If you’re not worried about running too slowly, you’re probably running too fast.

sugarloaf4Last week, I took time to focus on recovery after Boston. Following the race, I took two complete rest days, and then went out for an easy five miler by Thursday. My legs felt good, but my body still felt fatigued so I took an additional rest day on Friday. By Saturday, Mark and I did a decently paced nine mile run through hilly Saucon Valley and I felt a lot better. Sunday was another moderately paced 6.5ish miles before biking to the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon course to cheer on my friends. I was feeling good after Boston but figured my body could use some recovery time. The Boston Marathon was my halfway mark in my spring schedule. I still have three significant upcoming events: the Sugarloaf Marathon, Eagleman 70.3, and the Charlevoix Marathon.

The next race on my schedule is the Sugarloaf Marathon on May 18th. The course looks pretty fast, and I’m excited just to visit Sugarloaf Mountain. As a skier, I always wanted to go to Sugarloaf and ski it – I love Maine. While it’s highly unlikely that I’ll get to take a few runs, I’m still excited to be on the mountain. I’ve been trying to find whatever information I can to prepare for the race. I’ve been searching for race reviews/recaps written by other runners to get a feel for what to expect. I even found a video that someone took as they drove the course. Oh yeah, and then there is the elevation profile:

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So THAT looks exciting. So far, I’ve read a lot of useful tips, but everyone says much of the same things. The hills are in the first 10 miles, and the final 16 are a net descent. It’s a fast course, but it’s important to take it easy when you start descending so you don’t trash your quads. The temperatures can be anywhere from freezing to scorching. It’s a small race, so I don’t expect much from the “expo” (just packet pickup). I was reading blog after blog and then someone wrote something that stuck with me:

“If you’re not worried about running too slow, then you are probably running too fast.”

I was reading someone’s blog post that ran Sugarloaf in the past and had a goal time of 3:20. He ended up beating his goal with a 3:17. From what he wrote, it sounds like he often runs his races the same way as I do: planning a negative split but getting a little too excited early on. As he reviewed the first 10 miles of the race, he mentioned that one of his friends gave him the above advice. I mean, it’s not exactly news to me. “Don’t go out too fast” are the usual words of wisdom runner’s like to give when discussing race strategy. I get it. It makes complete sense. Banking time in the early miles of a race is not running smart. And yet, I’ve only managed to run negative splits in a race a handful of times. I’d like to try to negative split the Sugarloaf course, and I’m thinking his advice might be what I keep telling myself that day.

I have a training plan that I’m following, and I’m not going to make any changes to it at this point. The only revision I’ll make is the location of some my runs over the next week or two. I wasn’t able to run the mountain by my house over the winter (it would be a death wish with snow and cars unable to control their speed), but it would be good practice for the uphill in miles 5-10 and the descent that follows. Several people complained in their race reviews that they burned out their quads at Sugarloaf running the steep downhill after mile 10.5. A few runs on the mountain to practice running a steady pace descending should help prepare me for that. I did a run on the mountain yesterday and had a chance to review my Garmin data. I’ve posted it before, but the elevation is intense:

honeysuckle

I wore a jacket since it was raining and hid my Garmin under the sleeve. I know where to turn around so I didn’t look at my watch until I uploaded my data last night. I was excited by the results. I wasn’t trying to run fast, I was trying to run hills. 1,343 feet of climbing and 1,343 feet of descending meant I wouldn’t be running any sub seven or eight minute miles. Without looking at my watch, I ended up negative splitting the run (with the exception of mile 6):

honeysuckle2

The entire first mile is straight up a hill, so you warm up by climbing about 500 feet over one mile – and then you get to descend down the steep back side of it. I don’t know if I’ll see any physical benefits from one or two of these runs, but it should help mentally prepare me for miles 5-11 in Sugarloaf. 2013 Boston was the first time I successfully negative split a marathon, and it went exactly how I’d planned. Since then, I’ve run a lot of races and had the intention of doing the negative split thing again, but I’ve ditched my plan within the first few miles. I thought I had it in Boston this year, but ended up getting too aggressive. I held back in the first five miles but got impatient, let it fly, and paid the price for it in the later miles of the race. Of course, it’s a bad habit that I need to break so there is a good possibility that will happen again in Sugarloaf.

