This report may be spread out over several posts. Some by me. Hopefully one by Christine and Marcelo. It would be difficult to put the entire experience down at one writing.
This past Saturday I ran in the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee. My two main reasons for running this race: raising money for St. Jude Childrenâ€™s Hospital and running with my wife, Christine, during her first marathon. And I have to say that this experience rivaled my Ironman experiences in many ways and passed them in others. And I have a new respect for the BOP (back of the pack) runners.
I am not a speed demon in any way, shape or form. But I am pretty well entrenched with the MOP (middle of the pack) crowd in most races I do. But for this race, I wanted to be there with Christine to experience the race with her and to help her if she needed it. As I said, this was her first marathon, and she was nervous about that. Then on top of that, she did something to her knee about 4 or 5 weeks ago (torn meniscus we think) which has hampered her running. So this day was going to test our perseverance to its limit.
It was Christineâ€™s idea to run this marathon and raise money for St. Jude. So we appointed her the team captain for our team, â€œRunning on Faithâ€. Besides me, we also had Louise Futch, Dara Bartee and Marcelo Cornejo who all ran the half-marathon. And for our small 5 man team, we raised over $6,200.00 and the number is still climbing. We all met up Saturday morning in Memphis for the start of the very, very cold race.
The race started with a corral start. We positioned ourselves way back in corral 12, so it took about 20 minutes or so before our group actually started. It was a fast 20 minutes. The gun went off and we settled into Christineâ€™s pace. And we immediately started running into walkers from the earlier corrals. There were 8000 people in the half marathon and 3000 in the marathon. With it being a charity focused run, there were a wide range of capabilities on the course. And some didnâ€™t really pick the right corral to start off in. So we had some traffic.
As we approached the first aid station, my cold weather bladder control issue flared up. So I stopped and hit the porta potty. Christine kept going and I raced to catch back up with her. This would be a common scene because I actually stopped 4 times in the first 6 miles. All in all, I think I hit at least 15 stops throughout the race. At least I wasnâ€™t dehydrated!
The further we got into the race, the more and more clothes we saw thrown on the side. At one point, I was wondering if it would turn into a nudist run or something. And it was still cold outside! I am sure some of those folks were wishing they had their clothes back because of the wind. But other than the scenery, the first 8 to 9 miles or so were uneventful.
During the race, I had my cell phone with me. I wanted to be able to keep in touch with Lara and Mason so they would know how Christine was doing. One of the race features was the ability to set up text alerts when a runner crossed the timing pad. When we crossed the pad at 10K, an alert was sent to Laraâ€™s phone with Christineâ€™s time and my time. The only problem was that it was around one of my mandatory dehydrating stops, so Christine crossed it 21 seconds before me. This promptly elicited a text from Lara, â€œAre you with mom?â€ I could hear her concern and distress. Of course, I just laughed. Christine was kicking my butt!
As the day wore on and the miles ticked by, Christineâ€™s knee was holding up and our pace was pretty comfortable. That is until around 12 miles or so when she started to feel it. The course was pretty hilly and the roads had a drastic camber (slant) for drainage. The combination of the two is tough on knees. Especially when you have a hurt one. She had been doing everything she can to run on the flatter section of the roads, but it was taking its toll. But we also knew before we started that it would catch up to us eventually.
As we rounded the timing pad at the half marathon mark, we were happy to be half way. And we also met the 5:15 elves. The marathon had pace crews to help you shoot for a certain marathon finish time. They run at even splits for the entire race and do their job very well. The 5:15 pacers just happened to be dressed like elves. We hooked up with them and the group they were leading for a few miles. But between bathroom breaks (me) and increasing pain (Christine) we eventually lost touch with them.
