Date: December 11, 2016
After crunching the numbers, I found the cheapest way to get down there was to fly into New Orleans Saturday afternoon and fly back home early Sunday at 5 pm. With a 7 am start time and Biloxi being about 90 minutes away, I worried about the slightest hiccup on race day possibly causing me to miss my flight home, but I thought it was a challenge I was up for. I thought maybe since there were basically no turns the entire race as well as a totally flat run at sea level, I could get the race done in about 5 1/2 hours. Even if I'm not ready for it, I could always treat it as my long training run for Florida.
"Black, Silver or Orange?" The Avis guy was giving me my pick of color for my car rental. "Uh, whichever's parked the closest, I guess...." A few moments later, I found the push button start of the black Mustang and was peeling out of the parking lot and heading to Biloxi as daylight was quickly giving way. Google maps saved me a half hour by taking me off the congested interstate and I was zooming through quiet two lane roads to get to the expo before dark.
|Made it to the motel moments before sunset|
As I was laying out my clothes for the next day I looked in the envelope that had my bib to make sure there were safety pins in there. Panic set in as I realized there weren't any. Oh crap, how the hell am I going to get this bib on me without safety pins? I chuckled at the idea of going outside in search of four liberals who wore a safety pin as some sort of secret code and taking it from them. In the meantime I texted Blaine to see if he could bring some extras from his home in Metairie since he was driving up in the morning. It was a good thing I did because he didn't realize the last bus for the half left at 6:15 in the morning and they weren't planning on getting here until 6:30. I set my alarm for 4:00, 4:05, 4:10 and 4:15 and was out like a light before 9.
|Good morning Mississippi!|
I loaded into the shuttle at 5:40 am and found a seat in the back next to a guy whom I said good morning to and not much else. He seemed pretty focused, or dazed, not sure which. The 40 minute ride was spent reflecting on the day in front of me, and also eavesdropping on the runners behind me - a guy from North Carolina who is close to Boston Qualifying and younger woman looking to also complete all fifty states were chatting it up most of the way there. That's one thing I noticed about the race - almost everyone I talked to were seasoned veterans at this - one woman was running her 11th this year!
We made it to the start line a few moments before sunrise as I waited and swapped various marathon stories in the bus with a few others that weren't quite ready for the near-freezing temps. I apologized to these runners for bringing down the cold weather with me from Chicago.
As we were staging ourselves for the race I noticed the five hour pacer was wearing a Ragnar shirt and I immediately had to show her my Ragnar socks. We Ragnarians are a crazy breed and an instant connection is made whenever I run into another. We briefly talked about which Ragnars we had conquered and found out we had both done the Napa race where it was really hot. Shannon is a Houston based runner who simply crushes it all over the country. Maybe someday I'll be able to use her talents on a Slightly Unstable Ragnar team!
This was by far the smallest marathon I've ever been a part of. With less than 600 finishers it felt like a friendly neighborhood 5k at the start. Since there was no PA system we all sang the national anthem and began our journey right at 7. I forgot to turn on my GPS watch and before crossing the start, I hesitated to see if I could locate the satellites first, but went ahead anyway. Good thing I did, because mile after mile I kept checking and I never did lock in a signal. Time to research and upgrade my watch, I guess. It served me well for the last four years.
|My watch for 5 hours be like|
|One day I will break 5 again|
|Smile for the camera, guys!|
I spent the first 10k of the race well ahead of a 5:00:00 pace, but my lack of training clearly began to catch up to me around mile 8. That was where Shannon and her crew blew by me and my pace began to drop into the low 11's. Since I had no GPS watch I was doing lots of math in my head the whole time.
I finally got to my personal Dark Tower but was disappointed to see that it was only mile 13 as I was in Gulfport, where the half marathon started at the same time as the full. Oh man, this is going to be a long day. It's mentally defeating to see that your eyes on the prize was only looking at the halfway mark. I was also really hungry and all I had to eat was the Acai & Pomegranate Honey Stinger energy gel that they handed to me back near mile 10. I started counting cones to help pass the time and began calculating how many cones they'd need to cover the course. With a cone every 20 yards, I calculated they put down about 2,500 cones. Then I started thinking about the factory that made the cones, and how long it took to manufacture those cones. Your mind really does wander during these things.
By mile 19 I saw the Coliseum and my car and I thought about just jumping into my car and driving to the finish but in reality there's no way I would intentionally cheat myself out of earning a medal. I just couldn't live with myself.
|95% of the course looked like this|
|oh noes - down my phone goes|
A final out and back loop for the final mile sent us to the finish line at MGM Park, where the Biloxi Shuckers play AA ball in the Brewers organization. We ran along the warning track towards first base and I made sure I had enough energy to cross the finish without too much of a struggle. My run was complete! It was a very chill scene, with a band playing in the outfield and plenty of gumbo and sandwiches handed out to all the finishers. After getting my medal and quick picture at the finish line I poured myself a cup full of Coke followed by another full cup of Coke (maybe the two best cups of Coke I ever had) and had to bypass the line for food since I had a flight to catch. Following the signs to the shuttle, I sprinted towards the bus, running faster than at any point in the race, and was the last rider on as the shuttle returned us to the Coliseum. There was a shared sense of accomplishment that could be tangibly felt throughout that bus.
When I got back to the car, I checked my messages and saw that my flight along with all the other flights to the Midwest had been cancelled. So much for staying on the cheap side of things, as my hotel and car rental costs instantly doubled. Well, there are worse places to be stranded at. Although famished and completely spent I was able to make the drive back on I-10 to New Orleans without any issues... almost. I had to pull over for a few minutes and stretch before getting on the highway because the left side of my ribs locked up when I turned to reach into my backpack that was sitting on the driver's seat. Ouch.
I can really see this race growing into something big. It didn't really seem like an inaugural race because it was so well run. The weather was cordial, although we were lucky to have cooler than normal temperatures and it can also be frustrating running into a headwind the entire length of the race. But it makes sense to finish in Biloxi, so maybe if they made it an out and back from MGM Park along Route 90 it would be an easier race to run and manage. But still, it was a great experience to be a part of.
Flight: $33 (United) after refunded cost of return flight (Spirit)
Hotel: Quality Inn Biloxi Beach: $88.48
Car Rental: $62.93
2nd hotel night: Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans Hotel $123
Extra day car rental: $75.67
Return Flight: $162 (Delta MSY > ATL > ORD)