Friday, January 13, 2017

Real-Life Ice Capades

When I made my final plans to do a "double" race weekend (half marathons on back-to-back days) I never thought about the weather. I mean...these will be two relatively southern cities in two southern states: MS and AL. I've run races in these two cities in January in the past and extreme cold weather was certainly not an issue. The "double" consists of Mississippi Blues half marathon in Jackson on Saturday, and 1st Light half marathon in Mobile on Sunday.

But as my departure day drew near, and as I watched the weather for final packing guidance, it was apparent that it was going to be colder - much colder - than originally expected. But precipitation wasn't in the forecast, so no big deal.

The really cold forecast prompted me to make a last minute Amazon Prime purchase, a pair of Asics thermal running pants. I used to have a pair of heavier Brooks running pants, purchased many years ago, but they were sadly outdated and did not incorporate any of the newer, more convenient features such as flat waistband, zippered pockets, and the better fabric technology that is out there today. The pants arrived the day before I was to leave so I scraped together a small load of laundry so that I could wash them before wearing.

Bags packed, car loaded, gas tank topped off the night before, I hit the road Friday morning at around 6:30 AM. My plan was to drive east on I-10 to just east of Lake Charles, and then pick up U.S. 165 north toward Alexandria. From there my route was Hwy 28 to US 84 to Ferriday and then on up to I-20 and east to Jackson.

I was making good time, my GPS indicating an early afternoon arrival in Jackson. But then, as I continued east of Alexandria on US 84, and watched the temperature drop into the 20's, it began to rain and then the rain turned to freezing rain. Where the heck did this come from?! Rain was forecast for early morning and was expected to be out of this area by the time I was driving through, but it was now obvious that this front had stalled and was only now pushing through.

I stopped in Ferriday at a KFC for lunch and to steel my nerves, and then took the turn north on US 65 toward Vicksburg. The freezing rain became sleet and soon I began to notice that the sleet was accumulating on the road shoulders and in the fallow fields on either side of the road. The farther north I got, the worse it got, until soon it was starting to accumulate on the roadway. And worse, was beginning to pack up under the windshield wiper blades, rendering them practically useless.

Several times along this stretch of road I questioned the wisdom of continuing. It was a very lightly traveled road, with very few vehicles on the roadway to help break up and melt the ice. I kept convincing myself that if I could just make it up to I-20 and Vicksburg, I'd be okay. When I reached that interchange, I pulled into a gas station so that I could de-ice the windshield wipers, hopefully get them to do their job.

My totally ice-encased car!
Ice and gunk on my poor car!

I-20 had enough traffic on it to keep the lanes clear, with only icy strips between the tire tracks on the bridges and overpasses. Fortunately I didn't have too far to travel from Vicksburg to Jackson MS. Once I got into the city and off of the interstate, the roads were terrible. I crept along on the local streets, fortunately not having too far to go to get to the Marriott in downtown Jackson. I parked my car in their attached garage and then got checked in. I'd made reasonably good time, arriving only about an hour later than originally predicted.

Then I bundled up and ventured out onto the glare icy sidewalk to get to the convention center to get my race packet. It was a nerve-wracking three blocks to get there. Sidewalks and streets were solid ice.
Yikes! Sleet starting to accumulate in Jackson

As I picked up my packet and goodies, I asked about the status of the next morning's race. No one I spoke to seemed concerned or speculated on its being cancelled. I was surprised that no staff or volunteers were even considering this. No way was this ice going to go away or even get better in the next 16 hours.
Packet pickup for Mississippi Blues marathon. Hall was practically empty!

Part of our race swag includes these really nice running jackets

I had many running friends who were struggling to get to Jackson. All flights in were cancelled, and many were stranded at various airports around the Southeast. Some were trying to figure it out. If the race organizers had gone ahead and cancelled the race mid-afternoon, it would have saved many of these travelers a lot of angst and stress. And those that were planning to do the "Double" could have directed their efforts toward getting to Mobile instead. But that's not how it worked out for many of them as they struggled to get to Jackson any way they could.

The sidewalks and roads were even worse as I headed back to the hotel. Slippin' and slidin' and hoping the cars were able to come to a stop at the red lights before I stepped into the crosswalk. Yikes! Jackson is hilly and it was dicey navigating the sidewalks and crosswalks.

Mississippi Blues guitar logo and the nice jacket and medal on display

bands were rotating through and playing on this stage in the lobby at packet pickup

There was a club dinner the night before the race, but no way was I going to venture back out onto the roads. It wasn't within walking distance and I was frankly quite surprised that it wasn't canceled.

I laid out my running things for the next morning, still incredulous that the race hadn't yet been cancelled. But then, finally, at 9 PM I received the cancellation email from the race organizers. While I could totally understand their decision, I did not agree with the late timing of this decision. It needed to have been made hours earlier.

I have to admit that it was a bit of relief to finally get this message. Although I'd certainly have gone ahead and run the race, it wouldn't have been one of my better efforts. I was still in recovery from the full marathon the previous Sunday and I knew I had another race to run a day later. So the pressure was off.

Saturday morning I laid in bed, watching the local news channel, hoping for some road reports. I learned that I-20 west bound and the I-55 interchange, localled dubbed "the stack" was impassable. Live footage and reporting at numerous locations around the city showed roads in varying conditions, from fairly passable, to totally impassable. I also learned from the news coverage that the race directors were allowing the runners to pick up their medals, so I grabbed my race bib (as proof) and braved the icy roadways and sidewalks to walk the three blocks to claim my medal. Such a shame the medal is unearned! It's a really great, original medal! It commemorates the 10th running of this race. It spins, the backs of the little guitars are engraved with the dates of each of the 10 years' races.

10th anniversary medal, the dates of each of those 10 races engraved on the back
of each of the little guitars. Very clever design. Wonder if they'll reprise the 10th theme?

Really unusual and clever medal to commemorate their 10th anniversary.
The wheel with the 10 guitars spins!!

I delayed leaving, asking for a 1:00 PM checkout to let the sun get higher in the sky and the roads to clear up a little. Looking at a map, I determined that the best way to get out of the downtown area, avoiding I-55 and all feeder roads that lead to that interstate, was to leave the hotel and head west on Amite St to Gallatin Street and head south to I-20 eastbound. This route proved to be perfect. Roads were open, moving smoothly, with only a slight backup at the I-20 eastbound entrance ramp. But once on I-20, there was no traffic heading east. I could see that I-20 westbound was backed up and a virtual parking lot of 18-wheelers for as far as the eye could see. So glad I didn't have go in that direction!!

I stopped at a McDonald's for lunch in Magee MS, about halfway, and got into Mobile about 4:00 PM.

Next up: Mobile 1st Light Half Marathon!

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I hate freezing rain. We get it here every year and it is no fun. I too am surprised they didn't call the race earlier especially when the weather men/women can predict it was not going to melt. Glad you were safe in all that mess.