Little Rock, Arkansas
28th Marathon Completed
Start Time: 8:00am
Course: Flat start, rolling hills on second half
Weather: 48 degrees, rain, 11mph wind at start,
38 degrees, rain, 20 mph wind at finish, severe
storms eventually forced a stoppage of the race
SWAG: Short sleeve tech t-shirt and race poster
Race Organization: Some confusion
Crowd Support: Great considering conditions
Volunteer Support: GREAT!!!
Water Stops: Good, well stocked and organized
Food: Bananas & oranges along course,
standard post race food at the end
Finish Time: 3:34:59
Average Pace: 8:13
Place: 179/1,747 Overall, 10th/130 in 45-49AG
Total Experience ... 1 2 3 4 5
Little Rock is one of our favorite cities to visit, and we had a great time as always. As for the race, this will most likely be the last time I run it for a while. There were just too many issues that a 12 year old marathon should to have figured out by now, and I'm not just referring to the very confusing "stoppage" or "rerouting" of the race that took place because of severe weather. Take away the giant dinner plate-sized medal - the race's claim to fame, and it's simply an average race. However, the volunteers are exceptional! They went above and beyond very extreme conditions.
Michael & Me In Little Rock
Little Rock, Arkansas is only about 6 hours from Kansas City, so Michael and I have visited many times in the past for nice little weekend getaways. It's located on the banks of the Arkansas River and is filled with rich Southern history. Here are a few photos of two idiots in Rock City the day before the race.
We spent quite a bit of time roaming around the Expo, which is a very large event for a race this size. We were impressed with the organization, and the ease of packet pick-up. All of the support staff was friendly, courteous, and had no issue helping us take stupid pictures with blow-up Superheros.
The race begins on President Clinton Avenue, directly in front of the Clinton Museum of Discover. It ends in the directly adjacent River Front area. We always enjoy the shops, River Market, and restaurants that line the historic avenue. One of my favorites is the River Rail Trolley, replicas of original cable cars that transport people through tours of the city on an actual cable system.
Even though I'm probably won't enter this event again for a while, we love the city and people of Little Rock and always experience great Southern hospitality and charm every time we make the trip. We'll undoubtedly be back again and again for nice weekend getaways!
2014 Little Rock Marathon
The most important thing I can tell you about the actual race is that the volunteers were simply amazing. It got very cold as the day progressed. And being drenched from head to toe, standing there in upper 30 degree temperatures, with 20 mph winds howling .... FREAKING SMILING as you're handing out water and orange slices ... takes a special kind of giving spirit. I cannot thank the volunteers enough. You were the true heroes of the day and deserve special recognition. And they weren't just great, "considering the conditions". They were GREAT ... for any race! All of the water stops and aid stations were packed with volunteers who, instead of taking the easy way out and staying home, came out to take pride in their great city and made the event special. A lot of races, including my hometown marathon, does not have that kind of commitment from their volunteers and organization from their leaders. Well done, and thank you so much!
|Image from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ... God bless the volunteers who braved the conditions on Sunday!|
|From Arkansas Democrat-Gazette|
All in all, the Little Rock Marathon is a top notch event that I would recommend as a good early Spring race. And I'll be the first to admit that when you've ran as many of races as I have, you probably have a little too critical of an eye. So understand that the following are simply my observations. The responsibility of a Race Director for such an large event is undoubtedly a huge undertaking. And I have no doubt that Gina Pharis and Geneva Lamm, Little Rock's Directors, did everything their power to manage difficult circumstances on race day, with the safety of runners their foremost concern. And in total, they have crafted a very nice event. But some of the issues surrounding the weekend are simply reoccurring every year, and I really feel need to be corrected ...
#1 The Host Hotel Situation Must Be Addressed
After running dozens and dozens of races over the past few years, this is the only second time I've complained in a race review about the host hotel. The first time was after the 2012 Little Rock Marathon! Here's the issue this time ...
The first time we stayed at the host hotel for the 2012 Little Rock Marathon, it was named the Peabody Hotel. It's adjacent to the Statehouse Convention Center, where the race Expo and packet pick-up are held. And the close proximity obviously makes pre-race activities very convenient. But we had such a horrible time, and experienced such poor service in 2012 that we actually wrote a letter to their management, and the Little Rock Marathon staff, both of which were never responded to ... and after that vowed never to stay there again. So for this race, we found out the host hotel was the Downtown Marriott. Cool ... we're in! But when we arrived, much to our dismay, it was actually the old Peabody ... but now under the Marriott label. And lo and behold, things immediately began to unfold exactly like the previous stay.
|2014 Little Rock Marathon Race Shirt|
Here's the issue. The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 am on Sunday. Most marathoners would still be on the course at 12:00 pm. And if they weren't - like me, I crossed the line at about 11:37 am - they most likely couldn't make it back to the room by noon ... which I didn't. There was literally no way that most runners could make it back in time to check out. The only alternative the hotel gave was to checkout prior to the race, and then use their ONE shower they had available for everyone in the building after noon. We opted instead to make a deal with the housekeeping attendant ... bypassing their silly rule and leaving at about 12:45 pm, no extra charge.
