This past March 3rd, I ran the inaugural Asheville Marathon on Biltmore Estate, and had the time of my life! You have to give this beautiful marathon a shot on its’ new date two weeks later in 2014. It’s run entirely on the beautiful grounds of the Biltmore Estate.
First of all, if you decide to run this event, please spend a few days in the host city of Asheville, NC. You will not be disappointed. Asheville is a hip and happening place, nestled in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. The food scene is insane, delicious food is everywhere, just tempting your palate at every turn. It is truly a foodie delight! Be sure to check out the Burritos Favoritos at Salsa Mexican Caribbean Restaurant. Funky, small restaurant right in the heart of downtown. Check them out online at http://www.salsas-Asheville.com. Ok, enough about the food, on to the race!
Buy commemorative Biltmore Estate wine here!
The expo was very easy to get to from the Residence Inn by Marriott, the hotel I was staying at. Just minutes from downtown. The expo had a good number of vendors, for a first year event. There was a raffle, and tons of happy volunteers all over the host hotel. They were all very excited to be a part of this event. Information was easy to find, and I made my way quickly through, stopping to buy a bottle of wine pictured below, and to pick up my Mizuno race shirt, Balega race socks, and throw away gloves. The swag was pretty nice.
Limited Edition Biltmore Marathon wine
We headed back to the hotel for a restful evening. It was that evening that I really started to fear the weather, and potential race day effects. The entire two days we had been in Asheville were bitter cold. Unseasonably bitter. The light to heavy winds made it even colder. I had tracked the weather for a week, and was prepared with clothes, layers that could be tossed along the course. I even went out and bought a Buff, for my neck/head, whatever I might need it for. What will be, will be, and I will deal with it.
Race morning came very early. I think I was up at 3:30am, which of course meant very little peaceful, hard sleep. Coffee, coffee, more coffee. I stepped outside to check the weather, and low and behold, it was about 10 degrees with the wind chill, and there were flurries all over. Certainly not the weather I was hoping for. I soon gathered all my gear, and was dropped off at the host hotel, to grab a shuttle into the Biltmore Estate. I was on the first bus, and this was a very easy option for anyone staying at one of the race sponsored hotels. Those of us on the first bus made it easily to the race start. We had a ways to walk almost total darkness had us slipping on black ice. Not what a racer wants to worry about on marathon morning. They had set up a few warming tents, which I have to say we’re almost completely useless. They hadn’t even gotten the heaters going by the time we arrived. Here is a photo of the swirling snow around one of the tents.
This is what frigid looks like.
The race was delayed for about 15 minutes, as the last of the shuttle buses hadn’t arrived yet. So we all did our best to stay warm, and get a few stretches and jogs in. Finally, the gun went off, and we began. The first 6 miles were cold, but it was nice to get some body heat going through exercise. This part of the course was on well traveled roads on the Estate. The surroundings were beautiful, lush with trees, pines and shrubs. The road was undulating, but I began to catch my groove and felt like I was warming up. I knew that about any moment, we were about to be hit head on by a view of the House. And here is what I saw, stopping for a second to snap this priceless picture on my cell phone.
Me in front of the House, still in all my layers.
After the house, we ran down toward the gardens, and eventually out by the horse runs. The horses were very happy to see us, and began running along with us. This was a huge treat, and a great distraction from the bitter cold. What actually happened at this point was that we had started to run more out in the open. We had been fairly protected from the winds during the first 1/3 of the race, but now I was even colder. I had pulled the buff away from my nose and mouth, and had even taken my gloves off, but had to retreat back to wearing them. At this point in the race, runners move from a paved surface, to mostly gravel and dirt surfaces as you cross the bridge over the French Broad River onto the west side of the estate.
This side of the Estate is generally off-limits to guests of the Biltmore property, so this year when I ran it, was a first time for the public seeing these trails. The terrain here on this 1/3 of the course was tough. Tough on my ankles. The gravel surface was so rough at times, that I was afraid of turning my ankles. Not good! This coming year they promise that the gravel paths will be groomed, and much easier on runner feet. This section of the marathon is run through very scenic terrain, through vineyards and very old farmhouses. It was truly a unique setting, and I felt so privileged to be running there. Pine top area and Dam hill area, a tough section of the marathon with a short but extremely difficult hill that has to be traversed twice. note: nothing will prepare your legs for Dam Hill!! I remember one section here, looking across a pond for a beautiful, picture perfect view of the Biltmore House far in the distance. Mileage at this point is about 16-18, and after that Dam Hill twice, you will be ready for the relatively flat last 1/3 of the race, as you cross back over the Bridge onto the East side of the property.
8,000 acre- America’s largest back yard.
I’ve gotten caught up in the story of the course, but have to remind myself, that although this was a beautiful marathon, the course conditions were very tough. The terrain, far from perfect, and the weather was relentless, and brutal. I was never able to shed the first bit of clothing. I was not used to running in pants, or a pull over for that long. I was planning on being warm enough to toss these items aside a few miles in, but that never happened. Lesson learned. Be prepared for anything. The last few miles of the race are flat, and run along side the French Broad River, out to the Equestrian Center again for a loop around the horses, ( this time they were quiet, not running, tired of visitors). I was so done with the race at this point. I was walking through the last few aid stations, trying to stay hydrated. Being so cold, and wearing so many layers, it masked a lot of the sweating I was doing, and I wanted to make sure that I maintained enough liquids. Oh yeah, another important thing to mention about this day, if it sheds more light on the conditions, every time I grabbed a drink cup, I had to poke my gloved finger through the ice disk that had formed on the surface, which added to the misery of my cold fingers. It was almost laughable.
The finish was nearing, and going sub 4, I now knew, was out of reach. I had about a mile to go as my Garmin showed 4:00:00. I managed to find one last boost of energy to get me close to the finish at Antler Hill Village.
Coming in to the finish
It was official! The finish of my 4th marathon. I finished in 4:08:47. Good for 232nd place out of 962 runners. I was 24th in my age group. Not much to be disappointed in, considering the conditions. I truly enjoyed the race, and although there were plenty of down moments, the scenery, and just the fact that I was running at Biltmore, pulled me through and kept my spirits pretty high. This was a very challenging marathon, but I highly recommend it. The cost was higher than I usually like to pay for a marathon. I think I signed up fairly early on, and still paid $125.
After the finish, wrapped in a finish line blanket gift, with the marathon logo, and the words “relax & celebrate”.
I wasn’t able to stick around long at all after finishing. I just simply was starting to freeze. Now that I wasn’t running, the intensity of the cold (8 degrees with wind chill) was just too much to take. I needed to change out of my soaking wet clothes, and into a warm car. I heard that most runners had to pretty much leave right after. I missed the awards, and everything else. The winner came in at 2:46:47, just amazing! Then he was promptly loaded into an EMS vehicle and taken to the hospital for hypothermia. I heard this happened to many, many runners. I guess being dressed in layers did help me. Believe it or not I saw a couple of guys show up that morning in singlets. OMG! Not me.
This race was absolutely one of a kind. Such fun. A frozen mix of running, scenery, and fortitude. 26.2 miles of heaven really. I will never forget it.