Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Escort Service: JBar Cycling is Branching Out

Thousands of scantily clad women....
Well, OK, there were thousands of scantily clad men, as well, shivering in the cold Sunday morning as they took to the line for the start of the 2013 Little Rock Marathon.
For the last few years, the Marathon has deployed volunteer bicycle escorts to help keep the route clear and communicate any problems encountered along the course. Bikes are unobtrusive, mobile, and provide a runner's eye view, so cyclists have a perspective that is unavailable to static observers or vehicular escorts.

Energy levels were high minutes before the start. When you're saddled up in front of several thousand eager runners and they say "GO", you had best be clipped in and ready to roll.
Initially, cyclists were employed to escort the wheelchair and hand cyclists since they go out ahead of the runners, but it was soon decided that we could be useful among the larger general field. The Marathon is very well-run and problems are few. Our main role has been to alert inattentive bystanders or walking participants of approaching runners, to alert aid stations of runners who appear to be having medical issues, and to do a little traffic control of the runners themselves. Runners cross the Broadway Bridge early in the race, with faster runners heading back south as huge numbers are still streaming north. The crowded northbound runners tended to cross the center cone line and spill into the path of the southbound runners, so we got to do a lot of arm waving in an effort to keep the route clear for the relatively fast bunch.
On escort duty in Argenta. Diane grabbed her cowbell and rode her town bike down to cheer on the runners (and snap this photo).
Two-way traffic on the Broadway Bridge made for a little congestion.
All of the participants seemed remarkably laid back. While there are many serious endurance athletes in the bunch, for many, the Marathon or half-Marathon is a singular goal. Most of the runners knew that they were not going to break any records, but they have worked hard in training for this day. The event itself is a bit of a release and spirits were high.
Some of the signs tickled us, like "Go, Random Stranger, Go" and "If it was easy, I  would do it". Another favorite was "Worst Parade Ever".
 Signs, signs...    Our friend Hadley was out representing lululemon in cheering the runners while her hubby, Little Rock bike-ped coordinator and Bobby's Bike Hike owner Jeremy Lewno, was on bike escort duty. I've seen the Oscar-Myer Weinermobile but I had never seen a pack of lemoncycles.
There were plenty of opportunities for runners to grab a Gatorade, water, or gel at the numerous aid stations. A few independent support stations offered more variety. One stop had Dos Equis and Bud while Vino's offered up the hydration/carb combo in the form of a nice pale ale.
For those runners who didn't want beer, US Pizza offered up pizza slices and Michelob Ultra. There was a brisk business in the Ultra hand-ups.
I'm not sure if the beer stations were new or if I had just missed them as I rode with the race leaders in previous years. My partner Jason joked that they were there "for those who have already given up all hope", but the folks grabbing the brews were mostly clipping along nicely and having some fun.
Drum roll, please.... and the award for the best sign goes to....
Bada BOOM!
It's always fun to catch a glimpse of all of the parties that spring up along the course on a fine Sunday morning. It seems normal after an hour or two, but who usually gets up on Sunday morning, fires up the grill, sets up a band and has things hoppin' by 9:00AM? Plenty of folks, apparently, especially around the governor's mansion and in Hillcrest.And the descent of North Lookout is always hoppin' with a string of porch parties and a generally lively scene.
Lonely Guy---3:05 pacer at about mile 24.
I always admire the pacers. These talented runners make a commitment to run a set pace, carrying a sign with their planned finishing time in support of runners with similar ambitions, but likely lesser discipline and experience.  Things were well in hand when we cut the loop of Rebseman Park Road short and headed to the finish, in the process catching up with the 3:05 pace runner. He was keeping the faith and the tempo, having dropped the last of his charges at mile 22.
 The finish is always a welcome sight!
I'm unlikely to ever become enough of a runner to bite off a Marathon, or even a half, but I'm glad to that the LR Marathon has become such a success. The big ol' medal is touted as a major attraction, but I must say that the 'cowboy shirt' motif volunteer T-shirt is really too weird for most folks to wear. If you're wearing yours, don't be embarrassed. I'm very picky, and I'll admit that I did for a moment feel compelled to pull it on as we passed a PA system blaring "YMCA".
The Little Rock Marathon is a huge endeavor and it is remarkably well run, making for a fabulous community event. In the past, there have been some important, high level bike races in Little Rock, but they ceased after a few years due to lack of funding and a very limited pool of organizers willing to take them on the job. I don't see it happening any time soon, but how cool would it be to have a closed-road urban road race using downtown streets, the River Trail,  and some of the many adjacent climbs to spice things up?
Sorry, just daydreaming!