State #22: Tennessee
Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
After 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.
The 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!