Monday, October 15, 2018

Race Report: Mississippi Blues Marathon

I left work early on Friday, and caught a 3:40 pm flight out of JFK to head down to Atlanta, where I would connect for my flight to Jackson, Mississippi.  I arrived in Jackson a little after 8pm, and my friend Hollie picked me up from Jackson's Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, taking me into downtown Jackson to a blues club to meet up with our friends Sherry and Zach, who we'd be staying with for one night at the Westin.  They had already picked up my bib for the race, and I was basically flying in to run the race and flying out the next day in the afternoon.

I had run the half marathon here in 2015, an exceptionally cold edition of the race, where the temps were dipping close to 20 degrees race morning.  This time last year, I was attempting to head down again, this time to to run the full marathon, but encountered a freak ice storm that would eventually cancel the 2017 edition of the race. This race was added to my calendar last minute, because I unfortunately learned that the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon (which I ran the month prior, December 2017) was measured short by 295 meters due to human error in setting up the race course the morning of the race. In order for the 50 States Marathon Club to count my completion of this state, I needed to run the full 26.2 mile distance, and this was the first opportunity for me to do so that fit into my calendar.  Finally, I could check off Mississippi from my list of states for marathons... on my THIRD attempt.

Start line wetness
The weather forecast was not going to be freezing like in 2015, or threatened by an ice storm like in 2017, however rain had been set for race morning for the past week, and precipitation was prety much inevitable, though exactly how much it would pour was still yet to be seen.  With the race starting at 7am, and our hotel steps away from the startline, we begrudgingly woke up a little after 6am, rolling out of bed, and headed out into the rain, to where runners were all congregating on Pascagoula Street between Lamar and West Street.

Running through Jackson State campus
Decked out in my "Hidden Meanings" INKnBURN tee, with Hollie matching in the women's version of the shirt, we set out in the rain at 7am, temps in the mid-50s, but the precipitation falling steadily.  After the national anthem was performed, traditionally at this race by a blues guitarist, we headed west and into the direction of Jackson State University.  Hollie and I stayed together for the first couple miles, as we eased along the ups and downs of Pascagoula Street, dodging walkers and the periodic pothole we encountered along the way.  The runners en masse veered left and along University Boulevard and onto John R. Lynch Street, which passed right through the middle of campus, passing underneath the school's welcoming archways.

Tywana and I!
We turned right past a roundabout along Dr. Robert Smith, Sr. Parkway, named after an influential civil rights activist and medical pioneer of the 1960s, who to this day serves as a community leader in both the city and at Jackson State University. The parkway connects JSU to downtown Jackson, and along the way, not only did I run into my friend Ken, who was pacing 4:50 for the marathon, I ran into Tywana, who called out my name as she had recognized me from a race I did in December of 2016 in Atlanta!

Over the next few miles, we returned to downtown Jackson, passing the startline once again, before turning left and cruising north along State Street.  We passed Jackson Brace and Limb Company, an orthotics and prosthetics store along the course, which I had fondly remembered during the 2015 race - an ironic sight to see while running a marathon.  The hills kept rolling on and on as we crept further north, passing the mile 6 mark, and still instep with those running the half marathon - we passed Jackson's large medical district, where after passing the Baptist Medical Center in Belhaven to our left, we came upon the University of Mississippi's School of Medicine Campus, before taking a slight right turn onto Old Canton Road.

Residential Fondren
We curved our way around a circular road and passed mile 7 before the half marathoners split off and the marathoners were left to quietly continue on by our lonesome, as we zigzagged our way through the serene residential neighborhood of Fondren, an area considered the arts district of Jackson, though we were confined mainly to the residential roads, treelined by massive oaks that towered over all else.  Our first glimpse of the commercial area of this neighborhood came a few miles later, as we came out on State Street and Meadowbrook Road, continuing eastward as the rain began to fall a bit more heavily.  An abandoned strip mall served as a relay exchange location as we struggled forward on Jackson's brown asphalt streets.

Running by the highway
At the 11 mile mark we turned right along a frontage road for the interstate, momentarily commingling with the half marathoners as they came to an underpass section from the other direction before taking off again in different directions as we headed northward on Old Canton Road.  The rain stopped momentarily as we reached the northernmost point of this race at the 14.25 mile mark on Briarwood Road. A couple blocks later, we began our trek southward along Ridgewood Road, making our way down a nice downhill stretch as the rain, once more, began to pick up again.  We turned left onto Sheffield Road just before the mile 16 mark as we passed private school Jackson Academy, the largest independent school in Mississippi.  The next mile and a half cut through this upper-middle class residential area, an area of modest homes with spacious front yards.

Along Meadowbrook Road, we entered the Eastover neighborhood of Jackson, flanked by two stone entrance pillars and manicured garden area.  The homes here were very stately, with massive lots and even more spacious front yards than we had seen before. This was even more evident as we made our way down Eastover Drive, passing some beautiful mansions with such apparent southern charm.  Course marshals led us around the curving route that had us encircling the neighborhoods' many lakes.

At mile 20, we crossed Ridgewood Road, and came out of the residential area, running up a gradual uphill toward the highway.  After passing the Mississippi School for the Deaf, we turned left onto the frontage road of I-55.  After just under half a mile along the frontage road, we turned left to an unassuming back gate of what seemed like a farm area.  The asphalt gave way to a gravel road that was slightly muddy due to the rain.  We were running through the grounds of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, which contained a living-history farm and a recreated 1920s cotton-economy-era town. We exited the museum grounds and ran alongside the shoulder of Mississippi Highway 25 before crossing the multi-lane street past a long line of cars waiting to cross the road.  We than ran up Highland Drive, a road that skirted the edge of Lakeland Park, the Mississippi Children's Museum, and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.  The road was pretty exposed, so we got the brunt of a headwind blowing right at us as we made our way further down the course.  It was also a bit hilly, so I was reduced to walking for a good portion of this road, before it turned into a downhill as we ran through the last bit of residential neighborhood in Belhaven.  We were less than 3 miles from the finish at this point, and along the way, I ran into my friend Gaby, seeing him for the first time in the entire race.

We ran together for a little bit, even stopping for a little imbibement of beer as we passed some spectators cheering on the runners, before I decided to slow down. Eventually, before us we had a lengthy straight shot along North Street, taking us past the first time I saw the Mississippi state flag along the course.  The state flag is a bit controversial, as it is the only state flag remaining that still uses the stars and bars of the original confederate flag in its design.  All throughout the course, I saw other flags being flown by residents in front of their homes - either the American flag, or a different design which I later realized was a new proposed design for the Mississippi state flag that has recently began to gain traction.

Victory Headstand at William Goodman‘s Subconscious View-Master mural
at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson

Finishers! (Photo by Jun Ulama)
Within the last mile, we ran past the Capitol building and the road curved into State Street.  We ran through a cheer tunnel as we made our last right turn onto Court Street and past the Westin and the Museum of Art before curving along the road finally to the finish line, where I crossed in 5:45.  I found several other friends after finishing, and grabbed some much needed food in the form of pizza before heading back to the Westin to shower and get my bags together.  I ordered an uber and got myself to Jackson's airport quickly, where several other runners (including my friend Ray and his wife Janice) were congregating for the same Delta flight to Atlanta.  It was a very quick trip out to Jackson, but rewarding to FINALLY get the state checked off.

1 comment:

  1. I am happy for you that you were able to get Mississippi done, but this sounds like a very boring route. Maybe it was because of the rain, but it doesn't sound like there's much to see.