The Little Rock Marathon – An Accomplishment


The latest dispatch from J. Frank Parnell:

Last week, I overheard some coworkers talking about what a hassle the Little Rock Marathon was.

Sunday night, I talked to a couple from California. They have a 2-year-old kid and the guy is in the Air Force so they move around quite a bit.

“Everyone (in Little Rock) has been so friendly,” his wife said. They were runners — not freaks about it, not the kind who can’t live without a daily dose of runner’s high that comes from pushing the body to the brink. This was a normal couple on a vacation of sorts. They left their child with a grandparent in Arizona while they flew to Little Rock for the weekend.

They were part of the Little Rock Marathon weekend, along with more than 10,000 others. Not everyone runs the marathon — runners can pick from a 5k, 10k and half marathon, too.

I ran into them at the post party at the Peabody Hotel, with a full spread of barbecue and pasta, free drinks and the Salty Dogs (featuring the fantastic Nick Devlin) on stage, the perfect band for this year’s Western theme.

It was the end of a blast of energy that started months ago and carried through two days of races, which aren’t really races. Yeah, there are always a few elite runners who want to win, but most of the folks in the marathon and other events are doing it for themselves. They aren’t svelte; in fact, many of them don’t look like they could cover a mile. But they do, and they’re amazing.

I’ve done it. From the defunct relay to the half marathon to the marathon and, this year, the 5k and 10k (two cold starts). Couldn’t win any of those races and didn’t want to; I ran those for me.

And I think that’s what brings people to these events in Little Rock. Well, that and the giant marathon medal.

The route is lined with bands, cheerleaders, church members and many other supporters who supply a steady stream of encouragement. It’s a down-home event that doesn’t get the pat on the back or the recognition it deserves.

Local television reporters claim marathon weekend brings $4.3 million to the central Arkansas economy. I believe it’s that much and probably more. And the folks who choose to take part get a pretty good deal. They take home the usual T-shirt, but they also get cool medals, dinner, drinks, snacks after the race and some Arkansas hospitality.

The kicker? Proceeds are plowed into Little Rock’s parks department.

So next time you hear somebody complain about traffic problems caused by closed streets and visitors during Little Rock Marathon weekend, slap ’em for me.

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