Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Monday, December 9, 2013

With God, All Things Are Possible: St. Jude Weekend Recap

It started with winter storm Cleon (When did they start naming winter storms?). Ice and ridiculously cold temperatures caused traffic problems in the air and on the ground. On Facebook there was post after post after post of runners canceling their plans to make the trip to Memphis this weekend, but St. Jude was clinging to the hope that conditions wouldn't be so bad to have to cancel the race.

Before the recap, I want to address the way St. Jude handled the cancellation.

Anyone who has ever directed a race, or had a big part in its organization, has an idea what it takes to pull off an event like this. Most others don't. I've only directed one little 5K and it shocked me to learn how much time, effort, and energy it took to make it go...and I run these races all the time. So let me just say, for anyone still criticizing St. Jude for the way they handled everything, ST. JUDE COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT BETTER. They did end up canceling the race about 7 PM the night before, but in doing so, they did everything possible to accommodate runners and treat us with the utmost respect. To the organizers and race director, my sincere thanks and respect for the way you handled this, from start to finish. Janice and I will choose to donate our registration fees to the hospital, and we'll definitely be taking advantage of the opportunity to register for next year's races early. :)

Now for the recap!

Like I said, it started with the storm. Most sane people decided to stay home. I was not among them. Janice was. She tried for at least an hour to talk me out of making the trip. I mean, the weathermen and other media were making it sound like the next Ice Age was descending upon us. But I just promised to take it slow and easy. As I was loading the vehicle, she posted on Facebook, "Would someone please tell John Allison he's an idiot? He won't believe me." Needless to say, she got several people to agree, but I wouldn't be swayed. I decided, if God didn't want me to run this race, He would stop me before I got to Memphis.
"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' " ~ Matthew 19:26

So off I went!

I'd originally planned to head north to Bald Knob, AR and cross over to Memphis on highway 64, but a friend had texted me to say they tried that way and turned around. So I headed south out of Cabot toward I 40. Here's a picture showing what the 15 miles of roads looked like from Cabot to the interstate. Mostly slush in the ruts. Never slid a bit, but took it slow, about 30 - 35 mph on this part of the journey.

When I got to the interstate, I was pleasantly surprised. Traffic wasn't bad and the lanes on the road were just wet with slush in the middle of the lanes. It was 45 - 50 mph, only because the slush tried to grab you when you were changing lanes, for the first 20 miles or so, then things got progressively better as we headed east. The construction at Forrest City that originally made me want to take 64 was no issue at all. We breezed through it. After Forrest City, it was 65 mph all the way to Memphis. Here's a pic of the interstate when I got on at Lonoke, and it only got better as we worked our way east.

I made it to Memphis and checked into the hotel. I was a little late making reservations and ended up booking a room at the Quality Inn on Camilla St. With taxes and all, I paid around $82 for a comfortable room about 2 miles from the finish line. I enjoyed it and will probably stay there next year too.

I headed to the Expo with plans to pick up my packet and several others, then meet my Loco friends (not an insult, but the name of a running club) for a pre-race dinner. Compared to other races of this size, the Expo was abandoned. I was picking up 10 packets and breezed through in a few minutes. So I headed back to the hotel before dinner.

The plan was to meet at Olive Garden at 5, but I was a little late. The crazy intersection at 240 and Poplar and the directions from Google Maps (If you're wondering, no, I don't own a GPS.) didn't seem to go together and it took me several minutes to wander around and eventually stumble on the restaurant. But I did and finally joined them around 5:20.

We had a great meal and some great fellowship. Some of these folks I see and train with from time to time, but most I only get to see at races. They're a great, fun bunch though, and I always enjoy spending time with them. Dinner ended on a let down though, when another friend called to say he was at the Expo and they just announced the race was canceled. :( At first, we all thought he was joking, but seconds later, we all started receiving texts with the same news. There would be no race on Saturday.

[I thought there was a picture of our pre-race dinner, but can't seem to find it anywhere. If I find it later, I'll post it here.]

Back at the hotel, I took advantage of the time I would have spent preparing for the race to grade some tests. I was also keeping an eye on the St. Jude Heroes Facebook page. Not exactly sure why, but it just seemed like something to do. That was when I read someone's post saying a group would be meeting at the start line Saturday morning at 8 AM to run to the St. Jude campus and back, about 5 or 6 miles. I looked at the course map and judged they'd be running straight there and back if that was the distance they planned to cover, but also spotted a way to stretch it out a little. I figured, if I get there a little early and get a couple of miles in before, then run with them, I could maybe get in 10 miles before heading back to Cabot.

So the next morning I dressed for the cold and headed for the start. When I arrived, there were already a couple of people running the streets. One had a St. Jude bib on. I headed out and managed about a mile and quarter before returning and a larger group was gathering. By 8 o'clock, there were probably 50 or so gathered and we stepped off. Here's a pic of a few of them.

We headed out, but not straight toward St. Jude. Instead, they headed out on the actual St. Jude course. So I followed. I ran the first couple of miles with a too fast group and fell back. For most of the rest of the way, I was in that sort of no man's land between the faster and the slower runners. The cold wasn't bad until we came alongside the river headed north. Then, that north wind was blowing straight into our faces and it got cold! I was glad to see Beale St. when we got there and head east again. Here's a pic from Riverside Dr, before we got to the river (it was too cold to get the phone out then).

