Dudley and I left for Memphis on Friday afternoon (about a three-hour drive) and went directly to the expo. Right away, I knew I was in trouble. Not that I was injured, but I knew I was going to be an emotional wreck for this race.
You see, this race supports St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which "is a pediatric treatment and research facility focused on children's catastrophic diseases." This race was all about the kids and there were reminders of them and the amazing work St. Jude does everywhere. Needless to say, I teared up almost immediately upon walking in the expo. One of the first things you saw were these giant black & white posters of some of the children who have stayed at St. Jude. I purposely didn't take any photos of the posters because it seemed like I would be exploiting the kids somehow. Strange, I know, but that's how I felt. But believe me, they were powerful.
Another thing that got to me was the wall. It was where runners could leave messages to the kids at St. Jude.
This was just one side of the four-sided wall.
It was so covered, it was hard to find a space to write.
Notice the letters at the top of the wall? Those are the St. Jude ABCs of Cancer. These were taken from a wall in the hospital where the patients use the letters of the alphabet to express their personal experiences battling cancer. Things like "R is for Recovery" or "N is for Nurses." Two that really got to me were "A is for Alive" and "I - Imagine my brain tumor gone." Are you crying yet? Because if that doesn't get to you, I don't know what will. I cried at least three times over the hour we were at the expo.
After the expo, we headed off to the hotel. Kicker with this race is that the downtown hotels near the race start / finish 1) book up WAY early and 2) generally require a two night stay. Being that I had to work the Titans game on Sunday, we had to leave right after the race, so no downtown hotel for us. Fortunately, the Courtyard I booked happened to be in suburbia (I don't know Memphis AT ALL) where there were lots of restaurants. We carbo-loaded at Carrabba's and went to bed.
Got up bright and early and scored the most awesome parking space I've ever had at a race. Probably two blocks away from the start/finish and only $5. Good start to the day because parking is something I usually stress over. The finish line was at AutoZone Park, which is where the Memphis Redbirds play. This was also where bag drop-off was and where everyone hung out before/after the race. Very cool minor league baseball park. Nicer than some collegiate stadiums I've worked.
We got to the race so early, we killed time by taking photos. Well, Dudley took photos of me. He's not a fan of the photo like I am.
Pose with a giant baseball cut out? Don't mind if I do!
How about a Christmas tree?! Sure!!
Finally, it was time to head down to the corrals. I had kind of a scary moment when I was rolling out my ankles getting ready to run, and heard a really loud POP from my left ankle. Then the pain hit. For about one minute, I thought I might have torn / broken something. Fortunately, the pain dissipated after about five minutes. Still don't know what happened but I was fine for the run. (It swelled up on the way home though. Weird.)
We had planned on taking it easy for this race. Having run St. Jude in 2010, I knew how special this race was and wanted to really experience the entire thing. I even brought my camera with me so I could take photos on the course, which is something I NEVER do. So we lined up in Corral 8, which was about a 10:15 pace. Very doable. Of course, as with the expo, there were banners and signs about St. Jude everywhere. And one of the patients sang the National Anthem. Cue the tears.
Did you know this?
Yes, this was the starting banner. More tears.
So the race starts, and we're moving at a pretty good pace. Part of the herd mentality that that comes with all races. Around 5k, Dudley stated that he wanted to shoot for sub-10 minute miles...which is a PR for both of us. Did I mention that I wasn't planning on "running" this race? That I had even brought my camera? Now he wants to PR? REALLY? Those kettlebell lunges that I did Thursday night are seeming like a REALLY bad idea about now. But hey - if Dudley wants to try to PR, I'm in. Let's give it a go.
The half-marathon course was really well laid-out. Memphis doesn't have the reputation as being the prettiest city (sorry Memphis), but the course hit the highlights. Mud Island, Beale Street, Overton Park...they were all on the course. And it seemed as if the entire city came out to support us. It was awesome. But the highlight HAD to be the run through the St. Jude Campus. Both sides of the road were lined with patients, family, doctors, nurses and other St. Jude employees. Yes, I cried again. One little girl was holding a sign that said "You're running to save my life." Ugh. Are you kidding me? I can't even write about it without tearing up. And those ABCs of Cancer mentioned earlier? They were uses as mile markers. So yes, I pretty much welled up every mile.
Physically, I felt pretty good. We were hitting sub-10 minute miles, so I felt pretty good about the PR. Plus, it wasn't hard to get motivated when you see signs that say "You think running is hard? Try chemo." Really puts things is perspective. Believe it or not, the heat got to me around mile 10. It was mid-60's towards the end of the race, which is pretty dang hot for December. But Dudley was hell-bent to break 2:10 by this time and I knew I couldn't let him down. He was feeling REALLY good. I have NO idea where that came from. We've done several long runs together and he's never that happy at miles 10-13. He even asked me if I had any kick left at the end! Seriously! Who is that guy?
We finally made it to AutoZone Park. The finishing chute was on the field, which was cool. I tried to push it, but we were running on gravel which was hard for me. I wasn't 100% sure if we broke 2:10 - my Garmin said we did, but you never know how that is going to match with the official time. However, I did know we PR'ed, which felt great.
Hanging out in the infield after the race. Yes, I have freakishly huge arms. They go with my freakishly huge legs. Genetics. I blame my dad.
So pretty. The middle part rotates.
After cooling down a bit and getting a bite to eat, we stopped by the official timing tent to see how we did. Check it out.
BAM! A PR and we broke 2:10!
Overall - an amazing weekend. As I said at the beginning of this post, if you're a runner you NEED to do this race. I definitely think we'll be running it for years to come.