Monday, December 5, 2011

St Jude's Marathon Race Report

Let me warn you, this is going to be lengthy as there is a lot for me to talk about. This was my first marathon and I am enjoying it more with each passing recovery hour. So please read on.

On Friday night, my wife and I went down to the Expo to pickup my packet and enjoy all the vendors. I have always love packet pickup day. Going through the bag, seeing the shirt and looking at all the merchandise is always fun. One of the coolest things at the expo was meeting the two guys in the picture below. Do you know them or recognize them?

That is me with thee Hal Higdon. The Godfather of Marathon training. He was at the expo talking to people and getting pictures made. I had him autograph a race course map for me! The  other guy is Dane Rauschenberg. Dane ran 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weeks! Amazing! I did not get a picture with him, but this is a copy of his book. Both were really nice guys and Dane was really supportive and encouraging to me attempting my first race.

Race Morning:
I set my alarm for 4:45 AM and got up to eat something. I did not want to make the mistake of not have any fuel in my body before the run. I was meeting a co worker (Buck) and we were riding together. This was Buck's first big race. he was doing the half and has really come along way! I am really proud of him, he made the committment to run the half about 9 months ago and really trained hard.
So we get to the race site, check-in our bags and just kind of float around and try to decide which corral we were going to start in. I wanted to start out slow, so I chose to start in corral 12, which was doing a 5:10 marathon. It was a cool morning, and before the race I stripped down to my running shorts, shirt, arm warmers, visor and glasses and got ready for our corral to start. There were an estimated 16,000 runners there that morning.

The Actual race:
Like I said earlier, my plan was to start off slower, slower than I normally would. I knew that there were going to be a ton of people at first and I should just try to enjoy the sites. I started off with Buck and we were running fairly well for the couple of miles. I am going to break this report down by mile markers. You can go check out the course.

Miles 1-2
The first miles were fun. there were so many people running that my main concern was not running into or over someone. I wasn't really to concerned about running with the pace group cause I was wanting to get out ahead of them. On mile two, we ran down Riverside Dr, which runs along the mighty Mississippi River. It was an awesome site to see the crowds running overlooking the river. Buck and I were still running well and feeling good.

Mile 3
We ran down the famous Beale Street. Again, this section was loaded with spectators cheering on the runners. Many kids were standing along the road with hands out wanting a high five. Before I even realized it, we had completed three miles. There were so many people and other things going on, it really took my mind off the distance. It was still cool though to run down Beale Street. I lost Buck during this section of the race though.

Mile 4
We ran down Front Street directly in front of the Pyramid, one of Memphis's most recognizable landmarks. This was one of the best miles for me because my kids were at the water station handing out water for their school. I was able to get water from my kids and a kiss from my wife. Things were going as planned at this point and I was feeling great. I ditched my arm warmers due to perfect weather. Then we ran through St Jude's campus. that was emotionally tough and you can go back a post to read a little more about that.

Miles 5,6,7
I was really feeling determined after running through the campus. I knew I was going to finish, no matter how long it took me. I did have to stop around mile 6 and hit the porta potty. I was still ahead of the 5:10 pace group at this point and I was looking forward to the rest of the run. It was great to still see people cheering along the route and even listening to bands play on lawns.

Miles 8, 9
We had just pasted the zoo and headed into Overton Park. I have run in the location before so it wasn't new to me. The two things I remember about miles 8-9 are the ladies handing out peppermints and butterscotch candies and the YMCA. As I rounded a corner, I heard this song playing and as I got closer, I saw a cowboy, a cop, a sailor, an idian and a biker all dancing in perfect unison to this song. It was great seeing runners all doing the YMCA while keeping stride. The hard candies were awesome.

Miles 10, 11, 12
This section took us back into downtown Memphis. I could see the heart on top of the Le Bonheur Childrens Hospital and I knew I was heading back to the break off point. I was getting tight and alittle tired but I was still on point and ahead of my 5:10 pace group.  The candies were awesome during this point. I also took my first E-Gel at this time.

