Saturday, April 25, 2015

If You Like Rollers, This Race Is For You! -- St. Jude Country Music Marathon Race Report

I have had this race on my list FOREVER. I always knew it would be my Tennessee race. I love Nashville, I love country music, and I love Rock-N-Roll marathons, so it was a natural fit. It did not disappoint at all!

To start with, Nashville is the coolest of cities. It's pretty, there is tons of stuff to do, and it's alive. It was so nice to be in a city that was lively, not like dead Detroit. Their downtown is beautiful and jam-packed with people walking around. (Side note: The Seeing Eye actually started in Nashville because that was where Morris Frank lived. If the founders had not been such wimps and moved to New Jersey because they couldn't take the summer heat of Nashville, The Seeing Eye might still be in Nashville today. Wouldn't that be cool? I think so.)

The forecast for race day was BAD. 100% chance of rain for Saturday, with severe storms predicted including possible tornadoes. (The whole state was red on The Weather Channel, and the TorCon -- which I had never heard of but is apparently a tornado predictor -- was a 6, which means tornadoes very likely.) There was a lot of discussion on Facebook about whether the race would be cancelled, but ultimately they decided to go ahead and hold it, which was a relief. (The weather turned out to be fine -- 57 with no rain at the start line, no rain throughout the race -- plenty of sun and a little breeze instead -- and 70 at the finish, no tornadoes at all. The Illinois Marathon got cancelled halfway through for severe weather and the Louisville Marathon had rain the whole way, so Nashville just got lucky this time.)

I stayed in the Comfort Inn on Demonbreun, which was walking distance to everything -- the expo, the start line, and the finish line. That was nice. The expo was perfectly organized and huge, but I have to say -- what happened to all the free food? Was 5:30 p.m. on the day before the race just too late to arrive and still got food? Or is that a trend, that free food is disappearing? I am used to getting an entire meal from free samples at the expo, especially at a huge race like this with 30,000 runners, but I went through the whole expo and the only samples I got were a little cup with baby carrots and a minuscule dab of hummus, a cucumber on a toothpick with some spicy sauce on it, and another little bag of carrots with a container of onion-flavored Greek yogurt dip, which I tasted and threw away in disgust. Where were the Power Bars, the Clif Bars, the new drinks, the smoothies, the granola, and all the other stuff? Someone please tell me I was just too late and the good stuff was gone.

I may have mentioned that I am a huge fan of Rock-N-Roll races. I know some people love to hate them. "They're too big!" (People love them and want to participate in them, oh no!) "They cater to the half-marathoners!" (Well, there are like five times as many half-marathoners as there are marathoners, because that's a more attainable distance, so what?) "They're too commercial!" (Running is a business like any other. Would YOU put on a race if you weren't going to make money? I wouldn't.) "They're too expensive!" (That's because they're held in awesome urban areas and it takes money to create an awesome race experience for participants, which I personally am more than willing to pay.) In my opinion, R-N-R races have the best organization (aside from the 2010 San Diego finish line transportation debacle), the coolest courses, by far the best medals, and the best overall race experience, and therefore I am going to continue paying their relatively high entry fees. (By the way, registration for this marathon next year is only $55 right now, which is dirt cheap!) I am sad that in my 50 States quest I will probably only run two more R-N-R marathons -- St. Louis and Savannah -- unless I am forgetting one.

Anyway, there were 40 corrals at the start line. i was in #9. Oh, let me also mention that the First Baptist Church on Broadway, which is an enormous church, opened its facilities to runners. It was amazing that in a race of this size we were able to hang out inside a comfortable building and walk right into the bathroom with either no wait or else a very short wait (less than 5 minutes at 20 minutes to race start). Even though it wasn't raining, we all knew it could have been, and were profoundly appreciative of the church for letting us in. (What Would Jesus Do? Of course, open the church to the runners.)

The first part of the course went through downtown and Music Row. There were hills from the beginning -- constantly. I swear there is no part of this city that is flat. I enjoy rolling hills; they break up the monotony, and the good thing is that there were no too-lomg or too-steep hills. (That one at Mile 16-18 or so seemed a little too long, but then again it was a sweet downhill to the finish line at Mile 25!)  Most of the hills were the kind you could charge up and then coast down the other side, the kind I liked. It was also cool to run past the recording studios. A lot of them had banners out front with big pictures of the famous country singers on their labels.

We ran around Belmont University, where I am pretty sure I worked with a Seeing Eye client like ten years ago. It was a beautiful neighborhood, with huge, pretty houses and the entire neighborhood out to  cheer on the runners. We ran past one big front lawn party after another. After several small marathons in a row, it was a lot of fun to see a place where the city residents were actually proud of their marathon and supportive of it.