It’s no secret that the next goal I’m chasing is a 3:15 marathon, so that’s what I’m going to shoot for in Sugarloaf.  I really feel like I’ve put in the work and can achieve that, but I need to be patient on race day. However, my newest long-term goal isn’t necessarily a number: it’s to be in Wave 1 at Boston next year. In previous years, the cutoff was somewhere around a 3:18 (coincidentally, the time I’m using for 2015 Boston registration and my current PR). Last year, the cutoff was a 3:12. I don’t think it will be faster than 3:12 this year, but I certainly don’t think a 3:18 will get me into it. So for now, I’m chipping away at my goal slowly and hope to see a 3:15 this season. And if not, that’s okay too. I’m just excited to have a few more good races on the schedule.

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Race Recap: The 2014 Boston Marathon

“This year’s race will have special significance for all of us because of the tragedy that occurred last year. I am honored to be amongst the 36,000 runners that are running the 2014 Boston Marathon to demonstrate the spirit of the marathon. I am training hard and smart to be healthy and fit enough to compete for a victory. Let’s visualize our goals in our months of training and race with a united purpose on April 21st.
– Meb Keflezghi

20140424-103738.jpgSince last year’s Boston, everyone talked about how the 2014 race was going to be a significant event in distance running. The field would be bigger and faster, the spectators would outnumber previous years, and the volunteers/security would exceed our expectations. After crossing the finish line on Marathon Monday, I can assure you that everyone was right. What an incredible event to have the opportunity to be part of. For me, getting into the 2014 race was close. I was a squeaker when I registered and could easily have been turned away. Last year, my training kept getting interrupted by injury so I was only a Boston qualifier by three minutes and eight seconds. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to participate and made it to the starting line relatively healthy.

The Expo

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I knew things would be different this year as soon as I got off the Mass Pike and into Boston. We pulled up to the expo late Saturday afternoon, and had difficulty parking at the Prudential Center. Parking isn’t usually much of an issue, but I struggled to find a spot in the enormous garage. Oh yeah, and be warned: the fee to park in that lot is outrageous. If you hit the two hour mark, expect to pay $38! I always forget about that each year. Next year, I’m going to drive right to my aunt and uncle’s house in Brookline, drop of the car and take the train into the city.

Hynes Convention Center is located inside the Prudential Center, which is a shopping mall. Once inside the mall, getting to the Hynes Convention Center inside was another story. This was my fourth consecutive year there, and I’ve never seen this many people just dominating an entire city. 10,000 more runners (in addition to the usual 26,000) means 10,000+ spectators (I heard there were one million people in the city for the race!) that traveled along with them. It means that many more people wandering the mall, expo, Boylston Street, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. The atmosphere is always incredible in Boston, but just the sheer amount of people this year took things to a whole new level.

The increased security measures began as you entered the convention center. Security guards searched bags as you entered the area and sent you off to pick up your bib. It’s always well-organized, but this year everything was more spread out and easier to navigate. To get your bib, runners had to go all the way to the third floor, and then back down to the second floor to browse the expo. Besides a stop at the Adidas display to purchase the jacket (because you can’t run Boston and not get the jacket!) and a stop at the Runner’s World Display, I didn’t stay too long.

20140424-103702.jpgAfter the expo, we stayed in the city a little longer to have dinner at Maggiano’s with Mark and Robin. The streets and the restaurant were packed with runners preparing for the race. As it turns out, another group of runners from the Lehigh Valley were at a restaurant across the street. After we were done eating, we stopped in and hung out for a few minutes and wished everyone luck. It was really cool to see familiar faces in Boston and share this experience with people who love the sport as much as I do.
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I usually stay in Brookline on Sunday and avoid the city, but I needed to get a CharlieCard for the train on Monday morning. I take the train to Boston Common and then the busses provided by the BAA to Hopkinton with the majority of the runners. My family cheers for me around mile 24 on Beacon Street and doesn’t get to see the finish line, so I took my mom with me. I’m glad I went back downtown this year to be part of the pre-race celebrations. Such excitement everywhere, with runners posing for pictures, talking to each other and wishing each other luck. Even though we were all total strangers, it felt like one giant family as you wandered along Boylston, stopped to pay tribute to the victims from last year at the memorial, take a photo at the finish line, and take in the surroundings.

