Hail my running brothers and sisters! This past weekend, I went to Knoxville, home of my Alma Mater, the very-proud-stick-it-in-your-ear-I-don’t-care-that-it’s-a-rebuilding-year, University of Tennessee to run the half-marathon. Basically, when I learned that the finish was on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium, I knew that I would be running this race. I had considered doing the full marathon, but knowing that I would do the Country Music Marathon in April, it made more sense to do the half as part of my training.
The race was Sunday morning, and I had stayed at the Hilton Hotel downtown, which was about 3 minutes from the start line. This was nice for me, so I could take care of my “morning rituals” at my hotel instead of standing in line at the porta-potties. The weather was calling for temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s but rainy. Thinking that I was likely to get caught in a thunderstorm (they were calling for those too), I decided to layer-up with my windbreaker vest and some arm sleeves that I could take off if it got too hot. As it turned out, the weather stayed fairly mild but cloudy for me, though I did have to rip off my arm sleeves at mile 2.
I got to the starting line with 10 minutes before the gun went off and made my way to the first corral. My strategy earlier in the week was to run 8:00 miles, so that I wouldn’t burn out my legs for my training runs later in the week. When I got to the starting line, I knew that plan was out the window. I was there to RACE!!! Quickly re-calculating my pace, I thought that if I could run 7:50’s, then I would PR and put my year goal to bed. In my defense, it wasn’t totally my own stupidity or over-abundance of testosterone to blame. In fact, my decision may have been heavily influenced by a talk by Anthony Famiglietti at the expo the day before (I’ll actually talk about that tomorrow. The expo was great, and I have some good stuff).
Miles 3 (7:35) and 4 (7:58) was mostly flat with a long uphill climb along Kingston Pike. Still I was able to keep my strides short and quick, so I wasn’t worried about my time. At the end of mile 4, I did take a little walking break to email my wife and kids where I was (I had drafted 3 emails and saved them on my Blackberry, so that I could send them updates quickly and then get back to the race).
Miles 5 (7:21) and 6 (7:30) were mostly downhill with some rolling hills through Cherokee Boulevard. Cherokee is where all the big houses in Knoxville are, and several people sat in their yards and cheered runners on. I tried to wave and say hi the best I could, but It was a little rough going on some of the uphills.
Miles 7 (7:34) and 8 (7:59) were brutal uphills, particularly at mile 7.5. I trudged up them as best as I could, trying to focus on moving my feet as fast as I could. Needless to say I got winded fast, but I didn’t quit till I got to the end of 8 and emailed the fam again.
Miles 9 (7:38), 10 (7:32), and 11 (7:44) had us going back towards campus on a mostly flat greenway. Despite my times, I could tell that I was starting to lose steam. Unfortunately for me, I was also doing the math in my head, and I figured that even if I could manage sub 9:00’s that I could finish my PR.
Miles 12 (8:33) and 13 (8:17) the wheels came off at least mentally. I had stopped at 12 to update my family, but I couldn’t get my pace back. Granted it felt like I was running with 5 lb bricks around my ankles, but I pulled it together enough to maintain my pride. The cathartic scream as I left the Fort and hit campus helped fortify me a bit as I dug in through the last bit of mileage.
Mile .1 (7:45/mi) was where I saw the runner’s entrance into the stadium. Calling everything that I had left, I sprinted into the stadium and as soon as I hit the field I was doused with sunlight and the spectacle of the Jumbotron showing the runners crossing the finish. I heard my name called out by the announcer as I got closer to the finish line and made my final kick. As I crossed the finish line, I threw my arms in the air and fist-pumped as I watched myself cross the finish on the Jumbotron. That. Was. Awesome!
By that time, I was shredding body heat, so I grabbed a blanket and headed up to the stands to drink some water and take some quick pics.
Then I headed over to Thompson Bowling Arena, where they had the post-race party. On the Jumbotron in the arena, they were showing the finishers cross the finish line and I was able to see the winner of the marathon cross. They had lots of food, the requisite band, and lots of post-race medical support to help administer first aid and help with stretching. Despite the difficulty of the course, this had to have been one of my favorite races. Maybe it was just my inner Volunteer enjoying a race on home turf, but man, I had a blast! Thanks Knoxville!