Friday, April 4, 2014

A PR, Fun With Friends & Another Fantastic Marathon

Haylee and I right after I crossed the line.
It's official. The Knoxville Marathon is my race.

It's the race I want to do every year.

I love it.

After running it for the third year in a row, Knoxville has become THE race I must do. Every year. And I mean: Every. Year.

There are a variety of reasons why I love this race. For one, it's in my backyard. As long as I can remember, I always enjoyed going to Knoxville, and I spent the better part of my college days at nearby Carson-Newman in the city. Secondly, it is a fun and challenging course. Hills. Love the hills. Next, it is so well supported. Every year, it seems more people come out and cheer on the runners. Nothing like a place embracing an event like this.

But the biggest reason I love this race is all the friends I've made in the Knoxville running community. Each year, I've made more friends, making each trip back like a homecoming of sorts. I saw and caught with so many people this year that I would hate to list them all because I know I would forget someone.

This year's was awesome, in part, because I was planning to run it with three of my online running buddies - Kelly and Brooke, who are from the Knoxville area, and Pete, who traveled from Michigan to experience some 'hills.'

Me, Brooke, Kelly, Pete ... and Al Bundy in back.
I already had the pleasure of meeting and running with Kelly and Brooke before as we ran the Iron Horse Half Marathon together last fall, and Brooke ran the Secret City Half back in December when my bride and I ran the relay.

The four of us alone with our families met for dinner on Saturday and then met up early Sunday morning before the race. And you tell in our pre-race photo, awesomeness abounded. (Thanks Al Bundy for making an appearance as well.)

As we slowly made our way to the start line, we met up with some other local runners, and I got to meet another Twitter running buddy, Johnny, for the first time in person.

We got in our corral. Pete was going for a fast time so he got in a corral closer to the start line. I didn't see him again until Mile 21 when he was on Mile 23-24 heading back toward downtown. However, Brooke, Johnny and I along with more new running friends Brad, Amy and Sharon got together in corral D. (NOTE: This was Amy and Sharon's first full marathon! Congrats, ladies!) Not sure where Kelly - who was running the first leg of the 4-person relay, started the race but was able to catch back up with her within few miles.

Brooke hijacked Kelly's phone.
I'm just wanting coffee.
Heading into this race, I had the goal of a time around 4:35 or for an overall pace of 10:30 per mile. That would take roughly 16 minutes off my PR. And honestly, I spent the last couple weeks leading up to the race being wishy-washy on whether I would get this or go all out for this goal or what. I was very non-committal. Even as I was at the expo the day before the race, I was very hesitant on committing.

Yet, race day was here.

And I felt good.

A I-feel-a-PR-coming-on kind of good.

Turns out starting the race with Brooke, Johnny and all was a fortunate piece of coincidence as we all were shooting for about the same time - roughly a 10:30 overall pace. And we ran together for roughly the first half of the race before we began to thin out.

Looking at my splits, I see I really need to work on my endurance some more. Fairly pleased with my time on the first 19-21 miles, but the last five miles were rough. Judging by my splits, I think my issues at the end were due to being a bit faster at the start. And while I LOVED getting to run with someone for the first 16-plus miles, I would have gladly swapped to have them run with me for the last 10 miles instead.

But I am not complaining. Just analyzing my performance and on how I can improve. After all, I did PR - taking 9 minutes, 13 seconds off my time!!!

Mile 1 - 10:26
Mile 2 - 9:55
Mile 3 - 10:09

The first 3 miles went a little faster than planned. Mile 1's split was fine since it was what I call the 'feeling out' phase as the crowded mass raced off and everyone tried to find their spot. The first couple miles are always problematic in that you don't want to get caught up in the mad dash yet worried about starting off too slow. It can be difficult to find your pace right away. Best advice is: don't panic and stick to your plan.

Miles 2 and 3 were faster than desired but part of that was due to their being more downhills during this stretch.

Mile 4 - 10:37
Mile 5 - 10:04
Mile 6 - 9:55
Mile 7 - 10:12

Apparently Amy (in purple, race bib 696) and I were the
only ones aware of the camera.
Mile 4 we hit our first real incline, making it a little slow going for me. Add in the fact chaos at a water stop to gunk up the flow, and a fell back a bit from our group. However, Kelly came out of nowhere and dropped back to join me, and we ran side-by-side for the next 3 miles until her relay was done. 

Because she's a bit of speed demon, Kelly and I ended up ahead of the group. In the grand scheme of things, I was probably faster on this stretch than I should've been. But hey, it's always fun getting to run with with friends.

At the 6.3-mile mark, Kelly was done with her relay portion, and the rest of the group and I motored on. Mile 7 was pretty easy, but we knew what was awaiting up during Mile 8.


