For runners, the nice thing about Southern California is that there really is no excuse not to go out for a run. Well, almost no excuse. Those smog days are fewer and farer between than they once were, but still sucking air from a tailpipe while you are running pretty much deletes out any aerobic health benefit. That being said, most mornings are a nice 60-something degrees with little humidity and no rain. And best of all…the beach is flat.
So when we started thinking about moving to NWA outdoor activities, and particularly running, were on my mind. I’m not particularly fast, but running has been a lifelong imperative for me for two reasons.
First, I like to eat crappy food and throw a few beers back. Running has always been my antidote from ballooning up to Chris Christie proportions. Second, distance running has always been my mental yoga. It allows me to unclench my brain from the day-the-day problems and challenges. I have never returned from a run thinking “man, I shouldn’t have done that”
I was concerned that the weather might inhibit one of the few healthy habits I developed. Also I was concerned that there might not be any kindred running spirits in Arkansas. So I began to investigate.
Doing some web searches I was happy to quickly find the Bentonville Half Marathon and races series. I immediately signed up. I thought to myself “well at least there are a few hundred runners who share my passion.” I signed up for both the half and the next race they had before moving.
Our first race was an unorthodox Valentine’s 8k/4k that started in downtown Bentonville. It was cold. Very cold. Like if you spit it freezes in the air cold. Ok, perhaps not that cold. But definitely nipple chafing cold.
Chattering our teeth amongst what felt like over a thousand people assembled in the Bentonville Square, we heard the heavily accented Arkansan announcer first announce the national anthem and then some race instructions.
“…what yer wanna go and do is head down on 2nd and make sure you make a LEFT on Jaaaay street. You don’t want to turn right…make a LEFT on Jaaaay…”
Our coven of transplant thin-blooded runners exchanged glances as we marveled at the white plumes of evaporated water vapor that we exhaled. My plan was to follow whomever was in front of me…as it is for most races.
“Ok, we’ll have two guns, for the first one the 4k runners will go and then the second the 8k runners will go….good luck!”
Rubbish. The gun went off and everyone started running like hell. Did I mentioned it was cold?
It was a fun run, and one of at least two dozen I have done since moving to NWA.
Turns out, NWA has a very healthy running, biking, and anything outdoor culture. But I was particularly impressed by the focus and inclusive spirit of the running culture in NWA. It wasn’t just hard-core elite runners who were enthusiasts, but runner of all ages, types, and sizes. Everyone is very supportive of others no matter your time or ability.
The center of NWA running culture is radiated out from many sources such as local clubs and informal groups, but perhaps the strongest running vibe originates from Rush Running. Rush Running is a local sporting goods store that focuses on runners. The folks who worked there are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
And if Rush Running is the Mecca of running culture in NWA, then Mike Rush is the high priest. You will see Mike out running in all conditions and random locations across the countryside.
More importantly Mike and his die-hard crew of runners are a driving force in encouraging people to get involved in running culture and doing it safely. He has a great half Marathon program which sells out quickly every year and gets people who never ran a half marathon do to it for the first time. On any given run you will usually hear Mike before you see him, shouting encouragement at people and occasionally trying to pants one of his friends.
The community also support running and cycling culture. NWA has an excellent and well-maintained trail system that keeps you off the road. If your run or ride does take you on the road, that’s no problem either. The slow and mindful motorists of NWA are generally very courteous to runners and cyclists alike.
In SoCal I would regularly get beeped at and have almost been run over more times than I care to count. In my 3 years here in NWA, only once did someone give the horn…and I think it might have been my neighbor greeting me.
One area of caution when running in NWA; there is wildlife. On a back road I have been pursued by, what turned out to be, a friendly pitbull. I have been eyed by a large hawk, jumped over a snake or two, and been mutually freaked out by deer. Also, there is road-kill…lots of road-kill.
So, yea, the weather does make it impossible to run out door in July through part of August for me, but the rest of the year you just adapt. It’s kind of fun to get suited up and go for runs while flurries are dropping from the sky or run through torrential down pours. You get used to it. And you won’t be alone out there for sure. That, I can assure you.
 With the only possible exception being after I ate a half dozen hatch chilies before running on a hot day which effused through my skin like battery acid during my run.