In a previous post, I wrote how I was the marathon Pacer captain. I arranged for all the pacers to arrive well before race start at a central location order for us to have a group picture taken and to take care of any last minute items.
Everyone showed up right on time and not only did we get the group picture taken but we had plenty of time to mill around before the race started. I found the Marathon Manic group and met some of the other maniacs running in the race. The were four of us maniacs who were pacing but a fair number of others running.
As it got closer to race start for the 2012 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, we headed out toward the corrals so that we could line up. I had brought my backpack with some extra stuff that we might need before race start. It was my intention to use the bag check service, something I had never done before at a race. It was painless. Part of the runner’s bib had a tab with my bib number and attached it to my backpack and gave it to the volunteers.
After dropping off my gear, I wandered out into the 5 hour corral and tried to find the middle of it. We didn’t have a 5:45 Pacer so as long as I was behind Lyle the 5:15 Pacer, I would be fine. We had about 10 minutes before the start, so I held up my flag so that people could see me.
I was quite worried leading up to race start, how was I going to know what a 12:36 minute per mile pace felt like? I had no clue and was worried about going out too fast at race start. There would be the Lyle ahead of me and as long as I stayed behind him, that would help gauge my timing but it would not be enough to be accurate.
It wasn’t until I was in the corral and people milling around that I saw the solution to my dilemma. Around me were a large group of people that felt they should run at the speed I was advertising. Ah-Ha, that was the answer. I will pace off these people until Mile 1 then I could adjust accordingly.
The forecast for Knoxville was on the warm side, but there was an early morning fog that blanketed Knoxville. It was an early morning temporary layer of protection for the runners, but the question was “how long would it last?”
Once the gun fired to commence the race, I estimated that it took me about 3 minutes or so to cross the starting line. This was important because for most of the runners, the chip (or net) time constitutes our Official Time. So by starting my watch at the starting line and using the cheat sheet I had pinned to my bib I would know how well I was doing finishing at the to the goal time.
There’s a lot of excitement at the start of the marathon and whether you are running your 1st or 20th, you can get caught up in it. For the more seasoned marathoners, it is a little easier to be aware that you are getting caught in the excitement. I was trying not to be too excited and lose track of my pace and speed up.
During the first mile, I found a groove that seemed to feel decent for those running around me. The question, however, was this the right pace? If I was running too fast, I would have to slow down and that would be more difficult. If I was running too slow, I would have time to make up the time gradually over the rest of the course. At mile 1 my pace was 12:38, just 2 seconds off! It felt good too, so I kept it up.
One thing that worried me at the time was that I could still see the 5:15 pacer in front of me around mile 3. I know now that I should have expected it since our overall paces were pretty close, it would take some time to get some good separation. Also, once we got onto Cherokee Boulevard, there are enough curves and hills that he wouldn’t be visible for long.
Mile 4 (-3 seconds)
At mile 4, going into Cherokee Boulevard, I was 3 seconds faster than the goal time for that mile split. Cherokee Boulevard consists of rolling, twisting hills among some of pricier homes in Knoxville. Nothing too steep but some spots can be challenging, also going through Cherokee Boulevard, you know that the Noelton Hill will be shortly after this section of the course.
At some point during Cherokee Boulevard, I had the urge to “go”. Cherokee Boulevard has some rather expensive houses with manicured yards, something you might find in a fancy home magazine. I had to wait until the park area of the neighborhood before I could deviate from the course and find a tree.
One of the runners in the current group with me, agreed to hold my flag so that I could take care of business. I was a little surprised at how well hydrated I was since it took me longer than I expected. I was forced to actually run at a decent pace to catch back up with the guy who had my flag.
Mile 8 (-1 minute 41 seconds)
Since the Noelton Hill presents a unique challenge. It’s pretty steep for a bit, then a slight reprieve, then goes back to steep again. My Mile 6 and 7 splits were pretty fast, each around 45 seconds faster than average pace. I did this knowing that I could relax on Noelton and not try to push as hard up the hill, I had enough time “banked” that I didn’t have to worry about needing to play catch up.
