Race Report: Mississippi Blues Marathon

(Warning: I know this is long, but so is a marathon.) 

Have I mentioned on here just how much I love running? Oh, I have? Ok, have I mentioned just how much I love marathon running?! This weekend I headed down to Jackson, MS to run the Mississippi Blues Marathon and had an absolutely unbelievable time. It was 1,700+ miles of driving, 26.2 miles of running, and one hell of a trip.

Now let’s get something straight. I signed up for this marathon back in October from fear of not having a “next goal” after the Marine Corps Marathon. I was pretty cavalier about it and can honestly say I didn’t do much research besides looking at the date and how far away it was.

So what has happened between October and now? Well not much running, I’ll tell you that. I took some pretty serious chunks of time off. 10 days over Thanksgiving, followed by a guilt-trip 50 mile week, which was then met with another week off. The two weeks leading up to the marathon I ran a total of 9 miles and then a big fat zero miles the whole week before.

With my iffy training I was feeling pretty worried. I hemmed and hawed, but concluded – yes, I would at least be able to FINISH the race. It might not be pretty, but if I went down to Jackson I would definitely pass the finish line. Even though I was resigned to at least completing the race, serious doubts began to creep up about the weekend as a whole.

  • “This is so expensive!”
  • “What the hell was I thinking with this 50 states goal. I can’t afford this!”
  • “What if something happens and my car breaks down. I can’t miss work again, especially since I missed three days after the Marine Corps Marathon with Hurricane Sandy.”
  • “I don’t want to half-ass a race. I’m not where I want to be so I should just scrap the whole thing.”

In fact, these thoughts of doubt plagued me so much that by Wednesday I decided I was going to completely bail on the race. I would save the gas and hotel money, hang out with my folks, and just take the second half of my vacation easy.

But let’s not kid ourselves here – this is me we are talking about. 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, midway through the shower, I thought, “Alright Kelly – no ifs, ands, or buts – you are running this marathon!” I knew that I was using the practical “I should focus on work and save money” excuse, but it was ultimately sugar-coating my fear of failing at the marathon.

I really wanted to start the New Year off right. I had signed up for a half marathon on New Year’s Day and ended up bailing on that race. (Ok – I don’t feel too bad about that. What dreamworld was I living in that I would be fit to run 13.1 miles at 7:30 a.m. that day? Honestly, I actually did get up and would have run, but I was still a little tipsy and rolled back into bed.) I knew how disappointed I would be in myself if I bailed on the Mississippi Blues Marathon as well. Two in one week?! Nope – no excuses, time to run!

While the pro list obviously seems to outweigh the cons, each of those cons were pretty heavy. I made the reasonable decision first, but since I am who I am, I changed my mind. “Carpe Diem and just keep Carping” as they like to say in the Wienermobile world! I thought about it a lot, so I knew if I ended up making the wrong decision, at least it was an informed decision. (And hey, my mom approved so that counts for something right. Now if I could only get her on board my decision to eat Fruit Loops for breakfast…. haha!)

So three hours behind schedule, at 11:00 a.m., I packed up the car and hit the road. I’ll be honest, this was my first Non-Wienermobile roadtrip since starting the job. I loved flying under the radar, but paying for gas sure was a disappointing surprise! I picked up Katie at her new house (shout out to her for her first job out of college and new digs!) and we were Nashville bound.

Of course, we had to get a little spirited along the way…

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Our evening in Nashville was filled with all the things you shouldn’t do two days before a marathon – booze, eat a bunch of fried foods, booze, and more booze. Things we didn’t do: sleep much. I think I got to bed around 3:30 a.m. and was up by 7:30 a.m. the following day. Whoops! Isn’t two nights out the day you’re supposed to log the most hours? (Don’t worry – this comes back to bite me!) On the plus side, we danced so much I think that made up for the lack of training I had been doing.

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It was a REALLY fun night in Nashville. We started out with some BBQ at Rippey’s and then went to the Honky Tonk and The Stage. I had visited Nasvhille almost one year prior exactly, and it was just as much heel-kickin’ hell-raisin’ as I remembered. And I managed to escape without the $75 parking ticket that I incurred last year.

With Eliot, my soon to be new partner in crime!

With Eliot, my soon to be new partner in crime!

Hungover, exhausted, but excited Katie and I set out for Jackson, Mississippi. On the ride I checked out The T-Rex Runner’s blog and she had posted her interview with the race director for the course. He mentioned the rolling hills we could expect on race day – sure wish I had thought more about those the last few weeks! That blog was perfect because it told me everything I needed to know but was too lazy to look up myself!

