Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Running down a 1:30 Half Marathon (Knoxville 1/2 Race Report)

The looming wig shop above the start line

The Knoxville Half Marathon is sort of my "how's it going to look this year" race. Last year I made some huge strides in my performance, bringing in a 1:31:52, right at 7min/miles. This year I was looking to break 1:30, with 1:28:xx being my perfect day goal. Of course, that meant averaging 6:49/miles the entire duration... something I have done in training but not for a consecutive 13 miles... so to say I was a bit anxious is a generous way to put it. 

Although all of my training runs were on target, I was a bit worried that sub 7min/miles felt fairly tough, especially when strung together (my 30' run at race pace was a gut check a week out.) Of course as David pointed out I was supposed to feel beat up a week out. The week leading up to the race was pretty easy volume wise, and by Thursday I was feeling fairly good. Saturday's run was an effort to keep it easy as I was feeling pretty great at that point. Nervous still, but good. Saturday night I had a giant chicken breast and a baked potato (dinner with the always charming Jenny... who as usual is nothing but supportive) and got to bed around 8.

Sunday started at 3:30a.m. with Coffee, breakfast and then more coffee. Jenny arrived and we waited on my parents (who were late... ;) ) and then we all headed over to Knoxville. I got there with just enough time to find the bathroom, down a Lar Bar and head up to the bridge to be herded into my Corral to await the gun.

Jenny sacrificed some weekend sleep to be cold and support me ;)

I've mentioned this before... but good lord does NOBODY know how to seed themselves in a running race? The race organizers tried to fix the problem by having everyone sorted by corrals (set up by your projected finish time) but still... when you are falling off pace within the first mile... you didn't have realistic goals set. Are people really so clueless as to what they can finish a race in?
/ Rant

The Race

Somewhere around 8,000 "runners" on the bridge.

The first 30" or so are just shuffling around trying to get through the mass of people. I can't imagine what it's like farther back. Finally I actually cross the start line and find a little free air (on the sidewalk) to move. The strategy is to take the first 10k relatively easy, take a gel (at aid station mile6) re-evaluate how things are going and then either maintain or start head hunting around mile 8 if I'm feeling good.

The first 3 miles are the most dangerous in the whole race in my opinion. There's a ton of opportunity to think to yourself "this is easy... why am I not running faster?" and then burning yourself out with half the race ahead of you. Also when you get into a mass of people it's easy to let them dictate your pace, which usually also leads to the above. Around mile 3 I find two other guys who are holding roughly the same pace I am and I decide to work with them. We stay together all the way through the 10k marker (though Sequoyah Hills, which has the best support / signage of the whole race.) at which point the race starts to take on it's more serious tone. As the plan was set, I was going to take a gel at the 6mile station and have a little fuel in the tank for the "gut check" sections... unfortunately there was no gel at the station... damn. I grab two cups of powerade (spilling most of one of them on myself) and decide to start taking powerade at every station now. At mile 7 the true "F-you" climb* of the race (Noelton) comes up, and it is absolutely miserable. After a very steep section, it levels off and then gives you more of the same. My two compatriots fall off as we crest the top, but I know I don't have the luxury of dropping very far off pace at this point, so despite hurting like hell I have to leave them... I'll just have to trust I can recover on the flatter sections. Nonetheless, at mile 8 I've dropped from 6:4x's to a 7:01 mile... something I can't afford. Fortunately I start feeling better and run into another guy who is holding a 6:30-40 pace.

Faster! Time to PR

At this point headhunting is out. I just need to maintain and save a little something for mile 11. (which is almost exclusively a steady incline grade.) Again, the guy I'm working with starts falling off and I'm forced to set out on my own again. Turning back onto campus the uphill starts again. This time it catches up with me in a bad way and my pace drops to a sluggish 7:17 mile (my slowest mile of the day) by the time I hit mile 12. Now I'm counting seconds in my head. I need to run as fast a final mile as I can to hit 1:30... and even then it's going to be desperately close.

Digging Deep does not describe mile 13. There is a hole... I have a shovel... and I am digging in with reckless abandon. When the shovel breaks I move to digging with my hands. "Tunnel Vision" isn't something I've ever experienced in a race before... but I had it here. If the UT cheerleaders has been standing naked on the side of the road with Giraffe doing back flips on a trampoline I would not have noticed... All I saw was the chunk of road about two feet in front of me. Mile 13 is a 6:33 mile... the fastest mile I ran all day. I see the top of Neyland Stadium looming over me and I pour what little bit of gas I've got left on the final cruel hearted climb to the entrance. I pass through the gates and see the line...and the clock.

Dodging around 5k participants as I sprint for the line.



So close. Despite my final mile and all the suffering... 3 seconds off.
I fume for a moment before I realize my chip time may very well be different. I get my picture taken and find Jenny and the parents and hunt down the online results.



It turns out digging deep did pay off in the end. It wasn't my perfect day, but it was a big step for me. Running an average of 6:48min/miles was something I would have hoped for in a 5k a few years ago... now it's my half marathon pace! Consistency does work.

In the end I finished 50th overall and 10th in my age group (tough crowd!) but more importantly I learned some things about myself... and found a new level I *can* go to when I have to. That was more important than the results in my opinion.

/Race Report

So that was my exciting race weekend. The rest of the day was spent with me playing dark souls 2 recovering and scarfing down as much food as I could get my hands on. My calves are a little sore but otherwise the body held up remarkably well compared to the last few years.

Unfortunately my revenge on the White Sands Triathlon on the 19th will not be happening... due to the Easter holiday they couldn't seem to get enough roads race cancelled. I'm not sure how a race organizer lets something like that happen (I have already booked a room a night early... at a fair expense for nothing more than a room to sleep in a day early) but at least they are trying to make it right and give a refund. So now I am on the hunt for a race somewhere in the Destin/SoWal/Panama City area on the 19th... I may have found a 5k but would have preferred a triathlon. Oh well. If anyone out there knows of something let me know.

Hopefully everyone is ready for race season. (and warm weather) As always, thank you all so much for reading. Until next week.

- Christopher Morelock


  1. I love the cheerleader sign. It's nice to see some original signs during a race. Nice Blog!!


  2. Way to gut that last mile out. I would love to be anywhere close to that pace, even for a 5k.

    1. Thank you sir... I just hope to keep chipping away :) Next year maybe a little less pain.