3 Bridges Marathon 2016

3 Bridges was my first marathon in December 2015. I wasn’t blogging about my marathons then, but it was a wonderful experience. The race was founded by Jacob Wells in 2013. He was a well loved member of the tight knit Arkansas runners’ community which I now enjoy being a part of. He was known for his joy and enthusiasm for the sport, and for the way that he was constantly lifting others up, encouraging and cheering them on in their goals. He tragically lost his life 10 months after the inaugural race due to cardiac arrest, but the race has continued on in his memory. The legacy he has left makes me really wish I could have met him. You would be hard pressed to find a marathon with more positivity, encouragement, high fives, and enthusiasm among runners and volunteers than you will find at 3 Bridges. I loved getting to be a part of this experience last year, and I loved it even more this year.

Being in the middle of December, this race is usually very chilly. About a week before the race, the forecast was calling for rainy weather in the 40’s – very similar to the conditions in which I recently ran LOViT. Wanting to be more prepared than I was for LOViT, I researched and ordered a good quality rain jacket that had good reviews from other runners. But every time I checked the weather in the following days, the forecast changed to something different. Cold and cloudy. Cold and sunny. But I couldn’t believe it when, nearing race day, they started calling for weather in the mid 60’s and 70’s with 80-100% humidity. This sounded more like a mid-summer Arkansas race than a winter one. The forecast didn’t change, even the night before the race when I left work in freezing cold weather. Well, there was nothing for it. I left my new rain jacket hanging in the closet, and dug out one of my summer racing outfits. I really didn’t know how tomorrow would go, but I would get out there and give it my best.

I got up extra early on race morning since I would need to arrive at a church parking lot early enough to take the shuttle to the start line – no parking is allowed at the start/finish area at Two Rivers Park except for official race crew. I went through my usual race morning routine of a breakfast shake and some coffee, and popped an Allegra to try and offset some stubborn sinus congestion that I’d been dealing with all week. This might be TMI, but since I’ve had more than my share of digestive issues and porta-potty stops at recent marathons, I decided to stash a few Imodium tablets into my waistband pocket to take before the race and see if that would help with  my issues. I made sure everything else I would need for the race was packed – fuel, water bottle, change of clothes for afterwards – and headed out into the dark, damp, extremely humid morning.

Driving to the church in Little Rock brought back a flood of memories from when I made this same trip with Karla a year ago. I was a little sad that I didn’t have any family here with me now, but life gets busy, and when I run as many marathons as I’ve been running lately I can’t expect them to be at every one. I chatted with some other runners as we waited for the shuttle. Two of them had come from up north and were visiting Arkansas for the first time in their quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. They asked me if this was typical weather for the area. I laughed and said no… no, it’s not. This muggy humidity is more typical of a morning in July!

The shuttle finally arrived – a bus packed with runners that was decorated on the inside with plentiful Christmas decorations while Christmas music filled the air around us. By the time the bus picked our little group up, there was standing room only, making for an interesting ride over the hills of Little Rock. But we arrived safely at the start line with plenty of time to spare. I hit the porta-potties and then popped a couple Imodium, hoping for the best. It would be great to get through a race without the inconvenience of a porta-potty stop! I was a little bit chilly in the damp, pre-dawn breeze, but I knew I would warm up quickly as soon as we started running. This was such a contrast from last year when I was shivering in sub-freezing weather with Karla despite the long running pants and jacket that I was wearing for the occasion. Back then, there was a much appreciated heater in the tent at the start area along with several big pots of hot coffee, but there was no need for those amenities this year.

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Runners visiting at the start area

Soon it was time to make our way to the start line. There was a pre-race prayer and singing of the anthem, and then off we went. What a different experience from when I ran this race the first time, never having run on the Arkansas River Trail before. Back then, my numb feet carried me down a road they had never trodden before, heart pounding with excitement at starting my very first marathon, nervously wondering if my inexperienced legs would carry me all the way to the finish line.

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Starting the race!
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The smile on my face says it all! It was so wonderful to be running this marathon again! 

Today, this was my familiar stomping ground. I’d come back to visit this course many times since that first running of 3 Bridges. I ran this very road just last weekend on a 12-mile run with my Pomeranian, Jasper. The familiarity was comforting and gave me confidence as I opened my stride to just under a 9:00 pace. The humidity and rising heat would likely prevent me from holding this pace for the whole race, but it couldn’t hurt to start strong.

