It’s been years since I ran much farther than from the parking garage to my downtown home and I only do that if it’s raining. The twenty yards leaves me breathless. But for some reason, my heart always races a little when I’m on the site of an event like the Knoxville Marathon. The music, the nerves, the massive hours of training that led to this moment leaves me very inspired. Not to run, of course, but to take some photographs of people who do.
The first thing I noticed this year was the coffee truck. Of course I had to investigate and it turns out they are from Michigan, but have relatives in Knoxville, so it was a good excuse to bring the truck down and make some money while visiting family. I didn’t try the espresso since I don’t drink when I’m working, but it smelled good. And for a morning with the starting temperature hovering around 38 degrees, it might have been a good idea.
The expected crowd was 8,000 and I’m not sure if they reached that – the crowd seemed a little lighter to me this year – but there was a massive crowd of people, some local and many from all over the country. And out of it. It’s worth pondering just a moment that this scruffy little city had two internationally attended events in its center city on the same day. It’s pretty impressive from any perspective.
After enduring the long lines for the port-potties, stashing personal belongings with race organizers, raising the massive flag, listening to brief remarks from Mayor Rogero and the national anthem, the time finally arrived. It started with the hand cycles, then came the marathoners, half marathoners and the shorter runs and walks. It’s always pretty easy to separate the runners into groups. The serious ones are rail-thin and warm up more aggressively than I would actually run.
The others are more festive, less focused on the pace. They adjust their headphones to make sure they can hear their inspirational race-day playlists. Some wear funny costumes or carry things like the American flag or balloons. I wished I could follow the guy with the flag for a while. I can’t imagine how that ends. I mean, he can’t possibly hold it the entire race, right? He’s probably not the type to ditch it along the way, so I’m just not sure.
While the runners take on that first couple of hours, I support them back in my warm home with a good breakfast and a second and third cup of coffee. After showering and dressing for the city, I stroll out and take photographs of the leaders. I know. I’m ashamed, but I’m comfortable and relaxed. I walk the race course backwards after a couple of hours and soon find the leaders.
The hand-cycle leaders come first. I found them on Market Street. I took the photograph of the cute girls at Market Square on Wall Avenue. The were screaming something like “Gatorade on the left, water on the right,” which was cute because they were yelling about twenty minutes or more before the first runner arrived.
On Gay Street I saw Sabrina who came over and talked for a few minutes, met Elizabeth, a neighbor who lives above the street, got a call offering the ticket to Big Ears, yelled at Cynthia over at the Downtown Grind and was finally persuaded by Mary Kathryn to take a cup of coffee on her. Could a wait be any more pleasant?
When the leading runners arrived, they were led by a Mercedes sports car convertible. I don’t remember that from previous years. It seems it would potentially interfere with the lead runner’s pace. If he wants to speed up does he pass the car? The stretch of Gay Street pictured is somewhere around the twenty-two to twenty-three mile point, I think. These guys were less winded than I am when I make my parking garage run. They were running about a five and a half minute mile pace for the entire race.
They finished in the order they’d fallen into by the time I photographed them. Missing this year were the Kenyans who have dominated recent years. First place went to number three, Mark Chepses from Searcy, Arkansas who took less than two and half hours to run the 26.2 miles. One of our own finished second. Ethan Coffey, wearing number one trailed Mr. Chepses by only twenty-four seconds. In third was number six, Abraham Kogo from Kentucky.
I wasn’t able to stick around for the other runners to come through as I had several other things going at the same time, but I did spot one of the bands playing along the route, which probably doesn’t matter to the serious runners up front, but to the people who are struggling to get through or are just having a good time, it’s probably very encouraging.
The marathon, no doubt, packs an economic wallop and introduces a number of people to our city who might not have otherwise visited. It also fits nicely with our emphasis on Knoxville as a place for outdoor recreation and it’s a fun, positive event. Consider getting out on the street next year and cheering on the runners. I hope the event runs for many more years.