Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Mississippi River Marathon

Forrest and I on the shuttle bus
Someone had a good idea. We got off the bus in the middle of nowhere, due east of parts unknown, and directly south of nobody goes there. The wind was howling at a steady nineteen miles per hour and the temp was 34 degrees. But five fires graced the open field, lit who knows when because they were burned down to heaps of glowing coals that put out amazing heat even on the upwind side of the strong, cold wind.

We, the Mississippi River Marathon fullers (as opposed to the halfers), crawled out of the shuttle buses that had ported us from downtown Greenville, Mississippi, to somewhere near upper Lake Chicot north of Lake Village, Arkansas. We headed first for the ditch on the far side of the field where we peed without shame. Yes, there were porta-potties on site, but the lines were long and the guys used the freedom God gave us to add some sodium to the soil. Then we made our way to the fires to protect ourselves from the cold. I talked to a guy from Kansas, a dude from Missouri, and a young man from Florida.  

The day was Saturday, and the date was February 13, 2016. It was so cold and the wind so strong that comfort was a mere wish. We were about to run 26.2 miles back to downtown Greenville if the race director could convince us to leave the fires and make our way to the starting line. He asked, cajoled, and pleaded with us. Finally, with only minutes to spare, we braved the windy cold and toed the line and tenth of a mile away. When he said go, we went glad to be moving to generate some body heat.

We ran across the causeway bridge and then took a left turn beside the lake where we stayed for the next six miles. The race route then directed us to Highway 82 for the next seven miles which brought us to the foot of the Mississippi River Bridge. When we made that first turn, we had the wind to our backs, which made things much more comfortable. Gradually, however, the lake and the road that follows it turns and by mile nine, we were getting the wind straight into our teeth.

From the very start I was breathing harder than I should have been. Blood donation? I think. My pace held at 10:30 for three miles and then it gradually slowed. I knew pretty early that it was going to be a tough day. And thank God for all the porta-potties. I used them five times. Hear that people? Five times. And I got over this hydration mania years ago.
The Mississippi River from
the top of the bridge


I had early given up the idea of beating my son, Forrest. I just let him go and concentrated on finishing this thing. As the miles added up and the pace continued to slow I started looking for a fat lady. When I came out of the porta-potty at miles fifteen, I saw here. Or at least I thought I did.

She was about 6'2" and had a butt as wide as a car door. She had passed me when I was in the potty so I fixed my sight on her massive rear end and tried to real her in. Slowly I drew closer and closer until I was close enough to see she was not a fat lady but a fat man. He fought back when I tried to pass, so I just took my time and when he stopped at the sixteen-mile aid station, I went around as fast as a three-legged turtle. That'll show him.

We were on Highway 1 at this point and the course goes for miles straight up that highway and into that wind that ground us and ground us and challenged our wills. At nineteen miles I saw Forrest up ahead. When I drew near he said, "My leg is screwed up." My heart went out to him. I know what it is like to walk in with a damaged body when you just want to run.

At 20.5 the course turns off the highway and into a really nice neighborhood. There was a potty at mile twenty-one and I stopped. When I came out, my legs were screaming at me. I began to walk for the first time and guess what happened then. Yeah, the fat lady, I mean fat man passed me and I was so beaten down I didn't  even care. I shuffled and walked until I finally crossed the line in 5:42 (14:58). Forrest walked in later at 6:07. He was not happy. He did not want to talk. I understood.