Looking for a first big city marathon without the hype? The Little Rock Marathon is the one. Make it a whole weekend and sign up for a combo challenge, Saturday 5k or 10k and Sunday half or full marathon. They start the full and half marathons together. In 2017, I'd estimate 2,500 runners for the full and 4,000 runners for the half. This creates a large friendly mass, but for the most part folks try to get into their correct pace corrals and you lose 4,000 runners at the half finish. As I remember, we started at the very back of the pack in 2017 and it took us 3 minutes to cross the start line, after the gun start. The start finish area is changed for 2018...so you'll have to look up the course. However for most part the course will still zigzag around town with the first 3-4ish miles across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock (there is a beer aid station!). I enjoy most of the marathon course, even the long hill around mile 12-14 and the swooping down hill around miles 17-19. For me the worst part of the course is along the river, miles 17-24. This out and back is flat and you can see forever! One surprise every year I've run, there has been a guy with an electric guitar and amp playing heavy metal music about mile 23. The old finish was great! It was down hill in the heart of the city, and everyone, regardless of how they got to the finish, ran across the finish! In 2018 I'm not sure what the finish will look like.
The first year we went 2016, we stayed at the RV park in North Little Rock right on the Arkansas River...cost about $25/night. This leaves you a mile walk across the foot bridge to the Expo at the Statehouse Convention Center for packet pickup and such. The second year, 2017, we decided to try the Marriott, right at the convention center. Although it was nice place to stay and being close to the event was good, the cost/benefit isn't worthwhile to us. We are going back to the RV park for 2018. Another option is the Wyndham Riverfront located in North Little Rock. We've stayed at this hotel before (when traveling to Allen Tx for another race) and it is a reasonable option (though not as nice it's cost is much less) with a pretty good breakfast option. Again the mile walk to the event across the river. There is also a trolly running between North LR and LR...we never used it.
Lots of folks come out along the course to cheer on runners. People sit out on their steps or porches, offer food and/or water lots of distractions along the way. You will have fun. There are many official aid stations and the race staff encourages runners to NOT take water or food from unofficial aid stations (you never know if someone is trying to poison you). I've seen, orange slices, tater-tots, green tea, beer, shots of something, potatoes, gummies, chips, cookies and gatorade and water.
Regarding parking...I'm not sure since we've come from out of town, we've either left the truck at the RV park or had valet parking at the Marriott.
The Pacers are awesome and they will provide you an arm band to track your progress during the race. Meet your pacers at the Expo on Friday! The online tracking is just ok, but neat for friends and family to follow on race day.