Brian and I signed up to do the double marathon (which I’ve been wanting to do for years) but even in a best-case scenario, we barely had time to build our training up to where it needed to be. This winter was anything but a best-case scenario for either of us. About two months out, we dropped down to the marathon.
I only managed to get in one twenty mile run before race day and had some knee pain and major anxiety issues in the three weeks leading up to the race. I don’t even know why. It’s not like I was shooting for a PR or anything. It was my third time running this race and I knew I hadn’t trained as much as I had in the past. My only goal was to finish. I think the anxiety was more about my fear of not being able to run the race at all (which happened to me twice recently.)
Anyhow, race morning was sunny but cold. The first mile was crowded. Brian and I lined up behind the 5 hour pacer, but in big races there are always people who don’t quite seed themselves correctly, so we spent some time trying to get around people who were moving slower than we wanted to. But I think that the combination of winding my way through the crowd and the general excitement of the race was a good distraction for me. I was focused on what I was doing instead of stressing out about my knees.
Just as we started the climb, we asked the pacer what his strategy was for the race. He said he planned to keep a steady pace the whole way. That was all I needed to hear to know that I would be letting him go on ahead in the miles of climbing we were about to do. I kept chugging along at my slow, easy pace as I watched him disappear into the distance.
The full marathoners separate from the 10k and half marathoners just before the three mile mark. I breathed a sigh of relief as the crowd thinned out. It had been kind of fun to run in a big crowd for a while, but I’d had enough and felt noticeably more calm with fewer runners around. I spent more time looking around at the spring-green mountains. I could already feel the warmth from the sun. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Once we hit the steep climb up Roanoke Mountain, I put my speed-walking skills to good use. I definitely pass more people walking than I do running. It reminded me of the time Brian overheard two guys talking about me at the end of The Trilogy 50 Miler. They had no idea who I was, but they kept referring to me as “speed-walker girl”. I’m kind of proud about that. I may not be a fast runner, but man can I walk!
The run down Roanoke Mountain is ridiculously steep (and therefore ridiculously slow for me), but after that there were some miles of rolling hills before we started the climb up Mill Mountain. I always like making it to the top. It’s cool to see the huge star and view of the city below.
It was another steep descent off Mill Mountain, but it took us by the moo-mosa table (some local residents set up a statue of a cow along with a table full of mimosas for runners). Actually, they have straight champagne, orange juice and mimosas. I had passed by that cow three times (twice doing the marathon and once doing the half) and had never partaken. I decided it was time. The glasses were pretty full though, and there’s no way I was going to waste a drop of champagne, so I drank more champagne than I was comfortable drinking at about the halfway point in a marathon. It sure was tasty, though. I thanked them for their very generous (but perhaps questionable?) gift and continued on my way. I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried that I’d made a huge mistake.
As soon as I was off the mountain, I really started feeling the heat. The day was warming up fast. I was also getting a blister on the side of my big toe.
On my way up Peakwood (the third big climb of the day) I ran through a sprinkler someone had set out on the road for runners. The people in this neighborhood use the race as an excuse to have lawn parties on race day. They set out chairs and cheer for the runners. Many even hand out treats. I accepted some watermelon from a young girl and another runner posted a picture of a table full of jello shots. I missed that one, but know I would have skipped it anyway. The mimosa had been a big enough risk for me. Besides, it was getting hot by that point, and I was already a little dehydrated. At the next water stop, I asked a volunteer for some Vaseline for the hot spot on my toe. She called out to see if anyone had some and a nice lady came running over to offer me a jar. She seemed happy to have something that someone really needed and I was grateful that she did!
It’s funny running a road marathon after doing so many trail ultras. I forget that water stops don’t have the Vaseline, ibuprofen, salt tabs, pickle juice, chips, candy, cookies, quesadillas and soda that aid stations in ultras do. It’s like they think we’re out there just to run or something. They don’t even have chairs for us to sit in and relax for a while. Instead, they expect us to just grab a cup of water and keep running. So strange.
After I reached the top and turned around to head back down, I felt a little twinge in my knee that of course worried me and made me run even more conservatively downhill than usual. It was around this time that I caught back up with the 5 hour pacer. I heard someone ask him if he was on pace and he said that if he ran this mile in 11 minutes, he could run the last six at a 12 minute pace. That made me feel a little better even though I hadn’t looked at my Garmin at all and really had no idea what pace I was running.
The blister on my toe was hurting. I was hot and tired and ready to be done. The last six miles were definitely the hardest mentally. I stopped to walk several times when I know I could have kept running. It took a lot of mental energy to make myself run. And to think I was going to do this whole thing twice. Ha! I was so happy to finally see the 26 mile mark, but as a cruel joke there is a last little uphill in that final two-tenths of a mile stretch.
It felt good to finally cross the finish line.
Blue Ridge is by far my favorite road marathon. If you’re looking for a challenging, beautiful, well-organized race, I highly recommend this one. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up doing it again.
My times for this race:
I seem to be going in the wrong direction. Or maybe I’m just savoring the experience more these days. 😉