My thoughts on the 28th annual Tupelo Marathon and 14.2-Miler in Tupelo, MS
Tupelo Marathon and 14.2 Miler
September 4, 2011
My Run: Trample the Weak…Hurdle the Dead! Overall, the Tupelo 14.2 miler is my 9th half marathon (even if this one was a little more than half a marathon). I decided to participate this year for two reasons: (1) It was highly recommended by a number of friends from my running group who participated last year (2) it seemed like the perfect tune-up to the Chicago Marathon which is in five weeks.
Altogether there were eight of us that traveled to Tupelo, including my wife Olivia, Paxton, Dawn, Susan, John, Edward, and Andy. Olivia was registered for the 14.2 race, but unfortunately was not able to participate due to multiple tibial stress fractures. I know it was hard on her to not be able to do the race, but I’m glad she decided to come with us anyway. All the rest of us were registered for the 14.2, except for John who was doing the full.
Leading up to the race, my goals were all about marathon simulation. I was hoping to use the same hydration, gel, pace, and warmup strategy as I have planned for Chicago. This meant a goal pace of 7:26 per mile, starting out conservatively and trying to pick it up during the second half. However I knew that the weather in Tupelo could be hot and humid, and some adjustments might be necessary. The weather turned out to be problematic on a couple of fronts. First of all it was 81 degrees at the start (5am), and was fairly sticky. Second, tropical storm Lee was bearing down on Mississippi, so we knew it just a matter of time before the rain started.
Even with the weird weather, I still went forward with my plan. At 3:45am, I ran about a mile and half warmup starting very easy and working my way up to race pace. At the end of this warmup I took my first gel (1x Caffeine) and rode to the start line with Dawn, Susan & Paxton. Upon arrival, I did 6 x 100m stride-outs to get my lungs going and complete the warmup. At 15 minutes until 5:00am I took another gel (2x Caffeine). I knew from the warmup that the heat and humidity were going to be tough, but decided to still shoot for an overall 7:26 pace.
As we started in the dark I felt really good, but I tried to stick to my plan for a conservative start. The first five miles were 7:54, 7:40, 7:22, 7:28, 7:18. I ended up running the first 4 miles with John who is much faster than me, but was running the full marathon. He started slowly pulling away from me during mile 5 (which was mostly downhill). After the first 30 minutes, I reached down for my next gel, and realized that 2 of my 3 remaining gels had fallen out of my gel belt. No idea how this happened, but that was the end of my plan to take one every 30 minutes during the race. At t hat time I decided to take my one remaining gel 45 minutes into the race, and then just rely on Gatorade the rest of the way. The first 2 aid stations only had water, but I’m glad all of the ones past mile 6 had Gatorade.
After mile 5, my pace bounced around in the 7:30s through mile 9. My original plan was to drop the pace down around 7:15 at this point, but my body was starting the feel the effects of the heat and humidity, so going faster was not in the cards. It was also around mile 9 that the sun started coming up, and the intermittent sprinkles turned into a steady drizzle. Unfortunately the rain was not enough to cool me down.
At every aid station past mile 9, I took one cup of water and dumped it over my head and then drank one cup of Gatorade. This would give me a momentary boost, but by the next aid station I could feel the heat radiating in my face and was very ready for the next cup of water over my head. For the last 5 miles, my pace fluctuated significantly. Had one mile in the 7:20s, one in 7:30s, two in the 7:40s, and one in the 7:50s. I had felt relatively good through the first 9 miles, but these last 5 miles were tough. I just tried to focus on staying in the moment and maintaining pace as much as possible.
During mile 11, someone ran up right behind me and said “gobbles!” It scared me quite a bit, and I turned around to see John who I thought was long gone. He had taken an earlier pit stop and I had passed him without knowing it . He went past me pretty quickly, though I still kept him in sight almost all the way to the full marathon turnaround at 13.1.
For most of the race there was always a handful of runners around me, but after the full marathon turnaround, I was completely by myself. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or behind me. I was glad I had studied the course map, because there were two additional turns in the route with no signs and nobody giving directions.
The last mile was mostly uphill, but I tried to remain strong. When the finish line was in sight I could see my wife Olivia there cheering me on which gave me a big boost in the last 200m. I crossed the finish line in 1:48:06, which was 12th overall, 11th male finisher, and second in my age group (30 to 39). After a string of 4th place age group finishes, this was my second race in a row to finish second in my age group.
