The Lure of the Country Music Medal

I first ran in Nashville in 2000. My friend Brad and I decided running a marathon would be a good idea. We were proven otherwise.

Initially, we began running as a way to stay in shape. We soon became committed to running every day, side by side, or rather, stride by stride. This type of commitment was a trophy in itself, especially since we were college sophomores. Waking up at 6 AM every morning was a feat of will and perseverance, the likes of which our fraternity brothers had never seen before. After pounding the pavement for a solid two months, we got the crazy notion of running a marathon. Skip the 5k, the 10k, or any other sane, normal, Saturday morning beginner run. We went straight for the granddaddy of them all.

Until you run 26.2 miles all at once, that distance on foot defies conceptualization. You can visualize the distance from downtown to Franklin, or picture yourself driving on your morning commute in from the suburbs, but until you pace out all 26.2 miles of it ON FOOT, you have no idea how far that is. Also to our disadvantage was the fact that neither of us had ever raced before, and that the Country Music Marathon was NOT on the list of “Top 10 Marathons for Beginners” on account of its hills and possibility for warm weather. Both of those can combine to produce a runner’s hell that even endorphin euphoria can’t help you escape.

After 12 more weeks (yes, most marathon training calendars call for AT LEAST 18 weeks of training), we arrived at the start line optimistic and excited about our chances for a great morning. We had done one 20-mile training run a few weeks earlier and were confident we could tackle Music City’s hills and weather. Our plan was to stick together the entire race, encouraging each other, and crossing the finish line together, arms and heads raised high in victory. Everyone back at school would idolize us like we were the starting quarterback and wide receiver. In other words, if we wanted athletic glory, we would have to run all 26.2 miles to get it, since genetics left us lacking.

Soon after the start, the clouds cleared, but the crowd didn’t, and Brad and I were separated, never to be reunited. However, the excitement of thousands of fellow runners, the cheerleaders, and the bands kept my adrenaline high, and by mile 6, I could already taste the post-race muffins and bananas. But soon enough, at mile 13.1, it turned out that my hope disappeared with the clouds.

Realizing the winners were already on their way home and that I STILL had 13.1 more miles to go, my gait became slower and less steady. The blazing sun began to inflict its damage and my legs began to cramp on the long hills. I was in my hometown, but felt like a stranger in some weird, running, shoot-me-now world. I couldn’t break through the metaphorical wall that all the long-time marathoners talked about. As miles 14-17 wound around Metro Center, the crowds were thin, and I wondered if I would even finish. Finally, after 5 HOURS of picking up my feet and putting them down, after what seemed like endless turn after endless turn, snaking down Music Row, through Shelby Park, and somehow magically arriving at The Coliseum, I crossed the finish line. Out of breath and with legs nearly numb, I found Brad, who likewise wanted only a recliner, a remote and a beer tap. But, driving home, there was something about that medal that made us both say, “So, when’s our next one?”

Thus is the lure of the Country Music race. She slaps you in the face, but you always come crawling back. I have returned twice since 2000 to the start line, but much less ambitious, only signing up for the half marathon. Brad will be back with me again this year, as we, along with two other college buddies, tame the 13.1 miles of bands, hills, and runners to get our medal and our glory.

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