It seemed like no time at all before that first mile was behind us and we were climbing over the Big Dam Bridge. Down the other side, and we were at the first aid station. I remember the aid stations being wonderful last year, with many people who didn’t know me seeing my “First Marathon” bib and cheering me on by name. But this year was extra special as I actually recognized some faces of the wonderful volunteers who were going above and beyond to take care of us, many of them distance runners themselves. This time I wasn’t wearing a bib with my name on it, but they still cheered me on by name. The Arkansas runners’ community is so tight knit, and I am so thankful to have become a part of it. The cheers and high fives lifted my spirits, and despite the high humidity, those first miles were pure joy to run.

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First of two trips over the Big Dam Bridge. The morning was very damp, and the pavement was slippery! 
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Relaxing and enjoying the scenic, now-familiar Arkansas River Trail

I chose to focus on the positive in the weather… at least my feet weren’t numb, and my muscles didn’t feel like they were frozen solid like they did at LOViT a couple weeks ago. And it was freeing being in a tank top and shorts for the first time in weeks! I saw a runner ahead of me wearing a participant tank from Full mOOn, the overnight 25k/50k in July that is known for its difficult hills and swelteringly hot and humid weather. I sped up a little bit to catch him and comment on how much fun I had at that race. “Yeah, it was a fun race,” he agreed. We ran together a little while longer before I commented, “You know… the weather today really isn’t all that different than it was then.” He laughed and replied, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

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One of several climbs. Overall it is a fairly flat course, but there are a few challenging little sections that remind you you’re in Little Rock! 

The natural beauty of the Arkansas River Trail gave way to the urban scenery of North Little Rock as we neared the Clinton Presidential Bridge, the second of the 3 Bridges for which the race was named. The lead runners were already coming back from the turnaround. I was excited to see Tia Stone in the lead, an incredible runner who also happens to be a fellow Harding graduate. I cheered her on as we passed each other. I didn’t know this at the time, but she’d been sick earlier this week as well, and almost decided not to run this race when the forecast started calling for such unseasonably hot weather. It is a testament to her strong character that she got out there and completed the race anyway, and seeing her perseverance inspired me to keep giving this race my best effort as well.

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One of the many awesome aid stations! We runners were very well taken care of! 

Over the Clinton bridge I went. Last year, they had a guy dressed in a Santa costume waiting for us at the turnaround on the other side, and I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t here this year. Oh well. Around the roundabout, back up over the bridge, and I was off for the return journey.

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Bridge 2 out of 3! 
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View from the Clinton Presidential Bridge
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Still feeling pretty good at the first turnaround!

I love out-and-back sections of race courses, because you get to see all the other runners – the faster ones and the slower ones. And this race was especially fun because I recognized so many faces. High fives and encouraging words were plentiful.

I passed the half marathon mark in under 2 hours, but at this point I could feel the rising heat starting to get to me and my legs starting to slow. At the start line, I remembered seeing several shirtless men and sports-bra clad women and thinking how ridiculous it was to be wearing so little for a December race. But as the temperature climbed, I started to worry about getting overheated, and around mile 15 I gave up on modesty and wriggled out of my tank top. I could carry it until we crossed the start/finish area at mile 20, leave it there, and pick it up when the race was done. My friend Wanda who I’d met at the Conway Running Club passed me around this point, looking a lot stronger than I felt. I was proud of her. She had trained so hard for this race, and it was paying off.

Going about the same pace as me at this point in the race was a blind runner and his guide. Running a marathon is challenging enough for anyone, but I can’t imagine taking on such a challenge without my sight. Seeing the two of them was humbling and inspiring, and took my mind off of my own complaints about the hot weather.

As we neared the aid station, I was a little surprised when the blind runner’s guide started talking to me. He was saying something about how this aid station had lots of Vaseline, and I’d better use some because we still had a lot of miles to go. O…kay, I was thinking. I must really look like I’ve never run a marathon or something. We’re over halfway there, and I’d just as soon get this thing over with. Why does he think I need to stop and use Vaseline? I thanked him politely, but blazed through the aid station without stopping, still having some Tailwind in my Orange Mud pack.

Soon we were back at the bottom of the Big Dam Bridge, and I did stop at that aid station – partly because I needed to refill my Tailwind bottle, and partly because that bridge looked a whole lot more challenging on the return journey with so many miles on my legs, and I didn’t mind the idea of taking a little breather first. My bottle was filled by the kind aid station volunteers all too soon, and up and over I went again, this time a good bit slower than when I crossed the same bridge earlier that morning. Besides the heat and humidity, there was now a stiff wind blowing, which was especially noticable out over the river.

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It was tough climbing back over the Big Dam Bridge, but I still managed a smile for the photographer! (Had to include a photo from last year’s race as well, because it’s too funny how similar they turned out!)

