On Saturday, I set out to run my fourth marathon with my partner Paul. It would have been his first marathon. We started out strong and thought we were well on-track to finish in the allotted six hours. But at mile 19, we (and hundreds of runners ahead and behind us) were diverted to mile 26. We were told we didn't make the mile 19 cut-off time that race officials had to set to ensure the race would end in six hours. We crossed the finish line and received our finishers' medals, but we only ran 20.2 miles instead of 26.2. We were devastated.
But let's back up a bit. Let's start with our hopeful, optimistic morning at the St. Jude Heroes pre-race hospitality area at Honky Tonk Central on Nashville's iconic Broadway Avenue.
The bar served as a warm place for St. Jude Heroes (those who raised money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital — Paul and I collectively raised $1,000) and Rock N Roll VIP folks to enjoy bagels, fruit, use flushable toilets, and charge their phones before the race. We arrived there around 5 am and hung out in the warmth until it was time to head to the starting line. It was chilly at that time, around 47 degrees, so we were very grateful to have a place indoors to hang out.
Around 7 am, we headed to the start line. We were way back in the back, around corral 22. Here we are looking fresh and ready to conquer the race.
The race started with a bit of a delay, but by 8 am, we were off. For the first 10 miles, the marathoners and half-marathoners ran together, and the race had a total party vibe. Live music every mile, raucous neighborhood parties, tequila shots (!!), beer samples, spectators in costumes. Some neighbors around Mile 5 even put together a Mile 5 party with a stage and performers in costumes. It was so much fun!
And then mile 11 happened. That's where the marathoners split off from the half-marathoners. And we went from neighborhood parties to the longest, most boring stretch of highway I've ever run on. There was an out and back from Mile 11 to Mile 16(ish) with few spectators and no shade. I'd forgotten to wear sunscreen, and by then, it was in the 70s with the sun pounding down on us. Luckily, we scored some sunscreen at a medical tent.
Despite the long, slow slog and sunburn, I was feeling pretty good (though a bit dehydrated due to the heat ... should have carried a handheld water bottle to get me by between water stops). But I felt strong. I'm sure my pace slowed some, but that tends to happen for me later in a marathon. You're supposed to aim to get faster in the second half of the race, but I've still not mastered that art.
We were certain we were on pace to finish the race in 5 hours and 45 minutes, my usual marathon finish time (my PR is 5 hours and 30 minutes, but I knew this hot and hilly course wasn't a PR course for me). I'd emailed race officials a couple weeks before to race to ask about cut-off times, and I was told they would be posting those to the Nashville RNR website before the race. Those times were never posted, which concerned me a little. But I was feeling pretty strong by mile 19, so I wasn't too worried.
But as we got closer to that mile 19 marker, we noticed the faster marathoners coming in from a different direction. A race official was directing us into the crowd with those faster folks, who were on mile 26. We all stopped and asked what was going on. The official said we'd missed the cut-off by a "few minutes." At that point, we were about 4.5 hours in with 7.2 miles left, and we knew we could finish those 7.2 miles in 1.5 hours. But there was nothing we could do but join in mile 26 and cross the finish line, long before we were expecting to.
We stopped running and just walked, fighting off tears. The runners around us who were in the same boat did the same. And as neared the finish line, I turned to Paul and said, "Let's just run it in and make the best of it." The spectators (who had no idea our situation) cheered with "You're almost there!" and "Great job!" and, though they had the best intentions, their words hurt. Because we weren't almost there. We felt robbed of our full marathon.
But we got our finishers' medals, as well as a charity medal for each raising $500 for St. Jude and a charity medal for raising St. Jude funds during both the Memphis (back in December) and Nashville marathons. Those charity medals mean more to us than our finishers' medal anyway.
I've emailed the Rock N Roll series folks to complain about not posting cut-off times on their website (had I known those times, we could have planned better). A very nice guy from RNR called me today and said they were grateful for that feedback on ways to improve communication for runners. He also offered me a free entry for next year, so while I'm upset at what happened on Saturday, I feel better about the Rock N Roll series as an organization. I think I'll try again next year.
I understand why some races have strict cut-off times. Some cities, like Nashville, only allow a small window for road closures, and that affects race cut-off times. But I do wish more cities would allow for a greater window there. There were so many first-timers and older folks behind us who didn't get to finish.
Some marathons, like the Little Rock Marathon, allow 8 hours for marathoners to finish, which is a much more reasonable timeframe. Little Rock even does an early start for those who feel like they need more than 8 hours. There's a reason the Little Rock Marathon is my favorite race (they also have the biggest and best medals!).
I know, in the long run (no pun intended!), this experience will make me a better runner. I plan to work on my speed before my September 50K (it has a 9-hour time limit) because I don't ever want this to happen again. I'd like to get to a place where I don't have to worry about not making whatever time the race directors deem an appropriate cut-off. I know I'll grow from this, but it still hurts.
We had such a great time early on this race, and there were bright moments later on the course as well. So I'll embrace those and try not to let the bad ending color my whole experience.
Afterward, we drank the free beer at the post-race party. That helped. And then after we showered and changed, we hit Italia Pizza & Pasta in East Nashville to drown our sorrows in carbs. I got the vegan veggie pizza, and we split an order of breadsticks, which I dipped into their amazing vegan garlic sauce. Italia doesn't serve alcohol, but you can BYOB, so we grabbed some Honky Tonk Brewing IPA from the corner store down the street.