Mississippi Blues Marathon/First Light Marathon Double Race Report(s)

Me with the Main Maniacs (Steve, Chris, and Tony)
I was all set to tackle my first huge goal of the year with back-2-back marathons on January 10th & 11th. This year's Marathon Maniac reunion was at the Mississippi Blues Marathon/First Light Marathon Back-2-Back Challenge. I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to take on 2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days. It's close to home, with Jackson, MS about 4 1/2 hours from home and Mobile, AL about an hour away. It just made sense to go to this, along with the fact that I would get to spend time with so many of my fellow Maniacs.

Bringing Will in for his finish at the
Cajun Coyote 100 Mile
I had run the Pensacola Marathon on November 9th, so I had 9 weeks to stay in marathon shape and prepare to add a second one. I must admit, I was terrified of the idea of running 2 full marathons in 2 days. I decided to do something I'd never tried before. I decided to work with a running coach for my training. I talked to my good friend Ryan Knapp of Miles To Go Endurance, and he agreed to train me to help me accomplish my goal. I'd never worked with a coach, so I had no idea what to expect, but given how many of my friends have accomplished amazing goals with him as their coach, I felt better about my chances having him behind me. He started having me run some relatively short back-2-back long runs on weekends, and kept up my weekly miles as well. One fun part of my training was the opportunity to pace my good friend Will Sprouse at the Cajun Coyote 100 mile, along with driving and crewing for my friend Adama Anderson, who ran his first 100k at the Coyote. Will is a good friend of mine for Kansas, who I had paced earlier in the year at the Prairie Spirit 100, so when he said he was running one just 4 hours away from my home I was happy to volunteer. Little did I know that event would be so great that by the end of it I would have committed to coming back and running my first 100k at it the next year.

Some of my Team RWB group that I
run with on Wednesday evenings.
To be completely honest, my training just didn't go well. It seemed like I was constantly battling allergies, upset stomachs, and countless other things that were ruining long run after long run. I was getting more and more concerned that I wasn't ready the closer the events got. I told Ryan I was very worried that I was under-trained, but he kept reassuring me I was doing fine and I'd be plenty ready. Of course, once I get it in my head that I am under-trained, there is no way to get it out of my brain. With two weeks before race day, I ran an 11 miler which was terrible (fought an upset stomach and had to stop and call for a ride), then a 17.62 mile run the next day, which went mostly well but not enough to get a lot of confidence back. I knew I could finish the races, but I fully expected them to be terrible. The last weekend before the races I did a 13.13 mile run to try out Tailwind Nutrition for the first time. I always struggle with eating to get calories, so I thought this would be a good solution. The run went amazing and the Tailwind seemed to sit fine and help, so I decided I'd use it during the races to make sure I got the needed calories. Finally, training was over. Ryan assured me I was good-to-go, but I still didn't think so at all. I'm kinda stubborn sometimes.

Forecast for Saturday, it ended up
being pretty accurate.
The weather forecast was all set to make things very interesting and difficult to plan for, so I wound up taking almost every piece of running clothes I own. Saturday looked to be 23* with a 20* windchill, while Sunday said 42* warming up to 60*. Quite a range to try to plan for, so I brought pretty much everything and figured I'd decide what to wear the night before each of the races when I could have a clearer handle on the forecast. Kristy & I headed out for Jackson, MS at about 10:00 Friday morning after dropping our dogs off at her mom's house for the weekend. Kristy was not running Saturday, but was running the Half Marathon on Sunday, so we planned for her to come meet me at mile 20 Saturday. It's always extremely helpful to see a friendly face, especially her, during a long race. We got to the expo and I found the Marathon Maniac reunion booth to check in. While checking in, I saw the Main Maniacs (the original three guys who started the club) and I'd never gotten to meet them, so I introduced myself and asked them to get a picture with me. I'm very grateful to those guys for starting this club. It's nice to have a support group for the insanity we all love to be a part of. The expo was small, so I got my bib, jacket, etc, looked around a little, listened to a guy playing blues guitar for a few minutes, then we headed out to check into our hotel before the reunion.

