It’s hard to begin a recap of such an amazing race experience so I’ll do my best. The short version is that the St. Jude Memphis Marathon was a combination of many years of hard work, a strong support system, being in the right place at the right time and a whole lot of God. There’s really no other way to describe it. No doubt I trained hard for my time but placement always comes down to who shows up on any given day. God has given me much more than I ever deserve and I am so thankful that I am still able to run and compete during this time in my life.
The long version…
In October I ran marathon #25- the St. George Marathon. I fully intended to blog about this and I still plan to soon. It was the most scenic marathon I’ve ever done and I had the best time with my friend Ang and her sweet family. The course itself and especially the altitude challenged me more than I imagined. I finished in 2:59:11 and was very thankful for the sub 3 but had honestly hoped for a little more. Was I being too greedy? Was I too old? Was a marathon PR still realistic for me as a Masters runner?
On the plane flight home from Utah I decided I wanted to try again this fall. I had put in months of training and I still felt like I had unfinished business with the marathon. I considered running the White River for Kenya Marathon which was on the Arkansas Grand Prix schedule but John suggested St. Jude in Memphis. I liked that Memphis gave me two more weeks of training. Nine weeks between marathons sounded very doable. I could run the White River Half as a tune-up race. It had been a few years since I ran the St. Jude full or half marathon but it is such an organized and fun event that supports a great cause. I emailed my coach and the St. Jude elite coordinator and within a week I was registered.
Training for St. Jude went fairly smoothly. I was able to recover quickly from St. George and thankfully there were no injury issues. My mileage didn’t get as high as St. George but I didn’t care. I was honestly a little curious if slightly lower mileage might be better for me. Instead of 70’s-80’s I was more in the 55-70 range. Not a huge difference but it was something. I just didn’t stress about miles as much as I did before St. George. I had some very strong workouts as well as some mediocre ones. I had two big tune-up races planned that went okay but I wasn’t able to hit my goal time with either which did not leave me with a lot of confidence. I finished the Breakaway 10k in 38:54 and the White River Half Marathon in 1:25:58. Both of these races made me think I would run closer to a 3:01-3:03 marathon. The elevation for St. Jude had a lot more rolling hills than the 10k or half marathon I did. Could I run a sub 3 in Memphis? I wanted to find out. What did I have to lose?
The week leading up to St. Jude was pretty low key. I didn’t tell many people I was running it and I never mentioned it on social media. John and I left for Memphis around 4 pm on Friday after taking the kids to my in-laws. It’s about a 2 hour drive to Memphis from our house. Instead of going straight to the expo we went to dinner first so I wouldn’t eat too late. We were finished by 7:30 and then we went to the expo. Traffic was crazy but thankfully we managed to get in and out as quickly as possible. (Huge thanks to the elite coordinator for having my bag ready!) I did not want to be walking around a lot at 8:30 the night before a marathon!
Once we checked into our hotel I got everything ready to go for the morning. Thankfully our hotel was less than a mile from the start so we didn’t have to wake up too early. I was in bed before 9:30 and woke up a little after 6. I woke up a couple times (I usually do) but I was able to go right back to sleep. All in all a good night and I felt well rested and ready to run. John went downstairs to get me breakfast. I ate 1/3 of a bowl of oatmeal and a half a banana. I wanted to eat more but I was so nervous and honestly couldn’t force myself to eat anymore. I drank some water and a spark and then we headed to the start.
I jogged about a half mile around the start area and said another prayer. It was time to stay focused for (hopefully less than) 3 hours!
The half marathon and the marathon start together and the half field looked pretty competitive. One woman running the full took off right away and I settled into second place. I reminded myself it would take a few miles to find my rhythm. A marathon is a long race so I couldn’t worry about placement at this point but I did hope I could finish in the top three. My main focus was locking into the right pace and staying relaxed and positive. The first half of the race seemed to pass slowly. My target pace range was in the 6:40’s and it felt like I was hitting more splits in the upper 40’s. I didn’t force it any faster because it was still so early in the race and I didn’t want to struggle in the second half. Every so often I would do a self check-in and tell myself I was feeling good. This race included a lot of positive self talk and prayer! There were plenty of small inclines but it was always doable and I stay focused.
I had the race broken in small pieces in my mind. First I wanted to make it through mile 10. I just told myself- make it to double digits. Around mile 11 the half marathoners split off so I was expecting the crowd support to go down but it really didn’t. I was in a good groove and I worked towards the halfway point. I can’t remember my time at the halfway point but I think it was high 1:28’s or low 1:29? I wasn’t stressed on the time because I was feeling good.
