A Tale of Two Halves: Running In The Mississippi Heat
The 46 hour journey of a 50 State Marathoner is pretty awesome and exhausting. Our journey began at 3am Saturday morning when we woke up and got ready to go to the airport for a 6am flight to Charlotte, NC. Little did we know that the flight would be delayed by an hour due to a maintenance issue and we would subsequently miss our connection by mere minutes. It was frustrating but thankfully there was another flight to Gulfport, MS later in the day. Um, MUCH later in the day. Like 7 hours later to be exact. So we had some serious time to kill in the Charlotte airport. We started off by carbing up with a big breakfast (pancakes and sausage) at Whiskey River. I ate EVERYTHING. I was starving and so was Pat and then we proceeded to walk around to every freaking terminal and check it all out. What I loved was the airport is so big and they also have a therapy dog that we proceeded to meet and pet of course. We sat in the rocking chairs and tried to rest as much as possible. I couldn’t nap but Pat could. We filled up our water bottles as much as possible and drank often so that we would be completely hydrated. God knows we had plenty of TIME to fill up our bladders and visit the bathroom about 23 times over the course of 7 hours. It was kind of a boring and uneventful day but at least we were together. This day reminded me of my long layovers in the Portland, Oregon airport in June 2018 when I was alone, so at least I could talk to Pat in-person this time. The hours passed and we eventually got on our flight to Gulfport. Once we landed in Gulfport, we found out that our prepaid rental car was “given away” because we didn’t show up at 10:30am. OK great. We just wanted to get to the hotel at this point. Thankfully, an Uber driver was literally 2 minutes away and we got there quicker than if we actually got in that rental car. She was nice and entertaining and the ride was actually cheaper than a rental car. We had enough time to get to our hotel room, lay out our things for race day and hunker down for the night and try to get some quality sleep. Thankfully, one of our runner friends was also there and she was so kind to pick up our bibs for us as we were staying in the same hotel. She saved us time on Sunday morning and was probably glad she wasn’t flying our airline!! At least she made it there on time! I wished we were on her flight too. We had already eaten dinner at the airport (not ideal) but we intentionally did so that we would save time once we got to Biloxi. We knew by then we would be spent from the long day of travel and just want to get organized and go to sleep as soon as possible. Once we got to the hotel though, Pat proceeded to call the rental car company and demand our money back – so add that to an already exhausting day. But the important thing was that we made it to Mississippi and we were going to run this race. It’s always good to have a travel contingency plan. I mean if there was no other way to get us to Gulfport that day, we would have driven 8-9 hours from Charlotte. Thankfully we did NOT have to do that, but that was a last resort if needed. We went to sleep around 8:30pm. Since arriving at the hotel around 6:15pm, it pretty much took that long until we unpacked, ate the warm Doubletree cookies (why not, we were just going to burn it off tomorrow), set everything up, talked to our friend, bitched at the rental car company, brushed our teeth and got ready for bed. We even forgot to initially ask for late checkout so we called the front desk and only got an additional half hour so we spent some time re-packing as much as we could to save us time after the race when we would feel like shit and could barely move. LOL! And there we have it! That brought us to about 8:30pm when our heads hit the pillows. My Garmin says I was asleep by 8:51pm and wake up time was 3:14am. Not bad, I will always take 6 hours of solid sleep just before a marathon. My alarm wasn’t set until 3:45, but I always wake up before the alarm. Always. Pat and I jumped out of bed and since it would be fairly warm out, we took showers before the race. I don’t always especially if it’s going to be very cold out. We were up and out of our hotel room by 4:15am and made the trek to the shuttle buses which were less than a half mile away. While sitting on the bus, we met some nice marathoners from other parts of the country and we traded stories and just talked about running and races and all of that fun stuff. We had to drive 24 miles out to the start line and it was a chilly morning although the weather app said it was 54 degrees but there was a little breeze in the air. We used the porta potty but then jumped back on the bus to stay warm and continued talking with others. I love the comradery. It’s awesome and I love that we all love the same thing. Us marathoners, going the distance. Gutting it out. It’s an incredible journey. LFG. An hour later, we made one more pit stop to the bathroom before the start. It’s always good to go 10-15 minutes before the start so that I don’t have to stop during the race. As we walked to the start line, the sun popped up over the horizon and OMG was it beautiful. I have never started a marathon with views like this. It was incredible. I was so worried that once that sun came up, it would get so hot later on but for right now, I enjoyed seeing it appear. I made Pat take a few pictures since he wasn’t using