Mississippi River Marathon Race Recap
Leg cramps come on in one of two ways for runners. There are the sudden ones that just grip you with violence. One moment you are running, the next you are hobbled or standing stock still. The other way cramps manifest is slowly, with twinges, then sensations like marbles rolling around in your calves. I was experiencing the second kind at mile 23 of the 2nd Annual Mississippi River Marathon and was wondering what the day held in store for me.
This is a point to point race, starting in Lake Village, Arkansas. The race will bus you from Greenville, Mississippi at 6AM or you can have someone drop you off at the start. I stayed in Greenville all by my lonesome, but I’m thinking next year I’ll talk my wife into coming with me and staying in Lake Village. She could drive me to the start early and we could hang out. Then she would have over 3 hours to meet me at the finish.
Every race day comes with it’s unplanned events. I boarded a school bus about 6:20AM and was immediately reminded that seats on school busses are proportioned for less than fully grown humans. The busses left on time and started making their way to the starting lines for the half marathon and marathon. There were 1200 registered participants and they had enough busses to get us all to the half or full starting lines in one trip, so there was not a lot of stress. I just got on the bus and tried to relax. While waiting for the busses to depart and after a few minutes of intermittent conversation with my seatmate, the bus driver became demonstrably ill, vomiting loudly on herself and into the trash can next to her. I made the decision to exit this bus and get on another bus since the unplanned removal of a driver from might cause a shortage of seats. Also, what if the bus driver suddenly felt better. Would I really want to be driving 26.2 miles with the vomit comet at the helm? The bus behind us had their door open so I nestled in with a new seatmate and five minutes later all of the other runners were moved on to other busses we were on our way. Hope that lady is feeling better.
Did I mention it was really cold? At this point it’s about 28°F and dark. They have a bag drop at the start but they only give you a little bag for bag drop. I planned out what would fit in the bag and dressed as warmly as possible for the morning within the limitations of the prescribed white plastic bag.
Let me just diverge here and say what a great group of volunteers this race has. The folks that signed up for shift work took some long, arduous hours in difficult conditions and were the epitome of kindness and grace throughout. Well done. You represented your state and your city or town well.
It was warm on the bus but cramped due to our adult proportions, but after forty five minutes we arrived at the start. Mind you it’s about 7:15AM at this point and the race starts at 8:00AM and did I mention it was 28°F? None the less the busses have to leave so off we go to face the elements. There are two bonfires with runners huddled around them. Watching a group of total strangers huddling around a large fire trying to stay warm is a remarkable sight. It’s as if all of us have been taken prisoner and bussed to this prison camp where we will now fight for our existence. Sounds like a marathon to me.
The time passes quickly and poof, we are at the start line listening to the star spangled banner and then off we go. I am shooting to PR (below 3:31) and my stretch goal is to qualify for Boston below 3:25. I settle in to a 7:45 pace (below 3:25) on my Garmin and just try and relax. I always feel sort of crappy at the beginning of long runs, so I remind myself a few times that in a little while I will be feeling better and will get into a groove and time will pass more quickly and I keep running. The race starts out on a two lane road and the field of 400 runners quickly spreads out. I settle in with a few people that are all planning to run around 3:25. It’s still cold but I am comfortable in shorts and a singlet with the exception of my gloved hands; they are getting cold. The road has a lot of slushy ice and snow on it and there are a few icy slick spots. We are basically running in the tire tracks or on the crown of the road where it’s clear.
After about six miles we turn out on to Hwy 82 and make our way toward the Mississippi River and the three mile long bridge that spans it. The bridge is a beautiful architectural piece and it’s size is impressive. It’s also the one single hill of any significance on the course. I have been conserving energy, keeping my pace conservative and walking a bit at water stops. My pace group has gone out ahead of me a few hundred yards. As we approach the hill I shorten my stride and increase my turnover to chop down the hill. I’ve run seven very hilly marathons and have become accustomed to the challenge. Before we crest the top of the hill I am back with the group and two of them tuck in behind me. This section of the race also had a headwind which also added to the challenge of the hills. I finish the first half on a 7:50 gun pace, but since my Garmin says I am on a 7:45 pace I think I am ahead of a Boston Qualifying 3:25 but I’m not actually. By the end of this race, my Garmin will be sitting at 26.6 instead of 26.2. I know my Garmin is always a little long which means I am not running as fast as it says I am, but a 0.4 mile difference was more than I planned for.
