I think I can safely say I had never experienced “The Deep South” before my recent visit to Jackson, Mississippi. Sure, I’ve been to Florida a lot and even Louisiana, but I would hardly call Tampa and New Orleans a true representation of the South. While waiting for my Uber to the hotel after stepping off of the plane, a gentleman walked past me and my friend Mary Beth and said “Hello Ladies”. Back home, any greeting by a stranger is usually greeted with suspicion. He quickly followed up with, “Welcome to Mississippi. We friendly here.”
Extremely polite strangers were abundant in Jackson. What was not abundant was countless breweries to visit, which I have become accustomed to after running a marathon in a new city. Jackson is like most capitol cities I imagine- probably very busy during the week and then dead on the weekends when professionals are home in other cities. Similar to Detroit, we were told that “the money left Jackson for the suburbs” and there were areas with run down buildings and roads riddled with potholes. However, whenever me and Mary Beth are together, fun is to be had, even if there was only one brewery in town.
Upon landing in Jackson, it was our mission to find coffee and to obsessively check our weather apps to see if the “100% chance of rain all day long, suckas!” forecast had changed at all. My app was more optimistic predicting a 50% chance for rain. My app was horribly wrong. More on that later. The expo for the Mississippi Blues Marathon was held in a local Marriott. It was a nice standard expo with your usual booths for hair bands, medal hangers, and promotions for local races. The woman who gave me my bib said she liked my last name. Again, very polite strangers. Of course, a Blues band played at the expo under blue lights. How meta.
We were told by our very friendly hotel front desk attendant Larry that the new Civil Rights Museum was not to be missed. Mary Beth and I had time to kill, and being the history nerds that we are, decided to check it out along with the Museum of Mississippi History. The history museum was about as exciting as one would expect Mississippi history to be (spoiler alert: moderately interesting). However, the Civil Rights Museum was world-class. It still amazes me the deadly lengths that people went to in order to stop African-Americans from having basic human rights. Seeing banners filled with the thousands of names of those who were lynched, along with a wall filled with the mug shots of all the peaceful protestors who fought for civil rights, was awe-inspiring. If you are ever in Jackson this museum is a must-see. In order to get some levity our next stop was to a local distillery, Cathead. Based on the name along we had to check it out. We were excited to drink some whiskey and vodka until the bartender informed us that local liquor laws prohibited the serving of liquor at a distillery. We would have to drink beer. Oh, darn.
Mary Beth and I ate dinner at a local Blues bar which was pretty dead at around 5pm. Oh well, there was live music and our meals were discounted for running the marathon. We were in bed around 7:30ish and I fell asleep shortly after. Having to get up at 3am that morning to get on a plane took a lot out of me. Despite my 10 hours of sleep, morning came fast and it we began our 1.5 mile walk in the rain, in order to get to the starting line of my 26.2 mile run in the rain. Fun times. Luckily, shortly into our walk some fellow marathoners stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. A lifetime of being told “never get into a car with strangers” went out the window. Besides, there were dressed as runners. So either they were more extremely polite strangers, or very smart sex traffickers who put on a good costume. Thankfully they were the former.
I started my run with the 4:50 pace leader and was feeling like this was a perfect pace and I couldn’t go much faster. I stayed with Mr. 4:50 until around mile 8 when he decided “screw pacing!” and pulled away from the group. Seriously, we were dumbfounded. Maybe he started us out to slowly. At any rate it was around this time I had to make my one and only pee stop. I had to wait nearly 10 minutes in line which killed my spirits, but I was about to piss myself (not that anyone would’ve noticed, all my clothes were soaking wet at this point). In order to make up time I pushed myself to run 9:30ish miles until I hit mile 11. I felt surprisingly strong. The course was pretty through the rain- lots of historic neighborhoods filled with old money. It also offered plenty of challenging hills. I pushed myself to run faster on the down hills and flat portions and took my time on the hilly miles.
Two days before my marathon I attended the funeral of a friend, Karen Perzyk, who was the most amazing runner and triathlete I’ve ever known. She qualified for Boston several times and even the Kona Ironman. It goes without saying Karen was an elite athlete who never accepted less than her best effort. During the second half of my marathon, I felt her presence around me, pushing me through any threat of a wall, pushing me to run faster when I wanted to walk, pushing me to run faster when my legs were killing me. I felt stronger in the last six miles and began running sub-10’s after mile 22. Let me tell you, I have never before in my 15 prior marathons ran negative splits, let alone feel like I’m not going to die in the final miles. There was definitely something bigger than myself with me on that course. I finished in 4:44:30, beating my goal of 4:50.
Usually after a marathon my stomach is not ready for food, but after running the hills of Jackson my stomach wanted ALL THE THINGS. Thankfully there was pizza and beer at the finish. I began shivering in my soaking clothes so we caught an Uber back to the hotel. Mary Beth and I switched into party mode and made our way through many beers, delicious bourbon cocktails, and amazing barbecue.
Running Jackson brought me back some much-needed confidence. It reminded me that I can push myself through pain and fatigue; in fact, that’s the only way to successfully run a marathon. I’m looking forward to the Austin Marathon just three weeks away. I’m hoping to shave a few more minutes off of my finishing time, perhaps run a sub 4:40? My plan is to run less and cross train more during the week and run long on the weekends. My husband Shawn will FINALLY be accompanying me to an out-of-state marathon and I’m trying to convince him to pace me. He’s one of those annoying people who can run fast with little training.
Long story short- I’m proud of my effort in Jackson and I’m happy to knock another state off of the list. I truly believe 2018 is going to be an amazing year!