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St. Jude Memphis Marathon Race Report

December 6, 2010

Hello Everybody! It is official – I am a Marathon Finisher! It’s almost hard to believe, but it’s true! I finished in 4 hours and 50 minutes (2 second before my hubby and one place before him in the ranking ;)). There is so much to say, I hardly know where to begin. I mean, the city of Memphis was so quaint. And the weather on race day was perfect. Everything was so ideal it was almost as if I had taken all of the factors and molded them for my “perfect race day.” All factors … but one … and now my story begins …

So the location of our hotel was awesome. It was approximately 2 blocks from the race start and directly across the street from the race finish. When you need to stay in a hotel the night before a race, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a locale that is close to race start and/or finish so you can maximize on sleep and avoid the outside elements as long as possible. Often, the “hotel of choice” is some kind of “headquarter” that’s near the expo’s location and far too frequently, the expo is no where near the race start or finish (this marathon included). But with our hotel so close so both the start and finish, it was a dream.

In addition, the race start time was 8 am. We all know that I hate getting up early to run, so an 8 am start time is awesome, but like I said, everything was really ideal. So, if you consider the fact that Memphis is in the Central time zone, and I traveled from the Eastern time zone, well, in theory, the race didn’t even start until [my body’s concept of] 9am!

In good race form, we laid out our clothes the night before and we woke up at 7 am to have a bagel, dress, and stretch. We left the hotel at 7:45 and to our wonderful surprise (though we did check before dressing), it was approximately 55 degrees! It was a little cloudy, but there was no humidity and it was barely cold. Dreaded more than running early, I despise running in the cold – so I was very happy. 🙂

We lined up in the corral before the corral that would have the 4:30 pace group because my goal (and my training) prepared me to finish the marathon near 4:30 but my distance runs have a sort of slow-fast-slow rhythm (i.e. I start out with 10:30 miles, speed up to around 9:48/9:30, then keep pace around 9 min. miles and then – after Mile 14 or 15 – tend to slow down again until I’m averaging a 10 min mile). Anyway, the theory was that with my running cycle and planned restroom breaks, the 4:30 group would eventually catch up to me around Mile 20/21 and then I’d keep pace with them until the end.

Our corral started around 15 minutes after race start. I should mention that the course is two-fold: marathon and half marathon. There were approximately 8,000 running the Half Marathon and 3,000 running the Full Marathon (including me and hubs). For the first 12 Miles, the course is the same, then, around Mile 12 – it clearly splits in two. But I’m getting ahead of myself …

The first few miles of the course are very nice. It takes you around downtown Memphis and you pass some really cool sights including the FedEx Forum, the Pyramid, and Beale Street. While I can’t say the cheering was amazing (I came to realize that the MCM was a little louder), the crowds were nice for the first couple of miles. Eventually, not too long after the pyramid, you make your way to the St. Jude’s campus – which I must say, was amazing; not only because the campus itself is beautiful, but because the cheering in THAT section of the course is unbelievable: There were kids, parents, staff, posters, signs, and noise makers – EVERYWHERE. The cutest kids were lined up in a row at the entrance to give some 5’s, I saw a Santa Clause somewhere amongst the crowd, and honestly, I was so distracted by all the excitement and cheering, I can’t remember anything else about my running. Upon reflection I have one thought – if only the whole course could have been like that!

You see … after the St. Jude campus, the crowds come and go in clumps. That happens in a lot of races, but the cheering and excitement is so great at St. Jude’s that afterwards, everything pales in comparison. (Except for my Mom, but I’ll tell you about that later). Anyway …

After the campus, all I remember hearing is, “We’re half way there!”  Yup. Since the Marathoners are outnumbered until Mile 12, if you’re going to run this course, prepare for the “non-applicable cheers”. Right when everyone else was chanting, “We’re almost done” I was thinking, “I’m just getting started!”

Miles 8-12 are a semi-blur to me. The scenery there was beautiful. I tend to zone out in the presence of falling leaves – which were everywhere – and I felt great. Wait! I just remembered – we had two bathroom breaks! I don’t know how I forgot, but the hubby had to take one around Mile 5 after St. Jude’s and I felt an urge around Mile 11. In general I had prepared for one restroom stop, so I was frustrated when my body was insisting that we break again (I didn’t want to mess up my time!), but while I was on the course I realized, “I’ve been carb-loading for three days! No wonder I have to pee! Carbs retain water and by body’s breaking them down, so even though I didn’t over-hydrate this morning, this is natural.” (Yes, maybe that’s “TMI”, but now you know). Anyway …

The course splits around Mile 12. It was pretty clear (I thought) but my hubby was almost mis-directed by a volunteer, so we had a little confusion. As for the break away, I would say there is a certain mental aspect to it, but for me, the most frustrating part of it was that everyone was cheering, “We’re almost done! We’re almost done!” Dare I admit, I wanted to yell out, “You’re only done if you’re a wimp! The REAL runners keep on going!” Sorry. I know that sounds a little angry. I actually give mucho kudos to those who were running their first Half Marathon, I was just venting because Mile 12 – at least for me – tends to be the place where you think to yourself, “Alright, let’s do this!” but it’s hard to do when your hubby’s almost running off course and you’re surrounded by a ton of people who are talking about beer.