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We made it to Mississippi!

When we got in we headed straight to the expo, where there was live blues music playing to get you in the spirit.

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Although it was relatively small, it was easy to navigate to get you in and out. The swag was top-notch, a backpack, a shirt, and harmonicas plus a blues CD! How cool is that? It was when I opened the harmonica that I knew I made the right choice.

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After the expo it was obviously time for carbs and lots of them. Katie and I headed to Bravo, a local restaurant with a discount for runners (thanks!) and met up with Kathy, Tim, and their friend Bob. All 50-staters, pursuing the goal to do a marathon in all 50 states, it was a blast hearing about all the ones they have done. Since this was number three for me I kind of felt like that should have moved me out of the ‘novice runner’ category, but when you talk to people who have done 20-80 marathons you begin to question that.

Myself, Tim, Kathy, Bob & Katie

Myself, Tim, Kathy, Bob & Katie

It turns out that Bob, a police officer from Lenexa, Kansas, did all the same races as me last year. I told him he would have to send me his race schedule so I could keep picking ones he was at! He seems to have good taste in races! I also promised his kids a ride in the Wienermobile when I make it to Kansas City soon. Now speaking of kids, just when you think the adults at these events are impressive, you hear about their children. Bob has a 10 year old son who has not only done several sub 2:00 half marathons (AT TEN YEARS OLD!) but has also completed two marathons! I’m beginning to wonder if his son has a little Kenyan blood in him!

After dinner Katie and I headed to the hotel, anxiously awaiting to meet our roommates for the evening. Kathy knew Alicia, a fellow Marathon Maniac who was looking for a roommate, and put us in touch. Alicia is from Memphis, has done 80+ marathons, and is currently striving for a sub 3:00 – yeah, she is a running rockstar. At the Mississippi Blues Marathon she was pacing for the 3:20 group.

It was really fun to get to hear about the races she’s done, etc. and after rooming with her I can definitely see the perks of being a Marathon Maniac! You meet so many cool people.

The three of us after the race on Saturday. Two Maniacs + 1 Wanabee

The three of us after the race on Saturday. Two Maniacs + 1 Wanabee

Our other roommate, Peter, flew in and got to the hotel around 12:30 that night. Yep – the middle of the night. He was going to run in the morning and catch the first flight out of Jackson at 2:00 p.m. the next day. Talk about in and out for the marathon. This is his first of six straight weekends of marathons. As you can tell, he’s a Maniac and also a 50-stater. I don’t know that I could ever be a marathoner to that extent. I just love my sleep too much and since I can barely walk after a race I can’t envision myself running off to the airport terminal. He says you get used to it though.

That night, after a restless sleep I finally decided to wake up for good at 4:00 a.m. – three hours before race time. I even tried counting Wienermobiles to fall back asleep, but with my nerves, nothing was working! I would have to run on five hours of sleep.

At breakfast I got to check off one more goal for the weekend, meeting the T-Rex Runner Danielle. When I first started my own 50 states journey her blog was one of the first I stumbled upon. She is hilarious so I’ve been keeping up with her ever since. (I also like her because she dressed up in a T-Rex mascot for a race once and since I’ve done my share of mascoting I have a soft spot for dorks like us.)

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The race start was as well organized as the expo. Even for a smaller race the enthusiasm level was sky high and there was palpable excitement in the air. I decided at the start line to just go ahead and start with the 4:15:00 pace group. Realistically I envisioned myself coming in somewhere between my first and second marathon times, but was hoping I would be able to hack it with the 4:15:00 group for as long as possible.

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It turns out, the 4:15:00 pace group was comprised of some of the coolest and most supportive runners on the course. Our group was AWESOME. There were a couple unique things that I didn’t expect with our pace group. First, we stuck together pretty darn well. The group started out with 15-20 runners, and about 8 of us finished within a minute or so of each other. That was wonderful – we had a core group and pushed each other all 26.2 miles. Second, there were NO first-timers! This was something I really didn’t expect. If you couldn’t tell, this race seemed to be a mecca for 50-staters. There was only one other runner in our group who had done less than 10 marathons besides me – the rest were all on their umpteenth marathon in their umpteenth state!

I had never run with a pacer before and didn’t really know what to expect. It was such a rewarding experience. Serge did a tremendous job. It was his first time pacing, but he was a natural. He had this calm, motivating, and encouraging attitude. To be honest, there were so many points during the race that I just pushed through it because I loved running with this group so much and wanted to finish with them. I didn’t want to let the Serge down! Occasionally I would slip back a few yards, but not get too far where I thought I might not be able to catch up. Serge would always look back and pump me up to get me back on pace. I swear, if it wasn’t for him and our group I would have finished an hour later than I actually did!

