Expo: a novelette

A few days ago, I received an email from the volunteer coordinator for the Expo that they would need help in setting up the event. This would allow us to work the race, but still be able to run the race, so I said “Sure!” Well, that meant that I would need to get there at the Coliseum around 6:30am for a 8am start, so I would miss a little extra sleep but it would be for a good cause. I woke up around 5:20am and wandered around to make a pot of coffee. Jen and I had fallen asleep reading a parenting book and so I didn't have a pot of hot coffee waiting for me. I must have been a little sleepy because I pulled the coffee out, but brewed a nice pot of hot water… whoops. While I had “real” coffee brewing, I started to make my traditional pre-race breakfast… bagel with peanut butter. I scarfed down the bagel and had a little coffee while I surfed the internet for about 15 minutes. I put my bib # on my shirt (210) and got dressed, packed up the car and headed out to downtown.

I made it to the coliseum right at 6:30am, so I ran down to the registration to find out that the volunteer coordinator did not leave anything for us to do, well really he hadn't assigned us to do anything. I met my friend, Annette Hansen since she received the email mentioned above as well. She ended up helping with registration while I went off to help construct the finish line. Finish Line management is some tough stuff. You have to be as accurate as possible with runners coming in at different intervals and sometimes in packs. Often there is a runner who is sprinting at the end and passes a bunch of people right before the finish line, like 10 feet. I am usually one of these runners, but I don't push it to 10 feet, at about 25 feet, I slide into place. Anyway, I was helping with “the chutes”. The finishing chute is much like the velvet ropes in movie theatres. It is in place to keep runners in line, in their finishing order and gives them a chance to catch their breath.

They are also long enough so that runners don't clutter up the actual finish line to obscure the timer taking down the runner's times. Instead of using nice velvet rope, our chutes were made of long strips of plastic multi-colored triangle flags (like 100' or so). You could tell that these strips had seen some action… some flags were missing… some of the strips were shorter strips frankensteined together to make it long enough. The strips were in large plastic bags when I got to them and dumping them out on the ground, I looked puzzled… the process of uncluttering the strips was much like detangling Christmas lights but with some reprieve, you didn't have to check all the flags to make sure they were working… it is automatic!

I haven't mentioned the weather in the Greater Knoxville area up to this point. It was overcast, about 59 degrees and a drizzle had been coming down since about 6am. I finished with the chutes things and hung around until about 7:40 am when I bugged off so that I could warm up. 20 minutes… enough time to warm up but not enough time to do any damage. The rain had subsided by now and I ran to the car to put on my Breathe Right Strip, get my key arranged properly and to finish off the Access bar that I had. I also took a few pictures as well. Like all the other runner lemmings, I made my way to the Start Line at the top of the hill. I recognized some of the other runners and tried to line myself up with those whom I knew were about my speed. I also started away from the curb this year. I have been caught in traffic in previous years that have cost me sometime as I try to manage my way through fellow runners. They played the National Anthem, the sponsors gave their thanks and the wheelchair participants were off. A few minutes later they let the runners loose…

And we were off, finally. I thought that if I had stood around a little longer waisting for the race to start, I would have to warm up again. The first 1/2 mile or so is all downhill, then a slight up to Gay Street where we turn onto a actual flat strip. The most technical part of the race is uring the downhill. Since the 5k and 10k start together there are hundreds of people running downhill at the start. Even though it is easier on the lungs to run downhill, there is always the threat of hurting your knees, as they take a lot of your weight and are susceptible to buckling if you start running out of control. Add a bunch more runners around you and it makes it a little more difficult. This year, I never had to worry about having to change my pace from runners in front of me. I didn't have to waste energy weaving in and out traffic. I felt a little out of breath as I came to flat area of the race. Trying to gain my breath as went up and around hospital and back down on the Henley Street Bridge. By now, it was sprinkling down but not too irritating. I missed the split for mile 1, but when I came to the mile 2 marker I saw that I was right on pace, my watch said 16:07. My legs still felt heavy but I was able to pace with some other runners and that helped some. We went through Market Square and then the 5k people turned right on Gay Street toward the finish line, the 10kers turned left for another 4 miles or so.

