The night before:
Packet pick-up was a breeze. We easily found a parking space, picked up our bibs from the tent outside, and made our way into the City Market building to get our shirts and check out the vendors.
I like this year’s shirt better than last year’s. It’s more comfortable and less busy. Kurt likes last year’s better. To each his own.
I got into bed later than usual and it took forever to fall asleep.
Breakfast was a bowl of overnight oats with chia seeds that I’d brought from home (and plenty of coffee, of course).
In the car, I set my coffee on the dash and was trying to find something in my bag when Kurt backed the car up and my coffee rolled off the dash and onto my foot. Luckily it wasn’t very hot, but my right shoe and sock were soaked. Kurt seemed more upset about his car than my wet foot. I’m guessing he didn’t think the dash was the best place for a cup of coffee.
Getting to the race was super easy. We parked right across the street from the Finish area, and got in line for the port a johns. The temperature was in the fifties and felt chilly in the shade but we could already feel the heat from the sun.
We made our way to the starting line. Kurt was off taking pictures when I suddenly realized I needed to use the port a johns again. I tried to find him to let him know what I was doing, but I didn’t want to miss the start, so I eventually had to just go.
I stepped out of the port a john just as the National Anthem started. As soon as it finished, I tried to make my way back to where I thought Kurt should be. I couldn’t find him. I was still searching for him when the gun went off. I crossed the starting mat, looked down and realized that my Garmin had gone into power save mode. I turned it back on and watched it search for signal.
I didn’t like starting without knowing where Kurt was. Luckily, he is not at all the type to worry. I guessed (correctly) that he would figure out what happened, but it still didn’t feel good.
It was a beautiful spring morning. The sky was blue, the trees were green, and I was part of a moving sea of colorful runners. Spectators lined the street to cheer us on.
All too soon, we were starting the climb. I was feeling pretty good. I had decided that I wasn’t going to look at my Garmin, so I just kept an easy pace. I watched the other runners around me and wondered who else was running the full marathon.
Everybody running the full marathon headed down the other side of Mill Mountain, then started climbing back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We crossed the Parkway and started the very steep climb up Roanoke Mountain.
I was still feeling okay, but I couldn’t help noticing that I was not feeling as good as I’d felt at this point last year. My calves and thighs were starting to burn.
There is a turn-around at the top of the mountain, so for a couple hundred feet, you are sharing the road with runners who made it to the top just ahead of you, who are running in the opposite direction. I figured I would probably see Kurt at this point, but I didn’t.
When I reached the top, I looked up and saw a cameraman. I gave him a big smile and a two-handed wave. Yes, I was still having fun.
The view from the top of Roanoke Mountain is Spectacular.
I saw Kurt making his way to the top, and was surprised to realize that he was behind me. I was happy to see him, but I would have preferred him to be in front of me.
I felt good going down the mountain. As I turned onto one of the switchbacks, there was a strong headwind and I was scared that it was going to be that way for the rest of the run, but when I turned back onto the Parkway it didn’t seem nearly as strong.
It was starting to get really hot, though. At the next water stop, I took one cup of water to drink and another to pour over my head. I continued to do this for the rest of the race.
I always have trouble with the stretch from the Blue Ridge Parkway back to Mill Mountain. I forget how much climbing there is before you get to the steep climb up to the Mill Mountain Star.
This time it didn’t feel too bad.
It did start to get tough after I made the turn up to the star, though. I stopped to walk a little. I wasn’t walking because I needed to at that moment, but because I was thinking ahead to the climb up Peakwood. I really wanted to have the energy to run more later in the race this year.
Kurt passed me when I was walking, though, and suddenly I felt like I was struggling.
I continued my walk/run strategy up to the star. Kurt wasn’t far ahead of me. I figured I would catch him quickly on the down hill. He always takes the down hills much slower than I do.
Once we were headed back down the mountain, I didn’t seem to be gaining on him, though. I wasn’t sure if he was running that much faster than usual, or if I was running that much slower. This is why I don’t like to run with or near people who I know. I don’t do this with strangers. I can’t over-analyze their pace versus my pace, because I don’t know anything about how they usually run. And that is a good thing. My brain is my worst enemy.
Some ladies had set up a moo-mosa (I’m not entirely sure why the moo) stand on the course. They were serving up mimosas and orange juice. So cool!
I finally caught up with Kurt at the last switchback. The very second that I did, I got a bad side stitch. The down hills do that to me sometimes. I had the worst one I’ve ever had at this race last year, but that hadn’t come on until the last 2 miles. The thought of running 12 more miles with a side stitch was unbearable. I slowed down, and for a minute I thought Kurt was going to slow down too, but he didn’t. I wouldn’t have let him, anyway.
This was the low point of the race for me. My side was hurting. I knew that I was (again!) not going to come close to my time from last year, never mind better it. I thought about quitting.