 

Although my pace had slowed, I was still maintaining a positive attitude and finding plenty to enjoy about the race. It seemed to be going by a lot faster than it did when I ran it last year. I remembered having to stop and take a walking break at this point last year, but not today. I might not be running fast anymore, but I was still running, and feeling pretty good. Almost to the start/finish area, and then it would just be a short 10k loop to go before I crossed that finish line. I had just run that loop a couple weeks before with Jasper. Easy peasy. (At least, that’s what I told myself… in reality, the last 10k of a marathon is anything but easy, especially on a day like today!)

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About to cross the start/finish area at mile 20. Can anyone see why that other runner was trying to offer me Vaseline? Yikes! 

I was happy to get rid of my tank top that I’d stuffed in the waistband of my shorts right before crossing the last of the 3 Bridges at Two Rivers Park. This was really familiar territory now – I’d run this section of the marathon course even more times than the stretch after Big Dam Bridge. Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw the lead runners again on their return journey to the finish line. Tia was still in the lead, looking so strong and determined! I was so excited for her as she ran that home stretch to a well deserved win.

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Striking a pose on Two Rivers Bridge! Maybe if I LOOK strong, it will make me run stronger! 😉
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View from the bridge of Pinnacle Mountain.

Another aid station was coming up, and I wasn’t planning to stop. But then, another runner came up to me and said that I was bleeding and really needed some Vaseline, and asked the aid station volunteers if they had any. What? Bleeding? I guess I must have a high pain tolerance, because until this moment I had no idea of the severe chafing that was going on between my thighs, that had apparently been noticeable to the kind blind runner’s guide who tried to get me to take advantage of the Vaseline at the aid station before the Big Dam Bridge. They didn’t have any Vaseline at this aid station, so I just kept going. Nothing I could do about it at this point, and thankfully, it wasn’t bothering me yet. But Arkansas runners really take care of each other, especially at this race, and the runner who noticed my chafing caught back up to me about a half mile later just so he could give me a mini container of Vaseline that he’d managed to procure, and I accepted it gratefully. Maybe it would make my shower later that day a little more tolerable!

That last 10k loop is nowhere near as interesting and scenic as the rest of the Arkansas River Trail, and it is tough mentally and physically. I was so happy to get back to the out-and-back area where I once again started seeing familiar faces of other runners, and the monotony was broken by more cheers and high fives. Only 1.5 miles to go now. Those last couple of miles always seem to take so long. I distracted myself by thinking about where Josh and I would be on our easy 2 mile route that we’ve been running in the mornings lately before work.

When the Two Rivers Park bridge once again came into sight, I gave it all I had. Last year, I’d pretty much given up on running by this point on the course, choosing instead to walk/jog with another first time marathoner who was struggling. This year I didn’t want to leave anything out on the course. It might not be my best marathon time ever, but I could still give it my best and finish strong! Up and over the bridge I climbed, working up as much of a sprint as I could for the downhill finish.

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Digging deep with the finish line in sight! 

The best moment of the whole marathon was seeing one particular familiar face waiting for me on the sideline – Joshua had made it to see me finish! I was all smiles as I made a slight detour to give him a high five before heading on to cross the finish line. I must have looked pretty spent, because the finish line volunteers kept asking me if I was okay and offering me water. It had been a very hard marathon. I don’t think I realized how hard it had been on my body until I stopped running and tried to walk like a normal person. I’m always stiff after a marathon, but I was really hobbling today, and was thankful to have Joshua to lean on for support. Physically, I was exhausted. But yeah, I was okay. It had been hard. But it had been a very good kind of hard, and I was so thankful for every mile of this very special race.

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Finally crossing that finish line! 
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My favorite part of the whole race was seeing Joshua at the finish line! 
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Getting to bring home one of these beautiful age group awards was a nice surprise! 
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Some more of the amazing volunteers that made this race such a great experience.

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The finishers’ medals were beautiful!
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Delicious replenishment in the finishers’ tent! 
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So thankful for these guys who were out there making sure we stayed safe!

 

Do I wish I’d finished the second half faster? Yeah, it would have been nice to get a PR. But I really can’t beat myself up too much with the weather the way that it was, and overall, I was happy with my 4:07:11 – still much faster than my 4:58 from last year. And even though the second half was hard, a lot went right to make this a very good and memorable race. I might have chafed (my own fault for forgetting to put on Body Glide that morning) but I didn’t sustain any serious injuries or struggle with muscle cramping. The Imodium worked like a charm, and I loved that I got to spend my time out on the course enjoying the race instead of wasting time in a stinky porta-potty (it truly is the little things!) I was thankful for another safe, fun, and injury free marathon. My 12th in 12 months, which just so happened to earn me my 3rd star as a Marathon Maniac. I even managed to place third in my age group, earning me a beautiful award to hang on my wall. Really, under the conditions, I couldn’t ask for a better race to conclude my first year as a marathoner.

