Montalto Challenge 5k (April 25, 2015)

This morning I ran my fifth (and slowest ever) Montalto Challenge 5k.

In pretty much perfect weather conditions.

Oh, but shoot. I probably shouldn’t begin my race recap with that if I’m trying to be more positive, should I?

Let me start over.

I suck. What the hell is WRONG with me?

Crap. That’s not any better, is it?

I’ll try again.

The Montalto Challenge 5k is one of my favorite local races. It’s an all uphill race that starts at the base of the Trail at Monticello and climbs to the top of Montalto.

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The first half is gorgeous (and much tougher than it looks on this profile) and the last half is absolutely breathtaking in every way. It’s a steep climb with stunning views.

My legs had been incredibly sore all week after running the Blue Ridge Half Marathon last weekend. It was Wednesday before I could go down stairs without wincing. It was Thursday before I attempted to run and I had to stop after two miles because my hamstring was cramping up.

I didn’t want to miss the Montalto Challenge, though. I also want to stop avoiding races just because I don’t feel like I’m going to run well.

So off we went.

The race had an earlier (7:30) start time this year, which was fine with me. I had been awake since four.

Kurt and I registered at the Monticello Visitor’s Center, then jogged the two miles down to the starting line, passing the one mile mark on our way down.

I turned around to get some pictures.

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We made it down with just enough time to check our bags (and by check, I mean attach name tags and throw them in the back of a pick-up truck) and hit the port-a-johns.

We met up with Andi and Patrick at the starting line.

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Photo credit: Harlow Chandler Jr.

And we were off.

I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic. After all, this was my third race in three weeks. That’s more than I do when I’m not just coming back from an injury. So I didn’t feel too badly about taking it kind of easy for the first mile and a half.

Even after holding back a little in the first half, the switchbacks up Montalto were still a struggle. I walked a few steps on the steepest part of each of the last 5 (of 7) switchbacks.

Okay, Okay, maybe I walked more than a few steps on one or two of them.

I was mentally and physically too exhausted to give 100%, which probably means I don’t have a right to whine about my finishing time. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t working extremely hard. This race lives up to its name. There is no doubt that it is a challenge.

I was actually a little surprised when I got close enough to see the clock at the finish. I hadn’t looked at my Garmin but felt like I’d run even slower than I had.

Not that I’d run fast. Like I said, it was the slowest I’ve ever run this race.

I crossed the finish line and a volunteer tore my number off my bib and somebody handed me this sticker:

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Official time: 31:16

It’s always fun to hang out on top of Montalto after the race and this morning was no different. The views are spectacular. I was surprised to see our local radio personality, Brad Savage up there. He was the finish-line DJ.

We picked up our race shirts. Another good thing about this race is that they always have awesome shirts! They have a simple design with no advertisements and they always offer a women’s cut.

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Kurt and I took a sweaty mountain view selfie, then posed for an official picture.

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Photo credit: Ian Atkins

We had one taken with Patrick and Andi too, but I have my eyes closed and some other unattractive things going on in that one. So instead, here’s another picture of the view:

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I ate a banana and a huge hunk of bread from Great Harvest.

Even with my coat on, it wasn’t long before I was freezing. At one point, Kurt asked me if it was snowing. I though he was joking and laughed, but then I realized that he was right. There were some flakes mixing in with the rain.

Last year they hadn’t allowed anybody to walk back down the mountain to their cars after the race. Instead, we all had to ride buses.

I was very happy that they went back to allowing us to walk down again this year.

Blue Ridge Half Marathon 2015

Leading up to race day:

It was supposed to be our third year in a row running the Blue Ridge Marathon. We’d registered soon after finishing last year’s race, almost a year in advance. But that’s not what happened.

Training had been going pretty well despite the unusually frigid winter we had, until I hurt my knee about seven weeks before the race. My longest run after that was the 10K I’d run the week before. I’d averaged 7.4 miles per week for the last six weeks.

After finishing the Chocolate Chase 10k without incident, I spent a few days feeling elated that I was going to be able to run any distance at all at Blue Ridge. I was thinking that it would be between the half marathon and the 10k. By Thursday I had lost all sight of reason and started considering running the full. I figured that as long as my knee held up, I could probably make it to the finish line.

My friend Andi was running the full for her second time this year (I had run most of my only 20 miler with her during training). She asked me the night before If I’d decided on a distance yet. Her surprised reaction when I told her that I was considering running the full brought me back to reality. What was I thinking? I hadn’t trained at all for the past month and a half.

I still wasn’t ready to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, though. To make matters worse, Kurt had told me that he was going to run whichever race I decided to run. I told him that was completely ridiculous, but he wouldn’t budge. Now I felt like I’d be letting both of us down if I decided to switch to the half.

