Knoxville: Happy and Hungry

For the past three years, I’ve attempted to take my running journey from “Ultra Crazy Runner” to just “Crazy Runner” by participating in my favorite marathon: the annual Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon. I would say it’s tradition, but really it’s just more of a personal running vendetta.

Every year, I trade in my easy going trail kicks for some sleek pavement shoes. I draw up fancy dreams and aspirations, wanting nothing more than what every other runner at the race wants: to be the most elite and coolest hard core runner out there, and win the race “chariots of fire” style to do pretty good. (Remember last year…?)

But this year was going to be different. Because following my Annual 100 Mile Emotional Breakdown of Life, I swore off my running obsession….and I stuck to it!

Yep… I made running take the back burner to EVERYTHING in my life. I poured myself into my family, my work, and my other hobbies that make me ME. I became super mom, and completely redecorated my entire home. I took over all of my husband’s personal training sessions, started weight training again, and kept my running under 40 miles a week. Sometimes a LOT less than that. I stuck to doing only short and fast runs. For someone who once did 150+ mile weeks— this was huge.

I felt good! Strong. Healthy. Happy. Balanced. See proof of much healthier Ashley below:

And guess what? Despite not running too much, I got faster.

I ran a half marathon in February in 1:33, placing 3rd overall for the females.

Check that wad of cash in my hands. “MONEY!!” (said extra crunk-like)

(Also check the much larger wad in my girl Beth Presten’s hands… she won 1st!)

So lemme get this straight: You’re telling me after 5 years of training hard, I actually stop trying, run only when I feel like it, and THEN I get fast? Pshhhhh. Go figure.

Anyway, I spent the rest of my spring (semi) running with a goal of a 3:20ish marathon in mind. I started doing long runs again, and had no trouble hitting my marathon pace for several miles at a time.

Ehhh, Knoxville’s in the bag. I figured.

Flash forward to race week, and I felt pretty dang good. But all of the sudden, I felt completely unsure of myself: WHO AM I KIDDING?
I suddenly felt that I hadn’t put in nearly enough work. I had trained hard, but not hard enough to feel like a bullet in a barrel. But it was too late now.

“Whatever. Lets do this.”

My family made the trip up to Knoxville, and stayed nearby in our family’s cabin. We spent the weekend hiking and exploring our favorite Smoky Mountain trails. PERFECTION.


Once race day arrived, I kissed my little fam goodbye and took off for a morning alone. I was calm, cool, collected and ready to annihilate some pavement. I met up with Beth Presten, who was tackling her own similar journey, and together we made our way to the start.

Finding My Place.

Now, let me just tell you, I should probably be a professional “people watcher” because dang, I’m so freakin’ good at it. So of course, I’m eye surfing everyone around me, scoping them out, seeing what they’re wearing…..she looks nervous….she looks fast….I’m probably faster…. you know, stupid stuff that everyone does. Don’t lie. You do it too.

I chose to run Knoxville with no music. No pacer. No distractions. I just wanted to be fully alive in the moment. I wanted to experience the race–every bit of it.

I looked at Beth, and said, “You ready?”

“Yup!” She said, “We’re gonna rock this!”

We gave each other a hug, probably more of a sympathetic one, knowing good and well the amount of pain that was hanging over our heads, and then we separated to find our proper place amongst the other runners.

I looked around, gauging the crowd, and eventually positioned myself somewhere kinda near the front…but not the front…You know, THIS place:

“I’m sorta fast for a busy mom” *steps up a step*

“..but I like food a smidgen more than speed work” *steps back a step*

“….aaaand I’m just a lowly Kenyan-blood-free, pale, American nerd.” *three more steps back*

“BUT. I could possibly have some great great great grandfather Kenyan blood in me somewhere? I do tan easy sometimes…” *half step back up*

Riighht here.This should be good.

I bounced nervously back and forth from my left foot to my right, ready to get the show on the road. There’s something so intoxicating about the beginning of a marathon. The anticipation, the buzz, and the overwhelming feeling of “OhMiGosh. Crap.” –it’s something I wish I could bottle up. I’d definitely call it Crunk Drank (seeing as Crunk Juice is already taken).

Anyway…After a beautiful singing of our National Anthem, the race director prayed and counted down the send off…

3.. (Yes!!)

2.. (Woo!!! I’m gonna slay this!)