And at the end of the day, this race wasn’t about me or my performance. It was about celebrating the effort and accomplishment of every single runner who had the courage to toe the start line on that muggy morning, and their grit and perseverance in making it to the finish line no matter what the time on the clock. It was about celebrating the life of another runner who I’m looking forward to meeting in heaven someday, honoring his memory by encouraging each other and lifting each other up the way that he did. I didn’t know him, but from everything I’ve heard about him, I think he would be proud to see this legacy that he has left.

I’ve run a handful of races since running this one as my first marathon a year ago. But this one will always be special. And if God continues to grant me the strength and health, I look forward to running it again and again for many years to come!

LOViT Trail Marathon 2016

The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail Marathon (a.k.a. LOViT marathon) ended up being my slowest marathon to date. Which isn’t all that surprising since it was on a technical single track trail with a lot of elevation gain. But it was definitely one of my favorite marathons so far!

After a couple of discouraging road marathons in which I wasn’t feeling my best and didn’t perform very well, I was ready to hit the trail for a stress-free run in which I didn’t even plan to look down at my watch to check my pace. I had done a couple of training runs on LOViT over the summer, and it promised to be a beautiful, scenic run. No frills, no entry fee… just a good time on the trail with friends.

As race day drew closer, however, I began to get a little worried about the weather forecast: rain all day, and temperature in the low 40’s that would only grow colder as the day went on. I have never run a race as long as a marathon in these conditions. But I knew that if I skipped out on this race, I would just be sad later when I heard stories about it from my trail running friends. So I went out and bought a rain jacket and the warmest running pants that I could find, and hoped for the best.

It was a busy week at work leading up to the marathon, and I was already sleep deprived before I set my alarm for 4:00am Saturday so I could get up, eat breakfast, and meet Charlie to carpool to the race start. I was questioning my life choices as I struggled to keep my eyes open on the drive to Mount Ida, and I was thankful that Charlie was driving. Another friend of Charlie’s, Renee, was riding with us too. She would be running the half marathon that morning as her very first trail run! The three of us have not been distance runners for very long, and during the parts of the drive that I was awake, it was fun chatting and exchanging running stories.

Finally we arrived at the race start. It was a cold, overcast, drizzly morning, and I was thankful that race registration was under a picnic pavilion which we could huddle under and stay dry for as long as possible. I started seeing familiar faces from my other Arkansas trail runs. Stacey, one of my trail running role models who always turns in incredible times even on the most difficult of runs, asked me how I was doing. “Questioning my sanity a little bit,” I replied, glancing at the bleak, rainy sky, “but otherwise good!”

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I really appreciated the volunteers for this race! If there’s anything harder than running in the cold rain, it’s standing in it for hours to make sure those runners are taken care of.

Soon it was time to leave the shelter of the pavilion and make our way to the start line. Like most trail runs, the start line was a low key affair. We visited for awhile until the official race start was announced, and then off we went!

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Several of us were all wearing the same Orange Mud hydration pack, so we had to take a picture! 
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Embarking on our journey! 

We ran on the pavement for a little while before turning onto the single track, all of the runners merging into single file. This was a section of the LOViT trail that I had never run before. There were some rolling hills and a few roots to dodge, but for the most part, the early part of the trail was very runnable with smooth, well maintained terrain underfoot. There were some spectacular views of Lake Ouachita, which I’m sure would be even more beautiful in clear, sunny weather. The trail was never boring with plenty of twists and turns, little bridges that shook under our feet as we ran across them, and shallow creek crossings we had to splash through, making our feet even more soaked than they were from the rain.

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A glimpse of the trail. You can see Lake Ouachita off to the left. 
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One of many shallow creek crossings.
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Some of the deeper creeks had wooden bridges that we ran across.

 

It was still cold, even after a few miles of running, and I was thankful for every layer of clothing that I had put on that morning. I was a little disappointed in the Columbia rain jacket I bought from Academy. Although it was labeled as “water resistant,” it still eventually soaked through. But even a wet jacket provides an extra barrier of insulation, similar to the wetsuits I used to wear for scuba diving, and it was definitely better than no jacket at all.

Despite the cold and the rain, it felt so good to be back out on the trail. I hadn’t been trail running since pacing Melanie at the Traveller back in October, and I had forgotten how good it is for the soul. Trail running is hard, much harder than road running in many ways. You constantly have to watch where your feet are going, with no opportunity to tune out and focus on other things like you can on a long, straight stretch of a road race. It’s so easy to trip on a root or land your foot on a rock the wrong way, especially with a slippery, wet layer of leaf litter like the one that covered the trail today. Progress on the trail is much, much slower than progress on the road.

