English teacher Dan Barnes runs half-marathon in support of St. Jude

While accomplishing a lifetime goal and setting an example


Photo courtesy of Dan Barnes.

Featured with his kids’ motivational signs, English teacher Dan Barnes poses with his family after the 2021 St. Jude Memphis Half-Marathon. Barnes raised over $700 for patients at St. Jude. “I think the mental side of [the run was difficult]. Going into the half-marathon the week before, I was just like ‘I haven’t done enough.’ It was just the uncertainty of doing something I’d never done before. But it was everything that I wanted,” Barnes said.

English teacher Dan Barnes stands in the rain at the starting line of the 2021 St. Jude Memphis Half-Marathon, anticipating the sound that would initiate the race. He had spent three months training for the 13-mile course in an unfamiliar city. Barnes looked left and right, heard the start horn, and began to run.

The annual Marathon Weekend takes place 280 miles south of St. Louis in Memphis, Tenn. Racing participants, or St. Jude Heroes, help raise money for the fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

“For me, [the race] was something that I was building up to for a long time. The anticipation was definitely there. I knew I wanted to [run for St. Jude] because years ago, I had two friends run the full marathon for St. Jude and my wife and I drove down there and cheered them on,” Barnes said. “It was really cool. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, if I could ever do something like this, I would want to do this [race],’ not thinking that I’d ever be able to do it. And then yeah, I did it.”

St. Jude is dedicated to helping children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and this marathon stood out to Barnes because it offered a unique opportunity to help the patients there while completing a goal of his.

“[I knew I wanted to run for St. Jude because] I knew that it was gonna be for a bigger cause and that I could help people with it. Because there are other half-marathons and things like that where you just pay money and you run and you get a medal,” Barnes said. “But I actually helped to fundraise money.”

Barnes’ and his followers’ contribution, along with the money raised by other runners, totaled the race’s fundraiser amount to over $12 million. Along with helping St. Jude patients, Barnes had two main goals for himself as he was preparing to participate in the race so that he could challenge himself while running.

“One goal [of mine was that] I didn’t want to stop. I said, ‘I want to run the whole thing.’ There came those parts towards the end [of the half-marathon] where I was like, ‘I’m done, I don’t want to run anymore. I’ve been running for a long time.’ But I just kept pushing myself. And so that was my big thing, I wanted to not stop, and I managed to run the whole thing,” Barnes said. “My second goal was that I wanted to do it in under two hours and 30 minutes and I did it in two hours and 21 minutes. It was one of those rare moments in life where you meet and exceed all of your expectations. It was wonderful.”

In order to meet these goals, Barnes built up from a 5k to a 10k and then to a 15k in addition to following a 12-week training program, it took months of preparation.

“I tried my best to stick to [the training program from] my buddy, [English teacher Scott Kreher] at [Parway] North High,” Barnes said. “I [followed] a schedule [for training]. [It was difficult,] especially in September, when I had to slow it down a little bit because of some knee pain. I was like, ‘this is gonna derail the whole thing,’ but I recovered and it didn’t get in the way of the marathon.”

The marathon course started in downtown Memphis, ran through the campus of the hospital, led into a suburban neighborhood and then finished in the Memphis Redbirds Baseball Stadium.

“[The suburbs] were the most fun because [since] it’s the same course every year, everyone knew that the course was coming through the neighborhood. Everyone was out in their front yards. They had tents set up, people were dressed in costumes and there were signs and food. One family straight up either owned equipment or hired a DJ because there was a DJ in someone’s front yard just spinnin’ records,” Barnes said.

Just 15 minutes before the race, it began to rain. The weather impacted a part of the half-marathon when the runners ran through the hospital campus, usually interacting with the patients they were raising money for along the way.

“Thankfully, for my emotions, it was raining during that part, so a lot of the kids didn’t come down. But normally if it’s bright and sunny, and all the patients come down. Even still, their parents came down and they were saying thank you. So I was running and trying not to bawl,” Barnes said.

For the remainder of the run, Barnes listened to rock music and 2000s hip hop, running faster along with the beat. Supplied with a water bottle at his belt and energy gel packs for calories, Barnes kept running. Two hours and 21 minutes from the start of the half-marathon, Barnes crossed the finish line.

“Actually, as sad as this is, [finishing the race was] really anticlimactic because your families couldn’t congregate at the finish line, with COVID-19. I remember getting really excited when I turned the corner and saw the line. Then I crossed the line and I slowed down, and I just kind of stopped. I looked around and someone handed me a medal. And I was just like, ‘thanks,’” Barnes said. “I was exhausted. I went and found my family. When I was walking back to the car, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, I did it. That’s cool.’”

Barnes and his family celebrated with some Memphis barbecue. A few days later, once he had access to the results, Barnes reflected on the half-marathon.

“I did something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish,” Barnes said. “Mentally, [I was doing] great. I was so excited because, at that point, I knew I had met all of my goals. But like I said, [completing the race] was everything that I wanted it to be. It was wonderful.”

If you’d like to donate to St. Jude in order to support children facing life-threatening diseases, you can visit this website or call (800) 822-6344.