Blue Ridge Double Marathon (April 16, 2022)

The Blue Ridge Double Marathon has intrigued me for years.

I registered for it in 2018, but wasn’t able to train much that winter and ended up dropping down to the marathon. I registered again in 2020, but Covid happened and it was canceled. I deferred my entry to 2021. The race was held in 2021, but I still didn’t feel ready to attend such a large event in person, so I deferred again to 2022.

This time I finally made it to the start.

The logistics for the double are weird. You are essentially running two separate marathons and you need to make sure you finish the first one in time to start the second one at 7:35 sharp. You have the option of starting the first marathon at either 1:00 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. They recommend the 1:00 start for runners who plan to finish in about 6 hours and the 2:30 start for runners who plan to finish in less than 5 hours. I figured I would be somewhere in between. I had run the marathon three times before with finishing times of 4:15, 4:40, and 4:53. I was anticipating 5:00 to 5:30 would feel like an easy, sustainable pace for the first lap. I’m in much better shape than I was the last time I ran the marathon, so I was actually thinking a 5 hour pace would feel pretty easy. I definitely didn’t want to be stressed out about not finishing in time to make it to the start of the second marathon though, so I signed up to start at 1. It’s a good thing that I did. I wouldn’t have made it back in time if I had started at 2:30.

One o’clock in the morning is an odd time to start a race. I decided to treat it like a normal morning start and wake up two hours beforehand for coffee and cereal, and to (hopefully) use the bathroom. From reading other race reports, that’s not the way most people did it. Some stayed up all night, others slept for a few hours, but didn’t wake up early for coffee and breakfast.

I got into bed at 7 p.m., probably fell asleep around 8 and our alarms went off at 11. I didn’t feel as horrible as I thought I would. Our Airbnb was on the top floor of an old three-story house less than a half-mile from Elmwood park (where the race start/finish was). It had a cool little window nook that overlooked the city, which was a great place to sit and drink my coffee.

Starting in the wee-est hour of the morning meant there was no line for the port-a-johns and they were sparkly clean. I’m pretty sure I was the first one to use mine. I know I was the first to use the toilet paper.

Getting ready for marathon #1

The first lap is self-supported (meaning you have to carry all the food and water you will need.) There were a few people along the course checking bib numbers to make sure everyone completed the entire course, but there wasn’t anyone giving directions and the roads weren’t closed. Even though we were told it was completely self-supported, they ended up having a few places where we could fill up on water and grab a banana. I was carrying two liters of watered-down Nuun, two Clif bars, 1 Clif nut butter bar, a Health Warrier chia bar, and a Lara Bar.

I had downloaded the RunGo app that was supposed to give us turn-by-turn directions along the course. I’ve run the first 15 miles of the course many times over the years as training runs and know it well, but 2018 was the last time I’d run the entire course and I had zero confidence I would know where to go. I had looked at the map, but the course is confusing and I hadn’t come close to memorizing it. I was actually pretty worried that I would get lost.

I met up with George (and Marie) who I had spoken with briefly about the race via social media but had never met in person. It was their first time doing the double, too.

First lap:

It was a humid but comfortable 58 degrees as we headed out for our first marathon. During training runs, and every time I’ve run the Blue Ridge Marathon, I have run almost all of the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this time I started taking walking breaks much earlier. I wanted to be very conservative for this first marathon.

George and Marie were running nearby and we kept passing each other. Generally, I would pass them on the inclines and they would pass me back on the downhills.

It was so nice and peaceful up past Mill Mountain. I had been really excited about being up on the Parkway and seeing the stars. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the mountains at night to see the stars. But it was cloudy, so that was not to be. There was a bright orange glow in the clouds from the nearly-full moon, though. And the cloud cover was high enough that the view of the city was pretty spectacular.

View from the top of Roanoke Mountain

I was fully enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees, the heady smell of flowering trees, and how good it felt to finally be doing this thing that I’ve been thinking about doing for years.