15384390_10209813948239956_5089479239866952938_oMore of the trail.

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The covering of fall leaves sometimes made it difficult to avoid obstacles on the trail, but they sure were pretty! 
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More trail. There was all kinds of gorgeous scenery! 

But the challenge is a good one. During a trail race, the competition is not against the other runners, but against the challenges of nature itself. The rugged terrain, the harsh weather conditions. We are all out there overcoming the same challenges, and it is hard to find more encouragement and good sportsmanship between runners than you’ll find at a trail race.

I decided early on that I would do my best to keep up with Charlie, as the trail was in a very remote area and I didn’t want to be alone if I did end up falling and hurting myself. He is a much faster runner than I am, but he had just run a very fast half marathon the previous day, so I was able to more or less keep up with his recovery pace. We took our time at each of the aid stations, placed about 4 miles apart on the trail. We deeply appreciated the volunteers standing out in the cold rain to make sure we had our hydration, Gu, and a variety of other sweet and salty snacks.

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I was so thankful to have Charlie as a running buddy! It was great having some company on the trail, and I felt much safer having someone else around in case of any injuries.
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I may not have been moving very fast, but I was loving being back out on the trail! 

The trail grew much steeper and more rocky as we began to summit Hickory Nut Mountain, and we alternated between running the more level areas and hiking the steeper ones. There were several times that I tripped and nearly fell or twisted an ankle, but somehow I managed to stay on my feet. Finally, we reached the turnaround aid station at the top of the mountain. There was a spread of delicious snacks and sports beverages, as well as a campfire that runners could huddle around to warm up. The fire was especially nice for the half marathoners, who had to wait at the top of the mountain awhile for the shuttle to bring them back down to the start area. I was delighted to see another familiar face at the top of the mountain, Lisa, who had started the race about an hour early that morning.

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Finally at the top of Hickory Nut Mountain! 
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Loved getting to see Lisa at the mountaintop! 
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The mountaintop aid station.

Charlie and I enjoyed visiting with other runners at the aid station for awhile, and took advantage of the campground restrooms a short way up the road. But eventually, it was time to leave this warm little oasis and make our way back down the mountain. A couple miles back down the trail, we saw our friend Renee. She wasn’t feeling very good due to the weather, but was still pushing onward to finish the half. We exchanged words of encouragement and then parted ways. I hated that she was all alone without a running buddy, but took comfort in knowing she had that warm aid station waiting for her at the top of the mountain.

The weather was not getting any warmer as the hours went on. If anything, it was a couple degrees colder than it was when we started. It’s very difficult to make chilled muscles run fast, and my pace was slowing significantly from the beginning of the race. But I continued moving forward in as efficient a trot as I could manage. My main goal was to at least move fast enough to keep my body warm and avoid becoming hypothermic. With the cold seeping into my bones, and no dry piece of clothing on my body any more, those last few miles were very challenging. Thoughts of warm, dry clothes and a hot bath when I got home motivated me to keep going.

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We took the return journey at an even more relaxed pace and even took a break or two for some pictures.

There was a detour towards the end to shorten our return journey, since the trip to the top of the mountain was more than a half marathon distance. It lifted my spirits to see some unfamiliar scenery which meant we were getting close to the end. In the last mile or so, the single track trail gave way to a scenic paved bike path.

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The paved bike path near the end let me know that we were finally getting close to the finish line! 

Then, finally, we turned a corner and could see the finish area in the distance. Charlie was a good distance ahead of me at this point, but he slowed down and waited for me to catch up so we could cross the finish line together. My legs were too cold to work up anything close to a finish line sprint, but I did manage to pick up my pace a little bit, and I was all smiles as Charlie and I crossed the finish line together with a time of 6:01.

Very few runners had decided to wait at the finish area, and who could blame them with this miserable weather? But even so, we had some friends there cheering for us as we finished. It was great to see Shelley, who I’d run another section of LOViT with over the summer. She is an incredible trail runner, and is always so full of positivity and encouragement towards those around her. Tee was also there – she had run the half with her husband Wes, and then taken the shuttle down while he completed the full. I gladly accepted the snacks she offered to share with us – some boiled eggs and delicious homemade brownies.

The scariest moment of the race was when Tee told us that a half marathon runner had been forgotten at the top of the mountain – it was Renee! Somehow, there had been a miscommunication, and the shuttle drivers thought she had dropped at one of the aid stations lower on the mountain before the turnaround. When poor Renee finally made it to the top of the mountain, the aid station was packed up and everyone was gone, leaving her cold, wet, and alone in a very remote location. Fortunately she had her cell phone and was able to contact some members of the Conway Running Club, who in turn were able to get in touch with the race director and get her help and a ride back. We were so glad she was ok. I can’t imagine how scary it would be to have something like that happen as my first trail running experience.

