How appropriate that the theme for this year’s Little Rock Marathon was “Game On,” because I really lucked out on doing Little Rock this year compared to years past. The weather was great, the other runners seemed happy to be there, I exceeded my pace and overall feeling expectations, and I even got to meet Bart Yasso. Pretty sweet!
I flew into Little Rock on the Friday before the race, giving me plenty of time to hop onto the free hotel shuttle, check in, eat my chocolate chip cookie (thanks, Doubletree!), and stroll the expo. The expo was one of the better ones – a good amount of stuff to buy, a few good & random giveaways (4 free 60 watt lightbulbs!?!), a free beer, and not too crowded (Friday was better than Saturday, but even Saturday was manageable).
After the expo, I went to Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill (located right next to the finish line) for some fish tacos and a banana split (pretty tasty, would recommend). After lunch I strolled down to River Market with the intention of buying some water and snacks for my hotel room. Turns out River Market is a food court, not a “market,” but I did visit Kilwins chocolate shop nearby, because of course I did (the dark pecan turtles were excellent).
The next morning I put on my most colorful outfit and headed out for the 5K (left my room about 20 minutes before the race start, which was more than enough time to walk there). We lucked out on beautiful weather and the course was ok (not much to say about a 3-mile course), but there were a ton of people who did not line up properly in their corrals. Now, I have absolutely nothing against walkers – I’m no speed demon myself, and I love races that are open to all paces. But if you’re going to walk the entire race, especially if you’re going to walk 3 or 4 abreast, you should start at the absolute back! I lined up properly according to my pace and corral, and yet I was behind 1,000s of walkers. It took me literally 2 of the 3 miles to finally run next to people going my pace. If you’re slow but want to feel like the fastest runner ever, start in your proper corral at the Little Rock 5K, because you’ll be passing people almost the entire time, even if you run an 11:30 pace like I did. (Note this was the first year they did the “challenge” where you get an extra medal if you run both the 5K or 10K the day before and the half or full marathon the day after.)
So, the congestion was super frustrating, but luckily it was a short race and there was a hefty medal waiting for me at the end.
The next morning I ate my now traditional Pop Tart and bagel breakfast before heading out of the hotel at about 6:15 so I could make the Marathon Maniac photo at 6:30. The photo was at the H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden, right next to the Convention Center and a couple blocks from the starting line.
The Marathon had the same starting line as the 5K, but the course was “reversed” – that is, we ran the other direction across the start, so you had to walk past the start line from the convention center to line up behind it. The day was warm (started in 50s and got up to the low 70s) and very sunny, but I wasn’t complaining. We really were lucky because the forecast called for 7-8 inches of rain in the days after the race.
I lined up at the front of my corral instead of exercising my usual tactic of being one of the last to start because I was nervous I’d be blocked by all the walkers again. Luckily I had no problems on Sunday, perhaps because people who do longer distances have
better race etiquette more race experience? At any rate, the course starts by taking you over the river and back, then past the Clinton Museum complex, back around past downtown and up to the Capitol, then through a very nice (and shady!) neighborhood. Then it dumps you onto a highway before it turns into an out-and-back along a very scenic sort of highway.
The big thing I noticed in this race was that most of the runners seemed really happy! Maybe it was the beautiful sunshiny day, but I saw a lot of smiles even in the later miles – such a difference from the angry Philly runners! Of course, it helped that I was surprisingly happy, too. I felt better than expected, finished much faster than expected, and overall enjoyed myself throughout the race, which I feel I haven’t done in a long time.
While there was almost no on-course entertainment, some of the police officers along the route played music through the loudspeakers on their cruisers by holding the mic up to their phones. There also were a lot (relatively speaking) of runners around my pace, so as I ran the out-and-back there were plenty of people both in front of and behind me (so it wasn’t as depressing as Philly, either). I also really appreciated that several stations had bananas (one stop had mini muffins and another had chips and donuts!). However, I didn’t like that there weren’t enough water stops – I noticed there were about as many beer stops as water stops, and another woman said the same thing! Especially for a hot and sunny day like it was, I thought there would be more water stops, but I just made sure to drink more at each stop and I was ok.
Considering they do a theme every year, there weren’t as many costumed runners as I expected. Funniest thing I overheard re: my costume:
Me: (laughs, keeps running)
Female spectator (laughing): She’s not a cat.
Male spectator: She’s not? What is she?
Female spectator: A domino!
Male spectator: Oh… Oh…
(and yes, I was running so slowly I was able to hear their entire stationary exchange)
The worst part of this race was the food (or lack thereof) at the end. I don’t know if they never had food or if the half marathoners ate it all, but when I got there (with a 5:30 finish for an 8 hour race, mind you) there was plain rice, plain pretzels, plain chips, plain milk, and water. It was just so sad.