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Race Day – Monday, April 21

There were lots of changes to the way things went down on race morning. In the past, you hauled your stuff up to Hopkinton and checked your bags there. Not this year. If you wanted to check a bag, you did it in Boston Common before loading the bus. Tents were set up by bib color/number. Instead of moving the bags to the finish line, you had to walk to Boston Common after finishing. I didn’t really think about that too much beforehand, and it was kind of far walk after the race. It ended up being a good thing because it forced you to cool down and not just stop abruptly.

The bus procedures were relatively similar to previous years, but you weren’t allowed any bags on the bus. They allowed clear zip lock bags – I had my bagel and bottled water in a ziplock bag to bring to the start. To get on the bus, you had to go through a security checkpoint and show your bib. The bus ride to Hopkinton was the same as past years, but we entered Athlete’s Village a little differently. Instead of pulling over on the road in Hopkinton, we actually entered the parking lot of the middle school- where the bag check busses used to be lined up. As we arrived, there were a whole fleet of busses parked in the lot of the middle school that read, “Massachusetts Correctional Facility.” Officers with orange vests were getting off the bus and walking in lines to their designated areas and almost looked like an army. To enter Athlete’s Village, runners had to flash the officers their race bibs.

Once in Athlete’s Village, it was almost like every other year (only with many more people!). Go to the bathroom, set up shop in the grass, eat some breakfast, drink some water, and make some new friends. They always have food at the start, but it seemed like they had more amenities than usual. They had coffee from Dunkin Donuts, bagels, fruit, etc. I still ate my own pre-race foods, but if you don’t have a sensitive stomach you could pretty much plan to eat their food for breakfast. I met and spoke to people from all over – everywhere from Pennsylvania, Toronto, Seattle, and Minnesota, just to name a few. I was unsuccessful at locating most of the people I knew, but one of my friends from the Lehigh Valley, Kari (we met doing a segment for WFMZ before Boston), found me as she was walking through the village. It was so awesome to see a familiar face in the crowd.

Getting to the start was slightly different than past years, and I made it with seconds to spare. Instead of just calling your wave to go to the start, they called you by wave and corral. We were sent off to the start one corral at a time. In the village, the announcer kept saying there were no bathrooms on the way to the start, which they had in past years. I’m not sure why he said that because there was a whole huge area of bathrooms right before the start corrals. I got in line for the bathroom at Athlete’s Village at 9:15 am – my wave wasn’t even supposed to start walking to the start until 9:50 and my wave didn’t start until 10:25. I JUST made it to the start as the gun was going off for my wave. Not that it matters, I could have started with a different corral – but it was close. It was a little frustrating, but it’s understandable – there were 10,000 extra runners. They were as organized as they could possibly be.

Finally, we were off. It was crazy how many people were running, of course, but the spectators on the sidelines at the start were out in the masses. Usually, the first few miles of the marathon is a little packed but the field eventually thins out a little bit. This year, it felt like we were running as a huge pack from Hopkinton to Boston, and the course only thinned out a little bit. We really did all run together.

The first 16ish miles are a net downhill. It looks easy on paper, but it’s the hardest course I’ve run. The 16 miles of downhill really do a number on your quads if you aren’t prepared for it and go out too fast. I was prepared for it, but I went out a little too fast. My goal was a 3:15, and I was on pace for it until about mile 19. My goal was to run the first 5 miles around a 7:30 pace and then pick it up to a 7:25, and then progress to a 7:20 if I felt good in the last six miles. I ran around a 7:30 for the first five miles, as planned. But from 6-14, I ran sub 7:20. One was even a 7:09, most were about a 7:16. It was too fast, and I should have slowed myself down but I felt SO good. Even when I ran a 3:18:46 in Columbia I didn’t feel that good so I thought I had it. Amidst the miles of excitement, I believed I had the training to back that pace up. I still think I had the training to pull it off, but the one thing I didn’t really factor in was the heat.