(I have a habit of noticing what dog breeds race spectators have with them. In Nashville the overwhelmingly most popular dog breed on the course was the golden retriever, followed by golden doodles, followed by Labs, then boxers, then I lost count. I only saw three shepherds, and none of them looked happy to be there. I didn't see a single Cavalier -- how sad! I did see two Bernese Mountain Dogs and two Australian Cattle Dogs, though. Yes, I am a geek about dog breeds and admit it. So what. Whatever gets me through the marathon, I say.)

Around Mile Ten we ran back into the downtown area, and then the marathon split away from the half-marathon for a tedious out-and-back. I can't remember the name of the road but it was the same one we exited the freeway on yesterday. I hate long out-and-backs, at least on the out part. I do not mind the back part because I get to run past all those people who have longer to go than I do, whereas on the out part I am being passed by people who have less to go than I do, which is depressing. Now, in many past R-N-R Marathons -- like, all of them -- one thing that has been a pain is that they like to split the marathon and the half-marathon but then rejoin them later at a point where fast marathoners meet slow half-marathoners. In this marathon, the marathoners left the half-marathoners around Mile Eleven, ran the out-and-back, and rejoined the half-marathoners at Mile Sixteen, which was still Mile Eleven for the half-marathoners, which meant that 9:00 pace marathoners were joining up with like 12:30 pace half-marathoners, which has created a clusterf*ck in the past. But this time, they had gates separating the marathoners from the half-marathoners, so we were alongside them, but not with them. Brilliant! I was glad once we left the half-marathoners entirely and ran across the Cumberland River. I always want to kill all of them for the crime of being almost done while I still have miles of torture ahead of me.

Miles Seventeen through almost Twenty went uphill, but it was a gradual uphill that didn't hurt. Still, I walked around Mile Nineteen for a few minutes. I hadn't looked at my watch at all, and the clocks at the mile markers didn't really give me any information because the wave start meant that I hadn't started till well after gun time, but I hadn't paid attention to how much after gun time. I had a feeling that I was doing okay -- just the absence of needing to walk, the feeling that I was able to sprint up hills, the number of people I was passing, the fact that I hadn't been passed by a pace group… I wasn't aiming for any particular time though I was certainly hoping to beat my moderately crappy 4:25 from last month's marathon. I saw a lot of people who looked worse than me, and, as usual, that gave me more energy. As a runner, I feel like I am some kind of parasite who feeds off the weakness of other runners. That is not one of my better qualities as a human being, but nevertheless it does come in handy in the later miles of marathons.

Miles Twenty-One through Twenty-four were another out-and-back. This one led us into a park and on a long loop around a lake. Around Twenty-three I saw a guy who was screaming in pain from leg cramps. I asked him if he wanted a salt tab. (I have been carrying them around since I moved to Michigan but have never used them out here.) He said he did. I asked if he wanted one or two, and he said two. I think you're only supposed to take one at a time but my brain was fuzzy and I am pretty sure he was operating on the principle "If one is good, more is better!" I also operate on this principle at this stage in marathons, which leads to me doing things like eating ten Tums instead of four when I'm having stomach issues, so I totally understand. I gave him the salt tabs -- actually put them in his mouth because he didn't seem to be able to lift his hands to do it himself. He took them and I ran off, with new energy because at least I wasn't that guy.

It was really warm by now and I saw several casualties of the heat in the last few miles. The med tent guys were busy. I myself felt basically fine. Oh, I had a blister and I didn't want to run anymore and my legs felt like they wanted to cramp if I kept going much farther, but my stomach was fine and I really had no reason that I had to stop. I wanted to walk anyway but I finally looked at my watch and saw that as long as I kept up 11:00 pace I would finish under four hours. So I grudgingly dug up a little more energy and made it up that bitch of a hill between Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six (short, but nasty) and into the finish chute at 3:58:20 and having run 26.45 miles according to my Garmin.

Two last things that Rock-N-Roll is THE BEST at -- medals, always sparkly and heavy with the date on them, and finish line festivals. There is always a beer garden, which I have no interest in, live music, and tons of free food. I grabbed a banana, a cup of peaches, a mint Power Bar, a Gatorade, two waters, and a chocolate milk as I wandered out of the finish area, and would have grabbed more except I ran out of hands. My stomach was fine and I had eaten about half of what I picked up by the time I got out of the finish area and walked back to my hotel.

The concert tonight is Martina McBride but I am not going because I would rather just walk around Nashville (assuming I can stand when I quit typing this -- I haven't really tried standing after my two-hour nap and am not sure how that's going to feel). State #24 and Marathon #31 in the books! My next planned marathon is Deadwood in June but if anyone twists my arm I might be up for a May one too, to get me to the halfway point sooner.

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