Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mississippi Blues Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 1st Edition 
26.2 miles raced in 2011
Race: Mississippi Blues Marathon
Place: Jackson, MS
Miles from home: 1746 miles
Weather: 30-40s; Chilly and bright sunshine

For the third year in a row, I started my running and racing in Jackson, Mississippi.  And for the first time, the temperature and weather behaved exactly how it should for the deep south in January- darn near perfect.

When I look back over this race it always surprises me of the numbers.  There were just about 700 marathoners in the race.  However, it feels so much bigger.  It feels like you are part of something more important and more special.  With every "Thank you for running in Jackson!" you receive from the volunteers on the course you get this sense you are wanted and appreciated.  From the warm hospitality to the fantastic finisher's medal to the succulent beef wraps at the end of the race (oh so yummy and I am taking credit for that one!) this is a race that should be on your calendar next year.  Period.

Prior to the race I had the distinct pleasure to be the special guest of the Mississippi Beef Council.  Signing books out of their booth I was able to tell those who always wondered how I fueled myself, well, how I fueled myself.  With beef being a major part of my diet, and one that I find incredibly healthful, it was awesome to experience so much feedback from other runners who incorporated beef in their diets as well. And for those who did not, while they are missing out, it was also excellent to hear their viewpoints and exchange information.  It is always fantastic to have intelligent conversations with people who have differing viewpoints but respect each other enough to allow the other to have those different opinions.

The expo itself was a treat as i got to see so many old friends.  This was my 6th trip to Jackson in the past two years.  I couldn't definitely see someone living here for quite some time.  Not me.  Why?  Because I would melt into a puddle during the humidity of the summer.  But if they ever dome this place, I am there!

First Half Marathon

On race morning I was a little at a loss.  My original plan for this race was to run right at 3:10 to help my friend Jacqueline get a new personal best and also "qualify for Boston like a man!"  In case you missed the wonderful story about Jacqueline winning her first marathon in her first ever attempt on her birthday, click HERE.  However, Jacqueline had suffered some setbacks in her training and wisely pulled out of the race. (Hear that kids? Sometimes the best run you do is the one you don't.) As such, I was not sure what I could do or even wanted to do.  I was feeling quite beat up from the previous week's 6 hour race on New Year's Eve and figured a 3:10 would be right about at the cusp of what energy I had. 

Some runners at the expo had told me they were going to shoot for 3:10.  I mentioned that if they found me before the race and stuck with me, I would be happy to pace them through.  When none of them materialized, I figured I would just see what the day had in store for me.

Starting out, I felt surprisingly good.  The course was different for the third straight year as the race directors tinkered with it to get the right amount of just about everything.  However, there is simply no way around it - the course is going to feature a decent number of rolling hills no matter where they go with it.  To me, that is 100% fine.  Not every race can be completely flat and not every course should even want to be completely flat.  I find undulating hills to be slightly beneficial to a long distance runner, especially if they are not too steep in grade or too high in elevation change.

As the first few miles got under my legs, I was soon running with a few fellow runner friends.  First was Leonard Vergunst a man whose talent belies his age.  In his 50s, Leonard is still a force to be reckoned with and will still win many marathons outright.  Battling a chest cold, he had wisely dropped to the half-marathon distance even though the decision was eating him up.  I think later on he was very happy with his choice in spite of how hard it was to make it. He would end up running 1:30 for 15th overall, which is just really stellar!

As the race moved on, I soon found myself surrounded by some new friends and an old one, John Anders.  John and I first met at the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2006.  This marked the 5th time we would run together and John held a solid 3-1 edge over me. We have crossed paths on numerous other non-racing occasions and it is always a pleasure to see him.  John would be doing the MS Blues Marathon here and then the First Light Marathon the next day in Mobile, AL, echoing the effort I had done myself the previous year.  He ran fantastic near 3-hour marathons on both days, showing what can really be done when you ignore the impossible.  (I was fortunate enough to edge him here in this race, however, narrowing the gap to 3-2. What's next for us, John?)

The miles rolled by and we ourselves went over hill and dale through neighborhoods and Jackson State University and a plethora of other places. What I found surprising was how I continued to run at a sub-3 hour pace, inching close to a 2:57.  For those who don't know, I have run every time from 2:58 to 3:30 and when I am not doing things like pacing others or shooting for a new personal best, I entertain myself by trying to knock off another specific minute here or there.  I never imagined I would run a 2:57 on this day but here I was on pace for it. When I separated from my group of running friends and began to run mostly solo I decided to hang on as long as I could.  Feeling this good I expected a little slow down at the end and therefore kept in mind that I wouldn't be too unhappy with just a plain old sub-3 hour marathon effort.  As I passed through the half way point in 1:29:00 I knew both were still on the table.

