Blue Ridge Double Marathon

My first 50 miler, officially, yeah I know I’ve “done” 50 miles, but what does it feel like to stop at that time? Get ready for a picture show, cause I took a lot! I knew where to take them and most of them were on the fly, so sorry for the mass uploads! I tried to keep them in order.

This all started when my friend Robin messaged me last year and asked if I could come do it with her since the race suggested that you run with a friend so you are not alone at night (Safety!). Robin and I had met at the Dam 50k at Smith Mountain Lake in Sandy Level, VA two years ago somewhere with 10k left to go and ran the rest together. I have no seen her since, but we have stayed connected through facebook.

I had always wanted to do the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, but I was always afraid of the distance, and knowing what ONE marathon felt like there, with the pitch of the road, and the gain/loss on the course. But since Zion 100k the prior year, I had surmounted a bunch of long distance know-how and to not fear the unknown so much. Did I have too much knowledge of this one this time?

I had completed this course as my first marathon. I did terribly. I came back the next year ill prepared to say the least after having moved to Wisconsin and faced my first winter there (and the local said it was a mild winter, Lord help me). I did hardly any runs, and hardly any long runs for that matter, not knowing what to do when it was cold outside like it was, I had no running gear or even regular clothes to wear outside in those conditions. Training fail. It was my 3rd marathon then. I managed to mess around, and have a lot of fun (albeit super sore after), and finished 40 minutes faster than the previous year anyway, thanks mostly to upping my nutrition and figuring out how to pace the course. Another year later, I did it for a 3rd time and put some serious effort into training for it, including running my first 50k for training! I smashed my expectations and came in 30 minutes faster than the previous year, while it rained. I could not imagine doing the course faster than that, and had no unfinished business with the course or race.race_2042_photo_51324294

But there was the double marathon, and the opportunity to actually do it. I applied again, like I had two years in the past, to be a race ambassador. Regardless of where I was in this world, and no matter what I do, I will always support my hometown race. It’s really well put together and still the best marathon I’ve been to hands down. Many trail runners have described that it is the only road marathon they will ever do, a road marathon with a trail vibe. I became an ambassador and signed up for the double.

I made training plans, and put in some work, making the Terrapin 50k part of that training, along with hefty runs in the mountains for a month beforehand in Virginia. I was discouraged a little as some of my old segments were slower than I had been before. I didn’t feel more tired, I didn’t feel less adequate. My hormones probably playing some role there. What had been a warm start to spring in Virginia quickly turned late winter upon my arrival. Le sigh.

Race week went by so quickly. I monitored the forecast for two weeks out of course, and saw…

Rain. Thunder.

Why though.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Nah, said everyone.

I am so tired of being wet and cold hahaha. Laughing at myself right? It came down to mid 50s race evening. Oh yeah, the race starts at 1am. Logistics in a bit, they are interesting sit tight. Rain and thunderstorms were predicted. The high the next day fluctuated from 59 to 68°F between the two weeks of obsessively watching the weather from three different models. The time of the second marathon varied between storms and dry and overcast skies. So in classic Virginia fashion, it was completely useless and an utter waste of time trying to figure it out, and it will be what it will be like every year. Virginia spring time in April varies from their last snow of the season to blazing heat with humidity weighing you down to the black pavement radiating back the same heat, seeping into your very soul. Yay weather!

So the logistics. You as a double marathoner had one of two choices for starting times. 1 am and 2:30 am. Regardless you had to be back to the starting line by 7:30 am in order to start with the actual marathon start at 7:35 am, although they press you to be back before 7 am. There needs to be a lot of thought put into this. You have about 6ish hours for the first half, and then 7.5 hours for the second, with a cutoff at mile 24 of 6 hours. When you finish your first marathon, you have downtime, and you have to utilize that time you have to 1) not lock up for the second marathon, 2) change clothes?, 3) refuel, as there is no on course support the first half, way less than you’d have in an ultra (more on that later), 4) use bathrooms, personal needs, etc, 5) plan the second marathon!

