This race report starts with a blog giveaway. Not mine but a fellow runner, Lauren, I follow at (Sweat Junkie). She posted a giveaway for free entry into the Blue Ridge Marathon. I entered…and won. I wasn’t expecting to have a mid-spring marathon, but I wasn’t going to complain.
I’d heard about, and considered running, the Blue Ridge Marathon. Touted as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon”, I wasn’t sure if I would want to punish myself for the road. I’m much more a trail runner now. Given a choice, I wouldn’t have paid for this race, but free entry… sign me up!
Training for this race was not great. I had zero interest this year in outdoor running through the cold. Instead, I trained on the treadmill. Not a favorite of mine, but I regained my respect for the ‘mill after my (mishap) a few years ago. Training mostly consisted on either a few mile run, or more often, power walks at a 15% incline. Due to several work commitments, I wasn’t able to be as consistent as I would have liked either. I did get a handful of longer distance runs in, as the weather warmed up, but I topped out at 12 miles.
This course is tough! It doesn’t get it’s nickname for nothing, but I still underestimated just how difficult it was going to be The organizers did a fantastic job of putting together an elevation map, but as you’ll read down below, it was deceptive. From the elevation map, the last 6 miles or so appeared to be relatively flat. Not so! Although this isn’t totally accurate because less than a week before the race, the course was altered due to high waters along the river.
Just one week shy of this race, and tragedy occurred. Nothing personally with me, but the bombings during the Boston Marathon happened. Blue Ridge was actually the first US marathon to occur post-Boston. The entire week between, was a frenzy. The organizers and the city of Roanoke did a fantastic job or adjusting plans so that safety was a priority without sacrificing the race.
Logistically, getting there in time to pick up the race packet was challenging. We had over four hours to drive, and had to sneak the kids out of school a bit early, then high-tail it out of the DC area. On top of that, we had rain most of the drive down. Still, we made it in time. Grab some yummy Cuban food for dinner, and headed to the hotel.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We arrived at the hotel, the lobby was packed with elderly (some sort of convention going on), and the desk clerk seemed to have a difficulty getting us checked in. He did, and we headed to the room. Ooops. There was someone already in there! Back to the lobby we go. Come to find out, there was a guy that checked in with out reservation. He had the same first and last name, so they had given it to him. he problem, he went to the wrong hotel. He had reservations elsewhere, and they were all booked up. They called around and got us a room at another hotel for free for that night. It all worked out, as the other hotel was closer to the race and better.
RACE DAY! Everything went smoothly. We got up, hit a convenient store for some breakfast (the hotel didn’t start serving until later), and off we go. I was dropped off at the start as Jen and the kiddos headed to Paige’s race start Paige did an awesome job of running 25.2 miles prior to the race, so she could finish her first “marathon”. A wonderful setup for the kids really. Not anything additional for the race organizers Just say the kids have to run in advance and call it a marathon. It meant far more to Paige than just another kids one miler.
It was cold, but many of us held out that morning inside one of the buildings. We had over an hour to spare, so I relaxed, enjoyed my hot chocolate, and mentally prepped as I watched other runners go through their routines.
Back during the Disney World Marathon, Jen dared me to find a funny hat to wear during races. I accepted this challenge, and here is what I’ve come up with. A novelty bug hat, safety pinned to one of my running hats. It fits the Runner’s Bug image quite nicely!
We started lining up and the excitement hit. There were some mushy words related to Boston, and soon we were off! The first mile or so was flat, then we hit the incline. It wasn’t steep at first, but unrelenting in it’s incline. Up, up, up we climbed, through some gorgeous scenery. I did my best to maintain at least a power walk, if not running. I was surprised how well I was handling the mountain. The treadmill workouts did well. About mile three, the course diverged. The half marathoners headed to the right up Mill Mountain, as the full marathoners headed left towards Roanoke Mountain.
I started chatting with a guy and we ran together for the next several miles. About mile 5.5, we hit an aid station, and everyone was telling us just another short hill. Yeah right! This was where it really got steep! Up we went, still chatting with the guy as best we could through bated breath. I began noticing some slight sensations in my left knee, ITBS area. Ooops. I pushed it too quickly heading up this mountain. Time to slow it down a bit. Just as this occurred we reached an overlook, which I took as the top. Wrong, I was about 1/4 from it. A few photos, and I was off again. I fell behind my running partner, and kept it slow until the real summit. More photos, a short food break, and I’d beaten Roanoke Mountain. Number one of three.
