Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mississippi River Marathon Report

After two seasons of marathon training I decided last spring I would give myself a break this year and do only shorter distances. That was before I heard about the Mississippi River Marathon though, and not long after I changed my mind. Not only that, but I convinced my friend, Amanda, that she should do it with me. Starting in Arkansas, crossing the river on an impressive suspension bridge that had recently been completed, and finishing in Mississippi sounded too good to pass up. And that it was the inaugural event made it all the more appealing. There's just something about being one of the first to do something that I like.

After 18 weeks of training and a 6-hour drive over from Prattville, Tim, Amanda, the littlest president and I found ourselves in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, also known as "The Most Southern Place on Earth"[1] I was impressed with the vastness of the peanut crops in southern Georgia when I went to the Snickers Marathon in Albany a couple of years ago, but the enormity of cotton, rice, soybeans and sugar fields in this region dwarfed those in comparison. I could go off on a tangent here about the culture and community, but it's a topic better suited for another time. So, off to the start of the race!

My only concern about this event was that it was the inaugural. Often it takes a race director a few times to get things right, so I was prepared to give them some slack up front. The months leading up to the event gave me a good feeling, though. Their social media presence was good, they were quick to fix an issue I noticed with my registration, and were very communicative about everything logistical. So, it came to me as no surprise that things were well organized when arrived at the finish line to be bussed to the start. One line of the school buses was for marathoners and the other for half marathoners.

Greenville Bridge (Credit: Loadtest)
It took about 30-40 minutes to reach the starting line on the northwest corner of Lake Chicot in Arkansas. Along the way we got our first views of the bridge through foggy windows and a beautiful pink-orange sun coming up over the horizon. We also got the rundown on the Little Rock Marathon from a fellow runner who could only have been a Chamber of Commerce operative. He spent a good 10 minutes telling us about the race, the legendary belt buckle and how well organized it was. Food for thought!

Anyway, it was a cold morning in the mid-30s and I wasn't looking forward to disembarking. Fortunately, the organizers had thought of that, too. Waiting for us were two large bonfires that were quickly surrounded. With more than 45 minutes until the start of the race they were lifesavers. About 15 minutes before we were to begin we (I) stuffed our gear bag with extra clothes, dropped it off and walked over to the start line. After some brief announcements and the Star Spangled Banner we were off at precisely 8am.

The first six miles along Lakeshore Drive were fantastic. Amanda and I found our pace, enjoyed running along the lake and made small talk with some of the runners around us. We came up behind a man by the name of Robert Bishton, who was wearing a straw cowboy hat and 100 Marathon Club tank top. At one point in our conversation he stated that he "had no life," but I couldn't have disagreed with him more. He told us he had run over 200 marathons (Those seeking membership in the 50 or 100 States Marathon clubs might be interested to know they can count this one as either Arkansas or Mississippi, not both), starting when he was 54 years old. And in the past two years alone he'd run 42 of them! When I asked him what race he'd traveled the farthest for, he mentioned one in Australia. But he also volunteered that in two weeks he would be running in the Antarctic Marathon! Talk about inspiring!

After turning left onto Highway 82 we slowly pulled away from Cowboy and began our run into a steady head wind coming out of the east. At times it was discouraging how much extra effort it took to maintain pace, but we found ways to cope. Around miles 8-10 we were entertained by a crop duster that dipped and dived over and over again, scaring Amanda as it flew just above the ground. A few miles after that we rounded the corner and finally saw the bridge. I'd expected to see it off in the distance as we ran south, but it wasn't until we were upon it that it came into view and presented the only hill on the entire course. Almost 2.5 miles from end to end, it felt like the gradual incline went on much longer than the descent down the other side. Still, it didn't seem all that bad to me. Another moment of levity came as we crested the top and came across a dead fish lying in our path. How does something like that get all the way up here, we wondered? We're over 100' above the river!

Almost immediately after we got off the bridge we were surprised by Tim and Lincoln cheering for us alongside the road! They were holding some great signs and Tim was ready to take anything off our hands. Unfortunately, we weren't prepared to break stride and kept on motorin' on. Less than half to go!

I thought once we started heading north the wind would be a non-factor, but it felt like it kept hitting us in the face. All totaled I'd say at least 10 miles were more challenging than they otherwise would have been without it. Still, as one gentleman we spoke to later put it, it's always something. There's no such thing as a perfect race. Except at the Chickamauga Battlefield on Veteran's Day weekend, of course. ;)

The mental part of the race really kicked in around mile 17. Amanda was hurting a little earlier than expected, and I was preoccupied with preventing cramping and pushing the wall back. Fortunately, we were able to work together to make it to the finish line. I pulled her along for some stretches, and when the money was on the line the last couple of miles she dug down, picked up the pace and forced me to do the same. If it weren't for her I probably would have coasted in at the same pace we'd held all along. Instead, we finished strong and somehow managed to smile for Tim as we approached the finish line.

Overall I'm pretty happy with this race. I could have taken my training and fitness more seriously, and I felt the effects of that in the second half. However, I did accomplish my main goals, which were to stay with Amanda the entire time, have fun and fuel well enough that I wouldn't bonk. That last one was a big deal to me, as I've had problems with hitting the wall in previous races and wanted to overcome it at this one. I did overcompensate some and experienced some discomfort on this attempt, so I hope to adapt and learn more at races in the future.

One last thing about this race that I was really pleased with was pacing. I'll spare you the mile splits, but suffice to say they were very steady throughout. We finished the first half in 1:56:13 and the second in 1:56:07. That was my strategy going in, and I don't know as we could have executed it much better.

Would I recommend this marathon to others? Absolutely. It was well organized and worth the travel and expenses. That said, I'm not sure I'd go back and do it again. The best part was spending it with Team McQueen, and I'd rather convince them to attend a different race in the future and make some new memories.


  1. Sounds like a sweet race! A good effort!

  2. Wish we could have talked more on Sunday!:) You guys were hauling though. Hope you had a great day at Mercedes too. I'm very impressed by your splits. I have yet to manage a negative split on a marathon.