So when you cross the finish line for the first time, that ends your timer, unlike in an ultra, the clock does stop here. This down time is all yours. If you don’t allow yourself enough time between the two marathons, starting up and finishing the second will be more difficult. If you have too much time, your chances of starting the second feeling decent is low with legs locking up, and allowing your core to stop working, body temp cools down. Ideally you’d want to finish in some mid range where you won’t get too comfortable between them and where you won’t be struggling to do what you need to get done to transition to the second. One major thing about the first half is that it is unsupported, you must bring everything you need with you. You can’t stash anything, no one can bring you stuff. There was occasional water, but even then you didn’t know when you’d access it. This added a lot of weight to my pack. The second marathon is fully supported almost every mile, and was it glorious.

So there I was…

So it begins haha.

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I had plans to stay up progressively later and later during the week, but I ended up going to bed before even my normal bed times! So that didn’t pan out. I planned to sleep in as long as possible on the day of, day before? Friday. The race started 1 am Saturday. I slept in, got good calories in, went to the expo, now in the Patrick Henry hotel. Rain threatened the skies. Ate a good dinner at Ichiban Hibachi in Roanoke and went home to prepare. My hydration was on point too. Sweet tea all week long. I double checked my “bag” for the half way point and around 11:45pm Friday night, my sister picked me up and off we went to the starting line, as I saw a strong line of thunderstorms approaching the area…due to hit around 1 am.

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Radar 1 hour before race start at 1am.

 

Sweet!

We arrived at the starting line, checked in, and met up with Robin who had magically been able to sleep somehow in the middle of the day before the race!! We meandered into the road, blissfully forgetting the roads were all still open until a car would come by. The starting temps were not too bad, as it was very moist out, the humidity rising up in the 90% range. No wind. I donned my Altra Wasatch vest for the coming rain, that with 100% certainty would come. I wore my Inknburn 6” shorts and tech under, and my Orange Mud endurance pack full of 2L of water and tailwind mix, and new Noxgear night run vest (required). I also wore shoe light flashers, a reflective and flashing wristband, and a headlamp. I carried extra batteries, all my gels, extra tailwind, phone (required), and ipod in my plastic baggy although I did not listen to it during the first marathon. This all weighed so much more than what I was used to. This would take a toll.

The start of the race was much like any other, a gentle go out into the night runners of the ultra! The course I will break down into a few section, since I have detailed this course before in two or three other race reports…

BRM COURSE

The first section, the climb most of the way up Mill Mountain.

The second section, the rollers between Mill Mountain and Roanoke Mountain.

The third section, the climb and descent of Roanoke Mountain.

The fourth section, back to the rollers from before and climbing the rest of Mill Mountain to the half way point in the marathon.

The fifth section, descent from Mill Mountain down to the flattest stretch of the course along the Roanoke Greenway steadily climbing to the Peakwood Mountain climb.

The sixth section, Peakwood climb and descent.

The seventh section, post-Peakwood rollers.

The eighth section, Wasena park and bridges leading to downtown and finish line.

Then do it all over again!!

Robin and I were the team to get through the first marathon together, the second half up in the air depending on how we felt by then. The general vibe was cool going up the first climb on Walnut, discovering that some people did not have a headlamp! I saw this when I helped pace my friend Ginger at Umstead, but the guy who didn’t have a headlamp there was slower and steady and older, but he didn’t have a care in the world! Maybe this is a thing I’ve never noticed or maybe I do too technical of ultras typically at night, but this has only been recently I’ve seen people without headlamps at night! Someone please enLIGHTen me.

We walked some of this, not much, but it was mile 2 after all. The goal much of the loop was to run moderately conservative on the downhills (the grades were pretty steep and could take down your quads fairly quickly given too much effort), and power hike the major uphills, making side deals on which hills to run parts of given our current condition as to not burn out. Pacing for the double was trick to say the least. It constantly had you thinking about what you needed to do to help prevent yourself from being too beat up. This did make the time pass faster for sure and I hardly looked down at my watch to check the overall time…just pace was kept in mind per mile.

