Of Running, Raining, and Doing Your Best

Jennifer (my daughter-in-law and one of my best friends) and I decided to run the Country Music Marathon while sitting around the supper table last October. I’m 56 and haven’t run anywhere except to the bathroom in 10 years. Jennifer is 30, beautiful and fit, but long distance running is a whole new game. SO, we started training. The first day we ran together we did 3 miles. I thought I was going to die. She talked and laughed the whole way and I concentrated very hard on sucking as much oxygen out of the air as possible and not throwing up.

In early December we ran our first race, the 5 mile Frosty Fun Run. It was 19 degrees when we started and warmed up to a balmy 22 by the time we finished. Doris, Josh, and Jon-Mical came out to cheer us on and Jennifer coached, and begged, and intimidated me all around the course. We finished, thanks to her, and I still wear my blue Frosty Fun Run tee-shirt with great pride.

For the next 4 months we worked really hard. We ran together 2 or 3 times a week. “Short” runs of 4, 5, and 6 miles in the middle of the week and long runs on Saturday. The day we did 14 I thought my legs would fall off. I did 18 alone because Jennifer was battling a knee injury. I finished it but when it was over I told Doris, “I cannot run one step farther than that.” We just kept at it.
About 3 weeks ago we ran 20. It was a turning point day. We ran it pretty fast (for us) and fairly easy. When we were through we both felt good and were brimming with confidence. “We can do this.” We prepared, paid the price, and believed. WE ARE READY!

Thursday afternoon we went to the Nashville Convention Center to pick up our racing numbers and our pre-race packets. INCREDIBLE! 36,000 runners from all over the world were coming together for this race. We saw body sizes of every possible ilk. There were rail thin Kenyan’s with 2% body fat and there were, well others. I couldn’t help but do a mental inventory. “I can beat that guy. I can beat that guy. She is going to kill me.” Jennifer and I were so excited, the big day was almost here. Try to rest Thursday night because we knew on Friday night we’d be too nervous to sleep.
Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day in Middle Tennessee. Cool in the morning. Bright sun, High about 80. I ran a few errands. Did a little yard work. Got my stuff together. Got a pre-race haircut. Then about 1:30 I checked my email and the worst possible news came. Severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were predicted for late Saturday morning. The race organizers had decided to cut the race to 4 hours and 30 minutes. (They ended up cutting it to 4 hours). If you did not make it to the place where the half marathoners split off (11.2 miles) in under 2 hours you would be diverted to the half and not be allowed to run the full.

Now two things, Jennifer and I have been training for 5 months to run 12 minute miles and finish the 26.2 mile marathon in a very respectable 5:20. We had secretly hoped to break 5 hours but we never considered the fact that we would have to run our first ever marathon in 4:30, nearly an hour faster than we’d trained for. The other thing is that our “bucket list” goal is to run a marathon, not a half, a marathon. And now the National Weather Service is trying to do us in. All of our training, planning, and mental preparation had to go out the window.

On Saturday morning I picked Jennifer up at 4:30AM. We drove the 45 minutes to LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans, and joined our 36,000 fellow crazies. There were two huge lines, one to get on the shuttles that would take us to Centennial Park where the race began, and the other to get in one of the 40 or so port-a-johns. One quick lesson we learned, by 5:30, pre-race port-a-potties are NASSSSTY!
15 minute bus ride to Centennial, 10 minute walk across the park to drop off our gear pack, and its time to get in place. We are in corral 14. That means there are 13,000 people ahead of us before we start and about 13,000 people behind us. The vast majority have on yellow race bibs signifying that they are running the 13.1 mile half marathon. Our bibs are blue. One by one the air horn blows and each corral is sent off. Because of the impending storms we are all going off a little early. For us, corral 14 about 5 minutes after 7 there is a blast, a roar, and the marathon is underway.

I’m not going to bore you with the blow by blow but many have asked so here are the highlights. Jennifer and I felt like we needed to really speed through the first half in order to have a chance to finish. We spent the first hour passing a lot of people as we ran down Broad Street in Nashville. We crossed the 11.2 mile mark in just under 2 hours. That’s about 20 minutes faster than we thought we’d have to run, but they let us through and did not divert us to the half marathon route. We crossed the half way point, 13.1 miles in 2:24:44. Way below our projected time and fully on track to break 5 hours, but too slow if we were going to finish in 4:30. We just kept pushing. The Country Music Marathon is known for its hills. We became well acquainted with them. From the start to mile 14 was beautiful. At mile 14 the weather began to cloud up and by mile 15 it was raining. Mile 15 to 19 is pretty much all uphill. It’s a long run up out of the Metro Center. All of that was into a howling wind and driving rain. By mile 16 I had to take my glasses off because of the rain which was a good thing. I couldn’t see the lightning flashes as well. From mile 17 on there were police at every intersection telling us through bullhorns to seek cover because of the storm coming.

We hoped that by making it through the half split we would be able to finish. But at mile 20 we could see the police lights flashing ahead of us. We were being diverted. Instead of making the final loop into Shelby Park and back we were forced to turn towards the river and LP Field. When it was over we had run 21.5 miles in 4:01:20. We were on track to finish in about 4:50, 30 minutes below our goal and well inside 5 hours. But mother-nature and the Metro police department said no.

We crossed the finish line to the cheers of thousands of soaking wet spectators, race officials and other runners. We stood for a minute and cheered the thousands of runners that were still coming in and then went to find our family.
It has been an incredible adventure. I have fallen in love with my daughter-in-law all over again. We worked really hard and did our best. We have the certificate and the medal that says we finished the Country Music Marathon but we are a little disappointed in the fact that it was abbreviated. Last night I sat on the couch, my knees packed in ice, and searched the internet for a marathon in May or June. Who knows, I might see you in South Bend, Indiana, in a few weeks. Thanks for praying for us, listening to us, and asking about us. I marked the marathon off my bucket list but put a star beside it. There’s always next year and my nephew is interested in running…

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