11 was the Mississippi Marathon in Clinton on 11 January 2003.
This was a training run. I registered on December 31, arranging to leave after dinner on Friday night (I left the house at 8 pm after pasta with sun-dried tomato sauce and was in a Jackson motel room by 1 am Eastern) and to be back for dinner on Saturday night (I was in the door at Dogpatch at 7:45 pm Saturday, Rachael cooked a pork loin). A lot could go wrong with such critical timing, but it worked perfectly this time.
The route is out and back on the Natchez trace, 13.1 miles down the road from the start, turn around and come back. In principle the road is little used, but there was a fair amount of traffic this day. Most of the traffic was marathon-related, many runners had support vehicles.
I arrived in time to watch the 7 am early staters go off and hung around watching activities until the run started at 8. The start was cold, so I wore layers of disposable old t-shirts. I dropped a shirt that I have long disliked at the 8 mile water station and was distressed to see it waiting to be picked up in the lost and found at the finish line. I looked away, hoping that it would find its way to Goodwill.
I ran the first six miles with Bill, from Lincoln, Nebraska. Bill was 4 runs short of running all 50 states twice, so he was a wealth of marathon knowledge. His favorite was the Twin Cities. He had driven down with a friend. Originally from Kansas, he was not profoundly distressed by Nebraska's recent struggles on the football field, but after 20 years in Lincoln his wife and kids were among the Big Red faithful. Later on the plane out I sat next to an insurance salesman from Omaha who had been in Jackson for an annuity workshop. He was not a marathoner and was well-dressed in a sport coat and black turtleneck on a Saturday afternoon. He had lived his entire life within 100 miles of Omaha and was glad to be going back, even if the temperature was in single digits.These marathon trips are turning into interviews of America.
I finished the first half in something like 1:50. Someone came up behind me at about 14 miles, but didn't pass for a while. Gel packs were distributed at mile 16, I took one and gave one to my tailingater. We ran together for a while, but he was in a hurry. Prying questions found that (1) he was from Tennessee, (2) he was from Knoxville, (3) he was from Oak Ridge, (4) he worked at the lab, (5) he was a physicist, (6) he was a nuclear physicist, (7) he had run about 42 marathons, he would have to count sometime, (8) he was a Lady Vol's basketball fan. If one responds to the question "What sort of physicist?" with silence and then "nuclear physicist," before moving on to basketball, one is either a weapons scientist or a former physicist now in management or software. My money is on former physicist, but you never know. Remembering that I was on a training run, I let the Tennessee stud go.
At about mile 18, Neville from New Orleans caught up to me. Neville is a native South African. He has run the Comrades Marathon a dozen times and run tons of marathons and ultra's around the world. He has run to Comrades in 6 something and considers 2:45 to be his normal marathon time. He is a nice guy and we chatted about the time needed to train for ultras and ultras vs. triatolons. He finds gatorade distasteful, so he stopped at mile 22 to have a coke with his wife, a nonrunner driving an SUV in support. Neville is a consulting engineer in the sugar processing industry, a sort of old hipster humming bird.
I wanted to see if I had anything left, so I ran 7-something minute miles for the last three miles. I hope that the people I passed just before the finish forgive me some day. I finished in 3:36:18.
I drove around Jackson for a while before going to the airport. Running is a consuming passion and reshapes a person both physically and mentally, so the people that I met at the marathon were like runners everywhere. Despite billing as the Mississippi marathon, the race did not seem to be mentioned in the local paper or other media. In going to Mississippi I thought of Trent Lott and wanted to ask Mississippians if they were really proud of the State's vote in 1948, but of course I did not. The place is poor and backward. Downtown Jackson is well-kept, however, and the airport has a "gateway to the new South" tag line. The South is not as disconnected as the distant planet that Olmstead visited. It was fun to combine hyperspace translation across the south with pedestrian travel on the old Natchez trace. Jackson seemed near the end of the earth to me until Neville pointed out that it was only a 2-3 hour drive from New Orleans. The South is complex and multifaceted. The small Mississippi marathon is like an encampment of Hash House Harriers in the land of Duck hunters and ole Miss football fans, but modern secularism may yet creep into Mississippi.