Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Knoxville Half Marathon in the books

Sunday was the Knoxville Marathon. It's one of the few races I've had pinned down for almost a year. I love the atmosphere, the course, and the finish line. (Neyland Stadium 50 yard line) I had a good race there in 2011, sadly had to miss it in 2012 (vacation scheduling) and was excited to be back for 2013. I've been logging a lot of miles the past couple of months (excluding February, where injury kept me on the couch and down to almost no miles in the shoes.) and it had been since... well, 2011 since I had ran an open 1/2 marathon. I felt like my running had come a long way since 2011, but with a lackluster run in Augusta last September, I was a bit anxious to say the least.
Shaved legs, Compression sleeves and Xtenex laces... I wonder if I stand out as a triathlete...
Knoxville is also a fairly tough course. There are a LOT of hills spread out almost from the start gun right up until you enter the stadium. Going up the first ones too hard when you're feeling good is a recipe for disaster when you hit some of the big ones at mile 8-9.  Nonetheless, I was confident that I had the training in my legs to run somewhere in the mid to high 1:30's with 1:35 being my mental happy goal.
The calm before the race
Race day morning I hitched a ride with my parents (since the start and finish line are a pretty good distance away, I liked the idea of not having to take the bus back to the car) and got to the host hotel about 30 minutes early. I jogged around a bit, chatted with the family, and made my way to the starting corral B (probably should have been in A towards the back looking back)  We go through the pre-race motions, the gun is fired, and we're off!

...well, sorta. The first 30" or so we just kind of stood around as the "accordion effect" worked it's way to us. The first mile or so of a big race like this is jam packed with just trying to position yourself in free space and avoid running over people. It's also the most likely time to ruin your race. Lots of people (both experience and inexperienced) don't know how to handle the initial adrenaline rush of race day. The gun sounds, they feel awesome, and instead of running 7:3x minute miles, they wonder why in the world they hadn't set their goal for 6:3x minute miles! Of course, that kind of boost wears off (really fast when you burn through it) and you end up really gutting the last half of the race. That's bad enough for the person who falls into this trap, but it also opens up a trap for the rest of us. We keep seeing people pass us... sometimes A LOT of people. My instinct (probably from racing so many shorter tri's) when I see somebody surging on me is to respond.  That's an even worse idea than going out too hot... as now somebody else is dictating your race. (Obviously it's necessary in some races where you actually HAVE to respond to a push, otherwise you lose position, but here I know I'm not racing for the podium... just my own race.)

I keep to my plan. I take the first mile or so fairly conservative with a 7:27 pace (although that counted standing still for a few seconds at the start) and then slowly start turning up the pressure cooker to try holding a low low 7 to high(ish) 6 minute mile. We hit some of the first big hills and the crowd starts to disperse, and before long we're at the 10k mark. I haven't ran a 10k in probably 3 years, but nonetheless, I was happy to see it was a PR for me :) With that nice little mental boost I was confident I was going to have a great day.

On keeping with the plan, the first signs of duress didn't show up until almost mile 9. I talked last week about suffering and how to embrace it. I personally try to occupy myself with things I can control... it seems to take my mind off of hurting. I try to cut into corners (saves you a step or two, right?) focus on my stride, work on my arms pumping... things like that. It is also the perfect time to find someone to pace for a mile or two. (So long as they are pushing what you are wanting to run) At mile 11 we enter back into "Campus" area. The hills start up again and the fan base disperses a bit. This is where I hit my dark place. My pace companion drops off and suddenly I'm all by myself out there, hurting and just ready to be done. Nonetheless, I "know" that I'm not physically at a danger zone, only mentally
The mental checklist I use
1.) Is my breathing under control?
2.) Are my legs burning or hurting?
3.) Do I have side stitches
4.) Anything else aggravating (toenails hurting, shoulders tight, being covered in gatorade, etc)

If all of those things check under the "manageable" portion of my mental checklist, I decide that I am being a wuss and continue on without modifying the plan. Again, this goes back into mentally "being in control" of the suffering. It's important for me to mentally monitor those things, because I don't want to slow down unless it is endangering me of just blowing up and walking or something equally disastrous.

Anyway, theory aside, I push through and see the Stadium looming not so far in the distance. A fellow passes me with less than half a mile to go with a sharp sprint. Too soon. Despite him pulling away for a few moments I catch back up almost exactly as the "13 miles" sign comes into view. Now is the time. I turn on the last bit of gas I've got left, and sprint out to the finish line, fist pumping because I've went 1:31:51
Man I'm moving so fast the camera is blurring me... or something like that.
10 Minutes faster than 2011.


It turned out to be a great day. I'm glad because it's always invigorating to start the season off with a good race. Let this be a lesson to those of you out there reading who are frustrated with your training. When I started a few years ago, I would have been beyond excited to run 7 minute miles for a 5k. Now I ran 7 minute miles for a half marathon! Enjoy the time training... it pays off.

With all that happy vibes of doing well, let me just say, I wish I could go back and shoot for 1:30. Oh well, Fuel for the Fire for next years race! Already I'm trying to figure out how much time it would take me to get on the podium 2014. (It would take about 9 minutes... haha )
As always, thanks so much for reading.
- Christopher Morelock
P.S. I'm terribly excited to find out that I'm going to be able to do the White Sands Triathlon in Panama City on the 20th. It'll be the first day of my vacation and my first ocean triathlon! Sooo excited.

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