Monday, April 9, 2012

Convenant Health Knoxville Half-Marathon

I wasn't really sure if I was going to run this race, even as late as Saturday afternoon. My left knee started to bug me and was showing the same symptoms as my right knee did before getting really painful and I was stuck at one of the world's most slow moving track meets on that Saturday morning/afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to leave the meet a little bit early and had about 3.5 hours to make it to Knoxville. We ran into a traffic jam in Lebanon and I debated just turning around and going home, but eventually it cleared out. Mary and I got into Knoxville at about 7:30pm, which only give me a few minutes to run into the expo, get registered, get my stuff and take off.

I really enjoy the out-of-town races. They give the race much more of a "big-race" feel because you have to travel, stay in a hotel and you have a lot of time to get in the racing mindset and feeling. It's much different than rolling out of bed, drinking a cup of coffee and hoping on the freeway for 30 minutes for a typical Nashville race. I was hoping this extra adrenaline boost would be what I needed for a good performance.

For my pre-race dinner, I was hoping to get some pizza, but when we got there, the place was just closing. We decided to turn around and find a place closer to the hotel. The Italian place was swamped (I guess people thought they needed to "carbo-load"), so we decided to go to Monterrey's. True, one bad burrito could probably ruin your race, but most of the time, you can never go wrong with Mexican. It seemed like I was the only runner in the place, and I ate more than my fill of Mexican cuisine. It was no Casa Vieja but the food was still pretty decent. We didn't get done eating until after 9:00pm, so after dinner, it was time to siesta to get ready for the fiesta.

I got to the race a little over an hour before the gun went off. Surprisingly, it was very easy to find a place to park inside of a free parking garage. I hung around the Convention Center for a bit and watched the women's bathroom line grow in size while the men's line always stayed the same. About 40 minutes before the gun, I decided to start my warm-up and ran my usual 15 minutes of jogging and watched as more people flowed in. With the temperature in the low 50s and with fog all around, the weather was nearly perfect for racing.

With about 10 minutes to go, I started doing some light strides and ran into Stewart Ellington, who fortunately for me, was running the full marathon. He gave me a description of the course and even more importantly, pointed out a hidden dumpster that doubled as a bathroom stall. He let me know the course was probably about 1:00-1:30 slower than a course like Tom King. After hearing that, I made it my goal to at least break my Tom King time (68:34) and maybe make a run at sub 68, if things were going my way.

When I got on the line and waited for the start, Daniel Kirwa lined up beside me. Daniel won a few national championships while running for Harding University, was the winner of the 2011 Rocket City Marathon and while I was in Kenya in 2005, I saw him run 14:42 for a 5k on a dirt track at 7,000ft. in the air, when he was just 18 years old. Needless to say, the guy is a stud. I didn't recognize any of the other guys around me, so I didn't know what to expect.

The gun finally shot and the race was off. I tucked in beside Daniel and I was surprised no one took off. Normally you'll have someone get caught up in the hype before he understands the cruelness of reality but there was no such runner today. A couple of minutes in, Daniel and I were leading side-by-side with a pack of guys behind us. We went through the first mile in 5:19, which was a little bit slower than I wanted. I cranked up the pace a notch and Daniel stayed beside me. I didn't want to turn around, but there seemed to be at least three other guys still with us, which included a guy with a pretty sweet 'stache.

The second mile marker was either way short or I set a new personal record in the mile, with a 4:06 split. Daniel and I were still running together and I was hoping someone else would help with the work but no one stepped up. We went through three miles still bunched together in 15:24, which gave us a time of 10:05 for the last two miles. That pace was now a little more aggressive than I wanted, especially over the hills, but I felt really smooth and in control, so I decided to stick with it.

In the fourth mile, Kevin Quadruzzi decided to help with the pace, so I tucked in for a few minutes. We covered the next mile in 5:01, which ended up dropping everyone in the chase pack, except for one guy, Adelaziz Atmani. I never noticed him in the beginning and he appeared to be pretty relaxed but didn't show any signs of wanting to help with the work. I was still feeling strong at this point and compared to the Tom King Half-Marathon, I was feeling much better at this point in the race.

In the 8th mile, we climbed a very steep hill that I was able to power up but shortly after, there was another longer hill and in a matter of a few minutes, I was about 10 seconds behind Daniel and Adelaziz. I tried to not give up any more time in case Daniel dropped Adelaziz but all of the hills were making things tough.

Part of the course goes along a greenway, which had some short dips and climbs, along with some flat sections. I was able to gain a few seconds here and was able to throw together two miles in 4:56 and 5:01. At this point, I was only a few seconds behind the two but once we left the greenway, Adelaziz made a move which ended my bid for for a top two finish.

Since I was pretty much guaranteed third place, I briefly debated backing off, but I really didn't feel that badly. I slowed down a good bit over the last two miles, as the hills returned. Like Tom King, this race had a stadium finish and with about a 1/4 mile to go, I literally ran into the 5k walkers. We had the same finish line and they were taking up the entire road, so I had to zig-zag around them, which became really difficult when you entered the stadium, just before you go onto the football field to finish.

Luckily, once I got onto the field, it wasn't as crowded but Adelaziz told me he got blocked by walkers around the final turn, which he said cost him the race. But to be honest, he wasn't going to beat Daniel. You can be the judge: race finish

When I crossed the line, the finish clock said 67:06 but when I looked at my watch, it said 67:21. To make things even more confusing, the official results had me at 67:09. I almost convinced myself that I really did run 67:09 but just stopped my watch late, but unfortunately, there was video evidence: 67:21 it is.

Overall, this was a pretty fun race. The post race food was indoors and pretty solid (I focused on the pizza, Cheetos and Funyuns), there were a lot of spectators on the course and the course itself was a tough challenge. I'm not sure if I'll come back again next year but it was worth the trip.

Overall, I'm really happy with my time. I haven't done any hard workouts, so I'm very raw and rusty. During the race, my breathing was fine and I felt very strong but I just couldn't go any faster. At Tom King, I was dying but in this race, I felt like I could have run a few more miles. I guess averaging 5:09s is like averaging low 5:00s on the "flats" and my training just hasn't set me up to run that fast yet.

I'm a little dissapointed that I didn't make myself die. Part of it was that I didn't have the necessary capabilities yet but I also think I was a little bit psyched out by Daniel. He's such a strong runner and I knew I wouldn't beat him. If he was some other guy, maybe I would have fought a little bit harder. Who knows. But my racing is ahead of schedule and with hard workouts just around the corner, hopefully I'll be ready to run under 66:00 if the weather is good at the Derby Festival Mini-Marathon in four weeks.

Splits: 5:19, 10:05 (2 miles), 5:01, 5:20, 5:04, 5:03, 5:28 (got dropped), 4:56, 5:01, 5:20, 5:24, 5:32 (1.1 miles)

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