Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Little Rock Half-Marathon Review

Two idiots at the Little Rock Half-Marathon Expo
Little Rock Half-Marathon
March 4, 2012
Little Rock, Arkansas
Overall Experience ... 4 out of 5

Spoiler Alert
  • Great weekend with my wife in Little Rock
  • Returned to the city where I ran my first marathon
  • Great race organization
  • Really cool "themed" race
  • Awesome medal - bigger than some marathon medals
  • Fairly flat course with rolling hills in latter half of race
  • Michael PR'd!!! And I ran fairly well with 1:33:23
  • Had dinner with old friends, and met other friends who happened to be running the race too
  • The only thing that kept the race from being 5 out 5 was a weird late checkout mix up with the host hotel
  • Perfect weather ... sunny, 50 degrees, light 10mph breeze

Finisher Medal & Race Shirt
2012 Little Rock Half-Marathon Medal
An exact replica of the marathon medal, only much smaller.
YES, that's a spinning globe in the middle!!!
Race shirt pictured at the right

Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock is one of my favorite smaller cities in the United States!  (Probably because it reminds me of Louisville, Kentucky)  The Arkansas Capital is located on the banks of the Arkansas River, and with it's high elevation in the center of the city - it's viewable for miles as you approach. The downtown area features many small bars & restaurants all within walking distance of many great & historic hotels.
From left: Michael & me in front of the race finish line, Little Rock trolley car with actual cables, River Market, Clinton Museum & Library, Michael & Me in front of the LITTLE ROCK RIVER MARKET sign, me giving a blue mustache to a giant face, Little Rock skyline
As the Capital City, Little Rock features the William Jefferson Clinton Library and Museum which sits on the East side of downtown .  The city is also one of the most historic civil rights landmarks in the United States.  It is home to Little Rock Central High School, where in 1957, 9 African-American students - known
Hey - Michael found a little rock!
 as "The Little Rock 9" - were initially prohibited from entering the racially segregated school by the Arkansas National Guard on orders from the Governor. They were later allowed to attend.  The full  marathon course is actually routed by the high school. 

Little Rock also has a wonderful River Market area that is home to many festivals and events throughout the year. The LITTLE ROCK RIVER MARKET sign is a landmark in the city and lights up the night sky as you cross the Arkansas River on Hwy 40 just before you enter downtown. If you've never been to Little Rock, I would highly recommend a trip - hopefully to run the Little Rock Marathon or Half-Marathon.  It's a great event and a great city.

Packet Pickup, Expo, & Hotel
Michael and I stayed at the Peabody Hotel, which was also the host hotel for the event.  I think we've only stayed in a "race host hotel" a couple of other times, and it made the whole weekend unbelievably convenient.  Everything was located either at our location - or just a short walk away.  The Health & Fitness Expo was held in the Statehouse Convention Center - literally at the bottom of the stairs from our room.   It was so nice to just park the car for the weekend, and not worry about finding several different addresses in an unfamiliar city.

Although very well organized with very helpful and informative volunteers, there was nothing really unique about the Expo other than the "Disco Celebration" for the 10th anniversary of the marthon.  It was actually only the 9th running of the half.  Of course all of the typical vendors were there, so Michael and I took time to look around and shop for a while.  Things DID get a little dicey when Michael bumped into the Chik-Fil-A cow.  The cow was there promoting chicken products.  But Michael can be kind of a big talker and started in with "Chicken Sucks!!! Eat a steak everyone ... or maybe some ground round!!!"  The cow obviously took this as a threat and there was almost a dust-up ... but cooler heads prevailed.

Michael fighting a cow
We also met briefly with Michael's Triathlon friend, Sunita, who was there with a friend who was running her first marathon.  Sunita had ran the marathon before, so we exchanged info on the tougher parts of the race.  Little Rock was actually the location of my first marathon in 2009, so I remembered it well.