Screw everything! What’s WRONG with me? Why do I suck so much? Why do I continue to try, even when I keep coming up short over and over again?
I soon answered my own questions.
Um, because I love running.
So, I made peace with the fact that the race was not going to go the way that I had hoped it would go. I resolved to just get over it, and to enjoy the run.
So, I ran.
And I walked.
Just before the climb up to Peakwood starts to get steep, some spectators were handing out iced coffee. Caffeine? Yes, please. I need some of that. Actually, I need a lot more than that, but I’ll take anything I can get.
Most people were walking up Peakwood. I was leap-frogging with the same ten or so other runners all the way to the top.
Peakwood residents really get into the race, though. Several had set up stands and were handing out water or treats. There were more than a few sprinklers. The first one I ran through felt like heaven. I looked longingly at the second one, but it was on the other side of the road. So…….far……..away……
The positive side of the long walk up Peakwood was that it gave my side stitch time to relax. It wasn’t as intense as I headed back down.
Last year, the big climb at mile 21 was an unpleasant surprise. This year, I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. Once I got over the top, I settled into a very slow shuffle. I thought I might possibly be able to maintain my shuffle all the way to the finish line.
A girl in a pink Marathon Maniacs t-shirt came up behind me, and said “Peakwood was INSANE!”. I agreed. She put her earbuds back in, but we jogged together for about 1/2 a mile, until we came to a bridge. I had to stop and walk, and she pulled ahead.
On the other side of the bridge, I had a nice surprise, though. I saw Meagan of turkeyrunner.com. I’ve never actually met her, but I knew from reading her blog that she had run the half marathon and was probably out cheering for her husband, who was running the full. It was cool to see a familiar face, and it took my mind off running for a few minutes, which was nice.
The last five miles were through the city. There was no shade. The sun was beating down on me. I knew I needed another Gu, but I was too thirsty to imagine taking one. I took either water or Gatorade and poured a cup of water over my head at every water stop. The Gatorade was warm, and I never feel like it quenches my thirst anyway, but I tried to drink it.
I couldn’t believe how many people were walking these last miles. I was again leap frogging with the same people as we all did our walk/jog thing. A few people who must have run smarter, and/or been better acclimated to the heat, jogged by. I wished I was one of them.
A little boy in a batman costume complete with cape and mask came running out of his yard and ran about 100 yards with me.
A lady out in her yard said “Wow, you’re still smiling!” as I walked up the hill in front of her house. I was surprised to realize that I was smiling. I think I was laughing at how ridiculously hard it felt just to walk.
But, even though I was struggling (and honestly probably even because I was struggling) I was strangely happy. Doing something so incredibly hard, (even though I didn’t feel like I was doing it particularly well) with other crazy runners who had also signed up for this, is exactly what I love so much about this sport.
There was a pedestrian bridge over the river and I looked longingly at the water below. I wanted so badly to go down there and submerge myself.
I had a similar thought when I passed a tree with a shady spot in the grass underneath. I wondered if I were to just sprawl out there, if anybody would find me before I died of heat stroke.
With two miles left to go, I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to walk to the finish line.
At the crest of a hill, a volunteer was cheering very exuberantly. As I got closer, she read my name off my bib, and made up a song and dance cheer for me. I wish I could remember how it went. I want to say it was something about me being in her house, but I really don’t know. I think I was delirious. But, she sure made me smile. It was a definite highlight.
I didn’t see the 25 mile marker, or if I did, I don’t remember seeing it. I had been feeling a little dizzy and a little confused for a while. I also had chills. At some point somebody had told me that a water stop was less than a quarter-mile ahead. After running for what felt like miles, I didn’t know if I’d missed the water stop completely, or if I had actually gotten water, and just forgot. It was all a little strange.
Anyway, at some point a spectator told me that I had less than a mile to go. If that was true, I was determined to run all the way there. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow managed to do it!
I was very happy to have finally made it across the finish line.
186th out of 484 finishers 134th out of 429 finishers
9th out of 29 in my age group 5th out of 24 in my age group
The course and conditions made this year’s race more difficult, but even taking these into consideration, I did not do nearly as well this year.
They say that racing is 20% physical and 80% mental. I need to work on my mental game. My head is a mess.
I felt a little better when I realized that everybody had struggled on the course this year. Jeff Powers (who won the race this year and last year) added 13 minutes to his finish time this year. He sent out this tweet:
Before running this race, I had pretty much decided that I would not run a fall marathon this year. Kurt and I have a lot going on this summer and early fall, and I knew that I would get stressed out about not being able to properly train. I also felt I was in need of a mental break. I put a lot of pressure on myself, which I think is also why I tend to flop on race day. But in the days following the race, when I was back at work with a silly grin stuck on my face, barely able to walk, I was ready to sign up for another marathon. That’s what running marathons does. It gets in your blood. It makes you want to run more.