Me, Chris, and Houston at the Maniac reunion/dinner.
That evening was the Marathon Maniac reunion meeting and dinner. It was awesome seeing so many Maniacs!! We ran into my friend Bob Schluben from Kansas City, Jamie Knight & his wife Christy, Houston Wolf, Annette & Arland Blanton, Angie Pace, the Main Maniacs (Steve Yee, Chris Warren, and Tony Phillipi), and many, many more. It was awesome to be surrounded by so many people that share my passion for marathons and ultras. I'd love to make it to more reunions. Good meeting, good people, good food, good times. I also got an autographed copy of the Marathon Maniacs book, which is a compilation of stories submitted by members, which I am excited to read, and a pink Marathon Maniacs Buff. I am a fan of Buffs, and I love pink, so I had to get my hands on one of those. After the dinner, we headed to the hotel to get my running gear together and get a good night's sleep.

Race morning #1, all bundled up.
The forecast hadn't changed, and I have cold induced asthma, so I did what most people call massive over-dressing. It was also going to be my coldest run in almost a year by about 10-12*, so I was definitely going to have to pay attention to managing my asthma. I went with the following for clothes: Trail Nerds cap (very comfy & warm), Marathon Maniacs Buff over my neck & face, Mizuno Breath Thermo shirt under a Layer 8 thick under-layer shirt, then my Marathon Maniacs Ultra sleeveless shirt, a pair of Champion compression shorts, thick Champion tights, running shorts, a thin pair of Injinji socks under a thicker pair of Injinji socks, Vibram Five Finger Bikilas, Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves, Garmin 610, RoadID, and my Orange Mud Double Barrel Hydraquiver with two 24 oz bottles of Tailwind Nutrition. Yep, probably about 75 pounds of clothes going on! Of course, I also had my albuterol inhaler and I was using my Symbicort inhaler every night & morning to make sure my lungs wouldn't be an issue. I was ready to go and I was going to be as warm as possible. I didn't really sleep well the night before the race, but not terribly. Kristy drove me to the start and dropped me off, where I met up with Jamie and tons of other Maniacs. At first we were all crammed indoors trying to stay warm, then we headed out to the start for the Maniac group picture, then crammed back into the building for a little extra warmth before the race.

At the 20 mile mark.
Finally we went outside for the start. My goal for this race was to go easy (5 - 5 1/2 hour), so I found the 5 hour pacer and decided to run with his group unless/until I felt like falling back. It turned out the pacer was a fellow Maniac (big surprise, right?) named Tom. He was a super-nice guy that has run many a marathon, so I knew I was in good hands. We started off nice and easy with a pretty decent group of folks all running together. Several Maniacs, the 2 1/2 hour Half Marathon pacer and her group, and several others. I was almost able to block the cold out of my mind since we were having so much fun chatting with and getting to know everyone. It was really quite enjoyable, even with the cold. Every two miles I was drinking some Tailwind to keep my calories and energy up, which seemed to work pretty well for the most part. In the future, I may try to drink more of it than that since I think I could've used some more calories. The race was well organized and well marked, and the scenery was pretty nice fore the most part. There were a decent amount of rolling hills, but nothing too challenging. The problem I was having was that the roads are TERRIBLE. They were all torn up, lots of potholes, gravel, rocks, etc. I really didn't expect that and I am not used to it, so with my VFFs, it was kind of hurting my feet a little as we went along.

I did really well staying with the group and I was feeling mostly good through 16 miles, but at that point I decided to drop off of the pace group and start doing some walking. My feet were really starting to hurt with the crappy roads. I knew that with another marathon the next day I'd better take care of my feet rather than let them get worse, so I started taking walk breaks and being even more conscious than normal about where to place my feet to avoid bigger rocks and cracks in the roads. A few times I did hit bigger rocks and I did end up with bruises on my right heel and ball of my right foot, but that wasn't anything bad. The problem at this point was mostly mental, though. My feet were hurting thanks to the roads, and I had a strange pain in my left shoulder. I didn't know what that pain was, but it was getting a little worse and a little worse. So I'm going to trudge through the rest of this race, but how am I going to finish tomorrow? If I feel like this 17 miles into the first marathon, what am I going to feel like 17 miles into the second? I just walked, ran some, and tried to stop the negative thoughts, but they just kept coming like waves. I was powerless to make them go away. Walk, run, negative thoughts. That was my existence at that moment and I couldn't change it.