Staying at the Peabody Hotel was kind of a weird experience.  It was a very nice hotel with a large ornate lobby, and featured the "World Famous" Duck March.  Every morning and evening the Duck Master marches 5 ducks out into the lobby fountains, where gatherers snap pictures and listen to how the tradition began.  But that little novelty aside, there were several things that caused us to probably not go back to the Peabody.

Smaller chain hotels like the Hampton Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses of the world seem intent on doing everything they can to get your return business.  They rely on the business traveler, and while not fancy or luxurious, most of them seem to pride themselves in customer service.  The Peabody seemed 180 degrees opposite of that.  It was apparent that they prided themselves on saying "NO!!!" to the customer a lot.  Like, "Can I get the keys to my $20/night valet parked car so I can retrieve some personal belongings?" ...  "NO!!!  We have to bring it around for you!"  Also, "Can I get some hot water for some coffee in my room?" ... "NO!!! That's a service we don't provide - but you can buy coffee in the lobby!"  Or, "May I please get a luggage cart so I can bring my luggage down?" ... "NO!!! We have to go up to your room and get your luggage for you ... by the way, it's probably gonna be about 20-25 minutes!"  And finally, "Can I get late checkout on Sunday after the race?" ... "No!!!!! We are sold out on Sunday night and no one can have a late checkout!"   Wait ... what???

Surprisingly, the Duck March Show was free
Now this last one is a little bit of a head-scratcher.  So much in fact, that the Little Rock Marathon website - on SUNDAY MORNING before the race - issued an apology for the hotel.  The race started at 8:00AM, but mandatory checkout was 12:00PM!  ONLY 4 HOURS LATER!!!  Here's the problem, no one knew about this early checkout policy.  In fact, many people had received written confirmations from the hotel stating that they COULD checkout late after the race.  But the hotel did not honor this committment.  Instead on Saturday, the hotel sent a letter to every guest stating that they would not be honoring late checkout for runners.  But, if necessary - there was one shower available in the hotel gym area available for use.  If this didn't work, they offered late checkout for half a day's room rate charge - about $80!!!  They also stated "Please accept our appologys with early breakfast in the lobby".  You'd think it was free right? Maybe an olive branch to the guests?  Nope!!!  Granola Bar $2.50!!!  Coffee ... $2.25!!!  A friggin' Apple or Banana ... $2.25!!! Gee thanks Peabody - you really went above and beyond!!!

It was a giant OOPS, to say the least!!!  And instead of just doing the right thing by increasing the hotel staff, biting the payroll bullet, and making things as comfortable on guests as possible ... the Peabody treated their little mishap as a huge money-making opportunity.  Most people can't run a 3 hour marathon.  But that is literally what it would have taken to complete the marathon, get back to the room, shower, and get checked out.  Can you imagine finishing your race in 4:30 or so, enjoying the post-race festivities while recovereing, and then getting back to your room only to find you'd been locked out and your credit card had been charged an extra fee ... all after you had written confirmation that you could checkout a little later than normal???  It happened to folks!!!
Me, Michael, Samantha, & Buck
Yes ... I'm the old one of the group, sorry! 
I really don't believe the whole thing was intentional - but it is a fact that the Peabody kept this hidden until the last possible second.  It was obviously an oversight on the part of hotel management, but when they became aware of the scheduling nightmare - they did NOTHING to remedy it.  In fact, their arrogant, "Our hands are tied ... please accept our apologies and know that YOU can make this right for an additinal fee" attitude was frankly insulting at best ... and incompetant as worst.  The hotel was clean, and everyone was friendly - but we will probably never stay there again.  And I would be surprised with all of the "bad press" they're going to receive, if the Little Rock Marathon will use them in the future as the host hotel.

The night before the race, Michael and I got together for dinner with our long-time friends Buck & Samantha.  Buck and I used to work together - and Sam & Michael both went through the same Master's program at the University of Missouri Kansas City.  In fact, Sam helped Michael get her current job.  They have since moved to Fayetville, AR so we don't see them as much now days.  But they were in town to watch Sam's sister complete her first marathon, and it was great to catch up and visit for a while over dinner at Boscos - a small brewery located in the River Market area. 

