For a group of marathon first-timers on the eve of a 26.2-mile race last weekend, getting a worse text message update from race officials probably wouldn’t be possible.
“St. Jude Race Update: We’ve made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel this year’s St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend,” the message read to all who signed up for the updates.
A group from the Johnson City area — Debi Secor, Hannah Cutshall, Jama Oliver, Jennifer Brockett, Natalie Lindley, and Rachel Higgins — were split into two groups Friday night, all loading up on the necessary big meal the night before a marathon, when the news hit.
Some were at the St. Jude Heroes banquet dinner, an invitation-only event for those who raised at least $500 for the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, an achievement that was accomplished by all six women, when the CEO of ALSAC and St. Jude, Rick Shadyac, announced the decision to the cancel all marathon weekend events due to an ice storm that had swept up across the country.
Secor and her daughter, Cutshall, were having dinner elsewhere, and received the text from race officials. Secor, president of the local running organization, the State of Franklin Track Club, has eight marathons to her name, but 17-year-old Cutshall had never run one before and was coming off a successful cross country campaign at Dobyns-Bennett High School. She got the idea to run this marathon specifically because one of her teachers, Sarah Good, had a daughter suffering from cancer.
After an initial emotional reaction, especially from the four marathon first-timers — Cutshall, Oliver, Lindley, and Higgins — they all took a look at the bigger picture. They sent texts to each other and talked about future ideas immediately, but the main reason that they had picked the St. Jude Marathon as their race was the cause.
Cutshall said she was devastated, but still proud in knowing that she managed to raise $1,000 to help fight for the cures of sick children.
There would be other days to race a marathon, they decided, but all the effort they had put into fundraising for the Children’s Hospital would go a long way for kids in need. Brockett, an art teacher and cross country and track and field coach at Science Hill who already had four marathons under her belt, said what was most inspiring to other people in her fundraising was just how many people know or have a connection to a child who benefits from St. Jude’s. Although their races had been canceled, the money would still go a long way.
A spokesman with the organization said that more than $8 million had been raised for the Children’s Research Hospital.
Distance races typically go in rain or shine, but in a video posted on the event’s website, Shadyac explained how too many parts of the course, including spectator spots, were too icy to have the races, how trees and limbs were down, with danger of more falling, and how the number of both volunteers and emergency services personnel had dropped, due to the area being declared a state of emergency.
As disappointed as they were, the runners all agreed that conditions were poor enough to warrant cancellation.
Still, they all decided to run about five miles of the marathon course up to the children’s hospital, a symbolic action for them, showing why they had signed up for the race in the first place. They bundled up in their St. Jude’s Heroes singlets and race numbers and took to the streets.
Brockett said that during their run, people in the city seemed to understand what they were doing and allowed for them to pass through intersections without and delay or trouble.
“They were not kidding,” Oliver said of the conditions. “We’d hit parts of the city where the sidewalks were a solid piece of ice.”
For Brockett, Oliver, Lindley, and Higgins, they didn’t stop there. There were determined to get the distance in. They hopped in their car and drove to Brockett’s family’s house in Nashville, and ran the remaining 21.2 miles on a greenway path, to log the marathon distance, although unofficial.
It’s not easy to get ready for and get on the schedule for another marathon — much planning went into the race. All preparations, including fueling and training, are dialed in as precisely as possible before a marathon. Some have families and jobs, they had to struggle far ahead of time to plan their trip. The group had been regularly meeting for the better part of a year — at 5:15 a.m., before real-life duties began — to get in 20-mile runs as the sun came up.
In the wake of the cancellation, the organizers had offered entry into the upcoming marathons in Arizona and New Orleans, or the St. Jude Country Music Marathon in the spring.
The group settled on a marathon in Charleston, S.C., next month. The runners contacted the organizers of that race about their situation, and asked if they could get in on such short notice. The organizers offered a discounted rate to race.