Saw Elvis along the way and it's my personal rule that if I see Elvis on a race course that I always get my picture with him. That guy sure gets around for being dead!

Saw Elvis along the way and it’s my personal rule that if I see Elvis on a race course that I always get my picture with him. That guy sure gets around for being dead!

Our group had a great energy the whole race. I’m one of those “peppy” runners, and they were all about it too! We did a cheer when we passed the 10-mile mark – “DOUBLE DIGITS!” and when we hit mile 16 – “SINGLE DIGITS!”

Again and again I felt the compassion and encouragement of the running community. These people are just great! I run like some people play the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Occasionally I’ll poll the audience (fellow runners, crowds) for support or other times I’ll phone a friend (literally, I called my mom and dad along the course at this race!) In the end, that outside support always pays off.

Along one of the MANY hills of the course!

Along one of the MANY hills of the course!

There were a few other good moments along the race course. For example, and this may be TMI so skip ahead if you’re dainty, but around mile 15 I said to the group, “Alright guys, I’ll be honest, I’m running so hard I forgot how much I have to poop!” Not more than 100 yards down the road we run into this sign – how ironic!

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(For the record, the sign helped as a reminder and I did not poop myself!)

And while we’re already on some squeamish subjects, here’s another photo for ya!

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Miles 17-23 were absolutely killer. If it wasn’t for our group I don’t know how I would have made it. My two previous marathons had consisted of a smorgasbord of food along the route from spectators. Since the Blues is a smaller race that just wasn’t there. There was one house were two girls huddled in blankets handed out oranges, bananas, and M&Ms. They were at mile 3, which I loved then, and on the out-and-back course they reappeared at mile 17, right at the top of the hill, right when I needed them! I was still dying and called Katie for a sugar fix. There she was, with her bright pink sign, at mile 24 with a Snickers bar in hand. Nothing like chocolate and peanuts to get you through those last two miles.

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The race sign that kept me going the last two miles!

The end of this marathon was really special for me. Serge kicked my butt to the finish line. I finished ahead of him and there is nothing like that feeling when you realize, “I. AM. GOING. TO. MAKE. IT.” For me, that point is about half a mile before the end of the race. Anytime before that and finishing is still in question for me. Haha! At that point I Skyped my mom in Turkey with my new phone that has a self camera. It was was REALLY neat – she was able to actually cross the finish line WITH ME as a I ran! She was singing the Rocky theme song while I was running. I can’t even imagine what my race photo is going to look like, I’ll be crying, holding my phone up facing the finish line. Haha! Since my mom lives overseas it was really nice to be able to share that moment with her.

After we crossed the finish line most of our 4:15:00 pace group stuck around for a photo. I was so proud to have made it to the end with all these great people!

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We weren’t really sure what our chip times would be, but Serge expressed concern that he might have come in a few seconds slower than pace. I told him, “I couldn’t care if I came in at 4:15:01 – you were awesome!” I seriously mean it too – if it wasn’t for him I would have finished 10 minutes slower. When the results were posted it turns out I crossed at 4:15:09 – and you know what, I still meant it!

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Katie was there to greet me at the finish. As a Nurse, her face was absolutely horrified when she saw the post-marathon Kelly. You know, unable to walk, grimacing, etc. I think it was hard for her to separate the absolutely pure joy and pride of running 26.2 miles and the toll it takes on the body. It is funny to see a non-runner’s reaction to that type of thing!

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We hobbled over to the finishers festival, which had all the food I could have wanted. It was nice to be at a small race where they could provide hot food for the runners. (At the Marine Corps Marathon it was boxed, so things like protein bars, Gatorade, and nuts.)

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At the Blues there was Little Caesar’s Hot-n-Readys, red beans and rice, tomato soup, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches! Oh and three beers per runner!

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We caught up with Tim who had gone out and run exactly the race he wanted to and with Bob, who set a new PR on the course. That was absolutely incredible given how hilly the route was!

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Saturday night Katie and I had originally planned on doing the Blues Bar Crawl around Jackson. After a nap, we decided to grab dinner and get on our way. The drive to Kansas City would be 10 hours and we thought it would be best to break it up. Before we left town though we stopped at Sal & Mookie’s Pizza for some much deserved Pizza.

