Race recap: Brrr…we got some nippy weather, but luckily the hotel was only ¼ of a mile from the start. After a rousing rendition of the national anthem on electric guitar, the 34 degree temps felt more exhilarating than cold. The race was smaller than I expected, which made for a low-stress and really nice start line atmosphere. After quickly finding our stride, I did my best to teach Kristin how to differentiate between the three main types of columns lining State Street (Ionic, Doric and Corinthian). Then we chatted with a few locals and learned that we were running past the famous the Mississippi Memorial Stadium which hosted the Egg Bowl until the early 1990’s (Ole Miss versus Mississippi State). At the 5k mark, the marathon split from the half marathon and it’s a darn good thing Kristin was paying attention as I missed the sign and nearly went the wrong way! From mile 4 through mile 6, we enjoyed talking with Tom, an employee of the lead race sponsor: Blues Cross and Blue Shield. As we approached the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Tom said this was the hardest section of the course, with just over one mile at a gradual incline. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad for us, although the rolling hills over the last 5 miles of the course sure felt harder. Kristin and I were really enjoying the run, so when Tom asked what pace we were trying to hit with five miles left in the race we looked at one another a bit dazed and said “whatever we’re running right now feels pretty comfortable.” I think that’s when we realized we were just having a good time running in a new city without a care in the world. After a brief run through the southern part of downtown Jackson we ran past some fairly deserted and dilapidated buildings/ areas, but regardless of where we were on the course there were plenty of volunteers cheering and thanking us for coming to Jackson. We’ve never been thanked so many times for visiting a city – it was very welcoming. At mile 12.5, the course made a sharp left and a quick right. We both noticed the woman directly in front of us deliberately cut the course short, so we were determined to pass her before the finish – and we did. The last 0.1 mile was uphill, but there were a lot of people cheering and the view of the Old Capitol made for a great backdrop.
Highlight: Not stressing about running a certain pace and just enjoying ourselves in a new city. We both stayed very positive the whole race and I can’t explain how much we just smiled.
Day 1 (Friday):
It was a bit chillier than we expected in Jackson when we arrived (mid 50’s) so we decided to grab a coffee at a local favorite: Cups. Before we even finished ordering, the southern hospitality was bubbling over as the cashier struck up a conversation asking “how was your Christmas?” It wasn’t so much the question but more the tone he used that caught us off guard. If felt like we were talking with an old friend, even though we had never met. A little eerie, but also a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. The seasonal apple cider chai was sold out, but the chai latte was very smooth and Kristin’s coffee was well brewed.
Next, we did a walking tour of downtown Jackson. Our first stop was at the Governor’s Mansion, which is the second oldest continuously occupied gubernatorial residence in the US (behind only Virginia). The mansion is one of only a handful of antebellum style buildings (i.e. pre-war style) in Jackson that was not destroyed during the civil war. Definitely one of the architectural highlights in downtown Jackson.
A short walk East on Capitol street is the Old Capitol Museum. While the architecture of the museum was neat - inside and out - and while some of the exhibits were interesting (the light up map discussing the land treaties with the native Indian tribes was really informative), the flow of the museum wasn’t very logical and some of the marble-esque statues were flat out creepy.
After a quick stop at the expo (pretty sweet that they had two guys playing live blues as you entered), we headed for dinner at Bistro Wasabi. We’ve been struggling to find a pre-race meal that sits well for both of us and apparently sushi/ hibachi appears to be the front runner. The restaurant was completely empty, which was unfortunate as the food was quite good (the location is not all that scenic, but the restaurant is nice inside). The beer was mammoth - Andygator: smooth and a bit malty maibock from Louisiana - and the hibachi chicken was fresh and well seasoned.
The walk back to the hotel was nice as we were full but not stuffed. We even found time for a few quick photos!
Day 2 (Saturday - Race Day):
One item on my to-do- list in Mississippi was to try some chicken and waffles, so we made our way to Mint for a post-race feast. After splitting an order of beignet balls – imagine a warm, incredibly light and super fresh powered donut and then imagine something 10x better and you are close to how good these were – we got a pair of Bloody Mary’s and I sank my teeth into the homemade chicken and waffles. It’s no wonder why Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the nation six years running, the food was amazing. The syrup covered waffles paired very well with the crispy chicken (boneless was a huge plus). Kristin tried the fried chicken with a cheesy buttermilk biscuit, which was equally good. Highly recommended spot for gourmet goodness.