Marathon Maniac group photo before Miss. Blues Marathon
Finally, I started getting close to the 20 mile mark where Kristy had planned to be waiting for me. Ever since I'd started walking more and getting negative, my main goal had become getting to Kristy. Seeing someone I know, especially my wife, is always such a huge boost to my energy and confidence. But then I got to mile 20 and there were very few people there and none of them were Kristy. Maybe she couldn't find it? Maybe she wasn't able to get there in time? I don't know why, but she's not here. Well, nothing I can do about it now, so just try to keep moving. About a 1/2 mile or so later I started to see a bigger crowd of people, and sure enough, there was Kristy sitting on a curb with her camera. I was walking, but I really didn't want her pictures of me to be walking, so I started to run. I said hi to her. I don't know what else I said, and I don't know what she said to me. I was kind of out of it and I was trying so hard to regain some confidence. I got a little boost, but not long after, I was walking again and getting negative. I really started to think that a double was a terrible idea. How was I going to explain to my friends and everyone that had encouraged me along the way that I wasn't even going to be able to finish both marathons?

All that continued until about mile 24.5. I suddenly had the thought, "maybe I should just run the half marathon tomorrow." The very instant I had that thought it pissed me off that I even thought it. This was not an acceptable thought. I need to get my confidence back if I want to complete the race the next day. No more fucking around, I need to get this done, and get it done running. I ran the rest of the way with no walking at all. It was tough, my feet were killing me, my shoulder was killing me, and I was still freezing my ass off, but I was NOT going to walk again. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I ran from the mile 25 marker to the mile 26 marker in 11:23, then the final 0.32 miles to the finish at a 10:34 pace. I came through the finish line with a smile on my face and my confidence back. That last almost 2 miles of running had gotten my confidence back. I felt better about finishing the next day. Sometimes we just have to give ourselves a strong push to get get ourselves back where we need to be mentally. My feet still hurt and my shoulder was killing me at the point the volunteer put my giant, glass medal around my neck and another gave me a space blanket to help me warm up. I walked out of the finisher's area to find Kristy, who I had seen at the end, but laid down on the sidewalk instead. I had finished 26.32 miles in 5:23:06 for an avg pace of 12:17 (click here for Garmin data).

I just had to stop for a minute and let my feet rest. I wanted to take my Orange Mud pack off, but my shoulder was hurting so bad that I couldn't, so I just laid with it on. Kristy found me and I gave her my space blanket because holding it around me was bothering my shoulder. I laid down and she took a picture of me. It captured pretty well how I felt. I was hurting, but I was happy. I got up and I asked Kristy to help me get my pack off. When she pulled it back of my shoulder, I almost screamed it hurt so bad. What the heck was wrong here?? I had no idea, I just hoped it would get better before the next day.

We headed off to our car to get over to Mobile, AL for the First Light Marathon expo and get some dinner with some fellow Maniacs. We got to our hotel, which is just a block from the expo and a couple blocks from the start finish, and as soon as I got out of the car I saw my fellow Maniac and KC buddy Bob Schluben again. We told him our plans for dinner and he said he'd join us. We all got checked in and headed off to our rooms. Then we walked over to the expo where we saw Jamie & Christy Knight and Lee Condron. We chatted with them for a few minutes, then went over to get our bibs, shirts, plaque for running the double, and a few other gifts. We also went to a local Mobile running store's booth (Run-N-Tri Mobile) where we were give a water bottle and entered a raffle. I ended up finding out that I won the raffle and they are sending me a heart rate monitor.

Dinner with some fellow Maniacs Saturday night at
Dreamland BBQ in Mobile.
After that we went back to our hotel to drop off our stuff and pick up Bob before heading to Dreamland BBQ, which Jamie had recommended. Bob, Jamie, Lee, Kristy and I had all met there. Not long after we sat down we saw to more Maniacs come in, so Jamie invited them over to join us. It was a nice dinner and good fun getting to know some folks and spend time with friends. My feet and my shoulders were bothering me less and less as time went by, so I was hopeful that I wouldn't have problems for the marathon the next day. It felt good to have gotten some confidence back.

