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 12x12 Project was born.

Hopefully you read yesterday's Part One. If not, read it so you are up to speed on things :). So this weekend is the first of 12 races I will be running with other runners.

Sunday, April 1, 2012. No April Fool's joke for me and all the other runners! It was time to run the Knoxville Marathon (and they also had a half marathon, marathon relay, and 5K). I didn't sleep all that great so getting up was a little challenging, but once I was up, I felt fine. I had my Gen UCAN, then got picked up at 6:30 a.m. and made our way to the race start line. It was a very foggy morning! I met up with Jay and tried to gage his race expectations. I remember my first marathon quite well and really wanted to put his nerves (if he had any) to rest. It appeared he didn't. His wife and kids were still sleeping so we hung out with all the other runners waiting to start. I've run a lot of races and I never get tired of the excitement in the air. So. Much. Fun.

Soon it was 7:30 a.m. and the waves started to take off for whatever race distance they choose. Jay selected a wave 4 (?) so we crossed the start line a little after 7:30 a.m. The race was chip timed (meaning that your time starts when you cross the mat), so we started our trusty and faithful Garmin's once we crossed the timing mat.

The race course started right off the bat with a nice little uphill. The University of Tennessee band got us up and over it. I cautioned Jay to take the hills easy. I knew we had a lot of hills left to conquer yet. But it's hard to so soon at the start of the race. You are excited and you want to run. The course ran through UT and it was beautiful. And let me just interject here that taking photos while running is not easy (I did it for the majority of the RnR races in 2011). I'm still trying to perfect this potential skill. Ha. We ran along the Tennessee River, up another hill (where I told Jay to take it nice and easy) and then past a record number of churches (remember we are in the south!) and by some lovely homes mansions. Then down through a neighborhood called Sequoyah Hills. This section was fairly hilly, but gorgeous and soon we passed the 10K mark.

It was awesome to have so many neighbors out cheering for us. I always try to give the kids (and adults) high-fives. It gives you a sense of energy and the kids usually enjoy it too. As we approached mile 9, we heard the music and people REALLY cheering for the runners that were in front of us. I knew without looking that we were approaching a hill. And sure enough, as soon as we rounded the bend, there it was. A nice big, ol' hill. I said to Jay "I highly suggest we walk this hill. I want to save your legs for the last 6 miles." Thankfully he agreed and we walked up the hill to high-energy music and soon it was over and we were running again. Just as we were approaching the top of the hill I saw my friend Jeff so we talked for a few brief seconds.

We then ran on the Greenway Trail and it was still foggy. Yes. Fog is good. Sun can wilt the best of runners. The hills were still a part of the course and I was seeing a lot of runners stop and complaining about their knees. Which meant their IT Bands. I asked Jay how his ITB's were and he said fine. Good answer. This section was also really pretty, we passed a little bridge and creek.

The course started to take us back into town which included a few more hills of course :). And the sun also decided to make its appearance. At least the first half was shady! Jay and I took the hills easy coming back to the World's Fair Park and soon 13.1 miles were down! 13.1 to go!

The water stations were well supported and all the volunteers were super friendly. I made sure to thank them all, including the police officers too. I only drink water on a marathon course plus Q Energy Drink at mile 13 and mile 20. And eat bananas and oranges if/when they are offered.

Jay was supposed to see his wife and kids when we ran back through the start area by World's Fair Park and Convention Center, but we never saw them.

I knew the next half would be challenging, so I put on my inspirational hat and kept Jay going. I also always like to encourage the other runners around me. You never know how a simple of word of encouragement can bring hope to someone! Part 3 and the final 13.1 miles tomorrow!