Marathon Route #5: St. Jude Memphis Marathon

Do you know that feeling you get the night before Christmas, your birthday, or the first day of vacation where you can’t really sleep because your body is coursing with adrenaline and expectations of the amazing times ahead? I usually get this the night before an official race day. It’s not that I can’t sleep, but my body wakes me up every hour on the hour as if my alarm clock has just gone off. In between these abrupt awakenings I have dreams of racing, usually down strange and unknown roads surrounded by shadows of my former self for competition. I have woken up in a complete sweat, as if I just crossed the finish line. I have not been able to generate this sort of excitement for the days that I am merely running the route of a marathon. Whether it is the competitive edge, the fact that I will be officially monitored, or the knowledge that I will probably make new race friends on the course that day, my race days have that little extra something that the my training days are lacking. This week, I decided I was going to change that. Memphis was going to be just as exciting and inspirational as any official race I’ve ever done. For the most part, I feel I succeeded.

Firstly, I talked to some people in marathon clubs that I belong to about the marathon before the race. They gave me some great details and positive reviews of the course and the crowd. Secondly, I utilized that information to try and visualize what the course looks like on race day as I was doing my pre-race review and drive around the course. Thirdly, I started saying to myself “This is an important race; Memphis is important to my overall strategy for the year.” Finally, I set higher expectations for myself in running this race route. I determined that this was going to be an ideal day to run a marathon, that I had no excuses not to do great, that everything was lining up to make this my best marathon ever. It may have worked a little too well, but we’ll get to that. I did fully wake up a couple times during the night and when I woke up in the morning I was filled with the anticipation of the coming day. The multiple wakings were counterbalanced by the fact that I went to bed nice and early and had a great night of sleep.

Course Review

I have determined that many race directors see their race as having friends over for a night of revelry. Your friends come over to the house and as they walk in the door you present them with the best of what you have – the finest scotch, the best champagne, meats, cheeses, fancy dijon ketchup, and little amuse bouche that overwhelm and satiate the palate, graciously getting us liquored up so that by the end of the night, we are all drinking Bartles and Jaymes and eating stale angel food cake slathered in peanut butter without a second thought. Memphis is a beautiful city. I enjoyed running throughout the many and varried neighborhoods throughout the city. However, the Kings Cut of this exquisite running roast is definitively in the first half of the marathon. The start line is by a very scenic park, Court Square, surrounded by historic buildings, with the river just out of sight. Just after hitting the one mile mark, you are feasted on the hot pink neon signs of a still smouldering Beale Street. After a mile of running through transportation graveyards, they lower the boom with an incredibly picturesque view of the mighty Mississippi laid out like a voluptuous lady girded in steel lingerie. This was by far my absolute favorite view from the five marathons I have run this year. I would have run up a hundred hills to see it, but another beautiful thing about this marathon is the fact that the hills are minimal and low and well spaced at their most arduous. After leaving the majesty of the Riverside, you run along the cityscape until it becomes just a little industrial. At that point, the race has you run through the Saint Jude’s medical campus. I’m sure on race day this is probably a huge race support center, manned by staff and families. Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t an official race day, so the gates were closed and I had to run on the outskirts of the medical campus. North Parkway was an enchanting road to run along with its hipster neighborhoods on a main thoroughfare. I’d like to mention at this point the roads and the sidewalks were fairly well attended in this city. I’m not saying that all the sidewalks were great, but certainly more than I could have expected. My largest complaint was the proliferation of Sweet Gum trees throughout the city. These pleasingly symmetrical trees, which I’m sure must look phenomenally colored during the normal race time in December, leave large spiky “gumballs” carrying their seeds littering the sidewalks and streets. After twisting my ankle on a pine cone last week, you can be sure that I avoided these little hazards like the plague. After that, you skirt the Memphis City Zoo, run through another well developed neighborhood on Madison and then do a large loop to take you back to run through an enchanting corner of Rhodes College and a lush introduction to the glories of Overton Park’s limestone running trail. After that it is your usual combination of various neighborhoods, business districts, and industrial areas that round out the 26.2 miles needed for the marathon distance. Friends who have run this race mention that past courses have made a second entry into St Jude’s Medical Campus and that was very energizing in the final few miles. Certainly finishing at the stadium has a very big league impact. Maybe race directors feel that in the last couple miles of the race, we are so focused on finishing, that we wouldn’t notice a beautiful portion of the city as much during that time as we do when we’re first starting out. An understandable perspective, considering during the last 2 miles, all I kept thinking was when is this going to end? This perspective may seem a little harsh, but I was running on empty and injured, so that may have skewed the finale for me.

