Friday, April 27, 2012

Blue Ridge Half Marathon Recap

Races are always learning experiences for me. I learn a new lesson every time I race. Whether it’s something positive to remember to do for the future, or something to change for next time, races always teach me something.

In my first half marathon (Star City, November 2010), I learned that I shouldn't try to fuel by only drinking water at the water stops (no GU, no nuun - nothing = horrible). In my second half marathon (Blue Ridge, April 2011), I learned that I can run a great race in pouring rain with major elevation changes. In my third half (Martinsville, March 2012), I learned that I can run (and PR) without my Garmin when I just “run by feel”. In my most recent fourth half marathon, I learned that I need to always, always, always respect the mountain.

I went into Blue Ridge slightly undertrained for the course. In comparison to last year, I am faster on flat ground, but I haven’t done as much hill training as I did last year.  I’ve run up and down Mill Mountain several times this year, but I didn’t include it in every single long run like I did last year. This is in part due to the fact that pounding up and down hills isn’t very well-received by my overly sensitive back. So when I have run up and down Mill Mountain recently, I’ve taken it very slowly. So I honestly did not know what to expect this year.

Due to the difficulty of the course, your time at Blue Ridge is not one that you compare to your time on other courses, but one that you compare year to year. So naturally my goal this year was to beat last year’s time of 2:14:49 (you can read last year's recap HERE).

The night before the race I had everything ready to go. I was nervous so this helped me to at least feel somewhat prepared.

Thankfully I slept fairly well but I still woke up feeling a little tired. Andrew and I got ready and we were on our way by 6:30ish. Andrew was one of the half marathon course sweeps, which meant that he got to ride his bike behind the last person walking in the half marathon and make sure that everything was okay. I was glad that he could participate and help out with this race. He felt bad for not being able to watch me but I was happy to lend him out as a volunteer since a race wouldn’t be possible without volunteers! And I think he had fun helping out, too.

Soon after we got there I managed to run into some fellow Team Tough Chik members, Tonia, Erika, and Rene'! We had planned to try to meet but I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to find them since I’ve never met any of them in real life. I was glad that I was wearing my Team Tough Chik top so that they could find me!

I checked my bag and headed for the porta-potty line.  On the way I also very briefly met Cécile, who was running her first full marathon at Blue Ridge (she ran a great race and got first in her AG, in case you're wondering). I wish I would have gotten a chance to talk to her more but I was on a serious mission to the porta-potty line!

Thankfully the lines weren't bad at all.  I only cycled through twice because they wanted everybody lined up by 7:15 (even though the race didn’t start until 7:30). My stomach felt a little upset but I figured it was just nerves.

After some opening remarks, were were finally off and running. The first mile felt a little crowded and I sort of stayed with the other Tough Chiks. I felt a little fast for the first mile but I knew the mountain would slow me down so I didn’t worry too much about it. After a mile we hit Mill Mountain and then we all sort of ran our own race at our own pace after that. I ran/walked up the mountain...not only to save energy for later, but I don't think I could run the whole way up if I tried.

Mile 1 - 9:29
Mile 2 - 10:12
Mile 3 - 12:20
Mile 4 - 12:23

On the way up I saw Kemper (he is a fellow runner and he was also our wedding photographer) and he snapped a few shots of me…I actually look like I am enjoying this torture!

I think this is my best race photo ever.  Thanks Kemper! 
Still no competition with the Ridiculously Photogenic Runner, though.

I feel like I might have drank a little too much nuun on the way up because my bottle was only 1/3 full when I got to the top. I had them pour in two cups of water and I dropped in another nuun tab (another lesson learned: bring two extra nuun tabs instead of just one). I also grabbed an orange slice and then ate my first GU since I was just over 40 minutes.

And then I started flying downhill.

Mile 5 - 8:47
Mile 6 - 8:39

I NEVER run this fast down Mill Mountain. This was where I got a big head and didn’t respect the mountain. I knew I was going too fast (but didn’t know how fast because I didn't look at my watch) but I just said whatever, I’m racing! and kept going. I tried to keep my feet under my body but I simply went way too fast.

Another shot from Kemper of me coming down the mountain

My legs and body were about done at the bottom. And I still had 7 miles to go. That was stupid, I thought. My stomach wasn't very happy either after all of that bouncing on the way down the mountain.

