Sunday, November 28, 2004

Mississippi Coast Marathon

Mississippi Coast Marathon
Waveland, MS
Nov 27/04

I can sum this race up in one word – UGLY. Or I can expand the description to Ugly, Ugly, Ugly!

The only reason I ran this marathon was to join some of my UK mates who were finishing up a weeklong trip to the US to run 3 marathons in their quest to run the 50 states. They had invited me to join them for the week (and 3 marathons) but I explained that it was Thanksgiving week in the US and I would be lucky to get a pass to run the final race on Thanksgiving weekend. But I agreed to meet them in MS because I needed a 2nd marathon in MS as I work my way around the 50 states for the 2nd time.

So on Fri I flew from Tampa to New Orleans and drove 90 minutes east to Waveland, MS. As I left I-90 and drove into Waveland I recognized that “I’ve been here –done this”. Nicole and I stayed one night in Waveland and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner in the old, historic fishing village of Bay St Louis on the Gulf of Mexico on one of our many trips between FL and CO. I met my usual two mates Roger and Jack at the host hotel and two other runners from the ‘100 Marathon Club (UK) – Warren and Dave as well as Cliff from Waco, TX. We picked up our race packets and ate the traditional pasta dinner provided by the race organization. I don’t normally attend the pasta dinners provided by the races because it is usually terrible food and overpriced. But the UK guys like to go to these dinners to meet and talk to the US runners so I just go along for the ride.

After dinner we retired to our rooms to prepare for the race and watch the weather channel. The forecast was calling for severe thunderstorms on Sat morning – we were hoping it was wrong? When we woke at 6am and checked outside it was sunny and warm – maybe we would luck out and the storms would miss us? But as we drove north 15 miles to the Stennis Space Center the skies became very dark and gloomy and the winds started to increase. The marathon is held totally within the Stennis Space Center – a large complex owned by NASA and located on several thousand acres of MS forest and swamp/bayou land. This complex is where they test all the rockets for the NASA space craft and missiles. I was surprised that Homeland Security still allowed the marathon to be held here but we had no problem getting through the security gates?

The marathon course is two loops around paved roads throughout the base. It is very flat and also very boring. There was also a 5K and Half Marathon race. There were only about 300 runners lined up for the 8am start so I was surprised to learn there were 118 runners in the marathon? About 5 minutes before the start the thunderstorms moved in the skies opened up with rain! Great! I hate starting a race or even to run in the rain let alone a torrential downpour with thunder and lightning. But the race started on time and we were thoroughly soaked within a few minutes so we didn’t have to worry about getting any wetter or trying to avoid the huge puddles and streams on the roads.

I had decided before the marathon to set a goal of 3:40. I have been struggling with a foot injury ever since I ran a 5-mile race in Sarasota at the end of Oct. I wore racing flats for that race i.e. no support or cushioning but lightweight and fast. And I paid dearly for that decision. I thought I was suffering from inflammation in the tendons and since I am scared to take any anti-inflammatory after that little mishap a few years ago I have been trying to run through the pain and control the injury with ice and massages. I had actually taken a few days rest before the marathon and the foot felt the best it had been for the past month. Since I have been unable to do any hard/fast training the past month I figured that 3:40 was a realistic target?

I also made an important discovery the night before the race. As I was massaging my foot and remarking how much better it felt I found a small point in a bone near the joint of the big toe that hurt like Hell to touch? Maybe it was not inflammation but some kind of contusion or worse yet a stress fracture in the foot? That would explain why it was not healing as fast as it should? No matter – I was running the marathon and I would just have to take it easy!

