On December 5, I ran the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. This is the third time I’ve done this race. As I was looking for races to round out my racing season, it didn’t take long to decide to go back to Memphis. I’ve always enjoyed visiting this city.
The downtown hotels usually fill up several months in advance. The first two times I did this race, I couldn’t get a room downtown, so I had to stay about 10 miles away. That was a bit inconvenient, since the start, finish and expo are downtown, as are several good restaurants.
This year, I booked my trip later in the year, so I wasn’t expecting to find a room downtown. At first I didn’t, but I kept checking. Persistence paid off. I was eventually able to get a room at the downtown Doubletree. They must have had a cancellation, and I was lucky enough to inquire at the right time. This was my first choice hotel. It’s across the street from the stadium where the race finishes.
Because I was staying downtown, I didn’t need to rent a car. I could walk to the start and finish, and take a trolley to the expo. I was also only a few blocks from the restaurants on Beale Street. I had to take a taxi to get downtown from the airport, but parking alone would have cost almost that much.
I had a non-stop flight to Memphis, allowing me to get there before noon. I was originally planning to skip lunch in favor of an early dinner, but as soon as I walked off the plane, I smelled the barbeque from a restaurant adjacent to my gate. I ended up eating lunch before leaving the airport.
After checking in at Doubletree, I walked over to Main Street to catch a trolley to the Memphis Cook Convention Center, where the expo was held. I met my friends Scot and Sandy at the expo, only to discover they hadn’t had lunch yet and were going for pizza at Bosco’s. I didn’t have room for pizza, but joined them for a drink while they had a late lunch.
After going back to the hotel and organizing my clothes for the race, I walked next door to The Peabody. The Peabody is famous for their marching ducks. I arrived shortly before the ducks left the fountain in the lobby to march back to their penthouse on the roof for the night.
Later, I walked down to Beale Street where I had dinner at BB King’s Blues Club. All the restaurants on Beale Street have good food, and this is one of several restaurants with live blues bands.
The race didn’t start until 8:00, so I didn’t have to get up too early. Since the start was only a few blocks away, I also didn’t have to leave early. I didn’t need to check a gear bag, and I didn’t have to bother with bathroom lines.
The weather was warmer than most of my recent races. It was 35 degrees at the start, but warmed up at least 20 degrees by the time I finished. I still dressed warm, but I didn’t need as many layers.
This race has a six hour time limit. I wasn’t worried about breaking six hours, but I also didn’t want to cut it too close. After running the Seattle Marathon in 5:25, I wanted to see if I could improve on that time.
There were multiple start corrals. Except for the elite runners, corrals weren’t assigned. There was a table in the event guide indicating which corral was appropriate depending on your starting pace. I lined up in the back of corral 9, which corresponded to a 10:54 pace. That’s roughly the pace I started in my last race.
We started by running through the downtown area. I found the first few blocks to be congested, but after that, I was able to run my own pace. After about a mile, we ran down Beale Street for a few blocks. At one mile, my time was 10:55. I guess I started in the right corral.
We worked our way south and west for about two miles before reaching the Mississippi. Then we followed the river until we got back to Beale Street.
As we turned onto Beale street, we ran up a short hill. There was an aid station on the hill, so I used that as an excuse to take a short walking break. There were aid stations nearly every mile, but I skipped most of the early ones, so I wouldn’t overhydrate.
At the top of the hill, we turned left, and we were greeted by Elvis, who was singing, “Treat Me Right.”
Through the first four miles, my pace averaged 11:00 per mile. That pace felt nice and relaxed. Then I started to notice soreness in my right leg. Over the next few miles, I was forced to slow down, as I tried to find a stride that wouldn’t bother my leg.
Before leaving downtown, we ran through the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude is a cancer hospital for children. The patients here receive cutting edge treatments, but there’s no cost to their families. The hospital is funded entirely by donations, and this race is a fundraiser. As we ran through the hospital grounds, we were cheered by cancer patients and their families. This is always the most emotional part of the race.
Some runners were running in honor of current or former cancer patients. The most inspirational story I heard was from a man whose daughter is a cancer survivor. She was once a St. Jude patient. Now she’s cancer-free and works at St. Jude as a nurse.
The course this year was different than the other two times I did this race. The start and finish were similar, but once we left downtown, I was less sure of where I was. Somewhere between nine and ten miles, I saw Scot. I didn’t know what pace he would be running or which corral he started in, so I didn’t expect to see him during the race.
After that, I ran with Scot for the rest of the race. At first, it was a bit awkward. Scot alternates running and walking. He also sometime stops to take a picture or say something encouraging to a random stranger. When we were running, his pace was sometimes uncomfortable for me. I eventually learned to run my own pace. We weren’t always running stride for stride, but we were never far apart.
By the second half of the race, it was getting warmer. Scot was getting hot, so he did more walking. After that, it was easier to stay together. At times, though, I was running slowly while he was walking quickly.
As it got warmer, I was glad I opted to wear a short-sleeved shirt with arm warmers instead of a long-sleeved shirt. I was starting to get hot, but after removing the arm warmers, I felt comfortable.
Running marathons at a slower pace has been a difficult adjustment, but it hasn’t all been bad news. It’s given me opportunities to run with friends like Scot. We had lots of time to catch up and tell each other stories.
Somewhere around 20 miles, we met a runner named Debi, who was doing her first marathon. Debi was experiencing a painful cramp in her left leg. Scot told me to go ahead, while he stayed with Debi to help her recover. I walked until Scot caught up. Before long, Debi passed us. We saw her several times before the end of the race.
The new course had a lot of turns as we entered downtown. As the crow flies, we were only about a mile from the finish, but our route took about three miles. When we finally reached the last mile, I made a bathroom stop. As I emerged from the bathroom, Scot told me our friend Diane had just passed us. Diane was leading the 5:25 pace group, but started a few corrals behind me. We picked up our pace until we caught up, and the three of us stayed together until the finish.
The approach to AutoZone Park was also somewhat convoluted. Even after passing the 26 mile sign, we had to make a few more turns before entering the stadium. We all crossed the line within a few seconds. My time was 5:32:15.
AutoZone Park is a nice finish venue. Friends and family can watch the finish from the stadium seats, and the post-race food is set up near the outfield seats, where there are tables and chairs.
They were out of doughnuts by the time we finished, but they still had pizza, soup, beer, and a few other snacks. We met a few friends who had already finished, and found a table. While we were there, we kept meeting other runners who finished after us.
Eventually, I walked back to Doubletree to get cleaned up and put myself back together. By the time I was ready to go out, it was almost dinner time. My post-race meal of choice is usually pizza. Since I already had a few slices of pizza after the race, I went back to Beale Street for some Memphis barbeque, in another club with live blues music.
This was my 50th race of the year. The last 30 have all been with injuries. I have one more race. Then I’ll take a long overdue break.