Cheer, Don’t Complain, for the St. Jude Marathon 

Maybe you've noticed more people running in your neighborhood lately. Some have always been around, but you didn't see them because being outdoors was only bearable from about 4 to 6:15 a.m. due to the humidity. The primary reason, though, is that the St. Jude Marathon is December 1st.

Some runners are crushing 22-milers as they wind down their 16-week training cycles. Others just remembered they signed up for the 10K a few months back and should probably get out there and train a little. That's one of the many reasons the race is special: There's room for everyone, from 5K walkers to elite marathoners.

If you're new to Memphis, or you've never experienced the glorious spectacle of 25,000-plus people taking to the streets to help eradicate childhood cancer, you really should check it out. Of course, all distances besides the full marathon are sold out — so unless you casually run 40 miles a week for kicks, it's too late to register. But there are ways you can support the runners, now and on race day.

Runners ready for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon - ANDREA ZUCKER / © MEMPHIS CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
  • Andrea Zucker / © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Runners ready for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon

The first, easiest way is not to drive like a jerk. In wooded neighborhoods, roots and gumballs turn sidewalks into obstacle courses. One misstep can lead to a rolled ankle or worse. In other areas, sidewalks are poorly kept or nonexistent. Sometimes running in the street is the only choice. I'm constantly surprised and terrified by how fast people drive, often while looking at phones, on the residential streets where I run. Those "Drive like your kids live here" signs don't work so great.

Sharing the road also means respecting crosswalks, those thick white stripes you're supposed to stop behind at red lights. If you're at a light and a runner is crossing, please let them clear the intersection before you turn. Stop before you reach stop signs so people don't have to wait for you to go or run behind your vehicle. Basically, just do everything you were taught in drivers' ed.

And please don't honk your horn at runners, unless they're in danger. Even if your intentions are innocent, understand there's no way to tell — especially for women runners who endure street harassment regularly. Yes, it does happen. If you see someone you know running, just tell them later you saw them. "I see you getting after it! Go on, girl!" can make someone's day, but the sincerity doesn't quite resonate when it's yelled from a moving vehicle.

Please donate, if you can afford it. Fund-raising isn't required, but it's kind of the whole point of the race. The registration fees only cover the cost of putting on the event, which is St. Jude's biggest single-day fund-raiser. Most runners who participate have pledged to raise money as St. Jude Heroes. When a participant commits to a Bronze, Silver, or Gold fund-raising goal, they're on the hook for it.

That's why your runner friends are blowing up your Facebook feed with their personal donation links. Asking people for money is extremely awkward. And if you live in Memphis, chances are everyone you know knows someone else who's raising money, too.

When you help someone achieve their fund-raising goal, you're helping them cruise into race day focused solely on what happens between the start line and the finish. Also, you're literally saving lives.

Finally, please don't be that person who complains about the road closures. They've been doing this thing for 16 years now. The marathon is the first Saturday in December every year. The 2019, 2020, and 2021 races are already scheduled: They'll be on the first Saturday of December, too. The route has been changed this year to lessen the impact on traffic. Signs are posted on the affected streets. All the local news outlets run stories about it. There's an entire website (stjude.org/MarathonNeighbors) with all the information you could possibly need about the road closures. It's less than one day out of the entire year. It raises more than $10 million dollars for pediatric cancer research and has a massive economic impact on the city.

People will still whine about it, though — in spite of those warnings. Please, if you live in Midtown or Downtown, just plan ahead. Find an alternate route to wherever you're going. Make your grocery run Friday night. Crash at someone else's house if you have to. I've had to make arrangements before; I know it's inconvenient. But you know what's super-inconvenient? Kids getting cancer. So keep it to yourself. Figure something out, or better yet, embrace it. Find some poster board and a folding chair and head to the nearest cheering station. Pay close attention to the names on shirts: some are angels, others still fighting. It will inspire you. I hope I see you there.

Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and a digital marketing specialist.

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