20140424-103754.jpgAround mile 15, temperatures were climbing and I started to get a side sticker. My legs still felt great and I knew I was well hydrated because I hadn’t missed taking water or Gatorade from a single water stop. Back in 2012 (the super hot year), a side sticker was the warning sign that I ignored that ended up making it a long day. So when that happened at mile 15 on Monday, I knew I needed to slow down and listen to my body or I’d be walking it in. I ditched the idea of cruising a 7:16 in to the finish line and slowed my pace. Until mile 19, I was able to keep the pace between 7:35-7:39, and one mile was even a 7:24 because I started to feel better. With the amount of time I banked from 6-14, I still had a decent shot at reaching the 3:15 goal.

Then Heartbreak Hill happened, and things got a little ugly. I thought about the four people who lost their lives. I thought of the 260+ people who were injured and affected by last year’s tragedy. I had seven miles left. That’s not even an hour of running. I could suffer for an hour of my life. I could suck it up and run hard for one more hour for those people whose lives were ended or changed forever. I hung in there and still ran harder than I ever had at that point in the past, but miles 19-21 were some of the miles that took the 3:15 off the table. 7:44, 7:56, and an 8:08. Those miles, coupled with a few of the 7:35 miles and the fact that my Garmin was off from weaving around people resulted in a 3:18:17 finish. I’m not even a little disappointed. I’ll be completely honest: I was shooting for 3:15, but wasn’t convinced it would happen in Boston. I had a feeling I could PR, and I did (even though it was only by 29 seconds!) but I knew 3:15 was aggressive for the course and the conditions.

But most of all, I wasn’t disappointed because this year was not about the time on a clock. It was about strength. Running strong for the victims of 2013, for the city of Boston, and for our country. It was about taking back the city and the finish line of the most prestigious road race.  As Meb said before running the race, it was about running with a united purpose. As we ran the race, spectators were thanking runners for helping “take back the city” and “take back the finish line”. It gives me chills just thinking about it. So many amazing things happened that day: there is the story about the runners that carried the guy down Boylston Street so he could finish the race, and Meb became the first American man to win the race in 31 years. But most importantly, everyone finished the race.

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On Pacing: The Garden Spot Half Marathon

20140416-134232.jpgThis past Saturday, I found myself lining up at the start of a race. A half-marathon. Everything was the same: Garmin watch on my wrist, Newtons on my feet, Lululemon shorts, and a race bib…but I had a second race bib on my back. The bib on my back read “Half Marathon Pacer, 1:45, Allison”. Instead of my iPod, I had a yard stick adorned with a 1:45 time goal. I was wearing a shirt provided to me by the race director that read “Half Marathon Pacer”. I’ve run races without racing before (like the Knoxville Marathon three weeks ago) and I’ve paced friends in a variety of distances (the Buffalo Marathon, for example). This was the first time I was tasked with the official job of being a pacer. It was an incredible experience to have the opportunity to help others achieve their goals this weekend. Helping others was undoubtedly the best way to wrap up my training for Boston next week.

20140416-134549.jpgThe race I paced was the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon in New Holland, Pennsylvania. If that race wasn’t timed so close to Boston, I would love to return to the course and race it. Don’t get me wrong – the course is pretty hilly. It’s mostly rolling hills, with several longer climbs. The climbs are mainly at miles 2, 4, and 8 – with mile eight being the toughest of them all. After mile eight, it feels like a net downhill to the finish. There are still some gradual inclines, but nothing significant. If I were racing that course, I’d want to run negative splits. I’d kick up the pace right after the climb at mile eight and hold it (or get faster) through the finish.

I didn’t know what to expect from course since I never ran that race, and never really paced before. If I have the opportunity to pace again next year, I’d do things a little differently now that I’ve experienced the course. My strategy was to keep even splits, but try to bank a little time to account for the monster mile eight hill that everyone was talking about. For the most part, that’s what I did and it seemed to work. Next year, I’d worry less about the big hill and banking time, since the course really does get easier after mile eight. I started with a group of runners, and most of them actually ended up finishing ahead of me, using me to pace them until they were ready to pick it up. The race also has a marathon option, and it runs along the same course until the half turns and heads back. For the first seven miles or so, I had a lot of the 3:30 marathoners running with me because there was no 3:30 pacer.