I was having trouble with my RunGo app, though. I thought that I had started it at the beginning but apparently, I had not. I eventually got it turned on and calibrated, but it kept telling me I had gone off course. I knew I was not off course. I was with a bunch of other runners on the part of the course that I knew well. When it didn’t tell me to turn left to go up to Mill Mountain, I pulled out my phone and realized that the app had turned off. Maybe from being jostled in my pack? Maybe it had given up on me because it thought I’d been off-course the entire time? I turned it back on. From that point on, it told me my pace every mile but never once told me when to turn. I had to rely on the course markings, which were smallish arrows painted on the road.

This stressed me out because I was heading into, the second half of the course which was the part I wasn’t sure about. There were a couple of places where I wasn’t sure where to go, but I always guessed right. For the most part, the course was pretty easy to follow as long as you paid attention. It also helped that I had run the marathon three times before and had a general idea of where I should go.

I had also really been looking forward to running by the Mill Mountain star all lit up, but it was turned off when I went by. The volunteer who was up there said she’d been disappointed when she realized it wasn’t on, too. I later learned that the lights shut off at 11 p.m. every night.

Brian found me a few miles before the finish line.

I could usually see at least another runner or two, but there were a few miles where I was completely on my own. I kept my pace slow and energy-wise I felt great the whole time. About 4 miles from the finish line, the inside of my left knee started hurting, though. The pain wasn’t terrible. I could still run, but it worried me.

About two miles from the finish line, I drank the last of my Nuun.

I didn’t feel too bad when I crossed the finish line. I was worried about my knee, but I’d kept my pace easy enough that another marathon seemed reasonable granted my knee cooperated.

Between the marathons

I had just over an hour from the time I finished the first marathon until the start of the second one. Brian was at the finish line with my bag of clothing and snacks. First, I gave him my watch to charge. Then I used a port-a-john. I had to wait in a (very short) line this time! I was a little surprised by how many people were already there for the other races an hour before the start. I decided to walk over to the conference rooms the race had reserved for the doublers.

I did a complete change of clothes: shirt, shorts, bra, socks, and shoes. I had worn my older shoes for the first marathon and saved my newer ones for the second one, thinking the extra cushioning would probably be good. I ate a banana, an orange, and part of a bagel with hazelnut butter. I also had some hot coffee, which tasted amazing. I wanted to drink so much more but knew I probably shouldn’t. Brian filled my hydration pack halfway with water and added two Nuun tablets. I had filled it up completely for the first one but figured there would be a lot of water stops for this one, so I shouldn’t need as much. I would have fared much better if I had gone ahead and filled it all the way up again, though. And I probably should have been drinking Skratch or Nuun instead of coffee.

About 15 minutes before the start of Marathon #2, Brian and I left the hotel. It felt like the temperature had dropped significantly and the wind was frigid. I decided we could go back and wait a little longer inside the hotel.

Marathon #2

I was giddy waiting for the second marathon to start. Full of nervous and excited energy. I was also freezing. It was so cold!

Starting out on the second marathon felt like doing something new and a little terrifying; like riding a roller coaster for the first time, or jumping into icy water from a really high rock.

My knee still hurt, but other than that I was feeling really good. I made it to the top of Roanoke mountain faster than I had the first time. The knee pain actually went away for a while near the end of the first climb but came back on the way down. It bothered me for the rest of the run, but never got any worse.

There were a lot of spectators along the course this time and my double marathon bib earned me extra attention. I heard lots of “Double, Double!” and “Wow! You go, doubler!” and my favorite, “You are a true badass!” I have to admit it felt good.

I was not feeling as great on this lap, though.

The temperature rose quickly and I soon realized I hadn’t been drinking enough. When I finished the Nuun in my pack, I had to rely on the aid stations and by that point, a small cup of water every couple of miles just wasn’t enough. My stomach felt a little queasy and I tried to choke down some pretzels and pickles, but wasn’t having much luck. I couldn’t even think about eating anything sweet, which is why I was also sticking to water. After the first 10 miles, I wasn’t really able to get many calories in at all and the sun had come out and was beating down on me. I finally decided to try some Skratch and was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t taste too sweet after all. I wished I had tried it earlier, but I had been afraid the sweetness would make me sick.

