Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1/5/08 Mississippi Blues Marathon

"I am going to take a break from being a Maniac for an indefinite period."
It would seem that this period was three weeks :-). Here I was at the beginning of January in Jackson, Mississippi to run a marathon. One thing that I did not write in my December finale post was a note about my health: I wasn't feeling so hot during December. As I began to feel better, I decided to refocus my energies. There is absolutely no way that I am going to run 50+ marathons again this year, but I think I can work on being a better person while also running some marathons. I spent a couple weeks coming up with good goals for 2008, which I will save for a later post. Two things are relevant to this writeup, though: 1) I decided that as long as I felt up to it, I'd go ahead and do races I'd already planned and paid for, and 2) I really want to finish the states this year.

At the end of 2007, I had completed 46 states... so close. Originally, I was going to complete the state circuit in early 2007 at Mississippi. Not because Mississippi holds special meaning for me... that's just how the calendar was working out. However, my entire fall schedule in 2006 got wiped out and I missed some states. When I decided to go for as many races as possible in 2007, I had to set aside the states again... all the remaining states had their races on weekends when there were too many other easier choices for doubles and triples. I picked up a couple states during 2007 (New York and Pennsylvania), which left me sitting on 46.

It turns out that the last states are hard to complete because they tend to be the ones that don't have many races. Mississippi has three marathons and at least one ultra, and I have had a weird history with the state. One of the marathons is on Thanksgiving weekend near Waveland. This is on the coast. I was registered for the 2005 edition, but Katrina wiped out Waveland. They held the race anyway, but I didn't go. Another marathon, Tupelo, is held on Labor Day weekend. I was signed up in 2006, but it got smacked by cancer buddy duties. The third marathon has been held in January along the Natchez Trace outside of Jackson. I was registered for this in 2006, but I got sick doing the Goofy on the weekend before, so I skipped that one too.

This year, the organizers of that January Natchez Trace race canceled it in favor of organizing a much bigger urban race in Jackson. They called it "The Mississippi Blues Marathon", and promoted it heavily. Running inaugural races is always risky, but I really wanted to check off Mississippi... and the other two race weekends (Labor Day and Thanksgiving) aren't good for me. So I signed up.

Jackson is the capital of the state, and while it isn't a huge place, it could be considered a city. It is not near the coast so it can be cold in January. And it is hilly. The race website... which annoyingly plays loud music when you open it, so be warned... mentioned that the course would have challenging hills. Oh yes. It's always funny when a race downplays its hills by calling it "moderately challenging" so as not to scare off potential registrants. This race just said it up front: gonna be hard.

I don't know much about Jackson, but the course seemed to work in most of the city's sights. Starting and ending in the "historical Fondren district", the course was essentially a shamrock design: three different loops... although the third loop had a seriously boring but flat out-and-back in the middle.

The start through M4 made a loop through the Fondren area. M4-M11 made a loop through downtown, by the state capitol building, and back near the start/finish. They had a concurrent half marathon, and M11 was where the half marathoners peeled off towards finish. Marathoners went another direction. After zigzagging through a neighborhood, the course dumped out on a highway for the M13-M18.5 out and back. The remaining miles circled through some nice neighborhoods before ultimately repeating the last couple of miles from the first loop and finishing back in Fondren.

Hilly! The roly polies began right at the start and kept going until the 5.5 miles of out and back. This section was considered "flat". It was not pancake flat, but in comparison to everything else, it was close. M18.5 until the end was roly poly once again... including a serious up from M25 until the end. I've run a few courses with uphill finishes (Seafair, for example), and this was challenging. Just as they advertised.

For everyone who finished under 4 hours, the weather was perfect for racing... 45-50 degrees and partly cloudy, then overcast in the final hour. The breeze blew a bit, but because the course was a series of loops, it was never a headwind for all that long. Around the 4 hour mark, the wind got a bit stronger and it drizzled some. All in all, though, the weather was great.

So, PR day for me, right? In fact, my last marathon was the Christmas Marathon three weeks prior. This meant I had done my first official full-length taper in over a year. PR day! Right?

Oh, heck no. And this was ok... I did not attempt to run this race as a PR. In fact, because I wasn't at my best during December, let's just say that I wasn't feeling fresh as my alarm went off on race morning. My goals for the day in descending order of importance were: 1) finish upright, 2) have fun, 3) mix in some faster running, 4) "about 3:45" if I felt up to it and "beat 4" if not.

