Hannibal Cannibal 10K Part One – “It’ll eat you up!”

Hi everyone, it’s good to be back!  I am sorry for the long absence, I have been in Hannibal, Missouri for the 15th Annual Hannibal Cannibal 10K Here is Part One of the story.  I hope you enjoy it, and there will be more to come!

Nestled on the serene banks of the Mississippi is the quiet river town of Hannibal, Missouri. With a population of only about 17,500 people, the residents there are about God, country, family, and who else but Mark Twain. Having grown up in Hannibal and known only has Samuel Clemens then; Mark Twain based his infamous characters and stories in Adventures of Tom Sawyer on his own boyhood experiences in “America’s Hometown.” In fact, you can visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, the Mark Twain Dinette, the Mark Twain Book Shop, the Mark Twain Cave Complex and Campgrounds, and you can even enjoy a narrative performed by Mark Twain himself.

And if this wasn’t enough for such a small town whose only claim to fame is Mark Twain, once a year they roll out the red carpet to celebrate National Tom Sawyer Days. Combined with 2010 as the Year of Twain, which marks the 175th anniversary of his birth, the 125th anniversary of Twain’s pinnacle work Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 100th anniversary of his death, it was no surprise the town was literally humming with electric excitement over the 4th of July weekend.

And that humming accumulated into nothing less than a roar on the morning of July 03 for the 15th Annual Hannibal Cannibal 5K/10K Walk and Run. It was magnificent to watch the festivities begin just after 5:30 a.m. when the sun barely bothered to show its golden rays over the eastern horizon and the glistening Mississippi-it was going to be hot, stifling hot and every runner out there knows what that means- it’s going to be miserable. But, the good people of Hannibal didn’t seem to mind the rapidly rising sun and for a race whose tag line is “It’ll eat you up,” and which promises a real-life Hannibal Cannibal at the summit of Lover’s Leap, heat seemed to be the least of their concerns. So, when my husband and I arrived downtown about a half hour before the starting time of 7:00 a.m., I was a little surprised to see the streets were already brimming over with race officials, runners, walkers, kids, and spectators trying to navigate their way to the only open coffee shop. Not Starbucks, I might add. Everywhere I looked were black (really, black?) T-shirts which identified the volunteers, and there were swarms of them. Adults, kids, teenagers, elderly, dogs-it seemed the volunteer population outnumbered the race participants and believe me, they were there to help make the Cannibal the best it could be. Not under their watch would anyone go without a restroom, a cup of water, a misting shower, or a piece of fruit. They were armed and ready when the cannon literally sounded off at the Start.

But, let me back up a second, I had never been to a race quite like this before. As you know, runners possess a strong sense of camaraderie, a sense of community and eternal bonding that lets one runner spot another runner in a crown of non-runners seeming effortlessly. Is it the battered shoes; the bronze shoulders, neck and face; the Garmin on the wrist; the muscular legs and core; or the faded race shirt with tattered seems? I don’t know for sure, but runners know other runners without question. I find I feel at “home” on the morning of any given race and always want to get there early to take in the sights and mingle. But, I have never before felt the sense of belonging that the running community of Hannibal, Missouri brings to its races. It was unbelievable. It was like, if you showed up to the race, you were a runner. We all bowed our heads to pray for safety and to thank the Lord above for all He had given us. We sang the National Anthem and saluted the flag. Sportsmanship and loyalty were strong to not only a town that was trying it’s hardest to make it in an otherwise depressed economy, but to a sport that never makes you wish you “wouldn’t of done that.” Who knew a little town on the Mississippi could put on a little race worthy of every runner’s participation? I never felt as welcome at a race as I did on the streets of Hannibal-it was like I belonged there, like I had always been there.

And with all runners everywhere, competition was thick in the air that morning when the cannon exploded, a little early and right into the unsuspecting ears of my husband who was trying to get a good photo. He went to find the coffee shop right after that and swears he ordered a coffee taller than any he has seen in Columbus. And he swears he drank it all to wake up “before God,” as he calls it. Although, as I told him, God was clearly present at the starting line-up and probably was at all races, we just didn’t know it before. And so, it started with a giant cheer from the crowd. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” was blaring from the loudspeaker, which, believe me, was the only thing I heard as I stepped off. People were running everywhere as we headed down the main street and out of town to Highway 79. Eventually, as we turned the corner, the spectators and my husband hung back and we were on our own.

I was feeling great when I turned onto Highway 79, I had a quicker than normal pace of 11:35, which apparently didn’t concern me because I kept right on running at that pace until I reached the viaduct. The first hill hit me hard and fast. It was one of those hills that had an easy incline over the course of about two miles; the kind where you start out thinking “I got this in the bag, what are they talking about hills?” and then you find yourself huffing and puffing and looking at your watch every three steps to see if you have somehow made it to two miles yet. Yeah, that was me. The sun was just over the tree line, had just started to warm the highway pavement, and it was hot, unbelievably hot. Mosquitoes were thick in the air (I think I ate about fifty) and I swear sweat was coming from places I didn’t know I could sweat, like my eyes. “Great,” I thought, as runners zipped by me still keeping the 11:35 or faster, “I’ve gone exactly half of a mile and I’m spent! This can’t be!” I heard other runners talking as they passed about their training and how Highway 79 was unforgiving at best and they had worked hard to make the course a multitude of times before now. “Screwed on the Highway to Hell for sure,” I thought.

But, I made it to the top of the first hill and to the 5K turn around. To greet me, was a team of volunteers and a sign that said, “Say bye-bye to 10Kers.” And a water stop-for the 5Kers. I had to keep running and so I did. I ran down the other side of that Highway 79 hill. I was feeling a little better, my shoulders and arms started to relax, which released the tension in my neck from running uphill, and I was able to lengthen my stride and take the opportunity to “rest” as I picked up pace from a 14:12 to a 13:07 and was back on pace. I was alone on the road and I told myself, “You’re only by yourself because you left all the 5Kers in the dust!” I don’t think I believed myself though. On my right, I passed our home away from home, The Mark Twain Cave and Campground, and I saw Mile 2. What!?!? Two miles, are you kidding?! I thought about running into the campground and forgetting the whole thing when I heard someone running up behind me and I picked it up again because I was embarrassed for thinking of quitting.

Running down the flat part of 79 was long, hot, and horrible for the most part. I was the lone salmon in a stream of trout. All of the other runners on their way back from the 10K turn around passed me. Men in their glistening glory wearing nothing but shorts, women thin as rails with muscles to admire cruised by me, teenagers in throngs determined to finish before their friends. And then there was me. I’m sure I looked like hell! I know this because about every third runner told me to “Keep it up!” or “You’re looking good!” or “Good job, you’re almost there!” Looking back, these are the words that pulled me through to the turnaround, which I was not almost to, and where more volunteers, water, and the greatest gift imaginable waited for me. I ran through the station chugging water and listening to my cheering fans, when a little boy handed me a blue icy towel. It was as if it was heaven-sent and I wiped my head, face, lips, neck, shoulders, and arms with it. Then, I draped it, still freezing, around my neck and continued back on Highway 79, from where I had just come, somehow feeling like a new person. My bliss was short-lived, however, when I suddenly remembered, with the help of the road beneath my feet, for every downhill there is an uphill.

And boy was I on the way up again…

Be sure to get caught up with Part Two!

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