March 15, 2015-
This past Saturday I packed up my race gear and headed to Asheville, North Carolina for the third annual running of the Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate. A four hour drive through intermittent light rain, I arrived in Asheville just after noon. I checked into my hotel room and walked over to the Doubletree hotel, site of the expo.
The expo was packed with runners! With about 1,400 runners between the Half and Full, there were many excited faces there. Not only the runners were happy, as the VIV’s (Very Important Volunteers) were smiling ear to ear. There was a great buzz all around the expo. I helped at the G.O.T.R. table from 1-5pm, taking donations for this worthy cause.
Of course I had to pick up my race packet, in addition to volunteering, and let me tell you the swag for this boutique race is always great! The race shirt and logo are excellent. There were also gloves and logo’d buff included. Nice! I’d like to take credit for the race buff, since I suggested it in a post race forum after I ran the inaugural marathon a few years ago. It seems to be a big hit with runners!
I got to meet a bunch of great folks at the expo, including friend Nicki, who was helping with the race shuttle table right next to me. Nicki, as mentioned in previous posts, lives near where I grew up in New York. She travels fairly frequently to races, so we’ve now run the same race in three different states (NY, VA, NC).
After the expo I headed downtown for dinner at Strada Italian with a bunch of race ambassadors and race director herself, Daphne. Pasta, and good conversation, what every runner needs the night before a race! Asheville is a great city full of funky southern charm, and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Here is a picture from the top of the parking deck I snapped on my way to dinner. See those mountains in the distance? So cool, and not the usual view from where I live four hours east.
After dinner I made the quick trip back to my hotel for some time off my feet, and actually caught the final game of the ACC basketball tournament. After the game, it was time for bed. Early wake up call and race day was in the morning.
Alarm went off at 4am. Felt pretty good, but had a headache. Probably from sleeping in a different bed, but quickly popped a few Advil, and got some coffee in me. I went outside for a quick glimpse of the weather. Low and behold, no rain, no snow! For those readers who have run this race in the past, it hasn’t had the best of luck with weather in the previous two runnings. Snow and bitterly cold the year I ran, and persistent rain last year. This day was very promising! A bit of a chill in the air, around 42 degrees. Just exactly what you want on race morning.
After getting dressed, I walked next door to get on the shuttle at about 5:45. Like clock work, the shuttles were the perfect way to get onto the Estate stress free. Runners can park inside the Estate, or take race provided shuttles. Each time I’ve run the race I’ve used the shuttles, and it’s super simple.
Arriving at the start village, it was still dark. Plenty of runners milling about. Huge improvements have been made to the start and finish areas since I ran two years ago. It was well planned, laid out well, and easy to find everything from bag drop to port o potties. It was awesome. As race time neared, the pace team gathered for a photo, and after some stretching it was GO time!
The starting area had tons of room, and it was very exciting to see all of the anxious runners. As the sun was starting to rise, the countdown reached zero, and we were off…..
I had forgotten how difficult the front end of this race is. It really surprised me how in two years, the challenge of the first six miles had completely. As a pacer for this event, I spoke to quite a few runners as we began. Each event I’ve paced has been a uniquely different experience. This time around I had a bunch of folks tell me that they were not going to run with me, but ahead of me. Interesting, but totally fine with me. I also had a couple of guys who had goal times under two hours, but wanted to run with me. One guy from Charlotte (James) wanted a PR, and would achieve it if he ran in the 1:57 range, so he wanted to run with me for as long as he could, and then hold on for a slower finish but get that personal best. It was a cool bunch.
The run is super tough in the beginning. The group of about 10 runners who told me they were going for between 1:40-1:45 finishes were in front of me meandering up the long hills in the first few miles. James and his running buddy were right with me. James even pushed my pace a few times up the hills. I had a few twinges of calf cramping on the way up those first few hills, and it worried me. No full on cramps, but concerning. My 1:40 group was out in front of me, within a stones throw as we approached a flat at mile five. My 2:00 group faded a bit behind me as we made the turn at the Biltmore. My pace at the time was about 1:46. After those tough hills I knew I could make up some time over the next few miles. I found running an even pace of 8:00 minute miles up those hills was a huge challenge. Here we are at the Biltmore Estate for an epic on course view.
Turning toward the gardens, and running down a few hills I was at an overall pace of 8:06 about seven miles in. Almost back on target when I started cramping. The next water station I drank two cups of water, and stopped to stretch. This nagging cramping would pretty much ruin my pace from here on out. I wasn’t hugely concerned, as my 1:40 goal group was way out in front of me that I couldn’t see them anymore, and my 2:00 or less group was still not in site behind me. I knew I just had to chug along as best I could given my calf cramping issues. I hate cramps! I hate cramps!
Trying not to focus on them, I turned my attention to doing my best despite the issues I was having. I took in the scenery, the French Broad River, the horses at the equestrian center, the awesome volunteers at water stations who cheered us on numerous times. I really enjoyed the run, and was thankful that I was only running the Half because of my cramps. I stopped again to massage my left leg just after the marathoners turned and crossed the bridge over to the other side of the river. The weather was just perfection for a race, so as the final 5k approached, I focused on finishing as strongly as I could.
The battle with my legs was almost over. Seeing the finish line come into view, I went for it. My pace had slowly dropped because of the numerous stops for cramping. I was disheartened with my performance, but crossed the line in 1:49:13. Four minutes over my goal, I was wrapped in a finish blanket (another great swag item) and a gorgeous woodallion was placed around my neck. The finisher “medal” made out of reclaimed wood from the Estate property. A unique and beautiful award for the achievement!
One of the best parts of pacing is that those that follow you, or try to stay ahead of you always get together after the finish to chat and say thank you. I am pleased to say that despite my cramping, all of my group hit their goals. The girls (I forget their names, but super cool runner girls) both found me to thank me for pacing them up those hills in the beginning. They both hit the 1:45 mark they were looking for. Others stopped to say thanks. One guy managed a 1:42, another guy a 1:44, and a few managed 1:40’s. I waited for James and his buddy to come in. I wanted to see if they would get those sub 2’s or a PR, They finally showed up across the line. James, so thankful to me that he had PR’d despite a poor finish. He told me it was my pacing him those first five miles up the hills that guided him to his fastest half. It made me proud! It just goes to show that even on a not so great day for myself, that pacing can have huge impacts on other runners, and the reason why I love doing it so much.
The Asheville race is SO amazing! If you haven’t run it, please try it sometime. A bucket list race event for sure. I heard nothing but great comments from runners all over after the race. From the expo to the finish line, the organization was awesome! I had a great time. Daphne, Micah and countless volunteers, ambassadors and spectators are what make this event so noteworthy. It truly is a world class event.