Okay, so it has been a week since I ran the Knoxville Marathon. After crossing the finish line, a series of events happened that has left me away from social media for almost an entire week. My dad had a heart attack while I was running the marathon and after crossing the finish, I made my way to the hospital. That night, my grandmother passed away as well. Then the next couple of days, I started a new job and then cared for my dad when I got off work. The good news is that my dad is doing much better after having a blockage removed from his heart and he is recovering okay.
So for the race re-cap: This was my second full marathon. Participants had a choice to do a 5K, 1/2 Marathon, two or four person relay, and the full marathon. At the expo, I was shocked at how few people had actually signed up for the full marathon, the majority was running the 1/2. This is probably because the Knoxville marathon is probably one of the hilliest courses in the south east.
My race strategy was to start running with the 4:45 minute pace group and then kick it up at mile 20 if I felt good enough to run the last 6.2 at a faster pace. My goal was to finish under five hours. However, as I always do, once I started the race, I felt like I could go a little faster during the first few miles and I ended up catching up with the 4:30 minute pacer. I knew I could not push it faster than that pace, so I stayed with that pace group for almost the whole race. This was also my first time running in a pace group and I loved having others to share the experience with.
Our pace group used a run/walk method of run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute. This is typically seen in Jeff Galloway programs, which I have not tried yet. I loved this method, especially on the hills. At this pace, we were averaging a one minute walk break at every half mile.
The marathon start was at the Knoxville convention center at the heart of downtown. The first 1-3 miles wrap around the University of Tennessee through Neyland Drive. After taking a left onto Kingston Pike, we traveled approximately another mile before turning left into Cherokee Blvd. into the Sequoyah Hills area. I had trained in this area prior to running the marathon and I was so happy that my training paid off. This section of the course has very steep climbs and rolling hills which last for approximately four miles. The Sequoyah Hills area has very nice homes, well maintained yards, and has the Holston River on the left providing nice scenery. Residents were lining the streets cheering us on and several had placed unique signs such as “Naked Cheerleaders” coming up (with bras hanging on the trees) and the entire what does the fox say song lining the street!
After Sequoyah hills, you get to make a climb back up to Kingston Pike by climbing approximately 155 feet of the notorious Noelton Hill. Again, I was glad that I had ran this section of the course during training and knew how to pace myself.
After climbing back up to Kingston pike, the marathon course leads you to the greenway system. Mind you, 1/2 marathon runners and full marathon runners are sharing the course so it was packed once you get to the greenway. My favorite part of this section was the themed water stations. On the third creek greenway section, there were people dressed up Duck Dynasty Style and they were using duck calls to cheer us on! This was so much fun! Also, there were several bands playing music on this section!
After exiting the greenway system, you get to run back through the university area and eventually get to Worlds Fair Park. At this section, the 1/2 marathoners make their way to the Stadium to finish, while the full marathoners make their way up Central Avenue and North Knox. After the split, the course becomes fairly quiet and isolated. I was thankful to be running in a pace group to keep myself motivated to push harder.
Running in downtown Knoxville you get to see several of the older establishments, businesses, and also several of the non-profit organizations that serve Knoxville’s citizens. At Mile 20, you reach the South Knoxville Bridge and cross the Holston River into the Island Home area. The bridge is scenic and allows you to get the full view of how far you have run already! I hit my wall at approximately mile 22. Somewhere during mile 17-20, my foot started cramping. I believe this was due to the road being tilted and my shoe placing pressure on the side of my foot. I still have a bruise from this, but I started slowing down due to the cramping. Eventually at mile 23, my pace group had gone on without me. I could still see them in the distance and my pace coach had advised me to continue to use the run/walk method and that I would get to the end and maintain and PR. I took his advice.
The island home area, was nice, had a lot of music, but did not have very many spectators cheering us on like the first 1/2 of the course. You basically make a loop around the residences and come back out to Gay Street Bridge at mile 24. You make another very steep climb at this mile marker to get back up to downtown Knoxville.
Mile 25 takes you through market square where there are many spectators. At this point I saw the 4:45 pace group again, but was informed that they were about 5-6 minutes ahead of pace. I just kept repeating my goal of finishing before them in my head and pushed as hard as I could that last mile. Once you get out of market square you can pretty much hear and see the stadium. You cross the starting point at the convention center and then have a huge downhill decline crossing the street to Neyland Stadium. This is deceiving because then you climb another steep hill lasting about .3 miles into the stadium area. After that it is an easy flat section to finish that last .2 into the stadium to cross the finish line!
Pros of the race- I would have done fine not taking a water bottle with me on the course. There were often times multiple water stations with gatorade in the same mile. Many of the stations offered GU, but I don’t use GU, so it didn’t really benefit me personally (they hurt my stomach). I carried my own fuel during the course (nathan’s almond butter, welch’s fruit snacks, and a Picky Bar).
The expo for this race was great! I got two bags of rice (I found this interesting, but I used them to make homemade chicken fried rice after the race!), two peanut butter energy bars from Bear naked, and really awesome coupons in my virtual goody bag. I also picked up an additional t-shirt that has the elevation profile for Noelton Hill on the back and an awesome pint glass as a souvenir. I also ordered a medal holder (I will post a blog about this when it arrives!) for my apartment.
Cons- After the split from the 1/2 marathon course, things get pretty isolated and quiet. This is the time when you really need the motivation to keep pushing hard to the finish. The views are scenic, but if you are a person that feeds off of the energy of the spectators, it takes a lot of willpower and mental strength to keep yourself motivated from mile 15-23.
Summary: I will run this race again. It was an entirely different challenge from the last marathon I ran in DC. The hills in this course are deceiving, but I love challenging myself with the hills of East TN. You also get awesome views of the smoky mountains, all of the cool buildings in Knoxville, and the University of Tennessee! I also enjoyed the pace group I ran with and will probably run with a group for my next road marathon as well!
My chip time at the finish was 4:40:41, which means that I ran this course (which was by far the hardest road course I have ran) a little over 34 minutes faster than my last marathon in October. I set a new PR for myself and that is all I wanted to accomplish!