Yesterday I ran my third ever half marathon! Well, actually, it was a touch longer than a half marathon, but I am still going to count the race in that category regardless. The event was the Tupelo Marathon and 14.2 Miler that is held annually on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, which happens to coincide with some races with a little more notoriety, namely the Disneyland Half Marathon and the Rock ‘N Roll Virgina Beach Half Marathon. While there were thousands of people competing at these events, I was in a small town in Mississippi with 676 other racers, battling the heat and humidity in a race that you probably have not heard about.
When I discovered this race, I knew that I wanted to run it for several reasons. One, Tupelo is only an hour and a half from Memphis, so travel was a piece of cake. Two, after getting hurt, I needed a redemption race to fill the void of missing the Germantown Half Marathon. Three, where else could I run a race of 14.2 miles? FYI, the distance of 14.2 miles is not just an arbitrary number to be different, but a necessity in the area that the race is run. The full marathon is an out and back course, but where the race halfway point occurs is in the middle of a country street, nowhere near a suitable finish line. The start/finish line for the event happens to be another 1.1 miles away, so that is tacked onto the race. And since this is the only race of 14.2 that I have found or competed in, just finishing the race netted me a PR!
Susan and I drove up on Saturday afternoon because we both agreed it would be foolish for me to make the drive in the morning prior to the event. Besides some construction on Highway 78 in New Albany, MS, the drive was quite pleasant. Susan swears that as we got into Tupelo that she saw a goat in a dog kennel on the back of a car, but I could not confirm it. Once in Tupelo, we went straight to packet pickup at a place I assumed was an ATV dealership by its name, but it turned out to be a running store. The place was packed, but the race packet process was quite organized. I was in and out of the place in under two minutes. If the place was not so packed, I may have poked around the store a little bit, maybe even inquiring about a 14.2 sticker, but it I instead just headed back to the car. We checked into our hotel, the Best Western Plus, which was one of the two race hotels and we were pleasantly surprised by how nice and updated the place was. I have stayed in much worse hotels in bigger cities for a higher price with no HD TV. The hotel was even running a shuttle to and from the race the following morning and hosting a breakfast for the runners at 3:30 am, both of which were much appreciated. Our room was little noisy due to a combination of the road sounding like a drag strip all night and some random clicking from the bathroom that sounded like a mechanical cricket.
The shuttle process, sadly, did cause some of the racers some panic. The driver was given bad directions and the shuttle that was slated to run every fifteen minutes was running every thirty minutes! We finally got to the race location at 4:40 am, and of course I had to visit the head. I stood in line for a port-a-potty for twelve minutes, but was able to take care of business and get to the starting line about a block away with a couple of minutes to spare.
There is a substantial drawback to the race and that is the weather. Mississippi on Labor Day weekend is not known for being very temperate. And this year was no different. The race starts at 5:00 am to miss some of the heat, but the temperature was 76 degrees yesterday morning and hit 80 degrees before I crossed the finish line. Couple that with 87% humidity and a dew point north of 71 degrees, and you have a challenging race. Also, there was absolutely zero breeze all morning, so we were running in thick, moist, stagnant air.
When the race starts, it is still dark outside, and it stays that way for about another hour. Several runners had on headlamps and glow sticks. I did not, but I was able to follow the masses without any major incident. It reminded me of back home when we were running down these country roads and I could smell freshly cut hay and hear cattle moving about. Each mile was marked with a sign and a glow stick, and since it was dark, I did not even bother looking at my Nike+ watch, which is a bad habit that I have. It was mile seven (for me) before I noticed the sun over the horizon.
I was able to maintain my speed well early in the race, and I had negative splits at miles seven, nine, and eleven, with miles four and five being virtually identical. I think that is no coincidence that these miles coincided with the water stations. Sadly, the last water station, at mile thirteen, did not possess the same luck for me. I almost skipped the water there, but I knew that it was hot and decided at the last second to grab some. A quarter of a mile later, I thought I was dying. I felt that I was going to puke and had to walk for a second to compose myself. My last mile was my slowest of the race by a considerable margin and once I finished, I could not understand what happened. My legs felt good, I was running comfortably, but once I entered uncharted territory, my body immediately freaked out. But I did finish, and I am still here to talk about it, so those are two victories in my book. Also, I did PR since this was my first, and thus, fastest race of 14.2 miles! The race did not have starting mats, so my gun time was 2:35:42 while my Nike+ time was 2:35:04. Susan was at the finish line, and despite the fact there were not many spectators there, I did not see her. I was focused on finishing and getting my medal.
Medal: A+: This is probably my favorite race medal that I have gotten thus far in my running career. It was modeled after the iconic Boston Marathon medals, with the marathon medals being the Boston colors of blue and yellow. The 14.2 medal was pink and white. I meant to take a picture of the full marathon medal so I could put it side by side with a Boston medal, but from looking at my 14.2 medal, you will get the idea. The medal is also the largest one that I have ever received. The last couple of years, the 14.2 medal was just a portion of the full marathon medal, but I am thankful that this was not the case this year.
Swag: D: I usually include the medal in here, but I wanted to make it clear how much I loved my medal, and really got little else of value. The website advertised “Long sleeve tie-dyed shirts, award-winning medals, and secret stuff we only share with our entrants.” The shirt logo is great, but is tie-dyed in such a manner that it looks like there are reverse elbow pads on the sleeves. I will still where it much more than a plain white race tee, that is for sure. However, the “secret stuff” was so secret that I never saw it. I just got some materials from the Tupelo Chamber of Commerce, all of which features Elvis since he was born in Tupelo, and an ad for another local race. That was it. Post race, there was plenty of water, powerade, and coke products, along with oranges, bananas, and cookies. As I was getting on the shuttle, which was about three and a half hours after the race start, they were putting out some more food, but I have no clue what it was.
Course: B-: It was all country roads and the rolling hills were a little steeper than advertised. The highest point was advertised as 351 feet, but that was about 100 shy of the truth. The course was open to traffic, and this only became an issue after 7:00 am. In fact, after the race, a fellow racer told me that I should have been running on the other side of the road because I was holding up traffic, even when there was only one car on the road. Maybe I was in the wrong, but I was on the shoulder, following the crowd in front of me, and running in the same lane as the majority of participants had for the race up to that point. I need to learn the rules on this so I know I am doing what is proper and safe.
Overall: B: The race relies heavily on having great medals, low numbers, and a unique course. I am not opposed to running this race again, but hopefully not next year since my goal is to complete the Coast to Coast Disney Challenge next year during this weekend. But 2015 is a strong possibility.
I did take away a couple more learning moments from this race. First, this race was good practice for the early start at Disney in January. I now know a little bit more about what I need to do the night before the race. Second, I need a new place to hang my bibs during a race. The race claimed my Batman Under Armour shirt as a casualty. One of the safety pins ripped a small hole in the shirt. And third, when I go out-of-town for a race, I need to wear race gear, lots of race gear. I was the only participant not sporting gear from previous events or runs on Saturday. Come October in Chattanooga, I need to step my game up! Maybe my Tupelo shirt will make the trip.
Also, I love the race slogan “Trample the weak, hurdle the dead.” That slogan with the medals, shirts, skull and crossbones, and the tie-dye makes for a great race vibe.