|It's raining, but ... RACE ON!!!|
#2 Don't Delay The Start 51 Minutes In The Rain
If you've read my blog for a while, you know I have a huge passion for those among us who are not as fleet of foot. I just feel like the walkers and 6 hour marathoners are often overlooked as if their race fee, training, and participation are not as important as everyone else. It's just my belief that running out of food, or medals, or LEAVING PEOPLE STANDING IN THE POURING RAIN FOR 51 MINUTES AT THE START OF A RACE is simply unacceptable. It's insulting. It's inconsiderate and shameful. I'll put it this way ... if for some reason at marathons, we lined up the elite and Corral A runners at the back of the line instead of at the front, race officials would make darn sure these issues didn't happen. But it's almost like the slower participants don't matter as much. Here's case and point ...
|Pre-race on President Clinton Avenue, about 15 minutes before the rain came|
If Little Rock wants to have a wave start for their mid-sized race, okay. But there has got be a contingency plan for weather like this. They could have very easily started everyone at the same time and not been too adversely affected by bottle necking on the streets. I don't even think we saw the first water stop until mile 3, so it wasn't like there wouldn't have been plenty of room to thin out a little. It's a nice event, but it's not huge by any means. Most larger races deal with the congestion all the time. But most importantly, the extra time wasted on the clock ... while standing in the rain waiting at the starting line ... would have helped some folks finish the race before the controversial race cancellation ... which leads me to point #3. But reason #2 I probably won't run it again for a while is leaving runners standing in the cold rain for 51 minutes is unacceptable.
#3 If You Cancel The Race ... Just Admit It
By now many of you have read online reports of the weather conditions at the 2014 Little Rock Marathon. They were not great. I've ran 28 marathons, and countless other races to date, and late in this race was some of the most uncomfortable weather I've experienced at an event. The race started with light rain, 50 degrees, and a 10 mph Northeast wind. But as the day deteriorated, temps dropped to upper 30's, heavy rain and some sleet fell, and 20 mph North winds howled... effectively icing over everyone left out on the course. And that's when the thunderstorms began. At about 12:05 pm or so, race officials posted this message on Facebook that read ...
"Severe thunderstorms in the area have become dangerous for participants, forcing the closing of our courses and the rerouting of the remainder of today’s running and walking events"
Also, there were pictures online at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette showing race officials at different water stops holding signs that read "EVENT CANCELLED". Additionally, there were police officers everywhere on the course stopping runners and telling them the race was cancelled. And finally, the Race Directors sent out buses to pick runners up and drop them off near the finish line. Sounds like and looks like a cancellation to me. The Race Directors obviously couldn't control the weather, and everyone's safety was their main concern. They made a very admirable, and undoubtedly difficult decision. I fully support their decision to stop the race.
|Volunteers posting "EVENT CANCELLED" signs for runners around 12:05 pm along the course|
|Michael & me before the race|
As for my race, I'll have my typical detailed "Personal Performance Review" later in the week where I'll share my splits, nutrition plan, strategy, etc, if you're interested. But basically, I was pretty disappointed with the way I ran. At mile 20, I was averaging a 7:49 pace, which is basically where I wanted to be overall ... but I was really holding on. I just never got comfortable & loose on Sunday. My legs just wouldn't turn over to keep pace. They were sooo cold, and felt like two dead tree trunks. And by mile 22, I had slipped a little below my targeted pace, and I started doing the math in my head. When it became very clear that there was no way I could meet my 3:25 Boston Qualifying goal, I simply shut it down and began to "jog it in". I crossed the line at 3:34:59 ... but I'm calling it a clean 3:34, ha!
|Feeling confident minutes before the start|
One of my goals was beat my first marathon time of 3:43 at Little Rock five years ago in 2009, which I did. So even though I wasn't really happy about my run, at least I had that. But y'all know me, I was pretty pissed. I'm sure my race photos will show it, ha. I literally crossed the line, got my medal, and immediately headed back to the warm hotel. Michael will tell you that I wasn't very positive when she asked me how it went. But I've cooled down a little since. Later I found out that even though I didn't run the race I'd planned, I still managed 10th out of 130 runners in my age group - so I was actually somewhat satisfied with that result. But not satisfied enough to NOT let this bug me until my next race - ha.
The Trip Home
With the conditions continuing to worsen, Michael and hopped in the car and headed toward KC, not knowing just how far we would get. About 5 hours later, we discovered that would be Van Buren, Arkansas ... which typically is a little over 2 hours from Little Rock. But icy roads forced us to find a hotel and wait out the sleet storm overnight. We literally saw 27 cars, and 2 tractor-trailers that had slid off in the ditch on the way home over two days. Some were upright, but a few had rolled and were upside down. Pretty brutal. We made it home safely, but it was a white-knuckler most of the way. And it was a bit surreal on Monday morning to see the frozen highways completely desolate except for us and a few passing trucks. A 6 hour return trip to Kansas City took us two days, and about 10 hours of driving.
|Sunny, ice-packed, and deserted Interstate Highway 540 on Monday on the way back to KC|
I always try very hard not to be too critical of Race Directors. I'm actually helping a buddy put together a small 5K right now, and it's a lot of work. At a larger race like this, they undoubtedly have so much to deal with, and so many things can go wrong when you're dealing with so many moving parts. I really don't fault them for the communications problems when they were "cancelling"/"rerouting" the race. I completely understand how something like that can happen. But the hotel issues, and race start problems have got to be addressed. As always, with any issues we see on the surface, there are many considerations behind the scenes that we're not privy to. But it just seems a much better effort could have been made to make the race a bigger success for everyone involved, not just the faster runners. I would still recommend the race to folks. It's truly is a nice event. But I've ran either the marathon or half-marathon three times now, and I think that will probably be enough for a while in Little Rock.
... be great today!