I honestly wasn't sure if I'd beat 4, and I wasn't sure how exactly to go about checking off "have fun". Running is supposed to be both hard and fun for me. I wasn't feeling terribly sociable, so I knew that this race wasn't going to be about meeting lots of people. Have fun. Hmmm. Maybe I'd sing songs.

Five minutes before the start, I was standing in the big corral with everyone. I had found my spot about where I thought the midpack should be... but as people started filling in, no one wanted to step in front of me. Everyone was lining up waaaay back from the starting line. So there I was in my first race after ditching a few, and I was standing at the front with some very fast looking men and women. The crowd behind us started pushing towards the line. I went. The governor of Mississippi talked. Last time I saw that guy was on TV after Katrina. Now he was about 10 feet away from me. Prayer. Star Spangled Banner. Oh crap, I was up front. Gun.

And we were off. I re-prayed the "please don't trample me prayer". This is, of course, St Encierro's area (who? just google "encierro" and you'll get it). Aside from the potential of getting tripped and cursed at, what happens to midpackers who start up front? Right. They go out too fast.

Because of my December, I wasn't exactly sure what "too fast" was, but my first miles were 7:47, 8:08, 7:58, 8:14, 8:04. So my body was apparently trying to run a 3:30 marathon through the hills. I thought about this for a bit. I had actually kept some reasonable speedwork in my routine during the "taper". And running a 3:30 marathon has been a goal on the near horizon. However, I had been sick and not terribly focused. Also, factoring in the week of the Christmas Marathon, my miles had been way down. That's what should happen during taper, of course, but I'd been doing low miles for at least one week longer than a typical taper.

M6 was 8:14, up a serious bugger of a hill. M7 was 9:51. Potty stop, of the "there are no portapotties, so let's swing through the bus station" variety. And going into the men's room at the greyhound station while wearing pink? Risky. Sure enough, I took some lighthearted grief from a guy in there. But I did what needed to be done.

Afterwards, there were no more 8ish miles. My body settled into the 8:45 range. If I could hold this, "about 3:45" would be reasonable. However, with no runs over 16 miles in the past 3 weeks, I still didn't know what would happen.

I chugged into the out-and-back at M13... and hit the half split at 1:51. Because I had slowed down and had no plans of speeding up, I knew that I wouldn't be running (nor attempting to run) a negative split. I also knew that it wouldn't be even - so no 3:42. But 3:45 was still conceivable.

Around M14.5 as I was still headed out, on the other side of the highway coming back was Mr 50-in-50-in-50, Sam Thompson. He was 2.5 miles in front of me. He hollered encouragement at me. How cool. And helpful... because this out-and-back was supremely boring. Luckily, it was not that long. The flat helped me keep my pace, but I didn't make up any time. I made the big turn at M18.5 still holding on to the 8:45ish pace. Barely.

Through some neighborhoods... and this is a good place to mention the spectators. There were tons! Jackson is not a huge city, and once the half marathoners finished, there were only about 400 of us spread over the last miles of the full course. It was early on a Saturday morning. And the city showed up. How cool. I saw more spectators in Jackson cheering on 400 people than I usually see at Seattle or Honolulu cheering thousands.

M22 was where my leg muscles finally told my brain "ok, dude, I thought we were taking some time off." I've hit the dreaded wall before... the glycogen depletion wall. This wasn't that. My legs just felt like someone came up and hit them with a hammer. I've been through this before too - this is what it feels like when I haven't been putting in lots of miles. My pace immediately went from 8:45 to 9:25. I was able to hold it steady for the rest of the race, including up the BIG GIANT HILL in the last mile. However, it was enough for 3:45 to slowly slip away.

There was no mile marker for M26, but I turned a corner and the finish line was right there.

...and from Seattle, Robert Lopez.

Cool, I got announced. As I was plodding to the finish, I saw the clock switch from 3:47 to 3:48. And that's how I finished. 3:48.

I survived. I was upright. And while 3:48 is a little beyond "about 3:45" (my cut-off is 3:47), it was okay. I honestly had no idea going into this race what I might run. And I certainly went out too fast... I finished with a glorious 1:51/1:57 split.

Did I have fun? Frankly, not enough. I was happy to finish a race I said I would do. Skipping races sucks.

Next up: it's time for my third and final Goofy. I'm still not sure that I will run both races at Goofy, so check back and see went down. Hopefully it won't be me :-).

In the meantime, I'll also write up a summary for 2007 and my goals for 2008.

Have fun. Be a better person. Stuff like that.

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