LET OPEN THE APOCALYPTIC SKIES! Mile 2 or 3, the heavens released on us the downpour. It was hard to hear Robin over the rain. I popped up my hood on my vest and carried on. Right before the rain started, I was getting kind of hot in my getup…almost. Then it rained and justified everything I was wearing. Because it was a vest I had thought about how I would stash it with the lack of sleeves. But then kept it on for the remainder of the marathon. It rained for a good bit at a heavy pace. The roads formed puddles that were mostly easily avoided, but wet shoes were immediately a factor, and this was my biggest fear of all. I feared with the wet feet that they would macerate quickly like they had before. I specifically wore very thin socks for this first marathon. I also wore my Altra Olympus for extra cushion and the draining specs. These ended up being great choices, regardless that it was trail shoes on a road. I knew I could count on them.

The rolling hills came and went, and were much longer than I remembered! But that also meant there were fewer of them. We got to the base of Roanoke Mountain. The rain had tapered off a bit. The climb was as I remembered. But this time was different. This time Roanoke Mountain overlook had been closed since the time of Cloudsplitter due to storm damage. So we were to go up Roanoke Mountain and come right back down the way we came instead of going the full loop. This would require runners to also do a small out and back along the rolling hills between Roanoke and Mill Mountains.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, overlook.

Upon reaching the summit of Roanoke Mountain, we noticed very quickly there was lightning. Uh oh. Let’s run a bit faster now so we don’t have weather complications up there. I studied the lightning, and it seemed pretty far, but it was very bright in the dark of the night. Seemed like dry lightning. On the way down, we hit our best paces, trying to hold back as much as possible, again, trying to save the quads. This was the first major downhill section at a decent grade we had had yet. I got a slight bit depressed not seeing sub 10 min/mi on the way down, but I knew this had to pay off later.

Once down the mountain, we hit the out and back section through a camp ground, I admit I had never been before. Giant puddles! The pitch of the road went from real pitched to not at all. Thus puddling from the rain. I had 5 gels with me, and I managed to hit all of them at the intervals I needed to. Although this time, I had a hard time getting them down from the start. So if the gel was liquid enough, I would shoot it versus trying to break it down in my mouth. This went over well. Shoes still wet. Carry on.

The out and back was a lot shorter than I imagined it would be and it was roped off the entire way. Back we went to Mill Mountain. At this point I was realizing I was quickly going through water, which normally does not happen. I had no urge to restroom it up and I knew I was NOT dehydrated before the race going into it. Maybe it was because it was a night start? I’m used to fasting the night before a race and am never really thirsty before a race or workout in the morning. But I do usually drink a ton right before bed, especially if I work out before bed (which I do enjoy doing). I needed water, and waited until we saw a place to fill up. I knew at the top of Mill Mountain were bathrooms, and worse case, could fill up in the sink there (I had done it before during training back when). Luckily, at the top of Mill Mountain, there was a guy with the water jug. I filled it up and was out, although it was quite the task taking off all of my gear and putting it back on (remember I had the lit vest on top of my water pack). All this added up to quite a bit of time. But the view. I had signed up for this race for this night view of the city. The fog from the previous day had cleared and I was grateful. I had waited for this moment. And just a moment, we had to keep moving, with the cut off looming over us.

The good news was, all the port-o-potties were already up and out. I had christened one earlier at mile 5, and now it was Robin at mile 14. I noticed that the arrows used for the full/half/10k had not been placed everywhere, but they were at the top of Mill Mountain already. So another thing to note, you had to self-navigate the course! I knew the course like the back of my hand up through downtown. It was about to get fuzzy haha.

The greenway was challenging to traverse. It was flat. How do you run flat? It’s way more complicated than you think after climbing up and down two mountains. It’s harder on your mind and legs. You have nothing to throttle you, and no perception of how fast or slow to go, especially in the dark when you can’t see anything. I’ve always had issues here. We (well at least I did) fumbled around and got through it to reach the pre-climb to Peakwood. Things started getting more interesting.

