Saturday, January 10, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Mississippi Blues Marathon

This morning, I ran the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson, MS.  I did this race as part of a weekend double.  Tomorrow, I’ll be doing the First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL.  I did the Mississippi Blues Marathon in 2011, but that year I didn’t do First Light.  I remember feeling like a slacker because I was only doing one marathon that weekend.  Most of my friends were doing both.

Mississippi Blues and First Light are a popular double.  Jackson and Mobile are only a few hours apart by car, but they’re in different states.  Members of the 50 States Marathon Club seek out opportunities like this, so they can get two states quickly, while saving on travel costs.

This year, Marathon Maniacs chose these races for their annual reunion.  It’s the first time they’ve had a double reunion.  I had serious doubts about doing a double so soon after Across the Years, but I didn’t want to miss the reunion.

I didn’t acquire any new aches or pains at Across the Years, largely because I stopped after 100 miles, instead of continuing for the full 48 hours.  Going into that race, I had some tension and inflammation in my left hamstring and glutes.  I was able to get through that race without making them worse, but they were still a concern.

For the last week, I’ve been training at a slow pace, never running more than 4.5 miles at a time. I rested Thursday and Friday.  I didn’t expect to be 100 percent, but my hope was that I would be able to run nine minute miles.

About a week ago, I came down with a cold.  The symptoms developed slowly, not peaking until Wednesday.  I’ve run with colds before, so I knew it would slow me down.  Between the cold, my questionable left leg, and fact that I have another race on Sunday, I had serious doubts about how fast I could (or should) run.

To get to Jackson, I had to take two flights, changing planes in Atlanta.  The club meeting in was in Jackson on Friday afternoon.  I flew to Jackson on Thursday, so I wouldn’t have any trouble getting to the meeting on time.

I didn’t rent a car.  All of the race activities were within walking distance of downtown hotels, so I took a cab from the airport.  After checking in at my hotel, I walked over to the Jackson Convention Complex, where the expo was held.  The race shirt was this reflective vest.  I have lots T-shirts, so I liked getting something a little different that’s also practical.

In keeping with the blues theme, the race packet also included this CD and harmonica.

Besides picking up my race packet, I was able to check in at the Marathon Maniacs booth and visit with a few friends.  While I was there, I learned that a few other Maniacs were getting together for dinner.  I was able to join them later at Babalu Tacos and Tapas. 

Friday morning, I didn’t need to get up early, so I slept as late as I could.  I spent the morning and early afternoon mostly resting at the hotel.  I needed the rest and didn’t feel up to doing much else.

Later, I made another stop at the expo, which was on the way to the reunion meeting.  The meeting was held at the Mississippi Museum of Art, which was a block from the expo.  There were over 200 Marathon Maniacs at this race, and quite a few came to the meeting.  There was also a pre-race dinner held in conjunction with the meeting.

The weather in Jackson was about as cold as it gets there.  The overnight low was 26 degrees, making it one of the coldest starts I’ve had for a marathon.  It warmed into the low 30s during the race, but there was just enough wind to make it feel colder.

To keep my legs from tightening up in the cold air, I wore tights and the pants I would otherwise have used as my warm-ups.  I also wore a polypro shirt, a T-shirt, a lightweight jacket and two pairs of gloves.

Between the cold and my concerns about my leg, I would have been content to run this race at a leisurely pace.  The cold weather, however, motivated me to run faster to stay warm.  I also didn’t want to take too long to finish, because I needed to check out of my hotel and catch the bus to Mobile for tomorrow’s race.

The course is a loop and starts and finishes near the Mississippi Museum of Art.  Having done this race before, I knew what the elevation profile was like.  There are no large hills, but a non-stop series of short ones.  None are very long, but you’re always going up or down.

It’s been a few weeks since I did any training faster than nine minute miles, but I sometimes surprise myself in races.  I didn’t want to push for a fast pace if it was unrealistic, but I also didn’t want to lock myself into a pace that might be too conservative.  In the early files, I ran according to how I felt.  I started easy.  Then I gradually picked up my effort.  I wanted to figure out what pace I could run without any discomfort in my left leg and without getting short of breath.

After about a mile, I found myself running near the 3:40 pace group.  I knew the pacer and a few of the other runners, so I stayed with them for most of the race.  At first, the pace felt about right.  Later, I noticed the group was running a consistent pace whether we were running uphill or downhill.

With my cold, I found the uphill sections to be more tiring than they should have been.  I sometimes fell behind the group on a hill, but I would eventually catch up on a downhill section.  I seldom looked at my watch.  I was happy with the idea of running 3:40, so I stayed with the group as long as the pace felt OK.

Despite all the layers I was wearing, I wasn’t in any danger of getting too hot.  Whenever I started to feel comfortable, a cold breeze would ensure that I wasn’t going to get hot any time soon.

I was impressed with the volunteers along the route.  They were standing outside for hours in freezing temperatures, but everyone was smiling.  I tried to make a point of thanking the volunteers and police.  Many of the volunteers thanked us for running or welcomed us to Mississippi.

As the race progressed, I felt a little tension in some of the muscles of my left leg.  At first it was just in my butt.  It wasn’t the same spot that had bothered me recently, so I didn’t worry too much, but I was cautious.

I reached the halfway mark in 3:49:14.  I found it increasingly difficult to stay with the group in the second half.  I started noticing some discomfort in my left hamstring.  It was nothing major, but I couldn’t take the downhills as fast.  There was a longer hill at 18 miles.  I fell behind the group, but couldn’t catch up again.  I got close, but then there was another long hill at 20 miles.  I fell farther behind and realized I would be on my own for the rest of the race.

I started paying attention to my mile times.  They were in the 9:00 to 9:20 range.  At that pace, I would still break 3:45, and I was fine with that.  In the last few miles, I finally started to get hot.  It was in the low 30s by now, and the sun was getting high in the sky.

I battled through the late miles to finish in 3:40:55.  I was only about a minute behind the group.  Then I received the finisher medal I had heard so much about.  It’s a huge medal in the shape of a guitar.  It even has a pick.

People doing both this race and the First Light Marathon in Mobile had the option of buying round-trip tickets for buses that took us to Mobile after this race and back to Jackson after tomorrow’s race.  I bought a bus ticket, even though I don’t need to go back to Jackson.  I’m going to fly home from Mobile.

There were two buses.  The first bus started filling at noon and left for Mobile when the bus was full.  The second bus left at 2:30.  Not knowing when the first bus would fill, I hurried back to the hotel after the race.  I needed to take a hot bath and stretch, but I tried to get dressed and pack up as quickly as I could.  I wanted to be on the first bus, so I could get to Mobile a little earlier.

I was able to check out and walk to where the buses were parked before 12:30.  There were only about 15 runners on the bus so far.  I only had half a bottle of water, and I had only eaten a slice of pizza before leaving the finish area. The bus ride was going to take about three hours, and I was already hungry.  I needed more food to tide me over.  After the first race of a double it’s important to refuel.

Realizing I had time before the bus would fill, I walked back to the finish area.  I was able to eat more food and also get more to drink.  After that, I felt OK.  The first bus left at 1:45 and got us into Mobile around 5:00.  It was a motor coach with TVs and a bathroom, so it was a reasonably comfortable ride.

Because I had to leave for Mobile, I missed some of the post-race festivities in Jackson.  They have a Blues Crawl, where a trolley takes you to different venues with live music.  Leaving town quickly is one of the prices you have to pay to do a double in two states.

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