St. Jude Memphis Marathon Race Recap Part 2: The Race

The Race

St. Jude Memphis Marathon

Miles 1-3: 10:04, 9:47, 9:49 (Garmin)
31:11 through 5k, 10:03/mile (Official)

The St. Jude Marathon allows runners to self-corral based on estimated finish times. With my goal time of 4:15, I was very much in between corrals, so I elected to start at the back of corral 6, which was for 4:05 – 4:15 estimated finish times.

The beginning of the race was crowded, and I didn’t want to make any aggressive passing moves so early in the race, so I just settled in and kept seeing 10:20 and even 10:30 as my current Garmin pace.

I don’t think the slow early miles hurt my time much if at all, but it was frustrating to not get in an early rhythm. I probably won’t put myself in the back of a corral again after having this experience.

The beginning miles of this race are pretty fun. Mile 2 is run along Riverside Drive next to the Mississippi River, which was very pretty and windy. Mile 3 goes through the heart of downtown along Beale Street and Third Street.

Beale Street

Beale Street

There is a small hill coming up Beale from Riverside where I encountered a group of runners discussing maintaining a 9:45/mile pace. I struck up a conversation with Guy, John, John, and Susan, and we started running together. In addition to being super nice, these guys had run the race before and had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

marathon chatter

The many expressions of mid-race conversation.

Nutrition: I took a cup of Powerade at mile 2. I started feeling like I needed to pee at mile 2 as well. Not hitting the wall > needing to pee, so I drank it anyway.

Miles 4-9: 9:42, 9:40, 9:54, 9:46, 9:48 (Garmin)
Through 15k: 1:32:27, 9:52/mile from 5k (Official)

Mile 4 goes through the St. Jude campus, which was really heartwarming. From there until mile 8, there is a long stretch of North Parkway. Mile 8 turns through Overton Park, and there’s a bit of a hill at mile 9 by the art museum.

I felt pretty good during the North Parkway miles, but I started feeling a little tired when we got in the park. This segment of the course wasn’t super notable, but I enjoyed chatting with my new race-friends.

Marathon overton park

Mile 9 – Overton Park

Nutrition/hydration: I stuck to the plan despite feeling like I needed to pee. I had a Gu and water at Mile 4, a cup of Powerade at mile 6, and a Huma gel at mile 8 with water. I didn’t take any fluids at the odd numbered miles.

By mile 8 or 10, my race-group began discussing portapotty-timing-strategy.

Miles 10-13: 9:55, 9:46, 9:56, 9:40 (Garmin)
Through half: 2:09:53, 9:55/mile from 15k (Official)

This segment of the course includes two miles of Poplar Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Memphis. The hills aren’t bad by Atlanta standards, but it rolls a bit. There are two lanes of traffic open to the runners, and it’s hard to avoid the road camber. I was able to settle into tire grooves where it was pretty even.

The course turned by Sun Studio about halfway through mile 12 and the halfers, including two from our group, veered to the right while we stayed on the course. This was my first race ever not to take the half split!

IMG_3349.JPG

Nutrition/hydration/portapotty plan: I took a cup of Powerade at mile 10 and a Gu and water at mile 12. I still needed to use the portapotty and took no additional fluids. John, Guy and I, now dubbed the unofficial 4:20 pace group, decided we’d hit the first portapotties without a line after the half split.

Miles 14-20: 9:33, 9:52, 10:36, 9:35, 9:25, 9:54, 9:55 (Garmin)
Through 19.6: 3:57:23, 9:50/mile pace from half (Official)

This part of the course went through Midtown Memphis, which I really enjoyed. It’s a beautiful neighborhood with big trees and old buildings. I thought the crowd support was great. Whether we passed restaurants or houses, it seemed like people were sitting outside cheering on the runners. I don’t recall it ever feeling totally dead, although naturally there weren’t the large crowds that we saw downtown.

According to my race tour guides, mile 14 was where the course starts to get hilly. I didn’t perceive the hills to be that bad, but my body started feeling pretty tired. I felt like my feet gained two 5 lb lead weights at some point in mile 14. The irregular splits in this segment of the race were partially the result of hills, and partially trying to push through fatigue. I remember some of both.

We found an ideally placed group of three portapotties during mile 16. Guy timed our break at just over a minute. Miles 17 and 18 were paced by John, who looked like he was out for an afternoon jog and was ready to go. Guy and I were laboring a bit more than John, and after seeing a 9:25 mile for mile 18, we decided to slow to about a 9:50 pace. We slowed a little more, but I was still expecting to make a last 10k surge, so it felt like a way to conserve energy for the surge.

During the Midtown miles, we met some fellow unofficial 4:20 pace groupers, Keshia and Beth. We’d been running together since the half split, and finally made the introductions official somewhere around mile 19.

