I feel a need to write my usual ‘race recap’ for this year’s St. Jude Memphis Marathon.
This was the first time I have experienced a race being cancelled. I was signed up to pace again this year (only my second time pacing a marathon). I was excited to get to pace the 5:10 marathon group and had actually participated in a majority of the training runs every Saturday for several months prior. I met some amazing people through this experience. All ages, backgrounds, fitness levels. Tremendous amounts of inspiration. I have shared with my friends but probably I was most inspired by a gentleman in his early 70’s that was training to run his first half marathon. It was like we all bonded over the months going from the hot/humid weather to the frigid weather and 20 mile runs. I was so excited for the first timers that I was working with on the weekends to experience the race. On top of this, these folks were St. Jude Heroes so were raising funds for children’s cancer. I am not ashamed to admit it but I think spending hours with these folks almost every week is what kept me motivated over the last quarter. Most mornings I would wake up and just not feel it. I am a big believer on fulfilling commitments so I would get rolling out of bed, have my coffee and with stiff joints and a blah personality show up in the morning to join the group. Most Saturdays I paced either the 11 min/mile or 12 min/mile pace groups. I always felt better when we finished our runs. It was a two way street. I was helping them reach their goals and they were helping me maintain my sanity.
Fast forward to the race weekend. About Wednesday of that week, we started to hear weather concerns of an ice storm. Thursday night it poured with rain and temperatures started dropping. That night I went out and bought a few things to help me combat the cold. A Bula buff thing (this is one of the best investments I have ever made and it was $15).I also bought some new gloves and some handwarmers.
Friday December 6 (Expo Night)
I had to work this day but took a half day of vacation so I could volunteer at the pacer booth at the marathon expo. I had the 5-7pm shift. The problem with this day is that we had some freezing rain start to fall in the morning so a majority of folks at my work were working remotely and it was questionable how the day was going to go in regards to the weather. Mainly the trees at my house were turning into icicles and laden with an inch or so of ice. Of course the temps were freezing. I was a little nervous about driving downtown (about a 20 min drive from my house if traffic is decent). I headed out around 3:45pm and took Poplar downtown vs the interstate (Poplar is like the main drag in Memphis that runs West/East). There was NO traffic and the roads were wet but in good condition. As I got closer to midtown and the marathon course, I saw the porta potties staged. I got excited! This marathon is going to happen! When I got to the expo, I had about an extra hour so met Anna and David (both pacers) at the booth and got my pacer bib so I could pick up my race bag and shirt. Then I just pottered around and chatted with some friends who were working at various booths in the expo. My friend, Stacy (rep for Craft) was working at the Fleet Feet booth and I ended up buying my first ‘base layer’ in preparation for this race. Breaking the rule of not wearing something new but somehow this seemed like a good idea based on the cold wind and temps that were projected for the race (starting temps were well below 20 degrees and projections not to get much higher than 30F for the entire race). Winds had been projected around 14mph. Stacy had almost sold out of all the base layers in my size but there was one left that was purple (not my favorite color) but I figured I would try it out.
By the time I had treated myself to some new running apparel, it was time for me to start my shift at the expo. I had the booth from 5-7pm. Usual questions you get from folks asking about which pace group to pick and familiarizing themselves with how St. Jude does things on marathon day. A few questions about the weather and the potential of cancellation and I just tried to respond with a reassuring voice (still having faith the race would be on). About 1 hour or so into my volunteer shift, I was looking on social media on my phone and saw a news story shared on Facebook that the marathon was cancelled. I seriously could not believe it and started to feel tears welling up in my eyes. Not for me, but for the runners and the heroes that I had worked so many hours with over the past few months. I also felt anguish for the race organizers as I could not imagine how difficult that decision was to make. The local running club (MRTC) was in the booth next to me and I asked them if it was true and I received a silent head nod. It almost seemed like at that point (around 6:30pm) that everyone in the expo started packing up their items. It was quite sad.
Coming home that night, I was shocked to see how angry some of the posts were that people were making about the cancellation. It seemed like out of haste that there were people making accusations that St. Jude didn’t cancel until Fri night since ‘they wanted to generate more revenue’? I can’t understand that one as they originally committed to 5am on Saturday morning to let everyone know, so I thought letting us know Friday night was even kinder from a planning standpoint. Turns out there were many factors to consider and I can only share what I heard and my perception of the events but basically the course was unsafe. The ice we had was also hiding in old trees in Overton Park (part of the course). A tree had come down there and there were many unstable limbs. During the expo I had some conversation with people about how water stops are impacted in freezing conditions and the slick surface as the 1000’s of runners pass through and spill water that in turn freezes. Most importantly, the state had declared a state of emergency so emergency responders were pulled to the greater need (not the marathon) so how could they hold a marathon (which does need EMTs, Police etc. to assist) when they knew those resources were needed for an emergency situation. On top of all this, a significant amount of volunteers were unable to make it. Travel west of Memphis (Arkansas area) was very difficult and roads were not good outside of Memphis. So many factors to consider. St. Jude’s CEO covered all of this in a video that was shared on Facebook. Personally, I think St. Jude handled this cancellation very well. Was I sad? Yes…but as I shared with a friend…do I have cancer? No. Can I sign up or volunteer again? Yes. We have to keep the big picture in perspective. Over 8 million dollars was raised for children’s cancer research.
