Erin’s Day — Covenant Health Marathon 5K

Incoming inspiration. You’ve been warned.

For those that may not know this already, my wife Erin started her own fitness journey last year. Yeah, she wanted to lose weight (who doesn’t?) but she was finally ready to tackle some other obstacles in her life including her physical fitness and her overall mood. With the exception of a handful of indulgences she’s always eaten fairly well, so the focus was primarily on cleaning up those loose nutrition ends and getting her to be more mobile.

Simple, right?

The vast majority of people that decide to leave their sedentary lifestyles behind and go full-on into their new lives fail miserably within weeks if not days. Like it or not, no matter your motivation, the odds are stacked against you in those early stages. And those early stages last a long time. Months, in fact. Your dedication has to be armor-plated and you have to be unceasingly forgiving of yourself.

Erin was coming from said sedentary lifestyle and had the same fire and motivation we all have when we’ve “had enough.” She was still new to the fitness game and needed help figuring out where to start and how to get there.

She also wanted to learn how to run.

If you clicked on the above link or if you know me and Erin at all, you’ll know what she has a prosthetic leg and has never been able to properly run for sport. To say the least, Erin’s odds of failure were much worse than yours.

With a lot of persistence, much back-and-forth with the insurance company and the help of a determined prosthetist, Erin was able to get a more athletic prosthesis. After a bit of tinkering to get the fit just right, Erin had more spring in her step than she’d ever had. She was ready to run.

We started her on Couch-to-5K late last year. As many of you know, that’s how I got my start running and it involved starting and failing the program three or four times. Much like the millions of failures I mentioned above, I simply lacked the legit drive to complete the program. Fortunately for Erin, she had a coach — a cheerleader — in me. Unfortunately for me, however, if she failed/quit, it was all on me.


Fast forward to April, 1, 2017. Erin and I stood near the vertical sign welcoming visitors to downtown Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park. Her parents were with us and Erin was calling me “slut” for stretching my hips and hamstrings in my running shorts. We were but a spec in a large group of people that were all there to participate in one of the four races put on by Covenant Health Knoxville. Sunday, April 2, would be the date of the famous full and half marathons and Saturday night was the Kids’ one-mile Fun Run followed by the sold-out 5K. Judging by our orange bibs, we were there for the 5K. This shit was happening. My wife was about to be a 5K runner.

Due to some unfortunate setbacks thanks to allergies and a couple of righteous sinus infections, we agreed to interval out this run. We’d also not been training in a very difficult location and I knew from running this route the two years prior that this route was not an easy one. I was sure she could do it as long as we properly paced ourselves. I also had told her to not worry about finishing at a certain time — your first 5K should be fun and a great starting point, after all. Regardless, she set a goal time of 45 minutes but promised to not be upset if she didn’t hit it. Honestly, I believed she could.

I’ll let her cover the specifics of her race experience but from the coach’s side I heard a bit of grumbling. The start of the race was mostly uphill and involved the inevitable rush around all the walkers that line up in the front. She finished her first mile at a faster pace than she’d ever done it before. That was rad, but that also meant she was exhausted. We walked.

She spent the next few minutes convinced she was doing poorly, even apologizing to me for it. I gave her a few positive words and she received a little liquid encouragement in the form of a water station just past the first mile marker. Despite feeling so rough after the incredibly fast start, she pressed on, ever determined to finish what she’d started. And although she was sure she wasn’t doing well, I noticed my Runtastic app said we were keeping a 16m/mile pace, even with the walking intervals. I was pleased.

The last mile of the race was the easiest with the most downhill runs. The sun had mostly gone down during this time and it wasn’t long before we could see Neyland Stadium, home of our mid-field finish line. A surge of adrenaline goes through the body when you see that place after putting in so much work. She definitely felt it, too, and we agreed to full-on sprint the last 60 yards once we got on the field. So we did.

We crossed the finish line together and I was so overwhelmed with pride and love for my lovely lady. Not going to lie, I nearly cried when I finished my first half marathon. I almost did it again that night. Who cares what the finish time was — I was standing in Neyland Stadium with my arms around the love of my life that had just put her heart into achieving something she never thought possible.

Her official chip time was 49:44, 4:44 over her goal time. Already not bad if you ask me, but it’s incredible when you find out her previous PR for 3.1 was 53:48.

My girl is a 5K finisher, y’all, and I’ve never been more proud of anyone in my life.

It. Is. Done. Covenant Health Half Marathon

It was August 2 when I formally announced I was going to train for a half marathon. That was a full 20 days before I even ran my first 10k, and it would be almost two months later before I announced my registration for my first half. Since September 27 I’ve had the date – April 3, 2016 – on my calendar as the date to dread train properly for be ready for, for better or for worse. I trained a bit, got hurt, lost a lot of motivation, trained a bit more, and before long, April 3 came around and I found myself standing on the bridge at World’s Fair Park, ready to start the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon.

