This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Tennessee was my 27th state.
Who knew Knoxville, Tennessee was so hilly? Certainly not me when I signed up for the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon. Typically I tend to steer away from a course that’s full of hills, although some hills are fine. I just feel that running a half marathon is hard enough without having to climb up and down hills as well. It’s kind of funny I even ran this race at all. For years I always thought I would run the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis for my Tennessee race. Somehow that wasn’t happening; the timing was never right, and I really needed a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break in April, and this Knoxville race fit the bill.
The marathon and half marathon courses both go through World’s Fair Park and finish at University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium but in-between are many, many hills. Here’s a question taken from the race website FAQ page about hills that I found interesting. Pay attention to that last part of the last sentence- “there are not very many miles that are just flat.”
Q. Is the course very hilly?
A. The course has some hills, particularly in the first half of the marathon. It is not terribly hilly though. You can see a course profile in the race information page. The total elevation change is not dramatic, but there are not very many miles that are just flat.
Translation: there’s not more than 25 feet of flat land on this course, so just realize pretty much the entire course is on rolling hills. Yes, of course it’s hilly.
Both the marathon and half marathon started at 7:30 am which helped to get us runners off the course before it got too hot. I was banking on the knowledge that Knoxville typically has great weather in early April so heat shouldn’t be a factor at this race, which it wasn’t for me. All throughout the race, the weather was perfect for racing.
This was without a doubt one of the hilliest courses I had ever run. It was at least fairly scenic; we ran through nice neighborhoods with huge houses and nice lawns, past the water some, along a greenway, and finished on the 50 yard line of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football field at Neyland Stadium. There were some bands playing along the course and the aid stations were plentiful and good.
At the finish in the stadium, we were handed our finisher medals and invited to a fun-looking post-race party. I was wiped out from all of the hills so I skipped the party and decided to head back to my hotel room for a hot shower and nap instead. My finish time was 2:07:04.
Would I recommend this race? Probably not. It was insanely hilly and just not scenic enough to justify all of those hills. Knoxville, on the other hand, is a fun place to visit, for either a long weekend or a week if you want to include a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Knoxville is the third largest city in Tennessee and is full of things to do including Market Square with restaurants and shops, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Knoxville Museum of Art, World’s Fair Site, and much more. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a little over an hour away and is one of the few national parks with no admission fee. Oak Ridge is a unique area close by with its claim to fame being part of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. You can tour the American Museum of Science and Energy to learn all about this and more. One could easily spend 3-4 days in Knoxville and extend that time further if you went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Nashville International Airport is the closest major airport to Knoxville, at roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive. Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is about 3 1/2 hours away by car, as is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia. You definitely want to get a rental car for Knoxville unless you don’t plan on spending any time before or after the race or checking out the area.