On April 16, I participated in my fifth Blue Ridge Marathon event in Roanoke. For the past four years, I have run the half marathon distance at this race. It’s a doozy of a road race, packing nearly 3,800 feet in total elevation change in just 13 miles. This year, having just run my first ultra, I opted for the 10K option which ‘only’ has 2,000 feet in elevation change.
I went into the race with one main goal: have fun! And have fun I certainly did. It was a blast, and honestly I had more fun running the 10K than I have running the half in the past. Sure, you get some major bragging rights and you feel very accomplished at the finish line after running America’s Toughest Road Half Marathon. But for me it just isn’t as fun as the 10K was. Race day was simple: run up the mountain, say hello to the Roanoke star, run back down the mountain, and then head to the finish.
Race morning started early, since the race began at 7:35 AM and it’s about an hour drive to Roanoke. It was a smooth trip until Barry and I got to downtown Roanoke. We sat in some of the worst traffic I’ve ever been in for Blue Ridge waiting to get off of the interstate and into a parking garage near the start/finish. This usually goes smoothly, but the race has continued to grow and we did get there a bit later than we have in years past. By 7:15 we were parked on our our way to the start area. We hit the porta johns and then lined up with less than 10 minutes until go time.
As luck would have it, I ran into my Sole Sisters running group buddies. I’m not officially part of their group, but I am friends with all of them and we see each other at nearly every local race. I often end up running with them, too, which is always fun! They had the singing of the national anthem, and just after 7:35 we were on our way.
The race starts off running through downtown as you make your way towards the base of Mill Mountain. We ran over a bridge where we got a nice view of the star and where we were headed. It was a gorgeous day for a race – sunny and in the upper 40’s (it would later warm up to the 70’s by the afternoon). I was in capris, a long sleeve, and gloves, and honestly I was already feeling a bit warm during mile 1.
Barry took off right away, chasing a course PR for the half, and I stuck with my Sole Sister group (they were all also running the half). We were running easy and happily chatting away. Just before mile 1 we started a climb up a steep hill. You hit this hill before you actually start climbing up Mill Mountain. I could definitely feel it in my legs, but I still felt good. Our group split up a bit, and I continued on with Anita and Kim as we began the ascent up Mill Mountain.
Mile 1 – 11:11
Mile 2 – 12:02
After we passed mile 2, the climbing got steeper. I said goodbye to Anita and Kim as I decided to start mixing in some short walk breaks. I kept each walk break less than a tenth of a mile in length and focused on working on my power hiking. I was happy to find I was passing others who were walking – I guess I’m getting better at hiking quickly on inclines!
Just before mile 3, we reached the split where the full marathoners continue on to climb Roanoke Mountain and the half and 10K turn right to finish climbing Mill Mountain.
Mile 3 – 14:56
My legs were burning now and my walk breaks were becoming more frequent. I knew we were close and just before we hit mile 3.5 I got my first peek of the back of the Roanoke Star – a sure sign our climb was nearly complete!
We caught a little trail action before we found ourselves in front of the towering 90-foot-tall Roanoke Star at the top of Mill Mountain. It’s fun to look out at the overlook and see the valley floor, where we started just over 3 miles ago.
Then it was time to begin the screaming descent back to the valley floor! You would think the climbs in this race are what beat you up, but it’s actually the descents. When running the half in the past I have both trashed my legs and become physically ill during the run down Mill Mountain. After four previous Blue Ridge races, I have learned not to drink or eat anything until I’m off of Mill Mountain (my stomach gets upset from the sloshing) and I have learned how to run down a steep descent. The trick for me is to stay upright over my feet with my hips forward and allow gravity to push me. I don’t try to hold back a lot and I don’t try to push that hard.
Mile 4 – 11:33
On our way down the mountain we passed one of my favorite parts of the course: the folks who stand outside of their house to hand out “moo-mosas.” They have a cow statue at the front of their driveway, hence the cow theme.
From there we continued down the winding ‘old road’ on Mill Mountain, running through an old toll booth as we careened back to the valley floor.
Before I knew it we had made it back to the valley and we were on our way back towards the finish. My legs were ready to be done! We had to climb back over the bridge on Jefferson (I swear that thing is steeper on the backside!) and then up another hill. From there it was a smooth downhill to the finish.
Mile 5 – 8:33
Mile 6 – 9:13
Last 0.2 – 1:41
I cruised through the finish line in 1:09:08, meeting my unofficial time goal of sub-1:10. I had thrown that number out to Barry the night before, and I was happy to meet it. My other secret goal was to finish before the first half marathoner came through. I accomplished that as well, as the winner came in at 1:21:57 (which is insane on this course!).
After finishing I collected my medal and a bottle of water and walked back up towards the final stretch before the finish line to wait for Barry. Blue Ridge had a great app this year for tacking athletes, so I was able to keep tabs on him. Finally, I saw him coming down the road and cheered my head off for him! He ended up having a lot of cramping after the second mountain (Peakwood, mile 7-10). But he still finished in 1:55:56 – no course PR but still an excellent time on such a tough course. Not to mention he didn’t train for the race 🙂
Once Barry was done we got some post-race food, hung out in the shade for a bit, and then made our way over to the amphitheater area for some post-race refreshments. I had a smooth Belgian white – my favorite!
All in all, a great day and another Blue Ridge in the books.
Who else has raced recently?
Do you run the same races over and over again?