After the turn around, I didn’t have a large group of people anymore. I spent the second half of the race running with one or two people every so often. It was really fun to talk to people and hear why they were running the race, and I enjoyed running at a comfortable pace and experiencing Amish country. Speaking of Amish country: there were a number of Amish people who ran the race, and they were wearing the same clothes you’d see them in if you stopped by their houses. I really admired that. It was pretty warm, and the clothing they wear is not very breathable. Pretty impressive.

20140416-134220.jpgMy goal was to cross the finish line in 1:45. I started my Garmin as I crossed the start and stopped it as I crossed the finish, and it registered exactly 1:45:00! I was nervous because I was using the same Garmin I used in Knoxville, which was on the fritz that day. Luckily, it held out – but it did register the course as .11 miles long. My chip time was recorded as 1:44:57, so I felt like I did my job. I was so nervous that I’d be significantly under or over the goal time but it worked out better than I could have hoped.

For those looking to run this race, I highly recommend it. The race director does a superb job, from the expo right through to the award ceremony. The shirts are nice (short-sleeved tech tees), and the swag bag includes a matching hat. For a fee, runners and their families can participate in the pasta dinner buffet the night before. The post race food spread is top-notch, complete with oatmeal, an omelette station, sandwiches, shakes, smoothies, chocolate milk and more. You can really tell that runner is in charge of this event.

We All Run Boston

20140410-134307.jpgUsually, I get excited about a week before a marathon and start babbling on and on and on and on and on about everything from what my pacing strategy is going to be to what I’m going to eat in the entire week before the race and what I’ll probably wear in the event that the weather does [insert every single weather possibility here] . My next race is Boston, but I’m not thinking about any of that. I’m thinking about how thankful I am to be able to participate in the race again this year. Sure, if every variable were in my favor and goes according to plan, I have goals that I hope to achieve. Who doesn’t? But this year’s Boston is so much bigger than all of that.

A few days ago, Mark H. and I met at Bart’s house to film a segment with WFMZ about running Boston this year (it’s going to be aired on the morning of the race!). We were interviewed by a reporter, and then they filmed us running and interacting. I wasn’t very prepared for the interview. I didn’t know what to expect, and I hadn’t really thought much about what I would say if asked my thoughts about the race this year. Everyone knows that the race is going to be a huge ordeal. But my thoughts about going back? The first word that came to my mind was pride. I am running Boston because I am proud to be an American citizen, and I am proud to be part of the running community. I’m proud of the 35,000 other runners that worked hard and will run the course with me. I’m proud of my family and friends for putting up with me as I beat myself up and often flake out on plans to qualify and train for the race. I’m proud of myself for overcoming a difficult year of injuries to get to this point again. I didn’t say it quite as eloquently in the interview, but it all boils down to that one word. Pride. Boston pride.

After the interview, I began thinking about why I run this race each year and what draws me back to Boston. I never really thought much about that before. I mean, it Boston. If you qualify, you go…right? Bo (the reporter) asked why the race is important to me, and I babbled on about how the city of Boston and it’s locals are amazing hosts, and how it’s a huge accomplishment for me. Blah, blah, blah. I wish I prepared a little better, because after having some time to reflect on my past three years in Boston, I know exactly what this race means to me and why I am running again this year.

In the past, I ran Boston because I worked hard and earned my qualifying spot. I wouldn’t pass up my chance to toe the line in Hopkinton. This year, instead of reflecting what I had to do to get there, I am running for those who won’t be there. I run for the victims affected by last years tragedy. For those who lost their lives, and for those who were injured. I run for the loved ones they left behind to grieve. It’s been almost one year since their loss and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult April 15th will be for them. I will run with prayers for the victims and families to find peace.

