Number 34 was the 47th Arkansas Marathon in Booneville, Arkansas on October 3, 2015. I finished 3:33:30, third overall among 25 or so marathoners. Rachael ran the half marathon, finishing third among women and first in her age group.
The idea of finishing in the money was fun, so I pushed a bit harder than I might otherwise. The course is a three mile loop in Booneville at the start, 10 miles straight out highway 10 to Blue Mountain, 10 miles back and three miles through Booneville to the finish. For the first quarter, Helen O'Riordan, who would finish fourth overall, was on my heels. Helen is from Ireland. She was running with head phones, so we didn't talk much, but she stopped me with her thick British accent at the half turn to make sure we were going the right way. After that she fell back and I was on my own, wondering if I was on the right road, through the town Magazine and on to Blue Mountain. I saw the lead pack of two runners return when I was about half a mile from the turn around. There were around 10 emergency vehicles involved in the race, include one in front of and one behind the lead pack. Pretty surreal for a field of 25 runners.
I stopped to have a drink at the turn, but saw that Helen and David Gregory were not far behind so I took off again. The gap between the main pack and myself was not nearly as large as the gap between me and the leaders. Usually I run into trouble after mile 20, wasn't sure what to expect at this race. The temperature was mid 60's at the start, rising to 75 in the afternoon. Bright and sunny. Wanting to finish third I decided to push a bit. I had been pretty relaxed around 8 minute miles in the first half and made the turn around 1:43. Crusing along, feeling great, suddenly David Gregory surged past me in the middle of Magazine, around mile 19. Rats! He seemed to be struggling slightly as he went past, however, so I passed him back. Half a mile or so later, we came on the #2 runner from the lead pack, painfully walking. Yeah! Now I was in second, hoping to drop Gregory. Unfortunately, everyone we passed congratulated us on being 2 and 3, apparently I was not dropping him. I let him go by at mile 21, clearly he was not struggling as much as I thought. I ran the last 5 miles at 9 minute pace. Worried that Helen or someone else would catch me at the end, which is a slog in the right lane of the main 4 lane road through Booneville. I finished strong with a minute and a half lead over Helen.
The race arranged showers in the middle school locker room, I felt much better after standing in the shower for 15 minutes. Awards were presented around 12:30, here I am getting my finisher and age group medals from the Mayor of Booneville.
This was just my second visit to the state of Arkansas, the first was during a drive down the Missisippi with my parents in 1984. Not the sort of country one gets to very often. Yard art, or scrap, abounds. One has the impression that folks may be weathy based on the abundance of old restored cars, until one sees the homes attached to the cars. On the other hand, everyone we talked to was extra-ordinarily nice and caring.
Religion plays a big role. The race was based out of Booneville High School, which contained numerous religious themed posters, including a big one signed by many students stating "We believe in God the Father." Here is a photo of Rachael and I outside the high school:
Booneville has a population of around 4,000. 800 people were employed at the local Cargill meating packing facility until a 2008 explosion shuttered the plant. A billboard in town confirms that in 2015 all students at Booneville schools can have free breakfast and lunch, a wonderful component of the national school lunch program for communities with high eligibility rates.
The Booneville area is forested and scenic. The morning mists as we drove to the race from our hotel in Fort Smith were beautiful. After the race, Rachael and I had lunch at the Lodge on Mt. Magazine, the highest point in the state of Arkansas. Here is a photo of Rachael with her race bling on the mountain.
Driving back through Fort Smith, the main drag was dense with folks out on lawn chairs watching classic cars drive up and down. Not really a formal parade, seems like a regular weekend activity. Thousands of folks, both white and hispanic, out to see the cars. But only 20 people came out for the marathon and probably about 100 total for the associated 5K, 10K and half. America is not homogeneous.
Rachael and I left Durham at 6:30 on Friday night for this Saturday morning run, we were back in Durham by Sunday Noon.