1.. (NOOO GOD NO!! NO!! Please!!!!)

BAM!!! …and just like that, I was running my [who knows how many]’th marathon.

Don’t stick with the idiot crowd.

Lesson number one in a Mary. Don’t start out at the pace of the crowd. I promise you that everyone is going about two minutes faster than they should be. And so being the super smart blonde that I was trying to be, I held back, and ran my first mile at 7:45.

GO ME! Nice and easy. I felt so smart. I decided to hold this nice easy pace–about 15 seconds slower than my regular pace–for a good while. Then, if all went smoothly, I would have so much energy, that I could practically sprint the last 6 miles. Perfect plan. Perfect.

So, halfway into this thing, and despite crazy hard hills, I’m still chugging along, and totally enjoying myself…listening to the live music, feelin like a total pimp with everybody screaming “Go girl!!l”, …smooth.

And by the way, if you’re ever going to run a marathon down in the South, make it Knoxville. The race is just awesome. Such tremendous crowd support, and runs through some beautiful parts of the city, University of Tennessee, and scenic river side neighbors. It’s the big city marathon you want, without the stress and crowds like other typical big city races.

…Being a trail runner, I was surprised that I was actually enjoying the change of pace. I missed my trees, I missed the comfort of soft earth, but I liked being locked into a goal. And the energy around me was intense.


Is This What Fast Feels Like?

As I continued on my merry 7:45 way, I was greeted by mile 16 of the race. Time to step it up a notch.

I began to slowly increase my speed [does that even make sense? Slowly increase my speed…slowly increase my… Whatever. Never mind.]

…so I started running faster.

Omigawd I am going to slaughter this run. I’m going to spank it like a 4 year old in K-Mart. I AM GOING TO—*Garmin Beep*

“Lap 17: 7:45”

…..huh? Nahhh that felt at least like a 7:25.

Hey, idiot Garmin, don’t know if you know this or not, but I was DEFINITELY trying harder…Definitely running faster than that.

I wasn’t slowing down was I????

18 miles and I kept pushing, refusing to look at my watch.

By 20, I was running over a highway bridge, uphill, and completely exposed to a hotter than normal sun…and the battle began

“Ughhhh this sucksss!”

“Ohhhh no does Baby Ashwey need her mommy?! Does Little Ashwey’s feet hurt?? Awwww…”

“AHHHH NO. Shut up. Shut up. RUN RUN RUN.”

And then there was this:

*Lap 20 8:15*

Ahhhhhhhhh!!! Frick.
Frick frick Frick!

Turns out I was completely not Kenyan at all, and was totally incapable of running a negative split.

Betcha didn’t see that one comin’?;)

Fall Apart or Find Heart

At that moment I had the choice. I could either suck my thumb, jog it in, be a brat about it and miss my goal by a lot. Or, I could push with whatever I had left, and bring it in as best as I could.

I figured the latter had a more positive lasting life impact. So, I started picking the pace back up. Of course there’s not much picking up you can do with 21 miles on your legs, but I did what I could.

I mentally ran from crowd support to crowd support. Using the human energy to propel me forward. Each time I’d pass through a water stop– full of motivation from onlookers and awesome volunteers– I’d run a little bit faster… These people totally think I’m hardcore….Right? Riiiight?!! ha! You runners know what I mean.

Finally, with one mile left, I looked down at the 3:20 on my watch and realized that I hadn’t done so bad after all. ONE. FINAL. PUSH. No pansies allowed at this point.

Run forresssst runn!!!

So I reached down deep into my little gut, and started running, balls out, as hard as I could to the finish line!!!

I’m talking a glorious, beautiful, solid 5 minute pace!!!!!

(Disclaimer: it may have just FELT like a 5 minute pace, but could have actually been closer to umm.. you know..7:46…)

As I ran into the finish line, right on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium, I felt a huge smile stretch from ear to ear.

3:28. My first official sub 3:30 marathon! With the way I trained…Not bad. Not bad at all.

Where Bittersweet Meets Sweet

I found Beth at the finish. She PR’d with a cool 3:19, less than a year after having her first child. I was super proud of her, but knew that she also missed her goal time. We gave each other a sweaty nasty hug, and began the typical post marathon complaint fest:

“That course was SO hard. SO HARD!” She said.

