I am not ready. But I'm going to do this anyway. Those two thoughts were constant billboards in my mind Saturday morning as I waited for the beginning of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.
I was running the relay, so my part was only around six miles. But I hadn't run regularly for a while and hoped that my recent efforts at the gym would somehow (somehow) see me through.
Thousands of bodies swelled around the starting line close to Union and Second. Helicopters thrummed overhead. Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" pounded from a tower of speakers.
Runners took selfies. Runners checked Facebook. Runners steeled themselves with banal jokes. ("I'm running the half marathon so I'm only 'half' crazy!" Waka, waka.) Mostly, runners talked constantly about running.
I said a quick goodbye to my relay teammates, mentally checked my claustrophobia and security concerns (mass shootings, bombings, etc.), and wandered into the massive crowd at the starting line.
The tall(ish) buildings on Second gave the race a big-city feel. The huge race clock and the great announcer, the music and the sidewalks teeming with a cheerful crowd, set a stage for an impressive race start. I'm not sure if the other 20,000-or-so runners felt this way. But I did, and I swelled with pride because my city was looking so damn fine.
The huge crowd counted down — 3, 2, 1! — and I got fired up with my mind set on the biggest reward for anyone who has run the marathon — the quarter-mile stretch through the St. Jude campus.
The race turned east onto Court, and once my eyes adjusted to the rising sun, I saw something amazing. Down the street's gentle downward slope ran a dense parade of brightly clad bodies from Court Square to Danny Thomas.
My legs hurt. My breathing was off. My gloves were too hot. My music wasn't right. People pushed by me. It sucked. This was close to the Happy Mexican, not even to the second mile. I was in trouble.
I was unhappily juggling all of this around the corner of Georgia and Carolina when I got a shock. An older woman was cheering on the runners when her body suddenly went completely rigid, and she fell stiffly to the ground. I ran toward her and in the split second before I got there, two people were already by her side and another was calling 911.
The situation was well under control, so I rejoined the race. It made me reconsider my health as a gift and be thankful that I could be out on a racecourse at all. My thoughts turned to St. Jude's patients, many of whom would love to complain only about sore legs, dumb music, and rude runners.
All of it silenced my inner crybaby. I pressed on with a renewed strength.
I got dozens of high fives and heartfelt encouragement from random strangers. A guy dressed as a Stormtrooper held a sign that read: "May the Course Be with You."
A turn down Shadyac in the Pinch brought the St. Jude gate into focus. I turned my music off and yelled (like a maniac) to everyone around me: "Pay attention! This is the best part!" And it was.
Running through that campus on that day is a Memphis moment that's incomparable to anything else and indescribable to anyone who hasn't been there. If you can, do it. Pride and joy will melt your face off.
I handed my belt off to my teammate, grateful I hadn't let my team down. But more than that, I felt a joy for my city and its amazing institutions. And I was proud that even though I hadn't felt ready for the race, I did it anyway.