Blue Ridge Marathon

ImageRace day-  I got up  at 4:30am, giving myself enough time to wake up, have coffee and mentally prepare. I always give myself two hours before having to leave for a race.  Mom and I left the hotel with the intent of driving the quick five minutes to downtown and find a parking spot in the deck close to the finish area.  It was a very chilly and windy morning so I had a sweatshirt on, and planned on removing it prior to the start of the race.  We walked around to get familiar with the start and finish areas, and also spent some time in the City Market Building to keep warm.  As I was getting ready for the race, warming up my legs and stretching, all I could think about was the events of the week in Boston.  I was sad, and reflective on why I run, and how lucky I was to be there.  I would dedicate my run to those affected by the awful acts of violence earlier in the week at the Boston Marathon.  I had pinned a blue and yellow pin on the back of my race shirt along with a “Remember Boston 4/15/13” race bib.  This race for them, and my way to honor the victims and families.

We saluted Boston at the start of the race, and were off.  Security, police and helicopters surrounded the area.  ESPN was there to cover the event, and pose the question to runners about how safe we felt as the first marathon following Boston.  The piece aired the following day on Outside the Lines.  When I ran under the starting arch, and hit the timing mat, I reached up and touched the Boston flag that was hanging at the start.  My Blue Ridge Marathon, my fifth overall marathon, had begun.  I always use the first few miles of a race just kind of finding my pace, dodging and weaving, and just enjoying the race crowd.  I saw David @runningbecause from #runchat, and his bright calf socks.  I also saw Nicki and Angie, who were side by side, all whom I had met the evening prior at the Legends pasta dinner.  An evening with Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Bart Yasso.  We got to hear each of them speak, and tell inspirational tales off running.  Back to the race…….  I try to take in all the views as well.  This was very important to me today, since this was a destination race for me, and my first time in Roanoke.  I had won a free entry into this race from Nicki’s blog (nickisnook).  Thanks Nicki!  Not long into the race began the first climb.  Roanoke (no joke) Mountain was tough.  Several miles up, through beautiful mountain scenery.  My kind of race!  I love running hills, and the beauty was unending.  After a quick potty break at the aid station located at the half and full marathon split, it was time to hunker down and really try to find a groove.  I managed to climb almost all of Roanoke Mountain without walking, and was very relieved when I hit the summit, and the quick turn around through a lookout point.  I did stop quickly to take pictures.  Priceless view, making that climb completely worthwhile.

The downhill portion reminded me of being a kid.  Running down a hill, or laying down sideways and rolling down a hill.  Picking up pace was easier than holding back, so I used gravity to make up some time.  I think my overall pace was sitting at 9:25 at the summit, and I managed to get it down under 9:10 by the end of that descent.

Next up was Mill Mountain.  I really had found a groove at this point, and was just trying to enjoy the views, and keep my body upright.  I tend to slouch when I don’t pay attention to my frame, and I found this happening at this point in the race.  Truth is, I was tiring.  I had to focus, get upright, and run.  Making it to the top of Mill was great for many reasons, most of which was the cheering crowd at the aid station under the “Star”.  I once again stopped long enough to grab some water, a banana and to snap a few pictures of the Star, and surrounding vistas.  Breathtaking!!  Once again, time to head down the mountain.  Powered by the banana, and GU chomps on the way down.  I felt really good.  Sort of a second wind.  Felt really happy.  The race crowd had thinned a good bit at this point, and it felt like I was all alone heading gown Mill Mountain.  It was quiet, quite serene, only hearing the noise of my breathing, and feet on the pavement.  I loved this portion of the course.

Heading into Peakwood, I reminded myself what I had heard the evening before at the pasta dinner. Peakwood, aka Pukewood, was the steepest of the climbs.  Take it easy, walk if necessary.  If necessary?  I had no choice!  I had to walk some.  There were no if’s about it.  I ran when I could, and was grateful to reach the top after what felt like an eternity of uphills.  The portion of the race was incredibly beautiful.  Different than the other mountains, the one was mostly residential, large homes, and cheering families all along the way.  I stopped to take water from little girls, not something I normally do, but felt the generosity and willingness to help us, that I could not resist.    One little girl was so tickled that I chose her to take water from.  She said to me “keep going, just throw your cup, we’ll pick it up for you”.  It was too cute!  I will always remember her smiling face, out there helping me and my fellow runners.  Moving on up, I finally made it to the top!  I really don’t remember much about this aid station, except that I grabbed a few cups of water and just wanted to get back down as fast as I could.  I spoke to several runners on the downhill as I passed them by.  Everyone seemed relieved that the race would soon become flat.

From that point on I made the twists and turns, and really was getting psyched to finish. I got emotional several times in the final few miles.  This has never happened to me before, but thinking about Boston all during the race, I just couldn’t help myself.  It made me think how thankful I was for my health, my ability and desire to run, to stay fit, and to conquer the miles.  Not only right then in that moment, but every day.  I was truly touched by the stories from Boston, the camaraderie and care that the entire running community showed in one of its deepest, darkest moments in the midst of such a triumphant day in our sport.  I am thankful for my running community and how we all have that sense of togetherness even more now after the events of the week.

The finish line was nearing on my fifth marathon, and I absorbed every clap and cheer to the line.  I saw my Mom, cheering, and heard my name announced as I crossed the finish.  I then received my awesome medal from a tiara-wearing beauty.  In the moments after the race, I immediately had that runners high, that sense of accomplishment.  It was big here, maybe bigger than all of my other races except for my first marathon in Myrtle Beach.  This was an extremely hard marathon and my body was letting me know just how hard it was.  I felt so good though that I persevered, and actually had my second fastest marathon time.  I finished in 4:04:59.  In the back of my mind I wanted to break 4 hours, but my realistic goal given the nature of this mountainous course was 4:20:00, so I certainly achieved that!  Success!

In the finish area I bumped into David from #RunChat.  We talked for a bit and snapped a picture which he posted on his blog.  Then Amy crossed the line, and we chatted some, too.  Oh, David is @runningbecause and Amy is @librarian262.  Then I grabbed some pizza and a Diet Coke (fantastic) and we hung out for a bit chatting with Bart Yasso  @bartyasso.  That was very cool!  Unfortunately I was not able to hang around for too long, as we needed to get to the car and head home.  A 3.5 hour drive, we were trying to get back home for another event.  My oldest son had his Junior Prom that night, and I wanted to get some pictures of he and his date.  I missed getting to see Josh (@joshberka), Angie (@AngieMaskeBerka) and Nicki (@NickiinNY) as they finished the race. So grateful to have met all of them the evening before at the pasta dinner.  I have met quite a few runners over the past few years, and it always amazes me how having running in common bonds us all.  The running community is truly unique in that way.  Always there to lend a hand, offer encouragement, give praise, and celebrate together.  Our craziness for racing, whether it be a 5K, Half or Full Marathon, and everything in between, we all put our shoes to the pavement and become friends for life.  Running has taught me to be grateful, to celebrate my successes, and to celebrate the successes of others.  We were all warriors out that that day, out to defeat those mountains in Roanoke.

I loved the Blue Ridge Marathon for so many reasons, and I will surely return.  A definite bucket list race that now holds a very special place in my heart.  Thank you to all of the race organizers, volunteers, police and the Roanoke community for coming out to support us that day.  It was an epic experience and a long lasting memory.