Thursday, May 1, 2014

Double Blue Ridge Marathon

Awesome belt buckle medal!  This is the first year there was a special medal for the Double Marathoners

It's taken me a bit longer to write up this race report than usual for me.  I've been finding it a bit hard to put into words my experience, it's literally indescribable to those who have not done something like it.  I also was waiting for the race photos to come out since they are free to everyone (special thanks to Gameface Media!) How awesome is that?!  I'm telling you that is just one of the many, many things that make Blue Ridge Marathon the best.

A few of my favorite solo shots
I know many of my friends have been waiting to read my recap so I will do my best to do it justice.  

Our adventure started Thursday, which happened to be Emir and I's 10th wedding anniversary.  We had a wonderful day off together.  Went to our favorite coffee shop, had a delicious lunch and I surprised Emir with couples facials and massages.  It was so relaxing I just wanted to go home and go to bed!  But my mom and my Uncle Bob were waiting for us at our house when we got home from the spa.  
At the spa!
We loaded up my mom's van, picked up the kids from school and off we went to Virginia! We made it to my cousins house, which is on a mountain about 25 minutes from Roanoke, a little after midnight.  It was probably close to 1 by the time we got settled and went to sleep.  I didn't let that deter me though from still wanting to get up at 6:30 so we could make the shakeout run with Zoe Romano at 7:30 the next morning.

having fun with the go pro during the shakeout
We both were tired in the morning but we still wanted to go!  For those that might not know, Zoe not only has run across America but she also this past summer ran the whole Tour De France.  There was probably about 20-30 other runners who came so Emir and I were able to talk to Zoe quite a bit.  She really was so down to earth and easy to talk to.  I couldn't help laughing when she seemed astounded that we were running the marathon twice since that was a mere drop in the bucket compared to what she has accomplished.  We also had a chance to talk to Molly the assistant race director and David the #runchat man in charge of the race bloggers in addition to chatting with other runners.  Well worth getting up for!  
The shakout crew with Zoe

us with Zoe

The rest of the day was spent eating (my cousin Partty cooked us amazing meals all weekend!), exploring their land, resting, picking up our packets and just all catching up since we haven't seen my cousins since last year's Blue Ridge Marathon.

My cousin Patty's backyard, so beautiful!
Emiir and I opted to stay at the Hotel Roanoke Friday night and Saturday night to make it easier to be at the start by 2:30am.  We didn't want to risk waking up the entire house and also didn't want to have to get up extra early to drive into Roanoke.  By the time we got to the hotel and gathered everything for our adventure, we probably didn't lay down until at least 9:30 maybe 10.  It was at that point that all the sudden I realized what we were about to do.  
alot of gear is required for a double marathon that starts at 2:30am in the dark
I woke up from a pretty restless sleep to our alarm at 1:00am.  Emir was saying we didn't get enough sleep. My response was that I doubted many of us doublers did, which turned out to be true.  I think the most sleep I heard any of us got was maybe 4 hours.  We had some coffee, tried to eat a bit, tried to empty the tank (if you will) and next thing we knew it was time to go.

ready to go!
It was so weird walking through downtown Roanoke at 2:15am with full running gear and headlamps while other people poured out of bars and drove by blasting music.  After a few minutes we realized we weren't exactly sure where the start was but before we could freak out we saw another runner jogging by.  I remember thinking "why is this lady running when we are about to run 52.4 miles?!"  We followed her around the corner to the start.  Once we got there, I realized she was Pam Rickard.  We knew of her from last year when we had heard she ran Boston and then the double Blue Ridge which of course is what she did again this year plus another race she is doing this coming weekend.  This woman is not only incredible but has endless energy!  There was only 12 of us in the 2:30 double group as 5 other people started at 1:30 to ensure they would finish in time for the official 7:35 marathon.  

our 2:30 group who we grew quite close to quickly
Even with the small group the energy was high.  Race director Ronny Angell was there and he was so pumped up. We all cheered along as he gave us a pep talk and then he gave us our official start and off into the night we went.  
Race Director Ronny Angell

The start of our crazy 52.4 journey
I felt great and happy from the start.  There really is something special about running in the dark and there was something even more special about being part of this small group.  The temperature was perfect and the sky was clear.  It was beautiful.  In between conversations, it was pure silence with just the sound of our shoes against the pavement.  It was complete darkness with just tiny beams of light from our headlamps under the star filled sky.  I will never forget the feeling of the huge grin on my face as I climbed those mountains in the dark.  

View from the star atop Mill Mountain.  This picture does not even begin to do it justice!
We all ran most of the first marathon together as a group.  We walked most of the steep climbs and ran everything else. Emir from the beginning was reporting some stomach issues but he seemed to deal ok at least for the time being.  Kevin Green is the man that originally came up with the idea for the double a few years ago.  Due to injury he was only running the marathon once which allowed him to be our support during the first go around.  One of the other runner's (Richard Reed) wife served as our mobile aide station. We all had loaded our bags, water, food, etc into their car before the start plus Kevin had purchased a few extra items that were in their for us as well.  It was freakin awesome.  She would pull over at various points so we could get whatever we needed and at a little past halfway she had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us. I knew from last year that Peakwood is probably the hardest since it's the last mountain and your legs are begging for you to stop but also because of the steepness.  I also knew that I loved this part the best because it was the most fun.  Roanoke and Mill Mountains are beautiful however there is far less action aside from the "official" aide stations.  Peakwood however is comprised completely of neighborhoods and boy do those people know how to party!  I was thinking as we approached Peakwood at about 5 something in the morning how it would probably be pretty quiet.  Much to my surprise I was wrong!  There were actually some neighbors out that cheered for us or gave us the usual Peakwood "this is the last hill" or "you're almost there!" And incredibly there were a couple of aide stations already setup by the neighbors including one with drinks and fruit at about mile 17.5 and another one with coffee and donuts at the top of Peakwood! I mean it was amazing enough to me last year during the regular marathon how many people setup drinks, food and music for runners on their own but at 5am?!?  Seriously, Roanokers are awesome!

