383.6 miles run; 1.75 mile swam; 59 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: St. Jude Half Marathon
Place: Memphis, TN
Miles from home: 2301 miles
Weather: 60s; sunny and warm
My goal for this race was to get in the 1:25s. I felt that would be decently challenging enough but reachable. It would also be a good barometer for where I stood fitness-wise. Not a prefect barometer, mind you. I know the vagaries of racing and with this being my 12th race in 14 weekends, everything was quite a crapshoot. Three marathons, two triathlons, and 7 half marathons, coupled with working expos and what not can leave an athlete a bit strung out.
My expo was filled with wonderful moments of meeting great people, as per usual but there was something about just sitting there, directly across the aisle from a wall where people were writing words of encouragement on that really made me reflect on a great many things.
Many of them are far too heady or philosophical to deal with in a random race recap but I was definitely lost in thought much of the time at the expo.
My hotel was a mere .5 of a mile away from the start. This meant lots of sleeping in and little time need to get to the beginning of the race. Can't tell you how much I enjoy that. Given I was running 13.1 and not 26.2 I was even happier that the race started at 8 a.m. The forecast called for a warm day and I was glad I would be probably done in 90 minutes or less. I knew those running the marathon were in for a tough day.
The morning had a little anxiety leading up to it as I had forgotten a crucial part of my race gear. More on that later.
First Three Miles: 6:30, 6:37, 6:38
I lined up on the starting line for one of the few times in my racing career. Very few times, including races I have won, have I felt the need to be pressed together with the other runners jockeying for that hopeful shot on the cover of Brightroom’s photo album for the race or the local Picayune Times. But in this instance, with a slate of runners in an elite corral in front of us, who had set off with a two-minute head start there were few people really pushing toward the front. So I saw an open spot and took it. I figured the time I would want to run would put me in the top 20 or so and I deserved the spot. When the “GO!” sounded and we took off I found myself in the lead group.
As the leaders pulled away from me ever so slightly, we and hit the first little uphill of the course, I felt I was going out a touch too fast. Nothing new, I figured I used that little burst to separate from the crowd and would back off the pace. Thinking I was running close to 6:05 or so for the first mile, I can tell you I was quite disheartened with a 6:30. I thought perhaps the mile marker was just a few yards off and maybe a 6:00 minute mile on mile 2 would even out the slate. When even the benefit of a one of the biggest downhills of the entire race only gave me a 6:37, I figured this might not be my day.
|Running with my feet ten feet off of Beale.|
Another uphill, the biggest of the course, and then a down through famed Beale Street and throngs of crowds put me at the third mile in 6:38. Drenched in sweat for over two miles, on an unusually warm and humid December 1st, I realized my day of trying to race was over. his would be a run.
Of course, just when you feel bad because your legs just don't have it today, you pass one of the guys doing the early start in a wheelchair. Then you realize how happy you are to be able to feel the burn in our legs at all.
To Mile 6: 6:49, 6:42, 6:47
The St. Jude marathon and half set in a place that is an interesting dichotomy. Memphis is known for this wonderful hospital and all it does for children as well as for its Blues history and the mild debauchery which can go off on the cordoned streets on party nights. To head from Beale Street and know your next major landmark of note will be running through the campus of the St. Jude Hospital shows the uniqueness of the city and subsequently the race.
Everyone sucks it up during the campus jaunt. When the race started and a pack of 115 pound junior high school kids shot out like rockets, I assumed half would run something faster than I could ever hope to run and half would be toast by mile 4. I began catching some of the extra crispy ones right before entering the St. Jude campus. However, you can be darn tootin’ that every single one of them, no matter if they were going to puke or pass out after the campus, held their heads high and knees higher as they strolled through St. Jude.
Signs aplenty state how we are their heroes and I laugh at that sentiment. I guess you cannot tell someone who their hero will be, but to think that because I am running a race or raising money for charity that I may be a hero is somewhat laughable. But it is fundraising which allows the research and care that go into saving these children’s lives. So I guess if someone is doing that for you, then they very well may be your hero. (Full disclosure: I didn’t raise funds for St. Jude this year. However, doing so for them back in 2004 is about the only reason I was able to make it through the Marine Corps Marathon. Long after all energy had left me and any shame involved in walking off the course and quitting had followed, I mustered enough intestinal fortitude to finish. You don’t DNF with a St. Jude Hero shirt on unless they pull you away on a gurney).
