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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
||15.5 Miles (24.94km)
|Runtastic Runs (1/1-Present)
|Total Yearly Miles
Miles Left Until 2016 Goal (350 Miles): 272.32
2016 Race Times
|Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon