For master’s runners, the reality is that you’ll reach a day where you will only get slower. That is, unless you’re my friend and Team New Balance Louisville teammate Shannon Knabel.
Shannon was a four-time state champion in high school, in northern Ohio, and ran collegiately for the University of Kentucky in the middle distances. She wrapped up her collegiate career, got married, started a family, and finished her Master’s degree in secondary education.
She didn’t run much for years. She and husband Tom had six children — six! Their eldest had significant special needs that were Shannon’s priority. She paused her teaching career to be a stay-at-home mom, with little time to run. Tom still serves as principal of the public special needs school their eldesst attended, and he’s training for his first Ironman.
It was after their eldest, Megan, passed away in 2011, at age 14, that Shannon became running again. Running was a way to fill the time previously dedicated to Megan’s care.
And Shannon got fast. At that time she was already a master’s runner. She posted several times in the mid-19s for 5k, a 41:19 10k and a 70-minute 10 miler. Not a bad comeback for anyone, especially at 42.
The next year, she notched an 18:39 and her 10 mile time dropped 4 minutes. 2014 was a breakthrough year (during which I got thrashed by her numerous times), culminating with a lifetime best in the 5k of 17:35 — at age 45.
An injury late last year set her back a bit but she completed Louisville’s Triple Crown of Running — a 5k, 10k and 10 miler each held two weeks apart — as the fourth-fastest female to complete all three legs. She led the New Balance Louisville women’s racing team to a team title in their debut year, posting an 18:51 5k, 38:19 10k and a 64:33 10 miler.
I met Shannon 3 years ago at a little race in Crestwood. I was just getting back into running after an injury but it was a little race and I didn’t see a lot of competition. Shannon was dressed really unassumingly — basic tank top, trainers, Nike tempo shorts. When the gun sounded, she took off. I remember thinking, either she’ll blow up hard and come back to you, or you have no chance and there’s no point trying to chase her. She beat me by 2-and-a-half minutes that day. And was so nice afterwards — no ego in her at all.
This spring, I almost caught her at the Anthem 5k. Shannon was only 11 seconds ahead of me, and I’ve never seen someone so happy to see me so close to them. I was truly touched by how excited she was to see me succeed. When I had a bad race two weeks later, she reminded me to not get frustrated about one race.
There is no doubt she’s the top female master’s runner in the Louisville running community — but even more importantly, no doubt she is an amazing person and friend.
P.S. Shannon ran an 18:20 5k this summer and plans to make her half-marathon debut at Indy Monumental in November!
P.P.S. Shannon ran 1:28:17 at the Monumental Marathon half-marathon, her debut at the distance. She set an age-group record for the 45-49 division!
This article originally appeared in the August issue of The Running Journal.