Friday, April 22, 2016

I'm A Travler - Knoxville Marathon

I’m just a runner on this earth
Sure as my heart’s behind 
my technical shirt
I’ll just keep running till I’m in the dirt
‘Cause I’m a
runner, oh, I’m a runner
I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know How far I’m going but I’ve got to go
‘Cause every turn reveals some other road
And I’m a
runner, oh, I’m a runner

My heartbeat’s rhythm is a lonesome sound
Just like the rubber 
tapping on the ground
Always lost and nowhere bound

I'm a runner

I'm a Traveler - Chris Stapleton adapted to running

I'm a Traveler was one of the songs filling my head while running the Knoxville Marathon a couple of weeks ago. In both regards, I'm a Traveler and I'm a Runner fit perfectly with my marathon journey's. I've traveled to all 50 states and ran a marathon in each. In most of those cases, the traveling was as fun and momentous as the run.  Since 2010, my traveling partner (and sometimes running partner)  has been Cynthia Anne, overseeing my last 41 marathons but more importantly being traveling companions across the country always finding something unique in each locale.

I've always wanted to run the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon primarily to finish in Neyland stadium, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers and one of the largest stadiums in the country, seating 107,000. It is probably because I wanted to re-live my football playing days and feel the turf under my feet while running to the 50 yard line and nearly having as much pain as in the 4th quarter of a hard-fought football game - bruised, battered muscles.

Since I had never been to Knoxville, I didn't know what to expect from a course perspective.  All I had read was about how hilly the course is, one runner commenting that it was the toughest road course he had run. Generally, I like a rolling course so I was going to manage the hills  (ascents and descents) the best I could. Frankly, for me these days, running downhill is tougher than running uphill. I also like a lot of turns (yes, I know, faster runners don't) because it keeps my interest. Knoxville had both and is partly why I ran my best marathon in nearly a year in 4:34. Although 4:34 doesn't sound great, my age-graded time, being 56, clocks me at 3:53, which is right around my best marathon times.

It wasn't just a marathon weekend. I registered Cindy and I for the 5K which took place on Saturday evening and finished also on the 50 yard line of Neyland stadium. It was fantastic to see all the folks who came out to be active and participate over 3.1 miles of moderately hilly terrain and to have the same experience finishing in the stadium. Cindy and I ran-walk together finishing with out-stretched arms for being the champion that she is. With two artificial hips, she still puts up a good fight and challenges herself on each run. She finished in good time - 45:45, 17 out of 70 in her age group, 548/1315 overall female and 185/532 masters. I was proud of her tenacity and heart.

For me, all things equal, weather makes the biggest difference in a marathon. Humidity kills me and makes for a long drawn out miserable day. The weather in Knoxville was perfect for me, low humidity, temperatures in the 40's to low 50's at the finish. The Holiday Inn World's Fair hotel sits right on the starting line and less than a mile from the finish, wonderfully convenient logistics.  We drove part of the course on Saturday just to find a particular hill which we noticed at the expo had t-shirts emblazoned with its name. Any hill that gets it own t-shirt is worth a look.  Yes, it was steep and pretty long but being at the 7 mile point still early enough to be manageable.  It comes after running the first few miles through the campus of UT, passing streets like Peyton Manning Pass and Pat Head Summit (UT women's hoops). Then we ran down by the Tennessee river on Neyland Drive to a neighborhood called Sequoyah Hills, a posh place with big, beautiful houses and cheering fans. Through Sequoyah, the course was rolling with more elevation loss than gain until you come to Noelton Hill where the climb in significant enough to be noticeable. Truly, the hills in Baltimore particularly around mile 19 is just as challenging and much later in the marathon.

The next memorable part of the course was a greenway that took us back to the city through wooded, rolling (although very short) hills. At around 12.5 miles, Cindy was waiting just outside the hotel in World's Fair park, another logistical pleasantry for runners and supporters.  The half-marathoners diverted back to the stadium for their finish as we explored the other side of Knoxville. It was nice to see Cindy and my run was going well reaching her in about 2:10. The other side of Knoxville wasn't as pretty as the areas that we ran through in the first half until we got to the later miles along the river and into the city. The course was also not as hilly but not really flat either and we had a long climb on one of the bridges to take us to the other side of the Tennessee river at about mile 20. Through 22 miles I was still on a decent pace to finish in 4:30, my goal time.

Miles 22-24 are run along the river  on the other side of Knoxville so the views were quite nice, particularly on a bright sunny day.  Once we crossed back over the river we meandered through the streets of downtown and ran through some of the famous areas such as Gay Street past the Tennessee Theatre and then into Market Square where people were having lunch.  I was wearing a University of Tennessee shirt and some co-ed's called out, "Go Vols!" It was energizing and I knew that the finish was coming in less than 1.5 miles.  To get into the stadium, I knew that I had to run down some pretty steep hills then up a prolonged hill before dropping into the tunnel.  There is nothing better for a finish than finishing in a stadium, particularly a classic stadium like Neyland stadium. Cindy was able to get down to field level.  As I ran out of the tunnel into the cavernous 107,000 seat stadium, Cindy was just around the corner at the end of the end zone.  After a stop for our traditional finish kiss, I ran the 50 yards to the finish and struck my football pose for the big screen in the end zone. Being a running back in football and being older, I knew how to do this from the classic football trading cards of yesteryear. I then plopped down for a picture on the famed orange and white checkered end zone. I slowed in the last 4 miles and finished in 4:34.

The food for the marathoner finishers was indoors with seating, a nice perk. Pap John's pizza, chocolate milk, chips, pretzels, fruit, and Rita's ice was all provided. For the first time in my last 4 marathons, I actually had an appetite afterward and enjoyed the grub. Leaving the stadium, we walked passed Peyton Manning locker room, and a tunnel of flags from SEC and national championships. It was a shot 1 mile walk back to the hotel and then off to the zoo.

Marathon weekends are always accompanied by other adventures. It was the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville so we took in a show at the famed Tennessee Theater, hiked Mead's Quarry at Ijams Nature Preserve (day before the marathon), went to the Knoxville Zoo (after the marathon, and ate at a few different restaurants in Market Square. The weekend was a real treat and highly recommended.

Overall, it was a fantastic long weekend and an easy drive. We're just travelers on this Earth.

What is a blog without pictures? And you are probably thinking, yeah, just show us the pictures, away with all this text that I can't read in 160 characters!

Market Square

Market Square Entertainment
More Market Square
Pre-marathon Restaurant

Playin' for some cash with his dog

Big Ears Festival

Famous Gay Street

What we are here for and home of the Expo

Starting Line Bridge

Noah's Ark

...with the animals onboard

Famous Tennessee Theatre

Stage for eighth blackbird with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Bryce Dessner

Market Square at Night

Tennessee River - Neyland Stadium

Expo Time

Meade Quarry Ijams Nature Area

Views on the hike up the Mountain

Start of the Kids 26th mile run

Cynthia Anne all dressed to run the 5K

5K Start

Middle of the pack

Still going

5K Selfie with Cindy

Appropriate sign

Yay!! The Finish on the 50!

My Champ

Famed Orange and White Checkers

Marathon morning

Let's get this party started

Mile 12.5

Downhill before the uphill to the finish

Turning the corner for the last 50 yards

Football pose on the big screen

The real football pose

Home of the Vols


View from the 50
Zoo time with the elephants
Bad hair day - what's your excuse?
A cherished moment