Okay, so what did I do on race day? Well, my mind was ready for the 26.2. It was ready for lots of fun and talking over the span of 5+ hours. I even had to buy a new Garmin a few weeks earlier since my old one bit the dust. I was not going to back down as the train was on the tracks for me and what I needed to do. Several groups in Memphis got organized to run an unofficial marathon. Some ran the marathon course and some met out East and ran a course. I had mixed emotions on running the course even though at first I felt like I would. I wanted to respect the decision of the race directors in not running the race based on some of the safety issues. I decided to try something I had never done. I was going to run more than 10 miles on my own, no music, no phone, and no running partners. I decided to run the 26.2 solo.
I am not sure what possessed me to do this. I have been in a total mental and physical funk this fall so I believe part of me felt like I needed some quality brain time. Brain time? Well, running on your own allows you to process a tremendous amount of thought and even conversation as you decide on what to do. I slept in later than I normally would and decided to start around 10:30am. Instead of running from my house, I drove about a mile from my house and parked my car at the Germantown Greenway in the parking lot near the restrooms. I decided to put water, coconut water, GU and a few supplies in my car for my mini aid station. I would run 8-10 mile loops that I would just make up and then refuel at my car.
I started by running from my car west towards Memphis along the Greenway until it connected to the Greenline, ran under Walnut Grove and up over the overpass and down to the gravel road to Shelby Farms. Got to Shelby Farms and the wind was psychotic! So seriously said a ‘hell no’ at running anywhere near Patriot Lake and turned to come back down the gravel road (near kite flying area). As I turned, I had two gentlemen stop me and ask me if I was running my ‘marathon’? I had my bib on…so it was pretty obvious ha! I told them yes and we chatted for a minute and I received a reassurance of that being a ‘cool idea’. They were in from Florida and also out running (I suspect they had planned to do St. Jude also). When I finished the gravel road I decided to jump on the yellow trail just for the short bit between Walnut Grove and the million dollar Wolf River Bridge. When I got to the bridge, I hopped back on the greenline and headed back to my car. As I got closer to Germantown I was around 7 miles so I ran the Qtip at the end of the Greenway (right as it connects to the greenline) a couple of times to get me to 8 miles. I then went to my car and filled my bottle with coconut water. It was painful to take my gloves off even though I had handwarmers in them. When I stopped, I could literally feel my rear end was numb from the cold. Really funny when you think about it.
I was feeling pretty good at this point. Really 6-8 miles is when I start to feel warmed up on a run anyway. I forgot to make mention of my pace. I stayed close on average to what my marathon pace group was supposed to be, around an 11 min/mile (this slowed down closer to 11:40 towards the end).
I then ran from my car, around the Qtip again (dodging low hanging icy privet in a few sections) making me grateful for being short and back down the greenway and greenline again to the Wolf River bridge and then hopped back on the yellow trail. I got a nice high five from a lady right before I hopped on. Ran the Yellow trail all the way to the trail head at Germantown Pkwy. I hit mile 13 along this stretch and for some reason my right IT band went nuts (having flashbacks to Little Rock Marathon #notcool). I am not sure what triggered that as I had no issues in the previous months. My guess is my training was under par (I knew that) and also the cold.
I definitely slowed down through this stretch but part of that was due to things like navigating around downed trees and lots of low hanging privet that was literally like glass when you went through it as it was all icy.
When I got to the trailhead, I ran that single track piece that takes you up to the path that goes behind the Agricenter and then I ran Farm Road (brutal stretch) all the way back to the greenline at Walnut Grove/Shelby Farms. I hopped back on the Greenline towards the Wolf River Bridge…right as I was hitting the bridge area, I ran into my friend Amanda who was running her FIRST 26.2. She was a part of the unofficial group that ran from Collierville. This was her first marathon!!! and she was running it with a buddy. I wanted to be close to 20 miles when I got back to my car so at this point, I had to run the Qtip loop that is right there at the Greenline from Wolf River to Walnut Grove (just under a mile) and then I ran back to my car via Greenline/Greenway. This stop at the car was mental but I am not sure if it was a bad or a good mental. Bad mental = not wanting to finish, thinking about pain. Good mental = Boom, you can do this….only a 10K left. I refueled and then decided I would not venture too far away from my car until the finish.
I now headed east on the Greenway towards Germantown Parkway from my car and ran the Greenway all the way to where it ends near Chik Fil A. This was only 22 miles and I remember thinking how am I going to get 4 more miles in…if I run back that is only 24 and I will be at the car. I’m hungry, tired and at this point the seam in the crotch of my pants had done a real number on well, you know pretty much a very uncomfortable experience. I ran into Amanda and her buddy again around this point and was probably not very cheerful with them and later apologized about that! I headed back the way I came and went past my car back to the Qtip. Decided to do the Qtip a couple of times and a couple of out and backs on the Greenline to get the additional 2.2 miles. It felt like it took forever and at that time I was going very slow and people were passing me like I was crawling not running, jogging or anything. I finished around 3:30pm in the afternoon.
Here is my Garmin map (some of these loops were traveled more than once during the run):
Such a different experience doing this on my own. I seriously don’t know how I did it. I never dreamed I was capable. I also realized why I have a few friends who literally do this all the time…run solo…run long runs solo. It is a very purifying experience. It is you and you. It is you and nature. It is you and all the world’s problems with plenty of time to think. It is your schedule and your adventure. Thank you St. Jude for allowing me to learn this about myself. I dedicated that run to St. Jude and the patients there, all the Heroes I had trained with and grown attached to and to me.