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But we’re already moving just a bit too fast.

The days leading up to the race were nothing out of the ordinary except that I had a confidence I wasn’t used to. In my last running post I mentioned that I had hit 10 miles for the first time in my running career and not only did it feel good, but it flipped my mind from thinking there was no way I could finish 13.1 to knowing I could do it. I spent the next week and a half flying high, ready for the race and not even the least bit nervous.

Saturday: The Day Before The Race

Packet pick-up was at the Holiday Inn in downtown Knoxville, literally right beside the starting line. Pick-up for the Knoxville marathon (and half marathon, and 5k, and kid’s run) was the larger part of a running expo that’s a part of the weekend’s festivities. I mean no disrespect to the event organizers or the vendors that had set up, but unlike last year’s expo, I had zero interest in anything they had to offer me. The day before the race is certainly not a great time to buy new running shoes, I don’t run often enough to pick up any of the tools made for more serious runners, and in my experience, the t-shirts are way overpriced. So Erin and I put our blinders on and made our way to the first table where we picked up my bib, proceeded to chip scan, goodie bag pick-up, and finally, t-shirt pick-up, and then got our butts out of there before someone tried to sell me gels for race day.

I’ll go ahead and say now that while it was full of mostly spam in the form of coupons and ads for other races, this year’s goodie bag was awesome! In addition to some other things, I got an awesome Kashi GoLean bar, some chapstick, and a #865RUN sticker. The shirt is great for this year’s race, and I was pleased that they allowed me to put ‘JTF’ on my bib!

The night before I ran my 10 miler is when Erin and I ended up in Gainsboro, TN eating at the Bull and Thistle where I chowed on a beef wellington, some tempura asparagus, and some cheesy garlic potatoes. I thought it was a great excuse to track down a similar meal the night before 13.1 but since the Knoxville Ice Bears were playing their last home game of the regular season that night, I settled for a ribeye and fries at a chain restaurant and was happy with it.

The night before, the Ice Bears pulled out a victory during a shootout in overtime, which put us back home a lot later than usual. We were playing the same team Saturday night and I was hoping we’d either win or lose, just as long as it wasn’t in overtime so I could get home and get to snoozing. In the end, we lost in regulation and we still, somehow, didn’t get back home until late. By the time I had my bib pinned on and my clothes laid out for race morning, it was nearly 11:30, my alarm was set for 4:45. Awesome.

Race Morning

At 4:45am my alarm started buzzing Lavern Baker’s Saved. I quickly turned it off and immediately went back to sleep…

…almost. Right before drifting off the thought hit me that it was race morning and I was able to jerk myself awake. The minute I rose to my feet, though, I became a nervous wreck. The race was today. No more talking about it – no more plans – no more hopeful scenarios – I was about to line up and make whatever would happen manifest itself. So strange – I had gone from very confident runner the night before to being so nervous I was having to force myself to fuel up (water and whole wheat bagel with a mixture of nutella and almond butter). I got dressed and made up a pre-race cocktail (aka Evlution Nutrition BCAA supplement) and at 6am we were ready to roll.

I sipped my BCAAs in the parking garage while listening to James Brown’s Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) thinking if anything was going to save me it was going to be funk and soul. At 7am Erin and I parted ways and I headed to the cold start line where I’m pretty sure I cut the potty line unintentionally and spent the next half hour bouncing around like I was about to teach class. At this point, somehow, my nerves had gone away.

At 7:30…bang.

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Miles 1-4

The race started off the same exact way last year’s 5K started, which is, unfortunately, up hill. We began going down the Clinch Ave. neighborhood and then cutting through the University of Tennessee campus before running along the Tennessee River. It was here, around mile 2, that my body decided it was pee time already and there was no waiting. You’d think I had been drinking all morning and I was becoming impatient with myself, but either way, that part was over, and I darted out of the porto like (very slow) lightening. I remember passing the mile 3 marker and thinking “I’m not even tired yet…” which was strange for me – with the exception of stopping to pee and walking 10 seconds while downing a bit of water at the first aid station, I had kept my steady pace the entire time. Mile 4 hit right as we entered the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood – the part of the race everyone that’s ever ran it before had warned me about.

Miles 5-8

On one of the earlier hills, I pass a group of 3 running together and one, who was apparently also running her first half, made a comment about one of the baby hills we had just conquered and one of her running mates said “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” No kidding, EVERY person I’ve talked to that has competed in this race has told me that the last bit of Sequoyah Hills was tough, so I took a few deep breaths and made the descent into the valley, knowing we’d have to climb out eventually.

