Challenge Knoxville half - 13.1 mile run

My game plan for the first few miles of the run was to establish good-form running as quick as possible and then run as strong as possible for the remainder of the race. It typically takes me around 15-20 minutes to warm-up my legs in any given run and race day was no exception. I didn't look at my Garmin for the first 3 miles (even with it auto-lapped each mile) and I just focused on good form, tall posture (for my 5-foot frame), quick cadence and light on the feet. I did set up my Garmin to show the following on the interval screen:
Lap pace average   Current pace
Lap distance     Total time

When I got to the first aid station, I stopped to take a drink of water from the volunteers and to take a few deep breaths to try to get my HR to lower. Like many athletes, my HR goes up in the first mile but then if I can stop and take a few breaths, it will lower to normal levels. To ensure that I had plenty of fuel in my tank for the later miles, a high heart rate in the early miles was not part of my racing plan. So even though I didn't feel like I was breathing hard or struggling with my form, I still made the conscious effort to stop almost every aid station, especially in the first 3 miles. 

I never see walking/stopping as failing to run or that it is preventing me from running a faster time. If anything, it helps me run stronger in the later miles as I can maintain good form and more focus through my "interval" run/walk strategy (Karel walks too when he races and so do our athletes). 

I had heard that the bike course was hilly but the run course was also very hilly when we get into a neighborhood. Race maps can be deceiving online/on paper and every athlete has his/her own definition of hilly. When I lived in Florida, every bump in the road was a hill and a bridge was a mountain. Certainly, after living in Greenville for a year, my definition of "hilly" has changed a lot. Now I say "bumps, hills, bigger hills and mountains". 

I took a sip from my Nathan hydration belt flask between each aid station so that I could drink just water at the aid stations. Each flask had 90 calories in it so I consumed 180 calories during the 13.1 mile run + a little water at every aid station. I never felt bonky or lethargic or dehydrated. It's really important to find the right balance of how "fast" you can run to be competitive but also how much you can fuel to support that effort. There is a fine line between running too hard and not being able to meet your needs which often ends up in a bonk-like scenario, dehydration or GI distress. I consider myself a very metabolically efficient athlete as I use sport nutrition in all my training so I utilize carbohydrates very efficiently for rapid energy to my working muscles. Karel is the same way as he also uses sport nutrition in every workout (and we always run with our hydration belts - even for the short runs). 

So now on to the fun stuff - let's talk about the race!

As I started the run, my body felt good. Not great, but not bad. With many endurance events behind me, I can tell you that how you feel when you start the race can be very misleading. Never let how you feel in the first few miles of a race convince you if you are going to have a bad, great or good race. You have to literally run with it and find a way to settle into your rhythm. 
I shut off all feelings and just ran. I saw ahead and my two competitions were ahead of me...like way ahead of me. 

The road slightly inclined and declined but it was not challenging for the first 2 miles. I knew I didn't overbike because my legs felt fairly fresh. 
We then made a left turn on to a running path and I began to settle into a rhythm. Still taking walk/stop breaks at the aid stations (which were almost every mile), the road began to incline/decline a bit more and I finally felt like I was in my element - hills and nature. 

With my competition no where in sight, I found myself passing a few guys and watching the pros (running in the opposite direction on this out and back course) really digging dip. 

I found my right leg feeling a little tight - it was kinda like my ITB was tightening but I couldn't really identify exactly what was going on...but that's ok. With 6 years of chronic hip/back injuries, I've experienced so much in training that I don't need to diagnose myself in a race to figure things out. Thankfully, in the last two years, I have learned to trust myself that I am not injured every time I feel a niggle. 

I began to check-in with my Garmin every time it lapped at the mile around mile 3. My time was hoovering around 7:40-7:50 min/mile and I wasn't sure what to think of this. I had studied previous race times to learn what would be a "fast" run time on this course and previous times alerted me that this was not a "fast" time course but instead, a course for those who could run the strongest off the bike. 

I tried to keep my emotions aside, assuming that I needed to run faster with every mile so I just stayed focused on my competition ahead of me. 

As I was around mile 3,5-4ish, I looked ahead and saw a super steep incline. The road just went straight up. No problem, I thought. Let's just tipy-toe-jog my way up with powerful arms and call it a "run". 

