I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to run a half marathon in Mississippi. After the MS Blues race was cancelled last year it was looking like this race might never happen again. Even with months to go to the race, there was still no sponsor and no race date. I know there are other half marathons in Mississippi, but I so badly wanted to run this particular race. After being there in Jackson last year and having the race cancelled (which was still the right thing to do), I had redemption on my mind. I wanted to run this particular half marathon for my 50 state quest and no other.
Then, just when I thought it wasn’t going to happen, the January 27th race date was announced! The best part is that I had already planned to be down around MS that weekend in preparation to spend some extra time in New Orleans before my cruise. Since Southwest has such a generous change policy, I immediately changed my Saturday morning flight to Friday night. Since New Orleans was my ultimate destination, it was cheapest and easiest to fly into MSY and then drive to/from Jackson.
The plan was to get into NOLA around 8pm on Friday evening and hit the road to Jackson. It was just shy of a 3 hour drive so by the time I would get my luggage and rental car, I was probably looking at an ETA of around 11:3pm – 12am. Thankfully I was doing a room share with another 50 stater and she had the host hotel which was only 3 blocks from the start line. I ended up getting into the hotel just shy of 12am and tried to settle into bed as soon as I could. With a 7am start, I was anxious to get at least 6 hours of sleep if I could.
Around 6:15am I was up and getting ready. Weather was rain and more rain with the temps in the low 50’s. I was a little concerned with the wind, but quickly found that what I chose to wear was perfect. I went with shorts, short sleeve shirt and my arm warmers and used a buff for my ears. By mile 1 the buff and arm warmers were gone. I definitely think if I would have worn a rain jacket, I would have been a bit more miserable out there. I was surprisingly down at the start line in time for the 50 Staters picture. This usually never happens. After sneaking into the picture, I hung out under the bridge to stay dry for a little bit longer before jumping in the starting corrals. I decided to line up just behind the 2:30 pacer. After an amazing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the starting gun was off and I was finally getting my chance to run the MS Blues Half Marathon.
I started the race with the 2:30 pacer and the goal was to stick with him as long as I could. I had heard this race was hilly, but I did not realize just how hilly this race was! In fact, we had over 1,000 feet of gain and 1,110 of loss according to my garmin! The first part of the race took you outside of town, through Jackson State University and back towards downtown. It was raining and a little windy, but I pretty quickly warmed up. One of the things that I was looking forward to on the course was the multiple bands. Due to the rain though, I think a few more than normal cut out. However, on the Jackson State campus, their marching band was amazing!
Just after leaving their campus, I got caught up talking to some other Mainiacs. While I was only running the half, it’s always chatting with other Mainiacs and Fanatics while I am running. Well, the few of us got to chatting away and next thing I knew, by mile 2 the 2:30 pacer was a little behind us. We realized we were going a bit fast and we tried to reign it in. I split from them and then kept going on my own. Even though I typically run races by myself, there are always folks I chat with on the course and there seemed to be more than normal friendly runners to chat with on this course.
Around mile 3.5 we passed back through downtown before turning left to the second loop of the race. The roads were open for most of the race but we were just held to the far right. This is the one race where I think EVERY intersection had a volunteer or officer. I was thoroughly impressed with how safe the course was. As we headed into mile 4, we really began to hit the hills. For the next 3 miles, we basically went up and then went back down. I made a comment to some passing runners at the end of mile 4 and they said wait for the later miles, this is nothing. At least I had the heads up at this point.
I was feeling pretty good still at this point despite the hills and the rain. I was fueling and even though it was raining, I was still remember to take back some water. There was a water stop around mile 7-8 that I did grab some gatorade and took that another two times on the course. Even though it was raining all morning, the water stop volunteers were amazing!! They were standing out there and making sure we could easily grab whatever we needed along the way.