I usually can eat whatever I want during races and rarely have stomach trouble. It only happens in the heat.

I had really hoped to run negative splits. Besides just finishing, that was the only goal I had. If I had stayed on top of my hydration, I know I could have done it.

But I did not. I finished the first marathon in 5:26 and the second one in 5:35. I slowed down less than most people did, but there were some who managed negative splits.

I was so excited when I found out that I placed second in the female master’s category. The awards are running figures made out of recycled railroad spikes. I’ve always thought they were so awesome and never imagined that I’d ever actually have a chance of winning one!

Such a cool award! They’re welded by local high school students.

I loved this race and even with the stomach troubles and hurt knee, I was ready to register for next year before I even had a chance to shower.

Although honestly, that’s how I feel after just about every race. I think I just love running.

Blue Ridge Marathon (April 26, 2014)

IMG_20140427_111447_808This year’s Blue Ridge Marathon was my sixth marathon. Blue Ridge is the only marathon I’ve run twice. I can also safely say that it is my all-time favorite. I love this race!

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.

IMG_20140425_180209_954IMG_20140425_180134_717IMG_20140425_174428_467We picked up some Body Glide and Gu Octane and convinced a nice stranger to take our picture.

IMG_20140425_175943_999Back at the hotel, we tried on our race shirts.

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.

IMG_20140425_204024_432 We had a nice view of the Mill Mountain Star from our room.

IMG_20140425_192714_034IMG_20140425_211259_830We knew we’d be getting a much closer view of it in the morning.

I got into bed later than usual and it took forever to fall asleep.

Race Morning:

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.

IMG_20140426_070540_835Since we were able to park so close, we easily could have just left our stuff in the car, but I had planned to check a bag, so that is what I did.

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.
IMG_20140426_071357_560I 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.

Miles 1-7

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.

IMG_20140426_074452_452(I chose not to run with my camera this year, so all of the “during” race pictures in this post were taken by Kurt, or Gameface Media. Free pictures were one of the perks of this year’s race).

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.

IMG_20140426_074426_540IMG_20140426_075644_405The crowd thinned out quite a bit when the half marathon and 10K split off.

race_183_photo_1911979Everybody 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.

race_183_photo_1992803race_183_photo_1992925Not too bad, considering I’d just run this:

brm profile to top of Roanoke MountainThere was a man playing the bagpipes and I thought of my grandfather, as I always do when I hear bagpipes. He would have enjoyed this moment.

The view from the top of Roanoke Mountain is Spectacular.

IMG_20140426_084941_927

IMG_20140426_084950_238I took it all in, then turned and headed back down the mountain.

Miles 8-14:

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.

race_183_photo_1914539Once 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.

Miles 15-20

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.

Miles 21-26

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!

race_183_photo_1994060I didn’t see another runner until I made the last turn, and could see the finish line. There was a guy in a blue shirt walking. When I came up behind him, he started running.

DSCN1653Meagan snapped this picture of me as I was running into the finish, which was really nice of her. She emailed it to me after the race.

I was very happy to have finally made it across the finish line.

race_183_photo_1991466race_183_photo_1913468I found Kurt, got some water, and searched for some ice water to submerge myself in. I didn’t find any, but I did use the fountains to cool off a little.

IMG_20140426_130925_971When we had a chance to look at our medals, we realized that they doubled as belt buckles. So cool!

IMG_20140426_124010_770

IMG_20140426_124753_012I thought the volunteer’s shirts were pretty cool too, so I asked one of them if I could take his picture. He didn’t mind posing for me.

IMG_20140426_124927_490Profile of the race course:

2014 blue ridge marathon profileThis year’s numbers compared to last year’s:

2014:                                                                            2013:
4:40:54                                                                        4:15:36
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:

tweetBefore 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.