Knoxville Marathon Felix Wong

March 19, 2005 Sat 3:00 pm EST: I am in Knoxville right now for the inaugural Knoxville Marathon. I picked up my registration materials at the expo and am now having lunch at a Panera Bakery on “the strip” near the University of Tennessee. Some initial impressions:

  • If the weather is anything like the weather today, it will be perfect for running. It is currently in the 50s and slightly overcast, and very dry. It is not even humid.
  • The course is going to be quite a bit hillier than I expected if driving through Knoxville is any indication. At least nothing looks super steep but I’ve already driven up some rollers that were pretty long (like 0.25 miles…)
  • So far, this marathon looks well-organized, although the expo was a little bit of a disappointment. Not a whole lot of vendors or interesting things happening over there. There was supposed to be live music and some workshops at certain hours, but they never happened?

Anyhow, right now I am trying to shift my brain from vacation mode into race mode. I began to concentrate on hydration last night (I bought a gallon of water earlier in the week just for this). My #1 objective for this race is to finally beat George W. Bush’s best marathon time of 3:44:57. I feel fresh and well-trained but it remains to be seen tomorrow. If all goes well I will have finished before 10:44 am EST on Sunday.

March 19, 2005 Sat 9:30 pm EST: I am here checking out the course profile with another marathoner, Malcolm Gillis. Holy cow, the course looks vicious. Lots of hills, including one at Mile 7 which goes uphill for 1.5 miles…

On another note, this guy Malcolm is amazing. He is 71 years old, and this will be his 99th marathon. (His 100th will be Boston next month.) Also, this will be his 4th marathon in 4 weeks. (And to think I was concerned I did a 25-mile run only 11 days before this marathon.) Coincidentally, he is also a Stanford alum—he got his degree back in the 1950s. Last year in the Boston Marathon, he came in 1st for the 70-74 year olds. He also thru-hiked the Appalachian trail before. This guy who is 42 years my senior may well be finishing ahead of me. But I remain focused on GW Bush.

March 20, 2005 Sun 4:40 am EST: Slept ok last night and woke up well before the alarm went off. Am eating a banana right now. Race is just a couple hours away.

March 20, 2005 Sun 6:55 am ESTAt the start is the Knoxville Mayor giving a speech with no less than Ronald McDonald by his side, but no one seems to be listening. Then a singer with a banjo sang the Star-Spangled Banner, except his voice has no range and the banjo sounds ridiculous.

Mile 0: The race then commences with the first hill (one of many) beginning after just 100 feet. I am intent on keeping a consistent cadence (~190 steps/minute) no matter what even if this means falling behind some people on the uphills and then passing them on the downhills.

Mile 13.1: I finish the first half in 1:45:00, and am very happy with that especially since the first half was supposed to be even more difficult than the second half (which was also supposed to be hilly).

Mile 17-18: I notice that my pace has now dropped to 9-minute/mile pace. I am concerned but know this is fine if I don’t get slower. However…

Mile 21: I am struggling to maintain 11-minute/mile pace and everyone is passing me. My legs are really shot. No endurance whatsoever. An energy gel that a volunteer gave me at Mile 19 does no good. Already I must concede to GW Bush because every time I try to pick up the pace my legs cramp. My only goal now is to continue without walking, but I do have some hopes that I can finish before 4:00:00.

Mile 25: The 4-hour pacesetter blazes by me. Even though (if he was doing his job well) he was going only 9:10 pace, I am powerless to keep pace with him for more than 10 seconds. My pace is more like 12-minute/mile pace.

Mile 26.1: Enter Neyland Stadium, the University of Tennessee’s football stadium and supposedly the second largest in the country. It’s cool to run onto the field where the football players run out of.

Mile 26.2: Done, though mission unaccomplished. 4:03:14 total time, or about 2h18m for the second half. Pretty pathetic, but sometimes you just have to be happy you survived and move on. For sure, I am even more motivated now to train better. (I may even train by “the book” as obviously my training strategy of doing short-but-high-quality training runs or races was not enough to do this race. I need to follow a plan by someone who knows what he is doing.) And next time pick a marathon that is flat. So far this was by far the hardest marathon course I have ever done, with at least one uphill every single mile!

Time splits:
Mile 1: 7:56
Mile 2: 7:17
Mile 3-4: 15:56 (7:43 ave.)
Mile 5: 7:21
Mile 6: 7:44
Mile 7: 7:54
Mile 8: 8:15 (long hill at Mile 7)
Mile 9: 7:55
Mile 10: 8:17
Mile 11: 8:28
Mile 12: 8:36
Mile 13: 8:21
Mile 14: 8:56
Mile 15: 9:05
Mile 16: 8:58
Mile 17: 9:34
Mile 18: 9:37
Mile 19: 10:03
Mile 20: 10:24
Mile 21: 10:18
Mile 22: 11:44
Mile 23: 11:02
Mile 24: 12:34
Mile 25: 12:27
Mile 26: 11:59

Overall time: 4:03:14

March 20, 2005 Sun 9:30 am EST
Small consolation–so Malcolm (the guy who has done 99 marathons now) says that this was the 3rd most difficult marathon he has ever done. (The first most difficult was the Black Mountain Marathon near Asheville, which goes uphill for the first 13 miles. The second most difficult marathon he did was doing 488 laps on a cruise ship as part of the Antarctica Marathon.) He came in at 4:11:xx, which I suppose says something, since last year at age 71 he ran 3:36:xx, and in his 60’s, ran 2:48:xx (a world record, he said). Still, this is no excuse for me coming apart in the second half.

April 5, 2005 Tue
Here’s more commentary, this time from my friend Steve Wickland, a Boston-qualified runner:

“I read your marathon race report on your website. I know you have probably gone over it but take another look at your splits! Just my uninformed opinion but your race was toast after mile 5.

“Focused marathon training will help but pacing is “Oh so crucial” in a marathon. Your book will have a chapter on pacing; take a look at your splits after you read it. It should be good news, you don’t need to do huge amounts of training to beat GB; just better implementation of that training.”

So the plan for my next marathon will be to do better training, better pacing, and running on a flat course.

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The pre-marathon expo was held on Saturday at the Knoxville Convention Center.  It was somewhat small (compared to, say, the California International Marathon Expo) and somewhat disappointing. This is me on what I believe is the Third Creek Bike Trail at Mile 9 or so, still feeling fairly decent despite the abundance of hills in the race. Photo: asiorders.com. However, by the time I entered Neyland Stadium (and actually well before that) for the finish, my legs were feeling like crap! Photo: asiorders.com. I was happy that at least I ran all the way to the end without walking regardless of the pain.  Final time: 4:03:27.  I'd have to beat GW Bush's best marathon time (3:44:57) on another day. Photo: asiorders.com.

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