Sunday, December 5, 2010

St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon

This week has been somewhat of a blur. It started out with ending an incredibly, wonderfully, blessed month at Churchill Mortgage. I was a busy little bee Monday and Tuesday making sure everything was completed and done so in a timely manner. Somewhere between Sunday and Monday I managed to pick up a cold. I ended up missing a few days of work and wasn't sleeping well.

There was devastating news this week also. On Sunday, a 9 year old little girl lost her battle with cancer, and by Friday morning, a 16 year old boy had also lost his battle, both here in Middle Tennessee. This was precisely why we do what we do, to hope and pray that no other families feel this type of pain and suffering. So, I decided to go ahead and go to Memphis; even if I didn't run, I could be a cheerleader for my friends.

Friday night, my cousin (who was in for the weekend from Nebraska) and I enjoyed dinner at BB King's with Ben and Jim and then headed back to Oakland where we were lucky enough to have a free house to stay at from some very generous people. I was able to go to sleep around 12:30 and the alarm was off at 5:15. I woke up, feeling worn out, but well enough I decided to go ahead and at least do the 6 miles I needed for training and that I'd decide after that if I wanted to continue in the race or drop out. I should have known I wouldn't drop out though, with my stubbornness!

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the #1 Children's Cancer Hospital in the U.S. This would be the second year that the course actually went through the campus. The St. Jude Heroes of this race raised nearly $3 million, which is enough to operate this amazing facility for nearly 2 days. I was excited and honored to be running in such a meaningful race. The temperature was perfect for a run, but there was a little breeze. I felt good, though, and soon, we were off.

Around 11,000 were participating in the Half and Full Marathon. Here's some of us waiting to start, about 10 corrals back. The overall feeling for this race was good. I think everyone knows what their $70 registration fee went to. The emcee for the start line was the father of a little girl who had been diagnosed with cancer (now in remission), and who sang the Star Spangled Banner. Nothing sweeter than a cute little voice singing a song of freedom.

For as sick as I had felt all week, I felt amazingly good as the race started. However, I knew I didn't want to push it, so I started slow. I saw a girl trip at the Mile 1 which was a reminder to watch my steps. I'd never been to Memphis so I was glad to see new scenery but also unfamiliar with the roads. We rounded a corner and started to run by the river, which was really pretty. Somewhere along the river, I heard a girl say, "Mile, 2, daddy, you're doing great." The dad then replied saying, "Yeah, we've only got 1.1 more to go!" The daughter then said, "Um, no, dad, that's the 5K. We're doing the half." I'm not sure how he responded but I got a good laugh and continued on. Shortly after a guy ran up beside me and asked me what Mercy Ministries was about, since I was wearing a Run for Mercy shirt. So, we chatted for a half mile or so and then he ran off ahead. Something else that is great about running; learning about other people's causes! 

Along the course were a lot of signs representing children who were currently fighting or who had lost their battle to cancer. These small physical representations were huge boosts in energy to just keep going. Some blisters and sore muscles were nothing on chemo, and eventually I even saw a sign that stated so. I wish I had taken more pictures of the signs, but unfortunately I always seemed to think of that after I passed them. I was able to get a picture of this girl around Mile 3, though. Clearly, little Hanna was a special girl, who was very loved.

Right after mile 4 we approached the St. Jude Campus. You could hear it before you could see it. Loud music and so many supporters cheering you on. Running into the campus was almost like a mini starting line. So many people cheering for you, so many signs, so much noise. It's such a great feeling, but a reminder that so many children and families are affected by the horrible, terrible cancer monster. Amazingly enough, I was able to keep my emotions in check. I had heard that it was emotional, and it was, but it just made me smile. One sign on the route, right as I was about to take a walk break made me laugh and keep going. It said "Don't stop, people are watching!" So on I went. Before I knew it, mile 5, then mile 6, and then mile 7. I figured at that point I may as well stay in it. I ended up passing a lady I had talked to for about 15 minutes at the start and said hi, and then finally caught up with a guy I had been leapfrogging the entire race. The back of his shirt said "DAD RUNNING FOR A CURE." I knew I wanted to talk to him. We jogged for a ways and talked about his little 3 and a half year old daughter, Payton, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May and was fighting for her life. He told me about how one day she was fine, the next day the doctors were telling them their little angel had cancer. Now, they concentrate on making sure she has the best care available so she can live. It broke my heart, but reminded me why I train with Team in Training.

It was relatively quiet until about Mile 10 where I saw a sign. I had seen bright yellow signs for "Team Jake" all throughout the course. I'm not sure who Jake was, but I know Jake must have put up a hell of a fight and that he was incredibly loved. Right around mile 10 I saw another glowing yellow sign that said, "SMILE! Jake Always Did." I had kept my emotions in check this entire race, until reading that sign. Sometimes, the simplest of things will evoke an emotion, and that one sign did. It made me smile and cry all at once. I never  knew Jake, but the beautiful thing is that he made me smile without me having ever met him. What a very special little boy.

Right after that, the course made a turn and we were out on a major road, with a lot of wind. I started to fall apart around mile 11 and could have easily given up. But, thinking back to Jake, and to Alex, another little boy who I know of who had lost his battle, I kept going. 2.1 miles was all I had to go. Cake, right? I had intended on hoping to finish this race. It had been a battle, but I knew when I saw the clock and did the math at mile 11 that I had an opportunity to not only finish, but to get a new personal record. So, off I went. It's amazing what small little boosts along the way will do for you. I encourage any of you who haven't ever been a race spectator or cheerleader to do so. Just offering a few words to a runner can make a world of difference. Around mile 12, I met up with a girl who seemed to be struggling like me but we kept each other accountable. Soon, we could hear the finish. We ran together until the last 100 yards where she told me to go ahead, that she had no sprint in her. I did so, and crossing the finish line was incredible. It was in AutoZone Park, and there were people everywhere cheering others on. What a great feeling to cross the finish line. I was incredibly proud to have a new PR, by 12 minutes and 49 seconds. I couldn't have asked for a better end to the race, other than a cure for cancer.

Ashley, Jim, me, Nick, Ben and Karen at lunch.

Before leaving Memphis, we had a dinner at Rendezvous for some yummy BBQ. A great race, a great weekend, with great friends, for an incredible race.

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