A couple months ago, when I found out that I would definitely be heading out to Oklahoma for a few weeks, I immediately starting wondering if I could squeeze in a race while I was out there. I had such a good time with my half marathon in Utah that I decided I wanted to run one in every state (because I don't seem to know the meaning of the word 'moderation'), so I thought this trip would be the perfect chance to knock another state off the list. And I was right! There weren't any half marathons scheduled in Oklahoma for the time I would be there, but I found one in Winslow, Arkansas, a tiny town of about 400 people about a four hour drive away.
Since the race was first thing Saturday morning, I packed up all my stuff and drove to Fort Smith Friday after work. I would have taken a picture of the hotel I stayed in but I forgot...oops. It was an AmericInn; Mark and I had stayed in one several years ago and it was one of the best hotels we've ever seen, but this one was a bit more standard (and I wasn't exactly impressed with the strip clubs tucked away behind the building...bleh!!). I didn't care that much, though, since I would basically only be there to sleep. (I can't say I got the best sleep ever; the alarm clock in the room kept making random weird chirping noises and I kept waking up.) When I checked out at 6am the next morning, the guy at the front desk asked me if I had heard any noise during the night; apparently a guy either had an argument with his wife or found out that she had cheated on him, and he spent several hours banging on doors, yelling and trying to find her. Classy!
At any rate, the weather was gorgeous that morning - perfect for a race! I made it to Winslow with no problems and got there an hour ahead of time. Parking and packet pickup were a breeze; everything took place at the school/library. I dropped my stuff off at the car and immediately hopped back in line for the bathroom, which was a smart move since only two of the four stalls actually worked and the line was out the door and down the ramp by the time I was done. After that I still had about half an hour to kill, so I sat down at the edge of the parking lot and people-watched for a little while.
|I don't think it's possible to have nicer weather. :)|
As it got closer to 8am everyone started stretching and jogging back and forth. The race was pretty small; I think just under 200 people ran the half marathon, and some more had signed up to do a 5k that started right after us. After having 3000+ people in my last half marathon this was a really fun change of pace; you could interact with people more since it was such a small town race, plus a lot of the locals came out to watch, volunteer, and cheer on the runners.
|About thirty seconds before the race started. This was my first time running a race using the chips you twist-tie to your shoes; we all had to run over mats at the start and finish lines to get the times to register. Fun!|
The race was described in several places as hilly, and they weren't kidding! You gain about 200 feet in the first mile alone. I knew this ahead of time thanks to their website, so I used my GPS watch to track my pace and deliberately started slow so that I wouldn't kill my legs for the rest of the race. This meant that almost everyone blew past me in the first mile, but that was fine. It just meant more people I could pick off later.
|Somewhere in the first mile. That guy in the blue shirt had to be in his mid-sixties or higher and he was one of the few people I saw that ran that whole damn hill. I managed to pick him off in the first few miles, though.|
Once you got past the first hill the rest of the out and back course was a series of rolling hills, and not all of them were gentle. I decided to use this to my advantage and either flew down some of the downhills to build in some extra time for later or used them to do an easy jog to rest from the uphills. A ton of people were walking the uphills, so even by doing an easy jog I was able to pass a few people within the first few miles.
|Somewhere in the first half of the race. This picture doesn't even start to do justice to how steep some of those hills were!|
Right around mile five the first few runners started to pass by going the other way. I couldn't believe how fast some of those guys were! But that's when I started to see one of the best parts about an out and back course: I can't count how many people yelled out 'good job!' as they passed by. I eventually made it to the turnaround point myself, chugged a cup of ice cold yellow gatorade, and started back up the ginormous hill I had just come down.
I didn't keep fantastic track of what happened at what point during the second half of the race, but it seemed like there were more uphills than downhills and as the miles ticked past I found myself walking more and more. I figured since there was no way I was going to beat my time from my last race I'd just have fun, so I talked to the people around me. I shared a brutal uphill with one lady, and I shared another with an older man running his first half marathon. I picked off a few more people. At one point I sidestepped a squished armadillo. The last few miles were the worst and miles 11 and 12 wound up taking more than 14 minutes each because I just couldn't force my legs to go uphill any faster. No worries, though...because the last half mile of the race more than made up for all the uphills. It was downhill. STEEP downhill. I initially tried to lean back and take shorter strides but it was so steep that you really had to just open up, go for it, and hope that you didn't trip because if you did you would have rolled the entire rest of the way through the finish line. I managed to stay upright the whole way down and finished in 2 hours, 47 minutes, and 59.5 seconds...only 7 minutes slower than my first race. Since that one was almost entirely downhill and this one had some pretty brutal uphills, I'm considering that a major accomplishment!!
|The finish line. They had a really nice spread of snacks for the runners, so I grabbed some Gatorade and a banana as soon as I finished.|
|I survived!! :)|
|I love the race shirt...the squirrel is pretty silly. :)|
The volunteers for this race were awesome. I passed a few people who were sitting in their yards, cheering on the runners. The aid stations were well run, and I had several people offer to refill my water bottle as I passed by. My favorite aid station was one where several kids had spaced themselves out across the road and were handing out high fives to the runners as they went through the aid station. One of the last aid stations was right in the middle of the brutal uphills toward the end of the race and there were a few of us in about the same area, all wheezing up the hill. As one of the guys grabbed a cup of water he said something about the hill to the older lady behind the table. She offered him her walker. :)
They had a tasty looking BBQ lunch for sale at the end of the race but when I saw a plate of the food my stomach turned almost immediately, so I took a few minutes to stretch before walking the half mile back up to my car. A half mile...uphill...to my car. By that point I was so used to running that it felt weird to not have to race back. I thought about hanging around for a little while longer, but since I had about a four hour drive ahead of me I decided to start back and just take it slow with lots of stops. I set a fresh bag of chips on the seat next to me (because you need to replenish salt somehow, right?) and hit the road.
The first place I stopped was actually only a few minutes down the road. I had passed this overlook on the way to the race and wanted to check it out.
|It was puuuurty. :)|
There was only one other person at the overlook when I pulled over: a guy in full bike gear who had stopped for a few minutes, too. He was in the middle of a loooong ride and still had 40 miles to go; he was getting in shape to run his first half marathon in December. We talked for a few minutes, I wished him luck in his race, then I hopped back in the car. I made pretty good time getting back to the apartment with a few stops mixed in (including one to change out of my slimy race gear), and made it back home a few hours later. Overall it was a great trip...I'm really glad I went! :)