“Yeahhhhh, I think every year I forget how hard it is!!” I replied.

“The hills were awful!!!”

“I know, and it was so freaking hot. Why is it so hot anyway? I hate the sun…let me tell you what else I hate about running….”

..that kinda stuff.

However, we quickly forgot all of that nonsense as soon as we walked into the post race party room– complete with probably the most amazing combination of edible greatness I had ever seen in my life.

Engage inner fat kid mode.

Fresh baked amazingness.
I think probably every drink ever made.
Some healthy stuff I didn’t notice….

For a good girl on a diet, it was total bad girl heaven.

Beth, her husband, and I all sat around a table, laughed, griped, and ate. We celebrated the little victories of the day and swore off the moments we’d rather forget.

After I stuffed my face, I walked the mile back to my car, usually the crappiest part of the marathon, and reflected on my race. I didn’t reach my goal. But I didn’t suck at life either. It was a good/bad day. And as I sat down, I realized that despite a PR, I’d never felt better. I even took this gangsta picture for all of you….

After I got back to our cabin, I cleaned up, told my kids I won the race (shut up, I got my age group) and I slipped on a pair of high heels for a day on the town. And it was in that moment, as I easily stood up on 4 inch wedges, that the sad truth sank in: I wasnt sore. I felt fine. And I knew why. I didn’t try hard enough, and I failed to run a peak effort race.

I didn’t feel a ton of pain. I didn’t puke my guts up at the finish. I didn’t leave it all out on the course.

I just kinda, you know, ran.

Grrrrr. Daggum marathon!!!!

“DANGITT! I’m not sore!!” I shouted to my husband, “I didn’t run fast enough. I have to try again! Google the next marathon within 100 miles of our house!”

Sure, I got to the finish line happy and healthy, and that was my true goal. But you know as well as I do what lies just underneath the surface: the GOTTA BE’s.

Gotta be better.
Gotta be faster.
Gotta be100 times more awesome at life.

The “gotta keep up that never ending chase for personal success and satisfaction”. Why? I dunno… because I’m human? Because it’s so freakin’ addicting? It feels good to hurt? It doesn’t matter. All I know is that no matter how many times I run one, I always love it, hate it, write it off, and then learn from it. And THAT is what keeps me coming back for more. Knoxville made me happy, but I’m still so hungry for more. Starving.

So thank you, Knoxville Marathon, for providing 26.2 miles for me to turn into a cocky little brat, a raging schizophrenic, a dumb blonde, a humble little baby, and finally…a RUNNER…all in one day.

Crave the run. πŸ™‚


SO- you tell me. Did I run a good race or do I need a repeat?? Leave your thoughts below!

P.S. I have another ultra adventure coming up with Amber and some other friends in California. Stay tuned! ~Ash

45 Replies to “Knoxville: Happy and Hungry”

  1. I really enjoyed your story and humor! I could definitely relate, as I had many of the same thoughts going through my head. The Knoxville marathon was my first official run and first official marathon. You smoked my time of 04:42:00, and I missed my goal (too) of being under 04:30 by quite a bit, but it was great experience!

    Oh that note, it’s time to get out for an afternoon run… πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for reading & commenting! A fellow knoxville 26.2 junky, eh? I loved the race this year! I think my favorite addition was definitely the post race party- ha! Find me next year, I’ll be there!

      1. I don’t know what the race was like last year, since this was my first time – but I missed most of the post race party since I got swept away by my wife and kids. I’ll definitely look for you next year, though, and make sure to attend more of the post-race festivities! Followed u on Twitter too, to remind me.. πŸ™‚

    2. Yep – first official race as in ever… I started running in Oct/Nov of last year after losing about ~ 70 lbs. Running became an integral part of a weight-loss goal that I had (weighed about 300 lbs in July 2012 – and decided it was time to get fit and quit making excuses). I ramped up my distance pretty quickly and could do half-marathon-distance-runs by the end of November. Since I could do that distance comfortably, I registered for the Knoxville marathon when it rolled around.

      Initially, I thought about just doing the half-marathon. But, I’m not getting any younger and it just seemed like it was a no guts, no glory sort of decision. I had never entered any public/competitive race before in my life.