After standing in the cold for a little while, I began shivering uncontrollably, and knew it was time to get into some dry clothes. It was miserable stripping down in the little outdoor campground restroom, my numb fingers barely able to manipulate buttons, zippers, and shoelaces. I couldn’t remember being this cold since a similar experience changing into dry clothes after a December scuba dive in Florida. But it was worth it when I finally had dry clothes on my body again.

Soon after that, Renee arrived in her own personal shuttle, and it was time for the trip home. Never had I been so thankful for a car with a good heater. We stopped for lunch on the way back, and we truly must have been a sight as we walked in – three wet, bedraggled runners all sporting a stiff, post-marathon zombie walk. But we had a great time eating our warm meals and reliving our race day experiences.

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A warm meal never tasted so good! 

Finally we hobbled back out to the van. Renee and I promptly fell asleep while Charlie toughed it out and drove us through the overcast, drizzly interstate miles back to Conway. It had been a tough race for all of us, but a very good one all the same, and I would run it again in a heartbeat!

Route 66 Marathon 2016

I remember reading blog posts from other runners about Route 66 before I even ran my first marathon. This was the Marathon Maniacs race, where the red carpet was rolled out for that amazing group of people who had not only run ONE marathon, but had run at least 3 marathons within 90 days, most of them many more marathons and ultras at even closer intervals than that. If you were a Marathon Maniac, you got a special custom bib, medal, and access to the Maniac Corner, a special VIP area with its own personal bag check, photo opportunities, and food and drinks after the race. At the point in my running when I was reading about Route 66, I was not sure if I would be able to complete one marathon, let alone the three marathons in 90 days required to qualify for Marathon Maniacs. But I told myself that if I ever did qualify, this was a race I definitely wanted to run.

Fast forward to right after I qualified to become a Maniac at the Zydeco Marathon in April, 2016. I couldn’t get online fast enough to register for Route 66, and I looked forward to it all year! When the day was finally drawing near, conditions were not as perfect as I had imagined they would be. I ended up being scheduled to work that Saturday, which meant a long drive the night before the race, and that I would miss out on the expo and the shorter races on Friday. (Thankfully, Angie offered to pick up my packet for me so I wouldn’t have to worry about missing that!) Also, my husband was unable to come with me to the race due to work obligations that weekend, so I was a little sad about that. On the bright side, I was very excited to get to see Erin, a vet school buddy currently doing an internship in Stillwater who had graciously offered to let me stay with her and her pups for the night!

So I packed everything I would need for the marathon on Friday night, loaded it into my car Saturday morning, and headed to work ready to leave straight for Tulsa when I wrapped up for the day. Work was as busy as it usually is as a Saturday, and the last couple of cases were sad ones that got me down. But finally, we got through the day, I hurriedly finished updating all my medical charts, and was ready to head out for a long 5 hours on the interstate. Before I left Little Rock, I stopped at an Academy to buy a long sleeved Under Armour shirt – the weather was forecast to be windy and below freezing at the start of the race, and the running gear I had packed was not really designed for such cold weather.

The drive to Tulsa was uneventful. I was tired from the long week of work, and made some bad food choices at gas stations along the way in an effort to stay alert while driving. It was after dark by the time I arrived in downtown Tulsa to meet Angie and pick up my race packet. Some of the roads were already closed for the race, and it took me forever to figure out how to get to her hotel. But I finally managed to find her, and it was so wonderful seeing a familiar face at the end of such a long day! I hadn’t seen Angie since she paced me at the Louisiana Marathon for my first 4:30. We’ve kept up with each other on Facebook ever since, and she is truly one of my running role models. It was so wonderful getting to hug her in person again!

After picking up my packet and saying good bye to Angie, it was time for another hour of driving to get to Stillwater. I stopped for gas and texted Erin, and we decided to meet for dinner at a Noodles & Company (a restaurant chain that I had never heard of, but is apparently very popular in Oklahoma!) The drive took me through some little towns and across some rivers that I imagine would have been very scenic in the daylight, but I would only get to experience them in the dark tonight and in the wee hours of the dawn tomorrow.