The climb to Peakwood was what I remembered exactly, but felt a little different this time. Different from Roanoke Mountain. I was climbing better, although keeping it to a power hike. Robin remarked on the houses and how nice the neighborhood was. This was really the first neighborhood on course and nearly at mile 17. All of a sudden, I smelled smoke. Fire? We kept going and soon saw a glow on the hill side (near the peak of Peakwood) and lots of lights. Something was on fire! This is as much knowledge as we gleaned cause I never heard more about it. The fire truck came back down the mountain to meet us and pass by. Near the top, we smelled the odor more. We saw the city lights well below us off in the distance through the trees, still not full of leaves yet. The top was very anticlimactic. And we headed back down. Quads were talking, but not too bad. Peakwood is very steep but not as long as the other two climbs. Upon hitting the base of Peakwood coming back down, trucks were beginning to line up cones to close off the course for later.

58373920_2302407656492561_8251078431307988992_n And then creepy mannequin! EVERY YEAR!! This house puts out this mannequin and dresses them up to hold a sign. When you’re out at night, it makes it even more creepy! The guy who we’d talked to before shouted out out his bib number to the lifeless statue and then got closer and realized it was not a person! (We had periodic check in points where people recorded our bib numbers.)

This was pretty useful as we followed it for directions. We crossed the bridge heading to the final section of the course encountering one larger climb still to go somewhere in here. My pace felt fast for once, and I knew I needed more calories and started to worry about the second marathon at this point. Would I be able to run at all? I felt gross with all the wet clothes on still. Robin and I started making deals with each other at this point to get in as much running as we could hoping our legs didn’t dwindle away. Downtown is essentially a bunch of smaller rolling hills that are just very annoying. They aren’t steep and completely runnable, but at this point you just don’t want to run them. We made the most of it using electric poles and cars parked along side the road. Much of the marathon, we did not encounter any cars.

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Sunrises approaches.

Reaching Wasena park, we ran a lot of it, probably more than necessary here as it was very tiring (being more so the flat greenway section). It was A LOT longer than I remembered. I kept assuring Robin we’d be done with it when we weren’t. Welp. Finally we climbed out of Wasena park and headed towards the finish, which you could see the big tall bank building downtown and it looked REAL far away, but it was only 2 miles? The course provides you with this really short and really steep downhill here, and quads were definitely talking. I told Robin we’d probably have to walk this the second time! It was light enough we didn’t need headlamps as the sun was beginning to rise. We hit the downhill stretch and to the first finish. As we were coming in, some people were congregating at the start line and cheered us hard as the announcer announced us coming in. First loop was done in 5:46. We had about 40 mins until start 2.

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At this point, I met up with the family. Robin headed to her car to get her stuff done. I went to the changing rooms in a nearby hotel that the race had reserved for double marathoners (really great!!). I joined the women’s changing room, which they had a nice spread of water bottles and fruit and coffee and stuff I couldn’t really take in trying to get my own self under control. 59211530_1145435898962888_7029540847007825920_n I got out of my wet clothes using the Orange Mud changing towel and dried off. They also had towels for us at the hotel too! It was so good to get out. I was getting sore though. I dreaded the second loop, having a hard time sitting down. I had texted my mom earlier to go get me sprite. I downed 2/3 of the larger bottle. I took in some pixie sticks too. I changed into my lucky monarch tech from Inknburn, and new 6” shorts. I changed socks to a thicker pair, lubing my feet up with 2toms. I found NO blisters or maceration! I was in shock. I replaced my shoes with a brand new pair of Altra Escalantes. I had nothing against the Olympus for the 2nd lap, but I wanted a different feeling under my foot after all those road miles. I shed everything except my bra…which was brand new to me haha (new brand and everything y’all). Bra felt ok, although wet, I wasn’t going to change what was working. I kept working on the Sprite. Rich and Steven, both doing their first marathon that day, were waiting outside. I didn’t want to make them nervous but I still had this sinking feeling that the second lap was not going to go well. I tried not to voice it outloud.

