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Arkansas’ capital serves up a springtime marathon with a big heart and a boatload of bling.
If you like your races well done and your medals supersized, head to Arkansas for a marathon tailored to your tastes. The Little Rock Marathon (littlerockmarathon.com), held in early March, exudes southern hospitality, from the generous cut-off time (walkers may start two hours early) to the encouraging volunteers who hand out fresh fruit along the course. Warning: Out-of-towners’ carry-on bags may be flagged for extra screening—the race medal isn’t just big, it’s dinner-plate huge.
You might be surprised to discover that Little Rock is something of a runner’s mecca. Support the active community by dropping into a few locally owned shops like Go!Running (gorunning.com) or Rock City Running (rockcityrunning.com) to stock up on race-day accessories.
A lovely example of pedestrian-friendly urban planning, the Arkansas River Trail is the perfect place for a shakeout run. Favorite spots along the 17-mile trail include the railroad-style Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and the cheekily named Big Dam Bridge, the longest bridge in North America to never have been open to cars or trucks.
If there was ever a time to tuck into a massive porterhouse steak, it’s after running 26.2 miles. Refuel post-race at Doe’s Eat Place (doeseatplace.com), an unassuming spot that was a favorite with President Clinton and his staffers during the 1992 election. After you’ve consumed your weight in beef, head over to Purple Cow (purplecowlr.com) to enjoy a little dairy in the form of the diner’s famous shakes—load yours with raw cookie dough, fresh pineapple or a nip of rum!
Before your race, dream of gold—just like the former owner of The Empress (theempress.com). This 125-year-old mansion, once inhabited by a 19th-century saloon keeper, welds modern comfort with old-world opulence. From a bow-tied butler to aromatherapy steam showers, you can enjoy the royal treatment with rooms starting at $139 a night. If you prefer a more traditional bed-and-breakfast, The Rosemont (rosemontoflittlerock.com) offers cozy, cottage-style charm a bit closer to the start line.