I met Erin at the Noodles & Company, and again, it was so wonderful seeing a familiar face far from home. Erin and I hadn’t seen each other since graduation, and it was so much fun catching up over a delicious bowl of pesto cavatappi, sharing stories about our experiences over the past few months as brand new veterinary graduates. After dinner, we drove to the OSU Veterinary School where Erin is doing her food animal internship. She introduced me to some of the resident teaching animals in the barn, including an adorable sheep and goat who get very excited about vanilla wafers, and a fistulated cow who loves to snuggle! It was so much fun meeting the animals and getting to have a tour of the facilities.

Then we headed back to Erin’s apartment, where we visited some more and I got to snuggle with her sweet puppies! Well, at least I snuggled with Khloe… Nola was a little bit more shy. All too soon it was time for bed, as I would need to get up very early to drive to Tulsa in time to find parking and be ready for the Maniac Corner picture at 7:15. I laid out my outfit, making sure I had everything ready to go for the morning.

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Me and Khloe! She is such a sweetheart!
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Erin and me right before going to bed. It’s a testament to our crazy lives as new veterinarians that we are both still in our work clothes!
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Flat Sara ready for the marathon tomorrow. I hoped that my new long sleeve shirt would keep me warm enough!

It’s always hard for me to sleep the night before a marathon, and I woke up several times during the night checking the clock. I got up before my alarm gathered up my things, and headed back out into the cold, dark, early morning. Erin and her pups were so sweet and got up just so they could see me off. Then came the hour drive from Stillwater back to Tulsa, aided by some gas station coffee and an eggnog protein shake.

Finally I made it back to downtown Tulsa, and found a parking garage I could use a credit card in since I hadn’t brought any cash for meters. It was only a few blocks away from the start line. I stayed in my warm car for as long as I could until it was almost time for the Maniac Corner picture, and I gathered up everything I would need for the race, and headed out into the sub-freezing cold. I was very thankful for the decision to buy that Under Armour shirt yesterday!

I made my way to Maniac corner, and immediately started seeing more familiar faces. Some were friends I’d met at previous marathons, others were people I’d met through Facebook and hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting in person until today. I’d never seen such a big ocean of Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic shirts! In most social circles, people think I’m weird for running almost a marathon per month in 2016. But here, I felt like I fit right in! Soon it was time to organize for the group picture, and the voice calling us to order was none other than the Runner’s World legend Bart Yasso! Before we took the picture, we made a video for Chris Lieberman, the Race Director, telling him that we loved and missed him. He sustained a serious head injury falling off a ladder while working on preparations for this marathon.

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Maniac group picture! Apparently, this is a SMALLER crowd than it was last year for the 10th anniversary of Route 66. Still more Maniacs and Half Fanatics than I have ever seen in one place! You can spot me in the back right with the black and yellow beanie. 🙂

After the group picture , I took advantage of some other photo ops, including a quick impromptu picture with Steven Yee and Christopher Warren, two of the Main Maniacs who started this crazy club!

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Me and some friends posing with two of the Main Maniacs!
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Loved getting to see Angie who paced me for my second marathon back in January!
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It was great seeing Randy and Chris again! We had all run the Joplin marathon together. Both of these guys are incredible runners who run even more races than I do!
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Loved getting to see Ed who I’d met on a trail run in Arkansas earlier in the summer! (Apparently I was talking and missed looking at the camera, haha!)
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It was amazing finally getting to meet Jamila! We’ve been friends on Facebook for awhile, and she is an incredible runner. Love her positive attitude and the way she constantly encourages those around her!
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So much fun celebrating being a part of this crazy group of people! 🙂

All too soon, it was time to line up in our start corrals. This was a new concept to me since I’ve run mostly smaller marathons in the past. With over 12,000 runners participating in various race distances over the weekend, Route 66 was definitely a bigger race than I was used to. I followed the crowds until I saw signs for Corral B and made my way in. Before our corral was released to start, we had to wait for the wheelchair racers and Corral A to be released. It was COLD, and I was shivering uncontrollably standing and waiting. But finally it was our turn, and we crossed that start line, a giant cloud of confetti raining down on us.

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Taking selfies at the start line is a good distraction from the cold!
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Getting ready to take off!

I was so cold that I couldn’t even feel my feet for the first few miles, and I was thankful that I didn’t trip and fall. Despite the cold, I managed to keep up a pretty good pace in those early miles, finishing the first half in under an hour.

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Very cool bridge along the race course!