I also used to run this race as a “status” thing. It’s Boston. Just as Bart said, it’s one of the most prestigious finish lines in the world. This year, instead of running the streets of Boston because it’s “cool”, I run for the city of Boston. The city that welcomes us with open arms year after year for this iconic road race. For the men and women who put their life on the line protecting the city each and every day, but also during last year’s horrific events. For the service men and women who lost their lives while trying to take the terrorists into custody. I run for them. I will run with great thanks to the city that supports the BAA, the marathon, the runners, and spectators. I will run with appreciation that the tradition of Marathon Monday will continue.

Running down Boylston Street and crossing the finish line in Boston one of the craziest, most exciting places. You hear runner’s talking about a “runner’s high”…well, if you really want to see what that’s all about, just go to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. There is really nothing like it. There are people who ran last year’s race but never had the opportunity to experience the finish line. This year, I am going to cross the finish line for those who never had their moment on Boylston Street last year. For those runners who had maybe just a few hundred feet, and for the ones who still had miles left to go.They will be on my mind as I run from Hopkinton to Boston in hopes that they all get their moment. I will run with drive and determination to finish the race for those who couldn’t.

Some will not have the chance to make it to the starting line because they are currently injured, were injured while training to qualify, or were turned away because they were a few seconds short of the cut off. This year, I run for those who can’t. For my friend, Cassie, who put in all of the hard work but ended up with an injury preventing her to run. For my friends who are just as passionate (if not more) as myself about running but just haven’t been able to run a qualifying time yet. For my friends who busted their ass, qualified but just not by enough time to get into the race. In the past, I was a squeaker myself and can’t imagine how heartbroken I would have been if my entry would have been denied. I will run with humility and with compassion for those who can’t.

In the past, I’ve had bumps and bruises along the way of qualifying and training. I’ve trained for this race with stress fractures and had to aqua jog for weeks on end, and I’ve run the race with injuries. I’ve whined about how I just want one year on this course where everything is 100%. I’ve come to realize that for a perfect race, all of the variables have to be perfect – and most of those variables are completely out of your control. So of course I’d like to go and throw down at Boston this year and run a good race. But it isn’t about that this year. It’s about rebuilding a tradition in our country that was tarnished by an act of terrorism. It’s about showing that our country is resilient, and our running community is stronger than ever. It’s about remembering the victims and showing love for this incredible city that so graciously hosts us, year after year. It’s about unity, hard work, and dedication. It’s about Boston pride.

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Race Review: Knoxville Marathon (Tennessee)

State  #22: Tennessee
Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

3/30/2014

After 28 marathons, it finally happened. My Garmin crapped out on me.

I’m not sure if it’s toast, but I jinxed myself. As we were driving down to Tennessee, I was talking about how I’ve had my Garmin 310XT since 2009 with absolutely no problems until now.  Recently, the distance on my watch is often significantly off compared to race courses and other runner’s watches. I placed it on the charger as soon as I got settled in my hotel room and headed out for dinner. Started messing with it the night before the race and to my horror, it wouldn’t turn on. I did a hard reset and it came back to life. At the starting line, turned it on…and it wouldn’t find satellites. I started the timer at the beginning of the race to at least be able to monitor elapsed time. When it found satellites several miles later, I hit lap at the nearest mile marker. You’d think it would be accurate from then on out, but it was beeping at all different crazy times. So Knoxville ended up being the race I had to run mostly by feel after relying on a watch for the past few years. It actually ended up working to my advantage.

Originally, I was shooting for an 8 minute mile for the first half, and then whatever felt good until mile 20-22. If I felt good, maybe I would pick up the pace in the last few miles. Without knowing what my pace was, I just focused on running comfortably during the entire race. If I started to feel like I was working too hard, I slowed down. I finished the race in 3:23:41 and was the 3rd female in my age group.

I realize that breaking under the 3:30 mark has been a recent accomplishment for me, so a 3:23 seems aggressive- but I don’t feel it was unreasonable. With the absence of my watch, I ran by listening to my body and by honoring how I felt. I felt good before, during and in the days following the race. The only real pace indication I had was that I was ahead of the 3:35 pacer. I ran with her for the first mile, but I wasn’t sure how far ahead of her I was as the race progressed. I knew I wasn’t running at a PR pace – I felt way too comfortable for that. 3:23 is certainly faster than I would have run with a fully functioning watch, but I was absolutely pleased with the result. My only disappointment with the whole race is that I have no real data from my watch to see if I was all over the place, or running even splits. It felt pretty even, but who knows.

