First Light half marathon – Mobile, AL (2017)

After my “fun” trip from Jackson to Mobile, I headed to the expo for the First Light full / half. It was a small expo, but I got my bib, shirt and a special handmade plaque for doing the back-to-back half marathons. Race morning was cold! It was 24 degrees, but the weather app said it felt like 14. It was really easy to get parking close to the start line and I killed some time waiting in my car since it was so cold. I had long pants, compression socks, t-shirt, windbreaker, buff, hat, gloves and some hot hands and it was still cold at the start! As I got out of my car and started my walk to the start line, someone passed me on the street and said, “Go get ’em girl, go get ’em baby!” I told him thanks and made my way the two blocks to the start line ready to embrace the cold!

There were a ton of people from Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and the 50 states clubs who were in town attempting the same back-to-back that I did – this is a really popular back-to-back trip for those groups since the races are so close together and there is even a bus you can sign up for to transport you between the two races. I opted not to do the bus this time, but if I decide to attempt this one again, I may do that to get to meet some more people.

The race itself was pretty small, with just over 900 finishers between the two races. The course itself winds through downtown Mobile and takes you past beautiful houses and the quintessential moss covered trees. Around mile 2, we went past the Magnolia Cemetery and it was really pretty seeing the sun come up across all the gravestones and trees.

It was nice when the sun was out, warming up all the runners. The course itself was really flat with only a few small hills in some of the neighborhoods. Based on my Garmin, the overall elevation only went from 10′ to 33′ so super flat!

Around mile 8, the half and full marathon split off from each other and there were several people who were holding huge signs directing runners to the right course. I had to take a picture of the couple holding the sign for the half marathon – who could say no to taking pictures while wearing a dress in 20-something degree weather?

Through the middle of the race I was leap-frogging with a group of kids (maybe middle school, but definitely young) and at one point I heard one of them say “I can’t wait until we finish this race, we’re going to get so much food!” – he certainly has the heart of a runner with that statement! I laughed when I heard that and told him, “Yes we will!” I ended up getting and staying ahead of the boys shortly after the half marathon split, so I’m not sure if they were able to get all the food they wanted, but the finish line food was pretty good – it was a hot meal of rice, beans, corn bread and some other food with lots of hot chocolate and coffee available for everyone too.

After a few more miles of tree-lined residential streets, we headed back into downtown Mobile and past a lot of buildings that had graffiti designs across the sides of the buildings, we soon came upon the last street where we could see the finish line in the distance. There were mile markers throughout the course, but as we got close to the finish, they marked the 13 mile mark on the street in chalk – only .1 to go!

This wasn’t a very fast race for me, but I had fun just taking everything in and listening to the other runners. I ended up finishing in 2:21:08 and headed to get some of that good food at the finish line festival. Even though the Mississippi Blues race was cancelled, the race director for the First Light race decided to go ahead and give out the back-to-back medals for anyone who had registered for both – that medal has the race logo and state outline on each side, one for each race with the middle part spinning.

The race medal and back-to-back plaque were both hand decorated by local Alabama residents who are part of the L’Arche Mobile Thomas B. Barnett Activity Center. The back of the plaque has a picture of the artist as well as a short story about her and some background on the activity center. Each year there is a different design for the race sticker (lower left, same as the design on the shirt) which is designed by a member of the community. It’s a really cool way to bring the local community into a race that brings in people from all across the country and even the world, as the winner of the marathon was from London!

I was definitely disappointed to only come away with one race finish after this weekend, but I wholly understand why it happened and the weather in the south is very unpredictable in the winter – it went from high’s in the low 20’s in Charlotte on Saturday / Sunday to a high of almost 70 by the end of the week – crazy!  I’ll keep this duo on my radar and may try to head back to do the official back-to-back in the future, but I’m not 100% set on that yet, so time will tell which will be my first “official” Mississippi race!

Mississippi Blues half marathon – Jackson, MS (2017)

Is it an official DNS (did not start) if the race was cancelled due to weather? Probably… but, with the winter storm that hit the east coast this past weekend, there wasn’t much to be done other than cancel the race. As it turns out, Mississippi gets snow like Charlotte gets snow, which is to say, it comes in the form of ice.

I flew into Mobile Thursday night and rented a car so that I could wander around Mississippi and Alabama for the weekend. I spent Thursday night in Wiggins, MS with the intention of checking out De Soto National Forest on Friday and I did head to Airey Lake for a short walk. It was raining and quite cold, so I didn’t venture too far, but the fog coming off the lake was beautiful!

Some of the trail had wooden bridges along the path to help people over swampy land, but with the additional rain, the boards were nice and slick!