On a positive note, while the course changes direction at this point – and the crowds disappear – there is one thing that was a positive that I will never forget: My Mom who started screaming to a police officer along the course, “Here they come! Here they come!” We were about .1 Miles away from them and they started yelling , “GO ANDREW! GO ELENA! GO ANDREW! GO ELENA! YOU CAN DO IT! KEEP ON GOING!!”, etc. I’m pretty certain that the police officer – not knowing what we looked like – was screaming at a couple who was only a few feet ahead of us, but it’s the the thought that counts. Right? [Dear Mom – good job! That was seriously the worst part of the course.]

Anyway … (I’m still laughing as I type) … the course continues on and for the most part, I can’t remember it. The good news is that there is hydration and restrooms at EVERY mile along the course. I would say that was another huge plus. For the most part, we just kept running and hydrating and eating. AND THEN …

Around Mile 17, I started to feel a little pang in my left foot. Now, I want to make it clear that this was not a typical ‘marathon pang.’ For the most part, running more than 16/17 miles does not feel good, but I did my training runs and I survived just fine and I knew – based on the little pricklies in my toes – that something wasn’t right. At first I thought my form was off. So I focused on that. About a half mile later I thought, “Maybe I tied my laces too tight and I’m stopping my blood flow?” I started jiggling my foot a little.  At that point the hubby noticed and said, “You okay?” I said, “I don’t know. Something doesn’t feel right in my left foot.” But I kept on running …

At some point along the way, while thinking about my foot, I started to sense that someone was behind me. I could see some shadows – but first I shrugged it off as being crazy. Then, I could sense some panting sounds on my heels – YUP – the 4:30 pace group was at my back. I turned around a little and saw him – the man with the neon yellow shirt that said “Pacer” holding a sign that said, “4:30” and all I could think was, “Hello, my dear nemesis. Finally, we meet.”

He was a nice guy. When I turned around a little and he saw me I said, “This is it. You’re my group! I’ve been waiting for you!” …

I stayed with them for a little bit until a water stop was coming up along Mile 20. I run/ran through all water stops but the pace group was a “walk through water stops” kind of pace group so eventually I got ahead of them [you thought I was going to say I stopped for water, didn’t you! I admit – passing the group felt really good. If there was any high that was experienced during this course – it was then]. So the hubs and I kept on running. He had some sports beans, I some stingers (PS – I didn’t lost ANY sports beans!) and we kept on our merry little way … until … my damn foot … started poking at me again.

I started thinking again about why the heck my foot was bothering me and what was going on. It wasn’t my toes, or my ankles. It wasn’t the arch of my foot either. It felt weird on the side and some of the heel but I thought, “I don’t think this is plantar fascitis.” Also note, I never have foot problems – it’s usually my knees or my large muscle groups.  So anyway … I tried to keep on going, but at one point, something shot through my toes and they started to burn and tingle. At this point I thought, “Maybe my shoes are too loose and they’re not getting any support?” So I told the hubs, “I need to re-tie my laces. Keep going and I’ll meet up.” As I veered right to sit on the curb, and just as those words came out of my mouth, I’ll let you guess who should appear? … That’s right: The 4:30 group and my neon friend, the 4:30 Man. My sweetie looked at me, then looked at them, then looked at me and said, “Are you okay? Are you sure?” At this I had a fleeting thought and that was this: I have to be able to walk in work on Monday, so I responded, “I know. I see them. I’m okay. Let them go and I’ll catch up to you. I can’t do 4:30, but I came this far and I’m okay with that.”

So I sat down on the curb and re-tied my shoes. The burning sensation subsided but I knew something wasn’t right with my foot and I think the thing that bothered me the most was not knowing what was going on. So I got up – albeit, a little pissed off, and then I did it – I stepped on a slanted part of the curb, near a grate – and the pain shot through my foot and my ankle and I knew – everything was perfect EXCEPT FOR THE UNEVEN PAVEMENT! The damn street. I wasn’t happy, but I was pleased to have uncovered the source of my pain. For so many months, I trained! For so much of the course, I was on par for 4:30! The weather was perfect, my carb-loading was good, and here – suddenly – was probably the one thing I never thought of and my entire finish time was resting on its existence.

