Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blue Ridge Marathon Recap

A long, long time ago, when I was doing marathon research sessions (pun intended) for the 50 States, I knew picking the Blue Ridge Marathon would mean a very intense race experience. Since I had only run a couple fulls at that point in time, I was pretty nervous just at the thought, but it turned out to be one of my favorite races so far!

Michael and I stayed about 10 minutes away from downtown Roanoke, and we had an easy drive in the morning of. (I heard people complaining later about some huge line of cars waiting to park, I have no idea where that was, since we didn't encounter anything like it.) Packet pick-up closed the night before at 8 PM, and with a 7 hour drive, we opted to just grab our stuff in the morning.

There was a free parking garage about a 10 minute walk from the start, and we arrived an hour before the gun. There was a moderately long line for pick-up, though it moved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, they were out of Michael's shirt size, and I snagged the last bag. (I felt bad, since other people ahead of us missed out, but the pick-up wasn't well laid out, so they missed it.)

I did get pretty annoyed because at one point, during the bag debacle, I got wedged in between a person and some boxes, and a volunteer repeatedly yelled at me to move. She was nowhere as rude as the volunteers at Indiana, but it's still so strange to be yelled at by a volunteer before a huge race, when I'm certainly doing nothing wrong. (I admit, I'm pretty sensitive in general, plus my ear infection was still very painful, so maybe I blew this out of proportion, but still.)

We did a quick exchange at the car and headed back to the start. It was about 15 minutes before the gun, and they started brow-beating people to get to the corrals. I'm not sure who the emcee was, but he was trying to urge us out of the bathroom line, saying it wasn't that important. Um, I don't know about you, but there's pretty much nothing more important before a marathon. They ended up delaying the race five minutes, so Michael and I had a good amount of time to stand in the corral until we were released.

The race started off hilly, and it stayed that way! Someone running near us mentioned the first three miles are the worst. They must have been talking about the 10K or half, because I don't think it got much better after the first 5K. It was a more heart-breaking lie than being told "you're almost there."

Pictures never adequately show hill grade...just trust me that everything was steep!
I was very excited to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway (because that meant a National Park stamp!). I had to cross a little ditch to get up to this sign, and I guess I was moving pretty quickly, because another runner tried to tell me about a better spot to pee. She seemed disappointed I was just getting a picture.

The first mountain (of three) led us to the summit of Roanoke Mountain. I thought it was very interesting that the half split at mile 3 (and then followed later sections of the marathon course), so those of us running the full made this ascent alone. Michael and I walked almost the whole thing, but the views at the top made it all worth it. I felt strange about chilling up there for a minute, but I wanted to take it all in.

It was also during this climb we saw the lead runners come flying by. I'm always impressed how fast some people are, but watching them cruise the downhills, and knowing how they must have destroyed the uphills, was really awe-inspiring on this course. (I think two of the top three men went sub-3...that just blows my mind!)

After suffering through some incredibly steep downhills, we began climbing our second mountain of the day - Mill Mountain. This is where the famed star is located. (And, let me tell you, Roanoke really gets into being the Star City. So many places incorporated the image or name.)

I believe this mountain was actually shorter than Roanoke Mountain, but it felt a lot harder. I'm sure it was just from fatigue, but it felt like we were never going to get up to the stupid star. Based on finishing times, there were obviously lots of people who must've run these sections. Hats off to them, even power walking was difficult for me!

After what felt like forever, we made it to the top!

Side note - I was reading a Roanoke magazine after the race, and apparently over the summer, each week for four weeks, people race on their bikes up to the star. I nearly fell over running it. I can't imagine pedaling up - let alone willingly doing it four weeks in a row.

Though the view is fantastic!
We descended Mill Mountain and made our way through a short section of downtown. I was surprised how painful the flats were at this point (I think it was about mile 15?). I wanted to walk so badly, but I knew I couldn't actually walk the whole course, plus nothing was truly wrong. I was just beat.

However, there was a nice little treat at the halfway point - mimosas! A candidate had set the rogue aid station up. I wish I had gotten a picture because it was really cute: there were signs in the half mile leading up to it urging us to drink more "moo-mosas," and, when we actually got there, they had a plastic cow and were serving up the promised drinks. I honestly mostly wanted one for the orange juice.

The third mountain of the day was Peakwood. While the first two were located in parks, Peakwood is actually a subdivision. And while there was a true peak, there were lots of long uphills that came afterwards.

Both Michael and I had noticed how slanted the road was in places, and this is the section where I really started to feel discomfort in my knee. Every step was painful, and I couldn't run the downhills. If I gritted my teeth, I could force it, but I was really concerned about tearing something - my knee clearly could not adequately support that much force.

Hobbling sadly down from the top of Peakwood.
It was a flashback to Knoxville, only much sooner in the race and much more painful. However, a rogue aid station around mile 20 had Advil, and I gratefully took one. It kicked in a mile or two later and made a world of difference in my comfort level. I still made Michael walk the downhills, because I didn't want to look the gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, but it was nice not to feel as horrible.

The last 10K of the race took us through some city parks and subdivisions. But don't think these were that flat, however - I believe this is where they added elevation change from 2014 to remain America's Toughest Road Marathon.

We also had an interesting volunteer encounter at this point. At about mile 21, she urged us ahead, saying there were just two more bridges and then we were on the home stretch. We crossed the two bridges fairly quickly, but then came to a turn-off for the full. She made an innocent mistake of assuming we followed the half course, but it still made us a bit sad.

However, there was also a spectator a mile later, who had just completed a color run, that was yelling really motivating things for everyone. (Unfortunately, I guess my marathon brain couldn't retain memories of what they were.) She was a great bright spot in that final section.

Finally, after far more than two bridges, we were close to being done!

Horrendously painful cake.
I'm almost ashamed to admit how much walking went on in the last mile, but we knew we would make the cut-off, and my knee was pretty done with life at that point.

Time: 6:40:51

I think our faces say it all!
Despite all the walking and the pain (my knee only feels 100% better for the first time today!), I'm so glad we did this race! It was a fun new challenge (not that "regular" marathons aren't challenging...), and it felt extra rewarding to cross the finish line and get our medals.

Unfortunately, the post-race area only had bagels (though they were really, really good bagels) and chocolate milk left when we got there, plus the post-race massage teams weren't taking any more runners. We found some shady space and rested a bit before hobbling back to the car.

Mad props to all of you out there that run hills like this regularly. Because let's just say I'm really looking forward to Missoula's one lone hill!


  1. You are super inspiring just for taking on this marathon and finishing it! So so many people would avoid it because of the hills. You are a rock star!

    1. Thanks! Though I didn't feel very inspiring while I spent the majority of the time walking it! It's too bad so many people don't want to run it - it was a great race.

  2. Congrats!! That is such a tough, but stunning race! Awesome job. I can't imagine running hills like that for a full marathon. Huge props for tackling this beast!

    1. I remember thinking at about mile eight that if I were doing the half, I would still feel pretty overwhelmed with another five miles of hills! I'm glad I did this once, but I'm looking forward to some flatter courses for now.