Running down this mountain was fairly tough going. My knee was still speaking up and the decline was intense. I was putting the breaks on most of the way down. Slow and steady. I did not want to deal with a bum knee this early in the race. Soon, I was back at the aid station at the base of the steep inclines. My knee was feeling better, and the decline was leveling out. I’d gone mostly alone the entire trip down, but fell upon an older gentlemen running with a younger lady. I hooked up with them, and struck up the typical “where are you from?”, “What races have you done?” banter as we made out way up Mill Mountain. They were slower than I was, but I stuck with them up the entire mountain, hoping my knee would feel better. It was a bet that paid off greatly. As we reached the summit, I realized I’d had zero knee issues since the Roanoke decline. A few more photo ops of the city and of the famous Mill Mountain Star, and a quick potty break, the the three of us took off for the intense switchback decline. This is where things started to turn around.
As we hit the decline trail, I just took off. At first, I wasn’t intending to leave them behind so quickly, but I felt great. My knee was good, and the downhill felt just right. This next 1.5 –2 miles flew by. I must have been running a sub 9 min mile through here. Passing people left and right, I came to the realization that down hills were one of my strong points. The entire time, Scott Jurek’s voice kept playing in my head. “Free Speed!” he’d say….. and I did. Reaching the bottom, I knew Jen and the kids were close. Scanning around the road ahead, and there they were. A quick hello and a photo with Paige and her medal for her marathon race, and I was off. Two down, one to go!
Peakwood was the mountain I didn’t expect. I knew we had another to go, but I underestimated the intensity this mountain entailed…. as did nearly everyone! Not to mention there was a conspiracy to withhold the truth. The previous two mountains were secluded. Mountain roads with nothing but trees to line the way. Peakwood meandered through a residential neighborhood, and the natives were restless. Many residents held up outside to cheer us on. But one thing we noticed, they were all saying the top was “just a bit further”. It was a conspiracy tell you. A CONSPIRACY!! That damn road was brutal. Not as steep as Roanoke and not as switchbacky as Mill Mountain, but the curvy inclines, especially the inclines that I was not expecting, simply killed my energy. I finally made the summit, a dead-end cul de sac with an aid station. Ah… Much needed potty break and some fuel. I’d made it. Three mountain climbs down. Zero to go, and a relaxed 6 miles of easy peasy road to go… Well, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Jen and the kids again awaited the bottom of the mountain. And again, I flew down the decline. It wasn’t as steep and my pace wasn’t as quick as Mill Mountain, but I continued to gain grown. Another family pit stop, quick and sweet, and I was… you guessed it… off again!
These last six miles contained far more overpasses and other hills than the elevation profile led us to believe. Granted, the course was altered here due to high water levels along the river, but still, I was not expecting it to be very hilly. By miles 23, my hamstrings were cooked. I was tired of the gu and other artificial energy gunk and really craving something real. I’d fallen to primarily walking, as was everyone I was around. My energy was down, legs were zapped, and three miles to go. A text from Jen wondering my progress, and this was my reply “Mile 23. Mostly walking. Hamstrings are wiped out!” As I wrote that, I had no idea how much running I had left in me. Thankfully, the next aid station was loaded with actual fruit!! Bananas and oranges! I was in heaven!!!! Loading up both my mouth and my pockets, I was determined to finish strong. The fruit worked. Within about 10 minutes of scarfing the fruit down, and my legs were reviving. About two miles to go, and my energy was rebounding. Was this my third… fourth wind. I sure hoped so! My running increased substantially. I was back to mostly running, with short walk breaks sprinkled around. Another big boast, was that everyone else I crossed paths with was walking. I don’t believe I saw a single person running (besides myself) those last two miles. It was a great feeling. Mentally, I was renewed. Physically, I was still wiped clean, but still had enough to push on. It was time to break out some music. No headphones, just my phones speaker. I needed some motivation.
Then there it was, the last mile. A couple of turns, and I knew I’d be on the finish line’s door. Pushing it more and more, I hit that final turn and saw the finish, maybe 200 yards away. Push, push, push. I thought. The crowd was cheering, the announcer was talking about me. I drove on. Pushing the pace up to a sprint those last 100 yards. At least as much of a sprint as I could muster. And finally… I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 17 minutes, and 13 seconds. A great sigh of relief! That was one heck of a race!! But I’d beaten it. I’d faced “America's Toughest Road Marathon” and kicked it’s butt. Sure, I’d had some slight knee issues early on, but they never resurfaced. Sure, my time was slow, but this wasn’t your mama’s marathon either. Not to mention that I had a 24 hour trail race to run in only 14 days. I couldn’t push my self too hard!
We finished out the weekend with a drive up Roanoke and Mill Mountains the following day, so the family could see the views. Jen was quite amazed at how difficult and steep the climbs were, and we were in car. :) Then we took a stop off at Luray Caverns on the way home. One difficult, but successful weekend for us all!