Mile 13
The break off point for the half. It got extrememly lonely at this point. Seems like 80% of the people vanished! I was prepared for this because I was warned about it, but it was still surreal. Only thing that really happened was someone crashed their bike going over the trolley tracks. We went back down Beale Street and there were photographers all along this route. This really big lady was ahead of me at this point and made some grand gesture for her picture that I know I will be in the background, but it should be known that as soon as the picture was taken, she stopped and walked. great timing on my part.

Miles 14, 15, 16, 17
This is when it started to change. It got tough. After another porta potty visit and mile 15, I could not get my legs and my brain to be on the same page. I had started walking during this section and I had also got passed by the 5:10 pace group, but they were still in sight, so I was ok with that. I stopped to stretch a couple of times and get water, but it was a struggle. I took some of my Rolaids here to help with calf twinges, I was worrying about cramping at this point.

Mile 18, 19, 20
At this point I was really thinking, "screw this, I have nothing to prove. I am going to call my wife and have her pick me up, and who needs to do an Ironman, I can be perfectly happy being a Half Ironman" and so on and so on. This was my wall. It felt like I did more walking than running. I was still around 4:30 hours by mile 20 and I knew my 5:30 hour new goal was gone. I had even got passed by the 5:40 pace group. it was not looking good at this point.
One of the water stops was being run by some frat boys and I remember they made two lines, almost forcing you to run between them and they were going nuts cheering you on as you ran through them. I was wanting to make the turn because I knew that at mile 21, I would be turning back towards downtown and the finish line, but it took forever to get there.

Miles 21, 22, 23
I hate marathons. My feet were hurting, my legs were tight and my run started looking like my walk. Some guy told me that I needed to speed up my walk and I wanted to tell him what he could speed up and do, but I just grinned and acted like my iPod was on. At this point, I was really running mailbox to mailbox then walking. I really felt like I was going to throw up during this section, so I figured I needed food. It made sense at the time. So I emptied my waist pack. I had my bite size Snickers, my other hard candies and another E-Gel. I also started my countdown mode and rationalizing my neighborhood runs with the distance left.

Mile 24, 25
I guess I got my second wind, a little later than I would have liked, but I got it. I was able to start running for longer distances and walking shorter distances. A kid was handing out pretezels at 24.5 and they were awesome! As soon as I could see AutoZone Park, I knew I was going to make it. So it was a matter of taking one step at a time.

Mile 26
A hill? Seriously? The volunteers were saying this is your last chance to run up a hill. Little did they know that I had not run up a hill in the last 12 miles, but with their cheering (they could see me) I ran straight up that hill, made the turn and I could see the turn into the stadium. As I turned into the stadium, I heard them say "from Bartlett, TN...James Ford" and I crossed the line. A lady then placed the finishers medal over my head and I look into the stands for my family. I saw my wife waving her arms, and it was a beautiful site.

Post Race
After the race, I sat down in the stands and it felt great to sit down. The only thing I wanted was a Coke. I wanted to talk about the race, but it was an emotional moment for me. Just finishing something that was so challenging and running through the St Jude Campus, it was definately something I will never forget. Now many have already asked me if I will run another marathon. Now is probably not the best time for me to make that type of decision. Even though I had a slow time, I was no where near my time goal, I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Most people don't realize what an emotional journey training for and competing in a marathon can be. The ups and downs of training, the excitement and anticipation of race morning, and then the pain and loneliness of the last few miles of the race. It's something you'll not forget and strangely, eventually, long for again.

  2. Great job James! Way to man-up and tough it out at the end.

    Our friends have been trying to talk us into Memphis next year, we are really thinking about it!

  3. Fantastic race report. Thanks for sharing your emotional journey in such detail. You rock!

  4. Woooooohoooooo! CONGRATS! So happy for you!!! This was such a great race report. I love how you share the same “i hate marathons” thought around mile 21 with the rest of us. haha. I’m positive that you will be running another one. It’s too great of an accomplishment to not want to repeat. :)


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