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I hope I don’t look like I’ve done a marathon already!

I wanted them to have a great day. This race was hardly about me. I placed it on others for sure. I was here for Robin, she was the one who asked me. Was this an A race for me? Yes, but I was sharing it. I was here for Rich and Steven doing their first, and even tackling the hardest road marathon.

I went to the restrooms in the hotel to apply more 2toms to the more sensitive areas and more diaper rash cream too. I did some business there, but didn’t really have to pee still. I drank SO MUCH. I didn’t worry about it and carried on. I met back up with Robin for the second lap, the second marathon. We placed ourselves near the 6:00 pacer near the back of everyone.

We waited for the second start. The National Anthem was sung, opera style! Woah, that was new. The announcer told everyone to look out for us with our Pink Bibs. Red is for marathon, Yellow is for half marathoners, Green for 10k, and Pink for double marathon. Before we knew it, we were off. Rich and Steven were near us and were chatty as ever. We woke out watches back up, stating we had already done 26.4 miles (my watch is always somehow 0.2 miles over EVERY year regardless of watch I’ve used).

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Mom and sister.

We just laughed beside ourselves. When you know what you are up against, and have to do it again, it’s pretty real. My energy levels were awesome throughout the night, and I waned a little during sunrise, but was back at it again uppity and everything after the marathon started again. Beep beep, we were across and going again. I noticed pretty quickly on the first climb that my legs felt great again. Thank you Sprite and Mom. What calories will do for you!

58372979_801555030225668_7639893379517513728_nThe scenery in the daytime was amazing. The fog had settled on the mountains and was very pretty. The climb from the back of the pack was a bit of a different experience. I could see so many people from back here on the climb. We ran into some really neat people and chatted it up. We took Walnut Avenue a little more conservative power hiking a lot of it. Upon reaching the base climb of Mill Mountain, we agreed we felt pretty decent and decided to start running again. Felt pretty good! We make some deal and goal targets but would often forget because we were around so many people.

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Climbing up Walnut Avenue.

At the top of the first section going on to the rolling hills again, we noticed the puddles had drained! Mile 4 or 5 of the second marathon, reaching the 50k point, there was a photographer. We talked and said we would try and jump, cause why not? Good reason as to why not, our leggies were not what they used to be! I’ve seen it before in Ironman, where some hot shot dude goes up to the finish chute and does a jump and then instantly crumples to the ground in a pile of man. We were careful and I wasn’t sure how far I’d get off the ground but we counted down and did it! Good thing race pictures are free. Thank you Blue Ridge Marathon!!

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Let’s jump!

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Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mill Mountain.

The bugle man was still there playing for everyone who passed before ascending to Roanoke Mountain! What chops!

I took a cup of Skratch mix every aid station. I really still don’t like Skratch, it doesn’t taste good. But it was what the race provided and who was I to complain about not carrying a water pack the second half? My shoulders and back were really sore from carrying around that weight even now.

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Going into the fog during the rolling hills.

We started the climb to Roanoke Mountain again, ugh. This time was a bit slower. The grade seemed a little steeper in the day time. And being able to see where the climb stopped (or in this case didn’t stop) was a mind game. But this was an out and back and we saw the first few males in the race coming down! In the top 10 males, there was the top double marathoner male, he was blazing fast and to keep up with the regular top marathoners with fresh legs?! CRAZY! I was very impressed. I would start looking for Rich and Steven who we lost literally 0.1 miles into the marathon hahaha. I knew they wouldn’t be able to go as slow as the 6:00 hour pacer. We were also ahead of the 6:00 pacer at this point.