      I practiced at the UT track (Tom Black Track) the entire winter and about two weeks before the Knoxville Marathon, I did run 26.2 at the track. That really helped my confidence. Also, by that time, I had gotten my weight down below 190, which also really helped. The Knoxville course was very challenging – if I had weighed even a little more, I may not have made it… πŸ™‚

      At this point, I’m an avid runner/running addict. I plan to do at least one to two more marathons this year. I entered the NYC non-qualifier lottery and will also do the Memphis St. Jude marathon with an old friend of mine.

      Anywho, I didn’t want to hijack your blog/story, but some things require a bit of explanation sometimes.. πŸ™‚ So, I’ll just mention that I chronicled a lot of this (with pictures, no doubt) on the MyFitnessPal website since a few friends asked me how I did it (both the running and the weight loss).

      1. Mannnn!!! What an incredible journey!!! I’m happy you shared it…that is too cool. I bet everyone around you is totally in awe of your hard work and transformation! WELL DONE! Did you blog it all out? –I’ll check the link you provided..

      2. Thanks! I’m sure everyone around me is a bit tired of hearing about it .. πŸ™‚

        I didn’t blog except to post a simple Facebook note and then move it to MFP (the link I posted) to share with other people who were looking to transform themselves/and their lives.

        And before i forget – I realized I never said congratulations. Even though you missed your goal and were a little disappointed, congratulations (to both you and Beth) on your new PR’s. Those are awesome times!

        Your post race conversation sounds just like the one I had with another girl on the runner’s food court (or whatever) they called it..

        β€œThe hills were awful!!!”

  2. This is a great post πŸ™‚ I found your blog a couple weeks ago, and I’ve loved reading through your past posts…and admittedly have been waiting to find out how this race went! I am 33 years old, had my 3rd child almost a year ago, and have just taken up running again (which I haven’t seriously done since about 10 years ago when I worked up to a half marathon). While pregnant this last time, I just KNEW that I was getting my butt back in shape, and was going to become a runner. FOR REAL! So, basically, your blog has been such a great motivation for me. I love how you process and explain your emotions, and the fact that you lay it all out there. It’s great! So, thanks πŸ™‚ I look forward to hearing about your upcoming running adventures!

      1. You’re welcome! And 3 kids is not as crazy as it sounds…okay, sometimes it is πŸ™‚ But my oldest is eight, and he is an amazing helper to me and an amazing big brother to his little brothers (yes, all boys!). By the way, ran a little over 2 straight miles today in 20 minutes! I was so excited since that’s my longest running distance so far since I began two months ago. I LOVE IT!

  3. My sheilas never do minimum mileage, if you can even wrap your mind around calling 30 mpw “minimum”. Such natural talent wasted. Pitty. But, that’s a savory time for no training. Cheers!

  4. Dang! You were there!? I would have loved to have met you! I follow you on Instagram too. Enjoyed the recap. I love running Knoxville, and intended on doing the full, but unknowingly had stress fractures, but still PRd a half. Next year I am doing the full. I like the hills, it’s my strong suit. CQ

  5. First off, congrats on the PR! Second: Like I said on the tweeter, I think you may have stumbled on to something. A sustainable training regimen that may help you build up to future achievements. Training smart is often better than training hard, and now that you know you had something left in the tank, you can use that knowledge for the future. You’re coming into your physical prime now, and it’s very possible that you happened upon a type of training *your* body responds to. Not many elite athletes are so fortunate. So what I’m saying is the fact that you weren’t trashed afterwards means you found the sweet spot of training and race day performance. But yeah, you should do another. And soon.

    1. YAY! One of my favorite commenters! Bob I totally agree. I totally feel like I stumbled upon my natural training rhythm. Took 5 years, but I found it. I think I can tweak it for more improvements this fall. Thanks for your feedback. Can’t wait to swap more stories in the future.

  6. I think your race sounds like exactly what you needed – to make you hungry for that puke-at-the-end-leave-it-all-on-the-course race you’ll undoubtedly have soon πŸ™‚ Great job!

  7. This was a great post- laughs, shaking my head in agreement, etc. I am in Knoxville also and ran the half for the first time. I wrote a recap of my race with 13 lessons in 13.1 miles. (three separate posts that following week). Then within the last two weeks- after saying the words never again and half marathon in the same sentence I realized that I wanted another one so am planning on the Tellico Plains one in June. I have also realized I want to do a full- mainly to do it and finish. Again, I learned I should never use the word never πŸ™‚ So, looking at Chattanooga for that one. I am slow but I definitely leave it all out there.