Onto mile 10: 6:58, 6:58, 6:51, 6:59
|Probably should have given his shorts back at the hotel.|
A special thanks goes out to my buddy Bobby of SPIbelt here. The night before the race, as I readied my race gear, I realized I was missing something essential: running shorts. A veteran of some 250 races, how I forgot to pack running shorts is beyond me. But Bobby came to the rescue here and provided me with a pair to dirty up for the day (although I did have to let out the crotch a little bit. Ha!) I mention Bobby here because this is where we as runners ran through Overton park. That just so happens to be the surname of Bobby, and I was going to joke about with him about this being his park. Well, the joke’s on me. One of Bobby’s ancestors actually was the one the park was named after. In a mixture of how race relations and this country have always been and may always be intertwined, it appears that one of the wealthiest and seemingly kindest slave owners in Tennessee was the Honorable John Overton. Bobby, of mixed race, can trace half of his lineage back to Overton. The things you learn from your friends.
A series of up and downs through this very pretty park allowed for some high and some lows. Other runners, not in the race, were out enjoying the day. Some seemed either oblivious or disinterested in yielding to a runner who may have traditionally been on the wrong side of the road, but was running as many tangents as possible. I was one of those runners as I was realizing that a sub 1:30 time was slipping away from me. In spite of the fact that no runners were passing me, and I was passing some here and there, I was still slowing down. Even when I felt I had to have run THAT mile in a 6:15, a 6:50 would pop up on my watch. Bollocks.
Exiting the park for a two mile straight stretch down Poplar Avenue, I was really ready to be done.
To the Finish: 6:52, 7:01, 6:49, :45
A quick look at my watch told me I could run 7:00 flat for the three remaining miles and slip in under 90 minutes. When the first mile was a hard-fought 6:52, it became clear this wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Literally dripping with sweat, I could not believe how warm of a day it was for December. Most people spectating, an activity notorious for being much colder than running a race, were clad in little more than shorts and long-sleeve tees. I could not have been more glad to only be taking the 13.1 mile distance on today.
|Note untied shoelace. Noob.|
Around the 11.5 mile mark I finally passed a guy who I could not believe was still in front of me. I remembered seeing the guy wearing the hydration-pack on his back and thinking “Why would you need that on a race with aid stations as plentiful as necessary?” Even given the heat of the day I maintain it was unnecessary. Regardless, I did not expect to take nearly 12 miles to catch this fella, one I thought I had passed back at mile 3.
As the mind wanders, I remember thinking about the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital which loomed in front of us. In a moment of levity I wondered if it had a sibling rivalry with St. Jude, the other always being the star QB of the Children’s Hospital Family while it played clarinet and couldn’t get a date. I think the extra brain power needed to make this joke forced me to run my first and only 7 minute mile of the day. Time to get back on track.
With a nice long downhill finish into the AutoZone Park, I again thought I turned on the wheels. I again was wrong. I felt for sure it was going to be closer than it actually was but with just .1 to go saw that a sub 1:30 was a guarantee. I finished in 1:29:19 good enough for 44th place. Bobby, in what I said must have been his faster pair of shorts, finished with a great kick to take a 90 second deficit to me at 15K to finishing just 20 seconds behind me.
We relaxed in the beauty of the day before grabbing some food from what has to be the the absolute largest post-race spread I have ever seen in my life. Normally I am not in need of food after a half and can’t process it after a full. But today I was famished. So we propped up ourselves with a feast and sat down to watch the finisher of the marathon.
I was not disappointed as friend, two-time Drake Well Marathon winner and good all-around guy Justin Gillette won the men’s race. Not too long after, in what was not only a 5 minute PR but her first ever sub-3 marathon, my friend Angie Zinkus claimed her first ever marathon win. I was elated for both and we made our way back down to the field to congratulate them. While I couldn’t find Justin (he was probably off doing another ten miles of cool down) I did get to give Angie a nice hug. She was obviously excited and I was so happy for her.
The St. Jude Marathon presents some challenges with its rolling hills but the normally perfect weather and the cause involved with the race more than make up for any difficulties.
As a race itself it is a well-oiled machine and continues to improve with each year. They have well-stocked and manned aid stations, clocks at every mile and pay attention to the details. Now, I am not saying a race that doesn't have clocks can't be good and it does help when you have thousands of runners to help pay for those amenities but I am giving credit where credit is due. With two separate finish lines and finish stretches for the marathon and half, you have no problem with runners ever getting in each other's way. The finish in the stadium is so nice. You feel, with all the other runners staying around to cheer you on, like a little bit of a professional athlete.
And did I mention the kids?
I can fully expect to see myself back here again in some capacity next year.