It was glorious: 26.2 miles of pure joy.
The level of energy was amazing all the way.
I had a sinus infection and I was on antibiotics.
I was fighting cramps from mile 3.
I was on pace to qualify for Boston until the last 6.2 miles, when it got really tough.
There is no conflict between these statements. They were all true simultaneously. What a great weekend!
Why I Registered for St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon
This story starts out many weeks before the race. The race director for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon had a conflict that kept him from working the expo at the St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon. He contacted Muna and me to see if we would be willing to go represent our hometown marathon and our club, the Knoxville Track Club (www.ktc.org). From our perspective the question could have been worded like this:
“Would you like an all-expenses-paid trip to Memphis where you can talk about a marathon that you love that is run in a city that you love speaking with new friends that you will meet who all love kids and/or love running?”
It did not take us long to make that decision! 🙂
Not long before we were to run the Savannah Marathon on November 6, we were told that KTC would receive one free entry into the marathon because we were an exhibitor at the expo. We were asked if one of us would like to run it. Muna had been working towards the Kiawah Island Marathon which was the week after the St. Jude’s Marathon. I was not planning to run a marathon during this time, but I had plenty of training throughout 2016 and was certain that I could relax and run a Boston qualifying time at St.Jude’s. With that in mind and a free entry, I registered.
And Then Reality Set In
In the weeks before this marathon, I was maintaining my running fitness while I worked on other fitness goals. About 9 days before the St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon, however, my throat was sore. I waited it out. I did not have any other symptoms for the first 4 days. On day 4 the sore throat was worse. On day 5, I had sinus congestion and a headache. On day 6, I had a full-blown cold and a sinus infection. I started on antibiotics the day before we traveled to Memphis. I would be on day 4 of antibiotics on the morning of the marathon. Not good! Antibiotics can leave you a bit dehydrated and knock out the balance in your digestive tract. Digestive issues during a marathon can be disastrous. I had to decide:
- Should I race at all?
- Should I transfer to race the half marathon instead?
- Should I run the full marathon and lower my expectations?
I decided to lower my expectations. The plan if I had been healthy would be to aim for a 3:05 to 3:15 depending on how I felt during the race. As race day approached, I knew this was no longer possible. I tested my legs and I could tell that my lactate threshold was clearly affected by the sinus infection and/or antibiotics. I felt okay, but I would not be able to go my fastest. How fast could I safely go?
After two days of meeting great folks at the marathon expo, I was motivated to simply give it my best shot. I know my body well enough to know when it is being pushed too far. (interpretation: I have made enough mistakes to know when I am am moving from questionable to stupid.) Under normal circumstances, I would run by pace primarily for the first 20-something miles and then finish by feel. I decided to start the first few miles of the St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon slower than I would usually run a marathon and then race exclusively by feel instead of pace for the last 24.2 miles. More importantly, I decided that enjoying the race was more important than qualifying for Boston.
Enjoy. To engage in and experience joy. That is what I did. Memphis and the supporters of St. Jude’s do an awesome job of supporting runners. They are there cheering every step of the 26.2 miles. The aid stations were always completely stocked with what runners need. More importantly, they were filled with adults and kids that appreciated us for supporting St. Jude’s and going the distance.
Whether they were at the aid station, lining the streets, standing on the overpasses, or sitting on their front porches, Memphis and the St. Jude’s people gave all they had.
- They thanked us.
- They cheered.
- They encouraged.
- They rang those cow bells.
- They reached their hands out to high five us.
- They showered us with joy.
After the first two miles, I decide to spend the next 24.2 miles giving it back. Yes, I watched my pace periodically. Yes, I paid A LOT of attention to my body and how it was feeling. I had to back off periodically. I had periodic twinges of that pre-cramp feeling. But I also gave back. I gave enough energy to run a solid marathon. But I also gave emotional energy back to our encouragers.
- I thanked them.
- I cheered for them.
- I clapped for them.
- Where there was music, I danced.
- Twice I stopped for a few seconds to play air guitar.
- I smiled and shouted, “More Cowbell!” countless times.
- I reached my hand out for as many high fives as I could.
- I smiled and looked them in the eye wherever possible, trying to beam joy back in their direction.
In the end…
I was fading faster than usual in the last miles of the marathon. I had used up nearly all my energy. High-fiving was getting harder. In the last 1.5 miles, I had to be satisfied with a very small wave to the supporters instead of a high five. I gave what little I had left to the fans and to finishing the race.
I had been on pace to qualify for Boston (BQ) until the last several miles. At my age, a 3:29:59 would be enough to make the claim that I qualified for 2018. I would have liked to accomplish that, but I did not feel disappointed when that pace slipped away. I felt strangely satisfied. Although I had kept it as a possibility and worked towards it, the BQ was not the real goal of the day.
Hundreds of supporters had made me smile.
I had made hundreds of supporters smile.
It was a glorious day.
26.2 miles of pure joy.
Enjoy the run!
Coach P. Mark, WiseRunning.com
.About St. Jude’s:
St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Please support the effort.
Start by visiting https://www.stjude.org/get-involved.html