriously. Want to freak out a bunch of high-strung runners? Just randomly drop them off in the middle of a city they have never been in and don't give them any directions as to where to go. It was awesome. It was even better when I asked where do we meet to get picked up since the posted pick up point would still be closed when we were finished. "Somewhere around here." Really?! REALLY?! 1) I don't know where I am. 2) I don't know how to get back here after the race and 3) if I DO make it back to this exact spot, you might not even be here!  That's comforting.
   Anyway, we had more important things to worry about right then, like finding the race start. We just blindly started following the other runners who got off the shuttle, hoping they knew where they were going. Good news - we were only about 1/2 mile away from the race and found the start pretty easily.
   It was about 7:00 am by this time, so we had about an hour to kill. We took a look at the race route and noticed something for the first time.  Take a look at the map legend - see anything different?

Ummm - Lip Stick Stop?

There it is on the map. This is right before you hit the finish.

What the whaaaaa?  A Lip Stick Stop? What in the world is a Lip Stick Stop? I guess if we were more curious, we could have asked a volunteer, but we were starting to get a little chilly so we headed into the River Market, which was right at the start line. Remember how I said in my previous post that this place would be important to us? Well, here is reason #1 - it gave us a sheltered place to sit down and wait until the race started. I think every race needs one of these at their starting lines. It also provided a great place to people watch. LOTS of people played along with the theme and wore Superhero costumes. If I were a better blogger, I would have gotten photos of them. But I'm not, so just know that there were LOTS of Wonder Women, Supermen and a really good Batman who had "Bruce" as the name on his bib. Totally NOT what the real Batman would do, but it still made me laugh.

Chairs and warmth. What else could you need?

   As the starting time got closer and closer, we noticed people coming into the River Market in wet clothing. Great. It was starting to rain. I was kind of regretting not bringing my rain jacket down now, but I DID bring trash bags to wear and then dispose of once the race got started. I'd never done the trash bag thing before, but since the rain was really starting to pick up and it was DEFINITELY getting colder, I decided to try it out.

Who can rock a trash bag?  I can rock a trash bag! 

   The race corrals were literally right outside of the River Market. PERFECT! We waited until almost the last minute before 8:00 before lining up. Seriously - the National Anthem had already been sung and everything. We were in Corral D, but just kind of funneled in wherever there was a break in corrals since there were already so many people lined up. I think we ended up in E.  Of course, while I knew that the Race Directors would probably stagger the starts of the corrals, I didn't realize that they would take SUCH long breaks between corrals. Generally, I think it's a one-minute lag between corrals in large races - I think it was at least two minutes between corrals at this race. From what I understand, this was the first time the RDs had tried staggering corrals, so they need to work on that a bit. Normally, this delay wouldn't be a huge deal, except it was really raining now and the corrals were set between tall buildings which created this wind tunnel that was just horrible. It was SO COLD. We were truly miserable. The only thing that made it better for me was that the DJ started playing Queen's "Flash Gordon" which is one of my favorite Queen songs. Random, I know, but it just cracked me up.
   FINALLY - we got to the race start and began running. Fortunately, it had stopped raining and I was starting to warm up a bit. Not enough to get rid of the trash bag yet, but I wasn't freezing. (Sidebar - have you ever heard 5,000 people trying to run with trash bags on? It's hysterical. Kind of this unending WHOOSH WHOOSH WHOOSH sound.) 
   The route took us all over downtown Little Rock. I had heard that it was supposed to be really hilly, but up until mile 7 or so, it's relatively flat. Well, there was a big bridge, which are always the last thing runners want to see - especially when you see people coming from the opposite direction so you know you have to run it again.  The bridge was also absurdly windy. The mile markers were blown over, there was a banner that was trying to blow away - it was nuts.  
    Unfortunately, due to the weather, I don't think there were as many spectators as usual out on the course. Don't get me wrong - the volunteers were amazing (they had to be FREEZING!) and they were out in full force. We just didn't get the lines of spectators lining the route that I had expected from reading race reports. However, I did get blessed with Holy Water by an Episcopal priest around Mile 8, which was nice. I appreciated that. We also ran by the Governor's Mansion at some point, which had several official-looking type people around the gates (I don't think the Governor was one of them).  
   All throughout the race, I just trotted along in my happy place. I hadn't trained to PR, nor was this the weather or terrain for it. So I just stayed as comfortable as I could for the entire race - not pushing it too hard pace-wise, but not totally slacking either. I kept thinking that at some point I'd be warm enough to ditch the trash bag, but wasn't actually able to until mile 10. You know what's hard to do? Rip off an industrial trash bag while you're running. I actually wish someone had been filming me taking that thing off because I totally got wrapped up in it. I finally just stopped for a minute to remove it.  
   The route definitely got hillier on the second half. There was one stretch around mile 11-12 that was just awful. There was a L-O-N-G hill that just seemed to take forever. The entire time I was running up it, I was thinking "long uphill means long downhill."  Which was true - but unfortunately once you got to the top, you turned directly into a terrible headwind. It was like someone smacked me in the face - that's how strong it was. Totally took any enjoyment out of running downhill.
   After descending that hill, I knew the finish was near, so I just blew by the remaining aid station because I was done being cold and wet. It was then I started noticing used lipstick containers littering the race course. I figured it had something to do with the "Lip Stick Stop" we saw in the race course legend, but I completely missed it (turns out, Maybelline is a local company and sponsors this stop. They have lipstick right before the finish line so you can look good for your finishing photos). I just kept running until I saw the finish, crossed the line, and was awarded one of these bad boys...

