Country Music Marathon Course Preview

This is the week! Country Music Marathon is happening this Saturday and runners from all over the country are going to run on some of my favorite (and least favorite) roads to run on. In 6 weeks I will be in similar shoes – I will be racing in a strange city on unfamiliar street. During the madness of my taper I am sure that I will be scouring the internet for anything I can find about the course. In an effort to pay forward what I hope to receive, this post is my attempt to tell you everything you want to know about the Country Music Marathon (and half-marathon) course. Please comment with any questions and I will answer them.

The Country Music Marathon course starts on West End Avenue. This is right next to a really great urban park (Centennial Park) and is also next to Vanderbilt University. The pre-race staging area is in the park. This is where the shuttles will drop you off. You will find plenty of space, but not many places to sit down. There is a building (Arts Center) next to the bag drop that has a parking lot and some picnic tables that make a good place to top off your nutrition and relax your nerves.

The Start:
The Country Music Marathon and Half-Marathon run on the same course until just after mile 11. The start heads towards downtown on West End Avenue. There are rolling hills for the first mile and a half. It is already hard enough to start slow and calm, so be extra careful to stay relaxed on the gentle downhills. There is a great 1/2 mile downhill stretch from mile 1.5 – 2. You run through the heart of downtown and have great views of the honky tonks and the river. Enjoy this, but keep it under control :)

The climb:
From mile 2.5 – mile 4.5 is a long hill. You will run past some beautiful sights and some of the most important buildings in the music industry. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less of a hill (and there is a photographer stationed halfway up the hill). If you went out too fast, this uphill stretch is a great time to stay relaxed and ease into it. You will run past our (world-renowned) symphony hall, the Country Music Hall of fame, the brand new (and huge) Music City Center convention center and round the corner at Nashville (pretty much) only traffic circle which is known for it’s giant statue of dancing naked people. Once you round the circle you are about halfway up the hill. Now you will run up 17th South, a tree-lined street known as “Music Row” which has offices of most major record labels as well as loads of recording studios. At the top of the hill is Belmont University.

The neighborhood:
After that 2 mile hill you will get to take some time running downhill and through one of Nashville’s coolest neighborhoods. Enjoy this time – it is my favorite part of the course. The fans are great on this part of the course too (as long as the weather is nice. After mile 5 you will start to climb a little again, but you will now be at the highest point on the course. From 5 on it is mostly downhill. Sure, there are still hills, but you go down more than you go up.

12th South:
After running down Belmont Blvd you will cut over to 12th South via a curvy little street with lots of family out cheering you on. 12th South is a series of rolling hills past a series of restaurants and bars. The fans are still out, but they are a little more likely to be enjoying the race with a bloody mary. The hills on 12th South are surprisingly challenging. If you are running the half, this is the end of the hard stuff (for the most part). If you are running the full, just enjoy it 😉

The descent:
After 12th South you will cut over to 16th South. There is one more climb to get to 16th, but then there is a nice 2 mile descent. 16th is the other half of “Music Row” and is also filled with record labels, recording studios, and publishing houses. After cruising down 16th you will hang a right at Musica (the naked people statue) and head for The Gulch. You will fly downhill and past a few bars and then you will have a long and flat mile through an area that is quickly becoming less-industrial (I think there are new condos this year, so there may be new fans our cheering).

The split:
After The Gulch you will wind around a few turns toward the Farmer’s Market. This is where the half and the full separate. There will be people yelling at you for a quarter mile telling the half runners (most of the pack) to stay to the right and the full runners to stay to the left. If you are running the half, you can skip to the bottom to the section labeled “The Half finish.”

The projects, the convent and the halfway point:
Ok marathoners, now we get to work. The pack has thinned out considerably and you might find yourself getting a little lonely. You will climb a decent sized hill through the projects and across the interstate until you make a left at the convent. The cool thing about this spot is that the nuns and priests from the convent are manning the water station. Don’t worry, it is just regular water and not holy water or wine :)

After the convent you will hang a right down an oddly serene street that leads you to the middle of nowhere. It is a nice gradual downhill that will take you past the halfway point. If your plan was to wait until halfway to see if you want to speed up a little, wait. Now is not the time.