But after that point, things started to fall apart. I had to make a porta potty stop, and it was a little disheartening coming out and seeing the 4:00 pace group, who I had been ahead of for 13.1 miles, fading off into the distance ahead of me. I couldn’t seem to work my way back up to a decent pace. The hills were getting steeper and more frequent. The cold was seeping all the way into my bones, and the wind seemed to go straight through my Under Armour shirt that had felt so warm when I tried it on in Academy yesterday. My legs were getting heavier, and I was also starting to struggle with abdominal cramps. My normally positive mindset was failing me. Yeah, I never expect the last half of a marathon to be easy, but today was different. I was not enjoying this any more, at all. I was physically hurting, and every negative thought that could enter my brain, did. Despite being surrounded by other runners, I felt very alone. None of my friends who I had reunited with that morning were in sight. I had no family waiting for me at the finish line. I was extremely frustrated with my strong start, only to completely lose my stride now. I hadn’t had run such terrible splits between my first and second half since my first marathon when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Seriously, my performance should be better than this now. I was literally fighting back tears of loneliness and frustration as I was running, which is not characteristic of me during a race at all.

I was not in control of my race any more. But one thing I could still control was whether or not I quit. So I kept pressing forward, trying not to worry about my splits. My chance at a “good” race time was gone, so I started taking it a little easier walking through the water stations and taking stretching breaks when I needed them. And I decided, you know what, as long as I’m doing this race, I might as well do the Center of the Universe detour – an optional extra 0.3 miles which allowed you to see a historic Tulsa landmark and be awarded with a coin for completing “the world’s shortest ultra.” I was with the 4:15 pace group when I finally split off for the detour. Since I was past caring about my race time any more, I stopped and enjoyed a drink and posed for a picture before setting out for the last few tenths of a mile of the race.

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Made it to the Center of the Universe!
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My award for completing the World’s Shortest Ultra. 😉

Finally the finish line was in sight. I didn’t think I had a sprint in me. But then a relay runner sprinted past me. I’m really not competitive during marathons, but when I can see the finish line, I make an exception. Oh no, my brain said. You and your team have been behind me for 26.2 miles, lady, and you are not passing me now! I gave it all I had and sprinted ahead of her. And she sprinted ahead of me. And I sprinted back ahead of her. In the end, I’m pretty sure the two of us tied, and as soon as we’d crossed the finish line, we cordially thanked each other for the extra push of competition for a strong finish.

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Posing at the finish line. It felt amazing to finally be done!
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Not my greatest splits of all time, but at least I finished and didn’t give up when it got hard.

After the race, I enjoyed some replenishment at the Maniac Corner for a little while and visited with Randy, who had finished the half earlier. Part of me wanted to stay and wait for other friends to arrive, but the other part of me kept thinking about how cold I was and about the 5 hour drive that lay ahead of me before home and work in the morning. The practical side of me won, and I decided I would catch up with my friends and congratulate them on Facebook. Now the fun part… hobbling back to that parking garage on my stiff, tired legs. Wait… where WAS that parking garage? The finish line was several blocks from where we had started, and I was completely disoriented as to where I was. I plugged in the address to the Holiday Inn right next to the start line, hoping I could find my way back to the parking garage from there. Fortunately I found some other people to walk with, as I didn’t feel all that comfortable wandering downtown Tulsa by myself. It took awhile, and way more walking than I anticipated right after completing a marathon, but I finally found the parking garage and my car and headed out for the long trip back.

Why did the second half of my race go so badly? Well, I have a few ideas. First, my nutrition the previous day was not anywhere near what it should have been… I indulged in too much gas station junk food on the trip up, which certainly could have contributed to my stomach cramps and the necessity for a porta potty stop. But the next day brought further explanation, as I was extremely tired at work and was having muscle aches beyond the normal soreness I expect after running a marathon. Tuesday, I had a full blown stomach bug which lasted until Thursday morning and even made me miss some work. Was I already coming down with the stomach bug when I ran my race, or was I just more susceptible catching it post-race due to the added stress on my body? Guess I’ll never know for sure, but it sure would explain why I felt so terrible during that second half.

For me personally, this running of Route 66 wasn’t exactly all that I hoped and dreamed it would be. It was a very well organized race, and under other circumstances, I would have enjoyed it very much. But the cold, windy weather and the fact that I was getting sick sapped a lot of the fun out of it. I am trying to remind myself that it is just one race, and when you run lots of marathons, they can’t all be great ones. To become really good at something, you have to fail a few times, so I’ll just write this race off as one of the “failures” that will help me to grow and become a stronger runner in the… “long run.” 🙂 I have some ideas for things I can do better next race, and as for the things that I can’t control, well… I can’t waste my time worrying about that.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful for another safe, injury-free finish and getting to experience the unique parts of Route 66 that make it such a special race. And it was WONDERFUL getting to see Erin, Angie, and so many other friends over the weekend. There are so many things that contribute to a race experience besides your own personal performance on the course, and getting to hang out with so many awesome friends definitely helped make up for some of the less fun moments. Yes… it may have been a tough race, but it was still good. And I still have so very much to be grateful for!