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Running down a theme
Little Rock Marathon’s 11th year banks on a “lucky” idea in 2013 as the massive medal expands in size.
Arkansans are used to outsiders having stereotypes about Natural State residents —barefoot, jug-playing, People of Wal-Mart archetypes, maybe — but when it comes to our marathon, maybe those living inside the state don't know how good they've got it.
“Even though we’re not big like Chicago which has 40,000 runners or New York, which has a gazillion, in the running world, we’re considered a top-notch event like those races are. What’s funny is that people here in Arkansas don’t realize that we’re at this level, but we’re a world-class event,” says race co-organizer and one of the two Chicks in Charge, Geneva Hampton.
She says other races turn to them for advice on improving their own events.
“We get asked to talk about how we do things,” and she and co-CIC Gina Pharis are accessible enough to dispense words of wisdom to organizers and runners alike.
“If you want to talk to someone at New York or Chicago, you don’t,” she said. “You don’t talk to the race director. Here people can pick up the phone and call us, and we’re real people. That care-taking that we do, people tell their friends and one person will say something and it spreads that we’re a good race and we try to take care of our people. It doesn’t hurt that we get a lot of publicity because of our medal.”
Like a seat at a porridge tasting, the race is not too big and not too small, but just right.
This year is the 11th race for the Little Rock Marathon, and it’s in 2013, which some might consider an unlucky number. Organizers played to those superstitions with a “lucky” theme, represented by a horseshoe and a ladybug.
“Rather than do what would be typical like shamrocks, we went with other things that are considered lucky,” said Hampton.
The Chicks in Charge control the growth of the marathon by limiting entries and planning for a roughly 10 percent increase each year. Little Rock’s marathon is atypical in that the 26.2 mile course is the first to sell out, followed by the half, the 10K and then the 5K.
“The [full marathon] sold out in early December, and we were saying that we could order more medals, so let’s increase the field just a little bit, so that we can get more people in. We did that, and we sold out again,” Hampton said.
They added 400 spots for a grand total of 3,000 full-marathon runners, and those extras sold out quickly.
The limiting factor is the finisher’s medal — the biggest in the world. (That’s what she said.)
“People don’t understand that the medal is a big deal, and a lot of people do our races for the medal. It’s big and unique and you just can’t get it at the local hardware store.”
Though the medal is the main attraction, it’s also the primary source of stress for organizers Hampton and Pharis.
“Where we fret so much is about getting the medal here, and did we order enough,” she said.
Like the Duggar family, the marathon medal gets bigger every year. Each race level gets a medal, but the full marathon’s medal is the largest. So, how big is the prize in 2013? Geneva Hampton wants to be exact, so she grabs a ruler and starts measuring.
“It’s 8 inches tall by 8 inches wide.”
“Let me go weigh it on the postage thing,” she says.
She returns to report it landed at 2 pounds 12 ounces. That creation is big enough to survive outside the womb, guys.
It was designed by Hampton back in September.
“Of course, we have to do a competitive bid, and we went to production on it in, I think, the first part of December, so the order went to the factory the first of December.”
The company winning this year’s bid was Hasty Awards, out of Ottawa, Kan. The medals are cast in China and then shipped overseas to Kansas, then to Little Rock.
“The company is delivering them to us personally — and we’ve never had a medal company do this — but they’re actually coming to hand the medals out at the finish line,” she said.
The full marathon sold out so quickly, but Hampton can’t really explain why. Part of it is the medal, she figures, but the rest …
“We’re an anomaly, that’s all I can figure. We don’t do anything typical. But we sold out before people saw the medal, and then when we unveiled the medal, they were just all about it,” she said.
“If I knew why we sell the marathon out before the half … well, every year it’s a new year for us, and we hope we have enough people come.
“We pay attention to detail, and I hope people come out.”
In the past, runners have used the marathon to highlight an issue or in support of a family member. A woman whose 6-year-old daughter was born blind ran the half marathon in 2011 wearing a blindfold. Her husband ran by her side, leading her by a string tied to her elbow. This year, a woman is running in memory of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said Hampton. The runner is friends with affected family members in Newtown, Conn.
And some runners are setting records. A 69-year-old man from Missouri — who holds seven of that state’s running records in everything from a 5K to a 25K — will be running in this year’s Little Rock Marathon.
Far and away
The marathon draws participants from across the globe. When asked which runner is traveling the farthest, she points to a registrant from Dubai, but she doesn’t have much more than that.
“He’s just a dude that comes from Dubai,” she said. “We also have people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Spain, Canada and Japan.”
Though the marathon course has not changed from 2012, the pending construction on the Broadway Bridge could make things interesting in 2014.
