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St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend 2013-The Race That Wasn’t

on December 8, 2013

Memphis does not do winter weather well.  Any threat of winter weather usually turns into a non-event, but even the hint of some sort of frozen precipitation sends the entire city into a tailspin.  That happened this weekend, and the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend was cancelled.

When December 7 first appeared on the 10 day forecast, it was supposed to be in the 40s at race time, warming up to the 50s throughout the day, perfect!  Every day after that, it looked worse and worse.  Even though it was in the 70s here on Wednesday, it was predicted to be a historical ice storm.  By Thursday, schools and events were being cancelled all over the city, yet it was still in the 50s.  The SJMMW event directors kept saying the race would go on as planned unless the course was deemed to be unsafe.  Friday came, the day of the epic ice storm.  Yes, it rained pretty much all day long.  Yes temps hovered around freezing.  Yes, ice accumulated in trees and bushes.  However, the roads remained clear.

Ice accumulations thwarted race plans.

Ice accumulations thwarted race plans.

I was in good spirits as I headed to the Heroes Pasta Party.

St. Jude Heroes Pasta Party

St. Jude Heroes Pasta Party

I was sad my parents had decided against making the trip for the weekend, but I was meeting friends there so all appeared well.  I had been so concerned that I would not make it downtown from the suburbs on race day that I had not even allowed myself to get excited for the weekend.  Arriving at the pasta party, realizing the roads were in good shape and I was going to make it after all, I finally got excited.  My friends and I made another trip through the expo, and I let myself look at the medal for the first time.

We went into the ball room, took our seats and got our food.  I then received a text from another friend that she was sorry the race had been cancelled.  Cancelled?!  No!  We are here!  At the event!  It’s not cancelled!  Then a text from another friend.  Cancelled!  Then a news bulletin came across my phone.  Cancelled!  Still no official word from the race directors and we were at the event!  How could they not tell us?  About 20 more minutes passed, and by then the whole room knew.  The ALSAC CEO took the stage and gave us the official news.  It was then that I got the text notification from St. Jude.  Reality started to set in.  My 2013 St. Jude Half Marathon was not going to happen.

The expo had been great!

SJMMW Expo

SJMMW Expo

I went on Thursday after work.  It wasn’t very crowded so packet pick up was a breeze!  There were lots of vendors, and more freebies than I’ve ever gotten at an expo.  There was an area to write a message on a wall to the kids of St. Jude.

My message to the kids of St. Jude

My message to the kids of St. Jude

The coolest thing was the official pace car provided by Landers Ford.

The names of all the Heroes were on the official St. Jude Pace Car.

The names of all the Heroes were on the official St. Jude Pace Car.

There was an overlay on it with all of the names of the Heroes.

My name was on the official St. Jude Pace Car.

My name was on the official St. Jude Pace Car.

They also had a photographer to take your picture by your name with your bib.  We stayed about an hour then headed to dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse.

Other than disappointing news, the Pasta Party was fabulous!

The St. Jude Heroes Pasta Party was truly a festive occasion.

The St. Jude Heroes Pasta Party was truly a festive occasion.

It was the largest plated dinner in the history of Memphis, we were told.  They were very prepared, too, with 11 buffet lines, and about a dozen drink coolers along the walls with soda, bottled water, and tea.  There were only 2 beer lines but they moved quickly.  After Rick Shadyac gave us the bad news, they continued on with the featured speaker.  Hillary Husband, a 6 year patient of St. Jude, told us her story.  She was diagnosed when she was 14 and is still being treated.  She recently walked an entire marathon in the halls of St. Jude because she did not want her disease to get in the way of her goals.  The staff even set up a finish line for her to cross.  Even more impressive is that her route was around the radiation unit.  She figured out that 11 times around was a mile.  Can you imagine the mind-numbing boredom that would come with that many laps?  And to do that more than 26 times?  She is an amazing young lady, to say the least.  I almost lost it when she said we are the ones who inspire her.

I left the party thinking that was the end of my SJMMW 2013 but I was wrong.  Later that night, one of my friends texted me and told me his friend, who was here from Texas and who was planning to run her first marathon here, wanted to take a St. Jude Hospital tour since she couldn’t do the marathon.  He asked if I could help make that happen.  I told him I would try.  So, I contacted one of my friends who works there, and he was able to do the tour.  So, Saturday afternoon, 4 of us headed to the hospital for the tour.  Three of us had taken the tour back in the fall (read about that here), but we still learned even more.  It truly is an amazing place!

Elvis Presley was a St. Jude donor.

Elvis Presley was a St. Jude donor.

This gingerbread house at St. Jude is about the size of a small bathroom.

This gingerbread house at St. Jude is about the size of a small bathroom.

I also learned that many people decided to run the route anyway, and the race personnel greeted finishers with their medals.  What a neat thing for them to do!  I wish I had thought of it.  I will run my tribute miles at some point in the future.  I’m just not sure when yet.

As a consolation, we are able to transfer our registration to Rock and Roll Phoenix, Rock and Roll New Orleans, or Rock and Roll Nashville.  Other options are a full refund or donating your entry fee to St. Jude.  At the moment, I’m leaning toward Nashville.  If I don’t do that, I will definitely let them keep the fee.

So, you may be wondering why it was cancelled if the streets were clear.  Again, Memphis does not handle these things well.  The finish line was a solid sheet of ice, sidewalks were unsafe, and there were trees down along part of the course, due to the weight of the ice.

The finish line was a solid sheet of ice.  This photo was taken by a volunteer and posted on the Memphis Runners Track Club Facebook page.

The finish line was a solid sheet of ice. This photo was taken by a volunteer and posted on the Memphis Runners Track Club Facebook page.

Several thousand people in Memphis were without power, and since temps were going to be below freezing for a few days, they were concerned more trees and power lines would fall, causing more people to be without power.  30% of the volunteers had already backed out, as had 15% of the medical staff.  Additionally, the City of Memphis told race officials resources such as police, fire, and medical support could not be dedicated to the race while the city was under a state of emergency and might be needed elsewhere.  It’s disappointing because it really did turn into a non-event, like it almost always does.  At the same time, there was so much uncertainty about conditions in the hours leading up to the start that a decision had to be made.  They made the best decision they could.

Race or no race, St. Jude Heroes raised $8.2 million for the kids of St. Jude.  The average donation is $33.  That’s a lot of people wanting to help support St. Jude’s lifelong mission of finding cures and saving lives.  God willing, I will participate as a hero again in 2014.

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One response to “St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend 2013-The Race That Wasn’t

  1. I’m sorry the race was cancelled, but a frozen finish line is crazy! Stay Warm!

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