I’m not quite ready to tackle the challenge of a full marathon, but I traveled with 4 other Anderson Runners to the 9th annual Midsouth Championship Marathon in Wynne, Arkansas this past weekend.

After awaking in Anderson to a frozen tundra, we drove 8 1/2 hours and over 500 miles to arrive in Wynne with a population of 8,000 in rural Arkansas. Checking in to the only national chain hotel in town, Days Inn, we were greeted by lots of pictures created by local elementary school kids. Some were very funny with pictures of pigs or race car drivers, and others quite appropriate with Welcome Runners!! on them. The overriding theme for both the weekend and the event was low-key. Wynne definitely makes low-key a good thing and did not really leave out anything important.

Packet pickup was quite simple (although not simple to find!) and felt just like a local 5K race. Our biggest complaint from Friday was that we had to pickup our timing chips on Saturday morning before the race. We waited around and enjoyed a homemade feast of a buffet prepared by Wynne’s progressive women (everything was at the Women’s Progressive Club!) It was neat because many of the locals were dressed up (the meal was a fundraiser for the Cross County Historical Society), while most of the runners were in various running outfits. I will say that many people there were breaking t-shirt etiquette rules (see previous post).

After getting our fill of pasta at the Italian feast, we decided to drive the course. This was my idea because the event website said it was “mix of flat and rolling terrain” with the only major incline at mile 1. I wanted to check out the incline and we drove the whole 26 mile out and back course. (more later) This is a very different feeling and I doubt my cohorts will drive a marathon course again! It was nice to check out the porta-potty and mile marking situation though. I created a map so you can see the 1/2 Marathon.

Let me quickly introduce my traveling companions:

Wray Jean Cornwell is a registered member of the 50 States club and has completed 14 marathons now toward this juncture.

Sherry Robertson completed her 2 marathon this weekend and showed that racing a Boston Qualifier for her first was not a fluke.

Ann Morris has completed 5 marathons including a Boston Qualifying time earlier this year.

Brian Rayl has now completed 5 marathons in 5 states.

Me (Nick Cross) has completed 6 half marathons in now 3 states (this was my first major travel to a race).

RACE DAY!

Pulling back the blinds we saw a light frost on the cars at 6am (CDT) and begrudgingly made our way to get a quick breakfast (and watch the start of the Olympic Trials!) before heading to the starting line. We unfortunately walked all around the high school before finding the place to pickup our chips. After final preparations at the car we headed to the start. There was no Gear Check-in. Despite the 40 degree temps I was wearing my vintage Taylor Jersey, with ARRC gloves.

Before the start we were talking about how it felt more like a training run than a race. Even though the race was chip-timed there was no mat at the starting line, so everyone’s time was with the gun. Wanting to go out easy we were several lines back from the start and it took about six seconds to cross the starting line (I started my watch when I crossed the line).

Within the first couple of yards, someone’s chip fell off his shoe and he was trying to go back and pick it up. I don’t remember his number, but his bright shirt and he still did pretty well overall. As we headed out of town we made a couple of turns before settling on to US 64B and heading up the steepest incline of the race with mile 1 being at what appeared to be the crest of the hill at 350 feet. I felt great, but may have taken it out a little too easy and crossed the first mile at 8:05. I was being careful and was slowly passing people the whole mile, and didn’t want to waste it all on the first hill!

Mile 2 still had some uphill in it, but was mostly downhill and I came through in 7:16, still slowly passing people. Due to the small size of the event, there were large gaps between packs already at this point. I was still being cautious and holding back a little.

During this part I chatted with an ultra runner who had completed 4 100 milers and was commenting on the shortness of the full marathon! He also said this was the flattest marathon in the state. I came through the 3rd mile at 7:01 and felt very comfortable while running the slight downhill which continued to mile 5.

I came through the 4 mile mark at 7:06. Each mile was well marked with an aid-station just before or after and a porta-potty. This first stretch of the course wasn’t too bad, but it was quite clear that the course was not closed. There was plenty of signage about runners on the road but it still created some headaches having cars on the course, especially for aid station volunteers. Wray Jean said that some cars went flying by her. This fact was made worse when we popped out onto US 64 which is the main highway into and out of town. We were forced to run on the shoulder while semi’s and other cars went flying by. The shoulder was also a little slanted and I heard later that they might DQ people who ran outside of the cone’s lining the shoulder.