But the most touching and brilliant pick-me-up were the people in the marathon coming down. Everyone could recognize the pink bibs and would shout out “go doublers!” This is when we started to cluster with others doing the double marathon. We ended up in a group of at least 6 of us, which is insane to think about considering there were only 61 or so who started. Every time we passed people, which was quite often, there would be a little party of shouting and yelling at us, and it was the absolute most motivating thing to be recognized for what we were doing. I was emotional.

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Time to climb Roanoke Mountain part 2.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, daytime.

I really hated that the course had to be changed from the traditional course of the Roanoke Mountain loop, but honestly seeing people on the out and back instead was really cool. The first aid station up there, I stopped quickly and it seemed that there was a volunteer there this year JUST to take pictures of people with their phone at the first overlook (the false summit for Roanoke Mountain…and every mountain had a false summit). Neat. We continued our way up and met up with Steven. I was puzzled. Where was Rich? Did something happen? Steven said he was just in the restroom. I saw Rich soon after and high fived him. He and Steven looked great! And a lot of the worst parts were over by now, even though it was mile 7. 2 climbs done out of 4.

(I consider the climbs to be: Mill Mountain, Roanoke Mountain, Mill Mountain summit, and Peakwood.)

At the top the aid station there had some oranges. I took oranges at every aid station that had them.

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The real summit!

Time to turn around and head back down. Oof. Ok, yeah quads took a pounding. It was very hard going down as our pace suffered barely squeaking out 13:00 min/mi. I shot some gel and tried to get the calories up. Coming down near the base, I could swear I heard my mom, but I had thought that before going up and thought it was the same person, whoever it was. But no, it was mom. She was ringing quite the cow bell, and I was confused as to where she got it! Sister took pictures and we carried onward back to the rolling hills. This time we could see the guardrails and make deals running from guardrail ends to beginning and the gaps in-between. This doesn’t work well at night! I saw the 6:00 hour pacer catching us, boo. I tried to pull Robin along…I’m sorry Robin!

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Roanoke Mountain overlook, other side.

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A new mascot appears this year!!

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We made it back down!!

We climbed Mill Mountain summit for the second time, passing by the zoo up there. Seeing the star the second time, Robin asked if I needed to stop to take a picture. I declined because I had done it so much before, and I am still ok with this decision. I stopped in the middle of the night. Robin took her port-o-potty break and I jammed stuff into my mouth. Quads were yelling on the way down Mill Mountain as we tried to extend our strides the best we could. Quick pit stop at the Moo-mosas stand (thank you guys) who always have mimosas and orange juice. I chugged three glasses of OJ down. I try not to have expectations that the locals who come out for the race every year will be there every year, but they don’t seem to disappoint. Annnnd the 6 hour pacer passes us. I finally took my first pee break at mile 14.5. FINALLY. We swept down and hit the greenway again. Just as tough as before, we managed through it. The climb up to the Peakwood climb was just as unpleasant and maybe longer than before, but we met up with Robin’s friend Wayne who indeed wanted a sweaty hug. It was refreshing. We looked at the houses in the daylight.

This is when I met a lady doing the marathon stopped on the side of the curb. She said she was cramping. I had been carrying this packet of salt chews for the entire race. I did not need them. I gave them to her and told her to eat them. She felt so relieved. And it hit me. The first time I did this marathon, a double marathoner came by me not too long before we did this year, who gave me one of his own gels and saved my race. I felt like I gave back what I had taken. The same lady caught up with us and kept us company for a while and said I had saved her race and felt much better. Then I saw the family again! Told me Rich was fast, and Steven was doing well.

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Pre-climb to Peakwood.

It was on the way up Peakwood that I also realized something kicked in. I was power hiking well, too well. Was this how it was supposed to be at Cloudsplitter before I messed up my tendon? I was consistent and felt powerful walking up, and much better than I did the first time. It’s like all my training from before hadn’t really left me. I kept feeling bad I was so in front of Robin, but we had a little crew of hikers going up. I kept checking in with her, and didn’t want to leave her.

 

Here are a slew of pictures describing Peakwood:

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The entrance to Peakwood.

