Folks. This is Mississippi. Last year, it was 70°F and humid the day of the marathon. The year before, in the 50s.
That’s considered “normal” Mississippi weather. Temps in the teens and snow flurries? Not so much.
All of us were frantically checking the weather in the week leading up to the race, hoping that it would warm up, even if just a little bit. The local running and sports stores were doing a bang-up business in fleece, gloves, hats, wool socks, tights, and anything any self-respecting Deep South runner with thin blood thought he or she might need to stay warm.
I must have planned my wardrobe a hundred different ways (okay…slight exaggeration, but really…). It had been 3 years since I had actually had to wear much of my Virginia winter-weather running gear. Eventually, I settled on tights; SmartWool socks; a long-sleeved, tight-knit tech shirt (kind of like long johns); a fleece vest; a running cap with a fleece ear muff; and two pairs of knit running gloves (because I cannot find my good, fleece running gloves anywhere).
Friday was packet pickup/expo day. The expo was smaller than I expected, but a great place to catch up with friends as they were coming in for their numbers and chips. MS Blues had the distinction of being featured in Runner’s World as one of the races having the “best schwag” for runners. Not sure I agree, but the packet consisted of a backpack (I now have more of these than I know what to do with), a t-shirt (of course), an engraved blues harmonica (a real harmonica, and it’s kind of cool, but not sure what to do with it), a blues CD, and entry to a “Blues Crawl” post race (way too cold to even think about doing that).
I was supposed to do my last easy run on Friday, but we got stuck at the expo when my car battery died. Crap. Apparently, my Virginia-born Element has decided it no longer approves of being left out in a parking lot on cold, winter days. Anyway, after a jump from a friend, a detour to the Honda dealership (btw, picked out my new car…have you seen the new Honda Crosstour ? OMG. I had been thinking I wanted a Camaro, but that would put us with 2 car payments because we would have to keep the Element; the Crosstour could replace the Element…in our dreams), Hubby and I met up with my friend, BillUnit and WifeUnit for dinner at a local Italian restaurant.
This would be his first marathon (my 16th), so I had been helping him tweak his training and offering some hints and suggestions along the way. And somewhere along the way of my own training, things just didn’t go as planned and hoped (two-week cold, bad long runs), so I decided that running with BillUnit would be a much more rewarding experience than slogging through a marathon to a time that would be nowhere near a PR. Plus, I had done this before .
We met the next morning at the Marriott with the Fleet Feet marathon training team, availed ourselves of the indoor plumbing, donned the ever stylish garbage bag warmup gear, and then walked the 4 blocks to the start.
Holy hell, it was cold!
When we got to the start, about 15 minutes before the gun, it seemed as if no one had shown up. On closer inspection, though, it appeared about 1,000 people were crammed into the 2 tents waiting until the last minute to step out in the freezing air.
The National Anthem was this fabulous blues rendition on the guitar and was followed by a clip from the First Wave marathoners in Iraq (they ran their own “Blues Marathon” a few days prior), counting down to the start. Pretty cool.
Right before the gun went off, we discarded our bags, and we were off.
At first, it was sunny, so it really didn’t feel all that bad once we got going. The JSU drum line was out, and if I could have figured out how to use the video feature on my iPod, I would have gotten a clip. I think the cold not only numbed my fingers, it numbed my brain (more than normal that is).
There was supposed to be music (mostly blues bands) all along the course (7 or 8, I think), but they were few and far between. God love the brave souls who did set up and play guitar in that weather.
Apparently, not everybody thought it was that cold.
And other people resorted to extreme measures to keep their heads warm.
Unfortunately, about 90 minutes into the race, the clouds came skittering in and snow flurries started to float from the sky. Now, it was a bit more difficult to stay warm. The water was occasionally frozen on the top and the volunteers were offering Gatorade slushes.
Most definitely, one of the hallmarks of this race is the volunteers. They are cheerful, friendly, and enthusiastic. Every single one of them thanked us for being there. Thanked us! While they were no doubt far colder than we were.
BillUnit was shooting for a 5-hour marathon, which was totally doable based on his training and previous half marathon efforts.
But, the cold.
We all wish for the cold to run in. We know that the effort of running will generate the heat needed to keep us warm, and we know that we run faster in cooler weather than we do in warmer weather. At some point, though, there are diminishing returns. Once our bodies have to work to stay warm because the running isn’t enough, then there is less energy for our running.
I think that’s where we were. We reached the halfway point right on schedule: 2:30. Had the weather been more reasonable, I think we could have negative split that baby and run under 5 hours.
As it was, BillUnit began to struggle a bit. The cold made muscles tighten. The effort seemed harder. More walking ensued.
That was okay. My job was to get him to the finish line. So, I started up an endless, inane conversation about anything and everything. Then, it was, “C’mon. Just run to the next traffic light [or mile marker].”
Let me just pause a moment and offer an aside.
I know that some runners that think they’re elite, bemoan the fact that so many slow people have “dumbed” down the marathon effort. To an extent, that is partly true when you are talking about the people who jump into a marathon with little or no training just so they can say they did it. But, on the other hand, much credit is due to the people who have only recently ventured into the world of running and fitness and set a goal to do a marathon. They train as much as everyone else. It’s probably harder for them, too, because they don’t have a lifetime of experience to draw from. Being at the back of the pack always reminds me of the people who persevere, keep on keeping on, because reaching that finish line is an enormous milestone in their lives.
I am proud to know them.
And I am delighted when I can share my love of marathoning with someone.
And I am proud of BillUnit for not giving up and running 1 mile 26 times in difficult conditions. When he saw that last mile marker off in the distance, I think his legs all of a sudden felt 100% better, and we ran at least the final half mile to the finish.
Everyone should have that big of a smile after a marathon!