Moment of total honesty: after an hour of driving in the rain to the Vicksburg War Memorial we were totally and inexplicably exhausted, so we took a 30 minute nap. Yup, we literally reclined our seats and just passed out in the parking lot. After our power nap we spent a few minutes going through the visitor center and watched the short film about the importance Vicksburg during the Civil War as a means to control the Mississippi River. The movie was informative albeit a little hokey.
Tip: The light up map near the exhibits does a really good job explaining how/where the battles in and around Vicksburg occurred through different colored lights (blue for north, red for south, yellow for a fight) along with a well narrated story. If you are short on time this may be a better option than the movie.
The War Memorial drive is ~16 miles of monuments and memorials for the soldiers that served/died during Civil War battles in Vicksburg. Its bone chilling to know that over 20,000 soldiers died at various Vicksburg battles during a three-month stretch in 1864, but this memorial does a good job honoring those soldiers. A few hours after running a half marathon ourselves, it’s kind of twisted that as we drove through the park we talked about how great the location would be for a half marathon – and later learned that the park hosts a very popular 10k to honor the troops with a “run through history” in March.
If you visit the memorial, one must-see stop is the USS Cairo gunboat. It may be hard to see the power and respect this ship once commanded, but once you look past the rotted wood you can really see the skeleton of a true Civil War tank on water. This was our favorite highlight from the war memorial area.
We toured the site where the first Coca-Cola was bottled at the Biedenharn Candy Shop. The tour is more or less a collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, but if you take the time to read the literature on the walls you will see an interesting story of how an entrepreneurial soda-shop owner figured out how to bottle Coca-Cola in order to sell it to rural customers long before the soda giant even considered bottling its bubbly. If you make the trip out to see the Vicksburg War Memorial, this piece of history is a very short drive, but keep your expectations in check for a 5-10 minute self guided tour.
After our quick tour we warmed up with an expertly prepared chai latte at Highway 61 Cofee. Super cozy place to listen to a local musician and enjoy some java. Downtown Vicksburg was very run down and we decided to change our dinner plans and head back to Jackson for the night.
We relaxed at Hal and Mal’s with a few local beers as we chatted with super friendly locals and watched the NFL playoffs. The Lazy Magnolia Timber Beast IPA was a bit spicy and the hops could have been more evenly balanced but overall it was a pretty decent beer. Kristin stuck to the Andygator and I can’t remember what I was drinking, but it was a light brown ale that was very smooth. After a few drinks we met up with fellow running buddies from California for dinner and to celebrate both Karen and Dan setting new personal best times for the marathon! Kristin and I split a few homemade tamales, which were tasty but very small, and a burger which was ok. Hal and Mal’s is more about the blues feel than the food, but either way it was a fun night.
Day 3 (Sunday):
Char is a gem. I would say hidden gem, but it was packed with the Sunday brunch crowd by the time we left at 11:45am, so it’s not really hidden. As we walked back to the table and noticed almost everyone was in their Sunday best we felt a bit under-dressed but no one, including the waiter, batted an eye that we were in jeans. The shrimp and sausage gumbo was outstanding. Just the right amount of spicy. We both tried the Southern Style Benny, which was buttermilk biscuits topped with poached eggs, fried green tomatoes and country ham. YUM! Each of the ingredients really paired well with the next and the piping hot coffee made the meal complete. While dinner can get pricey here, brunch was very reasonable especially considering the quality, freshness of ingredients and unique flavors.
We decided to end our trip in Mississippi with a stroll through the 36 million year old Mississippi Petrified Forest. The 45 minute drive North gave us a chance to see a bit more of the country side of the state and we both found it incredibly peaceful to leisurely walk through the petrified forest. Kristin took the reigns and was an awesome tour guide, reading the description for each stop along the trail with vigor (Kristin has a history of attracting stray animals, this time a cat joined us for the tour). The tour ends at the visitor’s center which houses an impressive collection of fossils, petrified wood and minerals from around the world. A very peaceful, relaxing and worthwhile stop.
Mississippi Half Marathon Medals
January 5, 2013: Mississippi Blues Half Marathon