America’s Toughest Road Marathon
I have seen the advertisements for the Blue Ridge Mountain Marathon over the past several years and it’s claim to be “America's Toughest Road Marathon”. So finally this year I accepted the challenge, not necessarily wholeheartedly! Actually, I was scared to death! This was my wife's birthday weekend and as usual knowing if we're gonna celebrate any activity such as birthdays or anniversaries somehow, someway I will tie it into running a marathon! Sorry dear! I really do love you though! So just as a clarification for all of those who know me and my wife. She was the one who started me running. Not the other way around. She was running nearly 10 years before I ever tried. She is my superhero by encouraging me to get in better shape and better health by running. Initially this was never my idea! However, I have found that apparently I have an addictive personality. Once I started doing a marathon or two I just could not stop. So here we are at marathon number 40 in just over five years. I know, it’s ridiculous! The Blue Ridge Mountain Marathon takes place in Roanoke, VA about five hours from our home in Virginia Beach. A drastic change in elevation for this run compared to most of the others that I have ran before. The only one that could be possibly be considered a comparison to this one was the Rim Rock Marathon in Grand Junction Colorado several years ago. But I've got to say after experiencing both I feel this one was a much bigger challenge considering the number of hills. Correction! They were not hills they were mountains! I looked at the map carefully and all elevation changes with full anticipation that I was gonna have to walk a fair amount of this marathon. My strategy, as was with last week in Charlottesville was to keep pace on the uphills with brisk walking. If I was able to keep up the pace of 18 minute per mile on the uphill sections and then a 12 minute mile on the level and downhill areas even with the exception of the last 5 miles (I figured I would be exhausted) which I plugged in 14 minute mile pace. If I did this and maintained it I should be able to manage a six hour marathon. Not what I would really consider it success however this race had a 7 1/2 hour limit to finish along with six hour limit for cut off at mile 22.
There was no way that I wanted to be pulled off this race! This is a very popular run with many people. Why? Because it’s just CRAZY! This marathon drew up pretty good crowd, about 450 marathoners were entered. However they also had another race challenge where they have what's called the double marathon. These racers get up and begin the first marathon going in reverse direction of the course at 1 o'clock in the morning. That is CRAZY! However they needed to finish in time to get back to the starting line to do it all over again with the rest of us in the normal way. Whatever normal means! What an amazing group of athletes! I applaud their stamina, encouragement, and endurance! I was able to chat with several of the double marathoners and heard their struggles and their stories. Just as I anticipated, at mile 2 begin the first hill… excuse me…the first mountain. We worked our way up through several twists and turns in the mountain pass until I came to mile 5 which was nearly a straight up incline to mile 7, the mountain peak of the race. I love it when the people along the course say, it’s just two miles up and then you run back down!” JUST?! Yeah, right! The amazing part about this section as well as all of the other sections of the race were so many runners that were coming back were encouraging all of us slowpokes. That was a huge boost to me!
They knew is was a beast of a marathon as well. That is always the big motivation at marathons, no matter how slow you are, many other runners will encourage you. They know that there isn’t many many will ever even attempt a marathon!
I get all the way to the top of the mountain at mile seven and the spectacular view of the surrounding landscape! What a beautiful morning. If only I wasn't running a marathon! LOL Now, back downhill. I begin to pick up my pace and make up my time that I've lost walking. Once you get down this hill there is another turn that takes you up to Star Mountain. I call a star mountain… maybe others say it as well… you can see the STAR at the top of one of the mountain top from all around. And it is illuminated at night. It's a good climb as well and certainly nothing to sneeze about. Another fantastic view and another downhill run to make up some lost time.
What I understood from the elevation map was that these were the two toughest areas because they were the highest peaks. I had made up my time through the halfway mark and felt pretty strong. Amazingly my legs were not bothering me nor was my breathing. I had concerns with going downhill so much but everything seemed fine at this point. And then came all the other mountain climbs! Oh my goodness! Climb after climb after climb they never seemed to stop! You thought that the big mountains were gonna be the toughest but these later on the race were killer! The steepness of the incline was so much it was hard to even walk up to them forget about running up them! These last inclines were the most brutal of all probably because they were unexpected and my fatigue had increased by this point in the race. I didn't believe anybody when they told me “just a few more hills!” I think you're lying to me! They were. There continued to be hills until the very last point freakin two! I inched my way past mile 22 clearly ahead of the cut off time. Yeah me! I continued to push with everything that I had still walking up the steep inclines and trudging away on the flat parts and then picking up a little speed at the downhill parts. By this time in the race it started to sprinkle and the pavement became wet. I was very nervous about slipping on the asphalt and breaking something. I continued to push as fast as I possibly could, safely…cautiously! Then comes the end of the race, I can see the finish line thank goodness this thing is over! Another banana, another bottle water, and since I'm one of the last runners they give me a whole pizza! Too tired to eat! One of the toughest marathons I've ever ran and I selected it for my number 40! Yes, I’ve never said I was wise!
Thanks to all the fun people who made this pain-and-suffering enjoyable! I know around mile 20… I was thinking I'd never run another marathon again… However now that the pain has subsided what would it be like to do the double marathon next year? Note: the day after I wasn't too sore, the next day after I was really sore! I get a week off and then I’m headed to Delaware for another new state and number 41! Wish me luck!
Thanks for all your support and prayers.
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