I had paid $25 for the Perks Pavilion so I headed there to see if I could get food and/or a massage. They definitely had a large selection of food there – fruit, cold pizza, beer (Michelobe Ultra), make-your-own sandwiches, build-your-own chicken tacos, nachos, bagels, muffins, brownies – but none of it tasted very good. I ate and chatted with some other runners, saw the long line for massages, and went back to my hotel room to shower and relax. For me, it definitely wasn’t worth it – the room was located at the far end of the expo center, so I didn’t go there before the race, and the food was so yucky after the race I could have gotten something much better for $25 from a restaurant.
The next day my flight wasn’t until the late afternoon, so I strolled the town again, visited the Historic Arkansas Museum (free admission to the exhibits, $2.50 if you want a guided tour of the historical houses, which I would have loved but I didn’t have enough time – I’d highly recommend checking out at least the inside exhibits), and had another great meal at the Capital Hotel (pictured above with breakfast). All-in-all, a very pleasant, food-filled, sun-filled visit to Little Rock!
Thinking of running the Little Rock Marathon?
There were runners representing all 50 states at this years race, with tons of Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters, and Bart Yasso announcing. For this, the 14th annual race in 2016, there were 2317 finishers in the 5K/10K on Saturday and 5533 finishers in the half/full on Sunday, and more female runners in every race across the board!
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 5 1/2 hours. Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – Little Rock is quite walkable and it’s very easy to do the race weekend without a car. The expo (at the Statehouse Convention Center) and three hotels (the Little Rock Marriott, the Capital Hotel, and the Doubletree, where I stayed) are all within 2 blocks of each other, three other hotels are also very nearby (Residence Inn, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites) and the start/finish lines are a few blocks from the various hotels. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance but no drugstore and very limited grocery stores. The Doubletree offers a free shuttle to/from the airport, and I overheard they offer driving guests short distances if you need to get to a drugstore or something.
- Staying There – 7/10 – The Doubletree was fine – it seemed clean, had decent rooms, provided 2 free bottles of water each day in the room (but had no mini-fridge), and had a pleasant staff, but the elevators were having issues all weekend and the walls were pretty thin (I had to use earplugs one night and I could still hear the loudmouth who decided to shout stuff at 1 am). I don’t know if the Marriott would have been better, but it was a little more than $100 more expensive, and I was ultimately fine with the Doubletree. Total with taxes and fees for three nights was $488, but it included the free airport shuttle (and a cookie!).
- Cost & Registration – 7/10 – I paid $144 for both the 5K and the full marathon (with processing fees), which included the $25 for the relatively worthless “Perks Pavilion.” You get a short-sleeved technical t-shirt and a large medal for each race, plus a bonus medal if you run two of the races over the two days. The food at the finish was pathetic.
- Organization – 7/10 – Pre-race communication was fine, the expo was well-done, and course support was fine but they definitely needed more water stops for such a hot and sunny day. There were a good number of porta potties along the course (at every water stop) and while I saw a few lines at the early stops I didn’t notice huge lines like at some races. Also, you can wait for the start inside the convention center and you get your finisher food inside the convention center, too, so you have access to real bathrooms and weather protection for before and after the race.
- Course – 6.5/10 – You start in downtown, run over the river and back, past the Clinton Presidential Library, up to the Capitol, then through a very pretty shaded neighborhood, before getting dumped onto a highway and then run a long out-and-back along a relatively scenic highway next to a golf course, before re-entering and finishing in downtown. There are some hills (the grade reminded me of Central Park, but they were generally longer than the hills in Central Park). Some of the roads were cambered, but it wasn’t terrible. The course is closed to traffic and overall fairly pleasant, but does not offer much shade.
- Crowd – 4/10 – Not a big crowd, but those I did see were pleasant.
- Other Factors – 6/10 – Little Rock is charming and had pretty good food and several free museums! If you’re a big Bill Clinton fan then you’d appreciate the Bill worship there.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – It was enjoyable! I think the weather really makes or breaks this race, and the organizers still have some kinks to work out even after 14 years, and I wish the medal weren’t so ugly, but overall it’s a pretty decent race and good for slower folk like me.
22 down, 28 to go! My next marathon is Garmin Oz in Kansas, five weeks from now!
[EDIT – I forgot to mention a couple of things in my original post – one is about the chain necklace you get at the finish that I mentioned in a comment below. The other is that at about mile 26 they have volunteers handing out tubes of lipgloss (new ones that you get to keep – the germaphobe in me made sure of that!). They also have hand mirrors so you can carefully apply your new shade before you cross the finish line. I grabbed a dark pink gloss and put it on without a mirror while I was still running, but luckily you can’t tell if it’s smeared in the finish photos. Anyway, that lipgloss is another bonus for makeup fans in this race!]
Have you ever been to Little Rock? For my next marathon, should I pronounce “Kansas” as “Can-Saw” as in “Arkansas”? Are you planning any coping strategies for Daylight Saving Time? Share in the comments!