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At the restaurant I saw a guy doing the classic marathoner’s walk and we ended up sharing pizza and beer with Paul and Dustin, two other runners, and of course 50-staters. (It was Dustin’s first half-marathon, but let’s be honest, he will probably turn into a 50-stater soon enough. Paul is a decorated marathoning veteran.)

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Katie, Dustin, Paul, and Myself

We hit the road to Memphis and I think somewhere along the way I was hit by a bus. On the drive I knew I was getting sick. Was it the excessive drinking in Nashville, the 9 hours of sleep in two days, or the 26.2 mile run in the rain? It’s funny that at the beginning of the weekend I was concerned about my car breaking down, but it ended up my body was the thing to break down! I ended up with a pretty bad case of the flu. Oh well – it’s four days later and I’m feeling better. Looking back – it was worth every second!

The weekend, which I have coined the Cowgirl Boots and Running Shoes Weekend, was literally everything I had hoped it would be. I got to hang out with the Hotdoggers, catch up with college friends, make new running friends, and ran a really strong third marathon.

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Now after hanging out with all those marathoners all I can’t think about is which one is next AND how in the world am I going to become a Marathon Maniac, because that needs to happen in 2013!

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Where I Ran This Week: Killer Track Workout in Pamona, CA

Remember how I said in my last blog that I was going to spend this week focusing on “recovery” running? It turns out that meant not running at all for four days (I was in Vegas!) and then having the run of a lifetime tonight.

I was too busy running around Vegas having fun to do any actual running over the last week. Today though, Abe and I had to come back to the real world, and I knew I should probably get some miles in.

We are spending one night in Pamona, California, which is one of those parts of LA you probably should just drive through if you know what’s good for you. Our hotel is just down the street from Cal Poly – Pamona though and I decided to play it safe by just running on their track.

Gorgeous sunset on my way down to the college

This was my first time running on a track in months, and while it wasn’t a track workout in the traditional sense, it certainly provided an incredible speed workout.

Now, I know you go faster on a track, but my pace for 5 miles was 8:05! I give the track some credit, but I think I was really just feeling inspired after a great week in Vegas. It was like I used all my endorphins from Sin City and put them into this workout, which just gave me even more endorphins!

Not only did I finish with a phenomenal runner’s high, but I also ended up with two semi-funny anecdotes from the run.

I had been alone for most of the workout, with the exception of a few students on the field and two other runners. Just as I was bolting the last quarter-mile lap, one of the other runners circled back to run with me. Determined to finish strong I said/gasped for him to sprint the remainder of the lap with me, which ended up being a successful strategy for staying inspired for the finale of my run. He smoked me no problem at the finish, but I had been wavering and that burst of energy got me to the finish line. Once I stopped my Garmin we chatted for a bit during my cool-down walk.

Me – “So are you a student here?”
Him – “Yeah, I’m studying mechanical engineering. What do you do?”
Me – “I drive the Wienermobile.”
Him – “That makes sense.”

LOL. What? I don’t think I’ve heard that one before! Especially when the Wienermobile wasn’t even around, having walked to the track! It was kind of endearing actually. After two laps though I politely said farewell and headed back to the hotel.

Then on my way back to the room I had to cross the hotel courtyard, where there were a group of men chatting by the pool. I was wearing one of those famous “Kelly!” race t-shirts and as I passed them one shouted out, “You’ve got my name on your shirt!”

Me – “Your name is Kelly?”
Him – “Yeah, spelled the same!”
Me – “But is it Kelly with an exclamation point?”
Him – “No, it’s Kelly, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point!!!”
Me – “See, I’m excited, but not on crack! Have a good night gentlemen.”

So 5 miles, 2 humorous encounters, and 1 PR later I’d call that a pretty damn good run!

Where I’ve been Running & The Climax of Marathon Training

For having a running blog, I haven’t blogged too much about running lately. For being about to run a marathon in 20 days, I also haven’t blogged too much about training!

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind, that’s for sure, with quite a few highs and lows along the way.

While in San Diego I did some absolutely spectacular runs along The Strand, which is the strip of land connecting Coronado Island to Imperial Beach. That was definitely something to check that off the bucket list!

In the Spring of 2011 I actually lived in Chula Vista and worked at the Hotel del Coronado, so I drove The Strand daily. Back then I wasn’t a runner and didn’t take advantage of that beautiful trail even once. My one goal for my return to the area was to make up for lost time and get some miles in out there! Mission accomplished.

