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