While this neighborhood is feared/respected amongst most of the runners, I’ll have to say it was the highlight of the race for me. A combination of the race volunteers and the residents of the neighborhood made it one of the most fun and challenging stretches I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of running through. Signs lined the median of the neighborhood from beginning to end (a nearly 4 mile stretch) depicting humorous running jokes, random internet memes, and appearances by both Bernie Sanders and President Barack Obama (in cardboard form, of course). Residents were often camped out in their driveway with encouraging signs and pleasant cheers for the runners that passed. One house even offered a fire pit, couches, shots of Fireball Whiskey and a pitcher of Margarita for anyone interested in partaking at 9am. There was also a Star Wars group encouraging folks and I got to high-five Chewbacca for luck!

The final stretch of Sequoyah hit and it hit hard. The hill seemed to stretch forever and was every bit as steep as everyone told me it would be. I took some advice I heard one guy give another young runner and just looked down as much as I could so as to not remind myself that I was going up a massive hill that seemed to have no end. Before long, I made it to the top and began going back downhill again when I saw a sign depicting the hill I had just gone up, the hill I was currently coming down, followed by another hill, and when I looked up, sure enough, we were about to go up again…

Miles 9-11

I made it out of Sequoyah Hills and was well on my way to mile marker 9, realizing I had yet to do intervals at all – I had gotten this far, and through the toughest part of the course, and kept my 11:30-ish pace, which pleased me. It was also at this time I saw my favorite race sign of the day, “If running were easy it would be your mom”, and I made what would be the U-turn to head back east and to the finish line. Miles 9-11 were done mostly on Knoxville’s Third Creek Greenway, which I’d never ran before but enjoyed. Most of the trail is covered by a canopy of trees and often crosses over creeks and by ball fields and picnic areas.

At mile 10, three things happened. 1) I remembered that my longest run to-date was 10 miles, so every step I took past this point was a distance PR. All I had left was a measly 5K. 2) I got hungry. Like, BAD hungry. I had packed the Kashi bar in my pocket and ate half of it at mile 4, the other half around mile 9. 3) It was here that I finally started to feel exhausted. I hit an aid station between mile 10 and 11 and after slowing down to throw back some Powerade, had a very hard time keeping up my pace.

Miles 12-13.1

Mile 12 took me through some neighborhoods in the downtown area I’ve never been through before, and while I’m sure they’re fine (and likely inhabited by local university students), I was not impressed. It may have been because I was so hungry and so tired. I spent miles 12 and most of 13 doing short intervals (Runtastic says mile 12 was my slowest), feeling like I was about to reach full exhaustion, which then made me angry – tired, hungry, and pissed. Awesome.

I had slowed down to an extremely slow trot by the end of mile 12 but knowing I had one tiny little mile remaining was enough to make me tough out the last little bit, thankfully, mostly downhill. When I saw Neyland Stadium approaching, I began to get excited for the first time since starting and gained one last boost of energy as I entered the stadium. The finish line is on the 50-yard line and when I heard the announcer say my name over the intercom, was able to force the last few feet out of my tired legs. I crossed, hit the button on my phone, and then employed my best acting skills as the volunteer draped the finisher medal over my neck, pretending like I was not about to fall over.

I had finished my first half marathon with a time of 02:39:42, and I was very proud. I was also very hungry and I knew if I could stay on my feet just a little bit longer, there’d be pizza waiting for me. I had burned 2,500+ calories.

Post race

Erin was waiting for me in the stands and patiently waited as I downed a bottle of water and helped myself to 4 slices of pizza. I grabbed some more water and we made the trek back to my car and we stopped at McDonald’s on the way home where I ate 10 chicken McNuggets. My hunger was finally curbed (for now).

My feet and ankles were sore, which was expected, so I relaxed just a little and had a hot shower. Before crapping all the way out, though, we made a quick trip to Fleet Feet where I picked up the 13.1 sticker I’ve had my eyes on – I had finally earned it.

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I got home and took a 2 hour nap. It was awesome.

I’ll say that Covenant Health puts on an event like no other and the few thousand volunteers combined with the friendly residents of the neighborhoods we took up that morning came together to give me the most pleasant race experience. So much effort it put into the race for the thousands of runners out there, and I was happy to hear Covenant Health has agreed to sponsor the event until 2019 (and hopefully beyond).

I’m taking this week off from work but I’m still teaching classes at Title Boxing Club. As of 4:30 this morning, my feet are killing me and my left knee has made it hard to walk. I taught the 5:45 class as scheduled and then treated myself to some donuts for breakfast – just one of many rewards I’m allowing myself this week.

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I’ve eaten three already. Bite me.