Lessons Learned

My Body Is Changing
I have not stepped on a scale since the New Year. Losing weight is not a primary goal for my quest and I find obsessing about my weight is distracting from my other goals. Instead, I try and focus on increasing positive behaviors. Not eating the second slice of cake, getting water instead of sugary power drinks, eating appropriate foods throughout the day are all positive steps forward for me. Sure, I get disappointed when I see race photos of my gut crossing the finish line before I do but I believe that increasing my positive behaviors will lead to increased positive results. I saw two of those results this week. Firstly, I am running faster. Both at the group run I participated and during the first half of this run, I was able to pace myself better than in recent history. Secondly, clothes and accessories aren’t fitting the same. My running shorts were decidedly baggy and weren’t working nearly as well as “compression” pants. Fortunately, the Body Glide was working overtime. Secondly, my racebelt wouldn’t sit right. For the last four races, my race belt sat pretty comfortably on my ample hips, the little rubber studs keeping it right where it needed to be. Not this run, the belt kept trying to slip down off my waist. I would cinch it tighter and SWIPTZ it would try and fall of my my assignment dragging my not so compressing pants with them. Gear check now will include wearing my race gear my last run of the week before my marathon.

Pain Thresholds
You know when the Doctor or Nurse asks you the annoying questions “What kind of pain is it?” and “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt?”, many of us are just thinking “It just hurts – make it stop”. This week at mile 13, I had to triage myself. I then realized that the next time I gave a medical practice a smart ass answer to those questions, I should be very glad they don’t slap me upside the head. For the first half, I was going at a good clip, averaging around 11:45 per mile (a projected 5 hour finish). The last 5 minutes before the half, I was really turning it on because I truly saw myself finishing well, and wanted to set myself up for success. Just after the half, I felt something in my left calf give. Right afterwards, it felt like I had a cramp in my calf. Another 5 minutes and it felt like my calf had a flap come loose. I started walking, but this was actually more uncomfortable then the light jog that I normally maintain. I kept walking, started massaging my leg, and stopped occasionally to do some leg stretches. It was at this point, I needed to be brutally honest with myself. What kind of pain is it? Well, it’s really a dull ache. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt? Really, it feels like a 3. Something is clearly wrong, but I can keep moving. This is still at a level of discomfort with occasional throbs of pain. Should I continue running? After another two miles of stretching and massaging and refocusing my decision was yes. I have run further distances with greater pain and survived. The question will become how much damage did I do during the second half of the race and will I be able to recover before next week’s run?

Plan For The Best, Prepare For The Worst
I had been very happy with my fueling during the last few races, balancing my water with my energy drinks, the timing of my energy gels, and my pre-race breakfast. This week I was unprepared to meet my needs. I drank a lot more water during the first half, fortunately I was able to replenish at Overton Park, but whether it was the higher heat (Temps peaked at 64 degrees, a good 10 degrees higher than any race in the past 3 weeks) or the energy burned compensating for my injured calf, I felt dehydrated and that certainly hurt me in my last two miles. Especially on these lonely marathons, I need to insure better access to hydration when I need it. More waterbottles on my next belt!

Physical Review

Despite rolling my left ankle twice on the Mississippi Blues course, I was feeling pretty strong this week. I ran strong and consistent with a local group and was fairly careful on the two trail runs. Unfortunately, I may have pushed myself a little too hard. Today was spent icing and elevating. I may splurge when I get to Little Rock, Arkansas and get a massage. I will probably only run 2 times during the week at a much slower pace. Right now my goal will be to run the Oklahoma City Marathon at a 1:1 pace – one minute walking, one minute running. I will not try to break any records and I will make sure I have a backup plan in case my body lets me know it won’t take me the entire distance. I am still in good spirits. Despite the injury and not feeling properly fueled, I still finished in 6:03:35. This is a far cry from the 5 – 5:30 time I thought I might hit at the beginning of the day, but this is my best time so far this year for running a course on a non-race day. The visualization techniques I applied to increase my motivation worked a little too well. I now need to temper that euphoria with the realities of constantly engaging in these extended runs. Mentally, I took some time in Overton Park to wipe my face, refresh my liquids, relieve myself and prepare my body for a more rigorous 10 miles. I was very happy with my ability to triage and make that mental leap to take it easy and finish well. Special shout outs to two of my favorite running wives, Jennie Marvelle and Angela Pitteroff, for the memory of the Sugarloaf 15k where we all ran with little injuries and survived the course. You both were definitively in my thoughts the last 9 miles. A big thank you to all of you who read my blog and keep up on my journey. I hope to report a healthy recovery at next week’s marathon run.

One thought on “Marathon Route #5: St. Jude Memphis Marathon

  1. I enjoyed reading your review of Memphis. I ran my 1st and 2nd marathon there. I love that you mentioned that about the final miles. I loved going back through the campus a second time my first year. Last year the final 10k ran on the outskirts of town with a lot of over and underpasses. No second trip to the campus or the crowd support of downtown really weighed on me mentally. I’m sure the race directors had their reasons, but the campus is a huge motivator in the final miles.

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