The weather on Sunday was MUCH nicer than Saturday. The start was 46 with a windchill in the high-30s, and was set to warm up quite a bit. Much more my style. I needed much less for clothes for this race, which is good, and my asthma would be much less of an issue. All I wore for this one was my Team RWB short sleeve shirt, Marathon Maniac arm sleeves, compression shorts, Adidas shorts, Zensah calf sleeves, Injinji socks, pink Marathon Maniac Buff, RoadID, Garmin 610, and Mizuno EVO Cursoris. I decided to go with the EVO Cursoris shoes for this one instead of my VFFs since my feet were still hurting from the bad roads the day before and I didn't want to risk there being bad roads again. I actually felt pretty good and loose. My feet were sore, my legs and hips were a little tight, but not bad, and my shoulder felt mostly pretty good. I got my Tailwind Nutrition for the day mixed in my bottles, and I started to make my way over to the start area. Unlike the Mississippi Blues Marathon, First Light Marathon was very bare-bones and low frills. I like races like that. Simple, laid back, most of the money going to charity. There was not ever chip timing, literally just a chalk line drawn across the road for a start line. People were already gathering at the start area, mostly Maniacs, and there was a DJ there playing music. Most everyone was running the back-2-back challenge, so everyone was moving around getting loose and having a lot of fun.

Marathon Maniac group photo at the First Light Marathon
I met several folks I had not met before and spent time chatting with friends. I talked with Kristy, Bob, Jamie, Lee, Tom, and many, many others. I even ran into Kim & Laura from the Northwest Florida Trail Running group. Eventually, I headed off to the back of the pack for the start of the race. The plan was pretty simple. Start slow, then slow down. I wanted to start with a slow run and do as much as I could without any walking to get confidence up, then see where I'm at and how I feel at that point. The race started and we headed off at a slow, easy pace.

I felt pretty strong at the start. I was keeping my pace easy with splits pretty consistent in the 11:45-12:30 range, and I didn't really feel a whole lot of soreness. I was just chatting with people and having fun. Just enjoying the day. I was doing the same plan as the day before, drinking some Tailwind every two miles, but also drinking more water from the aid stations as well since I was taking a little longer between stations. It really was a nice day and a pretty nice course, so it was easy to enjoy things.

As I said, my plan was to run straight through as long as I could, then re-evaluate from there. I went about 8 miles before I decided I really wanted to walk, so I decided I would run to 9, then walk a little. I got to the 9 mile mark and started to walk. I walked about 0.2 miles before I started running again, so I decided I would do that each mile. Walk 0.2, then run 0.8. I'd see how long I could hold that pattern, and figured if I could do that at least through the 18 mile mark I'd be in pretty good shape. It seemed to be working pretty well. I was really tired, but not all that sore, so the walk breaks gave me a chance to recoup some energy every mile. I wasn't bothering with trying to keep my walk breaks fast, I was just walking and letting my energy come back. I was mostly holding between 12:30-13:20 per mile with this strategy, which was perfectly fine for me. One thing I did at this race is kind of funny looking back, but really did help me, was using the virtual pacer on my Garmin. Kristy had asked me to text her if I thought I would finish later than the 6 hour mark, so I set my pacer at 13:40 and basically tried to race it. Each mile I would do my walk, then see if I could make time up against that pace. I knew going in that finishing slower than 6 hours was possible, but I didn't want to, I really wanted to stay somewhere in the 5 hour range.

As I was getting to mile about 13 or 14, I caught up with Kim & Laura. They were not doing the double, so they were very encouraging about my effort to do both races. They are very nice people that I love seeing during races, so I was happy to see them there. We kind of played leap frog for a couple miles. I would pass them, then they would pass me, until they finally got in front of me and stayed there. They never really got far out of my sights, though. I was still feeling pretty good and not really slowing down much when I got to the 18 mile marker and the aid station that was there. Now this was a great aid station. I had some oranges, some beer, some Skittles, and some nice jokes with people volunteering. This station really helped give me a boost. I also drank a 5 Hour Energy at this point to try getting my energy back up. I had held my 0.2 walk/0.8 run through the mile mark like I had wanted to. There was a huge hill at this point (which the volunteers referred to as Fireman's Hill since there is a fire station at the top) that was fairly steep and about 0.64 mile long. I decided I'd walk that whole hill, run the less than 1/2 mile to the 19 mile mark, then get back to my 0.2/0.8 strategy and do that the rest of the way no matter what. I was determined at this point, and I felt like I was doing really well and could finish strong using that strategy.