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One of the steeper grades. I know you’re not supposed to take a picture of a hill because it will never do it justice, but hey.

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Almost to the top of Peakwood.

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Sign sort of shows steepness!

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The worst switchback! Near entrance to Peakwood.

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UP UP UP says the pavement. “Your last Mountain.”

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The top of Peakwood, around mile 18, was the Fink’s Aid station. They no longer had strawberries, sad day, but they still had grapes, which I took in quite a few of. This is also when Robin shot her fireball flask. Down we went! Ouch ouch ouch. We were still running though and that’s what mattered. Thankfully this was the last one. We passed some people on the way down, those no longer able to run downhill. Not going all out on the first loop was really paying off now. Shortly after the 20 mile mark, there was a young girl on the side of the road with watermelon on a stick. I immediately stopped and had some and shared the story I had:

During my first marathon, there was a small girl, probably around the age of 5 or so, who nervously gave out watermelon on a stick around this point. It was the most marvelous watermelon I had had. I was so thankful.

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She responded that it was probably her as her family did this every year. It hit me it had been four years now since then. She had grown up so much. I thanked her and her family for being out and helping all these times and that it meant a lot to me. I felt my life come full circle.

Our pace picked up a bit at the base of Peakwood mountain heading into downtown. We felt good, and I remarked that maybe Robin should have had the fireball earlier haha, and more of it. 58379879_583137065526595_571575828299644928_n Back to the mannequin, who…was wearing something different?? Oh ok. Downtown was rough, and we made even more deals for running between random inanimate objects. Let’s face it, if we were losing it and picked animate objects, this story would be more interesting, but we would have died. Our deals this time seemed to coincide with the deals we had made before, so we weren’t selling ourselves short of running. We were just proud we were running at all! Oh and I found a penny. Again, in an ultra.

I checked my text messages to see if I could figure out how Rich was doing during one of our short walk breaks. I couldn’t get the app to work. And realized Team BU women’s chat had sent me a message saying I was 8th female. What? I tried to put it in the back of my mind instead of the front, but every time I heard I’m doing ok, it lights a fire in me. From some of the repeated sections of the course though, I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch anyone (and found out later I had lost my 5th place position somewhere at the beginning of lap 2, but none of that matter because you could only check placings based on the 2nd marathon and there wasn’t data for the first to my understanding). Wasena! I hit the 50 mile mark before 12 hours was up!!! YAY!

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We agreed to walk a bit more here, and ended up running more than we had before because of this. I wanted to make sure I found the “Jesus Saves” Sign because somehow I miss it every freaking year. I found it!! I also found the big hill we agreed to walk down. It was a challenge walking DOWN a hill especially one that steep, but it was worthwhile. No leg snapping! I saw the bank building again, how is that two miles away again?!

Somewhere in here, I turned a corner and there was a cat. I perked up and the cat didn’t move as we approached. So I squatted down, like you do in an ultra (not even thinking it would be an issue, and it wasn’t?) and make clicking kissy noises at the cat. 57614897_403445283830659_1207567348471431168_n THE CAT CAME, MY ULTRA LIFE IS NOW COMPLETE. I petted the kitty and then got up and left. Turning more corners I realized I had a second wind. Robin did not. I could really go, but we were this close to the finish and I did not want to leave her, nor did I think running any faster would 1) put me below 12 hours, 2) give me a better place in the race. I’d come this far with her. Time to wrap it up. It started to rain again, the first time during the second marathon. I didn’t care at this point, the race was basically over. If I was wet, I was wet. Feet are how they are now.

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We came into the finishing shoot and Robin takes off. I catch up to her to stay by her side and finish the double marathon, the second marathon in 6:19, our total finishing time 12:07. I ended up 8th overall female, another top 10 female finish, 7th for my group (non-masters). After finishing, we found out Robin placed 2nd masters female! Feet were perfectly fine post race. I chugged down two cold chocolate milks easily. Thank you again for having these!! Eating was of course impossible.