From De Soto, I headed to the expo in Jackson and then on to Vicksburg (more photos coming soon) to wander around a bit before heading back to Jackson in the late afternoon. By the time I started heading back the rain had turned into sleet / ice balls and traffic had slowed down considerably. I passed one tractor trailer accident that has blocked the entire other side of the interstate because it was jackknifed across the road. By the time it got to the hotel, the ice was starting to pile up a bit, so I attempted to order take out online and was promptly called and told they weren’t delivering because of the weather. Luckily the pizza place was only a few blocks away, so I slowly made my way over there and successfully made it back to the hotel without sliding anywhere.

Just after 10:00 p.m. we got an email from the race director letting us know that the race was cancelled due to the icy conditions. it was definitely disappointing, but checking out the road conditions in the morning made it easy to see they made the right decision. There was some confusion on the Facebook page about earning our medals through a virtual race, and there are still rumors that this might still be the case, but the RD did offer anyone who still needed to pick up their packet or wanted to pick up their medal could come downtown and pick them up on Saturday morning.

I attempted to do a treadmill run Saturday morning to make up some of the mileage I would be missing and ambitiously set it up for an hour, but quit after 2 miles because running on a treadmill is so boring! I’d rather brave the weather later in January during one of my scheduled training runs to do my redemption / virtual MS Blues half than do it on the treadmill! After my two miles, I packed up my stuff and hit the road just after 9:00 a.m. and headed downtown. Google maps didn’t know what the Jackson Arts Center was, but I headed to the Convention Center and then walked a bit before I found other runners and was able to figure out where to go. The sidewalks and streets were extremely icy and certainly unsafe for runners and cars to try to share the road, but it was very quiet downtown, so I took a little bit of time to wander around and take a few pictures.

 

I saw the courthouse on my drive in and thought it was a really cool-looking building.

This medal is super awesome and I will “earn” it with a virtual half soon enough, but I’ve also heard that this same design will be used next year since it will still be the 10th anniversary of the race given this year’s cancellation.

A little after 10:00 a.m. I started my trek out of town towards Mobile, AL to head to the First Light expo and was concerned it would end up being a 5 hour drive instead of just 3 with how slow it was going in the beginning. Going over 20 mph was very limited, but the only trouble I had was merging from one interstate to another. I was behind a tractor trailer truck and the road we were on was just pure ice, but luckily the other interstate was much more clear – unfortunately this meant making a turn on the ice. I gave the tractor trailer plenty of space and he started to jackknife a bit but was able to straighten out and get on his way. I did a little bit of sliding getting onto the other interstate, but otherwise didn’t have much trouble. It took about 30 minutes before the majority of the ice turned to slush and just wet roads and shortly thereafter the roads were bare and there was barely a trace of ice on even the sides of the road.

So, the good news is that the First Light race didn’t seem to be impacted at all from the winter storm, but they did offer a discount to anyone who was planning to run the Mississippi Blues race who wanted to add their race due to the cancellation. It’s great to see the cooperation between the races!

Ring in 2017 17k – Rock Hill, SC (2017)

I signed up for this race on a whim after a friend told me about another race hosted by the Rock Hill Striders and since it was at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, I figured it would be a great way to kick off the new year. The weather was in the high 30’s and rainy with the rain expected to last most of the day, so I knew it would be a cold morning. I ended up overdressed so I took off my lightweight rain jacket after a couple of miles and didn’t really notice the rain since we were in the middle of the woods for the entire race. The race was pretty low-key with runners congregating under a pavilion (with an awesome fire to huddle around) where volunteers checked us in, gave us our bibs, a race bag and bells! I loved the idea of the bells and they worked much better than when I tried to sew bells onto my hula skirt as part of my Hawaiian Santa outfit a few years ago. The next time I want to make some noise on a run, I’ll be sure to break these out again.

We started out at the Rush Pavilion and headed down to do the full School Loop then back around the Grist Mill back up Muscadine trail and around Lake Haigler for a good 10.5 miles. When I first got to the venue and went to pick up my packet, I talked to one of the greenway workers who told me I was hardcore for running in the rain and cold. Certainly put a smile on my face to start the day!

I loved the trail directional signs around the course. 

During the opening remarks the RD told us that part of our loop would take us past the millstone and while he didn’t know what would happen if we didn’t touch it when we ran past, but why risk it. Makes sense to me.

I love the tunnels on the School Loop!
When I finally made it to the Haigler Lake loop, I was excited to be almost done!
The geese didn’t seem to care that it was a cold and rainy day.
I was one of the last runners to come in, but I really enjoyed this race. It was a tough one to start off the year given the lack of training I did over the holidays, but it was a good kick in the butt to get started on more serious training for my April marathon. Plus, I was able to kick off Ragnar’s annual January 30-day challenge by spending a few hours outside which was really nice.

Spoiler alert: I’ve already broken the streak, but I’m catching up by doing two on some days.

After the race I got some food, warmed up by the fire and talked with the RD about the Rock Hill Striders race series. They’ve got a 50k, half marathon and a 12-hour race all at the greenway, so even if I can’t run any more of their races, I definitely want to get involved where I can.

Official time: 2:18:21