Grab some popcorn & enjoy…
I returned to conquer the Blue Ridge Mountains for a 2nd time. Yes, this year 3 of us (Tereasa, Josh & I) packed the car and took the 14 hour road trip to Virginia. I am not crazy, I just hate flying. Madden cruiser anyone?
We arrived late Thursday (4-24-14) evening. Checked into Hotel Roanoke (which was walking distance to all activities), claimed our hot chocolate chip cookies, and rested up for the festivities.
Bright & early Friday morning we met up with a small group for the shake -out run. We got to meet up with friends we met last year, David & Nicki, and met new friends Jeremy & Nicky. It was a sunny morning as we jogged along the greenway.
The expo & packet-pick up wouldn’t start until 3pm and the pasta party at 6:30. We (Josh, Tereasa, Nicki and I) had time to explore the city, Roanoke makes a tourist feel at home. We checked out the many shops and settled to eat lunch at 202 Market, which had a great GF menu. At that time the skies opened up and the rain flooded the streets.
We managed to wait out the rain & waste enough time until the expo opened. The packet pickup was held in a tent outside the City Market building. There was a line for each race event, full, half, 10k. Shirts were to be picked up on the 2nd level inside the City Market where the actual expo was happening. Lots of free samples, stickers, , you could buy custom made shirts. Foot levelers was measuring feet in the center of the room. Also on the 2nd level was Fleet Feet Sports Roanoke, where we took advantage of some rolling.
We then took the remainder of the afternoon to check out the Mill Mountain star.
The pasta dinner featured guest speaker Zoe Romano. A buffet of pastas, salad, meatballs, bread & desserts. Tickets could be purchased ahead of time for $25, there was also limited availability at the door. Tereasa still needed to buy a ticket, when we approached the “list keeper” she informed Tereasa that the Chesapeake Running Club had purchased her a ticket. After a round of thanks, we discovered some were originally from Iowa.
The pasta dinner included an overview of the course, 7400 feet of elevation gain anyone? Then the featured speaker Zoe Romano told us of her trek across the Tour De France route, via her feet. Inspirational story about the ability to accomplish anything you set out to do.
Pasta consumed, elevation warnings & inspiration gained, it was time to wind down. We all met up for some pre-race drinks & shenanigans at the hotel bar. When all the fun was had, we called it a night.
Saturday morning, race day. It was sunny, about 55 degrees. Josh & I had a bagel, but instead of making coffee in the hotel room, left the room at 6:20 ish in search of a fresh brewed cup. Imagine our surprise when no business is open before 7 am in downtown Roanoke. Coffee is liquid gold to us, the race started at 7:35. It was a stressful start, but we found a shop & grabbed a cup at 7:01 am.
Just before the race we meet up with the others and cheered the unofficial double runners across the starting line. This course is tough, but there is a small group that runs the full marathon course twice, waking up at 2:30 am. Once all doublers are in, the 2 hand cyclists are on their way. Our group disbands, with “good lucks” all around, we proceed to our corrals. Which were new this year and based on the honor system. The singing of the National Anthem was performed and the gun went off.
Josh and I were running the full. Tereasa was tackling her first 10k. I started the race with Nicki, who was conquering the half. All three races started at the same time.
Full Marathon Course: This race is tagged “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” It definitely lives up to that name. This is only the 5th year, and each year organizers add more elevation. The start of this race takes you up Mill Mountain, on the paved asphalt road. The half and 10k split at the turn for the top of Mill Mountain. The full continues to do a loop up and down Roanoke Mountain, the steepest climbs of the race. However the view from this peak was spectacular, complete with a bagpiper, bananas, oranges, water, gummi bears, pretzels & a purple sports drink. (I was told it was Gatorade and told it was Gu Brew)
We were running the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were port-o-potties and a few spectators on this section of the course. However all the volunteers, law enforcement personal, & other runners were excellent support. At this time the temperature had started to climb.
