Monday, April 3, 2017

Half crazy in Little Rock--tour guide Quirky with race review

Last year I got myself talked into signing up for the Little Rock (Half) Marathon.  I've had the full on my radar because of the giant medals (are women really the only ones interested in the large medals?).  I had hoped to be up to power to do the half and was hoping, when I registered, I could do some running.  The docs still say I shouldn't be running. Since I've lost so much of my fitness level over the last eighteen months since the collision, I am okay with that.  After Tulsa Williams Route66 in Nov I pretty much didn't do much treadmill walking.  I started January thinking I'd try to do at least five miles on the treadmill a day, but three on the treadmill. Let's face it, walking is slower than running and there's only so much treadmill time any of us can do.  I use to put in long runs in the winter/ice/rain on the weekends on the treadmill watching a Jet Li movie or documentary, etc, but I haven't found my groove yet with walking.  And there I go, getting off topic.  I was hoping to be able to run some at Little Rock, but instead I walked.

Road tripping:  I was debating on driving to LR and was convinced to fly instead.  (After a conference later in March, I think I'll stick with the "drive under twelve hours" philosophy).  I flew in on Friday, got the rental car and headed over to the hotel.  I didn't actually research Little Rock before heading there, something I normally do. This lead to discoveries like "Little Rock is a tiny big town".  I was expecting it to be on the scale of Omaha, or Kansas City or Chicago, but it is smaller than Des Moines! (193K versus 203K population). It's easy to navigate. We stayed at a hotel west of downtown as we wanted to be able to use a hot tub after the race and there are few hotels in the city that have a hot tub.  Luckily, a race hotel was nearby and we took a shuttle from there on the race mornings. Race morningS you ask?  Yes, LR has the option to do a 5k or 10K on Saturday with the Half or Full on Sunday.  Since surviving 13.1 on Sunday, when my feet haven't done much in the last few months, was my goal, and running a good time in the Full was my friend's agenda, we did the 5k together. We headed to packet pickup, got our items and planned to head out to do some things.  
Chihuly glass artwork at the race expo convention center
"Peace" by Lori Acott
This was outside the parking ramp when we headed to the expo. Unfortunately, with all the buildings around it was hard to get a great photo of the statue.  Late afternoon, the sky, clouds, and contrail (jet plane vaportrails)

Inside the expo, there was a lot of good looking candy decorations. I'm sure I'm not the only racer who was glad these were decorations and not real sugar the day or two before a race!  
I want candy.  I want candy.
At the expo, I was asking locals, "If there was one thing you'd have an out-of-towner do for the one day they're in town, what would it be".   Answers ranged from Presidential Library, to a park, to head out of town, party at the nightclubs and several people were stumped with what to suggest. When I picked up my friend from the airport, she said "Little Rock Central High".  I was surprised no one locally suggested it, especially since it's a National Park Historic Site.

The end of our first day had us shopping at some one of a kind stores, and finished with a late dinner at Outback (why are we eating at 8pm?) which is one of the safe staple restaurants I can count on in a large town/city :-) Back at the hotel, we set out our running attire and retired.

Saturday morning the phone app said it was cool and suppose to warm up.  We walked over to an official race hotel (with a shuttle bus) and headed downtown. It was a gorgeous morning, about 36ºF at the start, but the sun was out, shining, and it warmed up.   The bus dropped us off a few blocks from the starting area where there was water and photographers.  I wanted to get a photo of the sign:
At first, I was hoping the two officials/workers behind the sawhorses would move so I could get a good shot, then I just asked if I could go behind the sawhorses to take a photo. The woman said yes, the (tall) man said no.  The woman again said yes, the man said no. The woman said, "I'm a race director and it's fine". Cool, I talked to one of the race directors. She was very nice on the morning of the mini race day.  

The 5k/10k was great. The only thing I was surprised by was the number (few) of people who were there.  There were about three thousand people on Saturday, but I remember being surprised at how few people were doing a Saturday run with a Sunday run.
Posted Tree
Metal Tree
Tongue Tree
Handle Tree
Teapot Tree

Any other possible names? 
After the race, we cleaned up and then headed out to explore. By explore, I mean explore! Let's forget that we have a long race tomorrow. Let's be on our feet (okay, we were in a car too).

First stop:    Little Rock Central High School Historic Site 
Little Rock Central High School. This place is HUGE 

Like really huge. Over 2400 students are enrolled today, and the top floor and parts of another floor are not used today.  My K-12 school was smaller than one wing of this school.

