2014 Mississippi Blues Marathon Race Recap
On January 11th, 2014 I ran in the 7th Annual Mississippi Blues Marathon. This was my 7th of 7 Blues Marathons and my 10th marathon overall. I ran a PR time of 3:31:07 which was a new PR by 5 minutes! It was a great day. Here is a recap of the race.
I live about 20 minutes outside of Jackson, MS, the home of the Mississippi Blues Marathon, so I get to sleep in my own bed and follow a pretty normal routine the morning of the race. The Saturday race is a 7am start so I got up about 4:45am, started some coffee and ate some peanut butter toast and a fried egg and started drinking water.
I enjoyed several cups of coffee and started packing my bag for the race. I usually take a change of clothes to bag drop or in this case leave it with my family to bring to me after the race. My wife got up early to see me off and my 16 year old son actually drove me downtown to the start, dropping me off about 6:30am very close to the race start. Huge kudos to my son for getting up early on a Saturday to help out the old man. It was so nice not having to worry about parking. I went straight for a bathroom break and then with 20 minutes to spare headed over to the start area. Along the way I saw several friends and stopped to chat and just enjoy the pre-race excitement. Then I headed toward the start line and found a place to sit and just relax.
The Blues Marathon raises money to support Blues musicians and so naturally the national anthem is played by a blues guitarist. This started the first year of the race and has become a crowd favorite. The same guy comes out every year, climbs up on a wall with an amp and his guitar and just belts out our nations anthem, Jimmy Hendrix style. It’s an awesome sound reverberating off the downtown buildings in the morning chill with the eastern sky just starting to brighten with the coming dawn.
With the temp at about 53F at the start, about 10 degrees warmer than I would have liked, I knew I would need to be conservative and concentrate on hydration. The forecast called for overcast and a high of 65. I had decided before the race that temps in the 60’s meant going for 3:30 to 3:35. Temps in the 50’s and I could shoot for sub 3:30, maybe even qualify for Boston at 3:25, but it was not going to be a good day for that, so I decided to settle in to an 8:00 mile pace at the start.
Moments after the national anthem I was in the starting corral sharing a few greetings with friends and next thing you know the count down then the gun and we were off. There were 3500 registered runners this year, largest field yet, and based on previous times I felt I would finish in the top 100 so I got pretty close to the front at the start. The start is on a wide 4 lane street so it was not crowded and the field spread out very quickly. I felt great, relaxed and confident in my training.
The Mississippi Blues course is a hilly, unforgiving beast. It is a quad busting up and down ride from start to finish and does not suffer fools who go out to fast for their fitness level.
No that is not a mountain range, it’s the elevation profile. You have to respect the course and realize that small changes in temps are magnified over the course because of the climbs and descents.
The initial climb took us up through the Jackson State University campus on a brick paved street where The Sonic Boom of the South (aka Jackson States Band) came out to play for us as we came by. That was a big boost of adrenaline. We then took a gradual right 180 degree turn back toward Jackson and were treated to a very pretty sunrise with storm clouds low on the easter horizon and the sun just starting to peak out over the tops.
At four miles you go right back through the start which is cool because there are a lot of people still there and so we had a lot of people cheering us on. I was still feeling relaxed averaging an 8:00 pace, taking it easy on the uphills and pushing a bit on the downs. Shortly after passing back through the start we turned North and started climbing. There were three long hills on this section of the course from about mile 4 to mile 7. I was carrying some small pretzel balls and peanut butter crackers instead of gels. I’ve found I cramp less if I eat salty food as opposed to trying to use fluids to keep up electrolytes. I ate some crackers and washed it down with water at the next stop.
After a steep downhill we reached the turn for the half marathon where we would keep straight ahead and the halfers would turn right. There was a sign but it was a little set back from the turn and a volunteer who was soft spoken. A marathoner in front of me commented that he thought some half runners might miss that turn and I agreed. About a mile later our fears were confirmed when a young lady with a half marathon bib passed us going the opposite direction – IN A HURRY! Poor gal. She ran a 15.2 mile half marathon. I ate some pretzel balls and kept drinking water at every aid station.
The course winds through an older residential section, continuing the up and down profile. It’s pretty quiet along the course and it’s going to stay that way until the end. We do pass a few blues bands and some spirited water stops but that’s about it. There are friendly, spirited volunteers at every street intersection and police at all of the traffic lights. The coordination of the course is well done. The condition of the pavement is an issue with many sections that are in need of repair. It has improved over the years, but the city still has some work to do to make a better impression on visitors.
About mile 17 I felt the beginnings of the usual fatigue that generally sets in at about this point in the race. Knowing that there is only a 15k between me and the finish is a bit of motivation and I finish off my snack foods and switch from drinking water to diluting sports drink with water and drinking that. By mile 19 I am getting a little worried about cramps. Seems like my calves are tight and a bit tingly, so I back off the pace just a bit. Don’t want to disintegrate with only 7 miles left and I also know there is still a major hilly section left to complete. Right about this point I pass a friend of mine and he asks how I’m doing and I say, “I’m gonna PR or blow up badly. We’ll see.”
The last tough hilly section is from miles 21 to about mile 24. I know right? Pretty cruel. But as I started that climb I was still confident I was going to be able to maintain a strong pace and set a new PR. I just kept my stride compact on the uphills and focused in increasing my turnover to “chop” the hill down. I was trying to stay motivated but the hills, the heat and the distance were wearing me down. I lost about 2 minutes off my pace during those last 4 miles, but I’m confident I did everything I could.
I’m a graduate of Texas A&M University and had decided before the race to flash the Johnny Manziel sign, rubbing fingers and thumbs as I crossed the finish line. Funny no one would have know what the heck I was doing a year ago.
The post race was excellent. The medals are magnificent, honoring the blues legacy. There was plenty of hot food and hot or cold beverages. Most importantly there were lots of places to sit, relax and talk about the experience. My wife and son met me at the finish and we hung around for a couple of hours after the race just relaxing and talking. The Mississippi Art Garden was an excellent venue and I am glad they moved the start/finish to that location this year.
There are ten people who have run all seven of The Mississippi Blues Marathons and I am fortunate to be one of them. I certainly hope to make it 8 for 8 next year. But that’s not all.
Another unique feature of this race is The Blues Crawl the night after the race. There are live music acts at a number of bars downtown and a free shuttle from bar to bar, hence the crawl name. I took a great nap in the afternoon and then my wife and I went downtown and caught four different acts at three locations and just had a great time. The two acts that we enjoyed the most were Vasti Jackson at Underground 119 and Jimbo Mathus in The Red Room at Hal and Mal’s. This is the first year I actually made it back down town for The Blues Crawl but it’s going to be a regular event each year for me.
If you’ve ever thought of running a marathon in Mississippi you cannot go wrong making it the Mississippi Blues Marathon. I’ll be back to get “the blues” on those hills again next year.