Saturday, May 11, 2013

There's Nothing Like A PR - 2013 Knoxville Marathon Recap

A beautiful morning for a race. Let's do 26.2!

There! That's my recap!

Now, you know better than that. I love to talk, especially about running. So, sit back because I fear this could get very long.

I went into the 2013 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon with several different goals I wanted to achieve, and I met all but one. And with a little extra work, I might be able to hit that goal next time if everything else comes together like it did for this year's first.

My goals were: 1. finish (check). 2. sub-5 hour time. (check). 3. PR (check). 4. hit 4:45 (not quite). And 5. have fun and enjoy the fun (double check).

In the end, I posted a time of 4:51:11 - 7:32 faster than last year's race (and my first marathon). While I feel I can improve on this, I know I gave it my all because after I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and running hat, I found my beautiful family in the front row of the stands and just collapsed against the padded wall, lying my head on top of the wall.

I had laid it all out on the course. I had nothing left to give. So no regrets on not getting my ultimate goal time for this race of 4:45.

At the start line
That said, I truly believe I can get 4:45 on that course ... one day.

Before I go on, I want to state how much I love this race. It is a hard, hilly course, but that's part of the charm of the race. It's a gorgeous course, and the support in unbelievable! Lots of water stops and the community really gets in on it. The marathon has a contest for the signs/support from the neighbors it winds through, and they really get in to it.

My favorite sequence of signs was in the Sequoya Hills neighborhood. They had several different signs, but the ones that cracked me up were this series of three. First one said, "Naked Cheerleaders 1/2 Mile Ahead" with a huge bra hanging on it. The next one said "Naked Cheerleader 1/4 Mile Ahead" with another bra dangling. Lastly, you saw a ton of clothes lying on the ground with a sign reading "Naked Cheerleaders On Break."

Another reason I love this event is because I've gotten to know so many runners from the Knoxville/east Tennessee that it's like homecoming. Runners are awesome to begin with. It's a big family. And it's always fun to run with friends and family, and that's what it's like when I run races in Tennessee, especially the Knoxville Marathon.

Jacqui and I with some 'idiotic' mustaches on
I didn't intend to spend as much time as I did at the expo, but I kept running into so many familiar faces. I got to meet Jacqui - a fellow Idiots Running Club member, for the first time. And we posed for a photo in true IRC fashion.

Unlike my previous marathons, I was not very nervous or antsy the evening before or even the morning of. Not sure if it was because I felt ready for the race or if it was from hanging out a good friend and race/marathon veteran Saturday evening. Whatever the reason, I went into the race relax and with my plan of attack etched in my brain. I didn't have that last-season anxiety attack. You know what I'm talking about. You're standing there before the race, and in your mind, you're saying to yourself, "What have I gotten myself into? Why the heck am I doing this? This my last marathon. I'm never doing this again."

Which we all know are nothing but lies, lies, lies.

The morning of race was perfect. Clear skies, temps in the 50s. Perfect running weather. The temps were to climb up into the 70s, but I already had a plan of attack to combat that by hitting the aid stations as much as from the 4-mile mark on. I don't like hitting the first aid station because the crowd is usually crazy because the pack hadn't thinned out yet.

As the race got underway, it was a bit packed for the first mile or so as is always expected. Had a time trying to find an open spot to run. As soon as I'd find one, it was close up as others were jockeying to find their spot. But as I closed in on mile 2, the crowds started to disperse and things were opening up.

(NOTE: At the 2-mile mark, I passed an African-American woman wearing an awesome sign on her back. It read: "You just passed a Kenyan. Congrats!")

When I saw this shirt at the expo, I knew I
had to have it! It's so true!
The first 10K was nice. It isn't too hard as long as you don't overdo it. There are some hills with a decent climb at mile 4. I hit the 10K checkpoint in 1:03:03 with a pace of 10:09 per mile - right where I wanted to be.

I didn't have long to celebrate, though, because Noelton Hill was coming up. It is a beast of a hill, starting around the 7-mile mark and climbing nearly 120 feet in elevation in a half mile. In 2012, I had to walk a good portion of this stretch. It was too steep for me. Not this year! I dropped it down a gear and took it slow and steady, conquering Noelton!

Soon after getting over Noelton, the course soon wound its way on to the greenway for the next couple of miles. It was at the 8.5-mile mark that I knew the PR was mine. Wasn't sure if I could break 4:45 since there was still so much race left to go, but I felt good and I knew a PR was in me.

I kept cruising along through the halfway mark, hitting it in 2:15:35 - right on par of where I wanted to be.

But then the third leg of the race bit me in the butt.

The stretch from the 13.1-mark to the 20-mile mark in the Knoxville Marathon kicks my butt. Having run this race twice, I'm trying to figure out why. It could be because of the elation hitting my mark at the halfway point, or the run is more through the city, or that this stretch has more rolling hills that you're aware of when running it. Judging by my Garmin, it could be largely the latter. There are lots of ups and downs on my elevation chart during this stretch.

I struggled through this stretch. But something happened at the 20-mile mark. I got my second wind.

Crossing the 20-mile checkpoint at 3:42:56, I knew the PR was in reach. The 4:45 was doubtful, but I knew I had the PR.

The medal and shirt
The medal
I also got some strange looks at the 20-mile mark as I yelled, "The 10K starts NOW!!!" Oh well, I was just trying to have some fun.

During the final 10K of the race, I used each mile marker as a motivator. As the miles clicked by - 21, 22, 23, 24, I knew I was getting closer and closer to my goal. Mile 24 was a bit of challenge as there was a stiff wind blowing straight in my face. It was difficult, but it didn't deter me. Also, it was about this time that I started noticing the heat. It was approaching the mid-60s, temps I hadn't run in a while. In fact, in two of the runs the week prior to the race, the temps were in the thirties. Still, I forged on.

I powered across the Gay Street Bridge and up the hill and rounded through Market Square - which is in the perfect spot for this race. Right as you hit the 25-mile mark, you're running through this square with hundreds of spectators at the eateries cheering you on. Always good for a third or fourth or fifth wind.

The kids and I after the race
Walking UP the tunnel to bag
check and to the shuttle.
I. WAS. SPENT. And I loved it!
During the final 1.2 miles, my legs were screaming. I wanted to stop. But the finish line was near.

Heading down Clinch Avenue and turned on to Eastbound Road toward the entrance of Neyland Stadium, I kept the finish in mind. I could taste the PR. And then I hit the grass ...

I love the Knoxville Marathon if for nothing else the finish. There is something magical about finishing at the 50-yard line of one of the top college football stadiums in the country. Busting through that tunnel and sprinting to the finish line, I crossed the line in 4:51:11!!!

As I continue to reflect on this race, I get excited about running Knoxville again. In fact, March 30, 2014, can't come fast enough.

Oh yes, I will run Knoxville again!


  1. Love the "you passed a Kenyan." Hahahaha! Love the recap!

    1. Yeah, I had to point out that sign to several others before going on by. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  2. Great recap- I did the half and I felt the same way (and I bought the noelton hill shirt as well) :)

    1. There was no debate whether I'd get the Noelton shirt when I saw it. It's perfect and sums up this race. Thanks for reading and commenting!