Landon Sanford showed up more than 90 minutes late and still finished 34th in his age group.
In every race, there is always one person, someone, who is the last person to cross the start line. At last weekend’s St. Jude Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., this person happened to be someone who slept through not one, but four alarm clocks.
He’s 19-year-old Landon Sanford, and this is his story.
On that rainy Saturday morning, Sanford, a Charleston, S.C., native and freshman at Vanderbilt University, was fast asleep in bed. The night before, he had left a note on the door for his two college roommates that told them to please be quiet as he was running a marathon the next day and needed all the rest he could get.
A thorough person, Sanford set his four alarms, but, for some reason didn’t hear any of them. And to make matters worse, a friend who was running the half-marathon and was to meet Sanford before the race came down with a fever the night before and decided to skip the event without telling him.
And so at 8 a.m. on Saturday, a full hour after the marathon had already started, one of Sanford’s roommates who had read his marathon sign slowly shook him awake.
“I remember looking at the clock and then putting my head back down,” Sanford recalls. “At that moment, I nearly decided to not run the marathon since I was so late.”
But the marathon was a really big deal for Sanford. A cross country runner since seventh grade, the Country Music Marathon was his first venture at 26.2 miles and he had been training 8 to 10 miles a day on average for the past year.
He wasn’t going to miss the show for the world.
“I just hopped out of bed at that point,” Sanford says. “I didn’t even lace up my shoes. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I didn’t even drink water or eat any of the breakfast food I had laid out the night before.”
By the time he got the starting line, it was 8:30 and race organizers had begun rolling up the timing chip mats and taking apart the metal barriers. A race official saw Sanford’s bib and asked him if he was going to run the race.
He nodded and began to do some warm-up stretches.
A local news crew spotted him and started digging into his missed-alarm-clock story and before Sanford could finish his pre-race routine, he was on camera heading down the desolate course.
“The first 5 miles were really lonely,” he now recalls. “There was nobody on the course and people were telling me to not even run on the street, but to stay on the sidewalks. Everyone was really confused when they saw me. And so I ran really fast in those miles—like 7:10 pace.”
Eventually, Sanford began to reel in the walkers. He weaved past them and then he met the joggers. By the time he had caught up to the faster marathoner runners,” Sanford’s legs began to really hurt. “At mile 19 I collapsed,” Sanford remembers. “But it was just my legs tightening up and so I got back up and kept going.”
Sanford’s friends were waiting there for him when he crossed the finish line. In light of his adventures, he clocked a chip time of 3:40:04—good for 334th overall, and 34th in his division out of 137 runners.
“Looking back on it now, I was a very different experience than I what I expected,” Sanford says. “It was a remarkable experience. I’ll never forget running down Broadway in the pouring rain. I learned not to quit; I learned about myself that day.”
This kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants marathon could turn away many runners from the sport, but not Sanford. He says he’s definitely going to tackle the 26.2-mile event again some day and is even considering competing in his first Ironman triathlon. “Yeah, I know,” Sanford says, chuckling. “For that one I’ll have to set five alarms in order to show up on time.”