his phone for music and I was trying to conserve my battery. LOL. As we lined up at the start, I gave him a kiss and we both said “Good luck”. I knew the bugger would end up flying past me, but ok, say “Good luck” for now. The race started and I was freaking flying. My Garmin said I was running a 7:25 pace and I felt incredible. It was awesome! I didn’t even feel like I was trying. Pure adrenaline baby. As I crossed the mile 1 marker, my watch said 7:41. I was happy with that. I felt really good and that sun was still very low in the sky. As the next few miles progressed, I hit mile 2 at 8:05 and mile 3 at 8:12. Slipping a little bit – LOL! The sun was rising now and I was wishing it to go away! But it wasn’t impactful at this time. Soon thereafter, I realized that clouds were forming and I was feeling very glad about this and I kept telling myself “Just run – get ahead of these clouds – maybe they will stay away?!” I was feeling really good about things for a while and my pace hovered in the 8’s for a long time. By mile 9 though, the sun was back out in full force and I was not liking it one bit. The 3:45 pacer and a large accompanying group passed me simultaneously and I was feeling miffed at myself that I couldn’t keep up with them. My pace was still fairly good at this point but I wasn’t feeling THAT fast. I pushed onward and hit the half marathon mark at just over 1:52 on my watch. That is a really good time for me considering my fastest half marathon is recorded as 1:50:02. I was feeling good for the most part but I felt like the heat was starting to affect my pace. I slowed a bit but I also justified it saying that I can conserve energy for the later miles. (Yeah right!) Sometimes I do try to play miles 13-20 somewhat conservative so that I can pour it on later and pick up the pace. However this is more easily accomplished during a cold weather race. This race was definitely a tale of two halves. The temperature at mile 13-14 was probably about low to mid 60’s which is not ideal for racing (at least for me – a northern girl!). I wouldn’t mind the temperatures but the sun was most bothersome. I had my hat pulled over my eyes. I wanted to see the least amount of sun possible. I plugged along for these miles, ticking them off one by one. I reached mile 20 in just under 3 hours which isn’t bad considering the temperature and the sun. I still had a shot to run a sub 4:00 race I thought until I got to about mile 21-22 when I felt like I could no longer turn my legs over at a decent pace. I wanted to do this so bad but I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t say that I hit the wall or that my muscles cramped up because they didn’t. I just did not feel fast anymore. My legs felt fatigued and achy. Knowing that temperature was going to be what it was, I purposely approached this race more “aggressively” in taking my GU and endurance salt on an earlier than usual interval. Normally, I have GU every 5 miles but today I ingested a packet at every 4-4.5 miles. I also had endurance salt every 6 miles. I wanted to do whatever I could to try to stay on top of the fatigue because I knew the end of this race was going to be hard. I never run well in the heat but I was hopeful that at least half the race would be manageable – and it was. I was thinking about how far ahead of me Pat was and I was wishing I was as fast as him so I could be at least that much further along right now. I know that he was going to be out of the heat sooner than I would be. I wasn’t envious per se, just wishing I had that same capability to run that quick so I could benefit that way in terms of the race. I know the heat was affecting him too. It had to be! We had a gentle headwind too most of the way that picked up in the last few miles. But remember it was a warm headwind, not a cold one! At mile 22 I texted Pat and I told him that my legs were achy and that they just won’t go fast anymore. I felt like I needed to tell him what was going on. I don’t know why – I guess I just couldn’t wait until I meandered to the finish line. The last few miles were simply a test of will. I very rarely feel that bad in a marathon BUT WHEN I DO, IT IS ALWAYS ON A DAY WHEN IT IS TOO HOT AND SUNNY!!! I was trying to turn my legs over faster but they wouldn’t go as fast as I wanted them too. The struggle was real. I didn’t feel as though I “hit the wall” because my legs didn’t cramp up and I could still run but I just couldn’t run fast. My pace dipped into the 10’s and 11’s at times and I simply had to plug along to get to the finish line. I was thinking how my charts and analytics would look BAD for the second half of this race because my performance progressively went downhill and I was feeling mad about that, but it is what it is. My first half split was my 3rd fastest time ever 1:52:00 and my second half split 2:17:01 was my 16th slowest (out of 24 marathons) which is pretty bad for me statistically. My worst races are definitely at the bottom of this list!!! The roughest part of the course was actually in the last two miles. After mile 24, we proceeded to run up and over the overpass and that hill was just mean given that I felt bad enough. (I did see our friend Pam at the bottom of this hill and I smiled and waved to her which was a boost!) We ran on this closed highway for about a mile when we turned around and went back towards the Shuckers baseball stadium. The ONLY complaint I have about this race was