Starting Line / Andrea Zucker

5 Things to Know about St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend

Samantha Crespo

Since 2002 more than twenty thousand runners from all over the world will come to Memphis in December for the annual Memphis St. Jude Marathon and half marathon. Considering joining in on the fun? Here are five things you should know:

1. MEMPHIS LOVES ST. JUDE. 

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is known worldwide, but it started in Memphis, thanks to the efforts of entertainer Danny Thomas. His mission remains big but simple: Since its founding in 1962, St. Jude has worked to dramatically increase the survival rate of childhood cancer, and its patients and families never pay for treatment or related travel, housing, or food. Fundraising events like the marathon make that possible.

2. ANYONE CAN PARTICIPATE.

Though you’ll hear it called “The Memphis Marathon” and “race weekend,” the event, in fact, includes a marathon relay, half-marathon, 5K, and Family Fun Run (a one-mile run that encourages families to run with their kids ages 11 years and younger). All races take place Saturday morning. If you’re my speed, you’ll gather up some combination of cowbells, pom-poms, and DIY posters, find a spot along the route, and cheer on the runners. With bands playing along the way and runners accessorized in everything from tutus to Elvis jumpsuits, there are literally zero dull moments in this race.

3. THE RACE ROUTES READ LIKE A BEST-OF MEMPHIS.

Pay attention as you run or cheer: You’re going to want to swing back by some of the places you see along the route. Marathoners will jet past the original restaurants, bars, and shops of the Cooper-Young neighborhood, the 19th-century mansions of Victorian Village, and the National Civil Rights Museum; half-marathoners pass the Memphis Zoo and legendary Sun Studio. However, anyone who’s run this race before will tell you the highlight is running through the St. Jude campus, cheered on by patients and their parents. (It’s okay to get choked up now.) The finish line is pretty-as-a-picture AutoZone Park in Downtown Memphis, home of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

Andrea Zucker

4. THERE’S MUCH TO DO PRE- AND POST-RACE.

Depending on how much time you have before and after the race, you might want to:

  • Carbo-load: Every race weekend, restaurants across Memphis cook up discounts and pasta specials. Take your pick from soul-food dives to Capriccio Grill’s pasta buffet (located inside the posh Peabody Memphis Hotel). 
  • Explore a neighborhood: Downtown Memphis’ South Main Street is a collection of original restaurants, boutiques and galleries, vivid public art, and museums including the Blues Hall of Fame and the National Civil Rights Museum. The latter is a powerful study of the civil rights movement—on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. 
  • Stay out late (maybe after the race):
    • Check out Beale Street, where music streams from every open door—just walk in where you hear something you like. Then, stroll over to South Main Street for late-night eats (the soul burger at Earnestine & Hazel’s is a rite).
    • With extra time, get to a Memphis Grizzlies home game at FedExForum. The Grizz will grit ’n grind against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 3. Your runner’s high can only amplify this city’s hoop lust.

5. THE LOGISTICS ARE EASY.

  • Not registered? As I’m writing this, the half-marathon and marathon relay are already sold out. But you can still register for the marathon, 5K, or Family Fun Run; volunteer; or make a contribution. And anyone can cheerlead. Visit stjudemarathon.org for more info.
  • Wondering where to stay? Since all race events start and finish in Downtown Memphis—and because some critical city streets will close to become race routes—I’d recommend choosing an accommodation in Downtown Memphis. Check out all our hotel listings here. Hotel discounts are listed at stjudemarathon.org.
  • Wondering where to park? Should you need to drive to the start or finish line Saturday morning, know that multiple lots and garages in a 4- to 6-block radius of the start and finish lines are available, most for around $10, but you’ll need to arrive early. A parking map is available at—you guessed it—stjudemarathon.org.