Well the story of how I ended up at the St. Jude’s Rock and Roll Nashville marathon is quite an interesting one. A few years ago, when I was looking for different races to complete, this race popped up as a fun race in TN. Not being a big country music fan, I decided to pass on it and started looking for other races in the state. Fast forward to this past January, Kaela and I were on our way to Jackson, Mississippi for the Mississippi Blues marathon when crazy weather hit.
I had taken notice of the weather during the week of the race but had some hope that it would just pass over since the percentage chance kept getting lower. We left town Thursday after work and made a stop in Nashville as a “half way(ish)” point to Jackson. The next morning, just as I finished my “shake out” run, it started to snow. Checking the news at the hotel we saw that schools were being canceled, accidents were backing up all the highways and that it didn’t look like it was going to end. Fast forward to a long, slow, icy drive across Tennessee, taking us a an hour or two longer, we made it to Memphis when the weather started to clear. The entire drive down I kept on my phone focused on the race to see if they were going to cancel or delay the race because of the conditions. By the time we made it to Memphis, the roads seemed fine and we were back to comfortable driving at (or maybe a little above) the speed limit. As we approached Jackson, that quickly ended.
Roads were basically sheets of ice and since it was the South, there were no salt trucks or crews taking care of it and it just continued to build. Picked up my bib and swag bag where everyone still seemed hopeful that the race would still happen as they would just place a delay on the start if needed. I went through the normal routine before bed, planning to run 26.2 the next morning, even if I had to on ice. As my alarm went off at 3:30am, I checked the race Facebook page to find that the race had been canceled at 9:30pm. After over 14 hours of driving South, we had to turn around and go home empty handed. I had the thought of running the course anyways and being able to mark it off the state list, but just walking to my car in parking lot I almost fell a few times. It definitely wasn’t worth risking it, so we packed up the car and headed back home. Funny thing, about an hour North of Jackson, you couldn’t even tell that a snow/ice storm had taken place and it was smooth driving the entire way home.
Ok that is the short of the long back story (I promise I’m getting to Nashville shortly). The next few weeks after the race, the race directors were trying to think of ways to make up for the fact they cancelled the race so late because people were upset. I was bummed I spent all the money to travel but I understand that weather happens and there is nothing you can do about it. Some people were demanding refunds, finishers medals, discounts, etc. In the end they said they would offer special pricing for the 2018 edition of the race and they had worked out a deal with Rock and Roll race series, to allow the transfer to the New Orleans or Nashville marathon. Nashville was on a Saturday and only a 5 1/2 hour drive, so I jumped on that. Running the Nashville marathon for “free” was not my plan for the end of April, but that is what I did! NASHVILLE!!!
Race: St Jude’s Rock and Roll Nashville
Location: Nashville, TN
Date: April 29, 2017
Finishing Time: 5:20:20
My good buddy Chad had signed up for the Nashville marathon just before Chicago in 2016, but then dropped down to the half marathon as he was having some recurring injuries. He and his wife, Erin, were going to make a vacation out of it, so we decided the best lodging option would be to just get an Air BNB and Kaela and I would spend one night with them and they could enjoy a nicer space than just a hotel room (for a whole lot cheaper as well).
Since it was a Saturday race with a short(er) drive, we left Friday morning after I got in my final shake out run. We headed directly to the Air BNB to drop off our stuff and wait for Chad and Erin. Funny thing about the drive, we left over an hour after Chad did, and still somehow beat him to Nashville by 15-20 minutes (old people driving). Once they arrived, we loaded up in their car and headed to Broadway to get our stuff from the expo. Erin and Kaela took a walk down by the bars while Chad and I headed to expo. I was wearing my long sleeve race shirt from STL and some running pants, which I quickly regretted with the heat as we walked to the expo.
The weather was already warm and it was not looking like it was going to cool down at all for the race. With this in mind, I wanted to see about getting my corral changed to allow me to start early. All of the Rock n Roll marathon races have 30-50 corrals that are waved in 3 min starts. This means there can be a huge difference from starting in the first few corrals compared to middle of the pack. After I picked up my packet we headed to the area to make changes as Chad needed to swap his bib to go back to the marathon. Oh yea, that’s another thing, in the weeks leading up to the race, I was able to convince Chad that he should just do the full marathon and enjoy it with me! As I said earlier, Chad paid for the marathon and then dropped to the half marathon shortly after, so we thought wouldn’t be any issue for him to get changed back to marathon. After some back and forth with race official, they said that he would have to pay a change fee to go back to marathon, even though he did not get a refund for the drop in the race. We said ok but knew that he was just going to continue running when we got to the split in the course.
