This past weekend I had the (dis)pleasure of "running" the Flying Monkey Marathon through Percy Warner Park in Nashville, TN. Last year's theme for the race was "We've got big hills" and that is an understatement to say the least. I partially knew what I was getting myself into because I had the opportunity to meet the race director Trent a few months back while attending a workshop in the area and he ran a few miles of the 11.2 with me through Percy Warner Park. Yup, it was hilly then, but I swear those hills had grown. With a total elevation change of over 7200 feet (half of that being a gain), JB and I knew that this would be no marathon PR and would most definitely send us to the Marathon Hall of Shame.
JB and I actually did this as a double-ish weekend, running the local 12k's for the Holidays on Saturday and Monkey on Sunday. I'm not going to recap the 12k, other than to say we ran 7.35 miles in the rain through downtown Jackson while wearing our most festive outfits. So, moving on. The drive to Nashville is about 6 hours and JB was my chauffeur in her new Jeep. We were hoping to make it to packet pickup before they closed at 4 pm, but ended up missing everyone by like 10 minutes. A fellow Maniac had our packets and we arranged to just meet up at the early start to retrieve them. Oh, did I tell you that it was supposed to be freezing for the race? And this is not an exaggeration - literally freezing temperatures. Since we live in Mississippi and rarely see anything out of the 40's, we decided to hit up Dick's for some real gloves since I didn't think that my $1 gloves would make the cut. $70 later I had a nice hat and some iPhone-approved gloves (which, by the way, SUCK!!!).
|This is what we woke up to. Uh oh.|
The race had an early start at 7 am, so since JB and I decided that we were probably going to walk a lot, we took it. We retrieved our packets from a fellow Maniac and discovered that they contained a short sleeve cotton T shirt, a long sleeve tech T shirt that was personalized with your name, and a cape. I was also the recipient of a voucher for a free Flying Monkey tattoo at a local tattoo shop. I was excited about this since I've been wanting more tats. If you only do big name corporate races, I feel very sad for you. You would never get this high quality stuff in one of THOSE packets. But moving on. We dropped off our homemade goods for the post-race after party and then proceeded to sit in the car until the very last minute. Even though I was bundled up like an Eskimo (2 long sleeve shirts, a short sleeve shirt, a jacket, tights, gloves, and a hat) I was still FREEZING!!!
Once we were given our early start instructions, we were off and running through the field towards the park. I was so cold. My poor little piggies were frozen numb and my very expensive gloves were doing a crappy job of keeping my hands warm. I resorted to walking not soon after the start.
|In the park going up up up!|
Once we were in the actual park, we were immediately greeted by a nice ascent for the next mile or so. We walked that thing so hard. It was so cold that I was having a little trouble getting my breathing together. Yes, cold and hilly will be the theme of this recap. The course was so beautiful so that distracted me somewhat.
|I enjoyed all the signs. And yes, that's another hill. And it was still cold.|
We seemed to only go UP even though I am now looking at the elevation profile which tells me that we spent almost an equal amount of time going DOWN. The downs I do remember were steep and just as hard as the ups. There wasn't supposed to be any course support for the first hour of the early start but many of the aid stations were setting up and we could grab some water if we needed it.
|Apparently my underwear was slowing us down.|
At mile 7-ish we were dumped out into the parking lot that I parked at when I ran the 11.2 a few months back. We were greeted by the most amazing aid station that had mini Gigi's cupcakes. Never mind the cupcakes were frozen. They were delicious nonetheless.
|If you don't have Gigi's cupcakes at your aid stations, I don't want to do your race.|
We then made our way back up into the park. We decided earlier that the leaders would probably pass us between 10 miles and the halfway point. No such luck. We were going so slow that the leader (who started an hour later than us) passed us around mile 8. The leader looked like he wasn't even trying. I told him that I was going to go in the woods and cry now and he even laughed at me. He ended up finishing in 2:37. Sadly, we crossed the halfway point in 2:51.........my worst half split EVER!
|Yup. This happened.|
We decided that had we actually tried to run this course, it would have been the hardest course that we had ever done. In fact, I've been reading up on what are considered some of the toughest road marathon courses in the US and the Monkey is brought up in many of these discussions. Other marathons that are routinely brought up are Bataan (NM), Big Sur (CA), Crater Lake (OR), and Mount Desert Island (ME). And guess who's doing ALL of those marathons next year?? ME!!!! Not scared though, actually pretty excited. Yes, I'm weird.
|More switchbacks and more hills|
The rest of the course just seemed like a big time warp. At the time I had no idea how we turned around, but we did around 12 and were eventually dumped out at the parking lot aid station with the Gigi's cupcakes on the same side that we had left it. So it was pretty much a modified out and back from mile 7 to about mile 18.5. I'm not sure how an out and back can be ALL UPHILL, but that's what it felt like. I of course indulged in another cupcake.
|That's always nice to see on a race course.|
It was still cold and I hadn't taken off any of my gear since we were walking quite a bit. A few times my hands would get so freakin' cold that I would have to shove them in my armpits for some warmth. Frozen GU's are absolutely the most disgusting thing ever. It pretty much just sits in your stomach like a brick. Good thing I used the Gigi's cupcakes for fuel instead. Aid stations at the Monkey were great and were very ultra-ish - cupcakes, cookies, brownies, pretzels, sausage balls, etc. The volunteers were AMAZING! When we would approach an aid station, they would ask us what we needed and made sure that all of our needs were taken care of. I cannot imagine just standing around for 6+ hours to give some strangers some water in sub-freezing temps.
We eventually found ourselves 2 miles from the finish and pushing it very close to going over 6 hours. Yes, I said SIX hours. I knew I would have a PW on this course but over 6 hours just seemed ridiculous to me, so we pushed it as much as we could for the last two miles, all while still walking up all the hills.
|Add about 57 minutes to that for the early start. Whomp whomp whomp. Source.|
We crossed the finish line with a few minutes to spare - 5:57:07. A new PW by about 7 minutes. Ha! Post-race spread was all homemade goodies from all the race participants. We were all asked to bring a dish. Something else you will never get to experience if all you do is big name marathons. I ate a good plateful of stuff and just about froze my booty off in the process. It apparently never got above freezing for the entire race. I wish that it would have been warmer so we could have hung out a bit, but we were cold and we had a long drive home.
|All the homemade goodies.|
|My first wood "medal" - love it!|
I actually highly recommend this race. It is a weighted lottery, so when you throw your name in the ring, you have no idea if you will actually get selected to do the race. Trent, the race director, warns everyone that you cannot train for Monkey, and I believe that he is correct. Despite the hills and the cold, both JB and myself had an absolutely lovely time spending our morning (and afternoon) walking through the park. If you're looking for a PR or a BQ, you've come to the wrong place. In fact, the course is not even certified. But if you're looking for a unique marathon with a cult-like following, this race is for you! Be prepared for all ups and (apparently) downs. The weather in November in the south could be anything, so be prepared for that as well. Also be prepared to eat and drink your face off at the post race party. Am I going to throw my name in the hat for next year?? We shall see.......we shall see.......