Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blue Ridge Marathon Recap

The short version: I finished my first marathon! I had FUN and I didn't vomit, pants my poop, or run into any other disasters. Chip time: 5:09:08 (11:48 pace). 9/16 in 25-29 AG. 79/143 women. 297/429 overall. Spectacular weather with great fans and race support. I loved it! And yes, I was really sore afterwards. But I'd do it again.

The long version...and I mean long. I feel like I have to apologize in advance that it's so long. So grab a cup of coffee and settle in...
I did NOT feel good the day before the race...dizziness, nausea, and feeling like I had the stomach flu or food poisoning. I wasn't sure if I was actually sick or if I was just really nervous and a little dehydrated. This left me worrying that race morning would be even worse and it would keep me from starting or finishing the race. But taking the day off from work and drinking my body weight in ounces of liquid seemed to help (seriously, I drank 72 ounces of Gatorade, 32 ounces of Nuun, and at least 32 ounces of water... that's 136 ounces. At least I wouldn't be dehydrated!). By the end of the day I was feeling a little better about being able to earn my t-shirt.
very nice gender-specific technical shirt
I woke up at 4:30 on race morning with my usual feeling of pre-race nervousness. Nowhere near as awful as the day before, but it did take me a while to get my breakfast down. I took a shower to loosen up and relax, and got everything ready. We left around 6:30 and headed downtown.

It was cool and breezy. Perfect for running, but not perfect for standing around beforehand! I was very glad I had my gloves and armwarmers with me...I kept them on for most of the race. The lines for the bathrooms were not bad at all and I think I cycled through them 3-4 times. We all gathered at starting line at 7:20 for all of the pre-race ceremonial stuff, almost none of which I actually heard over the crowd. Andrew was standing with me so that he could take my jacket once the race actually started, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law surprised me by showing up at the start line! It was great to have everybody there with me before I took off.

And we were soon off and running. As I was crossing the starting line, I heard John Carlin say, "By the end of today, you will be able to say that you have run in America's Toughest Road Marathon." For some reason that made me feel really confident. I knew that I had trained really well for this race and I had run these mountains countless times. I had a plan (slow and steady) that I knew would be successful. I was ready to tackle this beast.

There was a ton of news coverage for this race, including a helicopter which was able to catch some really cool aerial shots of the start.

Photo from
Photo from
I did get a little caught up in the quickness of the start. You just don't realize how fast you're going. I also didn't hear my watch beep for my first walk break, but I looked at my watch about 6 minutes into the race and took a short walk break.

It's just a little over a mile from the start before you start the first climb up Mill Mountain. I saw my parents cheering for me at the base and I headed up the mountain.

there I go! 
With everybody around me running, the climbs went much faster than they did in training. I was so focused on everything going on around me that it all felt like a blur. During the second mile I could tell that I wasn't paying enough attention to actually running. I was going a little fast and not focusing on my breathing enough, so I slowed down, took some deep breaths, and drank some Nuun.

Speaking of Nuun, you will notice that I am wearing my Nathan hydration pack. I trained with this pack, so I decided to race with this pack. It was a good call. I really don't like having something around my waist for long distances. I can't even take wearing my compression capris for that long because it makes me feel uncomfortable. And sometimes I feel off-balance when I carry a handheld for too long. I also only drink Nuun on my long runs and they were serving Gu Brew and water along the course. Wearing my pack allowed me to have plenty of Nuun without having to mix it on the course with the water at the aid stations. I could also carry my phone so that Andrew and my mom could track me (with Find My Friends) and I could send out occasional text messages or take pictures if I wanted to. I also have a pretty specific nutrition routine for my long runs. Not that anyone cares, but...I always eat one Clif Shot Blok every two miles and on my training runs I also ate a Honey Stinger waffle halfway through for anything over 15 miles. For the race I ate my Clif Shot Bloks, one waffle at mile 10, and one waffle at mile 20. So having my pack allowed me to take all of that with me. It was a little heavy, but it only got lighter as I drank more. I ended up ditching my pack at mile 21 and swapping it out for a handheld full of Nuun (this was planned and I was glad to be done with wearing that pack!).

For the initial climb, the half and full marathon are together. At mile 3 the half marathoners continue up Mill Mountain while the full marathoners continue towards Roanoke Mountain. After the split, the crowd of runners really thinned. There were only crazy people like me out there now!

The first 15 miles of the race are quiet, secluded, and absolutely beautiful. The roads were closed except for security and other official race vehicles, but there were a few groups of cheering squads scattered throughout this section. For the most part though, it was just the sound of birds singing and feet hitting the pavement. It was awesome.

