Last Friday I travelled to Knoxville for the Knoxville Half Marathon on Sunday. I stayed with one of my sorority sisters and her husband for the weekend. It was so much fun being back in Tennessee and it was great spending time with them.
The morning before the race we headed to the expo to pick up my race packet before heading to the Great Smokey Mountains for some hiking. The expo was small and was held need the Sun Sphere in downtown. We were in and out in a couple minutes or so then it was off to the mountains.
We spent almost three hours hiking in the mountains. We had blindly chosen a trail that ended up containing a lot of vertical gain and a lot of stairs. My friend’s fitbit said we walked 174 flights of stairs that day and I believe it.
We were wiped after the hike and grabbed dinner at a pasta place in Pigeon Forge then went to Gigi’s cupcakes. I snagged an extra one for race day.
Race morning came relatively early. The start was at 7:30am and I had about a half hour drive to get there from Lara’s house so I woke up around 6am. I threw on my race gear and headed to the start. The weather was cold, but I was so pleased when I parked my car because I saw that they had opened up the convention center at the start so we didn’t have to wait outside.
Since we were able to wait in the convention center until the start I opted to not wear a jacket. I was happy with my clothing choice later in the race.
The race started with the national anthem and “Rocky Top” aka the University of Tennessee fight song and one of the state songs of Tennessee. I loved it! The course started with a huge hill that seemed to last forever. My calves were so tight from yesterday’s crazy hike and I was starting to get nervous. I stopped about 3 times between miles 0-2 to stretch. For me tight calves always mean shin pain and it was really really bad at the start.
The course wound around some of the UT campus buildings then down by the Tennessee River. It was stunning. The view was beautiful and it was so early so the birds droned out the sound of the occasional car. We ran the river for a bit, and then ducked into the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood.
This part of the course was fun. There were bands everywhere along the course, but this section was through all the older historic homes of Knoxville. My friend told me that the UT President lives in the neighborhood. Everyone in the community went all out for us. There were signs lining every inch of the neighborhood and everyone was cheering us on.
The signs were entertaining and I enjoyed keeping my mind busy. This section had a few serious hill climbs but nearly everything was a rolling hill. There was even a crowd of folks dressed in UT garb head to toe handing out orange quarters. I love an orange slice during a race and it was perfect timing.
A lot of the neighborhood included the river on one side and beautiful homes on the other. Then the real big daddy hill of the course happened…Noelton. It was a beast. I am not sure how long the hill is but it seemed to never end. It was sooo steep that every single person walked it. This hill was easily about .75 miles long.
The second half of the course was on the greenway. It was one of my favorite parts of the course. The greenway was more like a trail in the middle of the woods that was asphalt. There were a lot of rolling hills in this section and some of it was shade. Although the path was a bit narrow I never felt like the course field was crowded.
Running on the greenway was also neat because they had bands set up about every mile or so on the race course, but when we ran the greenway the time between the bands was peaceful and very scenic. I text Lara at mile 9 to let her know where I was, but was a little worried when she didn’t text back.
After running the greenway for some time, the course put us out closer to downtown and the campus of UT. That was the really exciting part because I could tell we were closer to Neyland Stadium which is where the finish line was.
The hills in downtown were brutal then we headed through some housing areas on the backside of the campus. Then came the last huge hills leading to the stadium. I ran up a lot of them because I knew I was so close to the finish. The last 1.5 miles were really difficult because the hills were incredibly steep. Some were so steep that I had to take my time on the downhill instead of pushing pace like I had been doing all race. The downhill on a couple of them were so steep that I thought I might fall forward on my face if I pushed the pace the way I had for the other parts of the race.
We passed a really cool old building at the back of the stadium then we were headed toward the finish. I hadn’t seen a mile marker showing we had hit 13 yet, so I thought we had a bit more of the race to run still. I had expected to have to run the interior of the stadium a bit like I had with other races that run through stadiums (Colfax, WDW Marathon), but we entered the stadium and bam there was the finish line.
Once I saw the finish line I hauled it and heard the announcer call my name. I thought this was a great touch to a smaller hometown race venue. Immediately after crossing I heard a loud scream and looked over to see Lara and Matt waving. I met up with them and then took all the pictures.
This half marathon was one of the best smaller races that I have run. The course is beautiful and you truly feel like you are running in your hometown. The field is small with about 10,000 people across all the events, but it felt just right. I also loved the touch of finishing at Neyland Stadium because even if you aren’t a Vols fan there is a lot to appreciate about a city that is centered around football in the South.
I did hit my B goal and finished with a time of 2:55 and some change. Of course I would have loved to have done a little better than that but I felt good for most of the race and really used this race as training run. I think this was a great way to measure my fitness too.
Here’s the last little bit about my fueling, attack plan, etc:
I drank a couple gulps of powerade every couple miles as needed and had about 3/4 of a pack of Clif Shot Bloks. I would have done more fueling towards the end of the race, but my stomach felt weird so I didn’t want to chance it.
I also took two bathroom breaks during the race. The first one was early on and the second was late in the race around mile 10 ish. I didn’t want to stop towards the end of the race, but my stomach was cramping and I wanted to have a strong finish.
I did a run/walk interval of about 5/1, but adjusted this throughout the race. I walked all the huge hills, but tried to run as many of the smaller ones as I possibly could. I tried to use the downhills as a way to make up for time lost on the uphills. There were a lot of stretches of the course where I didn’t take a walk interval rate because I felt good and wanted to save walk breaks for more challenging hills.
My legs were really tired going into this race, but I am so pleased with my performance given that fact and the difficulty of the course.