Saturday, April 7, 2012

No Foolin'! I Am A Marathoner!

I. Am. A. Marathoner!

I've been thinking about this all week, and I could not think of any better way than with that statement. 

This past Sunday (April Fool's Day), I ran the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon.

Allow me to let that last statement sink in.

I, Jay Stancil, ran a marathon. 

That is a sentence I never ever thought I'd pen. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would run 26.2 miles. At one time. Twas a mere two years ago I had taken up running. My goal then was to run a half marathon. After my first half and then my second one, I still couldn't see myself running a full. Yet, as I headed into the fall racing season with three half marathons lined up, I felt the itch to run a full. So, I signed up for the Knoxville Marathon.
There is so much I want to say about this marathon it is going to take me three posts (at a minimum) to share all I want to say. Topics in these posts will include a race recap (obviously), a long-list of thank you's, and what I learned during training and the race.

Leading up to race day, I didn't of the nervous jitters. I wasn't thinking, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" like I did in the days leading up to my first half marathon. Instead of being nervous, I had nervous energy. I was ready for race day. All I wanted to do was get out there and run.

This is crazy talk, right? I mean, my longest run had been a 20-miler. I had no clue or idea how my body would feel during the final 10K of the race. Still, I was amped up and ready to run, run, run!

Sarah and I before the marathon.
I must add I was very fortunate to have a pacer. And this wasn't just anyone pacing me. It was Sarah Stanley. As part of her 12x12 Project, I was selected to have her join me at a race of my choice to help me get to the finish line. I've known Sarah for over a year and a half through the magic of social media. During that time, she's given me great advice in prepping for me first half among other things. So I knew if anyone was capable of getting me across the finish line, Sarah was more than up to the task.

My goals for the marathon were to finish, and if possible, to post a sub-5 hour time. Honestly, I wasn't stressing about the sub-5 hour goal. That would've been the cherry on top. What I really wanted was to cross that finish line.

Because this was my first marathon, I wanted to try to maintain a nice and easy overall pace. For my recent half marathons, I've been able to average around or below 10 minutes per mile. For this 26.2 jaunt, I wanted keep my overall pace between 11-12 minutes per mile, preferably under 11:30.

Additionally, I planned on taking advantage of all the water stops with the exception of the very first one. (I drank 32 ounces of water within the two hours prior to the race, so I knew I could make it to the second water stop just fine.) I knew as the day progressed it would get warmer, and I wanted to make sure I was hydrated to prevent cramping up late in the race.

My goal for the first 13.1 miles was to post a time in the 2:15-2:20 range. Six weeks prior, I posted a 2:05 half marathon time, so I know this was very doable. I wanted a solid half-marathon time but not at the cost of wearing me down for the last half of the race. Also, if I hit that window, I felt confident I could complete the rest of the course to hit my sub-5 hour goal.

Knowing my goals, Sarah added another tactic to help me reach my goals: taking it easy and even walking some of the hills, especially early in the race to help save my legs for later.

We were greeted with a nice surprise when arriving at the start line: FOG!!!

Getting ready to RUN!!!
Temps felt like they were in the upper 50s. It was comfortable, cool but not chilly. I enjoyed the fog, and it lasted for the first half of the race, keeping the sun off of us for a while. Others solid the humidity was bothersome, and to be honest, I didn't notice.

Anywho ... the race started, and it was slow going right away. I've learned to take the first mile rather easy, and the Knoxville Marathon was pretty packed at the start with the half marathon and marathon relay beginning at the same time. So, I took it easy to allow the crowd to thin out.

The Sunsphere
After a 10:43 first mile, Mile 2 was much quicker thanks to it behind mainly downhill and I posted a 9:45 mile. For the most part, the first 10K - heck, the first half, went normally for me. I was pleased with my 10K split of 1:04:01. It was nice and easy, plus the scenery was gorgeous, running along the Tennessee River and through the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood.

Much of the next stretch was along the Third Creek Greenway, which was fairly smooth with some rolling hills. But before we got there, we were greeted to Noelton hill during Mile 8. This was a steep climb, but it was made bearable thanks to the awesome DJ jamming some tunes. It's 8:30-9 in the morning and there was a party going on! And the music was a wonderful distraction as we climbed ever so slowly up that 155-foot climb.

After conquering Noelton, we hit Kingston Pike again for a short stretch before hopping on the Third Creek Greenway. Really enjoyed the greenway, made me think of the one I frequent in Kingsport, Tenn. Loved running with the extra shade from the trees, and thankful this stretch was around the 9-mile mark before the trail was narrow for a race as we could only go four wide.