For me, the biggest challenge of the course was the uneven camber of the roads. In the portion of the course where there were half marathoners, it wasn’t bad because the larger crowds meant that more lanes were blocked off for runners. Beginning at the end of mile 18 through the end of mile 24, this course runs on East Parkway and North Parkway, and only one lane of traffic is reserved for runners. I’ve never run in a race where road camber is a huge issue, because normally the middle of the road is even. Because only one super-slanty-lane was available to runners, we had to run with our left legs landing several inches below our right for quite a few miles.

memphis marathon road camber

Check out how slanted the road is from the angle of the truck pictured! Credit: Google Street View

Once I realized there was no escaping the road camber, I just hoped that my now-strong hips could protect me from any ill effects of running on this road.

Nutrition/hydration: Powerade at mile 14, Gu with water at mile 16, Powerade at mile 19 (I missed it at mile 18), Gu with water at mile 20.

Miles 21-24: 9:51, 9:48, 9:54, 10:02 (Garmin)
Through mile 24: 3:57:23, 9:56/mile from 19.6 (Official)

John looked like he could run at least another 10 miles when we got to mile 20, and he took off. He crushed the last 10k and ran a 4:12:xx. I am 99% sure he could have run the race in 4 hours without our slow asses holding him back.

Guy, Beth, Keshia and I, on the other hand, decided to try to continue at a 9:50/mile clip and we’d consider making a move during the last 5k. By mile 21 or 22, my left IT band was feeling some ill effects of the road camber, and I had no choice but to continue pounding on it. For the first time in my life, uphills were a respite and downhills were the enemy.

At mile 21, I calculated that I could run the last 5.2 miles in an hour and still beat Oprah. This was helpful for my battered psyche and IT band.

By mile 24, I thought I was speeding up (I was actually slowing down). I felt horrible, and maintaining forward momentum was the best motivation I could muster to keep myself from slowing down and taking it easy. Mile 24 goes through the St. Jude campus, and in comparison to the lonely North Parkway miles, it was really energizing and inspiring to see the St. Jude crowd out in force cheering us on. I gave a LOT of high fives.

St. Jude Campus Marathon

St. Jude Campus

Nutrition/hydration: a cup of Powerade at mile 22, another cup of Powerade at mile 24. My stomach was starting to feel really queasy.

Miles 25-26.2: 9:56, 10:13, 0.46 in 4:12; 9:08/mile pace (Garmin)
Through 26.2: 4:20:14 (10:18/mile from mile 24)

Coming out of the St. Jude campus onto bleak Danny Thomas toward downtown was the saddest part of the course. The street is not spectator-friendly, and I could feel every inch of my left IT band – it felt like it was in flames. I wish they could have routed the race on a downtown north-south street – perhaps Front? That would be cool.

The 10:13 mile was a low point for me mentally – I’m sure I could have run faster, but I really felt like giving up. Not giving up as in not finishing, but giving up as in not trying my hardest. This is the only part of the race where I have regrets – I know I could have run it faster than I did.

Memphis marathon

At some point along the way, I lost Guy, Keshia, and Beth in the course of keeping my forward momentum. Beth and Keshia caught up to me during my mile 26 despair and pulled me out of it. They were really encouraging. I did my best to keep pace with them. I couldn’t always stay up with them, but I managed a surge every so often to keep them in my sight.

Sjmm

Approaching the baseball stadium/finish

The endof the St. Jude course is in a baseball stadium, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Jeff and my parents cheering on the turn into the stadium. I had a bit of an extra pep in my step at this point.

Entering the stadium, one of the girls told me we were on track for 4:20, and I churned out the fastest finish I could muster. Running hard like that was so painful to my already wrecked IT band, but I guess I just didn’t care anymore.

St. Jude marathon finish

Finish on the field

As I approached the finish line, I felt a rush of accomplishment like I’ve never felt in any race before.

All the miles run, all the hours trained.

The rough start to training, and switching training plans.

Getting stung by a stingray in the middle of training.

The worst long run ever.

Feeling all the physical fatigue of training and somehow having an overall great experience.

Memphis marathon finish

I crossed the finish line in a state of physical and emotional overload. Keshia, Beth and I crossed the finish line seconds from our goal: we were pacing superstars. I had a giant smile on my face. I raised my arms above my head in victory – not victory in the race, of course, but victory in running MY race, in my hometown, for the first time, as I hoped it would go. Victory was seeing the payoff of my preparation. We got together for a photographer and smiled our widest.

St. Jude Marathon Finish

Post-race: happy edition.

I turned around from our photograph and faced the reality ahead of me. I had to walk across this baseball field and up the stadium steps, a challenge that felt more daunting than the last 10k of the marathon. I hobbled up the steps, using both handrails to keep my legs from collapsing beneath me. I saw the food area at the top of the steps. In that moment I realized that my stomach, which I’d just bombarded with 6 Gus and 7 cups of Powerade while running, was feeling ragey. Get food later. Find your people now.

