Race recap: The Little Rock Half is a really well organized race – kudos to the race director and a big thank you to the great fan support throughout the course. We were fortunate enough to qualify for a seeded corral, which was pretty awesome and allowed us to hit our stride within ~15 feet of the start line. After a brief run past the Clinton Library we ran through downtown Little Rock and across the Broadway Bridge. At mile 2 we saw “Area 51 – The Band” and chuckled at the Martian rocker’s attire as they jammed out on their guitars. At the mile 3.5 water stop I managed to get more water up my nose than in my mouth which made me cough like crazy, but hey if you can’t laugh at yourself who can you laugh at? Mile 4 marked the beginning of a gradual but consistent uphill grade for the next six miles (+135 foot gain with no plateaus or downhill breaks). As we returned across the Broadway Bridge we could feel our legs burning as we pushed to reach the bridge’s summit. As we re-entered the downtown area the fanfare was completely awesome – there were two fire trucks with huge American flags waving overhead and the crowds were really energized. I’m pretty sure Kristin actually started dance-running at one point. Just past the 6 mile marker we ran past the “Occupy Little Rock” camping area, which made me wonder if just for the day we were the 1%, i.e. I am guessing <99% of Americans ran a half marathon that day :). By mile 8 our legs were feeling the wear and tear of constantly pushing uphill, so we cut the pace back a bit and stopped for a gel. Mile 10 was pretty neat as we ran past the Arkansas Governor’s mansion and continued towards the famous Central High. With less than a 5k to go, the course finally turning downhill and we were able to catch our breath and push the pace through the finish line. In a past life I think Kristin was either an Olympic sprinter or a cheetah – I was dying trying to keep up with that little minx for the final ¼ mile!
Highlights: Two-fold: running past the Arkansas Governor’s mansion and seeing the current Governor, Mike Beebe, outside cheering on runners and just enjoying the awesome crowds all over the course!
Tip: The Courtyard Marriott in downtown Little Rock is right next to the start line – if you walk through the lobby there are nice heated restrooms available. Since so many people were gathering in the lobby no one even blinked when we walked in just to use the bathrooms.
Day 1 (Friday):
Being a Friday during lent Kristin’s Catholic roots guided us towards the seafood route. When we arrived at Flying Fish at 8:00pm and the line was out the door we knew we had found a winner. After a bit of a wait to order, which gave us a nice chance to talk, we found a table and thoroughly enjoyed the fare. The grilled tilapia tacos topped with coleslaw were outstanding – seriously some of the best tilapia we have ever eaten and the flavors and textures of the flaky fish, tangy coleslaw and crunchy corn taco shell were just perfect. Kristin thoroughly enjoyed her tilapia vera cruz (grilled tilapia covered in a semi-spicy tomato based sauce). We paired our fish with the locally brewed Diamond Bear Pale Ale, which was crisp and complemented the meal well. This place is a total winner, and at $9.99 a piece, we understand why locals gladly wait to eat at the Flying Fish.
The great thing about fish is that it’s not too filling, so we had plenty of room to sample some brews at the Flying Saucer (apparently we were in the mood for flight themed places that day). The ambience of this bar is pretty cool – it reminds me of an old southern house, with couches and coffee tables, mixed with a modern tap room (over 50 beers on tap and a ton of specialty bottled beers available). After finding a seat at the bar and grabbing a menu detailing the hundreds of beers available we both had a hard time finding something that we wanted – I think we were hoping for a selection of Double or Imperial IPAs (the IPA selection was lacking with no Double or Imperial choices). Needless to say we found a few good options and enjoyed the scene, complete with live music.
Tip: Take a look above you as you walk around this bar and you will notice a massive collection of plates with names and numbers – this is a local challenge the bar runs where you get your name (and sometimes picture) on a plate after you drink 200 beers there.
Day 2 (Saturday):
We started the day with a really enjoyable 3.2 mile jog over the Big Dam Bridge – the longest pedestrian bridge in North America (0.85 miles end-to-end), check out our route here. While we might have been weary of running the day before a race in the past, over the last three years we’ve learned a lot and were able to back off the pace and enjoy a memorable run.
A short drive away we ventured to Dogtown Coffee & Cookery for breakfast. The breakfast menu is a bit limited, but what the restaurant does offer is very tasty (think of a homegrown Starbucks with a small kitchen on site). I tried the True Southerner, which consisted of two huge biscuits covered in gravy and topped with a sausage patty. Kristin tried the egg, cheese and ham on a fresh biscuit and we shared a sausage Kolache (sort of like a warm, gourmet bagel dog). The food was very satisfying and while the biscuits were good, they were a bit heavy and according to Kristin a touch dry without butter or honey (mine was slathered in gravy, so I didn’t notice). The food however good didn’t hold a candle to the coffee – there is no doubt in my mind that Dogtown served up the best vanilla latte I have ever had, period. You’d be a fool not to try this coffee for yourself.
