With a hand shake, the deal was sealed. Mike and I were enjoying drinks at our hotel in Boston the night before we were due to fly to Pensacola to begin our trip to run races in Mississippi and Alabama. But the forecast was predicting a winter storm to begin the next morning pretty much at the moment our plane was due to depart. Mike was so sure that our flight would be delayed at least 2 hours that he wagered footing the bill for lunch the next day. I was betting we would be able to escape just in the nick of time.
When we arrived at the airport early the next morning (or what seemed like the middle of the night), our flight was still on time. The plane was boarded on schedule just as the snow began. The pilot informed us that we just needed to go through de-icing and we’d be on our way. After an interesting but slow de-icing process we finally took off…about an hour late. We had about an hour layover for our connecting flight in Charlotte so this delay did not bode well for making this connection. Throughout the flight I was able to monitor the status of our next flight (on time, of course) and determine which gates we would arrive at and depart from (different terminals, of course). We landed with 20 minutes before our next flight was due to depart. Figuring we had nothing to lose, we opted to try to make it to the plane before it left. We bolted from the plane and began running through the terminals to our next gate. You might think that as runners, we’d be all set for this type of challenge. Our problem is that we had not had the foresight to include running with a backpack and pulling a suitcase into our training. We did learn that you can make really good time when you run on the people-mover conveyor belts. Once we were in the right terminal we only had to run past 28 gates before reaching ours. As our gate came into view the area was alarmingly empty with the exception of the gate attendants at the desk. I waved to them as we careened up to the desk “Home Alone” style. They greeted us by name and called down the boarding tunnel to alert the crew that we were on our way.
As we boarded the plane, the flight attendants pointed out the two remaining seats. I settled into my seat beside a gracious stranger, gratefully caught my breath and said a silent thank you that I had remembered to apply deodorant after I showered at 3:00 a.m.
We had signed up for the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10K in Mississippi on Saturday so planned to drive to Jackson on Friday. Our route went right through Mobile, Alabama where we were running on Sunday so we decided to stop for lunch there on our way. The Dumbwaiter Restaurant came up as a good option on Yelp so we decided to give it a try.
Mike, being the gracious gentleman that he is, made good on our earlier wager and paid for lunch since we had miraculously arrived on time.
It was chilly, even by Maine standards, the next morning when we arrived at the start of the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10k in Clinton, Mississippi. The drive from Jackson along the Natchez Trace Parkway was beautiful and serene and gave us a preview of our course since the race is run along that road. As we picked up our numbers and shirts and made the inevitable trip to the (amazingly short) port-a-potty line I was struck with the thought that no matter where we are running, runners are always the same. It was somehow reassuring to be surrounded by a group of like-minded, enthusiastic, pleasant individuals even though we were in a completely unfamiliar location.
The relatively small group of 10K runners gathered at the start and after a few announcements we were on our way along the scenic route.
We ran along the side of the road since the route was not closed to traffic. Several police cars traveled up and down the course to ensure that drivers were cautious as they drove past us. The biggest obstacle for us (me) was watching out for raised reflective markers along the painted line. We don’t have these very helpful traffic markers in Maine due to repeated plowing of the roads so it was a bit of a new experience.
We felt great as we ran along the route. Although it was chilly and there were no leaves on the trees, the sound of songbirds definitely made it feel more spring-like than the weather we had just left.
The race benefited CARA-Community Animal Rescue and Adoption which is a local no-kill animal shelter. Having adopted many animals over the years from shelters in our area, we were pleased to be able to support this cause. Mike continued his lucky streak and won a nifty neon orange knit cap in the after-race raffle.
After quickly showering and packing up we left our hotel and headed to the nearest Waffle House for our post-race breakfast. Being Northerners, we had never been to what I’ve heard is a veritable institution in the south. Bon Appetit had a great article about Waffle Houses and I had heard on NPR that FEMA actually rates a disaster based on the level of operation at the local Waffle House. Getting to the closest one meant driving about two miles. They are everywhere, not unlike Dunkin Donuts in the north.
I’m blaming it on the post-race high but I was almost giddy to be eating at a Waffle House. I could hardly keep from blurting out that I was a newbie to our waitress. (Well, I think I may have actually told her but, like everyone else we encountered on our trip to the south, she was very friendly and hospitable despite having an endorphin-crazed Northerner on her hands). Pathetic, I know, but true.