Me & my friend Bobby - he's a great marathoner!
The Race
Meeting friends, old & new, seemed to be a constant theme of the weekend.  Michael had met her friend Sunita earlier at the Fitness Expo, and on race day she ran into our friend and massage therapist, Christa, who is also a runner.  Christa was there also doing the full marathon.  (Michael and I were pretty much the only two "slackers" doing the half)  A few weeks before at the Myrtle Beach Marathon, I had met a new friend and follower of my blog - Bobby.  Bobby was also in town on Sunday running the full marathon, so we met up before the race and snapped a quick picture.  Bobby and I also ran the first couple miles of the race together, before I sped up to a faster half-marathon pace.  It was great getting to visit with him again, and as two huge baseball  nerds, I think we're gonna play fantasy baseball together this summer.  Geeky ... I know!

Michael and I woke up at about 5:30am for the 8:00am start.  It was a little weird starting a winter/spring race with the sun in the sky, but it provided a little extra time for things to warm up outside.  At race time, the conditions were perfect ... about 45 degrees with a light 8mph breeze from the West.
Before we stepped outside for the 1/4 mile walk to the starting line, it was of course time for our World Famous Pre-Race Dance!!! For this race, since we were staying in a higher-end (although a little pretentious) hotel, we chose a ball room number complete with a formal dip!   I think I executed it the with grace, seriousness, and elegance that the dance demands.  It was simply a wonderful dance completed to perfection ... BY ME!!!  Michael, however, decided to ham it up as always! Good job class-clown!

The race featured a national anthem sung by an Oklahoma City bombing survivor who had been burried alive for several hours before being rescued.  And after a dramatic 100 pound personal weight-loss, she was also there running the half-marathon in preparation for her first full marathon later this summer.  It was a great story and she was very inspirational!
World Famous Pre-race Dance

I went into the race really wanting to prove to myself that I could run ... fairly fast ... again.  After spending the last few winter months revamping my stride from a heel-strike to a forefoot-strike, I had lost much of my speed and almost all of my endurance.  This race would hopefully be a measuring stick for my progress.  And standing at the staring line ... I felt great!  As we stood waiting for the gun to go off, I told Bobby that I probably wouldn't chat a lot on this run.  I was pretty intense and locked in on the pace.  He laughed and said, "That's fine!", and then we started running.

We ran together for the first two miles.  We started at 8:10, then ramped up little to 7:46.  I felt like I was really in a groove and told Bobby that I was gonna speed up.  Since he was running the full, I was glad he held back - I really didn't want him to go out too fast since there were some tougher hills later in the race.  We said our good-byes and good-lucks and then I was off.

As I increased to a 7:30/pace at mile 3, I really felt fluent and smooth.  My legs felt healthy, strong, and quick, and my breathing was slow and relaxed - so I pushed it a little more.  The half-marathon course was really flat during the first 9 miles, with a few rolling hills over the last 4.  I really wanted to take advantage of the fast course, so I began to consistently increase my speed - and watching my heart rate, which seemed to remain in the high 150's and mid 160's for most of the run.

2012 Little Rock Half-Marathon Elevation - 292 ft of elevation gain, with rolling hills toward the end

At mile 6 I felt almost 100% and decided to push my pace below 7:00/min mile - and I would stay there for the rest of the race.  I was amazed at how smooth and easy the pace felt on Sunday.  During the latter half of the race, I was running an average of 6:30/mile - but I never felt like I wasn't in control of the pace.  It was easy at times, and the only time that I got a little winded was from miles 10-12 when the hills were a little longer than I anticipated, but very managable. 