I carry food with me during marathons. On this day in my little pouch I had small salted potatoes and rice with hummus and mustard in little seaweed roles. These little morsels are individually wrapped in foil so I would just pull one out, unwrap it and pop it in my mouth. This was surprisingly easy to do even with cold hands and gloves. The potatoes were easier to eat than the rice, but both worked well. On a cold day like today, I skipped a few water stops because they had them every mile. At a couple of them I took the sports drink instead of water.
The view from the top of the bridge is spectacular and I take it all in and think about how the rest of my day might go. The bridge flattens out at the top before you start the descent to the opposite bank. Heading downhill I push my chest out just a little to help gravity pull me down the hill. Looking back on my mile splits, this would be my fastest mile. My two pace buddies are still with me and we keep flipping the lead among the three of us. The headwind is taking its toll on one of the others and I get the sense he is starting to fade.
Just before the 21 mile point we turn right off the highway and out of the open headwind. There are now just two of us together and we are catching and passing others who are fading. I have been running strong especially from the bridge to now, but I’m starting to feel the accumulated fatigue including some twinges in my calves. It is a sensation like small marbles just under the skin. I take stock and while nerve wracking, I don’t think I am in danger of severe cramps.
We are on residential streets winding our way to the finish. With a couple of miles left to go it is getting very difficult to maintain pace, but I keep reminding myself how close I am to a PR and what I think will be close to a BQ time. The last of my pacing partners has faded a bit and I am still catching and passing people. As we hit the last stretch I can hear the race announcer about a half mile away and give it one more burst. Cramps are not going to get me today. I can see from the total time I am not going to BQ but I am going to knock five minutes off my PR, finishing at 3:26:36. This is also first time I have finished under 3:30 and run a marathon mile pace under an 8:00 minute pace. It was not a Boston Qualifying day but none the less a great day for me. It’s bad form to complain about a PR.
I head in to the runners tent and I’m excited about the choices of food and drink. I grab a banana and a bottle of water, then head back out to get a few more slow miles in. Why? Because in three weeks I will be running The Mississippi 50 Mile race and I want to add just a little more on to this day for training. It’s tough to get started but once I am going I settle into a groove running about 9:30 pace miles. I got in about four painful miles, then called it quits.
Back at the runners tent I am not excited that it is only slightly warmer in the tent than outside. Most people are not hanging around very long and the lack of heat in the tent is the main reason. I checked the race results and was happily surprised to find I had finished 2nd in my age group, less than a minute out of 1st. This is my first time to place in my age group at a marathon, so despite the cold I decided to stay to receive my award and have my picture taken. This gave me plenty of time to enjoy some tamales, donuts, pizza and beverages and get a ten minute massage.
Overall this is a well organized event. There has been a lot of chatter on their facebook page about the course length being too long. I seriously doubt this is the case and attribute the issue to GPS watch technology. They should have done something about the heat in the tent. The comfort of the finishers is a big deal and there seemed to be no effort to address this. They had too many porta potties at the finish and not enough at the start. I think they should reposition a few to balance that out.
The volunteers were awesome, putting in a long day in cold weather. Runners tent food included:
Tamales, pizza, donuts, moon pies, orange wedges, bananas, cookies, Michelob Ultra, water, juice, sports drinks. The tamales were my favorite and were a good match with a beer and donuts.
Other likes: the long sleeve tech shirt, seating area for runners near finish line.
This race is on my list to do again in 2015. I think it could be the course where I finally qualify for Boston.