In the words of S. Baboo Friday night as we ate dinner with him and GeekGirl – “Life is funny. You just can’t make up stuff this good”. But that doesn’t really have anything to do with this blog. We were already laughing and that line made me laugh even more.
It all started with checking in at our hotel in Jackson, MS. The guy in front of us, wearing his Boston Marathon Finisher’s Jacket, mentioned to one of the hotel staff that this race was going to be tougher than Boston, thanks to the hills. No one mentioned hills. Not in this race. The course profile showed some bumps, but certainly nothing to get concerned about, right?
So we check in to the hotel, grab a quick nap, then head over to the expo to sign in. I call S. Baboo and GeekGirl, who are out driving the course. The first thing he mentions are the hills. And it doesn’t sound good. Further discussion squashes any plans for a PR on this course.
Race morning turned out beautiful for a run, although a bit warmer than I like. But standing around before the start was pretty cool at 45F with a nice breeze. So I stood with Goddess, wrapped up in my sweats until just moments before the horn went off. Then I slipped into the pack, not 30 feet from the front, and started the run.
As expected the first 1/2 mile was pretty slow as everyone is packed together and shuffling along. It took a while, but then things started thinning and and I could move. The plan was to start out slow and throttle back for the first half, then pick up the pace. I planned this for two reasons: 1) with the hills, I didn’t want to go out to hard and blow up, and 2) this was always planned to be just a training run for me (definitely a priority B race, where I didn’t peak and taper like I would for a priority A race).
The first few miles were warming up, talking to Elvis (who invited me back to Graceland after the race), and working my way around the other runners. Not that I was flying, but it was pretty easy to pick out who had started out too hard. The first long uphill was between 3-3.5 miles and folks started drifting back. This hill even slowed my overall average pace a few seconds, but that was fine with me, especially this early in the race.
Through the mid-section of the race, I planned on keeping the pace nice and steady so I’d have something left for the last 4-5 miles. I actually ended up picking up the pace in the mid-section, shaving time off my average pace from miles 3.5-8. So far so good, but the hills just kept coming as we worked our way through the downtown business/capitol district of Jackson.
The last 5 miles started out quite hilly as we worked our way past the fairgrounds and climbed up into a residential area. This is where quite a few folks started walking, but that wasn’t in my plan. I started reeling in more runners as I picked up the pace, but now that I look at the data, I didn’t actually pick up speed. Matter of fact, over my last 5 miles, every 1/2 mile split was within 1 second of each other, either 8:45 or 8:46. How’s that for consistent? Here’s the pace chart and route (click on the picture to see the full image, which includes the full route):
I think the killer was the last 1/2 mile, where we made a left turn and went straight up. It sure felt like a wall at that point. I crossed the finish line at 1:55:46 , not a PR, but just 8 minutes off. Not too bad for a hilly course and a training run. If I remember correctly (the web site’s not updated), that made me 132nd out of 600. Also, I think they had me at 1:56:02, which would account for passing under a railroad track (more on that later).
After Goddess and I drove back to the hotel for a quick ice-bath and shower (Goddess refused to join me for either one), we grabbed the boy and headed back to the race. We sat at the finish “wall” and cheered the marathon finishers on, telling them it was the last hill. There were a few comments of “It sure as hell better be”.
We almost missed S. Baboo as he came sprinting up the top of the hill on his way to a PR! We cheered GeekGirl on as she went up the hill, but it was a few minutes later when we realized that it was her. She finished quite strong herself and I know she’s pleased with the race, especially considering the hills.
So we sat in the finish area, ate some food, listened to some blues and enjoyed the free beer. It was quite an energetic post-race. 😉
After a few relaxing hours in the hotel that afternoon, we met up at a local bar, which sponsored the race. They definitely threw in a great deal, with free entry to all race competitors, plus two free drink coupons. Very nice schwag there! The bands were great, as was the beverage and company. But it all had to come to an end, especially since we had a 7-hour drive home the next day.
I did learn a few things during this race:
1). Pay closer attention to the race profile. Goddess even asked me afterwards when I was going to pick a flat course. My Garmin gave me 1,300 feet of climbing during the 1/2 marathon; BIM Active calculates 839 feet (I believe that more). Either way, I don’t want to think of what it was for the full.
2). Turn off the “auto pause” feature on my Garmin. We went under a train overpass at one point and it turned off for about 15 seconds. All-in-all, nothing horrible, but just an odd event that took my mind off of my run.
3). Fuel. Making the transition from getting ready for a triathlon and getting ready for a run was difficult. My first half-marathon last year, I ate my normal 600+ calories like I would before a triathlon; too much to run on right away. I scaled that back for my marathon and felt a bit better, although I did suffer from some gastro-issues during the last few miles. This time I drank one Ensure (250 cals) and everything worked fine. Also, a few weeks back I found the culprit of my stomach pains during the latter parts of my runs- my long-beloved Hammer Gel. I was on a 10-miler and popped a gel at mile 7. By mile 8-9 I had the familiar stomach pain that I had throughout all of my races last year; the rest of my run wasn’t good. So I switched to Clif Shot Bloks and they worked fine during my long run last weekend. They worked great during this race, too. No issues at all, either during or after. So I ran with my Fuel Belt, water and a package of Shot Bloks. I drank the water at the aid stations and took the occasional swig from my belt. Absolutely no issues.
Anybody need some Hammer Gel?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slamming Hammer Gel. I’ve been a big fan of Hammer products for the past 12 years and will continue to use them. But I’ll just have to limit the gel use to long training rides and races. No runs.
Pardon the pun.
Would I recommend next year’s Mississippi Blues Half-/Full Marathon? Hells Yes! An excellent course, with bands along the way, plenty of aid stations, enthusiastic volunteers, a welcoming community, great schwag and entertainment make this a race that needs to be on your “must-do” list. Plus, if you live in someplace cold (it was 9-degrees here the morning before we left), a place like southern MS in January is pretty darn warm (and humid). A nice change of pace for a few days.