It has hard to believe that four years have passed since I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon. I felt like I died trying, but I made it there and that’s why Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart. The following year I was able to run this event as part of the Biggest Winner team and then the next year I set my half PR. Last year I was able to walk it with my Momma and friend, Yvonne. Not only am I a participant on race day, I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to volunteer extensively for event.
The week leading up to race day, my training partner/BFF Brittney and I joined several other ladies to have a “bib party”. Basically we all meet and put name labels and timing chips on all bibs involved in marathon weekend. This year we labeled over 8200 bibs. I’m happy to report that I did not get a paper cut this year which is a major success given my injuries the past three years.
This was my third year on the Marathon Organizing Committee (MOC) and I was thrilled to be able to be part of such a hardworking group. In the weeks leading up to race day, we had a few meetings to discuss the ins and outs of race weekend and spent quite some time checking out the numbers. This year was going to be our biggest event yet! I got Brittney on board and she became the captain for Kid’s Area and was a valuable asset on Expo Day. I joined my longtime friend Robyn as a swag bag captain even though she did most of the work. Primarily the jobs involved were stuffing all of the goody bags that participants would receive as well as hand them out on race day.
Expo was a joy to work as always and our day started promptly at 7:30am in anticipation of all the runners who would come through when the doors opened at 9:00. Expo is one of my favorite parts of race weekend because of the hustle and bustle and excitement that fills the air. Everyone is there for a sole purpose and you just can’t help but smile. I also love seeing and catching up with so many people who I might only see on this one weekend. This year was probably my favorite Expo to date!
As an Expo worker, I’m on my feet (on concrete floors) for almost 14 hours. That does not equate well to running the next day. When Brittney and I talked about doing the half this year, we both decided to form a team for the 4-person relay. Neither of us had done the relay yet so it was a perfect opportunity to still race and get a medal yet run a shorter distance thanks to sore and tired legs. Our “coach” Bryan was doing the half so he would be our first leg and then we recruited our friend Scott to join us also. Thinking of a team name with a theme was tougher than we thought but we settled on Green Legs and Ham. The idea was for Bryan, Brittney, and I to wear green compression sleeves and then Scott would wear red and be our “ham” which totally suits his personality. Spoiler alert: Scott’s hammy personality really shined through on race day when he showed up as Waldo. Logistically we had worked everything out and we all opted to go to exchanges as a group instead of spread ourselves out.
The best part of race day was knowing that my sweet Momma was ending her journey on the Biggest Winner team and that she was going for a fast half marathon. Just in case y’all didn’t know…my Momma is an incredibly fast walker so add in the “shuffling” that she has been doing and she was ready to be unstoppable. I was so thrilled for her. We got up on race day and ate our normal breakfast and made the hour commute to Knoxville. It was suuuuper cold on race day so we were glad to get warmed up on our walk across town to the convention center. Once inside, we easily found our team and the excitement began to amp up. Part of being a member of the Biggest Winner meant Momma and her teammates had a personal photographer on race day. David Luttrell was on hand to capture every moment of the team’s day and I’m glad he was because he got some great pictures of my Momma and even my relay team.
About ten minutes before the race I gave my Momma a huge hug and wished her luck as our team had to make our way to the first exchange or else the roads would close. We had so much fun taking these crazy backroads and interstates to get to our spot but it was so worth it because we got to use indoor bathrooms and soak in the excitement at the first exchange. Our first runner was Bryan and since he was doing the half he was able to tell us exactly what time he would be through. As luck would have it, he came barreling through right when he said he would and then Scott was off! We cheered a little longer before heading to the next exchange. Since we were forced to basically drive the course backwards, we were able to see ALL the people who were still running on the boulevard and we honked, hollered, and yelled at my Momma who was moving along way faster than we expected as well as other members of the Biggest Winner team. We may have been obnoxious but I love good crowd support.
Once at the next exchange, we waited for Bryan to come down the hill towards the finish so we could cheer him on to his first SUB 2 HALF! After supporting him, we went inside to hang out and warm up until Scott got there. Brittney and I both had to use the restroom and I totally assured her that we had plenty of time until Scott got there but she was so worried she would miss him. How can you miss Waldo? I went to the bathroom alone and when I came back Brittney was gone and Scott was standing there with Cameron. Good thing that she didn’t go or else she would have missed him. Scott ran way faster than he had expected but we were all so happy to see him. Before we knew it we were off again to the final exchange.
We got there super early but it was fun to wait around and cheer all the marathoners on. I started my leg around mile 21 so it was where most marathoners would be starting to really struggle. Crowds lined both sides of the exchange area cheering every runner on. Waldo provided lots of entertainment for everyone while I tried to warm up. In perfect timing, we saw Brittney’s green legs coming at us and I threw my jacket to Scott, grabbed the slap bracelet, and I was off!
It started on a downhill which got me going at a fairly good pace to start off the run. The sun was out and the temperature was perfect. I passed several marathon runners and told them great job for encouragement although I felt super guilty since they were at such a rough part in their run and I was fresh. This part of the course was totally new to me and I enjoyed being unfamiliar with my surroundings. The Island Home neighborhood had wonderful crowd support with lots of signs and several of them were wearing themed tshirts. I didn’t care about pace at all but would glance down every now and then to see my average pace at a good number for me. My only goal was to get to the finish line to see how my Momma did. The run wasn’t really eventful except for seeing fellow blogger, Amy, with a sign supporting her husband who was doing the full. I let her know that I had passed him not to long ago so that she at least had an idea where he was.
My favorite part was running through Market Square and all the cheering plus knowing that we were almost done! I came across the final bridge and saw a good friend there who offered some encouragement before I barreled down 11th street towards the stadium. Thank goodness my team had obnoxious green legs on and that we had Waldo because I could easily spot them in the distance. It was fantastic knowing we were almost done and that as a group we had successfully finished a full marathon. The last hill up Estabrook gets me every single year but rounding that corner and heading onto the field is the greatest feeling ever. Before I knew it we were lined up running towards the fifty yard line and crossed in 4:25. I really wish I could tell y’all how great this moment was and how wonderful it was to have my training partners by my side.
We collected our medals and headed to our own VIP tent where my Momma, boyfriend, and family were waiting. It was so nice to have my Momma’s best friend since sixth grade and her kids there to watch us all finish. They are closer than family to us and after the loss of their father this year, it was great to see them get to enjoy something so much even if it was just being on the field at UT. There were TONS of pictures to be taken and I was so thankful that we were allowed to remain on the field for as long as we pleased. We talked about our race, gave lots of hugs, and took lots of pictures. I literally could not wipe the smile off my face. We hugged and congratulated other Biggest Winner teammates and talked with them about their races, also.
The best part? Hearing my Momma tell me that she did the half in 3:12 which is 24 minutes faster than last year!!! I’m so ridiculously proud of her. She is so successful and has worked so hard to get to this point. My only regret is not being there to see her cross but there were lots of great photos of her so I’m glad we have those.
It was a truly memorable day and I wish that all of these words could convey the happiness that the day brought. I’m so glad to be a part of this event and I think that the 4-person relay will now be my event of choice.
This past Thursday, we attended a party for marathon volunteers at Calhoun’s on the River. They provided a wide array of delicious food and I sampled just about everything. It was so fun to set at one big table with so many people that I love and talk about the race, running, life, and good food. This is also one of my favorite events with the marathon. Oh, and the views aren’t so bad either.
After all the hoopla and excitement we’ve had with race week it is hard to believe another year has passed. We are already planning for next year and it might just be the best one yet. Have a great week, y’all.