As we got close to the Roanoke Mountain loop, we passed through a larger crowd. This was an exchange point for the relay runners, so there was a lot of excitement as we passed through. I think I might have high-fived Bart Yasso when I was passing through here (he was here running a relay with Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and two lucky Run with the Legends contest winners). I also saw my brother up here cheering me on! He had given me some good advice the day before when I wasn't feeling good, so I told him that I was feeling great today.

After this, it was time for the 4 mile Roanoke Mountain loop. I know a lot of people say that Peakwood is the hardest part of BRM, but I think Roanoke Mountain is the hardest just because it is so steep and pretty much impossible for most average runners to actually run the entire way up. Everyone around me was walking most of it. My planned 4:1 run/walk intervals went out the window here. There were a few flatter or less steep spots where I tried to run a little bit, but I walked most of the way up. Once you make your way to the summit, the view is so rewarding. I handed my phone to one of the volunteers and had her take a picture of me.

Not only is the uphill portion of Roanoke Mountain tough, the downhill part is just as bad. It hurts. Quad-busting doesn't begin to describe it. It is a steep decent for 2 miles. A lot of people make up a lot of time on this part, but I was really trying to hold back because I still had a long way to go. On the way down, I saw Kemper (who was actually our wedding photographer), and he got some really awesome shots of me.

After this tortuous downhill portion, the course headed back the way we came. We passed through the same relay exchange point again and we were back on the quiet and rolling portion between Roanoke and Mill Mountain. I was just enjoying the scenery.

I noticed that I kept playing leap frog with several runners throughout the entire race. We all needed to walk at different parts, some were better at climbing, and some were faster on the descents. I thought I might strike up conversations with some of these people, but due to the ever-varying paces, that didn't happen. A few lines were exchanged with a couple of runners, but nothing more than "my quads/hammies/knees/hips/feet are killing me," or "this is just getting stupid."

I made my way to Mill Mountain and ran past the famous Mill Mountain Star (mile 13), the world's largest free-standing illuminated man-made star. There is another breathtaking view of the Roanoke Valley from this point, which you can see live from the Star Cam. After this comes another long, painful downhill section. Once again, I really tried to hold back and save my legs for the rest of the race.

At the bottom of Mill Mountain (mile 15) my personal cheering squad and support crew was waiting for me. My husband, mom, dad, brother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law...ALL there cheering me on. It was really nice to have that kind of personal support out there. I got Andrew to swap out some of my snacks from the back pocket of my pack to the front, and I turned onto the Greenway for a very short spurt of flat land!

It wasn't long before I got to River's Edge, where I saw my friend Grace holding a sign that she made for me. This made me smile so much and I was so grateful that she came out to cheer me on too! (side story: Grace and I trained for the 2011 Blue Ridge Half Marathon, and then we trained together for the 2011 Richmond Marathon. I ended up getting hurt 3 weeks before the race so she had to run Richmond solo and I was really bummed I wasn't able to run it with her. She had her first baby in August 2012, and we are excited to start training together again soon for a half marathon.)

the sign that Grace made for me :)
After this we entered into South Roanoke. We were then tortured with more ups and downs along Broadway and Avenham, and we finally reached Peakwood (aka Pukewood), the third major climb of the race. From this point on I walked most of the hills and ran all of the flat/downhills unless I needed another walking break. My 4:1 intervals just weren't lining up with when I really needed to walk.

Peakwood is the part of the course that I am most familiar with because I lived the first 21 years of my life on this street. I know every twist and turn and up and down. My parents still live here (around mile 18), so of course my cheering squad was waiting for me there. As many people do along the course, my parents set up their own aid station, complete with PB&J, oranges, bananas, pretzels, Oreos, and Gatorade.

Stopping at my parents' aid station
Always enough time to steal a kiss :)
I continued on Peakwood to the summit on West Ridge Road, which was of course followed by another painful downhill (are you noticing a pattern here?). Along the way everyone kept saying "just a little bit more uphill and it's all downhill from here"...liars. If only they knew that 1) the rest of the course was anything but flat, and 2) downhill hurts like crazy at this point, they might not have said this. I believe this was dubbed the "Peakwood conspiracy" by the race winner.

Mile 20 - done with Pukewood! 
Once at the bottom of Peakwood (Rosalind Ave), you get slapped in the face by another short but steep climb up Jefferson Ave before heading back down once again. One girl passed me at this point and said, "this is just getting dumb." I laughed because I was having the exact same thought.

