As 2011 was winding down, I began to think ahead to 2012. I’ve always received many requests from other runners that they would like to run with me. I started brainstorming one day while running and thought about that. How could I run with people, make a giving back project and be a part of the community at the same time? So with a little more running and a little more thinking, I decided that I would run with 12 people (selected via application) and each of one them would have to help someone else finish a race of a lesser distance. And each person also had to have a cause they cared about. I primarily wanted to help first time half marathoners, marathoners or a 50K. I would run each step of the race with them and get them across the finish line. And thus the 12×12 Project was born.

Fast forward to April 1, 2012 and I'm running with Jay to help him finish his first marathon. If you haven't read the last two days recaps, you might want to do that :).

Once we crossed 13.1 mile mark, I gave Jay a high-five and we kept on running. The marathon course took us out into East Knoxville and past some rescue missions that made me grateful and thankful for what I have. There were a few more churches that I thought were beautiful and then another cute neighborhood. All of the people were super friendly. I love hometown marathons/races. We approached another water station and this one had oranges and bananas. Y.E.S. I was getting kind of hungry :). Jay started to slow down and I knew that the end of the race would be challenging (in a good way). I kept taking photos - so many things to show! A neat house, an antique truck, spring blooms, happy volunteers ... It's times like this I wish I had a film crew following me!

The sun was out in full force now and I kept checking in with Jay to see how he was doing. We were taking more walking opportunities and I wanted to make sure that we didn't walk too much on the easy parts because we still had hills to conquer yet. There was, of course, no shade on the course and I also wanted to make sure Jay stayed hydrated. We passed Mile 15 that included a water station. Some of the volunteers had fruit and I asked for some. It's amazing what a few bites of strawberries, grapes, bananas, and oranges can do for the body and soul!

Once we hit Mile 16, I told Jay "just a 10 miler left!" A few marathon manics were running near us and I struck up a conversation with them (shocking I know) and we were talking about what races were our favorites. While I am not an official Marathon Manic, I am one on paper. Today's marathon will make 35 (?) marathon or ultra distance. To keep Jay going I gave out different landmarks of where we would run to or where we would walk. It's always nice to have a little goal to work toward in the latter stages of the marathon game!

The course went through Old City and up a BIG hill around mile 18. We (gladly) walked it. Then we rounded a corner and ran past the Women's Hall of Fame basketball building. Up some more hills, a short stretch on the highway and then down along the river. There was a guy that had been at various points along the marathon route and at one point I finally asked his name so we could say hi the next time we saw them. Turns out his wife was running her first marathon was one of Jay's DailyMile friends! Small world.

Once we hit Mile 20, I told Jay "just a 10K left!" This was the last exchange of the marathon relay and this little girl sprinted out in front of us and took off flying down the hill. She was probably only 9 or 10. It warmed my heart to see her running and it was cool that the relay team gave her the last leg so she could finish in the stadium.

Once we hit Mile 21 I gave Jay another high-five. He had officially run further then he ever had! So exciting. The course took us back into another neighborhood called Island Home and this little community was SUPER friendly too. They even had cute, custom t-shirts made (I wish I had a photo) for young and old alike. They were welcoming and this section of the course was one of my favorites. A lot of fun. We only had a few more miles to go and I kept encouraging Jay.

Soon we were down to a 5K left. That felt good. And the course started taking us back into town. It was up another hill and over the Gay Street Bridge and then into Market Square area. This was also a favorite spot of mine. Families, dogs, music, last water station and just overall high energy made it awesome. I had been checking my watch the last hour and knew that a sub-five hour marathon was within reach, but I would really have to push Jay to get it. As with all 12x12 Project participants, it's their race, their pace. I'm just helping them cross the finish line (in one piece). HOWEVER, I knew that Jay would like a sub-five. And I wanted to help him achieve that. I kept him running and made the goals to walk/run a little longer. I told him he could curse me now, thank me later :). We ran back through where we started and I could smell the finish line as we approached Neyland Stadium. I was running a little bit ahead of Jay so he could follow my pace and I told the spectators that this was his marathon and they cheered even louder for him. We had one more hill to go and I pushed (encouraged) him up it. A sub-five Soon we could hear the sounds erupting from the stadium. We rounded the corner into it and soon we were on the field. 26.2 miles was almost done! And with that we crossed the finish line with hands in the air. Praise the Lord! I got Jay across the finish line in one piece and a sub-five hour marathon. Finish time was 4:58:43.

Jay found his family immediately after crossing the finish line and my job was done. After he had a little family time, I went over and gave him a hug and one last high-five and of course a congratulations.

When we crossed the finish line, we were given marathon finisher ball caps. A really nice touch to the race. Another cool feature was the the race bibs had QR codes so you could find your race results quickly. The Knoxville Marathon is a top-notch race and I highly recommend it!

I found my friend Jeff and we talked for a while before walking over to the post-race party where we talked some more. Then he took me back after stopping to get a few bags of ice for my post-race ritual ice bath. Love them.

All in all, it was a great day. A training run for me and a first time marathoner crossing the line. Eleven more races and 11 more people to help cross the finish line!