Via the National Park app, we knew that Central High was a National Park place. We parked and walked into the visitor center when the Park Ranger inside told us of a tour being conducted over at the high school, so we hurried over to catch up to the discussion.  We went past the historic/preserved gas station and to the center of the sidewalk at the high school. We learned about Elizabeth's walk. We learned more about the Little Rock Nine. We learned about what they had to endure. We learned about the completely different high schools (the whites had a high school as we know it, the black/African American school was essentially a trade school).

We headed back to the Visitors Center and did the Jr. Ranger program. Apparently, a lot of parks let adults do these do!  A lot of information is in the booklet.

This is a definite place to visit when you're in Little Rock.

If these doors could talk.

 Next, we headed out of town, stopping at Wendy's for lunch and on the road to Hot Springs we went.  As I mentioned before, I had not looked at the map beforehand and I had no idea that Hot Springs was just about an hour away (and Crater of Diamonds State Park was about 90 minutes away). 

How different an early 20th century gym looks from an early 21st century gym. 
The gymnasium had some 'clubs' of a sort along the wall. The description of how these were used (different weights) reminded me of today's kettle balls.

At the end of Saturday, I looked at my watch and said, 'oh yeah, not bad at all (eye roll) for a 5k day and a half tomorrow'.  

Sunday morning started out at 40ºF.  Had we turned on the tv to the news/weather, we might have learned something about the day's forecast, but going off the phone app, we said "Oh, it'll be even better than yesterday!".  
(insert laugh)
We were *so* wrong.
40ºF, windy, rainy.  
Did I mention wind?
At least it wasn't like the year the race had rain, sleet, ice, and was shut down during the event.
I looked at my winter run jacket and decided to not pack it (mesh center back for air circulation). #WhatWasIThinking
Thankfully, I had the Tulsa Williams Route 66 mylar blankets in my luggage and we each took one of those to the start.  I thought I'd  toss the blanket at some mile marker and be out in the wonderful sun, enjoying the sights.  We got to the start and it was chilly and sprinkling, and so we headed to the expo/convention center.  It was warm in there, plenty of restrooms, paintings to see (which I'm sure most people walk past without seeing) and places to rest/sit.  
When we went back outside, to the starting area, it was nice to get in among the throng of runners for the wind block.  After a while, I thought it really was warming up, and I tossed my gloves someone on the sidelines without any. By mile three I regretted that decision.  The first mile we started down the street and went up and over a bridge into North Little Rock. I shed my outter layer of throw away shirts, but having learned in Detroit, don't toss a throwaway shirt unless you're positive you won't need it again!  Pretty area to run around. Firestation workers were out along the course cheering, including the first female firefighter I've seen in real life (not on the news). We headed east for a long stretch and I managed to tie my mylar blanket together in three spots so it wouldn't blow away, and it wouldn't gap open in the middle.  I stopped under an overpass to put on the throwaway shirt and a bystander helped me adjust my mylar blanket again (pull it down in back because I wasn't wearing it as a bolero jacket.

We crossed back into Little Rock via a tall bridge (it seemed steep when one is walking it) and the wind was brutal. I felt for the people who were able to run.  The first bridge joint I didn't look down, but the one in the center of the bridge, high above the river, I did and it was an unsettling experience. I do *not* recommend doing that.   Back in LR we traversed President Clinton Blvd and I saw this yogi rabbit, and I had to take a moment to enjoy this whimsical piece of art with a purpose (It's art,and meant for children to climb upon).
"Rabbit Reach" by Tim Cherry
We continued on and ran past the very modern architecture of the Clinton Library and then past a very old building in the same 'block' of property. There were some local breweries out on the course some with music, some with samples (and a security guard).
We walked out by the airport with no windbreak whatsoever. 
Why can't an airport have big giant windbreak trees around it?  (kidding--that'd be a bad idea!)

The course was mostly flat, or nearly with some gentle descents and gentle climbs. We ran past the Governor's mansion and past some big giant sugar:
P.Allen Smith's landscape truck was nearby and I couldn't resist:
I don't watch his PBS shows often, but I do enjoy his show/landscape work. A woman I had been walking with earlier saw me take the photo and was surprised that I'd know of him (we had discussed where we were from). She shared that his farm is not far from Little Rock!

I felt like we were almost done with the half when we ran past Central High School, and the wonderful band playing at the historic gas station.  The rain had stopped, the wind had let up by this point, and the sun was actually a little more visible.
We walked over the interstate, the ground was mostly dry, I was warming up, and I tossed my mylar blanket around mile 11 or 12.  My hands were all silver/black. I looked like I'd been playing in lead pencil shavings.   About mile 12, we were given full size lipstick by one of the support tables along the course.  Several of us thought that was hilarious, including the older man in the race.    