Andrew was waiting for me at mile 21 where I passed off my pack to him in exchange for a handheld full of cold Nuun.  It was really nice to have the weight of my pack off of my back for the rest of the race. He also gave me a wet washcloth (by my request) to wipe the salty sweatyness off of my face and refreshing!

making the race crew ever!
We were done with the South Roanoke portion of the course and started heading back downtown. Normally the course takes a turn onto the Roanoke River Greenway, a flat-as-a-pancake path that follows the river. But due to a lot of rain recently, the flood route was in effect. I'm not a fan of the flood route because it is full of short rolling hills and bridge overpasses (read: more hills!).

Going over the Jefferson St. bridge
From mile 22 on (beyond the farthest I ran in training), I was just ready to be done. I don't know if I ever "hit the wall" (I feel like I would know it if I did?), but after running 22 miles with more than 7,000 feet of elevation change, my body was tired and I was eager to see the finish line. I just kept chugging along, walking any incline and running any flat areas or downhills. I managed to pass a handful of people in these last miles who were struggling just as much as I was.

I got really excited at mile 25. I was almost there! But that last 1.2 miles seemed to go on and on and on, which is funny because mile 25 was my 4th fastest mile. I'm glad I was able to finish with a little bit of a kick, even though it didn't feel like it.

Happy doesn't begin to describe how I felt when I saw the finish line. I thought I might cry and get all emotional, but I didn't. I was just happy and proud. I did it. I am a marathoner.

Chip time: 5:09:08 (11:48 pace)
Gun time: 5:11:12 (11:53 pace)
9/16 in the 25-29 AG 
79/143 women
297/429 overall

I was well within my time goal of 5:15!

Beautiful finisher medal!
The mountain cutouts are the elevation profiles of the three major climbs on the course.
Roanoke Mountain is in the back, Mill Mountain is in the middle, and Peakwood is in the front.
After I crossed the finish line, I grabbed some food (a piece of pizza, oranges, and a real coke...totally hit the spot at the time) and met up with my family. One of the things I love about a smaller race is that it's very easy to find people! I walked around for a little while and stretched. I was feeling okay other than being tired and most things hurting, but I didn't feel like hanging around for too long so we all headed home after a little bit.

Mom, me, Andrew, Dad, Walter (brother)
(my sister was here in spirit - she's about to have a baby!!!)
I stretched for a little while when I got home, took a nice long shower, and sat on the couch for a little too long. We went out to dinner at Fork in the City, where I stuffed my face with a delicious burger and a side of mac & cheese, and I stole 2 pieces of Andrew's pizza. After dinner we went on a short walk to stretch out my legs, and then to top off my massive dinner with some ice cream at Pop's. Hungry, much?

I was pretty sore for the next two days. My left hip flexor was not happy, and I couldn't really lift up my leg without physically picking it up. It was kind of funny, actually. I'd say this video is pretty accurate:

The Blue Ridge Marathon calls itself "America's Toughest Road Marathon". Since I haven't run any other marathons, I don't have anything to compare it to. But based on what I've heard from other runners, this race lives up to that name. As you can see from the elevation profile, there's really no extended flat portion on the course:

Approximately 7,400 feet of elevation change (flood route)
For me, being able to train on the course was key to having a successful first marathon on this course. Not necessarily physically (though that definitely helped), but mentally. Knowing where all of the ups and downs came along the course helped me to tell myself to keep going up because there would be a down right around the corner. I didn't spend a lot of time looking at my watch wondering when the next mile marker would come, because I knew where I was mileage-wise throughout the whole course. The miles really seemed to click by for me because I wasn't wondering when it was going to end the whole time. If I had been unfamiliar with this course, I feel like I would have been more pessimistic along the way (OMG, when is this hell hill going to end?!?), which I think would have translated into feeling more physically worn out. Running a marathon really is 90% mental. 

I know some people swear off ever doing a marathon again after their first one, but the thought never crossed my mind. I would do it again, especially this race, in a heartbeat. Honestly the hardest part of the whole thing was the training...the 18, 21, and 22 mile training runs that feel like a marathon themselves. 