Mile 8 - 10:35
Mile 9 - 9:47
Mile 10 - 10:14
Mile 11 - 10:11
Mile 12 - 11:00
Mile 13 - 9:57

As expected, Noelton was a beast. It's long and it's steep. With in a half mile, the elevation goes up 120 feet.

Johnny and I at the halfway mark.
It was great seeing my bride and daughter!
Last year, I ran up it non-stop. Nearly did that again this year, but with a .1 to go to the top, I walked to save some energy for later and to get a GU in me. But I'm very pleased with my 10:35 time on this mile because it is no joke.

The next three miles were nice and easy as the majority of them were downhill or flat with most of this portion on the greenway. No complaints with my time on Miles 9, 10 and 11 as they felt nice an easy, especially not having to fight climbing any hills. 

But as we were ending Mile 11, turning on Cumberland Avenue back toward downtown, our group began to separate. Johnny was having a nagging pain in his quad, so I stayed back with him. We hit Fort Sanders hill and walked up. It's another steep climb with 90 feet of elevation change within 1/4 mile.

Mile 12 was the slowest mile yet, but I got a nice boost during Mile 13 when I saw my bride and daughter at the halfway mark. Haylee ran with me a bit, and I got a quick kiss from my bride. Only saw them for a short time, but knowing they were there to cheer me on helped power me through the rest of the race.

Mile 14 - 10:48
Mile 15 - 11:04
Mile 16 - 10:43

Ran with Johnny during this stretch. We'd run a mile before taking a walk break as he kept trying to work out the tightness in his quad. As this is one of the tougher spots for me during the race, it was nice hanging back with him through these miles.

Mile 17 - 10:54
Mile 18 - 10:48
Mile 19 - 10:43
Mile 20 - 11:09

At some point during Mile 17, I pulled away and left Johnny. I knew he was doing fine overall and he would finish - and post of a PR of his own. Plus, I was on a PR pace for myself. I had to forge on.

Here is where I employed my strategy of running from one water stop to the next. While the weather was perfect with cool temps, I knew I had to make sure I stayed hydrated. I am bad for not drinking enough in cooler/cold weather because I don't feel thirsty. Even though I had a Camelbak with me, I stopped at each water stop for a quick walk/water break.

Mile 21 - 10:39
Mile 22 - 11:27
Mile 23 - 11:27
Mile 24 - 11:26
Mile 25 - 11:58

I am not sure what happened to me during Miles 22-25, but I was struggling. In my previous two Knoxville Marathons, this was a strong stretch for me. I was fading. I still knew I had a PR, but by how much of a PR was coming into question. 

This was where having someone to pace me would've come in handy. I needed someone else barking at me to keep moving forward. 

Mile 26 - 11:03
Mile 26.2 - 1:30ish

Mile 26 is magical at any marathon, but at Knoxville, it's truly special.

As you complete Mile 25, you enter Market Square. By this time of the day, the square is teeming with people at the restaurants and there are hundreds of people cheering you on, shouting encouragement and giving you high-5s.

Immediately after exiting the square, I kept repeating the words: "Think strong. Be Strong. Finish strong." I survived my rough patch and the finish line was in sight.

It's an amazing thing when you see the finish line at a marathon. All the pain you've been feeling somehow disappears. As I entered Neyland Stadium, it was as if I transformed into Usain Bolt because I felt like I was sprinting down that field to the finish line with the greatest of ease. 

Yet another cool shirt & medal
from the Knoxville Marathon.
Official time: 4 hours, 41 minutes, 58 seconds!

That's a 9-minute, 13-second PR!

My overall pace was 10:46. This was the goal I was shooting for, but I am very happy with my performance, taking over 9 minutes off my time and 15 seconds off my overall pace. Plus, this is proof that I can hit my goal of 4:35 with a little better planning and strategy. 

This marathon is not for the faint at heart. It is a toughie. 

But it is so much fun, and the people you meet make it that much more special.


  1. Dang you made me want to run this race!! I'm not sure there is anyone I want to do every single year, that's pretty awesome

    1. Thanks! It is a great race. Highly recommend it.

  2. Wow! What a great race you ran :) Inspiring! I've only ran the half distance and I am still not sure sure if I will ever be able to complete a full, but I love to hear how you tackled the distance.

    1. Thanks! Appreciate your kind words.

      I used to think I would never run more than a half marathon. I just didn't think I could or wanted to run a full. But when I ran 3 halfs within 50 days, I knew it was possible. My body was tested pretty well during that stretch, and so I thought "why not a full?" And the rest, as they as, was history. Four full marathons down, many more to go!

      Happy running!