When the full course joined back up with the peak of Mill Mountain, we were greeted with another fuel stop & a spectacular view of Roanoke. Volunteers couldn’t take your picture quick enough, they were so kind! I caught a course photographer on the decent, all race photos are free! At about the midway point of the way down a lady was serving “Moo-mosas” I recalled her from the prior year, when she only had glass serving ware. This year she was prepared, with a cow theme, plastic glasses & high end champagne.
After accomplishing 2 peaks, there is still one more to go. Taking a tour through parts of the city, where there were more enthusiastic spectators, & a portion of the greenway, we ascend Peakwood. Oh Peakwood…it’s not the steepest, but at mile 17 your legs are tired! This climb has many housing developments, which brings out some fun spectators. Spectators who cheer, but also think they are helping by informing you of a flat section, or you’re almost to the top.
Once I had snaked through the neighborhood, eating some more bananas and gummi bears, I had made it to the party on Peakwood. They had tents set up with food & champagne. After the “moo-mosa” stop, some heart burn, & increasing temps, I snagged a paper cup of water, noticed the “no alcohol past this point” sign, and made my way down.
This is where I like to use the phrase “Pain of Peakwood” the down hill is no joke, your quads are on fire, and you have no control. When I passed mile marker 20, I took a photo & let my friends know where I was, as race tracking was an additional charge. I also glanced at my watch, I thought with the heat I wasn’t doing so well, but it wasn’t the case a race PR was possible.
I continued on, I really hadn’t hit a wall, I was just being smart. The last 6 miles were tough, mentally you are thinking you are done with the mountains, but the sneaky organizers decided the added elevation would be in these miles. It was also getting too hot, temps reaching 80 degrees with minimal shade. I hit all the water stops and carried on.
Mile 25, I was going to run the rest of the way. My legs were tired, but the Hanson marathon method had us run so many miles on tired legs, I knew I could do it. Then there it was, the finish line! I heard some “GO ANG’s!” from the side and jumped across the finish line. I PR’d this race. Officially by 23 minutes from the previous year. I hope the race organizers don’t read this, they’ll make it harder, lol.
I proceed to walk the chute and to the food tent. The one area that could use some improvement. It seemed like it was crowded into it’s spot. The only food left for me was oranges, bananas, bagels, water, pop, chocolate milk. When I run a marathon I need some food, preferably something I don’t have to go find my money to buy. Maybe the one free post race craft beer prohibited me from going off the deep end. Or maybe it was the second beer, it was tasty.
The finish area was nice, there was an amphitheater where the awards were presented. In between awards there was live music. There could have been more shade. There was local food vendors set up along side the local beer vendors. The group of us had all met back up, discussing everyone’s race. Josh even ended up in the medical tent, dehydration is serious people, special shout out to Nicky for getting him there.
Once we all got showered, there was a #runchat, blogger, social media meet up at Corned Beef & Co. A group of about 10 or so gathered for more beer & food. Running takes me many places, always happy to meet new faces, special shout out to Fred & Cynthia, & John, for joining up with Josh, Tereasa, David, Nicki, Jeremy, Nicky & I.
The day was getting away from us, some parted ways after some debate about whether Roanoke had a fro-yo shop, the others decided on ice cream. Seriously this town needs coffee before 7 and fro-yo!
After our treats, we all parted ways. There was a concert going on put on by the race, G. Love & Special Sauce. Runners could buy discounted tickets, but we passed. We were spent. We retired to our hotel rooms and got things together for an early departure.
I will run this race again someday, but not sure if it will be next year. It was this race last year where I realized the fun & adventure that comes along with the joy of running, so it holds a special place for me.
I do respect the focus & training it takes to run your best, but this race is where the fun & discipline come together.
Thanks for reading this ridiculously long post. I am lost at to what I should conquer next. This was my 5th full marathon, a list that includes 2 Blue Ridge Marathons and the marathon of the Dopey Challenge. I think it’s time I finally break 2 hours in the half marathon. Hope you get the chance to enjoy your running journey.