Toward the end of mile 6 we turned into a neighborhood with some really amazing houses. People were out at the end of their driveways cheering the runners on again. Again they were just standing in the rain! Pretty much the best southern hospitality you can get. I caught up with the same Mainiac friends again in this section and then before you knew it right around mile 7 the half and the full course split. They thought I was running the full, but I was very glad to have been turning right for only 13.1 miles. The next 2 miles is where the course got a little weird.
Around 7.5, we exited the neighborhood and ran along the interstate. I thought at first it was on on ramp, but maybe it was a service road. I am actually not sure, but it was different. We crossed under the interstate where there were signs saying give way to marathoners. While there were none at the time I was in that section, I fully supported seeing those signs. Once again we ran on the other side of the interstate and then we turned left onto basically a cow path. I had no idea where we were actually going but I went with it. It was a good section of dirt, well at this point solid mud path. I actually could have thrown on my trail shoes and would have been fine it was so bad. I didn’t want to walk, but in some seconds I had to. I was afraid of falling. As we finally exited that area, some runners explained it was Mississippi Agriculture Museum. On a sunny day I think it would have been nice, but on that raining morning, it was horrible!
We turned out of the museum and headed toward the direction of downtown again. We sort of turned this blind corner and I see what is then the biggest hill of the race. While it wasn’t high in elevation change, it just seemed to take forever. I did a nice run/walk up the hill and still to this point had been mainly running with maybe a walk break on 2 hills. I finish up the hill and make it to mile 10. Only 5k left and coming up behind me was the 2:30 pace group.
Just as I passed that 10 mile marker and headed back into some neighborhoods, I turned and saw the pacer and the group coming up behind me. I figured I could try and hold them off through mile 10 but that they would eventually catch up and pass me. These were some fun miles with spectators through! Through mile 10 there were some fun people out there. There was one house that legit just looked like a frat party. They were giving out something to drink but I missed it. Another group was giving out mimosas as well. These were definitely the fun miles.
For the most part, the last 5k was downhill. There were a few uphills but nothing as bad as the first half. The worst certainly came as you exited the neighborhood and back onto the city streets. I felt that I was dragging through these last miles, but when I looked at my Garmin for splits afterwards, I actyally had a nice little negative split 5k to end the race. Mile 13 even clocked in at 10:23. We were back in downtown Jackson and I could not have been more thrilled to be close to the finish line. With two turns to go, I really started picking it up even more. The 2:30 pace group never did catch me and I wasn’t going to let that happen in the last bit. Before I knew it was across the line and had felt sweet, sweet redemption
As I crossed the finish line, I happened to see John Noblin, the race director. I knew him from being on the Blues Crew last year and looked up and said hello. I also thanked him again for everything he had done for this race and just how wonderful of a race it was. I actually got a little teary eyed thinking I would never get to use this race to cross off MS and here I was just having finished. The redemption felt so good and largely due to the efforts of that man and bringing on an amazing sponsor, Continental Tires.
Finishing this half marathon felt so great. Literally and figuratively actually. I did a lot better on those hills than I thought I would do. It also just felt great to finish a race with such amazing support. I truly could not say enough about every person involved with this race. The volunteers were amazing and every race official was great. The police officers out there on the course were even a lot of fun. It certainly was not the best weather day and no one was deterred from helping out. Everyone was just also so nice. Every time I thanked a volunteer, they turned around and thanked me for running. I think everyone in Jackson knows how much that race means to the town and they just appreciate so many people coming in for the race. I couldn’t say enough about this race. I know some runners had complained about the medals and for me, sure they might have looked smaller than normal, but let’s take a step back and just realize last year was a horrible year with the cancellation and they barely even had the race this year. I was more thank thrilled with what I got and I can only bet that as the race continues on, everything will right itself.
Once the race was done, I headed right up the hotel room. I was pretty cold now and soaked to the bone. I wanted to grab a hot shower and get on the road back to New Orleans. My vacation was officially beginning! I was so happy and so thankful this race aligned with my vacation and I was able to cross MS off. It had been a long time coming.
Official Finish Time:
26/59 Female 30-34