“At first an ordeal and then an accomplishment, the daily run becomes a staple, like bread, or wine, a fine marriage, or air. It is also a free pass to friendship.”
~ Benjamin Cheever, Strides

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Knoxville Half Marathon Recap

Race: Knoxville Half Marathon
Distance:  13.1 miles
Date:  April 1, 2012, 7:30am start

Finish time:  2:29:31, 11:25 min/mile average
What sets this race apart: The Hills.

Although I "knew" Knoxville was a hilly course, I didn't fully appreciate that fact until we drove the course after picking up our packets at the expo.  Apparently, I had ignored the scale on the side of this elevation chart.

After driving the course, I began psyching myself out.  I even talked about planning to run the race again NEXT year so that I could make a better showing.  I tried to calm myself with a few cool items I'd bought at the expo and my goodie bag.
Goodie Bag - Nice bag and tech shirt and some other randoms
A new fuel felt.  Adjustable - so as I lose weight, I can adjust.  10oz bottles instead of 7oz.
I actually wore it during the race and loved it.
Bonk Buster Bar - made from natural ingredients.
They gave away samples, tasty. So, I bought one to try on a training run.
Tech shirt, front and back, couldn't resist.
I slept pretty poorly that night.  My nerves the next morning were so bad that I was having major GI tract issues.  I choked down a piece of peanut butter toast and a half a cup of coffee, about half my normal pre-long run meal.  I knew this meant fuel during the race would be an issue, I opened three bags of Sports Beans and put them all into a plastic bag to eat during the race, and planned to drink power aid at every aid station.

We parked near the finish line and walked to the start....along the way noticing the final uphill to the stadium.  We waited in line at the port-a-potties for a last pit stop and even yelled at some random lady that almost walked into one completely ignoring the line of people that had been waiting for 20 minutes.

Yes.  20 minutes, for a race with less than 4,000 racers in the half and full marathon.  There were also approximately 2000 runners for the 5K that started right after the half and full.  Still, I waited longer in the port-a-potty line here than I did at either of the races of 15,000 I've participated in.  Nonetheless, my start time (at the back of corral 3), was only 2 minutes after the gun.

Miles 1-3
My initial plan (without paying any attention to elevation) was to start at a 12 min/mile average for the first mile and than gradually increase the speed throughout the race.  My initial plan also entailed staying with my stepmother for the first part of the race.  I pretty much failed on both plans.

As you can tell from the elevation chart, miles 1-3, after the initial starting hill, were relatively flat to downhill.  In the first half mile, my legs really wanted to move (as if they had a mind of their own - pfft).  I could tell that I was pushing my stepmother faster than she wanted to go, and she was worried that she was holding me back.  After a few words, I decided to go ahead without her...after half a mile.  

Mile 1: 11:15 min/mile average, 246 feet gained in elevation, 191 feet lost
Mile 2: 9:52 min/mile average, 197 feet gained, 273 feet lost
Mile 3: 10:06 min/mile average, 102 feet gained, 143 feet lost

I knew I might be in trouble speed wise when I caught and passed the 10:45 min/mile pacer.  I also took no hydration from the aide stations here.  Why?  Because the first one I passed, I could only hear the people offering water, never saw the power aid.  I took some sips from my belt water, and kept going.

Miles 4-7
Enter Sequoyah Hills.  The first two miles were up and down followed by a relatively flat section just before the BIG hill at mile 7.5 (which I cover in the next section as I consider that the 8th mile).  My first walking-the-hills came in during these up and downs.  I kept it to a minimum though, and used that time as a chance to swallow some sports beans as well.  I passed the talk test too, as some idiot on the side line yelled "it's just Sequoyah Hills, you've done these every day," and I yelled back "No, I haven't, I'm from Columbus, Ohio, it's flat there!"

My 10K split would be a 10K PR, 1:07:31.  When I looked down and realized that time, I began to get concerned that I'd started out too fast.  Especially since, in this section I passed the second aid station and took power aid.  It was basically water it was so watered down.  They had Gu around the end of this bit, but Gu always makes me sick, so I didn't take it.

Mile 4: 11:47 min/mile, 246 feet gained, 87 feet lost
Mile 5: 11:35 min/mile, 129 feet gained, 220 feet lost
Mile 6: 10:07 min/mile, 167 feet gained, 196 feet lost
Mile 7: 11:18 min/mile, 107 feet gained, 110 feet lost

Mile 8: Noelton Hill
I lovingly called this hill the hill of death in my DailyMile post.  During the drive through, Janette and I said we'd run until the Azaleas and then walk. Yeah, um, that didn't happen.  At the time I went through this section, not a single runner was running.  EVERYONE walked the hill.  I ran the dip in between, and then walked the next hill until just before the top.  I knew my brother, sister-in-law and our kiddos would be there to cheer, so I started running before I got over the lip.  I know, cheater. 

I only saw my brother and niece, and I didn't stop to chat.  Based on my 10K time, I knew I now had a chance to meet my spring season half marathon goal of under 2:30, which I never thought would be possible on the Knoxville Hills.  So, I waved and went on.  Turns out, he got there late and missed seeing my Dad or my Husband.  He also didn't see his mom, because he didn't think she'd be as far behind me as she was.  I was booking it, for me, anyway.

