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.