As I was running up the hill, I spotted my friend, pro triathlete Katie Thomas and she looked so strong running down the hill. She was smiling and I was so happy for her that she was having a great race. Katie and I have raced together only a few times and she remains a great friend to me (and awesome athlete!). 

As I approached the aid station after the hill, I decided to not stop but to keep running. With another hill after the aid station, I wanted to get the hill over with and "recover" at the top. I grabbed my water to sip and another to cool my face (even though it was cloudy, I could still feel myself getting hot) and then when I got to the top, I looked ahead and saw "the neighborhood" that everyone had been talking about. 

I took a quick stop break, gathered myself and in less than 10 seconds, I came to the realization that I felt amazingly good and the miles were just ticking away!

 Despite dealing with a few issues with my sport bra feeling super tight (I'll go back to my Oakley Women sport bras instead of my Brooks running one that constricts my rib cage), my leg acting weird and my mind trying to convince me that I wasn't running fast enough..........

My first prey was now behind me! I passed her before the neighborhood (I think) and then as I was started running again when I entered "the neighborhood"....I saw Karel!

Karel was on the other side of the street, running up the hill that I was running down. I shouted "Go Karel" and he was in his zone. He looked so strong and I figured he had to be near the front of the AG male race. 

And in a matter of 5 miles, it really hit me.
My why.....It's for the love of competition!

When I train, I love the journey that I get to take myself on. Just me and my body and mind.
But on race day, I am out there with hundreds of other athletes who have all been on their own personal athletic journey and I get to be part of the action. It's not about who is the best based on a time or finishing place but instead, how we all bring out the best in each other and how and why we compete. We aren't exercisers....we are athletes!

At Challenge Knoxville, I found myself feeling so extremely grateful to my body for allowing me to compete. For allowing me to chase and actually catch my competition. 
Victory, winning or feeling successful is not simply about a PR, a placement or a finishing time.
Since my last key race was 8 months, I forgot what it felt like to be hungry to race. To be excited to push beyond the limits on what the body and mind are capable of achieving. 

For the next mile, while running up and down long gradual hills in "the neighborhood", I kept thinking about Karel and how hard he was pushing. Karel has the amazing ability to dig so deep because of his former crit-racing days (where your best day is only as good as your ability to hang on to the riders wheel ahead of you who is having a better day). Through years of being injured, I have always desired the ability for my mind to be my only limiter on race day. And here I was, trying to understand my "why" as to why I was racing. And with my healthy and strong body, I had no reason why not to dig deep and let my mind be my only limiter. I began to say to myself "the hurt from pushing hard is so much better than the hurt from an injury!"

With every mile behind me, I found myself getting closer and closer to what I now thought was the 2nd place overall amateur female finisher (I wasn't 100% on who was ahead of me). She was within my reach but I just couldn't catch her as she was not slowing down.

After mile 5, I decided that now I would take the risk. The risk that we have all taken during a race and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. 

I made my move on an uphill with the strongest effort I had given since I got off the bike that morning and I was right behind my competition.
Ok, now comes the risk. If I pass her and she has another gear in her, I am pretty sure that with 6.5 miles to go, my body would not be able to win that battle. 

I causally moved over to the right side of our road as I feared being side by side and having her sprint past me. She got ahead of me on a downhill and when the next uphill came, we were running side by side for at least a 1/2 mile. There was no talking or eye contact. We were both focused. 
When we got to the turn around, I found myself inching ahead of her. I just stayed focused and kept doing what I love to do and that's run on hills. 

As I neared mile 7, I could see a few girls on the other side of the road and I took a quick look back and the other lady was still in my eye sight. 

Ok, here I go. One more risky move. On the next uphill, I turned on the gas one more time and when I got to the top of the hill and ran hard downhill. I then stopped, took 3 deep exhales and then continued on running my sustainable strong effort. As I made my way up the last long climb (where I spotted Karel) I could not wait to see that aid station knowing that that steep uphill leaving the park was now my "recovery" downhill - and boy, it was a steep downhill! 

