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…
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*
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. 🙂
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