Running 26.2 miles? Why would a mild mannered reporter even attempt it? Why would anyone do it? On a recent training run that took this reporter about five miles from home, a friend spotted this jogging journalist bouncing down the road. He pulled over. “You’re not training for the marathon, are you?” “Uh-huh,” the breathless, perspiring road warrior admitted in the heat of a Memphis August, “I am.” The friend shook his head and gazed back the way you look at crazy people for whom you have some sympathy and said, “Joe, I don’t drive 26.2 miles to take a date for dinner, forget running that far!”
Ahh, nothing like support from your personal peanut gallery! Since I committed to run the 2002 St. Jude Memphis Marathon coming up on Saturday morning, December 7th , I have received reactions ranging from, “so you are at least one taco short of a combination plate” to, “wow, I admire your work ethic and discipline. But are you sure you can do this?” Well, frankly, I have my doubts. This is my first marathon and having trained for several months now, I have a whole new appreciation of how far 26.2 miles is. It’s, uh, far. For a reformed couch potato, a remote control clicking, Eskimo pie eating, professional lounger --- it’s a long, long way.
In my favor, I have a history of participating in charity 5 & 10Ks for about a decade. I am even the co-founder/race director of an event that turns 7 years old next June: the Gibson Guitar/ Baldwin Piano 5K Run/Walk for St. Patrick Center Presented by the WMC Stations. I am a card-carrying member of the Memphis Runners Track Club. I regularly run a great Midtown course that incorporates nature and neighborhood streets in what may be one of the best trails in the Southeastern U.S. (I’ll map my course for you in a future dispatch in this space). I have some running credentials. But this preparation for a 26-mile jaunt is a whole new ballgame. Regular training runs have me feeling better than ever. I can nail a 5 to 7 miles run now with relative ease. It’s the other 20 or so miles that have me concerned. So I am approaching this first marathon with a certain degree of humility.
My goal is run, walk for one minute every mile (as running guru Jeff Galloway suggests) and finish. Getting to the finish line is the ultimate goal. A time of 4 hours 30 minutes would be nice but just getting the body across the goal line is the dream. One fear (among many) is that I’ll stop at 13.1 miles. For the first time this year, you and I have the opportunity to run a half-marathon at the Memphis event. This should be a popular selection, growing the field of runners to record numbers and helping raise needed dollars for the precious patients of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital . But I’m afraid that I’ll just waltz right into Autozone Park (the finish line for both the full and half marathons) when I’m only halfway through. Stop me if you’re out there and see me doing that. Yell. Shout. Slap me upside the head. Threaten to watch the news on one of those unauthorized channels. That’ll get my attention and put me back on track to run the full course.
For some unknown reason, I have always thought that I would one day run a marathon. Now it’s here. The invitation came while I was minding my own business at a Grizzlies game in the inaugural season. Fast as greased lightning, noted Memphis tennis coach and gifted runner Paul Sax told me the inside scoop: St. Jude would be taking over the Memphis Marathon. He had what he called an inspired idea: your electronic town crier would run the marathon and we’d encourage people to make a gift to St. Jude and perhaps join Joe for a mile or two along the course. “I’ll think it over” is what I think I said but the next day Galloway's marathon book arrived at my desk via the aforementioned Mr. Sax and the die was cast. I agreed to run the marathon.
But I have yet to answer the question I posed at the outset, why run a marathon? Maybe my motivation is in my DNA. My father of blessed memory was a track man, a star half-miler in high school and a runner on legendary track coach Jumbo Elliott’s cross country and track and field teams at Villanova University in the early 1950s. For those of you who might not know, Villanova was the track and field school in America . The St. Jude Memphis Marathon is three days before my late father’s birthday and this is the first one we’ll celebrate without his physical presence. Alzheimer’s disease claimed his physical life but cannot contain his spirit. I know he’ll be with me out there chugging along North Parkway and rocking along Beale Street . Dad is a big inspiration. I know he’d bless all the training and the marathon’s cause and that’s the ultimate motivator.
It’s the youngsters at St. Jude who have me moving. St. Jude will not derive financial support from the entry fees we pay as marathoners. The entry fees help cover the cost of producing this major Memphis event. St. Jude will benefit only from financial gifts we marathoners and half-marathoners make along with those we encourage our family, friends and co-workers to donate. This very special group of marathoners and half-marathoners are called “St. Jude Runners.” They will make up the lion’s share if not the entire financial benefit St. Jude will enjoy. I am now encouraging you to become a St. Jude Runner, to help raise these needed dollars and help set me straight along the marathon route as I might fade at the halfway point. Or perhaps you might desire to make a gift and come run a mile with me or run with one of the many others you’ll see crossing our community on December 7th . Or perhaps you’ll be like the Joe of old and enjoy the couch and sit this one out. Hey, don’t feel guilty. I’ve done the same for every marathon in human history until now. This one is different. This one is for the children at St. Jude , the hospital now undergoing a $1.4 billion expansion. It is the undisputed crown jewel of Memphis and our Mid-South region. So even if you kick back this December 7th , you can play a crucial role in the marathon’s ultimate success by making a gift of any size to the hospital Danny Thomas founded so “no child should die in the dawn of life.”
Zap an e-mail to email@example.com and I’ll reply with all the information on how to make a gift sponsoring me or another of the cast of thousands you’ll see rolling down Memphis city streets in December. It costs one million dollars a day to operate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital . Danny’s hospital has run a brilliant marathon of medicine and mercy since 1962! Let’s celebrate the hospital’s 40th birthday and the St. Jude Memphis Marathon’s birth with a gift! I am.
Remember to beware of whom you talk to at Grizzlies games this season. You might just end up in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, running in the best shape of your life, supporting the hospital that is saving young lives everyday!