We then exited the greenway and hit Cumberland Avenue for a few blocks before heading up Fort Sanders hill. This was 'only' a 105-foot climb, but it felt tougher than Noelton - probably because of it being at mile 12. From there we winded through another neighborhood before weaving way through the World's Fair Park. By this time, we were separated from the half marathon runners, so the pack thinned out considerably.

I hit the halfway mark (13.1 miles) in 2:18:35, so I was on target for my goal pace. However, I was now entering new territory now. It was a new ballgame for me.

The first half of the race took us through the University of Tennessee's campus, quaint neighborhoods and along a beautiful greenway. It was easy mentally for me as all the scenery took my mind off what I was doing. Miles 13-20 are a whole different story. There weren't a lot of climbs but a good number of rolling hills. Also, it was through the downtown area, along the interstate and even on the James White Parkway. I don't know what it is, but running in a city/urban area is tougher for me. Add in the fact the fog was gone and the sun was now beating down on me, I was beginning to feel the run.

The view at Mile 20
The marker for Mile 20 was on the bridge of the James White Parkway going over the Tennessee River. It was beautiful there. So much so I stopped to take a photo.

My pace from Mile 13.1-20 was 12:55. Like I said, this stretch was rough on me. But something happened as I crossed the 20th mile marker. It wasn't anything magical, like I was able to fly around with ease the final 10K of the race. At this point, each mile was a celebration because it was a new milestone for me. I had never done more than 20 miles before, so each step was now a new PR for me.

I also enjoyed last stretch because for the most part, the hills were over. There were a few here and there, but nothing like there was during the first 20 miles. Also, we ran through the Island Home neighborhood and the community was very supportive, coming out and cheering us on and one home offered us bananas and they were already peeled for us!

Sarah's pacing and encouragement really kicked in here. She kept pushing me a little harder. She saw we had a great shot to finish in under 5 hours, and she wanted to make sure I gave it my all to try to reach this goal. Sarah really boosted my ego during Mile 24 when heading back toward downtown Knoxville. There were others still making their way to Island Home and on Mile 21. Sarah told me, "Look at all these people behind you. You are doing great."

After crossing Mile 24, we began heading up to the Gay Street Bridge to head back to downtown for the home stretch. However, a pain flared up in the ball of my right foot. Still, not 100 percent certain what it was or what caused it, but after walking a bit to ease out some of the pain, I determined I much charged on. I made it up the hill to hit Mile 25, and then we turned and ran through Market Square where there are some open-air cafes and restaurants. The patrons cheered us on.

We winded our way back near the start line, down Clinch Avenue and then to 11th Street which turned into Estabrook Road - the street which takes us to Neyland Stadium.

Miles 25-26 were awesome because those who had finished before us were cheering us on. The cheering grew louder as Sarah continued to announce this was my first marathon.

AHHH!!! The finish line!
There was one last, little hill before we entered Neyland. In reality, it's nothing major. But I was dying at this point. My legs had gone 26 miles already and I didn't want anymore hills. After over this hill, the road sloped downward and into the stadium.

And then I saw the grass.

Once I saw the glass, all my pain disappeared and I suddenly became a Kenyan. I don't recall much of that final home stretch. I saw the finish line, and I knew my first goal was in sight. I flew (at least I felt like I was flying) across the finish line. (Here's a video of my finish.)

Then, I immediately went to find my family, nearly missing the volunteers handing me the medal and finisher's hat. I found them and gave my bride a kiss.

Only then did I remember to stop my Garmin. Even with the extra 30 seconds, I made my goal of a sub-5 hour time.


According the splits from the Knoxville Marathon timers, I averaged 11:28 per mile during the final 10K. That's 1:27 better than the previous 6.9 miles.

What was really neat about the finish was I ended up crossing the line with a DailyMile friend Terri who was pacing her friend, Kim, in her first marathon. Sarah and I got to know Kim's husband, Justin, throughout the race because he was EVERYWHERE taking photos. By finishing along side Terri and Kim, I was able to be in some cool finish line photos Justin took.

There is so much more I want to say, but I've gone on enough for one post. So, I'll save them for another post ... or two.

Happy running!


  1. You are a marathoner, my friend, and that is very cool! So great to have finished the race with you!


    1. It was great finishing with you as well. And it feels soooooo good to be a marathoner!

  2. I love your recap, Jay! It was great "meeting" you through this experience. Congrats on your first marathon!!

    1. Thanks, Kim, and it was great meeting you as well. And congrats on your first marathon too!!

  3. Proud of you man. Inspiration to those of us still wanting that medal. Keep it up!

    D. Mackey

  4. Great recap! Once again, congrats, and welcome to the marathon club.