“We’re not sure when the bridge construction will be, so we’ve been low key on that,” Hampton says. Then she adds with a laugh, “We see it as … an opportunity. That’s what it is. It’s an opportunity.”
VIDEO THRILLED THE RADIO STAR
The Little Rock Marathon is a serious race that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For proof, spend a little time on the race’s YouTube page. The man behind the recordings is former radio personality Kevin Clay, in his second year of helping the marathon handle its Facebook page and promotional videos. Since the first of the year, he estimates they’ve created and posted 10 to 15 videos.
“We just put up a video yesterday that’s a course preview where Hobbit Singleton, one of the trainers, is going along the course with her mascot, which is, ah, a toilet lid.”
His name is Spot. YouTube watchers can “see spot run” along the course, he explained.
“She was going for something horseshoe shaped, and so she blings up this toilet lid, and, anyway, she called it Spot,” he said.
He’s the unofficial training mascot.
See how they’re not taking things too seriously? “Spot” was Singleton’s horseshoe-shaped idea for the medal, but it was rejected in favor of an actual horseshoe for the medal. See how it’s still a serious race?
Clay says the videos help people connect with the organizers and trainers.
“That’s the whole deal with the marathon. Everyone thinks they know Hobbit, and Gina [Pharis] and Geneva [Hampton]. These really are the things that make the Little Rock Marathon different from other marathons. The way they use video extensively and use their Facebook page. Other races just put something informational on their page but here we put these videos out of the actual people, the trainer or the sponsors or Gina and Geneva with the messages, and it feels a lot more personal.”
Anyone signing up for the race can get a text message when new videos are posted and watch them on their phone, if it’s compatible with YouTube.
On race day, Clay will tote the camera around collecting video for a short marathon documentary and posting photos on Facebook and any other old thing the Chicks in Charge might ask him to do.
The night before, he’ll provide entertainment as runners do some last-minute cramming for the next day’s carbohydrate test.
“They have the pre-marathon pasta party at the Peabody, which is fun to say fast several times. And that’s from 5 to 7 Saturday evening before the marathon. This is my fourth or fifth year to do my One Man Band there; they keep calling me back. I think it’s because I’m cheap. ... Like free.”
Do they pay you in pasta?
“Afterwards I do get a bowl of what’s leftover,” he laughs. “I will work for food.” He squints his eyes and begins the next sentence in a Dateline-esque voiceover tone and says, “Since his radio days, he’s fallen on hard times. He’s working for pasta.”
His show is off-the-cuff with a varied setlist: “I just play guitar, and I have my tracks. I do everything from The Cure to Creedence to Johnny Cash to … [he starts to quickly mumble the lyrics to the Eve 6 song] ‘I would swallow my pride, I would choke on the … mumble mumble … faith in nothing.’ I do that. And some Monkees. I just do a real cross section of music and try to make it sound as much like the music as possible.”
On if he’ll ever run in the race:
“Right now, it seems like something totally out of my realm of capability, but I have seen people in the training program you would never think could do a marathon, who did it. So what I’ve gotten from working with the marathon is, if you want to finish it, you could. There’s people in wheelchairs who finish a marathon. So, just about anybody, if you’re willing to do it, can finish a marathon, if you’re willing to put in the time and the training, and that [in a James Mason voice] seems to be my area of deficit right now.
“I guess anything that you have to put that much training and effort into, people respect what you’ve done and people who have just started out, just normal folks like us, they can appreciate where people are coming from who aren’t super marathoners. One thing I’ve noticed is that everybody seems to be really encouraging to everybody else. Everybody seems to have a real camaraderie-ship.”
A guy’s perspective on the marathon’s pre-finish line lipstick station:
“You know, guys don’t care about looking good. That’s the difference in guys and gals. The women are concerned about how they look, the guys just figure, ‘Hey, I’m a runner. Chicks dig me.’ That or they’re just so thankful to be crossing the finish line they don’t care. Maybe that’s it there. The women, they can be clinging to their last breath and still worried about, ‘Do I look good?’ Whereas guys are just, ‘I’m glad it’s over. Where’s the beer?’”
On Little Rock’s marathon training program:
“One thing about Tom and Hobbit Singleton is they volunteer their time. A lot of marathons couldn’t afford to pay somebody to train and don’t have somebody like Tom and Hobbit who are willing to do it for free. Those two are out there every Saturday morning, rain, sleet, snow, whatever, doing training with these people. That’s another thing about Little Rock, it’s heavily dependent on volunteers and people do show up to help out. So it’s more like family experience than a business operation.” (mt)
STRIDE AND TRUE
Runners registered in the full marathon: 3,000 (sold out)
Half marathon: 5,300 (sold out)
10K: 1,600 runners (sold out)
5K: 1,600 total (roughly 700 spots left last week)