Around mile 14 there was a direct out and back section. For the first time I could really see how close I was to other female runners. The lead female had at least 5 or 6 minutes on me. I had ruled out the possibility of even coming close to her. The third, fourth, and fifth females seemed to be within a couple minutes behind me and I knew if I slowed down one or more could easily catch me. I stayed positive though and told myself I wouldn’t be slowing down. If someone wanted to pass me they were going to have to pick it up to the 6:30’s in the second half. I kept going and when I saw John at mile 15 he told me he had seen the lead female stop for a few seconds. I passed him quickly so that’s all I heard but suddenly my mind started racing. Why did she stop?! Was she still going? Could I catch her? It was like a light had switched and this was a whole new game. I kept running but no sign of the lead female.
Between miles 15-16 a guy came up from behind me and he seemed to want to pace together. Neither of us spoke a word but he was running exactly around my pace or maybe a couple seconds faster. I told myself to stay with him because if I did I could get under 3 hours. It was around this point in the race I had my first big doubt about making it. The pace felt hard and I couldn’t imagine keeping it up for another 10 miles. I quickly told myself that this would pass and within a mile or so I would feel better so I had to just keep pushing. Sure enough within 5 or 10 minutes I felt good again. In fact- mile 17 was my fastest mile of the race! Also at mile 17 we made a turn and there was the lead female with the lead bike escort standing to the side of the road. It appeared she had dropped out of the race entirely. The bike escort then left her and started following me. From this point on my mission was to stay in the lead and I still wanted a sub 3!
I looked forward to making it to mile 20. At this point in a marathon I always break it down mentally into two 5k races. Typically the first 5k (miles 20-23.1) is tougher but in the case of St. Jude the second was harder. I felt really good until mile 22. I should add that I took 4 gels total (miles 5, 11, 16, and 21) and I drank a sip or two of water or nuun every other mile when it was available on course. I was feeling hungry and I knew I hadn’t had enough breakfast. After mile 22 it started to get really hard and I was just trying to make it by the mile. I saw John a few times between 17-22 and he had told me he thought I had a 2-3 minute lead on the second female. He was just guesstimating but it was helpful. I knew if I kept the pace under 7 I would make it. I’ve had this weird marathon bucket list goal since 2013 to run a marathon with every split under 7 minutes. I’ve come very close but I’ve never done it. (At LRM in 2018 I had one mile that was 7:00 min exactly- so close!) So for the last 4 miles of St. Jude I focused every mile to keep it under 7! It was exactly the motivation I needed to keep my pace on track. The last mile seemed to be never ending!! I didn’t realize the finish line of the race had changed since the last time I ran it so I was looking for the stadium entrance. I was a little confused but I knew we were close. The guy I had been pacing near the last 10 miles was right in front of me and he turned so I followed him and there was the finish line! We made it! I saw the tape and it all happened so fast!
Once I crossed the line I tried to remember what my PR was. I knew it was close. Did I really just run my fastest marathon time? Yes! I looked it up and I had actually set a new marathon PR by a few seconds! The last time I set a marathon PR was in 2015 in Chicago (flat course) and I really didn’t go into this one thinking a PR was even possible. I thought running a sub 3 was going to be hard enough. I was so ecstatic and shocked that this had just happened. 2:58:23!!
A few other post race pics…
I can honestly say this race surpassed all of my expectations. Since last December I’ve really been intimidated by this distance. My last three marathon training cycles have had some heartbreak and had me seriously doubting my ability. If this race showed me anything it’s that I still have plenty of fight left in me and I am stronger than I think. A new marathon PR at age 41? That’s one thing I love about this sport. It doesn’t just stop when we graduate college. We can keep going into our 30’s, 40’s, and beyond- still setting personal bests.
This is definitely not something I could have done on my own. With four kids and a full-time job I do the best I can. Huge thanks to my family- especially John. It’s been a long road in many ways and I’m so glad we are still in this together. He really helped me focus and do my best on Saturday and throughout this training cycle. My coach has also been a big part of my running the past few years. I’ve been able to continue to train and improve and I owe a lot of that to him. By far the biggest help out there on the course and always is God. I’m extremely thankful for the gift of running and the opportunities and experiences it’s given me over the years. Winning the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and being able to set a personal best time is something I will always remember.