My 6th Marathon is officially in the books! It was amazing in so many ways. It took place in Asheville, North Carolina, winding its way through the city for 26.2 miles over rolling hills. Beautiful views of the mountains, winding along the French Broad River, and along city streets. An epic adventure that I will remember forever, and recommend to any runner looking for a great challenge. This marathon is NOT flat, it is challenging, and for most, not a marathon if you are looking to set a PR.
Let me try to start from the beginning……
I signed up for this race on National Running Day back in June. There was a discount that day that was too hard to pass up. I thought, ok, I love Asheville, so this would give me another opportunity to make the four hour drive from home and visit. I would have a Fall marathon to train for during the Summer to keep my fitness level up. Win, win. I booked one night in a hotel in downtown, and planned on just taking Friday and Saturday off, drive up on Friday, attend the expo, eat some awesome food pre-race, run on Saturday, then drive home. That changed over the Summer, as I ended up taking some family along, and we ended up renting a vacation home in Waynesville, about a 30 minute drive west of Asheville. Here are a few shots of the house.
That middle shot, is the view from the deck in the back. Just a beautiful home, with stunning views. The house was over 3,000 sq. ft., and included a fountain and koi pond at the entrance. We drove up Friday morning, and stayed until Monday morning. Quite a relaxing weekend when I wasn’t running. Certainly a better way to recover than spending four hours in the car after running 26.2 miles. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and gave us opportunities to visit some other parts of western NC, and experience some really good food, and even gamble a bit. I sat down at a slot machine on Sunday and turned 18 cents into $50. Not bad!!!
The race expo was on Friday. I stopped in Asheville before heading west to the house. Parking was really easy. I spent some time in Asheville earlier this year when I ran another marathon there in March. Because of this, finding my way around was fairly easy. I still had memories of the city and streets that were fresh in my mind. I expected a lot more people though at the expo, as it was fairly quiet when I got there. Packet pickup was so fast, I really like the race shirt!
I don’t know about you, but I love to have a regular cotton t shirt from a race, so that I can bum around in it for years to come. So, while I was at the expo, I had a shirt screen printed for myself by Recover Brands, so quick and easy, and only $20. I stopped by the information booth, to make sure I knew the best places to park in the morning, and reviewed the course map. A quick trip back to the car, and I proceeded to the rental house.
We relaxed that evening, ate some really great Italian food at a restaurant named Frankie’s in Maggie Valley, and I tried to get to bed fairly early. This race was starting at 6am, so my alarm had to be set for the unimaginable hour of 3am.
All was quiet on Saturday morning when I got up. I made coffee, and sat on the deck overlooking the mountains and valley below. There was a lot of fog in the valley, so I stressed a bit about that, but it turned out to be fine. I felt good, I felt ready.
I made it to Asheville very easily. The 35 minute drive was a breeze at 4:15 in the morning. I found parking very easily, and started my prerace rituals. I ate a Power Bar, and nursed a big bottle of Gatorade. The parking deck was about a 15 minute walk to the start/finish area, so at about 5am, I walked over. I stretched and relaxed. One final bathroom break, and I headed into the Corrals. I was starting in Corral D, which meant a start at 6:08am.
I am in this last photo, standing just behind the Audi sign. The horn blew, and we were off. Race temperatures were perfect! I believe it was about 52 degrees at the start, and clear. Because of the early start, the first hour of the race would be run in the dark. Many of the streets we ran on were decently lit with street lamps, but there were some areas that were very difficult to see. The half and the full started together, so the first several miles were pretty tight with runners. Not bad, but crowded enough that you had to watch your foot strikes at times. I found it a challenge to not start out to quickly. Knowing that there were more than double the amount of half marathon runners mixed in, the pace was quick. I got comfortable really fast, and felt good going over those first few hills. The challenge to this course was the hills. Inevitable, as Asheville is a mountain town. I knew this going in, and had trained on hills all Summer. Running in the dark was pretty unique. I normally don’t train in the early morning, so 99% of my runs are lit by daylight. I found it a refreshing change.
The early miles flew by pretty quickly, the crowds thinned a bit, but I fell in to a comfortable pace. Having run a Half Marathon one week prior to this event, I felt my pacing was really good. My breathing was awesome, and my legs and feet felt strong. The prior week, I had a bit of calf cramping at the very end of the race, so this was in the back of my mind, so I kept reminding myself to respect the distance, and hydrate. I think the only water station I skipped on the whole course was the first one.