there were no water stops after mile 24. Once we went up and over the overpass, it was the hardest and hottest part of the day but yet there were NO WATER STATIONS. It was rough to hold out until the finish line. I really don’t understand why the course even had to go there because it was just nasty. There were these “brackets” across the highway every 500 feet it seemed. Now I’m no structural engineer but I suspect these “brackets” that look like teeth are there to deal with the bridge expansion because of the heat in Mississippi. The weirdest thing though is that as runners we had to make sure we stepped over these brackets otherwise if you were to step on them, you could easily get your foot stuck in there! The gap between the brackets were large enough to cause a runner or walker some trouble. It was really cool to finish inside the stadium and the finish reminded me a lot of Rock N’ Roll Arizona (my first marathon). I didn’t know where Pat was until I crossed the finish line. I was glad it was over. My back immediately hurt (some races this happens) and I asked him how he did. He ran a 3:32 which isn’t bad because he trained but could have trained harder if he followed everything I prescribed for him as his personal coach. He did ample long runs but skipped out on his regular weekly speed workouts due to lack of time. Next time my friend. I was disappointed in my time (4:09) because I am trending to be a regular sub-4:00 marathoner but you know, I did the best I could given the circumstances of the day. If it was a cold weather race, I would have performed so much better. Regardless though, I really loved the race. I loved running alongside the ocean for 3.5 hours! I loved how well-organized the race was and the fact that I completed another state. Even if my time isn’t to my liking, I can still enjoy the journey. The journey is what I absolutely love. I learn so much each and every time I run a marathon. This time I learned that although my brain wanted to run faster, my body wasn’t willing to do it. Nevertheless, Marathon #24, State #22 is in the books! I am definitely happy with that and I still feel completely fulfilled simply because I crossed the finish line. After the race we got cleaned up and went back to the stadium for whatever food was left (not much). We watched the last few runners cross the finish line and we were cheering them on. It was awesome. Here these people are still jogging SEVEN hours later and people were cheering them on like they were the WINNERS. And let me tell you, THEY ARE WINNERS. They went out there and conquered that course just like the winners. It is something to be incredibly proud of. They could have just decided to walk/jog a 5K but NO, THEY DECIDED TO walk/jog a FREAKING MARATHON. How incredible! I am so inspired by all runners, but especially these runners and this is why I want to coach, encourage and support these runners. How rewarding! It’s better than any dumb ass bureaucratic job in corporate America, that’s for sure. I don’t miss that one monotonous life one bit. As we were walking away from the race venue, a guy we met before the race said to us “I don’t know why I don’t just run half marathons! Why do I put myself through this?!” Because even though a half marathon is also a great accomplishment, it’s not a full marathon. It’s the full marathon where your true challenges and weaknesses get exposed and where you push yourself to the complete brink of human perseverance. Just as I crossed the half marathon mark in 1:52, my race was only HALF OVER. I had to try to repeat the effort I just gave in the heat and full sun of southern Mississippi. It was an incredible challenge even though the course was flat until the last 2 miles. At the end of my race, it was 71 degrees and that’s just a little too warm for a northerner at this time of year. The high temperature for the day reached 77 as the last few marathoners crossed the finish line. In my opinion, the best weather for a marathon is 40-50 degrees and overcast. I will still gladly take an overcast 50-60 degree too over any day over 60 degrees with full sun or humidity.
My recovery after a warm weather marathon is always worse. My back hurt, my toes hurt and of course, legs too, but here we are 4-5 days past race day and I feel good enough to run again albeit very slow. I am always amazed at myself how we run the race, check out of the hotel, go to the airport and get on a plane that very same day. For a lot of people, they probably think we are completely nuts. But we do it. It’s fun. Sure your body hurts but this is my 24th marathon. I have some practice with it. I wouldn’t recommend doing this after your first few marathons. You kind of need to get the hang of it. The more marathons you run, technically, recovery “should” get easier. It does for the most part. I don’t care what anyone says though. Running a marathon is totally a labor of love. It is hard, but you got to love that it’s hard. You have to be up for the challenge. Even when you feel depleted and running low on energy, it’s still about putting one foot in front of the other and never giving up. It might take you longer to get to the finish line, but the important thing is that YOU GOT TO THE FINISH LINE! That is what matters – that you set out to achieve this goal and you did it. How can you not be fulfilled by that? It’s awesome and inspiring. Every. Single. Time. Onto the next one! Next stop: Alabama baby!