Getting There

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It’s a 9 hour car ride from Allentown, but count on at least 10 if you are hydrating for a marathon. Once again, we left early in the morning on the day before the race. It’s a relatively easy drive and mainly stayed on 81 for the majority of the trip. Once you hit Knoxville, the city isn’t too difficult to navigate but parking is a little tricky. We stayed close to the expo, and the valet at our hotel clued us in to a free lot just one block away. Score.

The Expo

20140404-102524.jpgI was under the impression that this was a small race, but I discovered that it had 7,000 participants (mostly running the relay and the half) so the expo was much larger than expected. There were a good amount of vendors present, including a Newtons rep. Merchandise to commemorate the race was available for purchase, and items from previous years were available at reasonable prices. Most vendors offered your standard fuel options (GU, etc) and clothing for the race. The shirts were short-sleeved tech shirts and were given with your bib. Kind of a greenish color, really nice. The swag bags they gave out were packed with granola bars, product samples and coupons. Honestly, it was probably the biggest expo I’ve been to since Boston last year and enjoyed walking around.

The Race

I’d reviewed the elevation profile and was aware that we were in for a hilly run. Turns out, it was 1,100+ feet of climbing over the entire 26.2 miles. If you like hills, Knoxville is the marathon for you. This was my 28th marathon and 22nd state, and easily ranks among my favorite races I’ve run to date.

The race starts downtown on the Clinch Street Bridge, one of the many bridges along the course. Runners and spectators could hang out in the Holiday Inn and the Convention Center prior to the race. The weather was much colder than we’d anticipated, so being indoors before the start was an added bonus.The course is one of the prettiest I’ve experienced yet, and I can’t decide which half I liked better. The first half was more crowded because of the half marathoners and was significantly hillier. It also had some really interesting sections, like the Tennessee Greenway. The Knoxville Tennessee Greenway is part of a much larger paved trail system that runs through the entire state.

gaystbridgeThe second half of the run went through some really cool historic parts of the city. Some of the areas were residential, others took you over bridges and overpasses with spectacular views of the Tennessee River.  It wound through some industrial neighborhoods and through Old City Knoxville. As you hit mile 24, the course takes you over the Gay Street Bridge that crosses over the Tennessee River. It’s a huge, old green bridge with incredibly scenic views of the city and the river.

Market-square-north-tn1After running over bridge, you loop through the city until you hit Market Square. As the course turns the corner, it runs down the popular strip in the center of the city. There are spectators out cheering everywhere, since it’s a street full of shops and restaurants. People eating outside are cheering you on, and the end is almost in sight. After Market Square, it’s down a steep hill and into Neyland Stadium to cross the finish line.

20140404-102515.jpgThe finish line is right inside the stadium, and as you crossed you were handed your medal. There was a chute that the runners could walk to that led you underneath the stadium seats. As you left the field and entered the tunnels under the stadium seating, there was a room only for those that ran the full marathon as an individual (no relay teams). Inside, it was warm with tables and couches with a huge spread of post race food. Everything from pizza, bagels, chocolate milk, granola bars, fruit and more was available. If you checked a bag, it was located a little further down the tunnel and was easy to claim your belongings. There was a food spread for the rest of the runners upstairs, in the mezzanine outside of the stadium seating.

The race directors did an outstanding job with course support and aid stations. Live bands were located every few miles, and they were all extremely enthusiastic. There were plenty of water and GU stops, and Powerade was the sports drink offered along the course. Most of the aid stations were themed – for example, there was a “duck” zone with guys in full camo blowing duck calls. Along the entire course, there were lots of amusing signs with hilarious references – very unique ideas, too. I read almost all of them and laughed out loud as I ran by.

Knoxville is truly a unique city to experience on foot, and I’m so glad Mark talked me into adding this to my schedule. The timing of it was a little tough since it was so close to Boston, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. If you’re looking for a race in Tennessee, add Knoxville to your list!