Back to the race. The race started in a torrential downpour. When I reached the 1st mile I discovered that I had somehow screwed up starting my stopwatch. A fellow runner shouted 7:35 for the 1st mile. Too fast but at least I had a gauge on how much my watch was out of synch with the official race clock? This was not turning out to be a good day?
At mile 3 my mate Jack caught up to me and his watch indicated 23:40 for the first 3 miles. Still too fast so I decided to slow down some more. Jack slowed down with me since he had run his previous two marathons in 3:36 and wasn’t sure how much he had left in his legs? We slowed the pace to 8:15s and ran together for the 1st Half. Several times we bitched and whined about the miserable weather and wished that the rain would stop. We passed the Half together in 1:47 and Jack told me to “go on ahead” because his legs were starting to tire. About that same time our wish came true – and it became one of those cases where ‘you should be careful what you wish for’! The thunderstorms, rain and wind passed over and the sun came out. The temps soared immediately into the 70s and we could see steam rising off the blacktop!

The heat and humidity were torturous and immediately every runner started to slow down and many started to crash. I managed to hold an 8:15 pace until 18 miles and then it slipped to 8:30s. I hoped/tried to hold that pace for the last 8 miles but by mile 23 I was struggling and hurting like Hell just to hold the pace under 9 minutes! By then my right foot was killing me and every foot plant brought a cry of pain. My body tried to compensate for the foot injury by subconsciously changing my gait and stride and now my left knee was also hurting like Hell! I just needed to get this ordeal over with before I really screwed up something! I tried to pick up the pace but there was nothing left in my legs and the foot and knee seemed to hurt more when I tried to run faster. So I decided to ignore my time goal and just finish the race – alive and without causing any more serious injury.

Fortunately at that moment the 2nd place female passed me and I decided to try to stay with her. She was half my age, very pretty and provided some nice scenery/distraction to follow. Unfortunately the body was unable to keep up with the mind (seems to happen often at this age?) but I was able to keep her in sight as I followed her to the finish line. Mile 26 was an excruciating, painful and slow 8:59! I was certain that mile had killed any chance of achieving my goal of a sub 3:40. But -----WAIT --- I could see the finish line and the race clock indicated 3:38 and small change. If I could sprint the last few hundred yards I could still beat 3:40! I begged the old bod to give me one last jolt of adrenaline as I ignored the pain and sprinted/hobbled across the finish line in 3:39:40.

I was totally shocked/surprised that I had done it! Don’t know how but I was pleased to accept it. And the strange thing is that my official time was listed as 3:38:17? Either they adjusted the times or I was delirious as I was sprinting towards the finish line? I also didn’t believe that I had placed very well in the race but I was surprised there too. I placed 15th overall and 1st in my age group. Not too bad for an old fart with a broken foot and bum knee?

However it was a painful wake-up call. As soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped my right foot locked up and fired bolts of pain. With my left knee competing for the gold medal in pain level I was barely able to walk/hobble through the finish chute. I tried to stretch and massage the pains/injuries but even that didn’t help much. So I decided to head back to the hotel to apply ice and heat. I managed to stay around the finish line long enough to cheer Jack across the finish line in 4:07 but I couldn’t wait for the rest of the gang. As I applied ice to my foot and knee back at the hotel I finally realized that I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer and hope the foot injury is going to go away. I will have to visit a quack/doctor next week and request an X-ray to see if we can find the problem. I already know it will be an ugly confrontation because his advice is going to be “quit running” and that is not an acceptable solution to Maddog!

I have one more marathon this year (mid –Dec in Jacksonville) and 4 marathons scheduled in Jan and Feb. so I can’t afford to take time off! In fact I need to start some serious speed training so that I can win all those races!

Fortunately all of the guys made it back to the hotel before I had to leave for the airport so I was able to say my goodbyes – but I will see most of them again in May when I go back to Europe for two more marathons.

So in summary it was indeed an UGLY marathon. The course is flat and fast but very boring. It could be a very fast course with good weather. The post race party is good with beer and jambalaya. I don’t know about the awards – I didn’t stick around to get mine.
For me it was marathon #237 and my 37th state on my 2nd circuit around the 50 states.


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