When we pulled up to the Clinton Library the parking lot was full, so we decided to take a peak at the Heifer International Global HQ next door first. Heifer's mission is to work with communities to end world hunger and care for the earth. Upon entering we were greeted by a volunteer who provided with a great background of the organization, augmented by visual maps and charts regarding Heifer’s work. After our introduction, we enjoyed walking through the interactive exhibits and learning about how simple solutions can make a world of difference (i.e. the Q-Drum, a roll-able water container allows vastly improved portability of clean water). After exploring the exhibits we took a tour of the HQ facility, which is one of only a handful of platinum LEED certified buildings in the country – a distinction given to the greenest buildings in the world. The use of natural energy, light and re-use of rain water throughout the facility was quite impressive and worth a look. One of my favorite innovations was the parking lot which was designed as part concrete part gravel so that rain water is filtered through the gravel, captured in storage tanks and re-used within the building (non-potable uses). All-in-all, this is a very cool stop.
The Clinton Presidential Library is essentially a museum which depicts Clinton’s life from his time as Governor of Arkansas through his presidency. There are a lot of interesting exhibits and the museum even contains full size replicas of the oval office and the cabinet room. I can see how some people would consider this more of a shrine to how great Clinton was as President, but I think it was eye-opening to see how much he accomplished, including integrating internet within schools and balancing the Federal budget, while he served as Commander in Chief.
Tip: The audio guide ($3 up charge) was nice and provided some good tid-bits, but so many of the exhibits had audio that it was distracting at times – you would likely be fine without the audio guide. Make sure to check out the third floor for a display of gifts presented to Clinton, everything from Jade sculptures to Lance Armstrong's road bike.
We split a turkey sandwich with avocado at the Boulevard Bread Company which was tasty – but it was a little disappointing that at 1:00pm on a Saturday a restaurant named for Bread was already sold out of our first two choices of bread. The side of fresh fruit was a nice option, instead of the traditional chips.
We missed the Diamond Bear Brewing tour (3:00pm Saturdays) but were happy to find the brewery had a small tasting room (open until 6:00pm). If you ask nicely the brewery will pour a beer flight (not on the menu) of four 4oz tasters. I liked the Irish Red the best, but was told by some regulars that the Two-Term IPA (a double IPA) is outstanding, but hard to find – even the brewery was sold out!
Chuckle: During our tasting, we chatted with a regular at Diamond Bear who not only recounted his many trips to Michigan strip clubs in detail, but provided some sage advice: "you need to learn early on that strippers don't get any more naked for $5 than they do for $1." Well put, crazy old bar fly.
After a quick drive past the Arkansas Governor’s mansion, we made our way to Central High – a National Historic Site made famous when nine African American teenagers stood up to an angry crowd protesting integration in front of the school. This event proved a historic milestone in the Supreme Court’s Brown versus the Board of Education ruling, where the court determined that it was unconstitutional for public schools to discriminate based on race.
Don’t be deterred by Brave New Restaurant’s location (in a corporate complex), this restaurant is fantastic. We split the brie soup, which was topped with minced pieces of red and green apples and chopped nuts. Splitting the soup is a really good idea as it was heavenly, but a full serving may have resulted in a cream/brie coma. My expectations for a side salad were low – I mean it’s a salad – but I was pretty much blown away. I have a rule that I don’t eat too much lettuce the night before a race, but I just couldn’t help myself as the pickled peppers and tomatoes were perfectly matched with the roasted garlic vinaigrette. The main course of veal with wild mushrooms over pasta was just as good as the soup and salad. The difference between this restaurant and most others out there is that they don’t just offer a great entrée, but they pay attention to everything little thing they put on your plate, from the roasted carrots to the parmesan stuffed zucchini slices. The only slight negative for this 10 out of 10 restaurant was there very limited beer selection. If we had a top-ten list of restaurants in the country, Brave New Restaurant would make the cut.
Day 3 (Sunday - Race Day):
Being Arkansas, we wanted to sample some local BBQ - which brought us to the Whole Hog Café. The pulled pork was very tender and had a great moisture. The meat was not smoky and the restaurant offers a six-pack of different sauces at the table so you can try a small amount of each and pick your favorite rather than ordering blind from the counter. The baked beans were also very good, but the potato salad tasted more like French onion chip-dip than potato salad. All things considered, the Whole Hog Café has my pick as a no-fail BBQ joint in Little Rock.
Tip: the downtown Little Rock location is closed on Sundays, so make sure to check out the location at 12111 W. Markham St. if you are looking to try this BBQ restaurant post-race.
Arkansas Half Marathon Medals
March 4, 2012: Little Rock Half Marathon
(Click the medal above to see it spin!)
The full marathon medal for this race is absolutely absurd - literally the size of a dinner plate (but you have to earn your medal with some seriously tough hills on the back half of this course). Below is a picture of Kristin's hand next to the marathon medal for perspective. The Marathon medal is approximately 7.9 inches while the Half Marathon medal is approximately 3.9 inches (which is still bigger than most)!