Kelly & I completed most of our training runs for this race together, and the plan was to stick together as long as possible. So much of running a marathon involves steady, slow pacing at the front end and being able to stick it out through the end. Together we each would be stronger than individually.

Me, Kelly, Amy, Gretchen

On the way to the start line, we met up with Brad and James. I’d ran with Brad for last year’s Knoxville Marathon, and we had similar goals for this race. The first couple of miles were chatty and uneventful. We bypassed the first water stop – at mile 0.5 or something crazy like that – but walked through the stop at mile 2.

Mile 1 – 9:54
Mile 2 – 9:53

I had decided the week prior not to carry my hand-held, given the water stops promises at every 2 mile increments. This proved to be a good plan for me. At most of the stops through the whole race, I walked – taking one cup of water and one cup of Gatorade. Hydration was never an issue for me.

I lost track of Kelly during this water stop, and briefly worried I would be alone for the rest of the race. She caught up with me before we got over the first of two “hills” on the course. More accurately, it was a 40 foot incline/decline on the Rudee Bridge.

Mile 3 – 10:04
Mile 4 – 9:44
Mile 5 – 10:01

There are several out/back parts of this course, and I very much enjoyed seeing other runners coming and going. The first was around the 5.75 marker. We cheered for fellow Knoxville area runners as we passed.

Also, up until the 5 mile marker, our Garmins were spot-on with the mile marker flags. At mile 5, the difference jumped to over a tenth of a mile and never corrected.

Mile 6 – 9:49
Mile 7 – 9:48
Mile 8 – 9:42

One of my favorite points of the race was running through Camp Pendleton.  Soldiers lined up to cheer us on at several different points along the route. One set even got a high-five line going. Their energy could be felt on the course.

After a steady stream of “too fast” miles (goal had been to start at a 10 m/m), Kelly and I purposed to slow down a hair. I’ve had good success with negative splitting a marathon, and wanted to conserve enough early to do it again.

Mile 9 – 10:03
Mile 10 – 9:55
Mile 11 – 9:59

Coming back toward the beach, we hit the Rudee Bridge again. I enjoyed the view of the water, the sail boats, but also the change up of my gate that the incline/decline required.

We then hit the ocean for a mile or so. I loved the beach for view, but the wind was stronger and the “boardwalk” was actually concrete. My body very much welcomed turning back onto the road and the asphalt.

Mile 12 – 10:03
Mile 13 – 9:51
Mile 14 – 9:51
Mile 15 – 9:55

Racers who had completed the half marathon (which started an hour and a half earlier than the full marathon start time) had lined up along Atlantic Avenue to cheer us on. Amy cheered for us at the turn, and a cluster of other Knoxville runners cheered and took pictures a few blocks away.

Before a big race, I like to have a 2 poop morning – one first thing, and one right before the race. The early miles had served as a subtle reminder that only one poop had greeted me before the starting line. Unfortunately by mile 16, the urge became mission critical.

Mile 16 – 9:52
Mile 17 – {15:49+9:31pace} 13:43

Kelly said she needed to go as well, and I was thankful where we chose to stop had 2 porta-potties. I hopped in, hovered, and let ‘er rip. Too late did I reach for the toilet paper, only to discover there was none. What’s a runner to do but pull her pants up and go on with the race?

Instead of doing her business, Kelly decided stretching perked higher on her needs list. Because of this, and my needs-of-the-moment, we stopped at the 2nd set of porta-potties we came across. This one complete with toilet paper. I’ve never been so thankful to have a basic need met before. 

For pacing purposes, I hit “lap” on my watch to see just how fast we were running once our stops on this mile were complete. While this stop did a number on my finishing time (and probably kept me from my goal), the average pace pleased me. It hadn’t done as much damaged as I’d feared.

Mile 18 – 9:55
Mile 19 – 9:49

Bleak. That’s the best word I can use to describe the miles approaching and entering the Fort Story area. While the elevation profile showed this to be a flat course, we could see the slow incline ahead. The course turned to the right, only to provide more of the same daunting incline.

Around mile 19, Kelly started to take walk breaks to change up the muscles her body was using. I switched on my music to keep the self-doubts at bay. She would catch up with me, we would exchange quips about the never ending hill, then she would take another walk break.

Mile 20 – 9:43
Mile 21 – 9:53

Unlike earlier in the race, the only military personnel out were the police stationed along the intersections. My friend Amy, who’d done the half, said they were out in full force when she went through.

Water through this portion also seemed scarce, probably because we had emerged from the desolate, tree covered road to be greeted by warmer temperatures and sunshine as we ran closer to the beach. Best I remember, Kelly took a walk break and we split for good.

Mile 22 – 9:53
Mile 23 – 9:43

When I hit at Atlantic Avenue for the final time, I started picking up the pace. At this point, I started consistently passing all of those dead-runners-walking. Mile 23 was the final water stop I walked through, fearing I wouldn’t get started back if I stopped again.

Mile 24 – 9:30

While I had my doubts around mile 20, I started doing the math and knew a PR was all but guaranteed during the final couple of miles. I’d passed the mimosa stop, the wine stop, and a couple of the beer stops. Just before mile 25, however, I decided to enjoy a luke-warm brew.

Mile 25 – 9:37

With every racer I passed, I started to pick up steam. I took no pleasure in their plight – been there done that – but rather celebrated a smart race and strong body which hadn’t let me down.

Mile 26 – 9:21

Crowd support along the last mile or so was stellar. People were looking at bibs in order to cheer for people by name.  I chicked a few dudes along the way, and hammered down the boardwalk pushing with all I had left.

I heard the Knoxville crew cheer for me from the left as I approached the finish line. At this point my brain and heart had taken over and my body was a non-factor.

Final 0.2 (or 0.5) – {8:46 pace}

Until I ran across the timing mat. Then I wanted to collapse. The race crew knows their stuff and had the swag further down the boardwalk, smartly requiring racers to keep moving. After picking up my swag, I sat down to stretch. Within a couple of minutes I saw Kelly, already rocking her finisher medal.

Final time: 4:21:57
Despite all the time lost in the sh!tter, I have a new PR by almost 4 minutes!!! Of course I’ve poured over the splits, second guessing myself. I shoulda done this and I coulda done that.  The bottom line, however, is that I raced a smart race and earned myself a shiny new personal best (aka time to beat for 2016).

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