Right before the 5th mile we crossed over the highway. I will say this was done safely with 3 or 4 police cars and officers making sure we crossed. This was a major aid-station and they were passing out Gu, bananas, cookies, and pretzels. The 5th mile mark was in the middle of the aid station and if a volunteer hadn’t said, “you’re looking good at mile 5” I might have forgot to hit my watch so my 7:17 is a few seconds off.

This next stretch of the race was more rolling hills and was a state highway. The leaders came back by me and were about a mile ahead at this point. I came through mile 6 at 7:00 (which is a little off because of almost missing mile 5). My overall elapsed time at mile 6 was 43:47 and at the turn around point (actually about 6.4) they said I was at 47:10 which was close to PR pace and well off my goal pace. Coming into the turn around I was with the guy whose chip fell off and made sure he was running the full so I would not trip him or cut him off! He said, “I might wish later you had tripped me!”

I came through 7 at 7:05. The course was still not closed and since we were now running on both sides of the road, cars became a bigger problem. As the road flattened back out I saw a guy in a red shirt and made it my goal to catch him, which I slowly did! Mile 8 was back on US 64 and I ran a 7:03. This part was tricky because there were still marathoners coming out on the narrow shoulder while we were coming back. Most were quite gracious and gave plenty of room for me to go by as we exchanged encouragement.

I was slowly gaining on my mark, but all the long slow downhills, were now long slow uphills and they slowly grinded on my legs. I came through both 9 and 10 at 7:22. The course was still well supported with water and Gatorade. The aid stations each had a theme for a later contest. I didn’t really remember that many of the themes but heard some where pretty good. The only one I remember was a group doing duck calls, decked out in camo near a country club!

Red shirt guy picked off another runner who I slowly passed. We exchanged encouragement as I passed him on my quest for red shirt guy. I was finally getting within reach and threw in a quick surge to pull beside him somewhere before 11. I stayed with him awhile and came through 11 at 7:36. We were now going back up the steep hills and he pulled back away from me, and I let him go. I came through mile 12 at 7:38 and could feel the burn and hurt in my legs more than anywhere else.

Even on the downhill into mile 13 I only ran a 7:32. As we got back into town I passed the first female who was really struggling. I took a second and told her that we were almost finished and that she could make it. Rounding the next to last turn one of the USMC high school students tried to encourage me with something about beer, and rounding the final corner another one started running with me, trying to help me finish. I was struggling and that annoyed me more than helped, but I didn’t say anything.

I heard the announcer say something about 1:35 before we entered the track for the last 150 meters and that was when I first knew I missed my PR. The last time I looked at my overall time it was still doable. but those last uphill miles really dragged on me. I finished the last .1 in :49 for an overall time of 1:36:19, my second fastest time.

I walked around for a little bit and tried to find the advertised food, but was told it wouldn’t be ready for over an hour, so I decided to just go back to the hotel and shower. Afterwards I decided to go back to the corner of US 64 and US 64B (the easiest spectating point) which was between mile 21 and 22. I just missed the first overall male come through. But I had a nice chat with a few spectating wives and was able to cheer everyone on for awhile. Besides the aid stations there were no spectators on most of the course. After my last Indiana friend came through I quickly rushed back to the finish area.

While walking to the track I heard Sherry’s name and went running to see the finish. She won the female marathon in a 10 minute PR time of 3:28:17 and was 23rd overall. From there everyone began coming through with Brian at 3:46:00 for 46th overall, Ann at 4:03:23 for 64th overall and Wray Jean at 5:07:55 for 128th overall.

We stayed for the awards and after some confusion (the computer forgot to fix the times for the 10-20 who took the hour early start), collected our hardware.

Sherry won overall. I won my age group. Ann got 2nd Masters. Wray Jean got 5th age group (all age groups went 5 deep).

154 finished the full marathon and 191 the half.

This was a tough course, at least tougher than we’d anticipated. But we had a great time and arrived safely back in town around 12:30 Saturday night! (Most of us were out Sunday helping at Run the Mounds!)