After all that, we visited the corral change and I was trying to get as close to the front as possible. I noticed that the lady at the table was just asking people what their goal time was and then looking at a chart and gave them a corresponding corral “upgrade”. I quickly reviewed the sheet before she asked me what my pace would be, “I’m looking to run just under a 3:30”, and just like that I was up to corral 5! We walked around the expo, grabbing free samples and promo items and checking out upcoming race tables, before heading out to meet the ladies. They originally were looking for a place to grab a drink, but there weren’t any bars that had patio’s that they would be able to sit with Bella so they just walked up and down Broadway. We all took a stroll down the road with them before heading back to the car to head to grocery store for last minute supplies and dinner. As you know, Kaela and I have our dinner plan locked down and had already prepared pasta, so I just picked up some local beer to enjoy after the race.
Back at the house, we prepped and ate dinner, laid out clothes and gear for the next morning and just sat around and relaxed. The house had a great sound system with a nice selection of records, but Kaela said I wasn’t allowed to touch the records, so we just jammed out to Spotify. We sat on couch and discussed the race course and the spots the ladies would be able to see us and the overall plan for the day. Checking the weather once again before bed did not lift my spirits as it was still looking like a crazy warm race. We had gotten emails stating that they would allow any full marathon runner to drop to the half at the split without any prior notice because of the warm weather. That was not going to happen with us, so we made our final preparations and headed to bed.
**HUNNY TURN THAT OFF**
My phone decided that it was going to announce my alarm full volume. Kaela, in a sleepy haze, pushed me as we both heard at the same time in order to try to not wake up the others in the next room. It definitely got the heart rate pumping early! I made my way into the kitchen and prepped my food (using oven for bagels as the house had no microwave or toaster!?!?), before taking a seat on the couch and starting my typical routine. Spotify playlist on, course map up on iPad, checking weather on phone. “Wait…is it really that warm…at 4:30am?” That was a real conversation I had in my head as it was already 78 degrees at 4:30am and had no indication of getting better throughout the day.
Food down, body glide applied, clothes on, and out the door we went to Nissan Stadium to park and then take the 3/4 mile walk to the starting line. As we got closer, the crowds were getting larger and it was hard to figure out where we were actually supposed to go to enter the corral. Once we spotted the started line, Chad and I said our goodbye’s to our better halves as they were going to see us around the 1.5 mile mark. We were bobbing and weaving trying to at get to the “line” to head to the corrals. It seemed to be going nowhere fast, and then we heard the National Anthem, which meant that race was started quite soon.
After the anthem, we just pushed through to make it along the fence line of the start as the first 2 corrals were starting. I found an opening in the fence with an event security lady checking bibs before letting people in. I told her I was in corral #5 and she said that was much further back. I replied by pointing that they were about 100 ft away (showing her the large #5 sign) but she wouldn’t even look back to verify. Someone else tried getting in on her other side and in that brief distraction, Chad and I walked right in. We let corrals 3 and 4 pass by before joining in the group. Quick prayer, GoPro check, and “good luck” fist bump then wait for the gun.
And after a crazy last 15 minutes or so, we were off. We started straight down Broadway with the first 1/2 mile a pretty steep downhill that took everything Chad and I had not to take off. I didn’t check the weather when we left the girls but it was somewhere around 80 at the start. Even though the temps were up there, I decided to just rely on the aid stations for hydration to make sure that I’m not drinking too much water during the race (a mistake I would later regret).
Once we got to the end of Broadway, we took a right then a few blocks later made another right heading directly up the same elevation we just went down. Now I know people said Nashville was a hilly course, but I guess I didn’t expect it to hit us in the face in the first mile. It was fun seeing people that flew past us at the start walking the first hill because they were already spent. We crested the hill and took a few more turns before ending back up on Broadway heading west. We passed all the folks in the later corrals realizing that they would be standing around for at least another 30-45 minutes before they would even have an opportunity to start (again very thankful able to move up my starting corral).
Shortly after the corrals ended the girls were set up around the mile 1 mark, and this was the hand off for the GoPro. I knew I wanted to get some footage of the start, but with knowing the weather was going to not be in my favor, I decided that carrying yet another thing was not the best choice. Quick hand off and we were off towards Music Row.