My overall pace of 7:37 was a little slower than my 7:26 goal marathon pace, but I’m actually quite pleased considering the weather conditions. Jeff Galloway says that when the temperature is between 75 and 80, one should expect a 12% decrease in pace. 12% would be an additional 53 seconds per mile for a pace of 8:19. If this is even close to accurate, then 7:37 doesn’t seem too bad, and makes me think I’m right on target for Chicago (pending weather cooperation)
On a side-note, this was the second long-distance race (1/2 marathon or greater) that I completed in my Saucony Kinvaras, and again they were fantastic. I’m now pretty confident that this will be my race shoe for Chicago.
Friends and Family: I mentioned earlier that there were 6 of us on this trip who raced the 14.2 (Dawn, Susan, Paxton, Edward, Andy, Me), and 1 (John) who did the full marathon.
From Left: Ed, Dawn, Me, Susan, Paxton
From our group I wanted to note the following highlights:
- Paxton was 16th overall (14th male finisher), and 3rd in his age group
- Susan was 20th overall (4th female finisher), and 1st in her age group
- John was 16th overall in the full marathon (15th male finisher) and 2nd in his age group.
I was really happy that Paxton and I both placed in the 30 to 39 age group:
Group race trips are always fun, and I look forward to other in the near future (Chicago, Ragnar, New Orleans).
The Race: Overall, this is a very hard race to grade. It is a low budget, small-town race with no sponsors other than the Tupelo Running Club. It is a quaint, fun event, and there are many things that are handled very well. However, there are a few things which could be improved in my opinion.
The course is rolling, but doesn’t have any significant hills (see more below). All participants received an long-sleeve tie dyed t-shirt, which is undoubtedly the coolest race shirt I’ve ever seen. It is not technical material, but is otherwise awesome:
The finisher’s medal is also stellar. It incorporates the race logo, race slogan, etc, but the unique thing is that for the 14.2, they give you just over half of the full medal, and it cuts off the word “marathon.” I especially like the gold and red in the 2011 version:
For the 14.2, there were 6 aid stations. The first two only had water, but the last 4 had both water and various colors of Gatorade (saw red, blue & green). The volunteers were great about calling out what they had making easy to distinguish between Gatorade and water. Until daylight, the aid stations were illuminated by car lights. One thing that was different was that they used plastic cups instead of paper. Don’t know if this is cheaper or not, but makes it more difficult to pinch the top of the cup so you can get fluid and keep moving. Also, because of the heat this year, it would have been ideal to have one or two more stations during the second half.
Each mile was marked by a very small sign near the ground, which was illuminated by a glow stick for the first 9 miles in the dark. I ended up missing the 1st and 8th markers because they were so small.
While each runner was given a D-Tag for their shoe, there was no timing mat at the start. This meant that everyone’s time started at the “gun” even if it took a while to cross the start line. Again, I’m not sure if this was a cost issue or an issue with getting power to the start line. There were timing mats at the finish, and at the halfway mark for the full marathon. Also, the start line was a small yellow line on the road, and nothing else. I knew the race had started when everyone began moving. There was no gun (understandable for 5am), no bullhorn, nothing. I’m guessing someone at the front said “go!”
On the course there were volunteers with flashlights at every intersection while it was dark. However, after the full marathon break off point there were two turns with no volunteers and no signs, including the turn to the finish line. This really irritated me, even though I generally knew which way to go. Also, the course was not closed for traffic at any point. This was not a big deal, but there were a couple of times when vehicles were going both directions where it was a problem.
The finish area had Powerade, sodas, water, bananas, oranges, cookies, BBQ, potato salad, etc. I was not really craving BBQ at 7am, but lots of people were partaking. The age group awards are pretty cool, as they are made by a local special ed. class:
Note: Even with the “low-budget” feel, this is still a very enjoyable race. You don’t run this type of race for the amenities, the mile markers, split-time clocks, course entertainment, etc. This is a race for people who enjoy running for the sake of running…and a really cool t-shirt 🙂
The Course: The course is located in western Tupelo near the airport, and winds it way through a number of residential areas. It is difficult to comment on whether or not it is scenic since the first 9 miles were completely in the dark.
The terrain is gently rolling but none of the hills were overly significant when compared to what we normally run on in Middle Tennessee. It was actually more fun to run in the dark because you never knew what was coming next. There are some very long stretches with no turns which can be mentally daunting. There were also some miles that were noticeably downhill (mile 5), and others that were noticeably uphill (mile 14). All-in-all though I really enjoyed the course.