Because Mobile was in the midst of its Mardi Gras, we had decided to head back there after the Mississippi race in order to experience more of the festivities. Once in the city we noticed that the majority of people were carrying empty bags. We knew that beads were often thrown off of floats but we were intrigued that spectators were clearly anticipating some significant loot.
We hadn’t eaten since our Waffle House experience so happily returned to the Dumbwaiter Restaurant. Since we just wanted a drink and appetizers we sat at the bar where we chatted with the bartender who filled us in on the Mobile Mardi Gras, which is actually the country’s original Mardi Gras.
Mike sampled a couple of beers including a Lazy Magnolia that he loved.
The Dumbwaiter Restaurant is just around the corner from the parade route so finding a spot to view the parade was easy. As we waited for the parade to begin we were surprised to be entertained by the Mobile motorcycle police officers as they drove in circles, zoomed up and down the road, and generally “cowboyed around” (Mike’s phrase) as they patrolled the area prior to the start of the parade. I later wondered if the Mobile police department is able to recruit new officers readily when young parade spectators are inspired to join the force after watching the fun the department exhibits during the parades.
Once the parade began, Mike and I were stunned by the incredible floats that the Mystics of Time presented.
Masked riders on horseback preceded most floats. As horse owners,we were truly impressed with the calm, steadfast horses that didn’t seem phased in the least as their riders flung strings of beads into the screaming crowds, while marching band drums beat so loudly they reverberated in our chests, and spectators hung from open second floor windows and called for things to be thrown to them.
The high school marching bands were plentiful and impressive.
As the parade continued we went from casual spectators to completely enthralled participants as we waved and yelled to encourage them to “Throw me something, Mister!”. We were rewarded with beads, Moon Pies, a glow stick, giant sunglasses, a huge plastic toothbrush, a plastic oinking pig, a ball, and a plastic cup which conveniently listed the next five Mardi Gras dates. Luckily, a small boy was standing next to us so we were able to share/unload the items we didn’t want to pack into our suitcases. But we left the parade festooned with beads and more.
We had chosen to run in Mobile after reading about the Joe Cain Classic 5K race. The Mardi Gras theme appealed to us (even before we knew there was a full-fledged Mardi Gras in the city, as well). So it was not surprising to find the race volunteers dressed in extravagant Mardi Gras attire. Mike and I adorned ourselves with the beads we had nabbed the night before and felt ready to join the festivities.
The out and back course is billed as flat, fast, and ugly…and I don’t think they were just referring to me in this photo, although that certainly is awful! We ran past the jail and as the race website describes it, “a scenic scrap yard”. The proceeds from this race benefit challenged athletes.
We had a good run and were pleased with our efforts.
But the best part of the race was the block party after we ran. We have run a LOT of races and we’ve decided this was definitely the best after-race event we’ve ever been to. The block party was held on a little side street a few blocks from the end of the race. Houses were decorated for Mardi Gras.
The non-stop music was fabulous and absolutely added to the very festive vibe. There was a huge array of food including Southern treats like grits and pimento cheese sandwiches. We had enjoyed two beers by 9:30 a.m. and it seemed perfectly normal given the party atmosphere.
We would have loved to stay longer and hang around for the official Joe Cain Day parade but, alas we had to head back to Pensacola to catch our flight. It was tough to leave such a great party but we consoled ourselves with lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp on our way out of town.
This provided us one more chance to drink sweet tea and sample more Southern cuisine. The atmosphere was fun and the service was excellent. We left Mobile reluctantly but grateful that we had, once again, had an opportunity to explore a new region with all of the varied food, drink, and experiences that it had to offer.
States: Mississippi and Alabama
Dates Run: Bob Coleman Winter 10K-February 6, 2016
Joe Cain Classic 5K – February 7, 2016
Race #: 23 and 24
The Bottom Line: Arranging to run two races on consecutive days took a bit of planning but the effort was totally worthwhile. The Bob Coleman Winter Run was a lovely 10K along a scenic, quiet historic route. We were pleased to be able to support CARA, the local animal shelter, with our registration fees.
Serendipitously ending up in Mobile during the height of Mardi Gras was a true highlight of our adventure. Although being on this quest to try to run a race in every state tends to interfere with our desires to return to places we have visited, we have already earmarked the Joe Cain Classic as a race we truly hope to run again.