Rock/Creek Race Team member Josh Hite ran the Knoxville Marathon last Sunday. We don’t have any photos to share — the one below is from a trail race, of course — but here is his write-up from an eventful race!
I usually do not have what many people call “goal races.” Every time that I had one in the past, I was disappointed. Akron Marathon 2007 comes to mind. I worked an eight week plan only to turn green at mile nineteen and suffer the rest of the way. The two IVs afterwards made me feel better though.
When I decided to make Knoxville Marathon a goal race, the past stayed in my head. A few rough weeks of training where I was sick made it worse. I doubted myself. It was not until the packet pickup on Saturday that I thought I had a chance. Sixth place in 2009 was just thirty seconds out of the money. Ninth place in 2010 was fourteen minutes out; sixth (2:31) then was a minute and a half out of the money.
The competition improved. I didn’t recognize the big gun names of this year at packet pickup. When I walked to the start line, I was behind the Kenyans. The same Kenyans who would run in the low 2:20’s. My race strategy is always the same for a marathon: 16 with head, 8 with legs, 2.2 with guts. Knoxville is a little different though. The hill after mile seven makes it so. The two stage hill causes people to slow and work much harder. I prefer to slow beforehand, and crush the competition on the second part.
I had to adapt a bit though. Running up and down hills at mile four made me realize I had to use the bathroom again. I try to take care of this prior to the race, but it wasn’t so this time. The guys I was with at mile five were about thirty seconds ahead of me when I finished my work. I pulled them in within a mile. No problem. I caught them prior to the hill and then passed them on the hill. Acceleration continued for a few miles on the greenway. 7 more with the head.
Picking off runners of the half marathon continued, so did my stomach issues. I stopped again prior to mile eleven. This time took longer. My friend, or pack-mate, put almost two minutes on me. I could only see his ponytail on the long straightaways.
I raced Gary in a cold race. I can remember that pony tail. Eight laps in Missouri. Eight laps in 20 degree weather. Eight laps of seeing him. The water stops were frozen, so were my gloves. He offered me quite a challenge two days after Christmas. He offered me another challenge in August. Opposite conditions faced us. It was 90 in the shade that Sunday. Five laps offered more than five times to quit. We pushed each other to near death. He later told me when he returned to Pennsylvania, he looked up the symptoms of heat exhaustion. He completed the checklist.
He now had me by two minutes. It was only mile twelve. My legs still had not started. My head was in control. I picked off the three guys between us, but he had three more with him by the time they hit sixteen. At seventeen the pack was down one and only up on me by twenty seconds. I knew I was closing. I wore sunscreen on my arms and I knew how much protection my Patagonia race shirt offered. The heat was becoming a factor again. Maybe it was more just the sun. Gary greeted me at eighteen. We spoke little, but it was enough to understand what we needed to do to drop the other two. I took charge right before nineteen. My legs still had 5.
The ground met me before I was ready. I hit an orange cone, a divider for the road. Countless miles of road races over almost twenty years had been kind. I never fell. Scratch that. Gary turned and pulled me. I brashly told him to go on. The other two passed us both. Two toilet stops and one fall could translate into several minutes. I knew the course though. I caught Gary within a few tenths of a mile. I was upset, but my concern was that the bloody knees would cause me to use the adrenaline I needed at the end.
I knew the course. Up over a long bridge at twenty, a fast downhill for a quarter mile, and then pancake flat at twenty one through twenty three. I told my comrade that we would pass the others and suck them down the hill. When they hit the flat, they would be working hard but going much more slowly. That is what happened. Maybe I should have been playing five card draw that Sunday morning. I probably would have foregone the bloody knees.
Twenty three came, and I was waning on energy. Gary was slowing. I needed to pick it up. I had three miles over 7:00. They were the two I spent in the john and the one when I fell. The 6:52 did not bode well. It was even worse because we knew we were some 10:00 behind the marathoner in front of us. Then I saw the leg movement. Over a quarter mile ahead, someone was running. Three someones were running. I pushed it. Gut time occurred. Gary encouraged me to go. I closed on them and caught them with a mile to go. They were all relay runners though. That was okay. They served their purpose for me. A 6:23 final mile meant I had some in the tank.
I finished fourteenth in 2:55:49. Gary was some thirty seconds back. It was a solid race, but I had more in the tank. The 6:23 told me that.