Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tupelo Marathon - In Review

This past Sunday, September 6, 2009, I participated in the Tupelo Marathon in Tupelo, Mississippi. Not knowing quite what to expect from a 'small town' marathon, I was very apprehensive on the drive to the backwoods of the Magnolia State. While I had done a small marathon before (Baton Rouge Beach - December 2008), I was guessing the Tupelo Marathon was going to be like a race in a whole other country ... and in a way, it was.

The first signs that we had entered God's Country on Saturday mid-day occurred when we checked in to the race's host hotel (The Summit). I had booked one of the last rooms available, which was a King Sized suite. Not realizing the play on words when I first booked the room, it became very clear when Michelle and I walked in. Tupelo's one claim to fame? The birthplace of The King, Elvis Presley ... and the hotel room decor proved it. From the photos of Elvis framed on the wall, to the 1960's style red double garden tub ... everything screamed 'Graceland South.' It was special, to say the least. But I must admit, the accommodations were very nice and the hotel's staff was VERY hospitable. We couldn't have asked for better treatment from any 5-Star Resort.

I checked in to race HQ and picked up my bib number (#209), chip, and race shirt on Saturday afternoon. The shirt is a pretty cool and funky orange / yellow tie-dyed pattern with a skull and crossbones logo on the front with the race name and year. Michelle and I then drove to the race start to get the lay of the land, and headed to the shopping Mecca of downtown Tupelo. After Party City and the Dollar Store had properly been perused, we went back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour with mediocre white and red wine and then to probably the worst spaghetti dinner I have ever eaten (Vanelli's Restaurant). Bedtime came earlier than anyone should ever go to bed, but I was knocked out by 8:30pm ... which proved to be vital for the 3:30am wakeup call the next morning.

The race proved to be even more interesting than Tupelo itself. After hearing the call at 3:30am to get out of bed, I dressed, taped, Vaselined, and ate a banana and bagel. Michelle dropped me off at the race start for 4:30am on a pitch black country road with about 600 racers who slowly gathered to a huddle on the street with no official mat or starting line. The starting siren went off just a few minutes after 5am. It was beyond dark as we ran down dark, hilly, and winding Mississippi back roads. Since the sun wasn't yet out, the temps stayed cool for about the first half of the race. However, the heat quickly took over shortly after I hit the midway point at mile 13 and turned around to do the 'back' portion of the out-and-back route. I completed the first half in 1:58:20 ... I had been pacing myself well. Not too fast, but not too slow. The second half was slow, hot, and torturous with rolling hills. I, however, met some very nice runners from Florida and Minnesota as I made the trek back to the starting / finish line.

I must say that the volunteers on the route handling water stations may have been sparse, but they were VERY helpful when passing out fluids. One volunteer was handing out Gatorade when I asked if he had water. When he said he didn't in his hands, I took a Gatorade and kept running. Twenty seconds later, the same volunteer came running up behind me to catch me to hand me water. Talk about going above and beyond. I was very impressed after this effort was put forth.

The highlight of the entire race in my book is the finishers' medal. As you can see from the picture (right), they stick to a skull and crossbones theme 100% ... and it totally works. The slogan "Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead" is fitting with the heat, and makes for a lot of fun. I can say that this is the coolest medal I have, aside from Mardi Gras Marathon 2009. And I think with a finishing time of 4:27:20, I totally earned my jolly roger.

Thankfully, Michelle was a God-send and drove from Tupelo back to New Orleans after the race. We stopped at Cracker Barrel for a post-race lunch once my adrenaline had calmed, and I literally ate an adult entree (pot-roast, mac & cheese, fried apples, hash brown casserole) a kid's entree (cornbread dressing and kernel corn) and a caramel ice cream sundae. Talk about the meal of champions.

Overall, it was a good experience. I don't know if I will do it again, but Tupelo is certainly something that I am glad I have done once. I would recommend it for any maniac that thinks 26.2 miles in a Mississippi September sounds like fun.

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