Friday, April 4, 2014

Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon (RACE DAY!!)

Time: 3:40.06 (my 2nd fastest marathon!)

10 of 37 Age Group

22 of 226 women

108 of 693 Overall

1st finisher from Chicago hahaha, no seriously.

My last 10k of the day was my fastest. Crazy.

Short Story:

I had an absolute blast running this race. Everything came together and I enjoyed (almost) EVERY. SINGLE. STEP.

The morning ritual:
Woke up at 3am to eat oatmeal and drink some coffee before heading an hour out to Knoxville. One of my favorite parts of race morning is sitting in the dark while eating my breakfast in solitude, reflecting on the race I am about to run. It calms my nerves and gives me clarity and confidence by visualizing how I want this race to go. A large part of distance racing (or just performing) is your mindset. Bad thoughts can quickly sabotage the most prepared runner.

Pre Race:
We hung out in the Hilton until about 15 minutes before the race started. It was a *perfect* 37 degrees with light wind for the 7:30am start. The days preceding the race were in the high 60's!   I quickly said my good byes to my mom and L and slipped into the corral alongside the 3:35 pacer. After a beautiful live singing of the National Anthem, we were off!
Pre race thoughts:
I was pretty psyched to run this race. I had been thinking about it for a few years, but finally pulled the trigger on it this year. I knew there would be hills, and that very little of the course would be just plain flat. This was a little concerning given how flat Chicago is, but I contacted Britt for a training plan and we incorporated loads of hills into my treadmill workouts. I felt fairly confident about the hills and my fitness, but still had the memories of September's Fox Valley marathon fresh in my mind- where my body basically shut down with over 10 miles to go. I had to remind myself over and over again how I fixed that issue, and generally do not usually experience any significant issues or surprises during distance races.

My plan:
The only significant goal I had for this race was to have a ton of fun. My pacing strategy was to start with the 3:35 pacer and stick with her until the half, then take off and slightly negative split the race because the 2nd half was "less hilly" than the 1st half. And yes, I was still concerned about those hillz. There ended up not being more than a quarter mile stretch at a time that was actually flat.


The gun went off and I was following the herd up the first of many hills when all of a sudden SH*T! My sunglasses fell off my hat and onto the ground. I quickly stopped to pick them up and almost got trampled. I totally forgot they were on my hat. DERP! Luckily that was the biggest snafu of the day.
Almost 1200' of gain and 1200' of elevation loss. This course is no joke!

26.2 miles of *almost* pure bliss
So I crossed the start of my 11th marathon and really had no idea how this day was going to go. And I really liked that. I felt fantastic in the early miles and kept with the 3:35 pacer through uphill and downhill. She was so amazing telling us what to expect next on the course to prepare us for our next hill to climb. I played leapfrog with her multiple times in the first 10 miles. She would motor up the gigantic hills while my flat lander self would stay at an even effort and slow down considerably. I'd usually catch back up within a mile or 2 and be all "I can do this. I can BQ." 

As we approached the truly gigantic mountain to climb around mil 7, I heard the pacer say "It's really steep and then levels off" that's all I heard before we started our ascent of Noelton hill. When I saw this hill I said HOLY SH*T. I almost considered walking up this beast because running wasn't really getting me too far too fast, but I just slowed a ton, shortened my stride and kept my head down and kept on keeping on. When I reached the level part I was all "that wasn't too bad..." until I looked up only to realize we were HALF WAY THERE. Holy HILL this thing was a monster. I might have muttered more expletives while climbing the 2nd half of this hill. At least it was the worst one of the day.
Running up a hill and trying to stay positive...

It took me a few miles to rejoin the pace group, but when I did the pacer asked how I was doing. Pro tip: If you are a pacer, take a lesson from this gal. It was amazing and encouraging to hear her ask me how I was (each time I rejoined the group) and consequently kept me in a positive freaking mood during these most difficult parts. By mile 10 and another significant incline, I lost the pacer. My positive thoughts were fading fast, and running was starting to feel labored. 

I hit a mental wall here. BOOM. While I had abandoned the BQ by this point, I was still upset that I wasn't going as fast as I thought I could be...I mean, I freaking wanted to BQ so bad and it was slowly slipping out of reach with every hill (Delusional since I had no idea how the hills would affect me). Around mile 12 I saw my mom and L and I shed the Owl Head Hat and my gloves.. Seeing them encouraged me a bit but I was still fighting some hilly demons. I thought about what Coach Britt reminded me "you're choosing to do this and you can choose your attitude towards the situation."
Shedding my gloves and Owl head hat around mile 12.

As soon as I split from the halfers, things got lonely and windy. I suddenly cursed myself for ditching the gloves and hat because the wind was so cold. It was crazy how I felt like there was a headwind even when I would turn 90 degrees down another block. My hands were swollen and painful. I was starting to question why I was doing this... yada yada yada.  Then all of a sudden, without warning, my mood turned around because a song came on my ipod that I needed to hear.
I was on my own after the half... Almost..


