My thoughts on the 6th annual Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon…
Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon
March 28, 2010
My Run: Overall, the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon was my third full marathon. For a number of reasons, I came into this race with very few expectations. I had been battling significant shin splints during the week leading up to the run, and feared trying to navigate a hilly course while dealing with an injury. Also, my fourth marathon (The Country Music Marathon) is only 4 weeks away, so I was unsure of how hard I wanted to push it. My marathon PR was 3:42:22 at the St. Jude last December, so I decided that I would just join up with the 3:45 pace group and then take it from there.
That plan was quickly foiled when I arrived at the expo on Saturday, and found that there were no pace groups between 3:15 and 4:00 (more on this later). I decided Saturday night that I would just start off at a 3:45 pace (8:34 per mile), and then see how I felt. The forecast for Sunday was for rain throughout the race. Luckily we caught a break, and the rain let up just as the marathon started, and the sun even came out occasionally. The temps were in the mid 50s. As planned, I started off conservatively until we came to the Tennessee River (about 2 miles in). I was feeling fantastic. No shin pain, great running rhythm, high energy level. I carried this throughout the first half, and was able to maintain an 8:12 per mile pace.
Once the 1/2 marathon runners split off and headed toward the stadium at mile 13, I felt pretty good about my chances of holding this pace to the end. I continued to feel good through mile 20, 21, 22, 23 … with my overall average pace fluctuating between 8:12 and 8:13. As I approached the 24 mile marker I could feel my legs getting heavier, but I still felt like I could hold the pace. However, just as I reached the marker, the heavens opened and a torrential rain followed, accompanied by high winds.
I fought my way up a steep hill leading to the river, but once I reached the bridge I bonked hard (hit the wall), and felt like I couldn’t take another step. I was tired, soaked, and beginning to lose feeling in my fingers from the cold rain. The wind was blowing so hard that I had to hold onto my hat to keep it from blowing off. This sudden change in conditions disrupted my running rhythm and my confidence. However, somehow I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My pace slowed significantly, but I really didn’t care. At this point I was just thinking about finishing. I’ve run in rain many times before, but nothing like this. It was by far the toughest 2 miles I’ve ever run.
As I splashed past mile marker 25, I kept telling myself to just keep going even though my body was fighting my every step. Then halfway through that last mile I looked up and saw my Father and my Daughter (Kate) standing underneath a parking garage cheering me on. This gave me the extra boost that I needed to make it up the final hill into the stadium. As I was entering Neyland Stadium, I was determined to finish with my head up, and when I ran out onto Shields-Watkins Field, I raised my arms up in the air. Crossing the finish-line at the 50-yard line was such a relief, and I could hear my wife yelling for me from the stands out in the pouring rain (she had finished the half marathon earlier). I quickly got my medal and my finisher’s hat, and headed to the tunnel to get out of the rain. I looked at my watch, and even with my diminished pace after the rain started, I still set a new PR of 3:39:12 (8:22 per mile pace). Not quite as good as the 8:12 to 8:13 pace I maintained through mile 24, but a result I am quite happy with considering the hilly course and the brutal conditions for the last two miles.
The Race: Overall, I would give that race organizers a solid “B” – The police and volunteer support is the best I’ve seen at any race (including the Chicago Marathon). The timing system was built into the bib, and incredibly convenient. Even more convenient that the disposable “D-Tag” system that is widely used today. The first half of the course is extremely well designed and interesting, though the second half is slightly dull and could use some work (see more below). All full marathon participants received an Asics technical t-shirt (very high quality). The finisher’s medal is great, and it is pretty cool that all full marathon finishers receive a finisher’s hat. There were 18 aid stations, and all had water and PowerAde. While it would be nice to see different cups for water vs. PowerAde, the volunteers did a great job of letting the runners know how the stations were organized. The mile markers were only on one side of the road, and were at street level. This made it difficult to see the markers early on when the pack was still pretty tight. Also, the mile markers did not have split-time clocks (there were clocks at the 10K, Halk & 20K splits). Finishing inside of Neyland stadium is really a neat experience. The bag check location was clearly marked at the race start and finish. By far the most disappointing thing were the pace groups (or lack thereof). The pre-race literature indicated there would be at least a dozen pace groups. However, there were no groups between 3:15 and 4:00 finish times. I can’t comment about the post race refreshments because I was so tired that I headed straight for the hotel.
The fact that the weekend includes a kid’s race, a half marathon and a 5k, makes it a great event for the whole family. This race was special because my daughter did the kid’s marathon, and my wife did the half marathon (her first).
The Course: As expected, the course is quite hilly, especially in the first half. There are 2 or 3 significant hills within the first half, and moderate hills throughout the course. There is a downhill on mile 26 that is so severe that I feared blowing out a knee, and it is followed by a steep hill leading up to the finish. For those that live in Nashville, it is not quite Percy Warner park, but the hills should not be underestimated.
That being said, the first half is stunning. It starts next to the SunSphere (the most prominent leftover from the 1982 World’s Fair) and includes beautiful views of the UT campus and the Tennessee river. It winds through great neighborhoods, greenways, and then takes the runners back downtown near the starting line.
The second half is somewhat dull, and includes a few neighborhoods, industrial areas, etc. The best parts of the second half are the sections where the route goes by the Tennessee River.
- Race options for the whole family
- Asics Technical T-Shirt for full marathon
- Stunning first half of the course
- Great police support / traffic control
- 18 aid stations, all with water and Powerade
- Great volunteer support and communication
- Timing system attached to bib
- Great finisher’s medal
- Finisher’s hat for full marathon finishers
- Finish inside Neyland Stadium
- Limited pace group options (none between 3:15 and 4:00)
- Same cups for water and PowerAde
- Mile markers only on one-side and at street level
- No split times at mile markers
- Dull second half of the course / steep downhill in mile 26