Bagpipes at this early hour? What? Was I in Scotland? No, I was racing in Asheville. There were more than 15 music stations on this course, with everything from a bagpiper, to a DJ, to a full on drumline at the finish. Just awesome, and so truly unique at this race.
I loved each and every one! Thank you to each and every one of you that took time out of your weekend to enhance my race experience in such unique and different ways. My hat is off to you! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have amazing volunteers, and course aid available all over a course of 26.2 miles. Music, cheer squads, families and locals supported this race from start to finish. Your support is immensely appreciated.
Mile 7 came and went, and with it the peel off and course separation of the Full and Half marathons. So the crowd lightened a bit, and some more serious hills began. I felt really good at the split, but knew there was still a long way to go. Miles seven through ten were mainly all uphill. This was tough, but I pushed on. There were a group of guys around me, and we all took turns passing each other. Have you ever had an experience during a race where someone running near you is really annoying? There was a guy during this stretch who had a very heavy foot strike, and was breathing louder than I have ever heard before. It was driving my nuts! How can I get away from this guy? I just couldn’t. I passed him, he passed me. Uugh! Eventually I passed him for good on the mainly downhill portions of miles ten through twelve. I passed the halfway mark in 1:48:15. A few more ups, and a few more downs, we headed back toward the French Broad River for a peaceful run along the river for several miles. Here, at 17.5 miles in, I still felt great, and was maintaining a great pace. I was optimistic, happy and taking it all in.
The miles along the greenway and parks along the river were mainly flat. At this point in the race, runners were pretty spread out, and even sparse, at times. There was one section along the river where I almost felt like I had made a wrong turn because there was just no one around. Very quiet. Then I saw a few course monitor chairs. That was a welcome sight, even though there were no monitors there. Maybe they were on a bathroom break, but I became nervous that this section was not well watched. All I kept thinking was, I hoped that I was heading the right way. Thankfully I was. We crossed over the river at mile 20, and I knew based on the elevation map, that I was about to hit a very hilly section of the course. Miles 22 through 25 were pretty brutal, and I lost a lot of time. Until that point, I was maintaining a pace of under 8:20 per mile. I had to take a few walk breaks of a minute or less on the last few miles. I knew though that the finish back in downtown was just around the corner. Closer, closer, come on. There is a section on Depot Ave. where you double back on the course, so you get to see folks that are about two to two and a half miles behind you. Many of these folks looked like they were struggling, so I knew we had to be getting closer. I cheered on many of these folks, knowing that they were hitting the hardest section that I had just finished.
The final mile was sweet. Turning down city streets, getting closer and closer. I finally started seeing more and more spectators, and the caught a glimpse of the finish line as I turned onto Woodfin Street. I pushed it as hard as I could that final mile. Running into the finishing line is always a great experience. Lance and Mom came into view, and were cheering me on. I high fived my Mom on my way to the line. The drumline pounding out beats, the cheer of the crowd, the announcer saying my name as I came across the line. Brilliant! I received my medal, and grabbed a water, and walked over to the curb to take it all in.
Finished in 56th place overall.
Finished in 7th in my age group.
3:45:12 was my official time, overall pace of 8:36.
I am ecstatic about my performance on this tough course. It was my second best finishing time for a Full. We celebrated, walked around the post race finisher village, and fairly quickly started to head back to the cars.
The rest of the weekend was spent with family, enjoying some quiet, relaxing time in the mountains. I recovered well. Training works! I gave myself two days off from running, and felt pretty good when I returned to work yesterday. After work I ran a 5k so see how the body was feeling, and I think I did ok. I have a Half Marathon this Sunday, so I will take it pretty easy the next few days.
A few days removed now from the race, I have great memories. What I remember most will be how easy this race was logistically. Easy to get to, relaxed environment, plentiful volunteers, and just a beautiful city. The course was a huge challenge, but one well worth challenging yourself on. The course is not flat by any stretch, but very scenic. Hell, who doesn’t love running in the mountains? My 6th marathon is memorable in so many ways. Thank you Asheville! Thank you Asheville Citizen-Times! Thank you volunteers and locals for supporting me along the way. It was truly an adventure and fun experience.