Damn it.

Attempting to run the full would be foolish (Thanks Andi, by the way, for helping me face reality.) On the way to packet pick-up, I made up my mind. I told Kurt that I was switching to the half. Of course he said he was going to run the half, too. We argued about it for a while, but he said that the furthest he’d run in training was 16 miles and he wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of running 26.2 miles in the heat.

So we both exchanged the cool red bibs with our names printed on them for generic yellow ones. There weren’t enough half marathon shirts for us to trade, so we were stuck with the full. This was expected and perfectly understandable, but I was still a little disappointed. I actually like the half shirt better. It has an outline of two mountains and a star and says “Run Mountains.” It is simple and not as boastful as the full marathon shirt. Much more my style. You can see one in Turkey Runner’s race recap.

Both shirts were nice, though. They’re made of a lighter, more comfortable material than the shirts from previous years.

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We also each got a cool pair of Farm to Feet Roanoke socks.

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After packet pick-up, we wandered over to see the free MarchFourth! show. I thought the band members might just be the coolest people I’ve ever met (we got a chance to talk to a couple of them before the show.) In one of my lives I’d like to come back as one of them (preferably the one who did all the amazing acrobatics with the hula-hoop.) Needless to say, I loved the show. Still, by 8:30 I was getting sleepy.

Race morning:

I may not have been happy with the way that it happened, but in some ways, I was actually looking forward to running the half. It was a new race for me. I’d run the full twice, but I’d never experienced the half. I also thought I might be able to make it all the way up Peakwood without walking.

Earlier in the week, it had looked like we might be running in the rain, but race morning we awoke to a cloudless, blue sky. It was going to be a perfect spring day for sitting in lawn chairs or strolling through the park.

For running 26.2 (or even 13.1) miles up and over several mountains (especially after a winter of training in sub-freezing temperatures) I could think of more ideal conditions. For the first time, I felt a little relieved that I wouldn’t be out there in the heat for 4+ hours.

Kurt, Andi and I all lined up together, even though I thought they’d both be running faster than me.

Early Miles:

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Photo courtesy of WBJD7

Just beyond the starting line, there was a man on the side of the road screaming “Way to go! You’re almost there!” He was holding a sign that read: “Ignore the guy holding the sign.” It’s my new favorite spectator sign.

I love the first mile. It’s a (relatively) flat run through the city to the base of Mill Mountain. The streets are lined with cheering spectators and you can look up and see the Mill Mountain star nestled on the hillside above.

By the end of the first mile, you have begun your first big climb of the day. My plan was to run very conservatively up Mill Mountain. I wanted to save some energy for Peakwood. I was really hoping to make it all the way to the top without walking.

I never saw Kurt during the race, but every once in a while, before we split off from the full marathoners, I would catch a glimpse of Andi up ahead.

If you’re wondering how much fitness you can lose in six weeks, I can tell you this: It’s a lot more than I would have thought.

I made it to the star on top of Mill Mountain without walking, but it wasn’t easy.

16413328_race_0.23586923693995265.display The downhill, though a welcome reprieve for my lungs, was stressful and a little frustrating. Stressful, because it is steep and long and felt like way more than I should be asking of my barely-healed knee. Frustrating because I felt like I had to hold back so much. If I had to guess, I’d say more than a hundred people passed me by the time I made it to the bottom of the mountain. It was the first time that I’d ever wished for a downhill to end.

Just as we turned onto the greenway, we crossed a timing mat. I looked at the time: 55 minutes. Definitely not halfway, or even 10K, but surely I’d run more than 5 miles (it turned out to be 5.5, but I didn’t know that for sure until I looked at the race results.) At the time, I didn’t want to know. I’d purposely been ignoring mile markers and not looking at my Garmin. I wanted to spare myself those details.

Middle Miles:

There’s a little bit of flat(ish) terrain along the greenway before the initial climb toward Peakwood. I think of the section after the greenway as the pre-Peakwood climb. I still hadn’t taken a walk break, but my body had been screaming for one for the last mile. Pretty much as soon as I passed the “Welcome to Peakwood” sign, I gave in and took my first walk break. Damn it. I was running half the distance. If I was ever going to run all the way to the top of Peakwood, this was my chance and I had blown it before it had even started.

For once, I wasn’t berating myself about it, though. I was actually being kind to myself. I was thinking things like: “Don’t worry about it, you haven’t run further than 6 miles in the past month and a half,” and “You’re at mile 8 of one of the toughest half marathons in the country” instead of my usual: “What the hell is WRONG with you?”

It was hot. I took advantage of EVERY SINGLE sprinkler along the course. Thanks to all the Roanoke residents who turned on their sprinklers!

