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Sissy Hudson’s (center) nephew John Robert Sherman (far left), father Thomas Sherman Sr. (second from left) husband Clay Hudson (second from right) and mother Shirley Sherman (far right) stationed themselves along the route for the 2023 New York City Marathon to cheer Hudson on. Photo courtesy Sissy Hudson

Person of the Day | Sissy Hudson: Two-Time New York City Marathon Runner

On a cool November morning Sissy Hudson stood amidst a crowd of roughly 52,000 people gathered on one side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City, dressed in a powder blue “Hotty Toddy” T-shirt, athletic pants and her best pair of Nike runners. The sea of people gathered for the 2022 New York City Marathon was like nothing she had ever seen before, but the only thought in her mind was, “I just want to finish.”

The crowd went quiet as a race official said a short prayer; then Hudson and all the other runners got into position. The national anthem played over a set of speakers until the sound of a cannon firing momentarily drowned it out, signaling the first wave of roughly 10,000 runners to set off, some running, some walking and some jogging. Hudson waited amidst the dwindling crowd until another cannon shot signaled her wave to begin, and she set off into the streets of Brooklyn, the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” playing all around her.

Between the music and throngs of onlookers cheering and throwing confetti on every stretch of sidewalk along the route, Hudson didn’t find a single moment of quiet until she made it to the two-mile-long Queensboro Bridge, where it was just her and the other runners that had come this far.

Sissy Hudson has worked for the Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg since 1994, starting as a budget analyst. She currently serves as director of research management. Photo courtesy Sissy Hudson

Over the course of the first 20 miles Hudson watched runners drop off one by one and couldn’t help but wonder how many had trained as much as she had before the marathon only to not make it. After the 20-mile mark, Hudson was in uncharted territory as she had never gone that far in her training. She pressed on, determined to make the last six miles even if she had to walk.

Just as doubt was beginning to set in, Hudson caught sight of something that turned everything around. Ahead of her on the Queensboro Bridge amidst a group of other runners was a slender old man who looked to be in his 80s. Grey hair stuck out from underneath his red baseball cap, and he wore braces on both knees. Even though he was “race walking,” neither walking or full on running, he remained ahead of Hudson and even pulled away at points. From behind him, Hudson was able to see that his bright yellow shirt bore a list of other marathons the man had apparently run, which Hudson judged to be at least 30 names long.

“When I set my sights on him at the 20-mile mark and he first slipped away, I knew I had to keep him in my sights,” Hudson says. “He became the person I was committed to trailing. I could tell he was someone who knew what adversity was, and I knew that if he could push through the whole way, then so could I.”

Ultimately, Hudson never found out how the man placed himself, but she managed to follow him all the way to the finish, coming in roughly 46,000 out of 52,000 just as the sun was starting to set. Marathon officials placed a medal around her neck, wrapped her in a poncho to help her keep warm and handed her Gatorade and fresh fruits to recover after the run. The streets of New York had lit up around her as Hudson began making her way back to her family who had come out to cheer her on.

“All the closed roads meant everyone still had to walk at least a mile to get back to the starting line after the marathon was over,” Hudson says. “On the way back it looked like a crowd of zombies in blue and orange ponchos shuffling their way through the city.”

After successfully finishing the marathon, Hudson knew she wanted to do it again and set about making a training regimen for the following year. Fortunately, Hudson’s history of athletics made it a fairly simple task for her.

Prepping for a Marathon

Hudson played both basketball and softball at Meridian Junior College and played in a local softball league in Meridian from 2008 to 2011. After a friend named Rachel Wells ran in the New York City Marathon in 2015, Hudson began putting her name into the event’s lottery every year without any luck.

In the meantime, she began taking part in half marathons, starting with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Biloxi, Miss., in 2017. From 2018 to 2020, she ran in the Rock and Roll Series Marathon in New Orleans, La.

When her name finally came up in the drawing for the 2022 NYC Marathon, Hudson devised a 17-week training plan to prepare herself. Starting on July 4 weekend, she went to Vicksburg National Military Park every morning at 4 a.m. to practice running on the park’s abundant hills, which would make it easier to run on the comparatively flat streets of New York City.

Hudson ran for six miles a day on weekends with shorter runs on weekdays at first, steadily increasing the distance each week until she made it up to 10 miles per day on weekdays and 20 on weekends.

Friends and family congratulated Sissy Hudson (far left) after she successfully completed the 2022 NYC Marathon. Pictured are her husband Clay Hudson (back row), friends Mandy McGuffie (middle row, left), Rachel Wells (middle row center) and Erin Fleming (center row right) and nephew John Robert Sherman (front row). Photo courtesy Sissy Hudson

After accomplishing her goal of finishing the 2022 NYC Marathon and “not coming dead last,” Hudson resolved to enter the event again and make an even stronger showing and beat her previous finishing time. She got her chance when her name was once again drawn for the 2023 NYC Marathon. That year, she ran the entire course rather than alternating between running and walking as she had before, and finished 42,000 out of 51,000 participants with a final time of five hours and 36 minutes.

“I ran harder than ever for the first 16 miles, and while the Queensborough Bridge felt all uphill the first time around and was kicking my butt crossing it, I ran it the whole way without slowing down,” Hudson says. “I was wearing earbuds the whole way this time so that I could just zone out and focus entirely on my running. It also helped that my husband and nephew were there at the 16-mile marker to encourage me and my parents were waiting for me at the finish line so that we could all take pictures together after it was over.”

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

Outside of running marathons, Hudson serves as director of research management for the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg. The organization manages research and development programs for both military and civil works, including waterways, lochs and dams and navigation for boats along the Mississippi River.

Hudson, who originally joined the organization in 1994 as a budget analyst, primarily acts as a financial advisor, managing a roughly $2 billion portfolio of military and civil projects, including branch research laboratories in Champagne, Ill., Hanover, N.H., and Alexander, Va.

“I’ve lived in Vicksburg all my life, and ERDIC has always been one of the pillars of government here, so I knew I wanted to get my foot in the door and get involved straight out of college,” Hudson says. “I would say about 80% of the people in the organization are engineers, biologists or scientists, but even when I was young I knew I wasn’t one of those. I’ve always enjoyed working on budgets because it’s fascinating to be able to see and feel the big picture involved. You can tell you’re making a difference as a part of something bigger than yourself.”

While Hudson isn’t planning on taking part in the 2024 NYC Marathon, she has signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., in October and is already getting her training regimen in order.

“For anyone looking to start training to run marathons, the most important thing you can do is set a goal before you start,” Hudson says. “You can’t just run out and do something like this. I recommend starting with smaller runs to see if it’s something that sticks with you. If it is, go for it, because there’s no more amazing feeling than being out running in nature.”

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