Second Half:

The vast majority of the second half I ran virtually alone. I began passing some half marathoners later around mile 20 or so but until that point I stayed in just about the same relative position for miles and miles.  I was surprised there were still so many marathoners ahead of me though, as the previous year I had placed 16th overall with a sub-3 hour time.  I knew there were double that many runners in front of me this year which bodes well for the growth of the race.  Nevertheless, I was holding steady mile after mile with just a slip here and there in time.  Whenever a long stretch of road revealed runners ahead, I could see that I had gained on a few. This definitely added some fuel to the fire of an engine that was still revving high.

In spite of the chill temperature, I was still sweating quite profusely, as is my modus operandi.  So I made sure to continue to stay hydrated.  This was quite easy given the wealth of aid stations on the course (about every 1.5 miles until mile 20 and then every mile after that.)  With my thirst quenched I realized I was also craving some salt so I took a few slices of the beef jerky I had pilfered from the MS Beef booth the day before and popped them in my mouth.  Oh so good.

Around mile 20, I finally felt the effort catching up to me.  The hills were wearing me down a little bit and I was really looking forward to the last flat few miles. At mile 21, the Fleet Feet store was on hand to cheer runners on. Knowing so many of the people who work at this store, I was able to get a big boost from them as I ran by.

I meant to take out my flipcam I was carrying with me to document my 125th lifetime marathon more but some problems with it in the beginning had me thinking that perhaps it wasn't even working.  As such, I only got a few minutes of my rambling on tape, but it still was pretty fun to do this.

What this video doesn't capture is the wonderful volunteers out on the course, the helpful police officers at every turn and the beautiful neighborhoods and historic places that runners passed by throughout the day. Nevertheless, you do get a quick 2 minute tour of me holding a camera and trying to be lucid while running a 6:50 mile pace!

As the final few miles began to come up on me, I could feel a little twinge here and there in my hamstrings.  I had somehow regained some strength and found fuel in the tanks but could tell pushing it any faster was going to cause cramping.  Cramping would then me walking and walking would mean no sub-3 hour race.  So I had to eschew the 2:57 and just run fast enough to knock out the sub-3 hour time.  I wish to run at least one sub-3 hour time from now until, well, probably I die, and with 5 years under my belt of doing so, I wanted to start the 6th consecutive year off right by repeating that feat.

With about a mile to go I could finally tell that I would get that sub-3.  I began to enjoy the beautiful run up the last little incline with the Capitol building in the background in front of me.  The streets were lined with cheering fans and both the half-marathoners and full got their own separate finishing chute- a nice touch indeed.  When I finally crossed the finishline, with my 16th sub-3 hour time (2:59:43), I could not have been more pleased.  Receiving the wonderful finisher's medal commemorating Elvis' birthday was the icing on the cake.  Finishing 33rd overall, I was impressed that virtually the same finish time had netted me 16th place last year.  The runners were out to run today!  Speaks volumes for our sport and also for the level of competition at this race.

Even better for me was that my wonderful friend Shannon was back into running again after taking a leave of absence due to an iron deficiency.  With nearly no training the last few months and on this challenging course, she just barely missed getting a Boston Qualifying time (one she has already and will be competing in April at Boston.)  She will be joining me next weekend at the Phoenix Rock N Roll race to go for her first ever back to back marathons and see how much further she is on the comeback train.  Way to go, Shannon!

As I mentioned at the beginning, the class and style with which the race organizers handle this race far outshines the number of runners here.  The secret is out however.  With great attention to detail and a caring nature obvious from the entire city, this race will continue to blossom.  I look forward to being back again next year for my fourth consecutive MS Blues Marathon weekend. And I hope to bring the MS Beef council and their delicious beef jerky with me again!


Daren Williams said...

Nice recap, Dane. Congratulations on the sub-3 and 33rd overall finish!

BTW, I assume you informed Shannon that BEEF is the number one source of iron in the diet and the heme iron, the iron found in BEEF, is more readily absorbed than iron from plant sources or supplements.

Dane said...

Since Shannon was one of the members of Team Beef in Mississippi that was one thing I definitely did NOT need to inform her!

Anonymous said...

Hey Dane. This is Rutledge. I was one of the guys you agreed to pace to a 3:10 finish. Sorry I never "materialized." I was there, but I spent most of my pre-race time trying to make sure certain things were in order (I'll spare you). So, we missed each other, but it wasn't deliberate on my part. I ended up running a 3:15, which is a bit disappointing. But it was fun, and I'll get another shot at BQ'ing in New Orleans next month. Maybe I'll bump into you there. Happy running.

Dane said...

Hey Rutledge! Saw your 3:15 and was quite impressed. Way to go. And as for making sure things were in order, I read you loud and clear.

Good luck at New Orleans!

Unknown said...

Its always great to see you Dane your a great inspiration to everyone. Good luck in your up coming racing

Unknown said...

Couldn't be happier for you, Dane! Another fabulous sub-3 hr and this on your 125th, so sweet. Never mind amazing! Wishing you more sunshine and success this weekend in Phoenix. Looking forward to running into you (make that behind you!) somewhere soon. :)