"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Rough Day on Rocky Top! (The Knoxville Marathon)

Even as I drove the winding stretch of mountain highway into the Smokies last Saturday, with thoughts of AT hikers making their way through Tennessee and North Carolina on such a beautiful day, it never dawned on me.  And despite the fact that we've driven around Knoxville so often that we have a custom list of local pit stops at the ready, I never really thought about it.  Nope, it wasn't until I walked into the Race Expo downtown that I actually realized how much trouble I was in.  Branded everywhere was the phrase 'Welcome to the Knox-Hill Marathon.'  In fact, the most popular t-shirt was one that had the elevation chart across the back.  My immediate thought, "Oh NO!"

Up and Down and Up and Down and Up and Down and Up and ......

The Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon was my 2013 spring race. The only objective was to finish and check off a new state.  It was within 4 hours of the house and in a location, (downtown Knoxville - UT Campus - along the TN River), that I have never spent any time.  In addition, the "coolness factor" was really high, as the race finished on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium.  Back in January it all made perfect sense ........

Sneak Peak at the Finish Line on the way over to the Start 
Fast forward to Sunday morning, April 7th. If ever there was a race that would bring out the worst in my performance this would be it.  The aforementioned hills were bad, but they were only one problem of many.  The temperature at the starting line was in the mid-50's and eventually rose to mid-70's by noon. Most of you know that these temps are far from ideal, so you carry the salt tablets and try to make the best of it.

Near the Starting Line
At this point, if it sounds like I'm using the hills and heat as an excuse, you're right. However, the final, most critical variable in this race-day-gone-wrong, is not an excuse.  I simply did not respect the marathon. Recovering from some back pains prior to Myrtle Beach, I did not pick up the mileage like I should have for Knoxville.  And it showed. Man, did it show. The aligning of these ill-fated stars created a struggle like I haven't experienced in any of my first six marathons. But we live and learn.

Maybe mile 7 or 8 (I'm still upright)
In short, I decided to run a 9:30 pace, walk the aid stations and see what would happen.  In hindsight I'm not sure if any other strategy would have worked either, so it was the best that I had.  Through the half-marathon distance, I was doing OK.  A 2:09 half is not great, but it definitely was not bad considering the course and the strategy.  I had hoped for a 4:20 finish, but would settle for a 4:30 as the sun rose high and hills rose higher.  Ultimately, the final 6 miles came down to a lot of "shuffling" and a little running.  I was beat and I knew it.  I found that brief conversations with fellow stragglers really helped.  As did the encouragement of spectators and downtown cafe patrons.

As I ran down the tunnel and onto the field, the stadium announcer introduced me to the crowd and the jumbo screen focused on my run to the 50.  I had originally thought I would run all the way to the end zone, but I was happy to cross midfield and take a knee on the 49! WOW! At 5:09:21 it took over a hour and half longer to finish than Chicago, just 6 months ago.  (Now is when you remind me to repeat, "it's about the finish, not the fast, it's about the finish, not the fast, it's about the finish, not the fast")

So another state down and another completely unique adventure. The CHKM is a nice event and the post race food is some of the best.  If you go, just know that it will be difficult, especially if hills aren't your thing.  It will also provide for some of the more diverse track; major roads, overpasses, bridges, sidewalks, greenways, food courts, stadium turf - they had it all. And yes, of course, it is a scenic run, made more mystical with the dogwood blooms snowing down on you in various points. And if you do go, give me a shout out after it's over, I'd love to hear how it goes, (just don't tell me that I didn't warn you).

Thank you Lord for today's physical health, for the desire to find community with other runners and for reminding me to respect the marathon!

The course for those familiar with Knoxville

I really do enjoy reading signs that spectators make and hold up along the course. They are great distractions and often good reminders and good for a few laughs.  You do start to see some of the same ones, but in Knoxville I recall two original signs that I liked. 

* Hey Runner, You're Tired??? My Arms Are Killing Me! 
* You Can't Quit ..... You're NOT the Pope!

A lonely mile 23 bridge at the point that I always question running another one :)


  1. Tough race out there, but congrats on staying strong and pushing through. It really is a (painfully) important lesson to remind oneself to respect the marathon. They are never easy but sometimes they are a whole different level of challenging! Looks like a great finish line.

    1. Em, great to hear from you. I keep checking REND and look forward to hear about the return from your short layoff and what goals you have set for the remainder of 2013! Maybe the ROCC 5K in Clemmons (spirt of full disclosure, that's the race that I'm part of putting on) will help you get back going! Thanks for the comments. See you soon. David