After a few weeks off from running, Rhonda and I were scheduled to be back at it with a double in Mississippi and Alabama on January 7 & 8. Rhonda had run both races a couple years ago and loved them, so I was excited to run them with her and add two states to my list. Bud and I had left home in Michigan earlier in the week and drove to Rhonda’s in South Carolina. We left our husbands there and on Friday and headed toward Jackson, MS for the first race of the two – Mississippi Blues. The weather was cold with possible rain/ice in the forecast, but the race was still a go at that point; so we went. Most of the drive was uneventful with some rain off and on, but that changed an hour or so out and poor Rhonda was white knuckling it through freezing rain and slush into Jackson. We found our way to the packet pickup/expo location, picked up our bibs, bags with some nice swag, and wonderful full-zip jackets, and then headed out to find our hotel. When we spotted a Whataburger just a block from the Hampton Inn, Rhonda made a quick left turn and voila – dinner! Now we would not have to venture back out once we checked in. The evening was spent fervently checking for updates on the race and trying to decide what we would wear IF it actually happened. But as the temps sunk, so did our hopes; and although disappointed, we were not surprised to be notified around 9:00 pm that the race had been cancelled.
When we finally ventured out the next morning, it was crystal clear the race director and committee had made the right decision. Streets, sidewalks, everything were glare ice. There is no way a safe race was possible in those conditions. After the dust had settled and the race organizers had time to process the entire situation, they certainly did right by us and offered several options to make up for canceling. We chose to apply to run another race this spring; hoping both our requests will be granted and the logistics will work out. And although it won’t officially count, we have both committed to running our own Mississippi Blues virtual race to maintain the integrity of accepting the medals and displaying them with the appropriate disclaimer.
Realizing traffic could start backing up, we decided the quicker we got out of Jackson, the better off we would be; and that was certainly the case as we crept up an icy slippery on-ramp, dodging semis and two-wheel drive trucks with wheels spinning. We had made it in the nick of time. Looking at the ramps on the opposite side of the interstate, it was solid lines of stopped traffic as far as we could see. Again Rhonda expertly maneuvered through traffic and along the route to Mobile, AL. Luckily we drove out of the poor weather and road conditions relatively quickly and had a pleasant drive that day.
Once again we went directly to packet pick up where we saw several familiar faces of other runners who had been in Mississippi and signed up for this back to back series. We all had interesting tales to share of sliding along the sidewalks, traffic issues, airport and car rental snafus, and a multitude of other issues that pop up when a race doesn’t go as planned. The expo was small, but quaint. The First Light Marathon’s main beneficiary is the L’Arche community and the finisher medals are hand made by the members. Even with the cold temps I was looking forward to it since Rhonda recommended it highly. But cold it was…more on that in a minute. We then drove over to our hotel where they allowed us to check into our room early. We followed our now usual routine of piling a luggage cart high and finding our way down the hall and elevator to our room with a few stray bags over the shoulders. When you stop to think about it, it is never a light trip when we are traveling for our runs. A little down time in the room and we decided to find dinner. We ended up at Mellow Mushroom for one of our favorite pre-race meals of a meat lover’ pizza and a yummy bruschetta appetizer.
These two wild ladies were back in our room, in jammies and bed by 7:00pm. We chatted and did a little race planning while the Detroit Lion’s game played in the background. About an hour later, Rhonda said good-night and what seemed like two seconds after that I turned to say something to her only to learn she was out like a light. I think that poor girl needed a good rest after all the stressful driving. The next morning we woke up to temps in the 20s – NOT the kind of weather either of us likes to run in. Layering was the name of the game. I was most concerned about my hands as they often get cold even with running gloves on. As a last minute thought before leaving home in Michigan, I had grabbed a couple pair of wool mittens out of the closet. That turned out to be one of my best decisions. Although my dexterity certainly took a hit throughout the race, the only time my fingers got cold was when I took them off toward the end to be able to stop my Garmin when crossing the finish.
We had found a convenient parking lot only a few blocks from the start and sat in the car until it was time to make our way over. It was cold – there’s no denying that at 26 degrees and windy; but as usual, we acknowledged being cold for a short time was nothing compared to what those with ALS and other disabilities endure on a daily basis. The start gun sounded and we began the now very familiar task of trying to settle into a pace while working our way through a pack of very different paced runners at the start. Luckily, this is a smallish race, so the field soon opened up and we felt comfortable enough to start our normal 2:30 run/:30 walk intervals. Other than being really cold (have I said that enough?) the race was rather uneventful. I am sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it in warmer conditions. As we clicked off the miles, Rhonda’s back began to tighten up…probably exacerbated by tensing up in the cold. By the last few miles, whenever she would slow for our walk break, it became increasingly painful to start the run cycle again. Although we always start and finish together, I knew I would not be comfortable running straight through the last 2-3 miles but also knew she needed to. She finally agreed to keep going and meet up at the finish after I almost threatened her with bodily harm if she did not. I knew I would only be a few minutes behind her. And she was right there to greet me once I collected my hand-crafted medal. She had already met up with Kevin, a fellow Half Fanatic and 100 Half Marathon Club member, and the three of us took a quick picture together before making our way to the food line. Warm red beans and sausage over rice, corn bread, various other goodies and hot chocolate were just what we needed.
We then headed back toward the car, stopping to take a few pictures at Mardi Gras Park. Back to the hotel, shower, change, pack up and hit the road for the long drive back to Rhonda’s house. We arrived later that evening and after relaxing and visiting with her family and my husband, went to bed relatively early. We already knew school had been cancelled the next day for her kids because of the lingering icy patches in some areas, so we all slept in a little before Bud and I decided to get up, packing our car and completing the final leg of our journey to our winter home in Georgia. It’s time to rest and regroup before we start up again next month.