The sleeping giant of the Marathon/Half Marathon Running community might very well be the Mainly Marathons franchise. Under the direction of Race Director Clint Burleson, this group has multiple events which span 5-7 days each, most of which stage races in different states each day. Runners may choose to do one, or all of the days, in any combination of half or full marathons.
In my desire to “Reach the Sun” in the running group Half Fanatics – I was on a quest to complete 52 half Marathons in 365 days. My decision to register for the Riverboat Series, held April 12-16 in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana respectively was made in an attempt to help me reach this goal. As my schedule flushed out – it appeared that the last day of Riverboat would be my 52nd race.
I will admit that I went in a sceptic. I love races with large fields, enthusiastic crowd support, and a senic city scape. The mainly marathons races have none of these. Here there are a few dozen to a few hundred runners who do loops (often 1.31 miles each) in state parks. Rubber bands are handed out after each loop to help runners track their miles. Some are on trails, but most appeared to be on the paved roads of the park. However I was on a mission – and this was the fastest route to completion. So I loaded up the car with a weeks worth of running gear, supplies and food (including my coffee maker) and hit the road.
Arriving in Kentucky the first morning, I met my fellow runners for the first time. I had not stayed at the host hotel – and I knew only two other runner in the group. Many were greeting other runners whom they had run with in another series, but I watched the reunions as an outsider. We were given a Medal with a year charm, and instructed to pick up our Kentucky charm when we completed. Clint addressed us from his step ladder as he would each day, while volunteers set up more food and drinks on tables that I could have ever imagined would be available. That was something that changed for me over the five days of this series – I stopped using GU and ate real food every other lap… a slice of an apple or a quarter of a sandwich – the spread was amazing!
The loops began… and my spirits lifted. I found that passing my running team over and over as we looped in a figure-eight through Columbus Belmont State Park was really fun, and the time flew by. The second half of the loop was very off road and slowed me down, I ended up walking the last loop with a new friend discussing our dissertations, turns out we are both from Florida!
Day two was at Meeman-Shelby State Park in Tennessee. I had opted to stay in Memphis, but unlike the first morning, I felt like I was meeting up with old friends. This day was an out and back… downhill on the way down, uphill on the way back… and again, it flew by. I picked up my tennessee charm and headed to the hotel in Mississippi where I was happy I would be staying for two nights.
Day three was rainy. I drove 45 minutes in pitch black darkness to Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas, watching as the sky would periodically light up from the storm. Throughout the race we were told to take cover if we were worried – but the race would go on. For awhile the rain came down hard – but runners dug deep and pushed through – we finished successfully and left for the hotel to dry off and warm up, third state charm in hand.
Day four brought clear blue skies. I arrived early in the morning to Leroy Percy State Park in Mississippi and was standing in the parking lot a fellow runner as we watched cars slowly pulling in, and joked it looked like a funeral procession. Everyone was tired – but I was amazed by the people who had been doing full marathons each day. I had been doing halfs and was tired. I knew I would be ok through 3 days – but four in a row was new territory for me. Surprisingly, this day was my best time yet.
Day five was at Civitan Park in Winnsboro, LA. It was a small park directly across the street from the Best Western, which was the host hotel. I had a spring in my step this day, and proudly wore my half fanatics jersey. I felt good – and every step energized me as I was closer and closer to my goal of reaching the sun. When the race was over – and I collected my last charm, I was given a bonus medal for running all five days. Clint also presented me with a sun medal for my accomplishment, and my friend Kelly gave me a beautiful box which she had made.
Loading my car up for the drive back to Orlando, there was no question I would do this again – and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves running. There are so many reasons to do it: Leveling up in half fanatics or marathon maniacs, 50 states, concern for time (there are NO time limits on these races – there is even an award for the person who comes in last)… or probably the best reason of all…. experiencing the feeling of belonging to a immersive running community… for just a few days.