I figured go big or go home and decided to recreate my own version of the Goofy Challenge. You know, where you do a half marathon one day followed by a marathon the next. I really just wanted to see if I was up to it. So Monday of last week I headed out for my own half marathon. Easy breezy and I finished first – haha!

The next day I woke up at 4 a.m. and went out for the second half of the challenge, running 23 miles.

Sure, I was 3.2 miles short of the total challenge, but I proved to myself that I could definitely handle doing 13.1 + 26.2 miles back to back.

For the 23 mile run I started at The Del and ran almost the entire way back to my apartment in Chula Vista. That was a fun throwback to all the drives home from my internship at the Hotel del Coronado that spring.

When it came to the actual run though, I was a little worried because there was almost no elevation gain the entire route, so I felt like I was cheating myself.

That is, until I looked up the elevation map for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is almost equally as flatline. After I saw that I went from thinking it was inadequate training to perfect training!

Recovery was surprisingly not too bad. Obviously after the 23 mile run I went back to the hotel, collapsed into bed, and didn’t move for about 4 hours. But that afternoon I was up and out on the town with Abe. The next day I would say I was at 85% and by the next day I was at 100%.

The run marked the peak of marathon training for me. While I was thrilled to have topped out the miles, I almost instantly felt a mentality shift. I could feel my motivation begin to taper off along with my training.

Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that the race is almost secondary, it’s the training and the process that is the most meaningful. For me, entering the taper stage was almost like starting the final chapter of a good book. I’m excited to see how it will end but am already lamenting the fact that it actually does have to end.

Feeling a bit deflated, this week I ended up taking two days off back to back on Monday and Tuesday. I was definitely in a weird funk, feeling sad and anxious about the marathon and just plain antsy! I knew I had to snap out of it though – two days are really the most I can take off in a row before I let it become five days and then two weeks off and I didn’t want to end up sacrificing 16 weeks of hard training!

My runs this week were brutal. No sugar coating – they were hard and slow. We were in Santa Clarita, CA which seemed to be in the middle of the mountains! There was an enormous hill to summit in mile one and although I got to run down it during mile two it just meant another climb on the way back! On a cool note, I did see a TARANTULA one night on my run.

My pace has gone to hell lately too, which has me concerned. If anyone has any suggestions for why this might be or how I can get that pace back down I definitely want to hear them! I had been training at an 8:40 pace for my shorter ~5 mile runs and around 9:00 for my longer runs. This week I could barely maintain 9:00 and truthfully creeped into the 9:30 range for many of my miles.

Luckily, on my long run, some kind soul had chalked some random inspirational sayings along my route. I don’t know that I would have made it without these little pick-me-ups along the way. There were about 5 of them!

Here’s what I’m thinking. I’ve probably (read: definitely) overtrained. My long run this week (13 miles – I was going to do 16 but didn’t think I’d survive) was the worst run I’ve done in my life. My legs were SHOT.

I’ve also gained weight, which could also be contributing to the slow down. Yeah, whhaatt? As someone who has struggled with weight gain, weight loss, and weight maintenance, this has definitely contributed to my weird mood lately. I run 50 miles per week and gain 5lbs?

This week I have one focus: recovery. That long run this week was so miserable that I know my legs need some TLC and that means taking it easy. So while I’m clamoring to get my pace back down, I’m hoping that if I invest in slow runs now it will pay off with a better pace on race day, which is when it counts.

So here we are, 20 days until race day! I’m thinking about posting a motivational quote each day just to keep me pumped up and avoid getting too taper nutty!

Good luck to everyone else training for fall marathons and congrats to anyone who has run one, especially all those folks at Chicago this weekend!

Knowing When to Say Goodbye: The End of a Great Relationship with My Mizunos

My current pair of Mizuno Wave Precisions are like a dead beat kid that I need to finally kick out of the house. Sure, we’ve had some good times together, but right now they’re just a drag on me. We’ve just been through too much – too many miles – and I’ve got to say goodbye.

They’re dirty, dingy, and falling apart. I try to help them out and keep them clean, but they’re addicted to running and it’s slowly but surely physically destroying them. You can only do so much for them, but eventually you just have to let go.

They’re just not supporting me anymore. Once firm and strong, now they’re flimsy and weak. It’s a relationship doomed to fail. So next week I will have to put my foot down, without them on. They’ve simply gotta go.

R.I.P. Mizunos
May 2012 – September 2012
523 miles across 7 states

With them gone, I’ll be adopting a new pair that will hopefully be there for me for the rest of the Marine Corps Marathon training in a way I just couldn’t count on these to.