At the eighteen mile mark, I said “Woo-hoo, we are at 18 miles.” Christines reply, “I will be happy when we hit twenty.” Translation: she was hurting and doing everything in her power to not show it. It was around this time that we first started meeting up with the demon speed walker. I am pretty sure that he walked the entire marathon. But his pace, body posture and determination made me a little scared of him. I think Christine asked him once how he was doing, but I was afraid to. Just my luck he would turn to me, his eyes glowing red, and somehow devour my soul. Or not. Who knows.
We made it to the twenty mile mark, and the massive happiness wasn’t there. She wasn’t sad. Just hurting. But not as bad as the “Don’t pass me” guy. He must have been in a lot of pain and super competitive. Every time we passed him, he would pass us back. At least for a while…..and then we took him for good. Mwah Ha Ha! Actually, it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. There were so many people hurting around us that we were pulling for everyone.
At around 22 miles, things hit bottom for Christine as the pain peaked. It was the only time she cried. For almost ten miles now when she would start back running after walking, she would wince from the initial pain. She tried her best to hide it, but I saw. I just didn’t comment on it. It is funny how you will try to hide pain from your loved ones because you don’t want them to worry. I have done it. And Christine was doing it then. But I was worried anyway. I had been texting Lara, Mason & Marcie every mile so they knew where we were. This one was short: “Pray.”
I was never concerned about her finishing. She is too tough for that. I just didn’t want her marathon to be a miserable experience. Up until she injured her knee, she was on pace with her training to finish under 5 hours and enjoy most of it. Now here she was wincing with every step and still 4 miles to go. But we always had the reminders of why we were there: the signs and pictures of the children at St. Judes. And our favorite was one of Jake Raborn. It simply said, “SMILE – Jake always did.” So we smiled and kept running.
The prayers must have helped because miles 23 to 25 seemed to pass rather quickly. Not that we were running faster or more, but the time just went by. In this section we met a lady who was really struggling. When I proclaimed after the 22 mile mark, “Only four to go.” She replied, “I am only worried about the next one.” For all of you endurance runners or Ironmen out there, you know this Jedi Mind Trick. Only focus on one mile at a time. We lost her somewhere between the 24 to 25 miles. I hope she finished.
At the 24 mile mark, I had my first beer. Christine was using the bathroom and I walked up to a table where a man had some beer. And as I drank a very small cup of beer, he thanked me over and over for what we were doing. I was in awe at how grateful many of the aid station volunteers and people just cheering from the side of the road were. It made us feel good knowing we helped just a little bit.
Close to the 25 mile mark, Christine had a shooting pain in her foot. It was so severe she had to stop running and just grab it. At that point, I was taking stock of my resources and wondering whether I could carry her in. She attempted to walk, and it shot through again. Uh-oh. Not good. A minute or so later, she tried again and the pain eased up. I think the road slant caused that one as well.
We made it to the 25 mile mark, and I got picked on by an older couple. They were running by us, looked at Christine and said, “You just can’t seem to get rid of him, can you?” I almost replied that his wife had been running from him for a lot longer, but I was being nice. And no, Christine couldn’t get rid of me. We walked a lot during the last 1.2 miles. Christine did not want to look like she was in mortal pain when the kids saw us come in. So we walked, talked, hobbled a little, and finally made it to the stadium. And then they played a cruel trick on us.
We had to go up the entrance ramp and then down a big ramp into the stadium. Her knee was screaming so loud I could hear it. She had a moment of panic when she asked me if we had to run around the whole infield. Nope, just to the finish line. As we approached the line she asked me if I wanted to hold her hand when we crossed. I said, “No.” Not because I didn’t want to hold her hand. Not because I didn’t want to share every second of this race with her. Not because we didn’t do it together.
I just wanted this to be her finish line. Because she took every step of the 26.2 miles. She did every mile of training. She carried her pain the entire way by herself. This was her race. I just had the pleasure of running it with her.
So after 5 hours, 38 minutes and 2 seconds, we were done. Christine, my wife, my love, my Hero, my marathon runner, I am proud of you. YOU DID IT!