Stacey Margaret Jones: “Zombies don’t like fast food!”

Stacey Margaret Jones Bio Page
The Little Rock Marathon Sunday was my second full marathon. For some reason I had forgotten the physical pain of the last 7 or 8 miles I experienced in the New York Marathon about 16 months ago.

But I am glad I forgot, because I really wanted to run a marathon at home. I got into New York’s race in 2011 (through four-years-in-a-row of lottery application, not time), and the reason I focused so much on NYC was because I thought I may only do one marathon, and I wanted it to be New York. I love the city so much, and I wanted to run through all five boroughs, see the neighborhoods and all the New Yorkers who turned out to cheer on the runners, elite and, well, not so elite.

It was an amazing experience. The diversity of the city was really on display as we passed through various and distinct Hispanic neighborhoods into Hasidic areas, and on into Greek enclaves of the same city within a few miles. Running down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park with throngs of spectators so thick my husband couldn’t even get to the finish after meeting me on First Avenue was literally, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For the New York Marathon, I do mean once, and maybe for any marathon that requires travel. It really took it out of me before I hit the start line with (or after) 47,000 other runners.

First, I had to train in an Arkansas summer for a fall race. Not cool. Then, when I finally got to New York, I had two full days of walking in the city, a 4:15 a.m. wake up – on the night the time changed, no less – a 5:15 a.m. bus ride to Staten Island, where I huddled in a sleeping bag for FIVE HOURS before getting corralled for the start at 10:40 a.m. This dun me in before I even got going across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.

Runners will know that on most long runs there are a few miles, or even an hour or more, in which they think, “I feel great! This is awesome! I could do this all day.” I had not one minute of that feeling in the 5:46:10 it took me to run 26.2 miles in the Big Apple.

Little Rock Marathon Medal

This medal kills zombies.

So after I recovered, and forgot the pain, I started thinking about running the Little Rock full marathon.

I’ve run the half every year but one since 2004, and I love it. It’s such a well-supported race, smaller, with a great course, and a sweet, large-ish medal. I wanted the really big medal. I wanted to sleep in my own bed the night before and control all my food in the days leading up to the race. I wanted to see Little Rock from that point of view.

I started training last September, incorporating the Memphis half-marathon, and enjoyed Arkansas’s running weather (some of you call it “winter”). I was so excited the morning of the race; I could barely contain my gleeful anticipation. Nice cold weather, friends and family on the course, a giant medal at the end. “Why don’t I do more marathons?” I thought, as I drove to the River Market for the start.

I hoped it would be as easy as a really difficult thing can be, and it was for about the first half, until we hit the hills at Mile 14, but it was pretty, and Hillcrest was fun and welcoming. All the yard parties, kids and dogs out lining the course, and the funny signs. “Zombies don’t like fast food. Run!” was a standout.

Then I hit Riverdale at Mile 18, which is a tough time to get to a 7-mile, flat, out-and-back section of a marathon. It is in fact soul killing. I started to wonder if I could finish, if I would beat my unsatisfying NYC time, if I could ever get faster, actually improve as a runner. When my husband called me around Mile 22, saying, “Just 4 miles left. You can do it!” I thought he might be wrong.

The antidote to my mood was some hills, and Cantrell/LaHarpe into the finish delivered them to me. I remembered my friend Sarah’s advice to “Charge the hills!” and to “pass people in the last mile.” That and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait” helped me find the energy to end the Riverdale pretending-to-run zombie jog and really run into the finish, where I saw I had taken about 14 minutes off my previous marathon time.

I felt some of that morning’s glee return to my mind as I held that nearly 4-pound medal in my tired hands, and as I wore it out for a post-race meal. The Little Rock Marathon was about as hard as a really difficult thing can be and still be possible.

I could not be more grateful.

Stacey Margaret Jones, M.S., APR, (@sharkushka) is a market research consultant and a member of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Writers MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Conway with her Chaucerian husband. Jones, a South Dakota native, does not play team sports, unless you consider cocktailing a competitive event.

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