It was pretty cool heading down Music Row and seeing a ton of record labels and offices, decked out with huge banners from their latest #1 single/artist/album/fragrance line (ok maybe I made that last one up). I’m not much of a Country music fan, so I didn’t recognize many of the artist but Chad tried to keep me in the loop with who was actually good. We took a turn off music row and started a loop around Belmont University. This area was by far the best crowd support of the entire course and it is even is up there on my list of the best neighborhoods in any race I’ve ever ran. People were outside of their homes lining the streets with their own “aid stations” offering water, beer, popsicles, more beer, spray with garden hose, and did I mention beer? It was so funny to see the number of people set up with little beer stands and even more impressive the amount of people partaking.
Just before mile 5 and the start of looping back around, we heard from behind us a wheel chair athlete with her two “guides” telling people to move to the left as she came through. We were approaching a nice downhill stretch and this wheel chair was going to be cooking. It was a poor set up in my opinion, as the front “guide” was in a dead sprint trying to stay in front of the wheelchair and also telling people to move to the left, while the other was behind basically just taking it all in. Well the reason I bring this up is there was a guy that did not hear the call to action of moving to the left and got drilled by the wheelchair. He hit the ground hard, but I give him props because he did not take it out on the wheelchair athlete but just shook it off and told them not to worry about it and wished them good luck in the race. I’d like to think I would do the same thing, but it did not look like a pleasant experience getting basically ran over!
Ok back to Chad and I! We were feeling good, cruising at a good pace and trying to stay on top of our fluids. The roads we were running had a decent amount of shade that allowed us to stay cool from the sun beating down, but you could still feel the heat off the road. Around mile 6 there was a steep hill on tight road just after a turn, so because of the little bit of traffic build up, we power hiked the hill and declined the offer for “luke warm gin” from another mobile aid station.
Through 10k we felt strong but were no longer in the shade and the next few miles we had to try and keep our body temp’s in check. We passed by some cool little shops and stores as we made our way around Belmont and back towards Music Row. Cruising past a few more record labels, passing by a Church singing some worship songs (pumped me up), and then heading through what seemed to be a “newer” district with some cool looking bars and restaurants.
Now up to this point, I was very impressed with the race course. Seeing Broadway, getting some nice rolling hills, running Music Row, enjoying the great people around Belmont University. This was a tough race, but it was on par for one of my favorites. There is a reason I said “up to this point”, just like my previous Rock and Roll marathon experience around mile 10 is where all the glit and glamour end. Please read on…
Around the 10.5 mile mark, the girls were at a corner cheering us on and seeing if we needed anything before they saw us again at mile 17.5. Kaela handed me off my water bottle, as I could feel the dehydration kicking in from just drinking at the aid stations and wanted to make sure I tried to stay on top of it holding my own water. I filled it up at the next aid station with some cool water, quickly relieved myself at a porta potty and we were on our way. Just after mile 11 the half marathoners split off to the right and we continued you on straight for a 5 mile lollipop loop before coming right back.
This loop is what turned the course from a great course to a “why in world would they design it this way” course. The first mile was a gradual rolling hill that in no shade cover seemed to just absolutely beat me down. The next mile we ran an overpass, just exposed to all the greatness the sun wanted to bring that day. Miles 11-13 were the two that did me in and the sun sucked all the energy out of me. At mile 13 we started the loop and circled a business park with office buildings. In the middle of the loop we had a random out and back, that my guess was only there because they needed to find and additional 1/4 mile to add to the course. After a long mile and half run/walk we finally made it around the loop and headed back towards downtown.
The corner was the mile 15 mark and that is where the run/walk, turned into a walk/crawl. Our splits went from low 10 min/miles to upper 12-13 min/miles. And I say our splits, but Chad was feeling in a much better condition than I was. He kept pushing me along to pick points and run as far as I could and keeping up the walking pace. At mile 16 we joined back with the half marathoners, and we had noticed something at the split. They were no longer letting people continue on the marathon course and diverting them to the half marathon. I checked my watch to make sure we weren’t that far behind and it seemed as though they had moved up the cut off. Later we did find out that the cut off for that split was moved up by 30 minutes due to the weather conditions.
We continued on, Chad getting by and me struggling with each step. Between dehydration, the heat, and tummy issues, my body had enough of me. Now I said earlier that the first 10 miles of the course was the only exciting part and that is mostly true. Around mile 17 we got to circle the warning track of their minor league baseball stadium which was pretty neat. It reminded me of Disney marathon, except on a much smaller scale. As we were making our way out of the stadium we noticed a few people that were on the side of the road with medics. People were literally dropping like flies as the race went on and the temps only got warmer.