I was so excited to see the finish line and wanted to run, but since my low back was very unhappy with me at Tulsa when I was like "I'm going to run the last twenty yards, I just kept on walking--faster though!    I was happy with my finish time. I had wondered if I would go faster than hilly Tulsa, and I did :-)  
With walking in the morning, from the shuttle to the expo, back to the start, I had a lot of steps in for the day so far, but I wasn't done with that!  Of course not! 
The half marathon medal, and the double medal for having done one of the races on Saturday, too.

The after party had some stuff, but not enough for a celiac/gluten free chick with a soy issue. (Pasta with sauce, fruit in jello, bananas, beer, milk and OJ).  I grabbed a milk and OJ, sat down (on the floor) and stretched for a bit, while listening to the cover band playing, and then headed to the hotel to clean up. Saw other folks get up from tables and go back for more milk and juice (which made me laugh out loud when the 5K director last weekend included "the finish line food is not a all you can eat buffet").  Back at the finish line waiting for my friend, I enjoyed the beautiful flowers, saw Bart Yasso who was announcing finishers, and chatted with a couple--she had run the marathon (and others), he had run his first ever marathon--and then another woman, who ended up telling us about the race app new this year. She looked up our racers on the course. It was quite accurate with "this person is at ___ mile. Expected to cross the finish line at ____ time".
There was not much fruit out at the finish line area and since I'd been in the expo before waiting for my friend, I knew there wasn't much left in there either, so we headed back to the hotel. Rested, ate some fruit, meat, and cheese we had gotten the night before, and headed to the swimming pool/hot tub.  It turned out the hot tub was being cleaned/refilled and would take about an hour. The hotel man was actually filling it, from having cleaned it, when we walked in--bonus on knowing it was a clean whirlpool!  My friend hopped in the very warm pool and slowly moved in the hot pool water (It was like 90ºF), I stayed on the sidelines and talked to someone who had run the marathon.  Bonus on waiting for the hot tub (versus going back to the room) is that the jets hitting the hamstrings might not feel the best at first, but it really makes a difference having that nice water massage on the muscles!  

By the end of the day my Garmin was like this:
Definitely would recommend the Little Rock Marathon weekend. There is a lot to do locally in LR, even if the locals can't think of things off the top of their heads ;-)  You can easily make it a week vacation with time in Hot Springs and looking through dirt for diamonds in the rough.  The thing to know is that if you do the Marathon, you need to take your medals out of the luggage for the T S A xray machine.  Also, if you take some yogurt and Mamma Chia along for something to eat during your travel day, you'll be given a search you just wish you'd worn a bikini for.  (Apparently new T S A rules went into effect and it was a bit of an invasive search. On the plus side, at least they scanned my food containers --Ft Myers FL T S A didn't feel that was necessary).

As for flying versus driving. I wish I had just driven. I did a two stop trip and when I got to Chicago my husband was like 'you're not coming home tonight'.  Say what?  So he sent me a nice photo of the red/yellow storm cell that was the complete height of Iowa (top to bottom). I asked the gate agent about any delays and was told no. I showed the photo and was told "There's no weather in the area". Right, not in Chicago, but the fact that this weather was between Chicago and the destination apparently didn't register to the gate agent.  Our gate was changed, and then delayed and delayed before being canceled at the time we should have been landing. The storm finally came through Chicago around midnight.  Most people used the cots the airline/airport set up, but I did get a hotel room at a Holiday Inn Express--they have UDIs bagels or muffins for breakfast. I finally got to the hotel around midnight (because the Holiday Inn Express I was heading to didn't have the address on the side of the bus so I missed looking up at the top--plus the bus driver parked the bus not at the correct door for pickup and hid in the second lane behind other vehicles. I was out of Tanka bars and yogurt and was HANGRY by this time. The nice desk man got me an UDIs bagel to have before I went to bed :-)    Back to the point, it took me sixteen hours to get home from when I got to the airport in Little Rock. If I would have driven, I'd have been home in under ten.

When I was at the Melanoma Advocacy Day conference the following week (in D.C.), a couple east coast folks said they will never fly if the trip can be made under twelve hours. I completely concur after that trip.  I rented a car anyway in LR, I could have rented one at home and put miles on that car, and been tucked in bed the night after the race.  

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