Blue Ridge Marathon – 2017

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Roanoke Mountain

2nd fastest marathon yet (rofl)
April 22nd, 2017, my 3rd Blue Ridge Marathon. For those of you reading, this was my very first marathon I did back in 2015, it was hot (85°F) and humid and sunny, and things did not go well at all. I managed to finish in 6:12 and felt like death. Fast forward to 2016, when it was chilly (topping out at about 56°F), but sunny! I was not prepared or trained at all for this run, still managed a 5:26 finish and felt like death but was intact. So here we are in 2017, marathon #5 for me and every year I keep coming back. This year it would be about 64-70°F and rain/clouds

As some of you know already I headed back to the Blue Rigde Mountains March 27th. My plan was to prepare for the marathon with my first Ultra Marathon, the Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k April 1st (a trail race for the most part), which climbed two mountains on course. It was rough, but I kept things slow, and finished, with THE hardest climb I’ve every done, hiking/walking/running, 1000 ft in just a mile.

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Afterwards, I thought I went so slow that it probably didn’t help me much. Of course looking back now, I’d like to do it again. I also signed up for my first 10k, Mill Mountain Mayhem (a trail race), ironically, which was a week later, April 8th. This went horribly, mainly because the first half of the race was a bottleneck where I got stuck going at a slower pace than I wanted, and tried to catch up the latter half, which was impossible due to the mountain climb (this race went up and down one mountain). Legs were ok, but how I felt rather discouraged me from feeling good about the marathon two weeks out. The next week, I practiced climbing the same mountain I did in the 10k on my bike for ironman training. The first 20 miles felt terrible, and I hit what I felt was my lactate threshold several times up the climb. The last 13ish miles were fine though. I attempted a final 2 hour 30 min run a week before the marathon. I had plans to climb Mill Mountain again but I couldn’t even make my legs get that far into my run. I made about 10 miles in that run and had a terrible pace, struggling with my heart rate, and finally just quit. Per usual before a long endurance event, I did a speed test (I usually just do a fast 5k race) for a mile and busted out my fastest mile to date since starting running at 6:49. I feel like this knocks whatever is left in my legs out and my average pace during the distance event feels faster than my training runs. Maybe I’m crazy for this, but it has worked.

Race Day. I was discouraged by the rain, of course, as probably many of the runners were. With a little luck, the start of the race wasn’t rain-filled. The race time was moved from 7:20am to 7:35am from last years’ start time, I guess I did notice a few changes with the shift of the race director. Regardless, I was determined to run my heart out (well, somewhat literally). I had a plan to run-walk the first mountain so I was not to overdo it from the start, then run as fast as I could downhills, and run-walk uphills with 4 mins running, 1 min walk, and do that for the 3 mountains and run a nice consistent pace for the remaining 10k that’s much flatter. I knew the course like the back of my hand…

None of this was true haha.

The gun went off, and I placed myself further in the front in a faster pace group to start off. Every other year I started further back and was always locked in until mile 2.5 with people. I guess I didn’t place myself far enough ahead AGAIN. I was still locked with people not running my pace (and this is still an issue with self-seeding in races anyway), and was frustrated trying to get ahead and find empty space. The first mile is always the warmup. 3/4 of the mile is somewhat inclined, and then the last 1/4 mile is straight up Walnut Ave, where the first real climb begins. 9:16 for the first mile, not bad, basically where I wanted to be before I slowed WAY down for the climb. The 2nd mile had 278 feet of climb, on your way up Mill Mountain, I was doing well with the 4-1 run-walk, until I decided to keep running through one of them, then got tired, and blew that plan out. After that it just became a game with juggling my heart rate trying to keep it from skyrocketing too early. That also didn’t go well, hitting a high of 189 bpm for miles 2 and 3 even with being conservative. Oh well. Mile 2.7, the top of the first climb where the race splits off from Marathon and half and 10k, was the first timing mat. Average pace was 10:49 min/mi. My calves were screaming, but I knew they’d calm down later. Marathon runners split off and kept going off to a section of large rolling hills leading to Roanoke Mountain. 1,785 feet of elevation gain from mile 2 to mile 7. These rolling hills were probably one of the hardest sections and then delivering the final blow having to climb Roanoke Mountain at the end. I realized how lonely I was at this point. I missed having a running buddy to just complain to or waste time talking with, making crude jokes or commenting on other runners saying “how in the world can you still be running up this thing?! Make me feel better and walk too!” It started raining at mile 4.5, bleh. In addition I noticed that my hands had swelled up. I did something wrong in my nutrition plan, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. So through the next aid stations I played around with not taking in salt and adding more water. For the rest of the race, I never got it right. They began to hurt about half way through, but whatever.

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Roanoke Mountain

I was averaging some slow 11 min/mi paces here until the super climb hit me in the face taking me down to a 15:18 mile for mile 6 and 13:32 mile for mile 7, my calves stopped screaming as much at least. At the top, my breath was taken away from the scenery, all the dense fog up there settling on the mountains, just reminded me of where I lived. I whipped out my camera and took the only pictures from the race there, of course this added time which is probably why my pace was so bad at mile 6. Worth. I was so excited to have reached the top. Not. There are technically two peaks on Roanoke Mountain, and I had only reached the first haha, I knew this though. Upon reaching the crest of the mountain, I knew it was time to buckle down, engage the abs and run hard downhill. 805 feet of loss in two miles heading down Roanoke Mountain! I won’t lie, it’s a ton of fun flying down. I could feel my quads firing, and they were on it. I had complete control. I averaged about 8:15 min/mi on the downhill, very close to my 5k pace! Coming back to Mill Mountain via the large rolling hills (I really dislike these…especially now), I settled back into a slower pace and conserved, doing about 1 min/mi better pace than I did the first go-around earlier on miles 4-5. Now one of the most dreaded climbs, the short 1.5 miles up to the peak of Mill Mountain, very very steep.
I knew this peak would take me up to the half way point, 13 miles into the race. I was glad to be done and clocked my half time at 2 hours and 26 minutes, not bad at all!! However, I knew even if I maintained my pace for the last half of the race, I would AT BEST be able to finish in 4:52. *sigh* My goal this whole time was sub 5 hours. I knew I’d have to fight for that.

