So many thoughts about race day and the lead up to it. This race was many things, and meant the world to me. Looking back on it, although it was tough like any marathon is, and far from my best finish, it happened on my birthday so I will remember this one more than most.
The days prior to the event were fairly normal. I worked seven strength days in a row to get the weekend off, so I spent a lot of time on my feet. I ran several fairly short runs the two weeks leading up to the 13th. I guess you could say I was as prepared as I could be, given that I had already run three other marathons this year. Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh, and inaugural event here at home was one I could not miss out on. It landed on my 44th Birthday, which Rock ‘n’ Roll was kind enough to commemorate with ’44’ incorporated into my Bib number. I really love it, and it is a great keepsake.
Pre race emails and information was plentiful, as with other RnR events I’ve run. A fine tuned machine, I guess I would say. They know how to keep you informed. First up, was the race expo, on Friday and Saturday at the Raleigh Convention Center downtown. I had to work Friday night, so I made my way to the expo on Saturday.
Parking was easy, and close. The expo was buzzing with excited runners. A really well set up event. Easy to find everything and it flowed very well. Quite a bit easier to get around than the expos I’ve attended in Las Vegas. Another thumbs up to RnR, especially since this was a first time event. Later that day, I got all of my pre race rituals taken care of, and had my bag and supplies all ready to go. I mapped which way I would get into the city, and which parking lots I would scope out in the morning. I was ready. Sleep was nearing, although I wouldn’t get much. RnR instructions clearly stated numerous times that they wanted runners to be in the city and parked by 6am, for the 7am start.
I woke up on my Birthday, normally I would have slept in on a special day like this. This day however was even more special. Being able to run my 12th marathon on my Birthday was just incredible. I didn’t mind getting up early. ;). Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to me, you see, I received this race entry as a Christmas gift. The day was finally here. The morning went off without a hitch. I left the house at 5:10 am, for the twenty mile drive to Raleigh. I built in some extra time, not sure of what kind of traffic I would be up against once I got to the city. Let’s face it, 12,000 runners being dropped off or having to park in the city may cause a few snarls, with all of the road closures. To my surprise, it was smooth sailing. I was parked by about 5:45am. This meant I had plenty of time to relax in the car, hydrate and get ready.
I was parked about two blocks from the start line, so I didn’t plan on leaving the car until about 6:30ish. I began hearing of traffic problems, and runners being stuck in traffic on Interstate 40 just after 6am. I had no sympathy. RnR clearly reminded runners over and over to be parked by 6am. Arrive early people! I suspect that some of those runners that wanted to push their arrival until the last possible moment were the reason why the race had to start 10 minutes late. I don’t appreciate your need to get those extra zzzzz’s or not having your race stuff ready the night before. It was rude, and caused most of the runners to have to wait an extra ten minutes to start. Again, no sympathy for you getting stuck in traffic.
The starting line was very well set up, and the 20 something corrals set up clearly. I was in the 1st corral, so I had great views of the stage, and opening remarks, National Anthem, etc.. Right at 7:10 am the gun went off. I was running my birthday marathon. I felt pretty good. The temperature was 60 degrees. A little warm for my liking, but there was a cool, dry breeze to make it feel a little more comfortable. We made our way through the city. What I loved seeing were tons of spectators lining the course all throughout the city, at the start. It seemed that Raleigh really embraced the race, and folks cheering on the runners were out in force. This made me really happy to see. Because of the late start, I already had to go to the bathroom, and I wasn’t even a mile into the race. As I made my way down Blount Street, I saw a line of port o potties, and decided to make myself more comfortable. A quick trip in and out, I was back on the course. Feeling better now, but already off track pace wise.
Rock ‘n’ Roll was able to get the city to agree to a beautiful course. I’ve run many parts of this course in several other races downtown, like Run for the Oaks, RunRaleigh Half Marathon and Raleigh Rocks Half, but this course was touted as the postcard course, offering the best of the best of the city of Raleigh. I ran through parts of Raleigh on this course that I have never even driven through in the fifteen years that I have lived here. There were I believe, about 26 bands scattered throughout the race course. One of the first we encountered was a drumline from Shaw University. Powerful, loud and full of energy. Pumping up the runners as we passed them performing on a bridge over the race route. We soon turned onto Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and headed east. Making a turn onto Chavis Way and heading north, we passed Chavis Park. A beautiful area that I had never been in. I tried to soak in all the views. I was already sweating, a lot. I knew at this point, that as the time ticked away during this run, that the temperatures would rise, and I would really have to focus on good hydration. I made the most of every aid station. Thank you to all of the great volunteers that showed up in droves to maintain the aid stations and make sure us runners had what we needed.
We headed north on Bloodworth St., and made our way over to Historic Oakwood Cemetery. Again, a beautiful spot. I had to remind myself from time to time that this was my birthday run. Soak it in, enjoy it. It truly was unique. The course was tough. Rolling, challenging. For those of you that made your way to Raleigh form 48 other states, I’m sure your body right now agrees that Raleigh is not a flat city. The hills can fool you. Sometimes the rolling nature of Raleigh is unnoticeable while driving, but lace up and walk or run it, because it is a different story altogether. I was already feeling tired five miles in. We made a turn on Glascock St., and headed west. We ran right past William Peace University and turned onto Peace St.. This area is up and down, and that is exactly how I felt. For some reason my mind was wandering too much. I wasn’t focused on the running like I usually do. I think it just really had to do with the undulating course. It was difficult. We weren’t that far in, and I was already tired and my shirt was pretty soaked with sweat. I got a little down on myself. I was thinking to myself, “how in the world will I ever keep running for another 20 miles?”