Somehow I had the mental and physical toughness to run 26.2 miles, but it took just 5 minutes of walking and not finding my people to break me down. I started crying. There were quite a few perplexed spectators unsure what to think of a sweaty, sobbing 29 year old woman wandering hobbling around aimlessly like a lost kid in a grocery store.

I found my people and gave disgustingly sweaty, sobby hugs. Jeff told me I never had to run again, which was the most perfect thing he could have said to me in that moment. A moment later, I ran into more race-friends, Guy and Susan, and their two cute girls. I was all smiles again as we bantered about the race, looked up our times, and chatted about the girls’ upcoming 1.2 mile race – the last 1.2 of a series of kids’ races that total 26.2. What fun!

Perhaps the strangest and most unexpected part of my first marathon: I was more emotional after the race than a 16 year old girl with PMS.

After wearing the damn wristband for 24 hours, I didn’t make it to the beer garden to get my not one but TWO real beers. 😦

It felt like hours to walk back to the car. We had the lunch of St. Jude Marathon champions. I had a pulled pork sandwich from Germantown Commissary and it was phenomenal.

Germantown Commissary

The race, in a nutshell:

There are so many great things about this race. It’s not too big, not too hilly, not too flat. You can register for a reasonable fee and support a great cause without padding a corporate profit margin. The aid stations and portapotties are plentiful and frequent. The crowd support is great for a smaller marathon. They serve real beer after the race and a lot of real food – pizza, chili, and the full complement of bananas and protein bars.

The shirt and medal were simple. The shirt is a long sleeve technical tee.

Memphis marathon swag

There are so many good things about this race that make me want to recommend it or even run it again. But running the late miles while stuck in one lane of uneven-camber road was devastating to my IT band. A lot of people seem to do great in this race, and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who doesn’t have IT band issues. I hope that in the future, there will be additional lanes open to runners in the mile 18-24 stretch. If that happened, this could be the perfect race.

Have you run this race? How did it go? Would you run it again?
What features do you look for/try to avoid in a race?

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17 thoughts on “St. Jude Memphis Marathon Race Recap Part 2: The Race

  1. You are such a photogenic runner! You are such a cutie in all those race photos…especially that smiling “finish on the field” one. Congrats on toughing it out and I hope your ITB calms down soon 🙂

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    • Thank you! I must admit, I omitted an important disclosure: I cherry-picked the photos that I thought were most flattering. I’m rehabbing the ITB. Do you know yet when you get to run again?

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  2. Congrats again on finishing your first marathon!!! I love how much you are smiling in all your photos 🙂 This is a memory you will have forever. I have a feeling this wasn’t your last marathon 🙂 Hope to see you in ATL soon. xo

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    • Thanks Jesica! It was so good talking to you last night – hearing your story firsthand is so inspiring. An hour faster than your first marathon, that totally blows my mind! We’ve only just met but I’m so proud of you 🙂 Let’s get something planned after the holidays!

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  7. So interesting to hear your story of your first marathon just trying to crush Oprah’s time!! I did the Chicago marathon in 2013 hoping to finish about what she did so many years before but I didn’t. Maybe if I had made it my goal my day would have been better!! Congrats on your first marathon!! You will never forget it!!!! 🙂

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    • Thanks Leslie! It’s funny, the Oprah goal started as something I deemed an achievable challenge, and I suppose it became more when I started blogging about it. Congrats to you as well, on both your marathons and your triathlons! I wanted to love the triathlon, but after one sprint tri in my early 20s I “retired” from the sport. So much respect for you guys!!!

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      • It is funny…I didn’t really think about it until about 2 weeks before the race. I thought I should look up Oprah’s time. At that point I thought 4:30 was in my reach but I had a bunch of mess ups in that race and want to go back and really achieve that goal!!
        After only one sprint you retired. 😦 That is too bad!! I hate sprints too!!

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  8. I think I know how you feel. I’ve been trying to see things that went wrong on race day as opportunities to improve, even though I want to beat myself up over them. Sounds like you are in a great spot to build upon if thats what you choose to do! Happy training!

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  10. a little late, but congrats! I can totally understand the road camber. I live in Hawaii and since it rains so much all the roads are extremely slanted. I’ve had countless injuries from short runs I couldn’t imagine having to deal with it mid-marathon. again, awesome job!

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    • Thanks! I passed on some of this information to the race director after the race as well. I’m sure it wasn’t just my comments, but I was happy to learn that the course has changed to eliminate all that road camber and to have the last mile running through the downtown streets. I’m so happy, and I should probably update my post for that information.

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