As I was back on Gay Street, I knew that the course would be a little more agreeable (flat) to enable me to loosen up my strides and pick up some speed. Just as I was approaching the 3 mile marker, I saw the course leaders speeding past me in the other direction. The winner of the past two Expos was in second place and did not look very happy being in that position. The 4th and Gill section of the race runs through a historic (I think) district here in Knoxville spotted with victorian houses which gives it a distinct contrast to the rest of the neighborhoods downtown. It seemed like there were 4 waterstops in a 2 mile length. Not that I am complaining, but it seemed that we could have used one of them earlier in the race. I didn't bother to check my time at the mile 4 marker. I knew that I would save whatever I had for that last 1.2 miles and to just get myself there since Gay Street is flat and straight (heehee). At this point my legs started to feel light and I felt like I had gained a little bit of a boost in energy. Perhaps it was all the turns in the 4th and Gill area that got all the rust off of my legs or maybe it was the fact that the course was doubling back and could see all the people behind me on the course. I looked for my friend Annette Hansen who was running but I never saw her until the finish line.

Just before the mile 5 marker, I passed a guy who had an obvious hamstring injury but was insisting on running or rather some contorted limp-skip action that seemed to provide enough velocity for him not to give up and just walk. Having had a bad hamstring injury back in 2001, I couldn't understand why he would want to keep injuring it like that…

Up on Gay Street, for the final mile, I knew that I had to run a sub 8 minute mile to make it under 50 minutes. Not only did I have to be faster than 50 minutes for the course, but I had to makeup the time it took me get from where I was at the start to the actual starting line, maybe 5-6 seconds.

In the last 1/2 mile, I was hurting… I could tell that I was just about to ready to stop and walk to catch my breath, but then I thought about what Grandma would say. I could almost hear her, in her loving but authoritarian voice telling me “You better not quit now… I am not up here watching you to WALK”. So I focused for the 6 mile marker. I knew at that point it was 0.1 to the end of the block and then 0.1 up a slight upgrade to finish. I was still knocking on the door of 50 minutes. I let my mind “detach” my legs from my hips which allows me to have a longer stride and thus cover more distance, which is all in preparation for the sprint at the end.

I turned the corner and picked up the pace, probably a 7:00 minute mile. I can see the timer clock at his point displaying 49 something, but I could not make out the seconds. But when I see the timer clock during a race, that is my signal to let it all hang loose. I must have passed 4 or 5 people in the last 400 feet or so. I seemed to have had the best technical sprint of my career… I felt so fast without my body flailing wildly all over the course. There seemed to be a lot of cheering at the finish line, more than usual… I imagined that it was all for me and as I covered the last 20 feet of the course, I saw the clock timer 49:58, 49:59, 50:00, Damn, 50:01… then finish. I stopped my watch as I was gasping to get air back into my lungs… I walked through the finishing chute (which I helped build) to get some water and food.

I looked at my watch and it said 49:57, which was my “chip” or net time but not my official time. It turns out that my official time was 50:02, not exactly what I wanted, but I think was a satisfactory day especially since my net time was a 49:57. My split times are as follows:

Split Time Pace
Mile 1&2 16:08 8:04
Mile 3 24:45 8:15
Mile 4 32:22 8:06
Mile 5 40:34 8:07
Mile 6 48:32 8:07
Mile 6.2 (finish) 49:57 8:04

So All in all I was the 194th runner out of 594 finishers. In my age group, I was 20th out of 30 runners. I have also added a few picture in my running gallery.

This race was dedicated to my grandmother, Bernice Varney who passed away this year from a hard fought battle against pulmonary fibrosis. It was my honor to complete the 10,000 meter race so that her memory will never be forgotten. I love you Grandma. Luke 7:47


About planet3rry

Marathoner, A Terry of all trades
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