Back in 1999, a friend was training for the Chicago Marathon as a first time marathoner. At the time, I thought two miles was a long run. Yet, there was something about my friends training and determination that sparked my interest in the marathon. October came and she ran the marathon and had an incredible time. I was more than impressed and I started to consider trying a similar adventure for myself. Coincidentally, I lived in Nashville at the time and they had just announced the inaugural Country Music Marathon to be held the following April. That was it. I had to do it.
I joined a local training program and soon enough, that two mile long run became four, then eight, then twelve…you get the idea. Next thing I know, I was in my start corral at the race. The gun went off and I have to say, that I haven’t stopped running since.
Fast forward to 2008, I heard about the 10th anniversary of the Country Music Marathon and I just had to sign up. Today, I am an experienced marathoner, ultrarunner and Ironman. Things have changed a lot for me in the last nine years and I figured that by running this year’s race, it would bring it all full circle for me.
My wife, Stacy, and I drove up to Nashville the day before the race. We checked in to the hotel, passed through the Expo and had dinner with friends at a great local eatery. Four-thirty in the morning came awful quick after a restless night of sleep. My things were laid out as usual. I had taken the time to pin my bib number the night before. The D-Tag timing device was securely fasten to my running shoe. I got dressed, grabbed my water bottle and kissed Stacy. Downstairs, the hotel was smart enough to provide an early breakfast for the marathoners. After a bite to eat, I headed out and made the mile or so walk to the stadium where shuttles were waiting to take runners to the start. My buddies Woody and Doug, who we met up with the night before for dinner, were planning on meeting me there to take the ride to the start together. With the crowds however, we totally missed each other. The shuttle ride wasn’t too bad, a bit crowded but we made it to the start rather quickly.
The race has grown considerably. The first year I think there were around 8,000 runners, all in the marathon. A couple of years later, the race added the half-marathon option and that’s how today there are over 31,000 runners. So, coming off the shuttle, all you could see was people everywhere. There’s something about these big production races that is becoming unattractive to me. I guess, I am getting used to trail races where there are only a few hundred runners or triathlons including the Ironman, where at the most there are 2,000 participants. So, I was feeling a bit claustrophobic.
I went to my corral hoping to still see Woody and Doug. The sun was making its way over the tops of the buildings and the temps were already starting to climb. It was going to be hot one! I managed to meet up with Woody and Doug and the race got started.
First couple of miles, I tried to keep up with those guys and I knew it was a bad idea when I saw the splits were about 7:30 pace. It wasn’t long before Woody and Doug dropped me. At mile 2, I spotted my wife in the crowd, gave her a quick wave and kept on. I slowed down to a more manageable 8:30 clip and kept repeating a mantra in my head, “Take it easy. Treat this as a long run. Don’t overheat.” The Country Music Marathon is known for its hills. The race organizers have revised the course several times over the years in an effort to lessen them, but there are still plenty of them on the route. Anyway, we ran through Music Row, the part of town where many of the record companies, recording studios and music publishers are based. You have to wonder just how many dreamers have come to this town with nothing but a guitar and never catch a break. Of course, every once in a while somebody makes it big.
Through mile 8, I was feeling fine, although I started to get concerned about the heat. This initial section is an out and back, so you can see the elites run by on the way out and then see the rest of us mortals on the way back into downtown. Somewhere in this section, I saw a guy in a full on bear mascot costume. I later learned that he finished the half marathon in about two hours. Unreal.
At mile 11, the half marathoners veer off the full marathon course. It was nice to have the crowd thin out some. At mile 13, my pace was maintaining, but I could tell it was not going to be my day. I have run this race four other times and this is the part of the course that I don’t enjoy. It’s all office park that is in a part of town difficult for friends and family to get in and cheer. No shade, no cheering crowds and plenty of black top. Even the greenway portion along the river was tough. The one positive was the trademark bands all along the route.
At mile 16 and after a quick pottie break, I knew I was decently hydrated and that was the good news. But things were starting to deteriorate and my pace was falling off. I walked up a lengthy hill around mile 18. Out of the office park area and down 8th Avenue, I got some pep back in my step. I had a laugh when I saw the back of some guy’s shirt that read, “My friends told me it was 2.62 miles.” Mile 19 sees the full and half marathon courses meet up again for about a mile, a long mile up a hill. From the top of the hill, you can see the stadium where the finish line is located.
I spotted Stacy again around mile 20 and stopped for a second. She had timed it just right and I appreciated the smile and kiss. Just a 10K to go. No problem, right?
Another out and back into Shelby Park awaited. I saw Woody on his way to the finish line when I was making my way into the park. I was surprised to see him, but I later learned that he didn’t have his best day either. After seeing Woody, my miles were getting longer and longer. I made it into the park and came across an aid stop giving out ice. I put some under my running cap and that definitely woke me up a little. Still, my pace was definitely not holding up.
The last two miles of the course is through an industrial part of town. I could see the stadium over the tops of the warehouses. As I got closer, I could hear the announcer. I was ready to get this one over. Came around a bend and I could see the crowds. Country Music Marathon has a final turn about 300 yards from the finish, so you can’t see the banner until after the turn. As I made the turn, I picked it up a bit. I heard my name from the crowd and once again spotted Stacy. Gave her a wave and stepped it up. I crossed the finish line at 4:14:41 by the clock, but 4:10:54 by my watch, a good 40 or so minutes slower than my normal marathon time but mission accomplished.
Another marathon under my belt and this one was well earned. I took full advantage of all the finish line goodies, especially the ice soaked sponges. Took the mandatory “medal picture” and I made my way thru the maze and came out to where Stacy was waiting for me. I was glad to be done.
Nine years after my first marathon, I have participated in dozens of races. As tough as this race was for me, I will always appreciate the fact that I started running. It has changed my life and running this race did indeed bring it full circle for me. However, I think I am going to take a break from road races for now. I have a trail 50K coming up at the end of May and I can’t wait.