As the Divine Miss M sings “standing at the end of the road, boys, waiting for my new friends to come. I don’t care if I’m hungry or poor, I’m gonna get me some of them. Cause you got to have friends”.
The morning started off like every race morning seems to start for me and my best running pal Ashley, with laughter and standing in line at the porta potty. You might think that early mornings and bathroom lines wouldn’t lead to much more than yawns and irritation at waiting for an open toilet, but sometimes it leads to stories and maybe even meeting new friends. As we waited in the freezing cold dawn before the Mississippi River Marathon, Ashley was wearing an old Green Bay Packers sweatshirt to stave off the chill which is how we met Mark Johnsrud from Wisconsin who was in Lake Village, Arkansas running his 124th Marathon. He’d been to Arkansas before for the Little Rock Marathon. He didn’t seem to be affected by the freezing temperatures, snow on the ground or the fact that Ashley answered “no” when he asked if she was a Packers fan.
The Mississippi River Marathon is a point to point race so we dropped our car at the finish line in Greenville, Mississippi and rode on one of the string of buses that transported all the runners to the starting line in Lake Village, Arkansas. After we made it to the front of the porta potty line we handed off our drop bags that would be taken back to the finish line for us and walked to the starting line. After a discussion about the physiological reason for cold rear ends, we were off, slowly,taking it easy across the first bridge of the day which was still iced over from the dusting of snow that had fallen the night before.
Ashley and I fell into a comfortable rhythm, waiting for our bodies to warm up. The first six miles of the flat course is along the residential Lakeshore Drive following the curve of Lake Chicot, the largest oxbow lake in North America. We ran by huge cypress trees while a variety of water birds flew in and out. We ran past homes and businesses, past the downtown square and Lake Village City Hall. Many of the residents came out to the ends of their driveways to wave, cheer,or ring cowbells. One sweet lady even made a big sign for her yard to cheer on the “Super People”. We think you’re super people for spending your morning cheering us on!
Around mile four, after we had stopped for the first of many porta potty stops, we came alongside 72 year young Al Kohli who entertained us with stories of his 177 marathons around the world. Al just happened to be from Wisconsin too and didn’t seem to be affected by the cold either. I love being able to take the time to meet people like Al, strangers who provide a moment of levity or inspiration.
A few miles later we came upon a group of runners who let us latch on and kept us company by talking about helping each other become Marathon Maniacs, which is Ashley’s goal and the reason I’m running three Marathons with her in less than 90 days. Because that’s what friends do. We met Raoul le Tigre, AKA Hugh from Jackson, Mississippi when we admired his cool shirt. As the route headed up the only real elevation change of the entire course, the Hwy 82 bridge over the Mighty Mississip, we all slowed down to enjoy the views along the 3 miles of bridge in spite of the fog and the cold.
Lots of people traded phones to take photos of and with each other during the “halfway there” miles on top of the Mississippi River Bridge connecting Arkansas and Mississippi. We were collecting new friends along the way.
But there’s nothing quite like seeing an old friend, a familiar face out there on the course. Around mile six, as the course turned from Lakeshore Drive on to Hwy 65/82 beside the Arkansas Visitor Center, I caught sight of a recognizable face on the side of the road. It was Arkansas Road Runners Club of America state representative, David Meroney. He was out there with a dry erase board so he could display encouraging words, call out all his local runners by name and be a super cheermeister for his wife, Christine. We saw David several times throughout our journey, taking his encouraging words, his hugs and his potato chips with very thankful hearts.
Familiar faces are welcome and wonderful but that doesn’t discount the joy of seeing and hearing the next aid station coming up. We got music and dancing and at one point a person directing traffic gave us a quick serenade: “Ain’t No Stoppin Us No-ow, We’re on the Move, Ain’t No Stoppin Us No-ow, We’re in the Groove” That was a boost. The folks along scenic Bayou Road in Greenville were great, along with water and Gatorade they spread out candied nuts and donuts and at mile 22 we heard the words we’d been waiting for … “water and beer”. The next aid station/resident volunteer driveway had beer; tasty, wet, refreshing beer. And a driveway just a few more houses down the road had beer too. After stopping at both for a cup of beer or two, and getting a cup full of salted nuts, we were ready to tackle those final miles. We’d like to send a thank you to the gentleman who ran mile 24 with us while singing the theme songs to the Beverly Hillbillies, Three’s Company and Gilligan’s Island. We love it when other runners play our reindeer games. That’s also about the time we caught up with Barefoot Eddie who is running a marathon in all 50 States this year, barefoot. I’m in awe. This is also the point where I said “I hurt” and Ashley, being the friend that she is said, “I hurt too, suck it up and let’s go.” At mile 26 we were watching our Garmins and when we both beeped mile 26, we looked for the finish line and couldn’t see it yet. We were bummed. We should have been close enough to at least hear music and the announcer. Our watches clicked over 26.4 before we saw our goal. We crossed the finish line with a wave from Rock City Running’s Tyler Wilkerson and were met with hugs from Marathon Maniac and Rock City Running Maven Annette Blanton, who also snapped this finish photo for us, thanks Annette.
Here are the results for the Half-Marathon and the Marathon.
Thanks to the race organizers, Teach for America and the mass of volunteers that make the Mississippi River Marathon happen. Thanks to the residents of Lake Village and Greenville who turn their towns over to runners for a Saturday morning. Thanks for the water, pizza, and tamales at the finish. And I would like to thank the folks from Massage Revolution who came from Jackson, Mississippi to give every runner a free five minute massage. If I’d had cash on me I would have stayed in the chair for another half hour. My calves and hips thank you.
Most of all my personal thanks go to Ashley for dragging me 26.8 miles, again. Friendship got me into this and friendship got me through it. You’re a maniac, you don’t need to wear the shirt for me to know it.