You know what I was expecting, but on the way to the Mississippi Blues Marathon it struck me: maybe the race was punking the participants with the medal reveal! After all, it wasn’t a real photo, just a drawing of how horrific a giant medal of a grimacing BB King would look if anyone would be crazy enough to actually create such a monstrosity. So a part of me expected to cross the finish line and be draped with a simple guitar medal, all beautiful and sparkly and unadorned by any grisly image, and then the volunteer would laugh and I would laugh and we would laugh and laugh, together, at the absurdity of a BB King medal.
But no. The medal was no joke.
However, due to the good nature of a woman I met on the flight into Jackson, I have made my peace with it. She commented that it was her first marathon medal of a “deceased blues musician” and that she thought it was funny. And indeed, it is funny, and now it makes me laugh every time I see it (instead of have nightmares).
Lest you think my newfound tolerance of the medal meant I was excited to run this race, I was actually still hoping for a delay or cancellation on race morning. As I was
eating Pop Tarts getting ready in my hotel room, the local news was explaining the contingency plans if there was lightning – if the race was delayed an hour, everyone would run the half. If it was delayed 2 hours, the race would be cancelled and no refunds would be given. Even with the wasted time and expense that would have meant for me, I was still kinda hoping it would at least be delayed. (Maybe planning 4 marathons in 4 months was a bit much? Maybe not training at all left me dreading running more than a couple miles? Maybe the thought of heading out to run 26 miles in the rain made me question my life choices?) When it finally looked like there would be no delay, I made my way down to the start 15 minutes before the race (which was plenty of time to walk there and stretch my legs a bit).
But before we get to the run, here’s the song than ran through my head the entire race:
Pardon me – not the entire song. At about 1:42 in the video you’ll hear the part that actually ran through my head. Unfortunately it was just those short lyrics “Jack-son, Mississippi!” that endlessly repeated in my noggin, which made it a terribly annoying earworm, but at least it was geographically appropriate.
It was lightly raining but warm (in the mid 50s at least) at the start, which was perfectly pleasant for a run. Unfortunately that perfect weather did not last, as it started raining incredibly hard about 2 hours into the race. It was by far the hardest rain I’ve ever run in for any length of time. At first it was almost kind of fun and created a festive atmosphere as we ran through tony neighborhoods with houses that looked more like museums or boarding schools than private homes.
But once my feet got soaked through (I could feel water squirting up between my toes with every step), it was no longer so fun. My “strategy” for this race, as terrible as it was, was to run as fast/easy as I wanted for the first 21 miles, then allow myself to walk after that. So for the first half I ran 12 to 12:30 minute miles, then dropped down to 13-14 minute miles for the next 7 miles, and finally gave up running altogether at mile 20. I was so exhausted I couldn’t even keep up a brisk walk – I slowed down to a shuffle, walking in that stiff-legged way that runners walk after they cross the finish line, not before. It was one of the more physically difficult marathons I’ve done, even with all the walking, and even with my plan and expectation of walking. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the rolling hills, maybe it was the lack of training, but I was sapped. But it was still ok! I felt like I was learning something, and after slowing down my walking pace I eventually felt better and was able to run in the last .2 miles with a big smile on my face, ready to receive my medal.
The best part of the race was the post-race food – unlimited Little Caesar’s pizza, beer, and soda – simple but perfect. And there was plenty of it left even for finishers after 6 hours! It started raining heavily again, and after chatting with some very nice runners and eating my weight in pizza I hobbled back to the hotel and took a long, hot shower. I felt a little guilty about not doing anything the rest of the afternoon and evening. I even skipped the included “Blues Crawl” event (your race packet included a wristband that got you access to a special trolley service that took you to various pubs with live blues music from 8 pm till midnight), but I was so wiped out and had to head to the airport at 4 am the next morning, so I stayed in bed and watched TV. I did catch the end of the greatest documentary ever, so I feel overall it was a win.
This was the quickest in and out marathon I’ve done yet. I flew in on Friday morning, ran on Saturday, and flew back early Sunday morning. I was back home less than 24 hours after running the actual race! That’s not fast for many marathoners who head back the same day, but it is for me. I even managed to pack only a single regular backpack and small purse, but the rain reminded me why it’s always a good idea to pack your running shoes rather than fly in them (mine were soaked for two days after the race).
Thinking of the Mississippi Blues Marathon?
It’s Mississippi’s largest marathon (in 2015 there were 855 full finishers, 1871 half, 307 quarter and 28 relay teams), and is celebrating its 10th year in 2017.
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 6 hours. Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 8/10 – Surprisingly, it’s very easy to do the race weekend without a car. The expo, two hotels (the Hilton Garden Inn and the Jackson Marriott, where I stayed), and the start/finish are all within about 3 blocks of each other. For airport transportation, I’d recommend using Uber instead of the taxis, as the taxis are more expensive and have been known to scam people. There were plenty of Uber cars available even at 4 am when I had to go back to the airport. Rental cars and gas were cheap, but with taxes and parking it would have been almost $100, whereas Uber was about $30 each way (and I didn’t have to drive, navigate, get gas, etc.). However, if you want to visit the outlet mall and the Bass Pro Shop (both in Pearl, MS, about 4 miles outside of downtown Jackson), you might want to rent a car.
- Staying There – 7.5/10 – The Jackson Marriott was totally fine – spacious, relatively clean, comfortable, relatively quiet. They set out bananas and coffee early in the morning before the race. Total with taxes and fees for two nights was $318. It gets a bonus point for being directly across the street from a Chick-fil-A.
- Cost & Registration – 8/10 – I paid $76 for the race (with processing fees), which gets you a long-sleeved quarter zip technical top, a harmonica, a blues CD, and unlimited pizza and beer at the finish. It also gets you trolley service for a Blues Crawl that night.
- Organization – 7/10 – The pre-race email was illegible and some water stops were dry, but otherwise the course was well-run, the expo was easy, and everything went pretty smoothly. I appreciated that there was at least one porta-potty near every single water stop so you knew where they were going to be. I did hear from another runner that the medical tents didn’t have any Tylenol, so if you might need that you should carry it yourself.
- Course – 6/10 – The half splits off around mile 6 and then you run through some really fancy neighborhoods and past a fair amount of greenery. But it’s also a little bit hilly (rolling hills, not too steep and not terribly long), there was a lot of rough road (potholes, cambered roads, etc.), and the last few miles are along a highway and not at all scenic.
- Crowd – 3/10 – Very sparse crowd, but it was also raining like crazy for much of the race. The volunteers, however, were very cheerful and friendly. I’ve never been thanked so much for running a race.
- Other Factors – 6/10 – I might have rented a car and stayed a bit longer to visit the outlets and the Bass Pro Shop if I had known about it beforehand (and if I hadn’t done basically that same thing in Wisconsin last year). And I’m sure the Blues Crawl was fun.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – It was fine! I really liked the pizza and beer at the finish and am still thinking about it days later.
21 down, 29 to go! My next marathon is Little Rock in Arkansas, a whopping 7 weeks away!
Have you ever been to Mississippi? Have you been watching the new season of the terribly boring Bachelor? What are you going to do with all your Powerball winnings? Share in the comments!