Usually, I attack hills. I like to eat hills for breakfast. I try to keep my pace up a hill and not relax until I am over the crest. However, because of the size of Noelton, I was running an endurance length race and I was a pacer, I didn’t approach Noelton as if I just landed at Normandy. I slowed down slightly so that I could talk to the runner with me on how to overcome the hill.
It worked out just fine. We made it up the hill and slowed down through the water stop at the top. Going into Third Creek Greenway, I still felt great with both how I was feeling and how the pace felt. The next couple of miles travelled down Third Creek Greenway which was a little crowded, Fort Sander’s Area and then through World’s Fair Park where the 1/2 marathons split off to go to the finish.
Mile 12 (-50 seconds)
As we approached the midway point, the fog that had been protecting us from the sun had all but evaporated away. With the sun higher in the sky, the amount of shade available was dwindling as well. It would now start to get hotter and with the exposure to the sun, the heat would begin to cause havoc among the runners.
I drank something at every stop that I could, not a lot, but enough to ward off dehydrating. I had been alone for a couple of miles until I picked up a runner near mile 14. We talked for most of the time about lots of topics ranging from religion to parenting and of course running. At the Water Stop around Mile 17, she disappeared, I’m guessing that she needed to take a break because when I looked back after passing through the water stop, I didn’t see her.
Mile 20 (+1 minute 19 seconds)
So by Mile 20, all the extra time that I had banked, I spent. I spent it on the effects of the sun on a cloudless day. Now that we were going into the Island Home section of the course, it would be more forgiving. Most of the mileage between 20 and 24 is pretty flat. Also, Island Home has some very mature trees which would provide some shelter from the sun for a short time, plus the crowd support in Island Home is great, so there would be some external motivation from the spectators.
Island Home didn’t disappoint! There were plenty of people out, some cheering more than others. I passed and was passed by some fellow Marathon Maniacs whom are always great to chat with along the course.
The last major challenge on the course is the curvy hill just before mile 24. It brings the road along the river back up to the Gay Street Bridge. It’s not as steep as Noelton, but because of its location late in the course it can be a challenge. Then add that there’s been no shelter from the sun for the last 2 miles, and it makes it really difficult.
Mile 24 (-44 seconds)
During the 4 miles in Island Home, I was able to build back a time buffer so that even though the mile that included the last big hill at Mile 24 was +17 over pace, I still had 44 seconds to spare. I knew that barring some crazy incident, I’d be well within 3 minutes of my goal time.
At some point on Gay Street, I passed one runner who asked “What pace group are you?”
“5:30,” I replied.
“Oh rats, my goal was to beat you,” he said with a defeated tone.
“Well, COME ON! Pace with me and I will get you there. Let me do the work and I’ll talk you through the rest. I’m running a little fast right now, so we have some time to spare.”
I talked with him about what to expect in the last 1/2 mile: Going down 11th Avenue, Going up Estabrook, heading into the stadium, how to attack the finish line and the one most people forget… looking at the Jumbotron to see yourself.
Near the Mile 26 marker, I knew that he would be okay and since I had some time to spare, I turned around to see who else was close that I could help. Just behind me there were 2 runners that could use some extra encouragement. So I waited until they were with me and started running with them. When we rounded the corner, but who did I see but the guy that I had just let go on by himself. He just didn’t have enough to run by himself, so I told him to join the group and we headed into the stadium.
Mile 26.2 (-1 minute 46 seconds)
I pushed all those that were with me to head toward the finish line, reminding them to finish strong because there would be photographers there and you wanted to look like you were having fun (haha), not that you looked like you had just run for 5 hours and 30 minutes.
After the finish, I went to get my backpack from the baggage claim which was easy peasy and then headed over to post race party with two new friends, Barbara and Michael. At the party which had died down some what, I was able to meet up with some of the other pacers that were still hanging around and to get some food. I had overcome my 2009 Knoxville Marathon DNF as a Pacer.