Friday, December 18, 2015

St.Jude Memphis Marathon Race Recap

This was my second year running the full marathon at St.Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. I dedicate this run each year to my brother Raymond, who lost his battle to two types of cancer both diagnosed in the last year of his life. Thanks to everyone who contributed to my fundraising efforts, I exceeded my goal raising $1,165 for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Here's the recap of my weekend. It's a little lengthy, but 26.2 miles is a lot to recall.
Friday, December 4th

We arrived in Memphis around 2:30 on Friday afternoon. Our room wasn't ready for check in yet, so we walked around downtown Memphis. We wanted to wait to go to the expo because we had tickets to the pasta party which didn't start until 6:00. Our room was finally ready around 4:00. We settled into our room. Then, we walked a few short blocks to the Cook Convention Center for packet pick-up, the expo, and the pasta party.

We stayed at the Peabody, home of the famous ducks
The decorations were beautiful

They make this Gingerbread Village each year.

This is what goes into the Gingerbread Village. Quite impressive!

The Expo & St.Jude Hero Pasta Party

 I saw my friend Minerva as soon as we arrived for packet pick up. She was running her first full marathon. We were able to do a few training runs together back home.

I thought this pic looked cool with the people blurred in the background.
Then, I realized it looks like I have Mickey Mouse ears.

They had a separate packet pick up area this year for VIP Runners who committed to fundraising. Packet pick up was pretty simple and quick. They gave us our Pasta Party tickets and VIP Hospitality bands all at once, so we didn't have to get in a separate line like in year's past.
After packet pick up, we made our way into a larger room where we got our race shirts. Then, we entered my favorite part, the St.Jude Gift Shop. I spent most of my birthday money on a t-shirt, picture frame, poster, and two St.Jude Sweaty Bands.

The gift shop opened up to the main expo where there were several booths from sponsors and different vendors. It's so hard to look in the crowd, but I did manage to get Michael a t-shirt and I purchased another Sweaty Band.

 Mom and I found our name on the Ford Explorer. The SUV had the names of all the VIP St.Jude Heroes.

We signed this Ford Van. I didn't notice the ABC Wall of Cancer this year.
I signed, "I Run 4 Raymond."

Dad signed,  "Love ya Raymond."
 Mom signed, "Run 4 Raymond. Be Happy."

After we browsed around the expo, we got in line for the St.Jude Hero pasta party. The pasta party was reserved to St.Jude Heroes who raised $500 or more. They let us in a little early. We entered to cheerleaders cheering, "Go Heroes!" "Thank you, Heroes." They had all varieties of pasta with alfredo or marinara sauce, chicken, vegetables, salad, bread, and cookies. The CEO of St.Jude along with patients and families usually speak at the pasta party, but we didn't stick around the whole time. There were people still coming in after we finished eating.

We walked a few blocks back to the Peabody. We laid out our things for race day, showered, and went straight to bed. We were in bed before 9:00, but I didn't sleep much at all. I think I was more nervous about the race this year than I was for my first full last year.

Saturday, December 5th

Race Day

I got up at 4:30. I hoped to sleep until 5:30 or 6:00, but I was too restless. At 6:00 I ate my Belvita Biscuits with a banana and some water. Then, I got dressed. I put Vaseline everywhere, paying extra attention to my feet. I've gotten a lot of blisters lately despite trying new shoes and socks. I ran my 20 miler blister free, then I got major blisters on a half marathon with the same socks and shoes. I was so worried about blisters during this race.

Mom and I went down to the lobby around 7:15. The start line was right outside the Peabody Hotel this year. The lobby was crammed packed with runners. We managed to find a bathroom that wasn't packed around the corner near the parking deck. I made several trips to the bathroom. I'm always nervous I will have to go on course. We hung out near the bathroom until 7:45 before making our way to the corrals. The race started at 8:00, but we knew we wouldn't start until 8:15 or after.  I munched on some pretzels while I was in the corral to get some more fuel in before taking off.