For a while I was okay with this. I mean, I caught up to my sweetie, told him I needed to walk, and thought – for most of the walk – about the fact that I had done so well for so much of the course (approx. 4 hours at this point). That had made me really happy. But about a half a mile later of walking, I was upset again. I was thinking about how the pavement was almost like a perfect storm and I determined I would not let it get in the way. I told my hubs I wanted to continue running, and I tried to push through with a new running method – on my toes. I probably made it about .25 miles down the road and I broke down again … “We gotta walk sweetie!”

At this point, I have to give a shout out to my amazing husband. Not only was he by my side the whole time, but when I said – at Mile 23 – “You can go on without me if you like,” he laughed and responded, “Elena, I’ve been with you for 23 miles – I’m not leaving you now!” (Isn’t he romantic!) So anyway – we walked.  And then I would try and run.  And then I almost cried  (mostly out of frustration over the stupid, slanted streets!). And then we walked some more – and he held my hand. And then I said, “Hmm. If childbirth hurts worse than this, I think I’m adding 5 years to the plan.” And then a half mile later I added, “Then again, you can take an epidural to make the pain go away until the end. I think if I could take something to make this pain go away – and have it wear off right before the finish – I’d do this again.” And then I tried to run a little more. And then we would walk. And then I added, “Of course, at this finish line you get a medal, but when you’re done with the other thing, you get a baby.” He must have thought I was delirious. Or high. Maybe I was? They always say it’s a whole new world between Miles 20 and 26.2, right?

Anyway, we walked for most of the rest of the course.  I tried to run where possible but the pain really was very bad.  It wasn’t the way I envisioned ending my Marathon – but walking hand in hand with the one you love in a new city with some great weather isn’t so bad either.

Eventually we came up around Mile 26. I would have liked to have run the last .2 Miles but the pain was wretched. I told my sweetie I wanted to run through the finish line but I think he thought I gave up on that around Mile 23. Well, old dreams die hard: I saw the Finish line probably around 26.15 and yelled, “I’m taking off!” – and I did. I don’t think he heard me, but he vowed to stay by my side, so the hubs took off too – We finished 4:50. I don’t remember anything about the end other than: 1. Looking for my medal and 2. My Mom screaming, “Over here! Over here! Let me take your picture!” It was glorious. I mean, we haven’t seen the picture, but somewhere out there, there is a snapshot of me and the hubs only seconds after we crossed the finish line and I really am overjoyed that my Mom was there to take that picture. In some ways I hope it’s horrid – then it will forever memorialize the pain. In other ways I’m hoping it’s not so bad – maybe it will make me think, “Was it that bad?” (It was).

In the end, I really only remember one thing: It was an amazing experience.

Did I mention I raised $5,322.29?

In the end, I didn’t raise the $26,200 that I hoped. And I didn’t finish the marathon in 4:30 like I also (kind of secretly) hoped. But I completed my third and final New Year’s Resolution of 2010, I raised a lot of money for my favorite charity, and I made a lot of great memories along the way. What more can a girl ask for? Nothing.

On that note, I’m off to bed to think about what an amazing experience I’ve had and I’ll see y’all in my dreams.

ep 🙂

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010 10:50 pm

    Every marathon is a journey. Pain temporary, pride is forever- nice race report.

  2. December 6, 2010 10:54 pm

    Congrats! Great job on finishing a marathon and raising so much money for a great cause!

  3. Andrew permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:35 am

    E-L-E-N-A…. What does that spell?????? ELENA! GOOOOOOO ELENA!!!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!

    Great job sweetie.

  4. Melissa permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:31 pm

    See, I told you there’s always a reason you end up wanting to run another one…

    My first (and best) was 4:51. I knew I went out too fast and ended up walking too much at the end, so I wanted to do it again to see if I could run it “right.” Marathon #2 I ended up with bronchitis 6 weeks out, marathon #3 I pulled my IT band at mile 22. I think I’m happy with 4:51 after all. 😉

    So proud of you!

  5. December 7, 2010 4:53 pm

    You and hubby did an amazing job!

  6. Tish permalink
    December 7, 2010 6:17 pm

    What a story! Thank you for sharing….one of my thoughts to myself when I did my first was ” what the hell am i doing? what kind of stupid thing did i get myself into!” Now, I want to do another!! HHAHa!!!

    Great job! SO proud of you!1

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