There is about a mile of flat ground before you hit the Broadway/Avenham hill. As I had planned, I ran to this hill and walked up a lot of it. Then we turned downhill into South Roanoke and I ran past my old elementary school. 26th Street does have a very slight incline to it…since I just felt tired I did slow to a walk a few times. I ran down Stanley Ave, where I saw what I think was my favorite sign of the race.  It read "Make Mill Mountain your B****!" definitely made me laugh. I turned left onto 24th Street and then ran down Jefferson until I hit the bridge. Then I walked up and over the bridge while I ate another GU. I even completely stopped to bend over and stretch once because I just felt so tired. Once I crested the top of the bridge, I ran down the other side and onto Reserve Avenue. I wanted to walk so badly at this point but I just kept trudging a long. I think I walked a little when I got to Franklin road, but then I made myself run some more since we were approaching the Greenway.

Mile 7 - 10:57
Mile 8 - 10:31
Mile 9 - 10:09

Once on the Greenway, I just wanted to be done. I did a lot of walking, and a lot of slow running. Every time I started running I wanted to walk again. Every time I started walking I told my self that I should be running. My legs were tired and I just felt blah. This part of the course was not very exciting because there was hardly anyone on it, so it was a little rough for me. I tried to convince myself that it was just another great run on the Greenway (this is where I do a lot of my running) and that I was almost done, but it wasn't helping. I also tried to tell myself that I could meet my time goal if I just kept running, but that didn't work either.

I was very happy when I saw Grace and her husband waiting around mile 10. Grace snapped a picture and cheered me on. Oh how I wished she was out there with me!!

We left the Greenway after Mile 11 and we ran through the Norwich neighborhood and headed back towards downtown. I was still stopping to walk every now and then but I knew that I was so close. Even when I was running I felt like I was going so slow. By this time I knew that I wasn't going to meet my time goal so that didn't really motivate me to keep running or run very quickly.

Mile 10 - 10:51
Mile 11 - 10:52
Mile 12 - 11:29

When I got to the Mile 12 marker I told myself just one more mile…no walking in the last mile! And I ran the rest of the way to the finish. When I turned the corner and the finish was in sight, I was running next to the railroad tracks with two moving trains going in opposite directions…it was loud and annoying!

Mile 13 - 9:37
Mile .13 - 9:55 (forgot to stop the Garmin when I crossed the finish)

Approaching the finish and looking beat

I finally crossed the finish line in 2:17:54. I wanted it to be faster but I was also happy just to have finished. I ended up 7th out of 20 in my age group, 96th out of 284 women, and 239th out of 515 total runners.

I grabbed water and a REAL coke (I never drink real Coke but this was the best, cold, most refreshing Coke I have ever had…) and I also snacked on a bagel. They had a nice spread of food at the finish line but I wasn't really all that hungry.  I waited around for a little bit and caught up with the rest of the Tough Chiks

Left to Right: Erika, Tonia, Rene', me

I also caught up with and congratulated Jamie, who finished in 1:53 and got 3rd in her age group! She is a great runner...I hope to be as fast as her one day!

After I was done at the finish line I left with my parents to go to their house and I decided that I would just wait for Andrew to come get me there. The marathon course goes by their house at mile 18ish, so I wanted to watch some of those awesome, super tough people. My mom had set up her own little unofficial table and we handed out some pretzels, Gatorade, and water. After a while I also convinced my dad to drag the garden hose down to the end of the driveway and I offered to mist the runners as they walked by if they wanted it.

After a good bit of standing around, I started not to feel so great so I went inside to lay down for a bit. My head was pounding and I felt like I was going to get sick. So I curled up on my bed with a trash can and stayed there until Andrew came and got me. I felt so awful and I just made it home when I finally got sick. I just kind of layed there for a while and waited for the awfulness to go away.  I got sick like this after my first half and it is NO fun! I finally felt good enough to get out of bed and eat some real food and stretch out a little bit. I showered and we headed back to my parents house to celebrate my Dad's birthday. It was a fun evening, but I was tired!

After dinner we headed back downtown to check out the Twilight Criterium. Just think NASCAR on bikes in the dark and you've got the idea. It was a lot of fun to see the professionals…they are so fast and I don't know how they did this for over an hour.

crappy iPhone picture turned cool

Afterwards we went home and I went straight to bed and slept for a good 10 hours. I woke up feeling sore, but not as awful as I thought I would considering that I gave myself such a beating on the way down the mountain and the fact that I didn't do a very good job stretching and refueling when I was done.

