While it was my 5thrace in only 3 months, the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon had been my focus all year. 3 of the races were part of the high mileage series leading up to the race, and the other 2 were social outings which happen to involve running.
In December, I started training with the Saturday morning run group. My Ragnar teammate Amy took the plunge and signed up to the run 26.2 miles and I enjoyed running with her. My plan was to run the half but the full marathon quickly began calling to me. My buddy Johnny was also planning on tackling the distance, as well as Sharon and Brad, who we met on the training runs.
Despite my attempts to put a positive spin on things, I remained unhappy with my performance at the race 2 years ago.  While one goal was obvious – to PR – I hesitated to share the other goals. In 2012 my ambitious goals came back to haunt me. 
Instead, I did some serious introspection. 4:20 was my ultimate race goal, but why? It was an ambitiously realistic pace. Also, to run a marathon at a 9:5X pace seems fast to me. I remember a time in my running career where a 10 m/m was a goal easy 3 pace. 
My 3rdgoal, but almost as certain as the PR, was to beat my first ever 5K pace 10:56. The more I considered these goals, I realized ultimately I wanted improvement. Meeting these goals would mean incredible improvement really, given the difference between running 3.1 miles and 26.2 miles.
This training cycle has been all about embracing the negative splits, and working with what is before me. The 10 mile race was an epic fail (spoiler alert: the 10 mile pace was slower than Sunday’s marathon pace). My 2 half marathons and the 30K taught me how to start slowly and finish fast – and the great feeling which accompanies negative splits.
My game plan was to run with my training crew. Amy, Sharon, Johnny, and Brad not only were great peeps to chat with and pass the time, also they helped to keep me from going out to fast. I knew going in I’d have a hard time splitting away from them, but I hoped I felt well enough to run my own race on the back half of the course.  My Kentucky buddy Jay joined us in the corral and we all started off together.
Mile 1 – 10:21
Mile 2 – 9:56
Mile 3 – 10:06
Mile 4 – 10:32
Mile 5 – 10:15
Mile 6 – 9:54
I’ve been having foot pain twinges in my foot for the past month or two, but like any good runner I’ve been ignoring it. No real rhyme or reason when it shows up, it just as quickly disappears. During the Sequoia Hills stretch of race, it really started hurting me badly. I always struggle in early miles thinking about the distance ahead, but pair that with foot pain and I really started to freak. Thankfully there was tons of crowd support on this stretch. I acted goofy and distracted myself by snagging high-gives, cheering, and singing.
Mile 7 – 10:15
Mile 8 – 10:21
Mile 9 – 10:01
Mile 10 – 10:21
Noelton and the greenway miles were easy and comfortable. We settled into our pace and just enjoyed the atmosphere. This portion of the race is crowded, and we did a bit of bobbing and weaving to stay on pace. 
Mile 11 – 10:13
Mile 12 – 10:34
The Ft. Sanders area intimidates me, or at least it did. It was that area where my dreams of a sub 2 hour finishing time went down the drain. The long, relentless climb sucked the life out of me. Thankfully we tackled it several times in training. Add that to the slower pace of the marathon (verses the 9:09 I was attempting to maintain for the half last year) and the area was uneventful.
Mile 13 – 10:09 
 
Crossing the bridge through the World’s Fair Park wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I remember 2012, the split was lonely. Seeing the half marathoners breaking off and heading towards the stadium hit me hard. 
This time not so much. 
Maybe it was because I had several distractions – first Amy saw her kids standing on the sidewalk cheering. She hadn’t even finished crying her happy tears when we heard the sirens – presumably for the marathon winner approaching the end.
Mile 14 – 10:19
Mile 15 – 10:18
My tears came under the bridge and shortly after the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry’s building downtown, but sucked it up as we headed into the 4th & Gill area.  I tried to distract myself by chatting with the crew. They, however, weren’t feeling very chatty at the moment. 
Mile 16 – 9:59
Mile 17 – 10:00 
I’m really not sure at what point I broke away, but I almost immediately hooked into the 4:30 pace group. We chatted for a bit and I started drilling the pacer with questions. How should I feel? When should I push? 
He seemed to think I was feeling too good too late in the race. Before I took his advice and picked it up even more, he gave me a piece of advice which stuck with me to the finish line. At some point its gonna suck no matter what pace you run. Might as well go fast.
Mile 18 – 9:39
Mile 19 – 9:32
Heading over the South Knoxville bridge, I started passing people in earnest. They had started their death slog to the finish while I charged ahead. I mentally calculated my “what if” scenarios and realized if I started walking at mile 19, and held a 15 minute mile over the 7 miles, I would still finish with a PR. That knowledge fueled me to push harder going down the hill and into Island home.
Mile 20 – 9:42
Mile 21 – 9:22 
The only out and back portion of the race is on Sevier Avenue, leading into and coming out of Island Home. Unlike my last go-round, I very much enjoyed this section of the race. I saw quite a few of my buddies, got high-fives and waves. 
Mile 22 – 9:44
Mile 23 – 9:48
Surging past the South Knox bridge underpass (where I had sat down 2 years ago), I felt strong and knew I would avoid the wall. 
Mile 24 – 10:14
Mile 25 – 10:11
I passed my friend Blaik in the late miles, and stopped to walk with him for a bit. He’d been ill earlier in the week and had chosen to run any way. I felt bad leaving him, but he had a buddy sticking with him so I knew he wouldn’t be alone for the final miles. Up the last daunting hill and onto the Gay Street bridge, I allowed myself to slow down enough to look to the left. 
Neyland Stadium – The end was near. 
Mile 26 – 9:44
In the final mile, I passed several more people – including one dude bold enough to wear an Alabama boggin’ to a race ending in the UT Volunteer stadium. When I passed him I couldn’t help but taunt him a little. “Sorry dude, you know I gotta. Rocky Top you’ll always be…”
In the last little stretch, I saw several teammates who’d finished their race and were leaving the stadium. It did my heart good to see so many familiar faces as I gathered up my oomph for the home stretch.
Final 0.45 – {9:51}
Chip time: 4:25:49
49 minute PR
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