Let's be honest here - but as I neared mile 10, it started to feel a little hard. I was cutting a lot of deals with myself like if I made it to mile 11 at this effort I would allow myself to slow down (of course, when I got to mile 11, I made another deal to get to mile 12). Those risky moves were catching up to me but for the love of competition, I did not want to give up. I was going to dig and dig until I crossed that finish line and I refused to let my mind be weaker than my body. 

I found myself running with another guy for the next 2 miles in the park and he was keeping a great pace. I no longer even cared what my Garmin was telling me each mile as my only goal was to get to that finish line in the position that I was in with less than 2 miles to go. 

As we left the park, I found myself back on the open four-lane road with the river to my right. I tried to focus on my breathing (which was getting heavy as I was trying to run as "fast" as possible), good form (which was probably not that pretty) and staying focused (thankfully, no bonking or dehydration). 

As I neared the last aid station on the road, I stopped, grabbed some water, looked behind me and finally felt like my strong body and smart race tactics had me finishing one spot better than my pre-race goal. 

But, nothing is final until you cross that finish line so as I made the left hand turn on to the sidewalk path by the transition area, I weaved my way through spectators, pro finishers (thanks Maggie and Katie for the cheers) and volunteers for .25 miles and finally saw the finishing chute. 

I was so relieved to finally reach the finish line chute but my exhausted body immediately got a boost of energy when Karel and Campy were waiting for me at the beginning of the finish chute!!

 It was a total surprise for me to see them both and because Challenge Family allows family members and pets to run across the finish line with athletes, Karel and Campy joined me for my run across the line. It was the happiest of happy moments as it was such a great surprise (and better than any race result) and it was a moment that I will never forget. 

I gave my mom a big hug at the finish as I was so thankful that she was out there all day with Campy (taking great pics and cheering us on), chatted with Kelsey (who raced strong in the aquabike), chatted with Ed (who did amazing in the Oly) and then chatted with Karel. 

One of my favorite parts of racing with Karel is sharing our experiences, thoughts, highs and lows with each other after the race. I love hearing how we each perceived the course and how it all went down. After many years of watching Karel race bikes, it is so special to share our triathlon lifestyle together. 

There was a problem with the results and timing system so all we knew was the unofficial results which were not correct. We had a late check out scheduled in our hotel for 4pm (for only $35 extra) so after hanging out at the expo for a little (they ended up cancelling the awards due to the timing issues), Karel and I walked back to the transition area to get our stuff and check-out our bikes and then made our way slowly back to the hotel. We were both surprised that we did not feel more destroyed after our effort (I owe some of that to it being cloudy and not super hot) but we were super sore. As soon as I got back to the hotel room, I had a big glass of milk, a banana and some saltine crackers. 

We finally heard the results and regardless of what we heard, we both felt like we had great races. We felt strong, healthy and smart on the race course. 

Marni race stats:
13.1 mile run: 1:42.27

5th fastest amateur female run

2nd overall amateur female
Total time: 5:03.12

Run splits per Garmin (3.22 miles)
(average 7:45 min/mile)

Karel race stats:
13.1 mile run: 1:28.45 (1 min PR from Haines City 70.3 4 weeks ago!)
8th fastest amateur male run
2nd AG (35-39)
8th overall amateur male
Total time: 4:34.01

Run splits per Garmin (13.23 miles)
(average pace - 6:43)

Campy catching up on lost morning sleep. 

Karel sprinting to the finish line! Literally - he had another athlete sprinting with him for the last 2.5 mile and he was not willing to let him beat him!

What a special moment! Campy wins by a nose...or a paw!

Why do I race? Because I love seeing what my body can do on race day and I love sharing it with those who I love and with all the other amazing athletes on the race course. 

Sending a big thank you to all the Trimarni sponsors!
And thank you to the Challenge Family volunteers and coordinators.

And thank you, Trimarni follower, for reading. I love sharing my thoughts after races as a way for me to reflect. But I also love being able to help out other athletes. If you were able to take away a tip, suggestion or strategy for your next race, you have reminded of me of my last why as to why I still love to race. I've made a lot of mistakes in my 9 years of endurance races and I will continue to learn 
new things on race day. Thanks for letting me help you so that you can work hard, train smart and reach your athletic goals with your amazing body.