Winning Mississippi’s Marathon

This weekend, runners will come to Mississippi from every state in the union and nine countries around the world. They’ll be chasing a dream, a goal, a mission and a medal. They’ll run up and down hills and dodge potholes. Blues musicians will serenade them as they pass.

The Mississippi Blues Marathon will once again take over the streets of Jackson.

It’s no small miracle that it’s happening, either. Last year, Mother Nature nearly dealt the race a fatal blow. Ice covered the streets of Jackson and as you could imagine, runners can’t run on ice. The event was canceled and runners were left with no race to run. Water was dumped and medals went unearned. Then it lost its title sponsor — the race’s existence was held in the balance for much of last year. But like a frosty phoenix, it rose up from the ice. Saturday, it gets a new a sponsor (Continental Tire) and new chance at life.

I say “yay!”

Not just because I enjoy the race — and running insanely long distances. I love it because it is an event that showcases our state’s strengths. Yes, you get to see so many people who have worked hard to make their dreams come true. That’s really inspiring.  But what makes the race truly special are the people.  Every time I have run the race, I have had crowds along the way cheering me on. But more magically, the race volunteers repeatedly said these golden words, “Thank you for running the race today.”  If you go to race sites and look at the reviews, the golden thread that runs through all of them is this, “I’ve never experienced hospitality like I did at the Mississippi Blues Marathon.”

Hospitality is our superpower. And a race like the Mississippi Blues Marathon shows that off.

Ever wonder what it takes to run a half or whole marathon? It’s not something you do on a lark. You definitely don’t wake up on race day and say, “I think I’ll run 26.2 miles!”  It’s a feat that requires commitment, planning, hard work, training, execution and sticking to a plan. You have to keep pushing even when you are in pain. Toe nails fall off? You keep going. Do you have a leg cramp? You keep going. Because your goal is bigger than any pain you might feel.  And when you get to end, you realize the true victory isn’t just crossing the finish line. It’s all benefits that have come from your journey. You learn how to plan. You lose weight. Your heart is healthier. You might even get off various medications.  You eat a better diet because suddenly food becomes fuel. You learn that it’s easier to conquer a goal when you do with with friends. You learn resiliency when things go wrong. You seek out a good coach. And when it is over, you’re filled with the confidence of knowing that you’ve accomplished something that only .5% of Americans have done. What was once seemingly impossible to do is achievable.  All because you had the courage to chase long-term success instead of short-term gratification.

That’s a good metaphor for life — and how we can approach solving many of our state’s problems.

Poverty, education issues, the opioid crisis and other health issues (and other seemingly insurmountable issues that keep us low on the good rankings and high on the bad ones) are our state’s marathon. Even thinking about how to solve them is hard and overwhelming. But with the same kind of planning, hard work, training, execution, sticking to a plan and even more commitment, it’s a race we can win. While I don’t think our toenails will fall off, chances are we’ll experience exhaustion. It’ll require the courage to start. To get off the couch. To get moving. It will also requires focus. Because it’s much easier to chase after the instant gratification of complaining about the small things and ignoring the big ones. But the worthy goals are the hard ones. The ones that require faith, a plan and a lot of hard work. If we take those on, we all get stronger. And so do our kids. Because seeing a Mississippi kid succeed is medal worthy.

It’s winning Mississippi’s marathon.

In meantime, I’ll be chasing another half-marathon medal Saturday. I’m ready. I have a goal. A plan is in place. I’ve done the hard work and look forward to seeing my friends.  Thanks to race director John Noblin and all the hardworking staff and volunteers a great race awaits.

So to all the runners, break a leg.

Um, never mind. Just have a good race.

About Marshall Ramsey