When I got the notification from RunChat that I had won a free entry in their holiday scavenger hunt, I could hardly believe it. I had been on the fence about running the Blue Ridge Half this year, even after running the 10K last year. I knew I would be ready, and I knew it would be awesome. I finally signed up once I knew there wouldn’t be any scheduling conflicts.
One of the many great things about the Blue Ridge Marathon races is that they have a race day packet pickup option. I was on the fence about that, too, and in the end I opted to go to the expo in downtown Roanoke on Friday afternoon, just to get the “whole” race experience. I found parking in a garage fairly easily, and there were plenty of spaces. After picking up my packet, my shirt and my free Farm to Feet socks, I only lingered long enough to grab a few energy gels, some Picky Bars, and one of their awesome bumper stickers. (There was also a geocache. I couldn’t find it, of course.)
(I’ve always wanted one of these ever since the first time I saw one. Hopefully I’ll someday have another one that says “26.2.”)
It’s nice having my parents only 45 minutes away from the race, because I’ll always have a place to stay. I knew from running the Star 10K last year that parking would be easy and plentiful, so I didn’t stress about it the night before the race like I did last year! I arrived at the Elmwood Park garage about 90 minutes before the race (Funny thing. I tend to be perpetually late to things. Except races, where I’m almost always obsessively early.) and took a walk up the hill to the nearby hospital where there is–supposedly–a geocache hidden. Couldn’t find that one either. 0 for 2. (There are tons along the course, like in most races I’ve done, but I’m not going to lose precious time during the race to try to find them. The Geocaching Vlogger did that, and it was very cool, and someday I might…but I digress.)
I had my Galloway timer set for 1:00/:30 intervals at the start of the race. A friend who runs a lot of races and uses the Galloway method recently told me that she always runs for the first five minutes after starting a race, because the course is usually crowded at the beginning and stopping to walk might be dangerous. Since then I’ve taken her advice to t heart. After the gun went off (Was there a gun? Or did the announcer just holler “Ready, Set, Go”? I can’t remember…) I started at a slow, steady pace and after a few minutes I started my timer.
Mile 1: 11:41
The course starts up Mill Mountain along Walnut Avenue, right around the 1-mile mark.
Mile 2: 12:51
About halfway between miles 2 and 3, the full marathon runners split off from the rest of us riffraff (just kidding). I shouted a “Good Luck, marathoners!!” which everyone pretty much ignored because they were already getting tired from running uphill for a mile and a half. Except me. HA.
Mile 3: 13:13
I kept my 1/30 intervals faithfully, and I was already starting to pass people. Of course people were passing me as well, so….
Mile 4: 12:59.
Between Miles 3 and 4 is the big Star, and an overlook where you can admire the view of Roanoke. If you don’t at least slow down there, you’re crazy. Plus they have gummy bears.
Mile 5: 10:25
I reset my timer to 1:30/30 as I started down the mountain. The course follows a switchback road that used to be the only one leading to the top. After exiting the public park you begin to pass some beautiful homes, the first of which serves mimosas in the driveway (of which I did not partake).
At the bottom of the mountain, right around the 5-mile mark, the course turns left on Walnut Avenue for a short out-and-back section, and then the half marathon splits off from the 10K. The course levels out for a while, thankfully, and runs along the Roanoke River near Roanoke Memorial Hospital and through a pretty park.
Mile 6: 10:59
Mile 7: 13:10. Pit stop.
Between miles 7 and 8 the course begins to climb again, and enters the Peakwood neighborhood. When my mother was learning to drive, this is where her teachers–my dad’s sister and father–used to take her to practice driving a stick shift without stalling the engine on the hills. It’s arguably the toughest part of the course.
Mile 8: 11:42
Mile 9: 12:16
At the top of Peakwood, there is a turnaround point in a cul-de-sac, and a fabulous aid station where not only do they have water and Skratch–an electrolyte drink like Gatorade except it tastes good–but there are also strawberries and cookies and gummi bears and champagne. I stopped for a minute to enjoy some delicious strawberries. (I skipped the champagne. I still had four miles to go.)
Mile 10: 12:57
As I headed downhill I reset my timer once again to a 2:00/:30 interval, thinking (wrongly) that I was finished with hills. There were at least two more pretty big ones after that, but I managed to tackle them pretty well sticking to that run/walk plan.
(Still smiling at mile 12!)
Mile 11: 11:29
Mile 12: 9:45
I swear, the llloooonnnnnggggest part of the course is from about 11.3 to mile 13–a straight 2-mile stretch of Jefferson Street that is mostly flat, except for one
pesky last bridge. That was when I started to really push, and by the time I reached the right-hand turn at mile 13 for the final downhill toward the finish, I was happy to finally be almost done!
Mile 13: 10:56
After collecting my medal (a working bottle opener! How cool is that?) and stretching my sore muscles I milled around the finish area for a little while. The Blue Ridge races have a great finish line festival, complete with music, vendors, and even live local TV coverage.
Official time: 2:36:20. Pace: 11:55.
After a while I made my way back to Blacksburg where I picked up my son from his dorm (navigating the still-closed streets for the 3.2 Run in Remembrance, which I hope to run next year for the tenth anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech), showered at my parents’ house, and took everyone out for lunch at Mellow Mushroom. We then said our goodbyes and I headed back north.
(Only one geocache find on this trip, at a Sheetz off I-81.)
Next time I’m running the full marathon. Whether it will be next year or the year after isn’t clear at this point. This is an event I would HIGHLY recommend. The race organizers really know how to throw a party and ensure a great experience for all the participants. And even if you run “just” the 10K, you’ll never be afraid of hills again!
Next up: My recap of the 2016 Marine Corps Historic Half. Stay tuned!