Free entry! Free entry! I must preface this post by bragging and disclosing that I won a free entry for The Mississippi River Marathon in a random drawing held at the Louisiana Marathon. Will this bias my review of the course and the race – quite possibly. However, you can now take my review with a grain of salt, a spoonful of sugar, or two tablets with lots of water and call me in the morning. Knowing I was traveling this year, the race director kindly offered to defer my entry for 2017. Quite frankly, I did not see myself making a special trip to Mississippi and Arkansas next year, so since the race was only one week off in my planned schedule, I just added roughly 900 miles of additional zigging and zagging into my trip. Thank fracking for low gas prices this year.
I have many great things to say about this race, but before I gush, I want to say the worst about this race and get it out of the way. This for me is not a “Destination” Race. If I was living in Maine, and wanted to travel to a race that would be both a challenge and a vacation, this race would not be it. The weather was so-so, the landscape, a bit on the winter drab side, the towns – Lake Village is not much more than an extended gas stop along the highway and Greenville wasn’t really much of a hotbed of activity either. That being said, there were many great things about this race. Firstly, the race directors John and Jenn Conner. Obviously, I was in contact with them a bit more than your average runner since I won the entry but it was more than that. I showed up at the expo to pick up my packet and was warmly greeted with hugs and handshakes. This was not just me. I saw them welcoming many runners warmly and conversing in a truly interested manner. This is in direct contrast with a race director I saw recently who removed himself from general operations, looked annoyed when anybody (runner or volunteer) asked him questions, and was heard to be making fun of vendors at his own expo. John and Jenn were very involved in every aspect of the race and showed nothing but enthusiasm and gratitude towards all who participated. This makes an incredible difference. Secondly, my favorite perk in any race – free photo downloads! The photographers were great. They were extremely well placed. Undeniably, one of the big highlights of this race is the bridge straddling the Mississippi and sure enough, not one but two photographers were there to capture the moment you cross with the bridge in the background. At the runner’s village, they had a finisher’s circle photo booth set up, a great place to get your picture taken with family, friends, and new running buddies, without having to resort to the selfie stick or asking others at the finish line to take the picture. Thirdly, plenty of food and beverages left for people like me that finished after the five hour mark. I can’t tell you at how many races I go to get refreshments at the end of the race, only to be told they ran out of beer, pizza, water, electrolytes – you name it. They had a wide variety of indulgent offers in the food tent from tamales (Greenville is home to a fairly large Delta Hot Tamale Festival in October) to pizza, to all types of fruit, granola bars, donuts, beer, and electrolytes. Although I don’t consider this a “Destination Race” I do feel they have a great deal to offer and would recommend it to anybody within easy travel distance.
If you like flat courses, you’ll like 90% of this course. I know that there is a decent size bridge right in the center of the course, but the grade is not that steep and seems to stretch over about three quarters of a mile. It is also tough to get lost on this course, I think there are only five turns in the entire route. Lots of support at water stations, after mile two there were water stations at every mile with water and Powerade and porta potties. We were bussed to the start of this point to point race on Stuart Island where it was pretty chilly to start the day, so they had little bonfires lit to keep us warm as well as a hospitality tent to keep us out of the wind and collect drop off bags to be taken to the finish line. The first seven miles or so you run within direct view of the largest oxbow of the Mississippi River, Lake Chicot. As regular readers of my reviews know, I love a water view so this was a gorgeous way to start my race. This stretch was particularly wonderful since the first 9 or 10 miles we had the wind directly at our backs, pushing us along and helping us pick up the pace. Not only is the bridge a gentle climb, the downside of the bridge seems staggered in long flat plateaus, so no stress on your calves as you run downhill (unfortunately, also no momentum). This is where the real grind begins. Miles 15 to 20 are some of the most boring, gray, fallow fields of mud, dust, and chaffe. This was exasperated by the 20 mile an hour winds that were helping us at the beginning of the race, now blasting us right in the face the entire 5 miles.You can never predict a wind like this but it made running this tortilla flat road equal to climbing 2000 feet over the same distance. Finally, we got a break from the wind as we entered the final 10k of the race, plunging into the neighborhoods and city streets of downtown Greenville, where we were finally greeted by some local residents. It was a rather cold day and most of the support so far had centered around the fantastically enthusiastic water stations. Mile 21 had a lady who must run a catering company because she had an amazing culinary spread set up for us – crab and shrimp quiche, stuffed mushroom caps, chocolate covered strawberry. I wanted to eat the whole table. Instead, I took one last Gu and focused on finishing strong. A final run up Main Street and a fantastic finish set up in view of the levee. I saw the race directors John and Jenn congratulating each of the runners crossing the finish line. That’s what I call small town hospitality.
Start Using Drop Bags
This was a cold morning. It would have been good to have extra layers to start the morning. Even if I have disposable gear (cheap gloves or sweatshirts bought used at Goodwill) a lot can change between leaving the house and starting the race, temperature, precipitation etc. It’s good to be prepared, but sometimes, even at the start line, you know you have too much and planning to use the bag just gives you another option than littering or carrying excess all the way to the finish.
There is a reason this is such a popular expo enticement from vendors and it’s not just because it’s cheap even when printed. That full force gale in our face took a toll on our face and the lips seemed most vulnerable. My lips are naturally full and glossy, but the chapstick also has spf protection in many cases. Make sure I apply liberally in the future.
This was a challenging week for me. After my phenomenal recovery and easy paced run last week in Oklahoma City, I was expecting to really ramp it up and PR at this race, even though I only had 5 days of rest in between instead of the normal 6. Life had other plans. Tuesday evening, my body started giving me early warnings that a kidney stone was on the way. The following 24 hours were painful but even after I passed my first stone, something wasn’t right, I was more nauseous than I had ever been before with these stones and I wasn’t able to keep anything down, not even water. By day three, I was getting a little nervous. I didn’t have abdominal pains but I knew something was not quite right. I was able to take water, soup, and toast, but it left me feeling bloated and uncomfortable. I got up on Friday, determined to at least get to Greenville for packet pick up, then I would go to emergency care. Two hours down the road, I started to feel uncomfortable again so I stopped to get some electrolytes and that was when I passed a second stone. Hallelujah! This was, mind you, 18 hours before we started the race. However, once that stone passed, my body snapped to attention and I felt strong going into the race. Fortunately, although they didn’t have official pacers for the race, I found a very consistent runner, Lisa Anstine, and rode her coattails all the way to mile 12, but lost her as we started towards the bridge. This built a little momentum for me to battle the wind on the other side of the river. What I feel really held me back, as my legs began to stiffen in mile 20, was the fact that I hadn’t run all week, I hadn’t given my legs the chance to stretch all week long. I did finish in 5:25:29, just a minute or so off of my personal record, but I was a little disappointed. With some training and focus, hopefully we will get that PR celebration next week in El Paso, Texas!