Most everybody was walking up Peakwood. I applied my familiar walk/jog strategy. As always, I was insanely happy to finally reach the top of Peakwood. I didn’t take any of the champagne, though.

Hello downhill! I was again getting passed, but there weren’t as many people around anymore to do the passing, and I no longer cared anyway.

Henry, A little boy who was maybe three or four years old was standing on the side of the road with his hand stretched high over his head and tight against his ear (like he was eagerly raising his hand to be called on in class. He reminded me of Hermione in her first year at Hogwarts.) Several people in front of me crossed over to give him a high-five. I did, to. His dad was behind him saying “Henry, try putting your hand out a little more, like this.”

Who else gave Henry a high-five?

I couldn’t believe that just the day before I had been considering running the full marathon. I have a hard time making decisions and I usually end up making the wrong one. But boy had I made the right call on this one. I was in no shape to be running the Blue Ridge Marathon. I was barely going to make it through the half.

Final Stretch:

Just like last year, I vowed to run the rest of the way once I reached the bottom of Peakwood and, just like last year, I broke that promise on the very next hill. Once I reached the top of that hill and made the promise again, I was able to keep it (which I’d not been able to do last year, although I’d had a lot further still to go last year.)

I was moving along at a slow shuffle, but I was determined to make it up and over the last two bridges without walking, and I did.

Happy to be done running, I received my high-five from the race director and a volunteer handed me a medal.

16428381_race_0.48580767330426644.display half profileIMG_20150418_102122784 Now I want to run the half again because I know I could do so much better.

I’m hoping to be wearing a red bib again at the 2016 Blue Ridge Marathon, though.

There’s no question that we’ll be back. From the beautiful and challenging course, to the wonderful volunteers and friendly community involvement, this race just has so much going for it.

Chocolate Chase 10k & Lewisburg Chocolate Festival 2015

(Note: I wrote this post more than a week ago, but didn’t feel like publishing it. I’m going through a phase where I hate everything I write. I’ve also been wondering if I’d be happier if I stopped  writing personal accounts of running altogether. The photo/word posts I’ve been doing instead are my attempt to focus on the positive and drag myself out of my negative funk.)

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Kurt and I met my parents in Lewisburg, West Virginia for our fifth annual Chocolate Festival this weekend. It was the third year my parents have joined us.

Mom wanted to see a show, so dad bought us all tickets to Friday night’s performance of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth at the Greenbrier Valley Theater.

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Cultured folk that we are, none of us knew anything about this Pulitzer Prize winning drama ahead of time.

The play is an allegorical farce that follows the Antrobus family through time. The first act takes place simultaneously in early 20th century New Jersey and at the beginning of the ice age. I was not sure what to make of it at first, but when a dinosaur and a mammoth appeared outside the living room window and were invited in out of the cold, I laughed out loud. That was when I accepted all of the craziness and climbed on board for the rest of the wild ride. It was great fun and the cast did a fantastic job. Definitely worth staying up past my bedtime for.

In the morning, Kurt and I headed out to the airport to run our fifth Hospice Care Chocolate Chase 10k.

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It was sunny, nearly 50 degrees and windy. The wind might make the run a little challenging, but it was going to be a beautiful day.

We jogged around a little to warm up, then made our way over to the starting line. It was the first year the race has used chip timing.

I took the first mile easy. I was hoping to test my knee with a little bit of speed, but I didn’t want to push the limits too much. Next weekend is the Blue Ridge Marathon. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be running the full marathon, but I want to be able to run something.

Just before the first mile marker, a girl came up beside me and commented on the wind. We started talking. She said she had recently gotten her husband into running and that he was somewhere back there (she pointed behind us with her thumb). I tilted my head forward indicating the direction we were headed and told her that I too, had gotten my husband into running, and that he was now somewhere up there. She smiled, “so I guess that’s my future.” We both laughed.

After a while, she asked incredulously, “Is that your stomach?”

My stomach had been making loud sloshing noises the entire time.

“Yeah. I drink too much coffee.” I told her. Though it had been almost two hours since my last cup.

Her: “Are you OK?”

Me: “Oh yeah. My stomach does this all the time.”

We ran together until the finish line was within sight at the bottom of the hill. I told her she should go ahead and sprint into the finish. I was too worried about my knee to pick up the pace too much on the downhill, or I would have taken off with her.

Regardless, I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face.

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I was thrilled that I (and my knee) had made it there.

Kurt had finished quite a bit before me and was already in line at the Wild Bean getting me some coffee. He’s good like that. But my parents were there cheering and snapping pictures.

Kurt and I ended up winning matching medals.

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I checked later and saw that the girl I’d run almost the entire race with had won first place in her age group. Congrats, running partner!

After quick showers, we headed back into town to eat way too much chocolate.

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Can’t wait to do it all again next year.