The Knoxville Marathon is known for its hills
So, I can now officially say that I’ve completed my second marathon! Yay! And I can still walk, which is a bonus. Ok, I’m halfway kidding about that, but I must say that I am recovering much quicker this time. My friend Bruce says that its because I was better trained. I like to say it was my shoes (I love my Newtons, I really should be a sales rep). Yeah, I know, Bruce is right. Since I ran my first marathon in November, I didn’t have to start from square one. So here is a race recap, from start to finish (and a little bit of celebration):
It’s not everyday that I run a marathon in town where I grew up and currently live: Knoxville, TN. So I had to make a big deal about it and let everyone know about the race. I actually created a Facebook event inviting all my friends to come to the marathon to not only cheer for me, but also for the other 7500 racers. I also decided that we should make some fun motivational signs for along the course. I bought a bunch of bright poster board and markers, and took them to Mighty Mud to get everyone involved. A couple of my friends helped, and we strategically placed signs along the course the night before the race:
Shauna helped me install the signs the night before the race
Inspiration. Straight from the movie "Whip It"
I must admit that I have dreamed of fried chicken during 20 mile training races....
So after all of the signs were installed, I went home to relax, carb load and get my gear ready for the next day. I actually changed my outfit idea several times because the forecast for Sunday kept getting hotter (it was supposed to be in the mid 80s!). After everything was gathered and in place -extra sport beans, headphones, sunglasses, split times bracelet I created with paper and packing tape (I had to improvise), I went to bed and slept rather well given the big day ahead of me. I woke up super early just to eat breakfast before 5am, which for those of you who know me, must think I’m absolutely nuts since I am NOT a morning person. At all. I then headed down to the race with my dog in tow. My friend Shauna offered to watch Barbez as she cheered for us on the sidelines. I met up with my running buddy/artist friend/ Mighty Mud Senor Taco Running Club member Amy at the starting line. I’m still impressed that I was able to locate her in the sea of people just minutes before the race.
The course began downtown on the bridge over the World’s Fair Park. The morning was cool and super foggy as we started the race:
Jess and Amy at the super foggy starting line
Amy and I ran the first few miles effortlessly. We make a good running team. I get way too involved in the details like split times and our hydration schedule and “do I have everything I may ever need with me on a race course here in my pockets?” (I’m a former Girl Scout, can you tell?) While Amy is just ready to run. I worry about exactly which pair of socks and shoes to wear and she doesn’t even wear socks. We balance each other out.
So what did we talk about while running? Our next marathon plans, of course. You can’t stop with just one, we’ve discovered. We ran up the big hill on Neyland Drive, then all of the swooping hills on Cherokee Blvd (the Knoxville Marathon is a super hilly course). Amy and I have a strategy for hills, which I learned from my running coach: once you run up the hill, you “fall” down the other side (just stick your leg out and fall) instead of using any effort to actually pick up your legs. Its actually a good way to rest. Well lets just say that there were plenty of resting periods along the course. Once we battled up a hill and got to the other side, we’d yell “fall” and effortlessly pass most of the runners around us. Falling (flying) down hills has become one of my very favorite things to do as a runner. Its the big reward for battling the uphill.
While we were running along Cherokee, Amy and I spotted a soldier running the marathon in full gear including a jacket, pack and boots. We yelled encouraging praise his way, and I vowed to myself not to complain anymore about the heat. It was a truly inspiring site.
After we tackled the steepest hills of the course, we ran past Earth Fare and onto the Third Creek Greenway. We followed the Greenway all the way to Tyson Park. Mighty Mud is just West of the park and at that point of the race, we were greeted by some of our own inspirational signs, Shauna and Barbez. Barbez and Shauna ran with us for a bit (my dog was so excited!) until we ran into yet another Mighty Mud artist friend, Janice and her dog Kelly.
Shauna will now be known to all the marathoners as the "Sexy and I Know It Girl" since she decided to stand next to our sign
Barbez showed up to cheer us on and run a stretch of the race with us
Jess & Amy along the Third Creek Bike Trail, around mile 10
We then ran through Fort Sanders and back to the World’s Fair Park where Amy and I parted ways (she was only running the half marathon that day). It was awesome to run the first 13 miles with her. It made the time go by much faster, and she kept me running at a steady pace. Maybe we’ll get to run a full marathon together in the fall.