EPIC!!  Notice the lips on the exclamation point.  Apparently, the lip stick stop is a big thing.  Oops.

   After collecting my medal and going through the food chute, I headed back to the River Market to warm up. It was also our designated meeting spot, which was a really smart move because it was almost sleeting by now. Once there, I promptly ordered the most awesome cup of hot chocolate I have ever had (Thanks, Kathy!).

Is this a thing of beauty, or what?

   
Post race. We're all just a little warmer now. Just a little.

    Knowing the weather was just going to get worse, we wanted to get back on the road ASAP, so we headed back to the general area where the shuttle may or may not be waiting for us. We walked towards where we were dropped off, and saw a little white bus in the middle of a parking lot. It wasn't the trolley thing we rode on the way down, so we weren't sure if that was our shuttle, but we headed that way anyway. Fortunately, it WAS for us. We were literally the last three people on the bus. Dudley actually had to sit on the floor of the bus because it was so crowded. But, it was better than waiting for another who-knows-how-long for another shuttle.
   After getting back to the hotel and showering, I was in the hotel hallway and ran into two marathon finishers. You knew they were marathon runners because their medal was literally twice the size of the half-marathon medal. It was ridiculous how big this thing was. Anyway, I made a comment about their medals and they stated that they actually only made it to mile 12 before their race was cancelled and they were shuttled back to the finish line. What? The race was cancelled? Yep. Sure was. Apparently, there was a huge ice storm coming our way, so the RDs rerouted the marathon course to make it drastically shorter so everyone could get out of the area safely before the storm hit. This caused a huge uproar from a lot of people because some runners thought the race was outright cancelled (because that is what they were told) and just went home, while others took a shorter route (or just kept running the regular route) and were able to get a finishing time and a medal. Huge controversy. I was very thankful that I only ran the half and was able to finish without any issues.
   Overall, I really enjoyed this race, even with the horrendous weather. It was very well-organized and remembered even small details like having clothespins at the finish line to hold our space blankets closed. It's obvious how much time, effort and pride the RDs and volunteers put into this race. I know I might have sounded a little whiney in this report, but I really don't like cold weather. I would love to come back and run this again in normal temperatures. I know there were a lot of things that I missed on race day because of the weather. And - there is a small part of me who wants to come back and actually tackle the 26.2 so I can get that GIANT medal. We'll see about that one... 

Little Rock Half Marathon
Final time: 2:10:26
Overall Place: 1419
AG: 68th out of 432
Gender placement: 567th out of 2,895