I can't say enough positive things about this race. A few things that come to mind: 
  • The cheering crowds and race support were phenomenal. Having an aid station, complete with 2+ porta-potties, every ~2 miles is almost unheard of in a race this size (429 in the full, 797 in the half, and 49 5-person relay teams). Many people in the South Roanoke area also set up their own aid stations, complete with oranges, bananas, PB&J, snickers, frozen grapes, and beer. 
  • Not only is this course challenging (making you feel awesome for just finishing), but it is absolutely gorgeous. Since most people aren't going for a PR on this course, everyone should take an extra minute and enjoy all of the beautiful views along the way.
  • The race shirts were gender-specific technical shirts and I really loved the different designs/colors for the half and full. In previous years the shirts were unisex cotton shirts with very little difference between the half and full. This year's shirts were a huge improvement! 
  • The race medals were beautiful and high-quality. And they were different this year! Although the previous years' medals were also very nice, they looked the same for three years in a row. Yet another great improvement. 
  • The organization of this race was seamless. 
  • A local news station, WDBJ7, provided live coverage of the race. This was new this year and very cool! I recorded it watched it later while I was recovering from the race. It was nice to be able to see the leaders since I was so far behind them. This race has really gained some major exposure this year and I know this coverage helped even more.
  • After what happened in Boston the Monday before the race, police security was increased a ton. I definitely felt very safe. Some people said they felt violated by all of the extra security, but I didn't feel this way at all. 
  • Post-race food was yummy and plentiful, even after the majority of runners had finished. 
  • The Down by Downtown Festival ("a celebration of music and culture") was going on close to the finish line. Even though I didn't stick around for it, this was nice for spectators and other runners who weren't as exhausted as I was to enjoy after the race.
And as for the negatives of this race...well, I honestly can't think of anything

I have a lot of people to thank for making it possible for me to do this race. I know they don't think they played any part in it, but they did. My husband and #1 fan was so supportive and encouraging throughout all of my training and was so helpful during the race. He rode with me on my 22 mile training run, and he was always right where I needed him to be on race day. My #2 fans, my parents, brother, sister, and in-laws, were also very supportive of me finishing my first marathon. I loved having all of them there cheering me on during the race. And I can't forget about my Team Tough Chik ladies, who were encouraging and provided much-needed advice and encouragement throughout my training. I received countless wishes of good luck and congratulations from friends and coworkers and random Twitter followers that I don't even know, and this really meant a lot to me. I really felt like I had an army of people behind me the whole time, and I want to genuinely say, thank you so much!

I think this concludes the longest race recap EVER. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! If you are reading this and you're considering running in a future Blue Ridge Marathon race, DO IT! You won't regret it. 


  1. leaving you with more than some love...So proud of your accomplishment! You've worked very hard for this! Great job! xoxox

  2. Wow, Lauren! You are truly an inspiration and I am so proud of you! Congratulations on your victory!

  3. WOW! The race itself sounds amazing and intimidating! Way to go, especially for your first marathon! Just think, if you pick a flat course, a PR is almost a given! (Almost, since marathons are such an unpredictable beast)
    You are a rockstar!

  4. Great job Lauren, I ran it last week as well and loved the crowds/fans during the whole run. As you said, peakwood was the worst b/c it was at the end but the first climb was absolutely brutal. By mile 22-24 going over the bridge back and forth, I was thinking "really" and was definitely in the run/walk stage. Nice recap...and better picture than I had.

  5. Congrats! You certainly picked a tough first marathon. Running a marathon that isn't as challenging for No. 2 certainly will make running a PR a very realistic goal. Glad to hear that you're ready for another. I've run 27 and can't wait for the next one!

  6. That was a fantastic recap, and the pictures are awesome! I love that your family had an entire aid station set up, and I love how much support you had. Congratulations, marathoner!!!!

  7. CONGRATS!!! What a pic of the elevation!! I woulda been like "um, no thank you and no way!" YOU DID GREAT!!! I absolutely LOVE that medal!! so fun and unique!!
    You had a great race crew too!! GREAT race!! :)

  8. Congratulations marathoner! Totally worth all 20 minutes of reading the recap too :) kidding- great recap- and great pics!! So glad you had fun and enjoyed the race! Any other races coming up?

  9. congratulations!!! What an awesome accomplishment and on such a tough course!! I would love to run this marathon but in Texas we have flat flat lands, training would not do this course justice! You are lucky you got to train close to the course! congrats again!!

  10. Congratulations on your first marathon Lauren! I can't believe you were so speedy on such a tough course.

  11. I'm just now getting around to writing my race report. I wanted to thank you for your giveaway. I probably wouldn't have run this race otherwise, but it was fantastic!

  12. Congratulations!!! You can run ANY marathon now, they will feel all easy now :)

  13. Sorry I am so behind in my reading! Congratulations!!! I've had my eye on this race for a while now....thanks for the great recap! You are a bada$$ for makin this your 1st marathon! Wow!


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