As the Macklemore song "Thrift Shop" started playing, I started singing and dancing along with it. The few other runners, spectators, police officers must have thought I went crazy at this point but I picked up the pace and began passing runners I hadn't seen since long before mile 10. As I passed these runners from the full and the relay, we exchanged encouraging words. I was on top of the world. I thought multiple times of Erin during this time. Her Oakland Marathon Recap was nothing short of amazing. Something that resonated with me that she wrote was "If you expect PR's, you will be sorely disappointed 99% of the time." She also chose to celebrate her marathon even when she realized her goal was out of reach. I attempted to do the same.  I train for these events because I genuinely love running. Of course PRs are nice, but I simply love this sport. Around mile 15 I started smiling and dancing and truly enjoying myself on this course. 
Enjoying every single step around mile 18.

Mile 18 while singing and dancing my way through the suburbs of Knoxville, I saw my mom and L again.  I was so happy to see them and was feeling great. I thought about a message Michelle had sent me before the race- where she said that when we side 5'd in Fox Valley it turned her mood around considerably, and how if I wasn't feeling good, that I should do the same. While singing and dancing, I started hi-5ing everyone I saw on the course. The spectators, the volunteers, the police officers directing traffic all got high 5's and thank you's. I was flying on the course by this point. With 8 miles to go I was having a blast.

All smilez with a few milez to go

Running over the huge bridge around mile 21 was amazing! The views were spectacular and motivated me to keep pushing along. More hillz  sucked the life out of me but I continued to have a big goofy grin on my face. With 2 miles to go I was getting tired and my enthusiasm was waning. I continued to high 5 anyone and everyone in sight and got the people sitting at the cafes to cheer as I ran by. One last significant uphill kicked my butt, but a little while later was a crazy steep down hill.I chose to fly down that sucka knowing full well that with my fatigued muscles I could trip easily and roll down it. But I was willing to risk it. I passed more marathoners and relayers and even some halfers at this point as I was enveloped by the shadows of Neyland stadium. I was minutes away from crossing the finish of #11.
I started to cry at this point. I was so freaking happy to be feeling so ridiculously fantastic as I entered Neyland. I was so proud of myself for 10 weeks of training, for feeling great and for conquering all those darn hills. As I started running on the grass my smile was ear to ear and I was happier than I ever though possible after 26.2 miles. Everything clicked. I felt great almost the entire 26.2. It was bliss. 
This was a long overdue celebration especially after the major bonkfest I had at the Fox Valley Marathon of 2013.
I hadn't had a decent marathon since 2012, when I ran Fox Valley the first time. That was the last time everything "came together" where I truly felt confident and good.
Celebrating post race with L and my Mom.

Even with all the hills, and missing my arbitrary goal time by 7 minutes here in Knoxville, this race was exactly what I needed to nourish my runner soul and give me the confidence and motivation to keep on keeping on in this distance.
The Race:
The course started in the shadow of the Sun Sphere and went through many beautiful suburbs of Knoxville. The tree lined streets, the beautiful large houses and friendly volunteers made this race so enjoyable. I absolutely loved how "chill" this race was.  The expo was adequate for this size of race (7,000 participants between all the distances) and had over 65 vendors selling apparel, nutrition, shoes, other race entries and anything else running related. 
The Sun Sphere. Remnant of the World Fair 1982.

This race is hilly. Like, really hilly. It is by no means a PR course, unless of course you train on terrain like this most of the time. It was a good challenge to run these hills, and I felt my training was adequate to prepare me to feel as comfortable as possible on this course. (100% treadmill hillz!) The first half has more crowd support, and once I cut away from the half to continue on, I found I was running by myself for long stretches of the course. At times I wondered if I was on the course- but then would see an officer or volunteer directing traffic and the runners the correct way.

The aid station volunteers were very enthusiastic. One aid station was "Duck Dynasty" themed- complete with everyone in camo and the kids and adults using the duck calls to quack at us. I thought I had seen just about every possible race sign ever, but Knoxville surprised me. In the first half somewhere there was a sign that said "Naked Cheerleaders, half mile up the road." A quarter mile later, "Naked cheerleaders, quarter mile ahead." A quarter mile later there was a sign "Naked cheerleaders, ON BREAK" complete with pom poms on the ground...
Photo from the Knoxville Marathon Facebook Page

 There were ample aid stations (filled with smiling volunteers), live bands almost every mile or 2, nothing was left to chance by the race and was extremely well organized.
Photo from the Knoxville Marathon Facebook Page

This race has all the amenities of a big city race, but with a more intimate small town feel, filled with southern hospitality and charm.
And of course, I was celebrating with a beer post race in the newest addition to my race pint mug collection...



  1. Congratulations girl! GREAT race! Great recap... way to show those hills who is boss! Totally inspiring... makes me want to run... and that is what running does... makes you want it!

    1. Thank you :) it deinitely makes me want to run more when everything comes together. Runners high definitely exists.

  2. OMG! What a fun race!!!! Wow! I LOVE themed aid stations! The Madison Marathon did that when I ran it in 2011 and I thought it was the best ever. And the naked cheerleaders! HA!

    I love that you rallied and came back to have a blast. That is such great advice from Britt... and not just about running but the rest of live! We choose our attitude! It's one of the few things left we have control over! Ha!