Starting corrals outside the Peabody

Memphis Music Hall of Fame near the start line

BB King's Blues Club near the start line

Mom and I at the start line

My mom planned to start in one of the last corrals and take it easy this race. She suffered an injury earlier this fall and missed a lot of training. St.Jude means so much to the both of us that she couldn't bare to sit this race out. She took her phone with her and snapped a lot of great pictures on the course.

I had three goals for this race. I always try to set multiple goals, so I never walk away disappointed. Goal #1: Run a 4:40 marathon  (I knew 4:40 would be a challenge, but I hit that pace in several of my training runs. I was hopeful I could reach this goal) Goal #2: Run a 4:45 marathon. (Deep down I wanted better than a 4:45, but I felt like 4:45 was attainable) Goal #3: Run this marathon faster than last year. (I was confident I could achieve this goal)

I positioned myself in Corral #9 right behind the 4:40 marathon pacers. I hoped to stick with them the majority of the race. Maybe I would even feel good enough to break free from the pacers in the final miles beating my 4:40 time goal. After all, I managed to break free from the 4:55 pacers in the final 10K last year crushing my sub 5:00 goal.

While I was in the corral, I heard someone holler my name. It was Debi from Girls Run the 901! I met her at last year's race. She lined up next to me in the corral and we chatted while we waited to start. Marathonfoto snapped a nice pic of the two of us!

Debi and I at the start line

I also got to meet Tricia from MissSippiPiddlin. I joined Tricia's Weekly Wrap blog link up while training for this race and I've kept up with her through Facebook and Instagram. I felt like I already knew her even though we've never met. I couldn't believe she was able to find me in the crowd, but I was so glad that she did.
Quick selfie w/ Tricia before she went to her corral

The corrals released about every two minutes. Corral #9 crossed the start line at 8:17. My mom snapped these pictures of my corral taking off.

Even with the corral start, it was still crowded in the first miles of the race. The course completely changed since last year. Last year, we ran our first miles on Riverside Drive before turning and going up a big hill towards Beale Street. This year, we hit Beale Street just past the first mile mark. The crowd on Beale was overwhelming with lots of music and cheers.

My mom captured some great pics on Beale Street
 I love all the signs
 Band playing on Beale Street
 Coyote Ugly Sign on Beale Street

When we turned off Beale Street, I was finally able to catch up to the 4:40 pacers that I lost in the crowd. I saw the group of young adults with Down Syndrome on the corner cheering for us. It was so crowded that I was only able to wave. I didn't get the high fives that I remembered from last year.

Mile 3 ran along Riverside Drive with views of the Mississippi River to the left and beautiful houses on the right. This was probably the most scenic part of the entire course. I was settling in with the 4:40 pacers. We started to make conversation and I felt comfortable with their pace. I enjoyed the company and thought how nice it would be if I could stick with them the entire race.

We turned back onto Beale Street around Mile 4, but instead of climbing up the big hill from last year we turned left onto Front Street. We ran a mile along Front Street, catching a good glimpse of the Pyramid home of the Bass Pro Shop. Surprisingly, I didn't lose GPS signal on my Garmin when we went through the tunnel. I took in a Honey Stinger waffle around 4.5 miles. I knew the campus was coming up, and I wanted to take in fuel before then.

Mile 5 went through the campus of St.Jude, my favorite part of the entire race. Words cannot describe the emotion I experienced with cheers and high fives from families and patients of St.Jude. This is the best crowd support of the day with signs, shakers, and cow bells. Everyone cheering, "Go Heroes!" It's truly uplifting. Last year, the marathoners went through the campus twice at Mile 5 and again at Mile 24. After reviewing the new course, I knew we wouldn't be returning for a second trip through the campus this year. I tried my best to take it all in.

I was continuing to stay on pace with the 4:40 pacers. At the 10K mark, one pacer announced, "6 down 20 to go." We all sighed. Then he said, "On second thought let's not talk about how far we have to go."

