Blue Ridge Marathon: My First 26.2 (Part 1)

I woke up early Saturday, unable to go back to sleep. I was far too excited at the thought of the race. Almond butter, banana and bagel made a 5am breakfast. At 6:40 we left the hotel and headed to the start line. We met runners in the elevators who were the first of many to give me a look when I said it would be my first marathon.

I was lucky to make it to the porta-potties before the rush, although they were numerous so I don’t the lines were bad at any point. A little before the start I briefly got to shake hands with Lauren, easily recognizable in her Tough Chick outfit. I then went close to the start line to see the double marathoners finishing their first loop. Yes, a handful of runners didn’t feel that 26.2 miles was enough so they timed a night run of the course to be back on time for the official start.

Bill Rodgers commented a little before the start, hinting that he may come back for a relay next year. My husband stuck around until the beginning of the race and snapped a few pictures for me. Right around 7:30 they blew the horn and off we went. There were many of us since the marathon, half-marathon and marathon relay all started at once. I knew I would have to watch my pace because some people around me were only going to run half the distance.

The first mile was fairly flat. We crossed downtown heading towards the Star which we could see up high on Mill Mountain. I averaged a 9:05 pace which was good. I didn’t want to start too fast. Then we hit the first uphill. A girl was holding a sign addressed to one of the runners, it said “It’s all uphill from here”. Err thanks lady! This is also where I first met Colleen. This salt and pepper hair lady had one of the most wonderful shirts I saw during the race:

Boston Marathon: 26.2 Miles of “Been there… done that”
Blue Ridge MarathonL 26.2 Miles of Serious Hills “Now that’s what I’m talking about”
Under that is an elevation course of the Blue Ridge vs. Boston.

She asked where I was from, I told her and shared that this was my first marathon. She did a double take at that point and asked why I had picked THIS one. I explained I won an entry… I would see her on and off later in the course but she started going faster than I was on that hill.

Miles 1-2 were a fairly gentle uphill heading towards Mill Mountain. We passed the first of many aid stations. At mile 3 the course split, the half marathoner went up to the Star while we continued and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway or really the Mill Mountain Parkway since it’s technically an offspring of the Parkway. What a difference in numbers! It turns out there was about 300 marathoner vs. 515 half-marathoner, not counting the relay teams. I took a sip of Gu Brew at the aid station, then joked to an other runners that this was the limit for “crazies only” since big orange cones marked the entrance of the marathon only course.

mm1 9:05:56
mm2 9:30:12
mm4 18:56:63 @9:28

I loved the next 3 miles. It was a mix of gentle downhill and uphill in the quiet of the parkway. There were a few spectators, but it was mostly the beauty of the mountains. At one point I spotted a photographer and realized he was there for a reason. I turned to my left and was caught off guard by the beauty of the view. Below was the valley still caught in the morning fog. I couldn’t help but smile.

At mile 5.4 I was surprised to see a crowd and a clock. I thought well, that’s nice to get an idea of where we’re at. But then I saw a bunch of runners with bib numbers. Why were they waiting? Had they already gotten back down from Roanoke Mountain? Were they waiting for us to get downhill? I was confused. It took me a few minutes to realize it was in fact the first relay station.My official time there was 48:39.

Shortly after that we took a sharp turn up Roanoke Mountain Rd. This is where things started getting serious. This is also were a lot of people around me started walking. I was feeling fine so I ran all the way. It wasn’t so bad to be honest as steep incline were followed by more leveled one. We had a nice view at a first overlook and another uphill before reaching the top of Roanoke Mountain a little after mile 7 were tons of volunteers cheered us. This was the last time I sipped Gu Brew. I just decided it was too much trouble after spilling some on myself and just stuck to the gels instead. This fun lady, whom I would meet later, stopped at the top for a great picture. The view was pretty amazing.

mm5 8:47:87
mm6 10:37:94
mm7 10:28:06

I knew the uphill would be steep, I didn’t expect it to be that steep however. I took a conservative approach knowing we weren’t even half way through the course. My goal wasn’t to kill myself but finish. Several people went flying down around me, I just ran around an 8:00 pace and was ok with it. There is one thing I learned however, downhill isn’t just hard on the legs. It’s also tough on the GI tract. Before the end of the downhill I knew I needed a porta potty. Thankfully every single station on the course had some, pretty decent ones too since they were all equipped with hand sanitizer. I couldn’t help but chuckle while in there as I heard a volunteer say “Those porta-potties are really popular”. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who felt the downhill. I probably “lost” between 2-3 minute on my pit stop but frankly I wouldn’t have done it any different. I would have lost a lot more time had I pushed through.

mm8 8:38:38
mm9 8:10:46
mm10 8:30:07

We back back toward Mill Mountain. Hitting the relay station again which gave me 1:33:22 at 9.8mi. This section was again a delight. Quiet, closed to traffic; I found it relaxing to be honest. I was at peace. A little after Mile 12 we left the Parkway to head up to the Star. The second hill of the day. This is where I met Pam after hearing her speak with awesome shirt Colleen. Turns out Pam ran Boston Monday and since that wasn’t enough did the Blue Ridge Marathon a few days later. I was impressed. As I passed her I told her: “You are an inspiration” and I meant it. She smiled and said I was. Ok, so an inspiration, sweet and humble on top of it. I love meeting and talking with runners on the course. Colleen passed us as well and I did not see her again until the end.

A little later we hit the Mill Mountain Star. The one I could see from our hotel room. It was our half way point.

mm11 9:14:23
mm12 9:59:61
mm13 9:41:19

to be continued…

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