It is hard to believe but my most fun race adventure didn’t even include a race. This past weekend I was registered to run the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon. At the end of the weekend, I had traveled by plane, train, and automobile (no boat!) through 5 states yet I never put a foot into a running shoe. Although I missed the race, I had one interesting adventure.
The Mississippi Blues Half was a race I was really looking forward to running. Just like the Route 66 Half Marathon is considered to be THE race to run in Oklahoma, the Mississippi Blues Half is considered to be THE race to run in Mississippi. I had heard many reports from other runners about how much they enjoyed this race. I was looking forward to going to Jackson, Mississippi to not only run but enjoy the many clubs with live blues music after the race. For weeks I kept hearing Bruno Mars singing the lyrics “Jackson, Mississippi” in his famous song “Uptown Funk.” This was going to be a great trip. Mother Nature, however, had other plans.
The weather forecasts in the week prior to the race kept changing. Some days it looked like the weather was going to be bad. The next day it looked like the bad weather would miss them. Despite the changing weather forecasts, I decided to make the trip.
I arrived in Jackson two days before the race and headed to the Expo. It was lively with a blues band playing. In the runner’s goodie bag, there was a zip jacket, a harmonica, and a DVD on Mississippi blues music. The finishers’ medal was on display; it was huge! I was going to have wonderful souvenirs from this race. Unfortunately, the ever-changing weather forecast had swung back to being ominous.
The day before the race it rained in the morning so I headed to the Mississippi Museum of Art. It isn’t a large museum but it was unique. There was a special exhibit – the Mississippi Invitational – with the most unusual work of art I have ever seen – a sculpture made of cicada shells. I remember as a kid picking cicada shells off the sides of trees in the summer. They were very fragile and easily crushed. Nate Theisen had created a sculpture that looked like a basket – 22 inches x 36 inches x 36 inches – using hundreds of cicada shells. It was hard to believe the delicate shells could be used for a sculpture. (Check out Nate’s web page for a photo of the cicada sculpture.)
Someone at the Expo had told me in Mississippi, if you don’t like the weather, wait two hours and it will change. They were right. When I left the museum, the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to peak out through the clouds, though it was pretty cold. I was feeling optimistic about Saturday’s weather for the race.
I walked over to see the Merci train car. In 1949 France sent a train car filled with gifts to each state in the US (Washington DC and Hawaii shared one) as a token of thanks for the support they received during World War I and II. Forty-three of the original 49 cars still exist. As I made my way back to my hotel after seeing the Merci train, I noticed that it was getting colder.
As the afternoon wore on, the clouds got thicker and the ice pellets started to fall. Things deteriorated quickly and the roads became dangerously covered in ice. In fact many roads and bridges were closed. With temperatures not expected to get above freezing before Sunday, the race organizers made the tough decision to cancel the race. While many runners headed to the hotel bars to commiserate, I spent Friday night researching ways to get home. I didn’t want to repeat my first 2016 race trip when I was stranded in Austin for 3 days after the race due to an East Coast blizzard. It was time well spent because late Saturday morning I was notified that my Sunday morning flight home was canceled too.
On Saturday morning I went out to find the streets covered in a quarter inch of ice. Walking was nearly impossible. A few runners were going to run the race on their own, even printing out the course turn by turn. They quickly abandoned their plans when they saw how treacherous it was.
With many flights out of Jackson canceled and roads covered in ice, I decided to take the overnight City of New Orleans train to Chicago. On Saturday evening I boarded the train and settled into my sleeper compartment. I tried to sleep as we traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois but the Arlo Gutherie song “City of New Orleans” kept playing in my head. My brain wouldn’t turn off my mental record player no matter how hard I tried. In Chicago, I took another train to O’Hare Airport where I was able to get a flight home. The entire trip was an adventure.
Coincidentally, the Disney World Half Marathon scheduled for the same day was also cancelled due to the weather in Florida. Disney appeased all the affected runners by giving them the race medal, refunds, and park passes. I would never have expected those things.
Many people posted complaints on Facebook about the Mississippi Blues race. I think they might have heard about how Disney was handling their cancellation and expected the same treatment. They complained about the timing of the race cancellation announcement. They complained about not getting refunds for their entry fees or a free registration for the 2018 race. They wanted – in some cases, demanded – their race medals. Their behavior made me angry. Expecting the Mississippi Race organizers to respond in the same manner as Disney World did when they cancelled their half is beyond ridiculous. Disney has very deep pockets. I am sure that the Mississippi Blues race took a big hit financially. One wonders how that will affect them long-term.
I live in the northeast where winter storms are the norm. Superintendents of school systems are always on the hot seat about whether or not to cancel school because of snow. They, like race directors, are going by the weather forecasts (and we know how inaccurate those can be). If they make the decision to cancel school because there is supposed to be bad weather and then it doesn’t happen, they get criticized. If they don’t cancel school and the weather is horrible, preventing kids from getting home, they get criticized. Sounds like race directors are in the same boat. When should they make the call to cancel a race? I can only imagine the uproar if a race was canceled based on a weather forecast that doesn’t materialize.
Like every other runner, I am disappointed I didn’t get to run. I feel very sorry for the race director. He did the very best he could, given an unusual weather event in Jackson. The race director does not control the weather. I spoke to him on Saturday. He displayed concern about my well-being and how I was going to get back home. He was one of the most gracious, kindest people I met while in Jackson.
As I made my way home on the train, I had time to think about the weekend. This was my first visit to Mississippi. The hotel shuttle driver pointed out to me that Mississippi is the hospitality state. I experienced that hospitality firsthand. Everyone I met went out of their way to help me, answer my questions. If I had stayed home, I wouldn’t have seen the locust shell sculpture or learned about Mississippi blues music. I would never have taken the City of New Orleans train and experienced a sleeper compartment. It may not have been a race but it certainly was an adventure. Now if I could just get that song out of my head!
Interested in learning more about Mississippi blues? Check out the Moonshine and Mojo Hands series. http://moonshineandmojohands.com