Finishing our first marathon (special thanks to Chris Cummings from Foot Levelers for these!)
Eventually we made our way to the finish which for our first go around they let us cross through the startline into the crowds of runners waiting to begin their Blue Ridge adventures whether it be the 10K, half or full. The announcer told everyone how we had just run the course once and would be going with them to do it a second time and everyone was cheering so loud.  It was a great pick me up to keep us going as we only had about 10-11 minutes before round 2 would begin. 

I was pretty pumped up coming through that startline!
We quickly changed shirts, drank water, ate something (I think), dropped our bag off at the bag drop and before we even made it back up to the startline the race had begun.  Emir and I were literally the last two people to start!  To my surprise I really wasn't feeling too bad.  I thought for sure I would have a hard time making myself get going again.  Emir on the other hand was not so good.  I'll let him tell his story but let's say there was a lot of negativity and doubt coming from him which eventually led to a significant breakdown at about mile 15 of our second marathon.  
ok so maybe I had one or two "not so good" moments ;-)
The few times that I panicked were really only because I didn't know what to do for him and a couple times I was afraid of something worse like what if he collapses?  I did what I could.  I would try to reassure him and I walked with him whenever he needed to.  I actually felt better when I just kept running but we were in this thing together and I was not about to ditch him.  This was not about time.  This was a joint goal and we were going to achieve it together.
The "not quite yet" top of Roanoke Mountain

The actual top of Roanoke Mountain
Bagpiper on top of Roanoke Mountain

One of the great things about us running this marathon twice, is that even though it's not really an ultra they treat the marathon like it is, probably due to the difficulty of the course.  The aide stations are well stocked and frequent.  We had our packs filled with Tailwind that we refilled after our first time through but we knew we would probably need other items as well.  Unlike most marathons, Blue Ridge has several aide stations with more than just liquids and gels.  And of course also unlike most marathons there are lots of "unofficial" aide stations.  I definitely took advantage of fruit and salty snacks being offered on multiple occasions.  My favorites this year were the "moo-mosas" on Mill Mountain and the champagne party at the top of Peakwood. While I decided against the moo-mosa, I gladly drank a glass of champagne on the top of Peakwood to celebrate my final "major" climb of the day.  Another highlight was a few people had setup their hoses as sprayers along the ascent up Peakwood.  It felt AMAZING as the temperatures were approaching 80 during our last 10-13 miles!  
Champagne Party!

Chugging along
Eventually we made it to the bottom of Peakwood where my cousins and Uncle Bob were waiting for us. We all hugged and they gave us major encouragement. It was just what I needed with about 6-6.5 miles left, I felt so uplifted and was ready to bring this thing home!  
a happy moment
At this point we were thinking "oh we are done the mountains, it shouldn't be too bad to the finish."  Either we didn't notice on the first loop or had decided to forget but their were some tough hills those last miles! We didn't remember having these hills last year and as it turns out we were right.  After the race while talking with other runners including Jeff Powers who won the marathon this year and last year(also a Philadelphian), it was confirmed that yes the course WAS harder this year due changes they made to the end.   Even he ended up running about 6 minutes slower than last year which he definitely attributed to a harder course.  These Blue Ridge people mean business when they say "America's Toughest Road Marathon!"
Almost there!
Emir and I did our best to run as much as we could and had to walk a few more times.  Finally, we saw the finish line up ahead!  We held hands as we approached and I could feel myself getting choked up.  
definitely crying behind those glasses
It was the most amazing feeling as we crossed that finishline.  Inside my head I was screaming "we just ran almost twice as far as we have ever run before!!! 52.4 miles!!!"  
so happy, so proud
Ronny was there, still as energetic as ever and instructed the volunteers to give us the special Double Marathon medals they had made this year, what a nice touch!  Kevin was there with some of the other double marathoners who had finished not long before us.  We all congratulated each other and it was clear on our faces that we all knew how each other felt.  I was on top of the world!   The pizza and beer for all finishers helped a lot too ;-)

I will never forget these people and what we accomplished together! Kevin, Sherman, Sarah and Pam.
Last year I was on such a high after finishing "America's toughest road marathon" because I was so proud of my accomplishment but also because of what a purely awesome event it is.  This year is no different except that I am Doubly as high.  I am extraordinarily proud of us for not only running almost twice as far as we have ever run before but also for accomplishing this on such a tough course.  We ended up with about 15,000 feet in elevations.  According to our watches we spent 6 hours ascending, 4 hours descending and a mere 12 minutes on flat ground.  I think it's safe to say, this is a pretty damn hard marathon. But the other piece that's not indicated in the title is the beauty of this race.  There's the natural beauty of the mountains and the breathtaking views.  But there is also the beauty of the people of Roanoke, the many that volunteer at the race and the spectators.  There isn't anywhere near the crowds of a big city race but that doesn't matter.  The kindness, passion and the generosity are overwhelming.   I meant it last year and I can't say it enough this year.  Blue Ridge is not only "America's toughest road marathon" but it's also definitely America's most beautiful road race.  

So happy and pumped up that now we literally can't wait to run our first 100K in two weeks!!!!

recovery wouldn't be complete without Cocogo!

1 comment:

  1. AMAZING!! SO impressive! Now I want to run the double next year. Those views from the mountain in the dark are cool, and I want coffee and donuts on top of Peakwood!