Get comfy, folks, this one is a long one!
Way, way back in June, I registered for the Blue Ridge Marathon. I’m not quite sure why. Rock n Roll DC had been a disaster. MCM 2015 hadn’t been a success yet. I have no idea what possessed me to sign up for “America’s Toughest Road Marathon”. I guess I wanted a challenge? Fast forward a few months and, crap! Time to start training! Luckily, one of my friends from my running group was also considering running the race so she joined me on some early training runs.
M is the co-leader of my running chapter, super kind, a bit crazy, and a crack of dawn runner. She’s also faster than me. When she decided to register for the race, too, and train with me, I thought she was nuts. While I knew her from groups runs and we were friendly, we weren’t exactly BRFs (Best Running Friends). I was sure she would get tired of poking along at my pace and dump me. I think I said as much to her on every long run for the first six weeks. So silly. We turned out to be pretty solid training partners and I think we did at least 75% of our training runs together. Even the ones we did with others or solo, we checked in with each other to see how things were going. It was really nice to be in sync like that.
For a variety of reasons, we decided early on to make this a celebration run. It was not to be about time but about training smart, celebrating the miles, and finishing strong. We rehearsed this a lot on our runs – we are both a bit *cough cough* Type A and can be a bit overly hard on ourselves. I am happy to say we achieved our goals, in spades!
We arrive in Roanoke on Friday afternoon and went straight to the expo. Everything was clearly organized. We were surprised to see that all three races, the 10k, half marathon, and full, all had custom shirts! And they are so soft ❤ We then picked up our free socks and checked out the couple of other booths. It was small but as expected.
We checked in to the Cambria Hotel and were pleasantly surprised by the room. My family was originally going to join me so we had a full, two-room suite with microwave and mini fridge. The hotel was just over a mile to the start so it was perfect for us.
After we got settled, we decided to check out the Mill Mountain Star (elevation 1703 feet). Both of our fathers are facing similar health issues so we dedicated our race to them.
After that, we met up with some other ladies from our chapter who were doing the half for dinner. We decided to forgo a shake-out run and finished prepping for the day and were in bed by 9:30. Unfortunately, M had to deal with a work crisis until late and I was up from 1:30-3, having a mild anxiety attack. Before we knew it, the alarm was going off and it was time to get a move on!
We grabbed a cup of coffee from the hotel and made the walk to the start.
The little bakery near the start was totally overwhelmed by runners but we were able to grab some toast and I had a fruit bowl and packet of almond butter while milling around. Bag check was a breeze but there was more of a line for the port-a-johns that I wanted to wait through.
Before we knew it, the cannon was fired (it was a legit CANNON!) and we were off. We started on rolling hills right away and made our way up towards Mill Mountain.
The half marathon runners split off from the full around mile 2.5. They went up to the peak of Mill while we made our way to Roanoke Mountain (elevation 2,193).
The view at the top was absolutely amazing! Pictures don’t do it justice. We knew, as soon as we saw it, that we made the right decision to run this race.
After Roanoke Mountain, we made our way back to Mill Mountain and actually went up to the star this time.
After a quick stop there, we ran through a nice greenway by the zoo (but not THROUGH the zoo 😦 ) and made our way down to the famous Moo-Mosa lady. Every year, a couple who lives in a very nice house in the middle of the mountain makes mimosas for the runners. Complete with a silver champagne bucket!
That’s two peaks down, just one left! Peakwood (elevation 2,113) is, by far, the toughest one. Not only is it later in the race (mile 18) but it’s steeper and there is a false top. We thought we had hit the top when we reached an aid station and then started going back down but, no. We were very much mistaken. I will freely admit, I really struggle with the second climb. I was feeling very sick and the sun was full on us so I was super hot. There was a party at the top (champagne, fruit, chocolate) but I couldn’t look at any of it. I took a mint (heaven) and searched in vain for the unused cold towels and then we started off again.
The course then took us back into town where it was HOT! I was swearing freely by this point and was looking forward to meeting one of our other friends who was coming to support her husband (who ran the half and placed first in his age group!). We didn’t see her at the first meet up spot and I was a bit worried. I was happy to hear that she was delayed because of her husband’s award ceremony 🙂
When we found her, she quickly jumped in and ran about three miles with us – cowbell and all!
Before we knew it, we were (FINALLY) done with the hills and coming in for our downhill finish!
Some more of our awesome friends met us with signs, cold cokes, frozen wash clothes, and a cookie cake!
After we rested for a bit, we made our way back to the hotel and started recovering.
Our goal was to run with joy and we certainly did that. I didn’t even wear my watch until the last half mile, just so I could stop it easily (I turned it on and stuck it in my pack so I could record the data). We stopped for a lot of pictures, we thanked all of the volunteers, and we chatted with many people on the course. We were grateful for the day. Mission accomplished!
One of our biggest challenges, and stressors, going in to the race was that we have never done anything like this before so we didn’t what to expect. Just so you have some way to compare, my best marathon time is 4:58 (300 feet of elevation change) and my best 10K is 55:41. We ran Blue Ridge in 5:49 (7,430 ft of elevation change) with about 15 minutes spent on goofing around. We were definitely not the last but only about 85 others finished after us.
Just about everything was good! The volunteers were over-the-top spectacular. There were plenty of water stations and more food stations that I was expecting – oranges, bananas, pretzels, gummy bears (and worms!) and GU. At least two had ice towels but I couldn’t figure out where they were at one. Many neighbors, especially at the end, came out to cheer, offer unofficial aid (beer!), and had set up sprinklers. The custom shirts were sweet and the belt buckle/medal is awesome! I don’t know how the finish area was since our friends brought us stuff. I found out later that there were wading pools of ice water and I really wish I had known that at the time!
The Not So Good
The course is very hot and pretty flat-ish (except when it’s not!) at the end. It would have been great to have a misting station set up on the course.
(seriously, that’s my only complaint!)
This was a super tough course that lived up to its name but it was totally worth it! I would love to run it again! If you’re on the fence, I highly recommend you sign up, stash your watch, and plan to run happy!