    1. Hey tami!! Haha you caught the bug!!! It’s hard to turn away even after tasting the pain, you know? Same with me, started, swore it off, years later still running further faster crazier than ever. It’s a terrific hobby to be stuck on though, don’t you think?;) thanks for reading & commenting.

  8. To you, I’m just some unknown runner/blogger/coach of (mostly) newbies – so I’m not sure why you’d take my advice. But, if you’re still interested, I’d say not to jump back into too much, too fast. You burned out (in part) from over-doing things. So don’t go too crazy right away. Keep doing what you’re doing, but maybe with a few tweaks to help you do it even better.

    What about a fire analogy (because who isn’t a bit of a pyromaniac on the inside?): A fire needs air (oxygen). If you smother it, the fire will go out. But a tornado is equally dangerous, and will also extinguish the flame. Slow, steady exposure to air is the best way to keep a fire going. So be a fire. You got a taste of racing again, and that re-lit your fire. So slowly, carefully, let the flame grow. Don’t blow it out with too much, too fast. Nice and easy…feed it a little, and let it grow. And over time, it *will* grow. And over time (maybe not right away, though), you will race again – with EVEN MORE excitement and drive than you did yesterday, or have today.

    But heck. That’s just my two cents.

    Also? I love your description of the “Where do I start in this corral?” dance.

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! I love your analogy! dont want to jump into anything. I’m enjoying the lack of complete and total burnout in my life, that’s for sure. I do think another marathon wouldn’t hurt, but I’m going to wait until Fall. thx for reading:)

  9. So I think you ran a great race, and I don’t say that just because I’ve yet to complete my first marathon (after never making it to the start line last year) or because any time under 4 hours is like rocket propulsion to me. I say it cause of the focus you had prior to that and then you just seemed to turn it around just for this race. You are indeed a natural runner (whatever that means!). Indeed, I think you should continue with another marathon as it appears to currently be an area that poses a different sort of challenge for you. Love your free spirit! I think you would have fit in great with the hippie culture (hope you accept that as a compliment).

    1. Hey Kent! How ya been? thanks for providing your feedback! I agree, I’m digging the speed challenge. It’s harder for me than checking out and running slow for a long ways. — My mom & dad were hippies. I consider myself a modern day hippie for sure! πŸ˜€

  10. Hello Ash:
    I think you should look for an early fall race. You could take the summer to fine tune your training. Then you could give that 3:20 another shot. You may want to consider an easier course. I ran Knoxville in 2010, and it was one of the more challenging ones I have done. Thank you for the fun story!

  11. I think I saw your name on the Strolling Jim list. Are you running? This will be my 3rd year. It’s such a fun race. Congrats on a sub 3:30 in Knoxville! I just want that darn red shirt at SJ!

    1. Hi! Thanks!!!:) No, Sadly I told mike I had to pull out. I’m running the inaugural Badwater Salton Sea race taking place at the same time out in Cali! Good luck on your red shirt. SJ is by far my most favorite ultra!!!

  12. I’m a few days late to the party, I was too busy falling apart at the Eugene Marathon! Be happy you went out and ran, especially since you retired from running earlier in the year! πŸ˜‰ I’ve learned that the less structured my training, the better I do. Every run is what it is supposed to be; if my legs say go fast, I do, if they are rough, I’ll take an easy day. BUT, then you throw a road marathon in the mix and it’s a whole bunch of WTF. Being happy about a race doesn’t mean being content at letting it stay that way. Go get that next one!

    1. Lucas thanks.. & I owe you a huge thank you for helping me keep my head on straight pre race!!! I agree with you on that whole training based by feel gig. If only i can drop the same numbers as u ha! What happened at Eugene?

      1. Eugene was crazy. First time in my life I’ve had IT Band problems. I’m going to blame the roads! Had a great first 20 but couldn’t keep it going any longer! I’m the same tho, already found another marathon up here in Steamboat to do the beginning of June! You’re quick tho, the run by feel thing has changed my life! I used to be so strict, now running is more fun again

        1. I HATE ROADS. I do. Jacked my IT band up that way too!!! I think I run on the side of a road like once a year…. Hope u get your time. I’ll have to check back in with u soon

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