The water stops were so crowded that I missed the Powerade at several stops and just grabbed water at the end of the line. Every time I went through an aid station I lost track of the pacers and I had to speed up to catch them. I was getting tired of catching them only to lose them at the next stop, but I wanted to hold onto to them for as long as I could.

We completely bypassed the Memphis Zoo and the Museum of Art this year, which was a little disappointing. The roads seemed more crowded. The lanes were coned off to keep runners in the right hand lane and traffic was moving in the left lane. I don't remember as much traffic last year. I saw one runner step outside of the cone to pass another runner and the truck in the left hand lane had to come to a screeching halt.

I ate another Honey Stinger waffle around Mile 10. The female pacer was fueling every five miles as well, so it was nice to not feel rushed. At the halfway point, the half marathoners turned left and the full marathoners turned right. I was glad to see the crowd thinning. I saw Debi at the halfway point. She seemed to be going strong. She took off ahead of the 4:40 pacers and I never saw her again.

Honestly, much of the second half of this race is a blur. I remember running through Rhodes College and around Overton Park in Miles 14 and 15. There was nice crowd support in these areas. I ate a third Honey Stinger when we exited the college campus. The next several miles were through residential areas. There were quite a few spectators in their front yards cheering for us. By this point the pacers were pulling farther and farther ahead of me. I tried so hard to keep them in my sight, but by Mile 19 I knew it was time to let go.

I was disappointed that I was no longer on pace for my 4:40 goal, but I tried to shift my focus to a 4:45 finish or better. I ate pretzels at Mile 20 for some salt intake. This worked well for me in the final miles last year. I continued to alternate water and Powerade at the water stations. I walked a lot in the final 10K of the race.

I do believe I came face to face with  "The Wall" at Mile 20, but not because of inadequate fueling. I think it was more of a mental block. I knew my #1 goal of 4:40 wasn't happening and the more I walked my #2 goal of 4:45 was slipping away. I couldn't bring myself to run more than a few yards at a time. I started to calculate how slow I could run/walk the last miles and still beat my time from last year if only by a minute or two.

The marathon course seemed much tougher this year. There were no big highlights in the final miles like last year with a second trip through the campus and back through the crowds on Beale Street. Instead, we ran through the outskirts of downtown over and under several overpasses. The final three miles were an odd down and back loop. It felt never ending and I wondered when I would finally get to where the runners were on the other side.

When I rounded the corner towards Autozone Park my Garmin read 4:44. I knew if I could push my pace through the final yards I could finish in 4:45 and some seconds. I ran faster than I had the entire race.

My Garmin read 4:45 and some seconds when I made the final turn into AutoZone Park. I ran as fast as I could to beat the clock before it turned to 4:46. I did it! I finished in 4:45:44, an 8 minute PR!

I saw my friend Minerva at the finish line. She had an awesome time for her first full. I congratulated her on a great race. We snapped a quick picture and then she went on to find her husband and daughter. I was glad that she could run St.Jude this year.

I went upstairs to meet my mom. Her hips bothered her, but she managed to finish the half marathon. I was just happy that she was able to get through the race. I knew it meant a lot to her.

I rang the PR bell. I came, I ran, I PR'd.

We took a few pictures. Then we went to the second floor of Autozone to the St.Jude Hospitality Lounge reserved for Heroes who fundraised $1,000 or more. They had sandwiches, nachos, and other food and drinks. We fixed a plate to take back to the room. 

Overall, I'm pleased with an 8 minute PR. I still feel like I'm capable of running a 4:40 marathon or better one day. I can't help but feel like I left some on the course with my strong kick to the finish. I'm already thinking about my next marathon. I know I need to give my body time to recover, so I'll probably choose one next fall on a flat, fast course.


  1. I loved reading this! I knew this race meant a lot to you and your family but the fact you were able to remember all this is amazing! Congrats again and thank you for sharing your journey with so many!

