Blue Ridge Marathon: My First 26.2 (Part 2)

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.

mm14 8:26:56
mm15 8:31:28
mm16 9:02:82

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.

mm17 10:23:43
mm18 11:18:72
mm19 10:37:16

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
mm21 10:34:63
mm23 (2 miles) 20:14:28 @10:07 pace
mm24: 10:25:53

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.

mm25 10:24:97
mm26: 8:40
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.

Place Bib Age Name City/State M5.4 M9.8 M15.7 M22  ChipTime  CPace  GunTime  GPace
1. 342  28 Cecile  Asheville NC  48:39  1:33:22  2:26:22  3:31:01  4:13:54  9:41  4:14:07  9:42

Parc de la Ciutadella, Arc de Triomf and Medieval Streets

During our trip to Europe, I had planned for a three-day getaway with my Husband to Barcelona. The fun Catalan city is after all only 3 hours away from my Mom’s by train. While we had a few visits and a lot of eating planned, running was also high up on my list.

In fact the moment we got there, Hubby and I put on our running clothes and went out together. I used mapmyrun prior to our visit to plan a few options. I knew there was a Park right by our accommodation that would provide an easy run. Now one thing I learned during this trip is that you can only rely so much on mapmyrun to prepare a run. Let’s just say that some fences and gates are not always visible on a map… I learned that when running on vacation on should either: follow a local’s run or be flexible. We did the second option and it turned out all right.

Here is a map of our run:

Starting from the Bed and Breakfast, we “lost” ourselves in the small medieval streets going toward Santa Maria del Mar. From there we went straight toward the Parc de la Ciutadella. The Park has a mixture of straight and meandering trails. While my original goal had been to follow the meandering ones, I had a hard time finding them once there and completely reorganized my route. The park was beautiful though, with several fountain, water features, trees and sculptures.

But the biggest surprise was when we came upon La Fontana, a monumental fountain built in the late 19th century. Hubby and I looked at each other and decided to run to the top just because. It was fun, the steps were easy and we took a mini break at the top to enjoy the view.

From there we continued to the edge of the park and crossed the street. I wanted to see another monument while running: the Arc de Triomf. To get to it we just had to follow the wide pedestrian area from the Park’s North-West entrance. It was absolutely worth it with great views on the mountains behind Barcelona.

At that point I knew the run was really short, so we just went around the park to add some mileage. Nothing really exciting to be honest. I even started wondering where it was taking us as the road does a large half circle around the zoo. But then we saw the tramway line and followed it with the Park’s wall on our left back to the next entrance. We ran back into the park, went by the Museum of Zoology,  a really neat building. And then followed Calle Princesa back to our accommodation for a good shower. It was really a nice introduction to Barcelona and a treat for me to run there with my husband.

3.69mi, 34:00 @9:12 pace

How do you plan your vacation runs?

A Running Tour of the Pink City

I knew that I needed to keep on running while on vacation. Ahead of time I had drawn a few courses on Mapmyrun. While I’m familiar with Toulouse I was less with Barcelona, not to mention that I wanted an idea of my mileage.
Thankfully for me it wasn’t my husband’s first time in Toulouse so I was able to skip the tours and enjoy running around the main site instead which to me was really fun. Toulouse’s nickname is  the Pink City (“La Ville Rose”) because of its brick walls and clay tile roofs.

I knew I wanted a run that would include a lot of historic sites and be scenic. I wanted to soak in the city that heard my first cry.
Well my Mamie (Grandmother) happens to leave close to the Roman Arena of Ancely (well what’s left of it). As a child my Dad and my Aunt would go play in it all the time, it had not been “recovered” yet. So that’s where I started.

Source: Jean-François Peiré

Then I followed the Avenue de Casselardit that goes by Purpan Hospital and turned on a small street that I knew would bring me to the Garonne River levees. The only weird part is that there is always a homeless person living under that bridge, however I have never had any issues with it. I had one good mile overlooking the river and seeing downtown get closer and closer. I arrived to the Bazacles, a former ford which is now a type of dam used for a hydroelectric power station. On the west bank is the Parc Raymond IV where I was. The park is borded by the Garonne River, the Roman Wall and the Abatoirs modern art museum. At Place St Cyprien, I took a turn to hop on the Pont St Pierre which also happens to go right by the Dome de La Grave, a XIXth century chapel.The best thing from the Pont St Pierre is the view over an other bridge: the Pont Neuf which I would run on a few miles later.

Pont St Pierre et Dome de la Grave

I kept on going straight to reach the Romanesque Basilica of St Sernin. An 11th and 12th century church on the path to Santiago de Compostella. Every Thursday there is a great Flea Market around it. I ran the course twice during our visit, the first time I just ran by the basilica, the second time all around it, which was even better. I love how the bell tower stands out. You can also begin to understand why it’s called the Pink City.

Basilique St Sernin

From there all I had to do was follow the Rue du Taur to the heart of Downtown which is the Capitole. The building dates from the 16th to 18th century with a neoclassical facade. Not only do I love the town hall, but it overlooks the Place du Capitole, a very large plaza where one can find the Croix Occitane, the Occitan cross in the middle. Now this time the cross was not very visible due to the ongoing Christmas Market, but I knew it was there and that was enough.


I went behind the Capitole and followed the newly pedestrian only street of Alsace-Lorraine. It’s a wide avenue boarded by many of my favorite shops. Had I not been running I would have had to stop and look at the current French fashion. But we ended up going back later with Hubby. One thing the picture below does not show is that there was some ongoing work being done on the street. So it wasn’t all smooth pavers, but since it was early I also did not have to fight the crowds.

