Run enough marathons and you’ll have some pretty good days. On the flip side of that, though, you’ll have some pretty tough days, too, like I did Sunday in the Knoxville Marathon. With full respect to the 26.2-mile distance, every one of my 43 marathons have been tough. Sunday was just a little bit tougher.
I headed into the race feeling pretty good. I’d been running hard during my training runs this week and I was ready for a good day. The course profile indicated a hilly, challenging course, but I wasn’t at all concerned. I had a ton of confidence heading in and I thought I’d be able to handle the hills pretty well. Boy, was I wrong. I might need a few days to fully reflect on this one, but I really think this was the toughest road course I’ve ever run.
The course itself was really nice. Very scenic (keyword for hilly?) and it wasn’t too crowded. The volunteers did a great job. I guess you’d probably expect that in the hometown of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, huh? I felt unusually tired this morning, despite getting 6 1/2 hours of sleep last night and 7 1/2 the night before (probably a record for me this year in the two nights prior to a marathon). I never really woke up too well before the 7:30 a.m. start (Eastern time), but I figured I’d snap into it once the gun went off.
We shot off straight up a hill, not a great way to get rolling in a marathon. I’ve been tinkering with my racing strategy, mixing it up between going by pace and heart rate. Early on this year, I went pretty fast by heart rate early, but struggled late in the races. I switched it up by trying to get myself into a groove during the first three miles and then monitoring by pace and heart rate, adjusting on the fly depending on how I felt.
Well, the reason I think this course was the toughest road course I’ve ever run is because with the mix of the climbs and the descents in the first half, it was absolutely impossible to get into a groove. The course really chewed me pretty nicely while I failed to find any kind of consistency.
Early on, the course was nice, running through the campus of the University of Tennessee, then through the town a little bit before turning into a very nice neighborhood. I really love seeing different communities during my races, and today was no different. Physically, I felt a little bit of a burn in my calves early, but that’s standard. Normally, I’m pretty warm by about four miles in and I lock into a zone.
I felt fine early enough, but since I couldn’t get any momentum, the race turned into a battle way earlier than I wanted it too. I knew there were some climbs late. I was mentally prepared to rough it out over the last hour. But not for the last 2 1/2 hours. To complicate things, I started to feel sick about five miles in. I really thought I was going to throw up. I have a Powerbar 15 minutes before the start of each race, but today, it wasn’t sitting well. I battled nausea until about mile 12.
I hit the half in about 1:38, knowing I was already off pace for a BQ. I figured I might be able to negative split the course, but I was starting to feel pretty beat up by then. My nausea went away, which allowed me to really notice the fatigue.
Still, at least the run was really nice. We spent about three miles in a wooded park, ran near a river, then headed through some parts of town that weren’t too nice. They weren’t totally ghetto, but I always like seeing all types of living on my runs. I think it’s interesting to see different lifestyles, and it makes me pretty grateful for everything I have.
As we started to creep up in the high teens, I knew I was probably looking at a 3:20 or so. My miles were creeping up a lot closer towards 8:00 and I didn’t have a whole lot. I was fatiguing pretty nicely and was really looking forward to the race ending. I don’t normally get like that until 4 or 5 miles later in the race.
We ran over a bridge, alongside a river, through a neighborhood, then back towards the campus. We ran through the downtown area, which was one of the coolest downtowns I’ve ever seen. It was big enough that you could tell there was plenty of activity there, but at the same time, it had a little bit of a small-town feel to it. Knoxville was a great city to run through. I really enjoyed it.
Heading for home, I was looking pretty closely at my watch, because I thought I needed about a 6:45 final mile to come in sub-3:20. I’d been watching my Garmin and it looked like I was going to end up running 26.35 with the tangents. I hit a pretty good pace at the end and probably covered that last mile in that time (mile 26 was 6:52 and the last bit to the finish was at a 6:18 pace), but I ended up running 26.4 and I had 3:20:27 on my Garmin.
The finish was pretty cool — it was the 50-yard line in Neyland Stadium, where the Volunteers play! The stadium seats 107,000 people, although only a few hundred were in there. Maybe a thousand? It was pretty sweet to look around and think about all the big-time players who have played in there. Peyton Manning … that’s enough, huh?
So, it was a tough course. I didn’t feel totally up to par (I don’t feel up to par at all this year, but I was even worse than normal) and I went 3:20. I guess nothing to really complain about. Thrilled about my time? No. But it’s not going to bug me on my flight home. And of course, I get another crack at it next weekend!
I’m actually 25 percent done with Operation Jack now. I guess that means I’m 75 percent not done! 15 down, 45 to go!
Here I am in the stadium, ducking out of the rain.