A really cool thing about Sunday's run was I wasn't passed by one single person after mile two when I really started tracking.  It's mostly because I spent the first few miles warming up and I started a little slow for a PR run. So most of the race I was playing catch-up with some faster runners.  But not one single person passed me - I was doing the passing - ha ... and that felt great!!!

Overall I felt relatively speedy again!  Well, speedy for me anyway, and not blazing fast ... but I finished with a 1:33:23, 7:08/pace - good enough for 8th place out of 205 in my age group, and 62nd out of 3,271 runners overall.  I was about 2-1/2 minutes off of my PR.  I really don't think I could have PR'd on Sunday - but if I would have pushed durning the middle miles I probably could have shaved another minute or so off.  So all in all it was a great run!

I left Sunday's race really feeling incredibly positive about how things went.  I had proven to myself that the whole retooling of my stride and foot-strike was the right thing to do, and I had given myself a little peace of mind for some of my upcoming races.  Up until Little Rock, I had really been questioning whether or not I had done the right thing by making the change.  But Sunday proved to me that not only was it the best move from a future health stand point, but also that this summer might be my fasted and strongest one yet.  I was thrilled!!!

But probably the best thing about Sunday was how well Michael did!  She ran another PR!!! I'm so proud of her.  She has worked so hard and is really turning into a good runner.  She has lost a ton of weight over the winter (which I didn't think she needed to do - but she looks great), and she has been killing it in her workouts.  It's so awesome to watch all of her hard work pay off.  After I finished my run, I went back to the grandstand area and watched for her.  As she came across the finish line, she was pumping her fist with joy ... I could see her time on the big clock and knew that she had smashed her previous best ... it was awesome!!!

I tracked Michael down in the finishing area and gave her a giant hug.  We then took a couple of more photos and headed back to the hotel to play beat the checkout clock.  Fortunately, we got checked out in time and didn't have to pay the additional fee.  Then we grabbed some lunch and hopped in the car for the 7-1/2 hour drive back to Kansas City.

So overall it was a great weekend!  I was with the love of my life and we both ran very well, which made the trip home a  lot more enjoyable.  I would highly recommend this race if you are anywhere in the immediate area - and if not, its definitely worth the trip.  The Little Rock Marathon and Half-Marathon are simply great events - and we enjoyed every step of it!
... be great today!


  1. Great job! Congratulations to you and Michael!

  2. Congrats on sticking with your new form and still tearing it up. Looks like you're going to have a killer year.

    Big congrats to Michael on her PR. Aside from the lame hotel that sounds like an outstanding weekend all around.

  3. Amazing...and way to go michael!!
    You mentioned Lou, Ky...that is where I'm from...are you from there or do you just like the area????

  4. A big congrats to you BOTH! Looks like one heck of a weekend. Hotels are hotels - oh well - right?

  5. I love this weekend. I hope Colin and I can have this much fun when Logan is all grown up ;P lol

    Great race too! I love the duck march and Michael's "little rock" lol

  6. Awesome recap Jim! Wow congrats to you and Michael both. Your splits are incredibly inspiring and definitely prove that starting off slow always pays off with big dividens. Wow, wow, wow I simply cannot wait to watch your progress through Spring and Summer.

  7. Incredible how badly your motel treated you and the other runners. I'll bet it's not well used next time. And what's with the ducks? A little weird if you ask me.

  8. congrats to you and Michael...
    M: where is your post! come on now..your fans are waiting for details!!!

    well that hotel....that is pretty bad service

  9. I'm not from Louisville - I've just adopted it as my second home town! I love everything about it and I've been there several times. I love the Louisville Slugger Plant and the Louisville Bats!!! Although the Cardinals did knock my MU Tigers out of the College World Series a couple of years ago.

  10. That's so awesome! Nice job to you both!

  11. It was so exciting to read that you ran so well with your new form! Sweet! You'll for sure be ready to smash that PR soon.

    The medal is pretty cool :).

    Great job to Michael, too....so cool that her running is coming along so well also. YAY! Congrats to you both!


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