Avenue Alsace-Lorraine

Alsace-Lorraine links the current downtown to the roman heart of the city. The place Esquirol is where the Romans had the Forum and where the two main roads would cross. Today it’s a busy area mainly used to hop on the bus or the metro. But I wasn’t taking any shortcuts. I turned on the rue de Metz and went straight back toward the Garonne for an other highlight of my run: going over the Pont Neuf. While neuf in French means new, this bridge is nothing like it. In fact it is the oldest one in Toulouse! Back in the days people did not give fancy names to bridges, there would just be the new bridge and the old bridge, so it kept its name.

Pont Neuf

Le Pont Neuf took me back to St Cyprien neighborhood and I ran again along the Garonne river back to my Mamie’s house. Truth is I did this run two different ways, but I like this one the best. Not to mention that the second time I ran it, my husband came with me.

I ran it at an 8:42 pace on my own and 9:17 pace with my husband by my side. If you ever go to Toulouse I highly recommend it.

An Escape to Europe

Romanesque Church (10th-11th century), Merens Les Vals, French PyreneesMy blog has been very quiet in the past few weeks for the simple reason that we were away in Europe. The trip was planned since May but I didn’t want the dates to be known online. With the running I know my name can be found online with a little search and I had no wish invite unwanted people into our home while we were gone.

I cut back on mileage during the last two weeks of December, keeping it to barely 14 miles. There were days when I wanted to run but preferred to take time with my family. After all I can run all year round but my family is thousands of miles away and spending Christmas with them is a rare thing those days. The last time I was in France for Christmas was 2004, the year I met my husband. Somehow we’ve spend every Christmas together since then. This year was also my Mom’s family Christmas family reunion. It had been 8 years since I got to take part in it and I cherished every single moments of this. If you’re curious about Christmas in France, head over to my other blog.

I’m looking forward to share our runs in Europe. We escaped to Barcelona, Spain for two days and did two beautiful runs there. I also realized how difficult it can be to run not only on vacation but when you are not familiar with the place. I ran twice in Toulouse. I took my husband on his two longest runs ever. I ran in the mountains with my brother and husband, went skiing with my dad in my childhood home. It was a real treat that I will cherish for years to come.

Half Marathon Training Week 5

Sea Kayaking in Ketchikan's Orcas Cove

I had to reorganize the whole week as we were flying out to Alaska Thursday night and I had a 15 mile run planned that week. Had I run it on the week-end at usual I would have had to do it on the cruise ship (which meant the dreadmill), no thanks, or on a stop Sunday but I couldn’t because we had sea-kayaking planned in Ketchikan. So instead I did my long run at the beginning of the week and the speedwork on the boat. It was a good decision.

Long Run: Half Marathon Course +2 miles
Goal: 15 miles @10:09 pace

Being that it would be my last run of 13mi or above I decided to run the course for the HM. I made the mistake to print the directions too small which resulted in having to stop at intersection to check where I was going (and stop the watch) and taking a few wrong turns. I added an extra lap around Beaverdam Lake to get me to 15mi.
The course was a little harder than I expected, partly because of all the turns, but also because it’s a bit of a roller coaster. I made it through though and with temperatures in the 70’s it wasn’t the hardest run I did this summer.
I felt like I was going slow to be honest, but surprisingly I was going at a much faster pace than needed. I guess it’s all about the perceived effort isn’t it?
I do look forward to see if I can improve my pace with an early morning run or not.

15.24 miles in 2h20’42” @9:13 pace

Group Tempo
Goal: 5 miles @9:34 pace

We met in Bent Creek. The goal was to go up North Boundary Rd for 30mns and turnaround. I have no clue how far we went exactly because starting a certain point it all looked the same. But my guess is about 3 miles up? On the way down I ran with a long legged fast guy, we were chatting and I had fun attempting to keep up. To be honest he adjusted his pace so I could because he could have gone a lot faster. We hoped off the forest rd after that for a blissful stretch on a dirt trail before heading back to the parking lot. There everyone turned to me and said “you’re still alive?”. I guess they expected me to be beat after following him but I actually really enjoyed the challenge.
I only talked with him for so long though, once we were done with the downhill and on the trail I had to focus on my running and save my breath.
Rice Pinacle->North Boundary-> turned back around-> Ledford trail ->Wold Branch->Deer Lake Lodge

7.37 miles (give or take) in 1h01’18” @8:19 pace

Speedwork on a Cruise Ship
Goal 10-20mns warm-up, 10x400m @8:35-8:30 pace 10mn cool-off.

I woke up right before 6am thanks to jet lag. All I could think about was to go on a run on the deck, enjoy the scenery and feel the coolness.
I was told it was 6 laps to a mile so I based my run on that. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be accurate to 400m. I wore my running skirt and didn’t need any water. I did get quite a few comments from other runners which was kind of fun. Later that week I met a mom and her son in our hallway and she too commented how was I was going. It wasn’t until I computed the times that I realized how fast. Alaska is really good for me.

1mi @9:24 pace in 9’24
510m repeats @6:15,6:18, 6:40, 6:40, 6:28, 6:34, 6:31, 6:31, 6:37, 6:21
in 1’59”, 2:00″, 2’07”, 2’07”, 2’03”, 2’05”, 2’04”, 2’04”, 2’06”, 2’01”
1mi @ 11:50 pace in 11’50

I’ve never run under 7:00 pace that I can recall. Totally shocked, impressed and happy with that. I just felt like it.

Cross training included sea kayaking in Katchikan with the wonderful Southeast Sea Kayakwhere we saw a whale bubble feeding. Amazing!

Humpback Whale at Orcas Cove, Katchikan, AK