By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – We all misspeak. I had a factual error that got in the newspaper recently when I said Democrat Albert Gore Jr. of Starkville is challenging Republican Thad Cochran for his U.S. Senate seat. I know Gore is running against Republican Roger Wicker of Tupelo, but sometimes the brain has a cramp and something stupid comes out.
Perhaps the older we get the more that happens.
Still, I cannot believe I would ever be more than an hour off on the time of my first and only marathon. Runners do not forget race times – especially of their first marathon.
It is difficult to imagine that a person who ran the 26.2-mile race could – to quote former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens – “misremember” his time by that much. A marathon – especially your first – is something that sticks with you.
And to say you ran the race in the “high 2:50s,” which is an impressive sub 6-minute, 50-second per mile pace when in reality you ran it in over four hours – which is still impressive, but is a pace of more than nine minutes, 10 seconds per mile – is a brain cramp of major proportions.
That is what Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president, recently did.
Sure, it was a long time ago in 1990 when Ryan ran his marathon.
Mine was 1986.
It was the Tupelo Marathon when it was still held on the Natchez Trace, starting at the Visitors’ Center – 13 miles out, turn around and come back in.
I had debated only running a half-marathon that day. Honestly, that was my intention. I needed more training before running a full marathon, I reasoned.
But I will never forget that when I got to the turn-around, race director Johnny Dye, a former high school football coach who has legitimately run sub three-hour marathons, looked directly at me and yelled, “Bobby Harrison, don’t stop.”
I ran a lot in those days, but I had never done any true marathon training. But I remember Coach Dye used to say if you can run six miles at a decent pace you can complete a marathon. You might feel worse for the wear for a long time, but you can complete it, he would say.
I had done 20 miles once on a training run.
I remember at the 20-mile mark of the marathon, Don McKay, another pretty good local runner, drove up to me in his truck and tried to encourage me by telling me “just a 10K to go.”
I won’t repeat what I told McKay nor what I told him when a couple of miles later he came up with a can of Coke, saying I needed to drink it instead of water. Now, my wife will tell you that unless she occasionally puts her foot down I will drink a soft drink with every meal, including breakfast. But at the time between the 22nd- and -23rd-mile markers, a soft drink did not appeal to me.
So I cursed McKay again. Maybe, in hindsight, being mad at him helped me
At that time, the race finished at the picnic area across from the Visitors Center. I remember finishing and sort of milling around for a few seconds when I heard Dye yell at me again – to get on some more clothes.
Now the Tupelo Marathon is run in the oppressive Mississippi heat on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. I thought I didn’t need any more clothes. But sure enough seconds later I was shivering like my pickup truck when the tires were out of line.
Oh, by the way, I ran it in three hours and 38 seconds.
A few years later, Dye convinced me to serve as director of the race after it had moved out to west Tupelo – starting at one of the Furniture Market buildings. At the time, I joked I took the job in Jackson for the Daily Journal so I would not have to serve as director of the Tupelo Marathon any longer.
There is no bigger challenge than finding the number of volunteers needed for a 26.2-mile race. The Tupelo Marathon is extremely challenging because it starts at 5 a.m. in darkness, meaning the volunteers are needed at 4 a.m. and are needed for several hours because routinely people are still on the course at the five-hour mark.
One year some of the volunteers who were not paying close attention let a group of runners take a wrong turn and head in a direction that I think would have landed them eventually in New Albany of thereabouts, but not at the finish point in west Tupelo. Until this day, I remember who those volunteers were, but I will not reveal their names here.
When I was notified of this unfortunate situation I instructed a volunteer to tell the misguided runners that if they wanted to talk to the race director, Bobby Harrison was a short, black man. I also instructed the volunteer to pick up the runners in his truck and let them off on the course wherever they thought it was appropriate.
I guess if Paul Ryan was in that group he could have gotten credit for a sub-three hour marathon if that is what he wanted.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.