Even though I'm slightly disappointed that I didn't meet my time goal at Blue Ridge, I am happy and proud that I finished.  I made some mistakes along the way that didn't make my race experience quite as enjoyable as I had hoped.  With that said I am always thankful for learning experiences like this because they ultimately help to make me a better runner.

I love this race SO much.  The course is challenging yet beautiful and the race is very well organized and supported.  The volunteers were friendly and numerous and the crowd support was just right! If you are thinking about doing this race next year...mark your calendar for April 20, 2013 and sign up!

There weren't any real problems with this race at all, but I will make two suggestions for the future (if anybody important happens to read this)... First, the shirts.  If my memory serves me correctly, after the race last year several people requested technical race shirts and the race organizers indicated that there would be technical shirts for 2012. I was slightly disappointed when I picked up my packet and received another cotton race shirt (on a positive note, the design was cool).  I received a gender-specific technical shirt at the Martinsville Half and I really love it. The price tag for Martinsville was half that of Blue Ridge, so I don't really know that it was a matter of cost.  In any case, this is my request for gender specific technical shirts for next year (if it's not gender specific I'd rather have a cotton t-shirt because unisex technical shirts swallow me more than cotton shirts and I really never wear them). Secondly, I really LOVE the is absolutely beautiful.  But, with the exception of the date on the ribbon, it looks exactly like last year's medal.  It would be cool if there was some way to distinguish the actual medal from year to year, like having the year engraved into the actual medal. Other than these two (picky, personal) things, Blue Ridge is pretty much a perfect race!

If you want to read some other great race recaps, check these out:
Full Marathon Recaps:
Cécile @ Trail Running Chik Part 1 and Part 2 (first full marathon)
Audrey @ A Mama's Goals Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 - (also her first full marathon!)
Ginny @ Happy Feet 26.2
Dave @ Mungerruns
Doug @ I Run Because...
Emily @ Run. Eat. Nap. Drink.

Half Marathon Recaps:
Tonia @ Racing with Babes
Erika @ MCM Mama
Nicki @ Running Nicki
Phil @ Cardioholics Anonymous Part 1 and Part 2
Beer Runner
David @ Running...Because I Can

I know I have read some more recaps so if you did a recap let me know in a comment and I'll link it up!


  1. Im leaving you a LOT OF ♥!!! Im also going to share this on my blog!!!
    So proud of all of your hard work, dedication, and discipline!

  2. Excellent report! Thanks for the mention. I think event officials would be well advised to consider your suggestions for next years BRM. It is a super nice finishers medal, but its been 3 years in a row now. Glad you thought to mention that. I'll bring it up when/if I get their survey.

  3. Oh, I didn't realize how bad you felt afterwards!! That was a wicked hard race. I love how you actually knew where you were - I was just like "I turned a corner and there was a hill and then I went down another street and there was a hill and then we ran by a train..." I agree on the shirts. I got a medium, which is usually comfortably large on me, but this one I could wear as a dress LOL.

    Great to meet you! Come run a DC race!

    1. Haha, it's easy to know where I was when I've lived here my whole life (and like I said, went to elementary school on the course!). The sickness part didn't come until much later...I was good for about an hour after I finished! It was nice to meet you too. I would love to run some races in your area!!

  4. Good recap. I agree on the shirts too. They commented on my blog that they will have women's size next year which would be a good thing.
    I've only been to one race so far (the Asheville Half) with a women size, the difference is amazing.
    You know it's funny I completely missed the GU and oranges at the top of Mills Mountain, I was far too focuses on the Star and the view :)
    Thank you very much for the mention and thank you to your family for providing us with goodies.
    Oh and I love the photos. Is your photographer friend going to publish some more anywhere? They look better than the official ones if you ask me.

  5. congrats! I hear that is a hell of a course (and one that is on "the list") great race pics too!

  6. Congratulations -- that's one tough half-marathon! Great recap!

  7. Sounds like a gorgeous and TOUGH course! That is one serious hill thrown in there. Awesome job! I love that you got to connect with other bloggers too, that's always exciting!

  8. It was so great to meet you! I loved the race and am hoping that my vacation is the same next year! But, tech shirts would be nice! xo!!

  9. Great job on your half, looks like a tough one! Sorry you got sick afterwards.

    I agree on the shirts, I wish they would all do gender specific!

  10. Great job on your half! Those are some really nice race photos of you!

  11. Dang, that's a serious hill - GREAT job!!! I always have a post race Coke - it never tastes so good as after a good run!


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