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St. Jude Memphis Marathon Course Strategy

Memphis Marathon Course Report

Memphis Marathon: SO MANY TURNS

Fallback Point: This race is small therefore the fallback point is less relevant; you should start passing people consistently after mile 15.

This course starts and finishes in downtown Memphis, passing every single landmark and attraction the city has to offer, with the exception of Graceland.  If you go into this with open eyes, you will have a wonderful urban race experience that fundraises for one of the best causes out there.  Remarkable crowd support from 7am-11am, after that it thins out considerably.


With less than 3,000 finishers, this race is on the smaller side but it is very well established, supported, and organized.  St. Jude is the title sponsor, and the whole city comes out to support it.  This includes the very young patients, who line the streets and cheer on the runners when you pass the hospital.  *tears*

Points to Ponder:

Do not be fooled, this race is classified as gentle rolling hills.  None of these hills are steep enough to require specific hill training, just be aware that it is not a pancake-flat course.  Historical morning temperatures and humidity levels tend to be within the ranges I like to see until 10am, but the marathon starts at 8:30.  Runners expecting to finish in 5 hours or more may not start until 9am and should consider this if they are considering this race for a PR.   To get 26.2 miles and stay within the city limits, the organizers had to incorporate a lot of turns.  So. Many. Turns.  (52 to be exact)

The Course

Section 1: Miles 1-6

Smaller races tend to be less messy at the start; Memphis is no exception.  Enjoy the views on Riverside Drive, it is really beautiful.  So much so you won’t even notice the first hill!  Be sure to hold back your effort going up, then take a minute of recovery even if you don’t think you need it.  Sit into the uphill as well as the downhill, and don’t speed up too much with the doglegs turns onto Beale and Front Streets.  Every time you accelerate or decelerate, you are using energy that you should be conserving, so your focus should be on resisting the urge to speed up.   You will pass St. Jude’s Hospital between miles 5 and 6, do slow down there a bit and soak in the cheers of the children, thanking you for supporting this race and in turn, their futures.

Section 2: Miles 7-12

Miles 7-10 bring a steady 70ft incline.  Don’t let this psych you out on the elevation map, 70ft rise over 3 miles is a .44% slope.  Think about a treadmill, if you pushed the incline button to 0.5% that’s roughly what this will feel like.  It shouldn’t take too much of a toll physically, and since the turns prevent you from seeing too far ahead, it shouldn’t take a huge toll mentally.  Just lock in and hold back, you shouldn’t feel like you are ‘working’ yet.  The road in this section has significant camber and you may want to stick to the white lines to save your ankles.

Section 3: Miles 13-20

Mile 13 brings a gentle hill that turns into a steeper climb from the 14-15 mile markers near Rhodes College; this is the biggest and steepest climb of the course.  Sharp downhill from 15-16 as you pass the College of Art and Brooks Museum, then the course flattens out until Mile 20.  USE THAT SHARP DOWNHILL FOR RECOVERY.  The name of the game here is to focus on the crowds, your breathing, and make sure you aren’t over-doing it.  This part of the race is mentally taxing, as the paces that felt easy in the beginning are starting to feel harder as time goes on.  Remember that a long steady downhill is coming, be sure you use the first mile for recovery.

Section 4: Miles 21- Finish

Mile 20-21 brings a steep downhill, sit into it and let gravity do the work, bring your heart rate down a bit if you can, but don’t let backing off your effort turn into taking those turns too slowly- your energy reserves are low and we don’t want to waste them on accelerating after every turn. When you cross the Mile 22 marker, lock into your pace and brace yourself: it’s nothing but downhill to the finish line but you’ve gotta navigate 12 dogleg turns to get there.  The first one comes right after you cross the Mile 23 marker.  Negative split to the finish.  

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