I pressed on. Miles 6 to 8 were all along Peace Street. Lots of spectators, lots of hills, restaurants, Cameron Village. I was feeling tired, but knew I was in it for the long haul. I felt lifted by some of the bands, and the countless spectators along this section of the course. When we finally hit Hillsborough Street, the Half and a Full marathoners split. Running the Full, I headed west, and it was right then it became painfully clear just how many of us were crazy enough to run the Full. Up until after the race was finished and the results were posted, I had no idea how many people were running each race. 1,615 runners completed the Full. Over 8,000 finished the Half. It was clear as we headed out for a long, shadeless journey toward the State Fairgrounds that runners were more sparse.
Miles 11-13 took us out to and looping around the PNC Arena. Before that however, we passed NC States Carter-Finley Stadium on Trinity Road. All along this section I knew that I would be heading back after the turn around, so all I kept thinking was that every downhill I encountered now was going to turn into an uphill heading back. It was quiet, it was breezy, it was getting hot. I figured the temperature had to be at least 68 to 70 degrees by the time I hit the half way point on the course. I was holding steady, but feeling every mile in my legs. The next five miles was an out and back on Edwards Mill Road and Reedy Creek Road. This part of the course proved to be the toughest for me, both mentally and physically. At mile marker 14, on a tough uphill section the marathon’s eventual winner whizzed by me heading back in the other direction. He looked like he was floating. I wished I was him! Heading down Reedy Creek was nice. What I found myself thinking though was how tough this hill was going to be coming back up it after the turn around. I now felt hot, and there was no shade. Full on sun, lots of pollen in the air. It was difficult. I was thirsty. I found myself counting my steps, looking for that turn around to finally come into view. I knew, I just knew that there would be an aid station there. I needed some water, I needed to hydrate before that long uphill mile on the return. I got to the turn around. No aid station. Really? I had to do this uphill now without fueling up? Ugh! I will list this on the runner survey, as an aid station there is critical for this tough part of the course.
The long ascent on Reedy Creek Road was mentally draining. Physically it was awful. Next time I will be more prepared for this section. Coming back down Edwards Mill after finally getting to hydrate again, I got a second wind. I have to thank someone I’ve never met for that. I have to thank Pharrell Williams! Yes, you heard that right. As I passed mile 17, the song “Happy”, was blaring from a sound system along the route. I couldn’t help myself. I sung out loud. My mood was uplifted, and I glided myself, just like the leader was in that same section when I passed him an hour prior. I really needed that Pharrell! Thanks for that song. I was happy.
At mile 20, I yelled out to a woman on a stage who was announcing runner numbers and giving encouragement. I yelled out, “it’s my Birthday, cheer me on”. She did. She wished me a happy birthday, and helped me move my aging legs a little further down Hillsborough. I knew that near mile 21, a friend of mine was going to meet me. I looked forward to that. She is a runner. Used to be a great runner, and offered to jump into the race and help pace me to the finish. As I hit the intersection at Faircloth St., at Meredith College, there she was. Pony tail, running clothes, and wishing me a happy birthday. She was pumped, and ready to lend a hand. I really needed the boost. By this point my pace was shot from all of the hills and heat, and I just wanted to finish strong and enjoy myself.
We plodded along, passing NC State, and turning just after the Bell Tower. The heat was now unforgiving. Pullen Road to Western Blvd., Kathleen kept me going. She would yell out to spectators that it was my birthday. “Happy Birthday Paul”, pointing at me. Those on the side of the street would realize what she was doing, and then I would hear a bunch of birthday wishes. This happened many times, and it was much appreciated. Another part of Raleigh that I had never been was the Dorthea Dix area that we were heading into around the 24 mile point. Very pretty in there, and of course difficult, too. There was a beautiful tribute to fallen soldiers along a section of the course in here, and I was just blown away by how inspiring it was. Countless people holding posters of faces, wearing blue shirts.
We headed back toward the center of the city. The final mile was tough, but worth it. Another friend gave me a high five as I passed over the Morgan Street bridge that I drive over each work day. Families, friends and strangers were lined up everywhere along the final stretch. As I made the final turn onto Fayetteville St., I said goodbye to Kathleen, as she peeled off. She had done her job. I am so grateful to her, and will get her a thank you card for her efforts. I didn’t know until afterward that she had already run over a mile to get to where she met me on the course, and then she had to run over two miles back to her car after she left me. Thank you Kathleen!
I gave the last two blocks in the city my best. Focused on the finish line, I turned up the heat, and used up any juice that was left in my legs. In fact, I don’t think any runners passed me over the last three miles. I finished in a sprint, which put me at a clock time of 3:55:47. Official gun time was 3:55:40. I met up with my family, and gave everyone a stinky hug. I got to finally say Happy Birthday to my son, who turned 16 the same day.
I wandered through the finisher village, grabbing water, bananas and chocolate milk. A slice of pizza. I always need something salty at the finish. I had made it. My body held up, I pushed through the pain, the hills, the heat. Another 26.2 to my credit. Beating that course was very satisfying. We walked over to the Red Hat Amphitheater for the post race concert, which was in full swing. New Politics was playing as we arrived. We grabbed some food from the food trucks there, and basked in the sun. It was a wonderful experience. A great inaugural race, and a day to celebrate Raleigh, and my running. It was an epic birthday this year. One I will never forget.