So at mile 13, I found myself alone. Luckily I brought music with me. I needed it. The course headed North through the 4th and Gill Neighborhood. The race was starting to get more difficult for me because the heat was causing me to have horrible stomach cramps. If you’re a runner, you know what I mean. It slowed me down tremendously. At that point I realized that I was about 10-15 minutes off my goal time. (grrr. stupid stomach issues). I downed at least two paper cups of Gatorade at each station until I started to feel better. I’d say that I ran a good 5-6 miles with terrible stomach issues. In fact my Mom and sister met me around mile 16 and I just remember screaming obscenities at them about how I was off my goal time and how much my stomach hurt but how I wasn’t going to give up, ever. I didn’t realize it, but they were video taping me! I’m kind of glad my sister had a loud cowbell because it sort of bleeped me out on the video. Ha!!! So I kept pushing on. You want to know what went through my head at that point, when I was feeling my worst and wanted to give up? I already had picked up the race bumper sticker from the expo the day before. I couldn’t put it on my car if I didn’t finish. That is why I didn’t quit the race. Yep. I wanted a bumper sticker. I’m officially ridiculous.
Jess Running through the Old City (mile 18-19)
Miraculously, around mile 19 or so I felt better! The course continued through the Old City and then over the bridge to South Knoxville. I found myself running with the 5:15 pacer. (Yes, off my original goal of 5 hours, but whatever, I was still running at this point). I kept up with him no problem and pretty much stuck with him the rest of the race. In fact, I think I can credit him with keeping me going when I felt like walking. I thought that if I had someone to run with, it would keep me moving and it worked! We talked a bit along the way and it turns out that it was his 47th marathon! Incredible, huh? South Knoxville by far wins the award for the most neighborhood participation- there were many great inspirational signs and neighbors cheering you on. It was just what was needed during the last leg of the race.
As we were looping back around past the Island Home neighborhood and running on a kind of desolate area along the river, around mile 24, I looked out across the water and saw my friend Steve and his wife Kathy paddle boarding down the Tennessee river, in line with the race course. I was so excited to see someone I knew, that I yelled at him at the top of my lungs and he actually heard me even though they were far away. He and Kathy yelled a bunch of encouraging things which kept me going and made me pick up my pace just at time when I thought I had no energy left. It was awesome! And later I found out that Steve was super impressed that I had the energy to yell after running 24 miles.
The race then went across the Gay Street bridge towards downtown and Market Square. I was still neck and neck with the pacer. It was difficult to find the energy to run, but I knew that I had friends waiting on the square and less than 2 miles left in the race. I could do it. Running the whole way. I was so excited to realize that I could finish without walking, especially since I had to walk several miles of my first marathon. I was going to finish strong.
As I turned the corner to Market Square, my sister was there waiting on me with camera in hand. She decided to run with me the length of Market Square (in front of crowds of people, and in a dress). Go Krystal!
Sisters running through Market Square
Jess Running strong through Market Square
As I ran through the square, I ran past many of my cheering friends including Amy, Mike (who had just flow in that morning from a clay conference in Seattle), Shelley and of course my mom and sister. I gave everyone high fives and kept going on to the finish line at the stadium.
The last mile or so was a breeze. I knew I was almost there and I was going to finish faster than my last marathon. I ran passed the World’s Fair Park and the Sunsphere one last time and headed up the hill to the stadium.
Then something amazing happened. The pacer that I had been following actually stopped in the Neyland Stadium tunnel. He was running a bit faster than his projected pace. He let me pass him. In other words, I was running faster than I thought I was! Yes!
So after hearing this amazing news, I sprinted the rest of the way to the finish line inside the stadium, finishing in a respectable 5:14:43. I really wanted to be under 5 hours, but there is always next time. And if I factor in the heat, the many hills, and my three bathroom breaks, I know that it is totally doable in the future. It will happen. Oh and I finished over 25 minutes faster than my first marathon and I didn’t walk at all during this one. So I still won.
Jessica crossing the finish line
Upon leaving the stadium with my newly earned medal, I was chased down by my best friend Stephanie (we’ve been best friends since 6th grade) and her stepdaughter Molly. They had shown up just to see me cross the finish line. It was so great to see them. I watched video of my finish later, and I swear I can hear them yelling in the background. What an awesome way to finish the race!
We had official and unofficial celebrations to commemorate the race. After eating a pint of almond gelato, I showered and went to my team’s weekly outdoor soccer game (just to watch, I promise!) and I got a standing ovation from my team as I tried to run (shuffle) across the field at half time. I was really just trying to avoid walking around the entire field and the ref was about to blow the whistle to start the second half. One of my teammates yelled “haven’t you run enough today?”
So I ate several big meals including sushi and spicy Thai food (my favorite!). On Monday, Amy and I held a big official celebration dinner at where else than where we hold our “running club meetings”- Senor Taco.
And finally, to celebrate both my marathon successes, I got a new tattoo:
Now, time to work on my speed and get back to trail racing. I miss the woods.