So that’s the end of that. As of now there are no other races on the agenda, which is unfortunate. I intend to take a few weeks off from running, though, and then start back on it for some summer training. I missed adding last week’s 1 mile run to my table, so here’s the updated version:

This Week

Mileage: 15.5 Miles (24.94km)
Avg. Pace: 11:42/mile (7:16/km)

2016 Running

Runtastic Runs (1/1-Present) 77.68 Miles
Total Yearly Miles 77.68 Miles

Miles Left Until 2016 Goal (350 Miles): 272.32

2016 Race Times

Race Time
Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon 02:39:42

3 Weeks Out, Y’all

Alright, five down, one to go. Just one more mile. I’m so tired. Maybe I should just start walking. NO! Don’t walk. You can’t walk. There’s just one mile left. If you can’t finish six miles, how are you going to finish 13.1 in three weeks? THREE WEEKS, man. I mean, I can finish 13.1 but maybe I just won’t be running it all. Maybe I should’ve had my preworkout before this – it made my run a lot easier last week. A lot faster, too! Man, my pace is sucking it really hard today. I’m going to humiliate myself during this half marathon – probably come in last place.

Question: Does it really matter? I mean, you’re running a half marathon for Christ’s sake. Sure, there will be a lot of other people doing it, but compared to the population of Knoxville, the state of Tennessee, the entire country, you’re doing more than most everyone! Just finishing is a feat in itself! Yeah, but I’m so slow. My PR is going to suck. Who cares, though? The only goal here is to finish, even if you have to wounded aligator across the 50 yard line in Neyland Stadium. And a PR is a PR no matter what the time is. No matter how awesome or how poorly you do, you’re going to PR. A PR is a PR…Unless I DNF. WHAT IF I DNF?

Another question: Why am I using all the acronyms if this is my inner monologue? Half a mile left…

And so went my thoughts during the last mile of my long-ish run on Saturday. I’m truly excited about this race coming up, but I’m also still terrified of embarrassing myself. What I can’t quite figure out is who I’m afraid of embarrassing myself in front of. No one else in my entire family has ever attempted the half-marathon. The few friends I have that have actually participated in them are more than supportive and encouraging and I’m confident they will remain so no matter how I finish. The other runners on the course will start out as anonymous fellow runners and will likely finish the same, and have very little – if any – concern about me or my performance when they have a race of their own to run. Furthermore, I’m a 220 lbs man that’s more into lifting than running nowadays, more concerned with building muscle than shrinking. So who who’s going to be so disappointed in me that it’s stressing me out?

Nobody. At least, I think it’s nobody. Probably all in my head. Definitely all in my head. Part of me thinks that I have this idea that I’m going to disappoint someone or embarrass myself as a means of making myself stay focused; to remind myself that this race does mean something to me.

That’s silly, but whatever it takes, I suppose.

Running this week wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. I still got some miles in but I was hoping to get in at least one more mile than last week’s 7 miles. After my Title Boxing Club Power Hour on Friday, I strapped on the running shoes and hit the trail, looking to run two miles. However, during the entire first mile I kept reminding myself that I had already burned 1,000+ calories during the morning Power Hour and was on the schedule to teach a kickboxing class at noon. So, I mean, 1 mile is pretty good, right? Made sense to me, so I stopped at one mile.

Lame. Weak. Cheater.

Saturday’s run was longer than last week’s but it wasn’t as good. Just like last week, I started off with a 15 minute warm-up at Title and then hit the button on my Runtastic app at the front door, circled the building, ran behind the theatre and started down the beautiful Knoxville 10 Mile Greenway. My goal was 6 miles and almost immediately I started trying to justify only running two. Keep pushing… Okay, maybe I’ll just run 5k. No pain… Fine, all I have to do is run 3 miles and suddenly I don’t have a choice but to have a full 3 miles back to the gym.

I got six miles in, for sure, but I wasn’t super happy with my pace. Wasn’t super happy with my stamina. I made it, and I’m sure I can finish 13.1, but poor runs like this don’t do a lot to help the confidence.

On a few positive notes: it’s near-perfect running weather in Knoxville right now. Temperatures in the 50s-60s before midday, cool breeze in the air. Yesterday was a little bit humid, so my sweat didn’t really go anywhere – just stuck to me like an ogre, making my t-shirt feel like a 50lbs weight vest. I hate heat, but if I’m going to run, I’d much rather be out there when it feels so nice. You’re a runner, you’re supposed to be sweaty and gross.

Speaking of sweaty and gross, here’s a shoe I saw on the side of the trail yesterday. It wasn’t there last week, so I have no idea how it grew moss so quickly. Pretty rad, though:

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21 days until 13.1. 21 days until the true death.

This Week

Mileage 7 Miles (11.27km)
Avg. Pace 11:26/mile (7:06/km)

2016 Running

Runtastic Runs (1/01-Present) 49.18 Miles
Total Yearly Miles 49.18 Miles

Miles Left Until 2016 Goal (350 Miles): 300.82 Miles

Been writing a little more recently and I’m enjoying it. Look out for a few posts soon about how shitty I think gender roles are, and how I’ve recently been questioning how, as a disgusting runner, runners are allowed to be so disgusting.