I did not want to be on my feet however. Standing in line for the massage guy was a pain, but well worth while. I was really surprised how tight I wasn’t. I was kind of sore for two days and then on Tuesday I ran 6 miles with my friend Lori with ease. I was astonished. This was the first time I had run an ultra and been able to run after with my feet not being so mangled and my soreness at a relative minimum. I truly learned a lot more in this race and it was my first road ultra too.

I don’t think I am in love with the 50 miler. Just like the 10k and half marathon distances, I think it is awkward. I would rather just put in the effort to fulfill a 100k at that point. I clearly had more to give at the finish. Would I do the double again? Probably so. Would I do another 50 miler? It would have to be something special for me to consider it to be honest.

With the A race over for now, I rest and work on speed and getting faster. I am not injured and feel fantastic actually. I don’t feel tired or drained and I am ready for the next big thing. Except there is no next big thing for quite a while.

 

SPECIAL SHORT RACE REPORT: SLOW-K (5k, Sunday the day after the double).

Since the feet were unharmed during the making of this Ultra, I decided to drag my tired butt out of bed after not sleeping from 8:30am Friday through 9pm Saturday night for the exciting slow-k, a new addition to the Blue Ridge Marathon weekend set the stage near Wasena park, at River’s Edge Sports Complex.

The idea of this was to bring everyone together whether they ran or not in a very slow 5k “race”/event. Steven, Rich, and I headed to Roanoke for the almost hours drive to meet up with Robin again. The big news was that Jeff Galloway was going to be there! And donuts.

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They picked a fine donut, the premium Krispy Kreme kind. I had one, and was instantly sick! (My stomach was not taking things well at all.) So I added to the pleasure and fixed a hot chocolate (versus the coffee they had, I don’t drink coffee so having the hot chocolate alternative was awesome!). The “race” bibs were Leis with a small sticker with you “number”. So cute!! The morning was super rain threatening, but nothing became of that. Not too cool either.

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The start was more of a casual gathering of folks that were in the area. The announcement was made from the race director herself that “some races start with a gun, some start with a gong, and some even start by the lighting of a cigarette!” I laughed really loudly getting the joke, but a lot of people did not get the Barkley Marathons joke. “But, we start our race with the ceremonial bite of a donut!” She casually meandered to the start line. The bite was taken several minutes after the “start” time listed, classic. It really added to the coolness factor.

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And we were off, slowly! Had to pace ourselves for the big hill. I had run this 3 mile course several several times when I lived in the area, it was a very simple course that you really can’t mess up. It was on the greenway of course, and we all know how bad I am at pacing on the greenway by now!

Check out these signs…

The first stretch across the creek was wet and difficult, I tripped over some loose concrete and must remember to pick up my feet, this ain’t no trail race, but remember your basics! Soon we were already a mile into it, Robin sipping her coffee, trying to get nutrition down. I was running on donut power. Eventually, we broke free of the crowd to see those who were losing the slow-k, those running the event! Blasphemy. It looked like he was going to go sub 25, poor soul. A few followed him, but most stayed with the pack focusing on form and forward motion together.

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The Hill, and an aid station?! FANCY!!

Then the hill came. Robin and I made a deal that we would try and run the one hill. Ready, set, LUNGE! We lurched forward, our hamstrings crying out, IT band speaking another language. But we made it, heart rate beating so fast it wondered what we were even doing out here.

Then we found our target. We had caught THE Jeff Galloway. Hard not to spot him. We found a steady pace behind him using him as a buffer against the wind (there was no wind), being more aero and cutting down our energy output. Our pace increased! It was difficult but we kept up with this Olympian.

The end was near as we approached the creek again. A small incline separated us and victory. We placed well in the midpack, as we ran the last 0.02 miles into the finisher chute (which I was personally surprised there was one!) passing Jeff and securing our place, the only time we can say we beat an Olympian.

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Yes, it was a tough battle, but 55.5 miles completed for the weekend.

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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