Miles 9-11
This is where I faltered mentally.  We entered the green belt right after mile 8, or the start of the 9th mile.  It was basically an up and down bike path through some pretty parks.  Great for training runs, not so great in an already narrow and crowded race.  Luckily, things had spaced out by this point, or this would have been awful. As it was, it was pretty, but this is where I started getting chills and realizing I wasn't fueled properly.  I knew based on my time after 10 miles, I still should reach the 2:30 goal...

This is also where I'd expected to catch up to my Dad and have company for the rest of the race.  Unfortunately for me, he was having a great race, and I never even got close.  Since these hills were more gentle ups and downs, I plunged ahead and tried to keep running throughout.  When the chills hit, I walked the next big uphill to try and down some more sports beans.

Mile 9: 10:51 min/mile, 178 feet gained, 208 feet lost
Mile 10: 12:12 min/mile, 211 feet gained, 216 feet lost
Mile 11: 11:32 min/mile, 260 feet gained, 284 feet lost

Mile 12
When we left the green belt and re-entered the town, I turned the corner and looked straight uphill.  Frustration struck big time.  I KNEW I was close to getting under 2:30 if I could maintain a normal pace for me, but I mentally couldn't run this hill.  I walked it and hated myself a tiny bit.  I didn't even start running immediately when I got to the flat bit, I ate the last of my Sports Beans.
Mile 12: 13:28 min/mile, 575 feet gained, 445 feet lost.

Mile 13-the end
A bit more uphill walked in this mile.  I teased my dad afterwards that I would have been running this if I'd had company.  When I got on the downhill into the stadium, I turned up the speed, but tried to hold a bit back for a sprint to the end.  The finish line was on the 50 yard line of Neyland stadium, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers.  On TV, 50 yards looks so far, but it's really not.  When I rounded the corner and saw how close the finish line was, I sprinted all out.  YAY!  I'd actually saved enough to do a full out sprint!  When I crossed the finish line, the big time clock said 2:31.  I stopped my Garmin, and it said 2:29.  I did a little fist pump, not gonna lie.

I walked through and got my medal and looked for food or Gatorade.  They had ONLY WATER.  I took a water bottle and started looking for family.  They were in the stands, to get to them, I had to exit the field and walk around the stadium until I got to an entrance.  On the way off the field, they had oranges, but were only giving one to each runner.  Apparently, they had more food at the post-race party in the basketball arena, but I never made it over there.  We chatted and waited for my stepmom to finish and then decided to just go to breakfast.

My official time was 2:29:31.  This is a PR for me by 14 minutes and 2 seconds.  It was also my season's time goal, a race early!!!
Stepmom, Dad, Husband and Me - post race
Afterwards, I admitted that I don't need to do this race again to prove I can do it better, LOL.  My family all agreed that we would consider the 4-person marathon relay though, partly because it's fun to all be together.  The course was pretty brutal for those of us unused to hills, and I would work harder to do more hill work before attempting it again.

Lessons I learned?  I will put power aid or Gatorade in my fuel belt water bottles for future races of this distance or longer, not water.  I am going to try various flavors of GU on my next training runs to see if I can find one that doesn't make me nauseous.  Feeling like I don't have enough fuel half-way through the race is not something I care to repeat.  I also need to learn how to cut the corners and run the course properly.  I actually worked harder and ran 13.2, instead of 13.1, miles.

Nonetheless, a season goal and a PR, both in one hilly race!  WOOHOO!  Avery, on the other hand, was not so impressed and really just wanted to taste my medal.
She never feeds me enough.
My family and I forgot to take more pictures at the race, but once the marathon photos are up, I'll share those in a separate post.  I also have a post planned about the craziness of just GETTING to this race.  

Anyone else race this weekend???  How'd it go?

What's the hardest race course you've ever run?


  1. Congratulations, Mandy! That is HUGE PR--wow. Despite all the fueling issues, I'd say it was your day. I hope your target race goes just as well. You're set up for a great spring and summer!

  2. You did amazing!!!!! I am so proud of you - I couldn't run a half with a 6/7 month old! you go girl :)

    and fuel is something I am always confused about. If anything I like dissolving GU's in my water bottle ;P

    1. I hadn't thought of that solution! I like it though!

  3. Way to go!! That's incredible that you got a pr on such a challenging course! Sorry about the nerves, I hate races like that... but you pulled through and did it!

  4. OK, that elevation chart looks like the readout from a heart monitor. Those are some serious hills!! Congrats on your PR - you earned it, you've been training hard and training smart! What a great kickoff for what is looking to be an amazing spring and summer!

  5. WAY TO GO ON THE PR!!!! I knew you would, btw.....but we discussed this! You killed those hills and earned that t-shirt!

    BTW, I could totally look at an elevation chart and not understand it. It sure does look like a readout from a heart monitor!

  6. Holy cow Mandy! That elevation chart made my head spin... I needed a snooze just looking at it and you ran it AND knocked a massive chunk off your PR! Way to go!!!

  7. COngrats on the monster PR on such a tough course no less! WOW! Maybe try Hammer gels. I find them easier on my tummy than GU.
    My toughest course was my first ever half, the one I ran a couple of weeks ago for the 6th time. Obnoxiously hilly yet I keep coming back. Sucker for punishment I guess.

    1. I'm looking into Hammer gels now!

  8. What a huge PR! I always carry Gatorade in my bottle and take water at the stations because I like my Gatorade to be just the right mix. Such a diva!

    So, a 2:15 half is the next goal, right? :)

    1. Ha! I love how you think! Since my next half is next month, I'm aiming for 11 min mile/average, or around 2:24 this time. ;)

  9. You are so awesome! I'm so impressed!


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