    I am so happy you enjoyed the race and felt like you got back to a good marathon! :)

  3. Great recap. I think actually having fun running a marathon may be a bigger accomplishment than PR'ing.

  4. So being the sap I am, I am holding back sobs right now. I firstly, and truly proud of you for pushing yourself and remaining positive despite the crazy hills...I secondly felt every step of this race with this recap, and thought of you ALL day during your race, and even the days preceding. Thirdly...I am touched I played a part, no matter how big or small, in the success of your race.
    I am in awe of the people I've met in my short 3 years here...and this is a reminder of what a blessing we can be to one another.
    Dammit you made me tear up. xoxoxo So proud of you.

  5. what an awesome recap! My last 5k I did the same thing, high fived everyone and had fun. Of course this was Britt's suggestion... ;)

    1. High 5's can change the mood of race instantly for the better :)

  6. Ha, I love the "cheerleader" signs. Clever. Anyway, great race. Sounds like a lot of hillz, but you were able to own them. Glad you were able to recover your sunglasses without getting trampled. :) The course looks cool, and I love the perspective of the pic of the finish line in the football stadium. Your 2nd half of the marathon reminds me of running NYC marathon. I high-fived about 1,000 people and it really energized me! Marathons are one of the few times I tear up. The overload of endorphins and the magic of it all is such an awesome experience. Congrats!

  7. Congratulations on a great race, I love that you were able to kick back and enjoy the run and celebrate something that you love to do so much. All the pictures look great and you do look happy crossing that finish line!

  8. I love this post!! I always get so sad when other runners are so hard on themselves over PR's. I don't personally know any elites or anyone who does this for money, so PR or no PR, hitting your goal or not ... doesn't matter. What matters is how much you enjoy it. Sure, PR-ing is enjoyable, but not every race can be a PR. So I'm glad to read that you enjoyed yourself out there!

    1. If we aren't enjoying ourselves during these events or training, what's the point? I can see getting down a bit after training for a while and putting so much effort only to have it not go as planned (I've been there), but as you said PRs don't matter. It's all about perspective :)

  9. Xaar! So sorry about being MIA on the blogosphere over the past few weeks. I've been reading all of your posts but not commenting as of late. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS on your amazing, amazing race. You have the best attitude ever, and it makes me so happy to hear that you enjoyed yourself so much out there! The naked cheerleaders signs made me laugh out loud. And I agree wholeheartedly with Jeff H's comment that having fun while running a marathon is a bigger accomplishment than a PR. And YOU NAILED IT!!!! BIG HUGS!!!!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words lady :) I've been MIA around the bloggy world too- so no worries. I do the blog for fun and the minute it stresses me out I take a step back. Work has been busy too. Ugh.

  10. Congratulations!! I ran Chicago for the first time last year and I decided to only use my Garmin for heart rate and run by feel and ENJOY myself. It was my best marathon yet. I used to be PR obsessed until I finally figured out that having fun > PR. :) Glad you had a great race!

  11. Girl. Woman. Delayed "official" congratulations on my end, but I am so incredibly proud of you. Aside from the as-is-to-be-expected race-day stalking (wherein I had a complete freak-out moment when I realized I didn't know your surname- HAHAHA!), I have been so thrilled to follow your training and your focus for this race for the past few months. You went into race day coolly confident and calm in your training, and you laid it all out there and ran without regrets. The pictures speak volumes; if there is ever a picture of the happy runner, you should start charging Getty to use your likeness. :) Seriously though, we all know that running and marathoning isn't always about the time on the clock (though we all have a nice low one!), but sometimes a good solid race, regardless of time or goal realization or whatever, is exactly what we need to hit a big mental "reset" on our mindset, our fear of failure, to get us back to that place where we know in our heart of hearts that, at the end of the day, we do this shit not because of the PR but because we love to... and we're made to. I won't even say "I'm sorry you didn't PR" because it's inconsequential. You ran a kickass race and had an awesome winter of training. You have so many good things in store for you, and I can't wait to see how they unfold. Thank you for being such an inspiration and an awesome reminder to all of us what running's really about, at the end of the day. xo

  12. Just had a chance to read your post. Wow and congratulations!! Love, love your attitude. I am pretty hard on myself for not reaching a PR that I set out to. There is nothing wrong with running for a PR but the point is not to get so upset if you don't make it and of course to have fun at the race. You look so cute in your photos and I love your skirt.

  13. I'm late to this race recap because of tax season, great job! 1200 of elevation gain/loss is no joke, wow! For comparison, the SF marathon has a elevation gain/loss of 990 feet, and is regarded as a tough course - and you just did 1200 feet! Can't imagine what you would do on a flatter ish course - seems like there you would get your BQ.

    Sounds like you ran a perfect race! Funny, seems like you were solo in a lot of the pics, was that weird to run solo that much? And some great pics!

    Thanks again for that shoe lineup post, I might look into buying at least 1 other pair soon.

    And Brazil World Cup is fast approaching! ESPN has had some good soccer specials on, especially the one about the 1950 world cup that they lost.