The hill:
Ugh. This part is miserable. You are in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by concrete. It is hot, lonely, and boring. To make matters worse there is a little out and back section. Just get through it. After the out and back you start to climb the worst hill on the course. A long and steep hill starting just after mile 14. After cresting the hill you get to go back down the hill that you went up after splitting off from the half marathoners. You will likely be passing other marathoners who are still heading out. Try and smile and look relaxed so that damn hill will catch them by surprise as much as it did you. Besides, you are now running downhill so enjoy it :)

The Half finish:
Yes, full marathoners should read this section too. You see, the half and full courses rejoin (though on separate sides of the street and with a rope between them). The full marathoners are at mile 16.5 and the half marathoners are at mile 11.5. There is good course support on this section which is nice. The downside for full marathoners is that you will run right past the finish line knowing that you still have 9 miles to go. Half-marathoners, enjoy your chocolate milk and feel free to read on to hear about all the “fun” you are missing :)

East Nashville:
This is my neighborhood. I run these roads 7 days a week. After passing (not crossing) the finish line you will climb a gentle (but long hill) towards 5 Points. There should be some decent crowds in 5 Points and they are the most likely fans to be drunk. You will run past Nashville Running Company and the water stop will be manned by the East Nasty Running Club. Come back and party with these people later :)

Mile 19.2:
You will pass mile 19.2 during a nice downhill. Perk up and run like you are having a great time. This will be one of the best and loudest cheering houses on the entire course – I guarantee it. :)

After running the half-marathon I am scurrying home to our cheer party (hoping to get there before the elite runners come through). If you were also running the half then feel free to stop by. If you are running the full then feel free to wave as you run by, we will be cheering for YOU :)

The out and back to Shelby Park:
I hate to tell you this, but the last 6 miles are some of the least supported miles on the course. You will run up a gradual hill that is right next to the river, but you can’t see the river. Then you will run around a decent park and there will be a couple of bands and a few fans here and there. After that it is back down the industrial road until you get to…

One last hill:
I am sorry. I don’t know who’s idea this was, but there is a half-mile hill starting at mile 25. It was a dick move. We would take it back if we could. At least there is a water stop at the bottom.

The finish:
After running up the last hill, it is all downhill. Glide towards the stadium for the last half-mile. The fans here are awesome. Try to make it look easy :)


  1. thanks so much…I am coming from out of town and have been super curious. The elevation charts help some but your synopsis is fabulous. Having been to TN in the past (and from the Seattle area) I am still skeptical about the “hills” but any uphill for two miles is worth knowing about. Thanks again, Lynnette.

  2. Welcome to town Lynnette. I hope you have a great time and an awesome race.

  3. Thanks for the info! This is my first full but I live and train in Knoxville. Hopefully my East TN hills have prepared me for this! :)

    1. If you have one the training than I am sure you will be fine. Enjoy your time in Middle Tennessee :)

  4. Hi! Thanks for the info…not going to lie it made even more nervous :) Where would you suggest family that are running the 5k to come watch when they are done? Thanks!

    1. Dawn, you are going to do great!

      It is cool that your family is running the 5k. There are a few factors to consider when deciding where they should watch / cheer.

      1) How fast they are.
      2) How fast you are.
      3) Will they have a car available.

      Assuming they have a car available, I would suggest they meet you at mile 8. They can hop in their car at the finish and take a very quick drive on the interstate to the Wedgewood exit. They can then take Wedgewood to 12th Ave South and park there to cheer. At the corner of 12th and Wedgewood, you will be cresting a hill and have one more climb to go before the nice 2 mile downhill.

      After you go flying by them and their cheers give you a boost, they can then hop back in the car and get to the finish line with plenty of time to get into place to cheer as you cross the finish line. As an alternate to cheering at the finish, they could walk up the Woodland Street bridge and cheer for you as you crest the last hill and start to zoom down to the finish.

      I would double check the math to make sure that will work for your paces (prob not if they are running a 1 hour 5k and you are running a 1:45 half).

      1. Great info, thanks! We are pretty slow, all first timers! There will be more walking in the 5k than running and I hope to finish the half in 2:20-2:30. Think this would still work?

        Also, we will be sticking around on Sunday to explore the city. Any suggestions of what to see and where to eat?

      2. It looks like the MiniMarathon is actually 2.6 miles, so I think this plan will work great. They could even head down 12th (aka Granny White) after cheering you on at the turn and see you again at The Gulch before heading to the finish.

        If you are up to walking around, definitely check out the Country Music Hall of Fame or the Frist Center. There are some amazing restaurants in Nashville right now. Start here:

  5. Watch the Half that is…

  6. Thanks so much! I’m coming up from Atlanta for my first ever marathon and wasn’t sure what to expect. This is a great summary of the course.

    1. Best of luck Karen! Welcome to town :)

Comments are closed.