We finally made it to Beale St. When we turned north again, we began to see other runners out and about. There were hundreds of us out there, running for St. Jude, even though the race had been canceled.

Continuing to follow the course, we crossed under I 40 and passed the pyramid. Not sure if you can tell from this pic, but its sides were covered in ice. I thought that was pretty cool. We were almost to St. Jude.

After the pyramid, it was a right turn and straight toward St. Jude. This is what we raised money for. This is what we traveled for. This is what we were running for. This fantastic organization that helps so many kids, every single day!

The marathon route goes through the campus, in through one entrance and out another on the back side. We headed in the entrance, but found the gates locked where we usually go out. So we had to backtrack and go out the way we came in. Here, I heard a couple of people say they were headed back, but most went on around the campus to continue the course. I figured I'd follow them and return the way I'd originally planned.

Manassas St. That was where I'd planned to turn right and head back. But when I got there, dozens of people were continuing on the race course ahead of me. I looked at my watch, the distance, pace, and time, and decided to press on. We were keeping a good pace and I didn't have to check out of the hotel until 11.

I was still in that no man's land, with groups of runners in front of me and behind me, but nobody seeming to run my pace. From here on, I didn't know the course very well, so I worked to keep someone in sight. That worked well for a while because we were on a long, straight stretch. But just across from the Rhodes College campus, we turned right onto a paved trail on the back side of the zoo, a maze of trails really, and the St. Jude course wasn't marked on them.

Just past a downed tree across the trail was a fork, and I had no idea which way to go. That was when God blessed me with two local runners who were doing the full course. As they passed me, at a much faster pace than I was running, they told me which way to go. Now I sped up a bit to keep them in sight until we reached more familiar territory. Through the trails, through a park, and through the University of Memphis campus and we emerged on Poplar St. I knew from the maps, we'd follow this back to downtown.

All this way, and for the rest of the course, motorists laid on their horns and waved as they passed us. They knew what we were there for, and they showed their appreciation however they could. In that park I mentioned above, a man walking his dogs asked if I was running the marathon. When I told him I was doing the half, he said, "Good for you." Then, just before we left the UM campus, an older couple was standing beside the road cheering us on. The people of Memphis are very appreciative of runners who come to support St. Jude, and it was nice that several of them braved the freezing temps to show that gratitude.

Poplar St. carried us past miles 10 and 11 of the course, before we turned to head for the final approach on Union St. On this stretch, we passed the St. Jude Target House pictured below. Also pictured below is the 10 mile marker for the course.

Just past the 12 mile marker was another surprise. Understand, when I started this run, I thought I was going to do 5 - 7 miles and be done. So I made none of my usual long run preparations. No Body Glide, no water to carry, no gels for fuel. The race was canceled, so none of that stuff was available on the course either. Add in the extra that I'd done because I wasn't planning to run the half course, and I had logged 14 miles by this point. Granted, we started with single digit wind chill, but still, 14 miles is a long way to go with no water and no fuel. But here, just past the 12 mile marker on the course stood a man, who looked to be homeless, with only one arm and a case of bottled water by his feet. His outstretched arm held one bottle he was offering to me. A miracle from God? I think so.

I gladly took the bottle and took a couple of big swigs as I continued on toward the finish. Just ahead was the turn onto Union and I could see other runners disappear as they made it. It was nearly a mile to Autozone Park, and the end of this 15 mile journey. That last mile slipped by and, 2 hours and 17 minutes after I'd started, I arrived at Autozone Park. The gates were locked, so we couldn't cross the actual finish line, but my Garmin beeped 15 miles as I was running by the side entrance.

What had seemed so improbable to so many on Friday when I left, had come to pass. Officials couldn't guarantee us a safe race, so they had to cancel, but we managed to run the course. In what may have been the coldest run I've ever done, with sweat freezing in my beard and hair, my shirt and shorts freezing too, I went 15 miles at an average 9:11 pace, without fuel and water. To most sane people, it seemed impossible. And, in fact, with man it was.

But with God all things are possible, and I have no doubt it was Jesus Christ, the strength He breathed into us on Saturday, that made what was impossible to man, possible through Him. So thank You, Jesus! For getting me there. For getting me to the start line. And for getting me through to the finish.

One more thing before I close. Remember how I said how great St. Jude and the people of Memphis were? Well, I was on the way home when a friend tagged me in a photo on Facebook. The picture was originally posted on Memphis Runners Track Club page, then shared on the Arkansas RRCA page, then a friend tagged me so it showed up on my page. This is the photo that makes clear just how important this race is to the people touched by the great work done at St. Jude, year after year, month after month, week after week, and day after day.

It's kind of hard to read, but oh so worth the effort. I pray that God continues to bless the doctors, nurses, and especially the patients at St. Jude. And I pray that runners continue to descend upon Memphis the first Saturday in December every year until the end of time!

PS: You can still donate to St. Jude through our fundraising page by clicking HERE!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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