That long Fireman's Hill was a bit of torture. It was nice to have about 4 or 5 fireman standing outside the station cheering us on as runners went by. They were very positive and very encouraging. That felt good after such a long, tough hill. Once I got to the top, though, I was back to running and feeling pretty good. I continued to hold my 0.2/0.8 strategy and was still holding pretty consistent with my paces as I raced to try to make up more and more time on my virtual pacer. I knew based on the mile markers that I would end up close to 26.4 as my total mileage, so I decided when I got to mile 25 I would walk a third of a mile, then finish on a run with no more walking. As I got close to mile 25, I could see Kim & Laura maybe a quarter mile in front of me.

I got to mile 25 and started my 1/3 of a mile walk, then got back to running. I felt pretty good still. I was completely exhausted, but really wasn't hurting as much as I expected to be. There had been a handful of Marathon Maniacs that I had been playing leap frog with over the last several miles, and we were all encouraging one another, which really was helping. I ran out the last mile at around an 11:30-11:45ish pace, which is awesome after all of those miles. As I was getting close to the finish line I saw Kristy and she tried to get a picture of me, but didn't manage to get it. I was enjoying having lots of people there cheering me to the finish and telling me I looked  great. As I got to the finish line at 5:36:24, I had a huge smile on my face. I had not only completed day two of my first back-2-back marathons, but I had only run it 13:18 slower than the first day!! I never would have guessed I could have done that! I was completely exhausted. As I was still running to the finish, I knew I could have kept up the 0.2/0.8 plan for several more miles if I had had to, but as soon as I stopped I really how used up I really was. I walked over to the back-2-back challenge table to get my extra medal for completing both races and saw my friend Jamie and another maniac sitting in chair behind the table.

I grabbed my medal and went to sit with them. The empty chair was on the far side of Jamie, but as I was walking past him to the chair, he grabbed it and set it down in front of him. I had to stop and think for a second to manage to turn myself around and sit in the chair he had placed just behind me. I was so exhausted, but I was so proud. I honestly had not felt this much pride in an accomplishment since my very first marathon in March 2011. I had completed 2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days. WOW! The First Light Marathon ended up being 26.36 miles in 5:36:24 for an avg pace of 12:46 (click here for Garmin data). In total for the two days, I had run 52.68 miles in 10:59:30 for an overall avg pace of 12:31. I only lost on average 29 seconds per mile from day 1 to day 2. I was so proud. I honestly thought I might cry. I sat chatting with Jamie, Christy, Kristy, and Julie Weidner (another fellow Maniac who had run the double). After sitting for a while, we decided it was time to get up and get headed for home. I got up and all the tightness and soreness finally really hit me. I could barely walk!!! We slowly and gingerly started making our way back to our car at the hotel for the hour drive home from Mobile. On the way, we saw Kim &  Laura and congratulated them on their finish and they congratulated me.

We got back to our car and headed home. I'm glad it was a fairly short drive from Mobile, AL to Pensacola, FL since I was tired and sore. I knew it would take me a couple days to get over the soreness and get caught up on energy, but I felt so great about my weekend. I'd see people I hadn't seen in a long time, made new friends, and accomplished my first big goal of the year. I have to give a big shout out to Ryan Knapp, who coached me through my training. As I said, I had felt very under-trained, but it turned out I was perfectly ready to go and I had done better than my best expectations. I'm not sure I could have done it without his help. I also am grateful to my friends who recommended Tailwind Nutrition to me. It really helped me get through both of these races. Looking forward, a few things hinged on how this weekend went. As I said early one, I had committed to running my first 100k in December at the next Cajun Coyote, and in pursuit of that goal, I planned to run my first 50 mile at the Spring Equinox 50 Mile on March 21. I felt like if this back-2-back weekend didn't go well I would skip the 50 mile and try to use that time to get into better shape and recoup for the 100k. Well, this weekend went great, so I am sticking with the plan of the 50 miler in March. I'm also going to add the Soldier Marathon and the Pensacola Marathon as a back-2-back weekend in November as part of my training for the 100k.


  1. Great job Bryan. I'm so glad you got your confidence back.


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