I have officially finished the worst marathon I HOPE I ever run, and the biggest cluster of a finish that I can even imagine. They weren’t wrong when they named it EPIC, and the lightening bolt is a piece of foreshadowing I’m sure the race directors didn’t intend. I would have regretted it if I had missed it, though, because it will be the most memorable Little Rock Marathon yet. Let me take you back to Sunday.
The day started off nice. It was a nice 50 degrees and no rain, but the weather reports had been saying 100% chance of rain all week. One even said freezing rain during the marathon, so I was prepared to run in the rain. I thought about wearing ski pants, but then thought that was a little much. I decided to go with normal sweat pants and a hoodie. I would regret that later, but not at first. I actually had to take the hoodie first for the first 13 or so miles.
I was actually not making bad pace. Not awesome, but not too bad. Little Rock Marathon has an early start, which allows slower participants start at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. The only rule is that you can’t go ahead of the 6 hour pacer. So, I tend to stick with them for the race. I was keeping pace until the elites passed (around the 13 mile mark), and it started to drizzle a little. I put my hoodie on and kept on trucking.
I made it past the hills and saw my friend, who started with me, on the other side of the out and back, when I was around mile 19 (she would have been 22ish). I was so glad to see her doing well and that inspired me to pick up the pace a little bit and cross the 20 mile timing mat.
This is all I remember until the Ninja Turtles. My hoodie is a Ninja Turtle costume. I thought it was funny since I’m slow. The ladies at the waterstop on the out and back (probably mile 21? I don’t remember) said, “You’re the first turtle we’ve seen! We have turtle heads. I know you’re in a hurry, but we can go get them!” I waited and had a photo taken with Raph and Leo. So, at this point not even the volunteers were saying anything was wrong.
The temperature had been dropping all day. I think it was in the 30s at this point and we were all wet. I wasn’t too bad in spirits, but I was cold and getting colder, but at this point in the race you’re almost there! Just a 10k left. No problems.
It was shortly after the ninja turtles that the race got insane. My Garmin said 24.25 when I saw the first cancellation sign, but I don’t think I had really crossed the 24 mile mark. I know I had passed 23 and the 18 mile marker on the other side of the out and back. The following is not my photo, because I was really too confused to even think of a photo. The weather didn’t seem too bad, and I wasn’t sure what was going on. None of the volunteers seemed to know either (one told me a storm with lightening was headed that way in a few hours, but they weren’t sure where we we supposed to seek shelter).
After I saw the black signs, a cop told us, “You need to find shelter now. The race has been cancelled. Buses are being called in.” I said, “But we’re so close…can’t we just finish?” and he said, “Finish what? The race is over. There is no race.” As I said, my Garmin said I was 24 miles in. I didn’t see any place to seek shelter and everyone was just running on, so I walked on. I heard police on the other side telling runners that the course was closed ahead and they needed to find shelter. It didn’t make much sense to me to quit and load us all into buses 2 miles away, even if there was no finish.
Shortly after that, another cop says, “You need to get off the course and find shelter. There’s buses coming to the Wal-Mart at the right.” I do not ever recommend completing a race against police advice, but I did. Generally, what the police say is good advice to follow. I didn’t follow this rule because of the specifics of the situation. Generally, when they say a course is closed, it’s closed. Get off. It puts the volunteers and yourself in danger to keep on going.
However, first of all, I didn’t realize there was a Wal-Mart literally right there. I was thinking, “Wal-Mart is miles away. What is going on?” I said, “Wouldn’t it be quicker for us to just finish? We’re just about 20 minutes away.” They, again, said there was severe storms and lightening so we needed to seek shelter. My mom at the finish texted me almost that exact moment to say that the rain was picking up and ask if I was ok. I texted her and said, “I think the race is cancelled. I’m not really sure what is going on. Do you know?” She said, “Cancelled? People are still coming through. The guys at the finish are joking around with them. It’s raining and really cold here, but no really bad weather. Are you sure you’re ok?” [I guess she thought I was delusional, ha]. Then she texted, “Where are you anyway? How are you going to get back?” Good question. I stood there and thought that we’d be sitting out in the rain waiting for a bus (I didn’t even think about going inside Wal-Mart), so I might as well finish.
So, I kept on. It didn’t make much sense to stand around and wait for a bus when downtown Little Rock so was close and my car was there anyway.
When I got to the church, a lady (a volunteer I think) said, “They’re telling people to get on buses, but you can finish if you want to. There’s no course support, but you can continue at your own risk.” I was cold and confused at the point, but I kept on going. I know the course, so I know the last part, after that last hill, is easy. I wasn’t sure what would be at the finish, but I figured my family was there anyway and I wasn’t running into a tornado, which is what I really feared. Surely they would have told the people at the finish if that were the case.
I’m pretty sure mile markers and volunteers were gone, but I was trying to just hurry up and finish. Right before you turn to the finish, there was a nice unofficial stop where they had beer. A lady said, “I really just need water right now.” and one of the guys said, “Beer is 95% water.” Ha. I love that. The lipstick stop was the next volunteer I saw. She said, “You want some lipstick?” and I said, “Today, this is as good as it gets. I’ll just be happy to go inside!”
The finish was still open. Nobody was acting like anything at all was going on there. I was very confused, but I crossed, got a medal and some snacks and headed to find my family (and some warmth) in the River Market. I was colder than I have ever been in my life. But, after I took off the hoodie, I was mostly dry at least.
I really regretted not wearing the ski gear.
After warming up a bit, I went to Gus’s for some chicken and waffles and to tell everyone the story. I sat at a table next to someone who was forced off the course at mile 13 by the police. I was happy I got to finish the whole thing (the paper listed me as a DNF, but I Did F. Here’s proof).
I did the 5k and the unofficial Capital Hotel 10k detour walk the day before. Both of those were great weather and great fun. The Capital Detour was a little odd. There were only about 20 of us and they basically handed us a map and said, “Have at it.” The bad part is that sent us, potentially out-of-towners, behind Central High and into that area. If you know Little Rock, that’s not the safest place to be alone. That being said, it was daytime and we mostly separated into two groups: a fast group and a sightseeing group. I’m not sure anyone was alone. I’m not sure I’d do this again, but I’m glad I was there because I think I was the only local in my group, and I know quite a bit of history of the area. Nobody understood why Central High had a museum, for example. It wasn’t bad, but I was glad someone in our group knew how to read a map (the map could have been more detailed).