After the Mill Mountain Star the course went back downhill. It wasn’t as steep as Roanoke Mountain thankfully. So I was able to pick up a little speed. Again a beautiful section, going along a pedestrian road, then under the old booth. This section had several switchbacks and entered a residential area so I started seeing more spectators. This is also were the volunteers started handing out GU gels. They did a great job at it, staying on the side and calling out what flavor they were holding. I grabbed one just in case but ended up not touching it. I sipped on my Clif citrus gel from mile 6 to 15 instead since I don’t care for a whole amount of it at once.
At the bottom of the hill we entered the Greenway for the first time. It went right by the hospital and had a cool section with three bridges: the pedestrian bridge we ran on at the bottom, made of wood, right above the metal railroad bridge and above it the concrete car bridge.
Roanoke has done and amazing job with this Greenway. As I was running it I honestly thought it was better than Asheville’s. It goes all along the river with easy access and it’s very scenic.
I was supposed to meet my husband around my 15 to exchange water bottles, but I never saw him. It turns out that I went a little faster than he had expected and he missed me. I did however come across the Peakwood Base-camp, right after the water station and the third relay transition area. It was hard not to smile. Some locals had set up a true base-camp, Mt Everest style with tents, backpacks, hairy dudes and signs announcing the elevation. I think at first I wondered if it was some sort of occupy Roanoke. But when I realized it was for the runners and just smiled. Great sense of humor and good distraction before the last uphill! I wish my husband had seen it and taken a picture so I could show you.
I knew there was a crazy hill around mile 17. Crazy as in you just ran 17 miles and you now have to go up 600 feet in 3 miles. Right around mile 17 some great spectators were handing out orange slices. The kids were great holding out trays for easy access. I happily grabbed one, oh the sweet juices! From then on I grabbed water at almost every aid station to refill my water bottle since I didn’t think I would see my husband until the finish.
Until then I had been running all the way except for two aid station so as not to choke to death. But as we started the uphill toward Peakwood I knew this would not last. Truth is I almost started walking on a first steep uphill but at the corner were a bunch of spectators cheering us with music and I felt I owed it to them to run a little more. After that I started a walk/run interval to give my legs a rest. Let’s just say I was not alone. Most of the runners around me just walked. No shame here, we were tired and this was one hell of an uphill. I found out later it wasn’t on the original course but was added because it wasn’t “hard enough”. Well challenge met organizers, that hill is tough especially after already completing that much. The trick is, there is actually two hills. The first one is reached just after mile 18, so you think you’re done as it goes downhill but then it goes right back up and even steeper to reach the true top at mile 19 were a turnaround and great aid station were at.
From then on it was mind over matter. A mix of downhill and flat to the finish. I still felt good though. I even joked with a spectator holding what looked like a bloody mary. I think I said something like “This looks good, will you have one for me at the finish line?”. A girl passed me fast around mile 21, in a tutu, I cheered her, impressed. She smiled and explained she was “only” doing the relay. I told her it doesn’t matter, running is running.
Mile 22 brought me right by our hotel and I finally got to see my husband who got a few pictures.I got to steal a kiss but left him his bottle. I had not trained with his (a Camelback when mine is Nathan) and at this point refilling at the aid stations had worked great. It was awesome to see him though. To the right was our hotel and a tiny part of me was so tempted to just go there… But thankfully I still felt good and kept on going.
Once I passed the 22 Mile Marker sign I knew that I was now running longer than I ever had. What an amazing feeling! I only had a 10k left, I could do this. We quickly left the road and entered the Greenway again. Things started getting tough after that. I suddenly realized that except for one slice of orange I had not fueled since mile 15! Fool! I stopped right there and swallowed half of my chocolate Clif gel. The next 15 minutes were some of the hardest for me. I think I went pretty close to hitting the wall. In some way the now flat course was harder than the uphill. I had no excuse to walk but needed to. And let me tell you. After 22 miles, walking hurt. I could only walk for so long because it was frankly so painful. We were also now pretty exposed to the sun which made thing more difficult. The first half of the course had been in the 60’s and cloudy. A runner’s dream, but as I hit downtown the sun came out and I was no longer protected by the shade of the residential neighborhood’s trees. I invite you to look at the Mile Marker 24 picture of A Mama’s Goals recap. It summarized exactly how I felt at that point. Oh so close and yet so far to go. A few ladies passed me at this point and I couldn’t care less. I was happy to grab another orange slice at the MM24 aid station.
