Midsouth Marathon

No, seriously- this was the shirt.

The Mid South Marathon in Wynne, Arkansas was a small race with the opportunity to take a shot of my own at pacing a group. Having utilized pacing groups in the past with very positive results (including my first BQ), I was eager to add a new type of experience to my 24th marathon.

I drove the 7 hours to Wynne by myself- Trey and I established long ago that he does not need to be at every race. The marathon isn’t exactly a spectator sport and Wynne isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot. I signed up to pace the 5:15 group- when I ran my first marathon in 2003, I finished in just over 5:15 and this experience was about paying it forward.

It was nice to have the added security of my Garmin, “Amanda” (named for the only training partner I’ve ever had who can keep me consistently on pace), as my running has improved and this was now quite a bit slower than my normal pace. I drove the out and back course to get a feel for turns, terrain, etc. That evening, I not only got a good night of sleep, but it was the first time that I didn't obsess over race strategy!

The entire field consisted of around 300 marathoners and 300 half marathoners gathered at Wynne High School for the start. The race itself was pretty old school with a spray painted line on the road serving as the start and pieces of felt with times printed in iron on letters. About 15 minutes before the start, we did introductions and instructions about running with the group. Our crew had a handful of full marathoners and a good deal of half marathoners, most planning to use the “Galloway method” (run/walk).

Upon the start- not a gun, a megaphoned “GO!”- I lost at least half of the full marathoners. Ironically enough, these were also the runners who (predictably) we would pass in the later miles of the race. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting for 8 minute or 12 minute miles, the same holds true: go out too fast and you'll hit the wall, go out too slow and you won't be able to make up the time later.

Around the 6 mile mark, the temperature was already in the high 70s and (I am guessing) the humidity was over 80%. The weather conditions brought out every ambulance in Cross County…all three of them. The course ran through rural farm country and offered little shade for us, but water stops at every other mile helped us stay cool.

Along with tracking the walk breaks and affirming that it was okay to be human in a marathon on an 80-degree day, our group stayed motivated with good conversation and also discussed advice for recovery and training for the future. We shared stories of training runs, previous races, and told knock knock jokes. One member was running the race in memory of his spouse, who he spent miles describing in both happy and trying times- I was grateful that he shared the memories so willingly.

At the 12 mile marker, we wished our half marathon bunch farewell- they were on target to finish within their desired time range. With only a handful of remaining, we were able to enjoy the intimate camaraderie of running with a small group. The other runners were extremely positive. Since I opted not to bring music on the course (typical dissociation in the late miles), it was refreshing to have conversation and the optimism of the group to pull through.

Around 23, my stomach reacted to all of the Gatorade I had been drinking to stay cool...Gatorade is not usually my drink of choice but I drank it anyway. Rookie mistake- some pacer I am, huh? We were all in various forms of pain by that point and had made a pact that if a negative thought entered your head, you had to say something positive. “I have the yummiest strawberry lip gloss on!”, “We get a medal!”, “My ear lobe feels great!” I’m not sure I’ll ever deal with a negative thought the same way again.

State number 24 was crossed off my list with a pacer time of 5:13:46 for the 5:15 group- not bad for a rookie! On the flip side, I realized how much I savor racing alone- soaking in my surroundings, drifting in and out of conversations with other runners, and strategizing as the race goes on based on how I feel and controlling my own moves versus consulting a group. In 2010, I need to beat my PR in Akron...perhaps I'll use a 3:30 pacer to do it!