Shortly after the baseball loop, we saw the girls sitting down in the median underneath some trees provided some nice shade. We were walking up a short hill and Kaela yelled to us “start running so I can take a picture”. She didn’t want to take a picture that looked like we weren’t doing anything haha. We got a refill on some items and I let them know that this was going to be a long final 9 miles and they might as well get comfy at the finish line.
To be honest, there was nothing memorable about the next few miles. There was little to no crowd support and I don’t blame them, it was HOT! The bands weren’t playing as we passed, it just seemed as we were on a Saturday run that had gone terribly wrong. Together Chad and I pressed on as the miles clicked off. At mile 21, we had our final (yet another) lollipop loop that would be 3.5 miles and leave us with just a mile left once complete. Again stuck on a road with absolutely no shade we headed towards Shelby park for a “quick” loop. Chad again pushed me along picking out points in the trail to start running until I couldn’t go any further.
At mile 23, we couldn’t have written a better script for the race. We were approaching an aid station that had written their “menu” in chalk along the path we were on. Chad and I at the same time were reading off items when we saw the most amazing thing on the list…PICKLES!!! We got a little burst of energy and powered into the aid station asking where the pickles were. This was the best aid station on the course offer pickles, pickle juice (white pickle juice looked weird but tasted the same), chips, pretzels, and then a side “unofficial aid station” table with beer. I grabbed some pretzels and pickles, while Chad indulged in the pickles and then some beer.
Powering back through the park entrance and down the road that the sun relentlessly was beating down we made it to the end of the lollipop (how many times can I write lollipop in this blog). At about the 24 mile mark I noticed that we were seeing any runners coming at us heading to the loop in the park. Then about 1/2 mile up we saw cones and a truck blocking runners from continuing and having them turn around at what would be their 21 mile marker. I overheard a race official say that they are closing the course off early because of the weather and will not allow people to continue to the park. They were directing people to turn around and just head to the finish where they would receive their finishers medals and jackets even though finishing about 3.5 miles shorter than full distance.
There were mixed opinions as we passed by people; some were glad that they could finish the race sooner, others were upset that they weren’t “earning” their medal by running it all. The cut off was moved up by about an hour of what the original plan was, which would make sense due to the weather, but it goes back to those people that started in later corrals 30 minutes to an hour after we started running the same race times we were, but just because of that late start not able to see the entire course. I felt bad for them a little bit as we passed by but it was only a little bit because we were just 1.5 miles from the end of this race!
As we approached the final 1/2 mile, there was a kid with a hose cooling people off, which I used to freshen up my look so I didn’t look like death when we crossed the finish line. We made the final turn, with the girls positioned on our left cheering us on, as we pushed with anything left towards the banner. Now usually, I have a hard sprint to “beat” Chad when racing together, but this time he pushed me to even make it to this finish line so I made sure he had a 1 second faster finishing time than me. 5:20:20
Took a slight “walk of shame” as we got our medals and continued through the finishers area. As bad as I felt, there were a ton of people around us that looked even worse. It was a hot race, on a difficult course and it was apparent on all of our faces.
We grabbed some chocolate milk and gatorade (everything else seemed to be gone already) and made our way to the family reunion area. Chad and I realized at that point that we never made a plan of what was happening at the finish and where we would meet the girls. Our legs were spent so we just posted stood under a tree and looking like two lost dogs until the girls spotted us.
Kaela and I grabbed some shaved ice at the finish, we all packed into car, went back to house, shower and cleaned up, then Kaela and I were on the road again heading back to Columbus. Chad and Erin were spending this trip as a vacation so they were off to hit the bars on Broadway.
Wow, I had a lot to say about running Nashville. Let me try to sum it all up. I am thankful that I was able to run this race for “free” because of the weather issues in Mississippi, but funny that went from a race that was cancelled due to freezing conditions to running a race that was closed early due to extreme heat (BTW it was 92 degrees when we finished). Similar to others comments about Rock and Roll Nashville, and also my experience in Vegas, they cater their events to those doing the half marathon. The full marathons seem like an after thought and just end up running in areas that bring no value to the overall experience. After mile 10, other than the ballpark at 17 and pickles at 23, there were no memorable sections of the course. If you are looking for a challenging and exciting half marathon, I would check this out, but I can not recommend it for a full marathon.
All in all, I wasn’t 100% pleased with my time but when people are passing out of dehydration or heat and I was able to at least be smart and listen to my body and find a way to cross the finish line, I’ll take it. Tennessee is complete. Next stop, heading way up North (basically Canada). Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth. See ya there!