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I locked and loaded my quads for the next large descent. I blasted down at managed a 7:35 mile at mile 14! I was elated with this. Stopped at an aid station and mile 15 was 9:10 along the greenway. Here was where I started having more so mental difficulties. My legs did NOT want to run flats. It was fairly flat on miles 16 and 17, with just 242 feet of gain and 62 feet of loss. Then mile 18. I knew this was the hardest of the climbs being the steepest and last climb. 3 miles of climbing now…my only goal was to crush my time climbing it from last year, 43:24 for that 5k. This year it was 39:13!! Good enough for me! I pumped my arms hard pushing myself up. Now the final large descend. Only about 400 feet in 1.5 miles, but I took what I could get. At this point, mile 20.5, I met a very interesting runner that I started to talk with, Justin. He was great and my spirits really lifted. I realized descending the final mountain that my feet had taken the brunt of my run so far and I could feel the blisters under my metatarsals much like I did after my feet got wet during the 50k. If this was the only pain I was in, I was fine with it (although right now sitting here I will tell you very differently not being able to walk with these open blisters). I was glad to have had someone push me through the final 10k or so, which are the most mentally draining miles. The next 10k are the flattest of the race, with just 310 feet of gain, but you want to walk so badly. Granted there are some steep sections left, including bridges and short, steep hills, but in general, the rise and fall of the course is over.
My pace dropped a lot. I still had my eye on the sub 5 hour finish. I ran through puddles and I was soaked. Under my arms were chafed from lack of body glide I neglected to apply prior to the race (missed those spots :/). My heart rate was in control again, keeping it around 165 mostly. I continued to push hard the last 2 miles (c’mon, it’s TWO MILES). My legs were tired, but mostly felt fine.

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I busted into a sprint the last 0.2 (which was technically the last 0.4…this course is always 0.2 LONGER, clocking 26.45 miles last year and 26.40 miles this year). This threw off my time obviously. I turned the corner, the final short climb before the downhill finish chute, and I saw the clock: 4 hours 55 minutes 33 seconds…I had to make it there before 4:57! I was totally focus on beating whatever last minute clock time I had in my mind. I finished at 4 hours and 56 minutes and 23 seconds. I tried to make my finish picture look good at least, I have failed to do this years prior, the first year trying not to pass out, and last year stopping my garmin (classic!).

 

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I waltz over to get my medal, and my legs felt surprisingly good. I got my chocolate milk and headed over to the free massage tent.

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Final Results

I climbed up onto the table and realized as soon as the therapist started on my legs that I was really NOT in bad condition whatsoever! I hardly had any soreness or pain. While I was laying there, I overheard some people saying the race had been cancelled due to storms. I heard thunder off in the distance. Well, at least I finished before the worst of it hit! I later found out they called the race at 4 hours and 52 minutes into the race, before I had crossed the finish line…that my time may not be official. It turned out, I recently found out, that my time was official, and at 4:52, they started taking down the timing mats, and if you hadn’t crossed all the timing mats before the finish, your time was not official. Those on the course were notified and given the option to finish at their own risk and would be given an unofficial time. A few minutes later, it poured down hard rain and stormed pretty bad to the point of flooding. I felt a pit in my heart and stomach for those out there doing the double marathon.
I will say in conclusion that this was the best I’ve felt post race for either a half OR a full marathon as far as my conditioning and muscles go. I thought I would honestly regret doing the 50k (which ended up being like 52k lol), but in reality it helped fuel my sprints downhill and prevented my legs from getting totally messed up during the marathon. For the first time after a marathon, I could stand up, sit down, squat, move, all without assistance. I am pretty burnt out on running at the moment, and am glad there are no more races.

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Elevation Profile from Garmin

However, there are some burning questions I will need to answer in the future here…
– Will I decide to go back and do the 50k again? I did have a lot of fun with it.
– Will I return to do the Blue Ridge Marathon again? If I do, will I choose to do the marathon or the double? Is it worth my 2018 running and athletic season to do something that daunting and SO early in the season when I know training through the winter in Wisconsin probably will not get me ready in time. Is that worth it?
– Will I decide to do more than a 50k next year in general? What lies ahead? Would I prefer to work on speed and make my marathon times faster, is potentially qualifying for Boston one day even a possibility with my body and skills? Or would I just want to go further?
I enjoy getting faster, and I enjoy testing my limits. In the documentary, The Barkley Marathons, Laz says that race appeals to the smarter crowds because they are used to succeeding, and this is appealing because they could and probably will fail. What am I looking for?

Stats from the race:
– First marathon in the rain
– Cut exactly 30 minutes from my race time from last year
– Elevation Gain: 3918 feet
– Average Pace: 11:14 min/mi
– Distance: 26.40 miles
– Average Heart rate: 170 bpm
– Best pace: 6:42 min/mi
– Calories burned: ~2,715
– Clothes were all Inknburn, 6″ shorts and cami top
– Shoes were Altra Escalentes size 7.5
– Socks were Feetures Compression
– Nutrition: Honey Stingers (  ) + Skratch on course electrolytes (  )

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