    1. Thank you,Dee! I'm glad you enjoyed reading my recap. It took me long enough to write it. I hope to see you at some races soon. There's several half's that I want to do this Spring. I'm gonna try to moon up in Half Fanatics. I entertained the idea of trying to qualify for Marathon Maniacs, but I'm not there yet. I'll let you know if/when I decided to go for it. I could learn a thing or two from you.

  2. I love that your whole family participates in this race to honor the memory of your brother. Congratulations on a great PR and very strong finish! It sounds like it was a challenge mentally to see the 4:40 pace group go on, but you were able to rally at the end and finish strong, which is a huge accomplishment!

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    2. Thank you, Jennifer! I think that is what got to me the most in the final miles. I'm still pleased that I met my second time goal and PR'd. I love running for St.Jude! No other race experience compares in my opinion. I think everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetime.

  3. Congrats on the PR!!! Glad you were able to push past those tough final 6.2 miles! You should be really proud of yourself!

    1. Thank you, Wendy! I'm getting over the disappointment of not reaching my initial goal. I finished and I got a PR! There will be another marathon.

  4. Great job, Debra! Beating your time by 8 minutes is very impressive and is a testament to all of the hard work you put in. I've heard so many good things about this race and can certainly understand why it holds a special place in your heart. I think Raymond would be very proud of you.

    1. Thank you, Holly! St.Jude is my favorite race experience by far! Almost every runner has a story, their lives affected in some way by cancer. I think everyone should experience this race at least once in their lifetime.

  5. WOW!!!! Awesome recap! Congrats on the PR ;-) I ran Grandma's marathon in late June, and had a crappy spring training cycle (too many obligations that trumped my training runs),so I knew going in that it would be a test of my endurance to just sustain & finish. Did I mention I also had a recent flare-up of Plantar Fasciitis as well? My 26.2 PR is 4:33:xx, so I knew that wasn't gonna happen....I wound up finishing just over 5 hours. For a split second I was a little disappointed, but then I realized that despite my finish time, I still ran a marathon....under adverse conditions (the first 10 miles or so were in rain LOL). Great job to you and your mother!! It's so awesome you do this in honor of your brother ;-)

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    2. Thank you, Kimberly! That's an awesome marathon PR! Congrats on finishing another one under those circumstances. The marathon is a totalay different beast. So much can happen over the course of 26.2 miles that affects your finish time. I'm getting over the initial disappointment of not reaching my first goal. I finished and I ran a PR!

  6. Great job on the PR! It's tough when there's no pick-me-up in the final miles.

    1. Thank you,Lesley! I really missed that second trip through the campus this year, but I'm sure that St.Jude had good reason for changing it.

  7. You did an amazing job! and 8 minute PR is great. It sounds like you were given such a warm reception throughout the entire event, very heart warming. It is nice you got to meet some friends in the big crowd and had people to chat with a little on the course - all good distractions :) I know you will get that 4:40 goal one day! You are so close! Congrats again and congrats to your Mom :)

    1. Thank you! St.Jude is the best race experience!

  8. I don't know how I missed reading this before... I definitely started reading the beginning but I guess I must have gotten drawn away and forgot to come back. I'm glad I did find my way back, though! Congrats on your PR and on digging deep those final miles. Whether or not you left something on the course, it takes a lot to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and kick it into high gear for the finish like that. Way to go! I really enjoyed reading your recap and I felt like I was running it with you :) I also think it is so awesome that you do this in memory of your brother. He must feel so happy to be along with you for the race!

    1. Thank you, Meagan! I'm glad you came back to finish reading my recap. Thanks for the encouraging words. I can't wait to run another marathon, but it probably won't be until later this fall.

  9. I am getting ready to run my first half marathon as a St. Jude Hero and really appreciated reading your race experience going into this weekend's race! Excited but nervous! Hope to see you on the course!

    1. Thank you, Leticia! I apologize for the delayed response. I really should do better keeping up with my blogging. I stopped by your blog to read about your experience at St.Jude. Congratulations on your first half marathon and your fundraising efforts! I really hated to miss the race this year. No other race experience compares!