mm20: 10:05 06
mm23 (2 miles) 20:14:28 @10:07 pace
This is when the quotes I researched became so useful. “You’ve gone too far to quit now I told myself”, and then like a mantra “Run with your heart, run with your heart, run with your heart”. But then we hit mile 25 and I was back. I’m sure it was a mix of adrenalin and the gel hitting my system. I wanted to finish strong so I picked up the pace. While I had been averaging a 10:25 pace in the last two miles, I ran my last mile at an 8:40 pace! The local police was awesome at stopping the traffic and I never had to slow down. Then volunteers announced that around the corner we could see the finish line. I was thrilled. I ran my little heart out. Ahead of me, some of the girls who had passed me had now slowed down, as if they wanted to finish together. So I went for it and passed them all except for that one lady who had passed me a little while ago and was going way too strong for me. But it didn’t matter I wasn’t there to win, I was running my own race.
mm 26.2 ?? Didn’t stop the watch. When I did it read 4h12’56”
The last hundred feet were lined with spectators cheering us. I didn’t hear it but my husband said the announcer said my name perfectly (which pretty much never happens). I could hear the cheers, but mostly I could see the finish line. I was surprised to see I was going to make it under 4:15 with all the walking too. And I will tell you, I had tears in my eyes as I passed the banner. I was telling myself “I am a marathoner”. Tears of joy and pride. I had made it.
It looks like I chicked a guy right before the finish too… As it turned out the girl in front of me was a member of a relay team… Lovely girls in bright volunteer shirts and with a crown announcing their Miss status congratulated us as they place a finisher’s medal over our heads. It is a beautiful medal too. The word marathon actually shows the course of the race. I will likely treasure this one for years.The finish line was wonderfully organized. They had an area set up for runner’s only with plenty of food and fluids. I went for the orange slices again. Nothing else appealed to me. But I also saw: bagels, shrimps, biscuits, peanut butter, pretzels, chips, chocolate milk and more. I think some of the treats would be great after a half marathon, but after a full I just can’t handle solids. I grabbed wonderfully icy cold water (they kept all the drinks in kiddy pools full of ice cubes) and met my husband who didn’t mind a sweaty kiss. Again I felt proud.
I did take a few minutes to cool off by jogging/walking around the plaza. Someone turned to me and asked: “You’re still running?” Hey, it hurt less than walking to be honest, plus I needed the cool off. I then asked my husband for the Greek yogurt smoothie I had planned on. This was a good call. Easy to drink and a perfect ration of sugar and proteins for me. I will plan to do this again.
I took a few minutes to call my Dad in France to share the news, he said he was pretty sure he had seen me at the StarCam. Then I got to shake hands with the wonderful Pam who seemed as shocked as everyone else that I was running my first marathon. She asked where I was from and I explained I live in Asheville, so I get to train on hills too. She was excited, it turns out she’s thinking about running the Dupont 50K this year. After that I waited in line for a massage. I was hurting at this point, feeling every bit of lactic acid in my muscles. I was also a little light-headed and thankful to be able to sit. A sweet therapist checked on me to make sure I was ok. I guess the muscle pain was showing but I knew I had not torn anything so I told her I was ok, just tired. It was actually the same therapist who massaged me. And OMG! It was bliss! It hurt at first but I could tell the pain was receding. I had waited longer to get the table massage vs. the chair massage and I’m so glad I did. Can you tell how good this felt from the picture below? I wish I could take those ladies with me at every race!We hung around a little bit after that. Cheered a few people who were finishing around the 5 hour mark. We checked out the Down by downtown music fun and I downed some Vitamin Water and we checked the results that were coming live on a screen. I looked for my name based on my finishing time and saw a 79 next to my name. Wait, what? I finished 79th overall? No way! I told Hubby we had to go to the Award Ceremony because at that point I thought I had a chance for to place in my age group. As you know, it turns out I got 1st place of the 25-29 female. I love the award too:They have a little story behind them. Roanoke is a railroad town, it made it through tough economic times thanks to the Norfolk Southern. It is still a big part of the town today. Well the awards are custom made, little piece of Dog Spike that were used to hold the railroad tracks together. As they were removed they all twisted a little. A local high school has turned this into their welding class project, adding legs and arms and turning it into this awesome runner piece of art. I remember seeing a picture before the Marathon, thinking how could it would be to take one home. But never in my dreams did I think it would happen.
Things I loved about the Blue Ridge Marathon:
-The course. Challenging but beautiful
-The volunteers. Totally awesome, all 400 of them! Well organized too. I saw this kid volunteer at mile 9ish picking up all our trash in keeping it clean.
-The organization: top-notch. The race started on time. There were plenty of aid stations, food, water, recovery fluid and food, massage therapists, etc.
-The runners I met and the memories I made.
I don’t know if and when I will be back, but I smile every time I think about it. Of course that may have a little bit to do with the runner’s high.