Denise Knight was 30 years old when she competed in her first race. Now, just a decade later, she is the XTERRA South Carolina Trail Run Regional Champ.
This year, she was the runner up at XTERRA Harbison Trail Run, just 10 seconds behind the winner. At the XTERRA Table Rock 15k, she was fourth overall female and first in her 40-44 age group despite horrible weather.
Additionally, she has two Ironman triathlons under her belt, which she completed with her husband, David Knight, who is also an XTERRA Trail Run Regional Champ.
"I started running just before David and I started dating a little more than ten years ago," said Denise. "David talked me into doing an Ironman in 2014. That was on his bucket list. We did another one in 2016, and that time I was the one who was pushing for it."
After their second Ironman - a very hot race in Chattanooga - both Knights were a bit burned out.
"We were looking for something a little different and we love trail running and were already doing a lot of training on the trails," said David. "I said, you know, let's get back to our roots and sign up for XTERRA trail runs. Maybe throw in a tri."
As a junior, David was the National Orienteering Champion so his shift to trail running and mountain biking was a natural progression.
David, who is a physician specializing in interventional radiology, usually runs at night while Denise gets up before dawn to log her miles. So they can travel together, the couple signs up for the same races. In May, both did the XTERRA Oak Mountain Sprint Triathlon and the XTERRA Oak Mountain Trail Run the following day.
Denise was the third female overall in the XTERRA Oak Mountain off-road triathlon sprint - her first ever off-road triathlon - and she placed second in her age group in the XTERRA Oak Mountain 10k the following day. David competed in the same races and finished 4th in both in his competitive 45-49 age group.
"I wanted to win my age group at the Oak Mountain 21K to qualify for Nationals, but I had knee surgery eight weeks before," said Denise, who raced the 10k instead. "We loved, loved, loved that course."
David also loves that training and racing XTERRA is something that they enjoy as a couple.
"It can be hard on a marriage when one person is an athlete and one isn't," said David. "So it's great that we can train together and really enjoy doing this together. We even try to set common goals. Each year we assess what we want to do, and we try to be in sync."
Another thing the Knights do as a couple, apparently, is become XTERRA Regional Champs. Because of this, both of the Knights automatically qualified for the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship and are headed to Utah for the race on September 17th.
"I'm nervous because we only train at about 500 feet above sea level," admitted Denise. "Running there is going to be a big challenge but we are ready and so excited to go."
As for XTERRA Trail Run Worlds, the couple will go only if they qualify.
"That's a big if," said David. "But absolutely - if we qualify for Worlds, we're going!"
"At Nationals, we are going to run as fast as God allows us to run," said Denise. "Worlds is definitely on our bucket list, and we tend to chase things down with a passion. So we'll get there, if not this year then someday."
Whether the Knights can win the bid to Worlds remains to be seen. What is for certain, however, is that these two will be together on the trails for years to come.
"David is an awesome man," said Denise. "He makes me a better athlete."