The St. Jude Memphis Marathon on Saturday, December 3, 2011 was my third marathon. Again, I had high hopes and total determination to come in under four hours, but again I finished just shy of that (my Garmin had me at 4:16; I am awaiting official results). I was, however, happy with my 4:16 considering the following
- This was my third marathon since May, and my second marathon in seven weeks (#2 was Columbus, October 16).
- I was plagued by an annoying injury starting the beginning of October (SI joint misalignment).
- Due to things that came up and the above mentioned injury, I hadn’t done a long run longer than ten miles between marathons.
- I did not sleep well at all the week leading up to the marathon, and I woke up Saturday morning with a cold.
- This course was not, in any sense of the word, flat. At least not to this girl from the land of flatness known as Buffalo, New York, who PR’d in her previous marathon in the land of even more flatness known as Columbus, OH (seriously there was one teeny hill in Columbus). I seem to have blatantly ignored the “rolling hills” part of the course description and believed my friend when she said Memphis was flat (compared to Eastern Tennessee, I guess??).
Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this race. The start was fantastic. We were divided up into corrals, and each corral started two minutes after the previous one. This made for an amazingly un-crowded start to the race. No dodging people. No hopping up onto sidewalks to get around slower people. It was awesome.
I started out the race with the 4:00 pace group. The pacers, Bob & Carolyn, were great. They were super friendly and chatted with all of us. I stuck with them through the first 10K or so. Then I noticed that while they said their goal was 9:09 miles, the past two had been about 8:30-8:40. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace and not tank later in the race, so I chose to drop back.
The road to mile 2 brought a beautiful view of the Mississippi River. The highlight of the race, for me, came around mile 6 or 7, where a lone teenage girl danced on the sidewalk singing about how “frickin awesome” we all were. It literally made me laugh out loud (the other highlight, for me, was the volunteers basically lifting runners onto the steps at the stadium after the finish). Around mile 5 you get to run through the St. Jude hospital campus. The reception there was overwhelming. What touched me most was a young woman holding a sign that read, “because you are a runner, I am a survivor.” (in case you don’t know, all proceeds from the marathon weekend benefit St. Jude Hospital).
Things got a little more lonely after the half marathoners turned off. I understand there were about 3,500 people running the marathon, and about 13,000 half marathoners (I could completely be making that up). We ran down Beale Street again and headed back out East of the city. After the halfway point I started to feel a little tired, so I decided to walk the water stops, to make sure I was staying hydrated (it had warmed up a lot, and the sun was pretty hot!), and I figured that if I took short walk breaks, I would be able to keep up my 9:00ish minute mile pace. That actually did work for a while, up until about mile 20 where, for the first time ever, I had to use the porta potty during a race. I was getting uncomfortable and figured if I gave in and stopped really quick, I’d have an easier time running. I ended up taking a walk breaks a little more frequently after mile 20. Miles 23- 25 seemed to drag on forever, and at one point I recall thinking, “I am NOT running up another hill. I’m just not.” (the crabbiness usually hits me between miles 21-24). However, somewhere between miles 24 and 25, I saw a young boy with his mom and dad walking the grounds of St. Jude. He was bald and was wearing a mask. My crabbiness disappeared and I felt a little more perspective. I made myself run again. Because I could.
As we neared mile 26, a spectator said that the mile marker was right around the next turn. I asked her if she was lying. I was desperately tired at this point. She reassured me she was a marathoner herself and would never lie about something like that. I smiled and carried on.
The finish was along the first baseline of Autozone Park. It was really cool to run into the stadium and see it filled with cheering spectators. Crossing the finish was, of course, amazing. No matter how crabby I get, how down I get on myself for not meeting a specific time, or how many times during the race I swear I am never running ever again, there is no feeling in the world like crossing that finish line and knowing I have just run a marathon. And now, of course, I can’t wait for the next one! It will likely be Buffalo, possibly Pittsburgh, in May.