The space between getting ready the morning of a race and starting is usually met with the same thought: this was stupid. It’s a typical race anxiety cycle thought process. This was my mental place before the Blue Ridge Half Marathon. It wasn’t in a bad, angry-with-myself way. This was in a “my friends have all told me how hard this race is and I’m about to climb two mountains” way. I just had to laugh and roll with the punches.
My best friend Patty and I drove up the afternoon before the race, checking out Roanoke and all of its beauty. It’s a gorgeous city! Even though I did one of my clinical rotations in PT school in the rehab hospital at Roanoke Memorial, I forgot how pretty it is. We wondered if people who live there ever get tired of the spectacular mountain views. We even rode up to the top of Mill Mountain to see the star and take some pictures on the very road we would both run the next day.
The race expo was small, but organized. There were lots of good giveaways from all of the sponsors. I loved the race shirt, which has a really cool retro 80’s vibe. There was free ice cream, too!
The morning of the race, we found ample free parking near the start. They had staggered start times for all 3 races, ensuring that the staging areas would not be too crowded under current state Covid guidelines, and there were plenty of porta potty areas with actual hand washing stations. The weather was perfect: partly cloudy, low humidity, and temps in the 40’s with highs topping out in the 60’s.
According to my bib, I lined up to start in corral B. My Richmond friends were in corral U, and Patty would start the 10k a bit later. How I ended up in that corral, I don’t know, because I’m nowhere near an 8 minute mile runner! But I was grateful for the early start. Once we were out of downtown proper, we began the journey straight up Mill Mountain, all the way to the star.
My pre-race feelings of stupidity were confirmed by the end of the first mile, when I quickly realized that although I had trained to run this distance, my choice to neglect the recommended serious hill training was a poor one! I mean, I’d run hills, but not mountains! I was already taking walk breaks, and I was in good company. Sometime during the second mile, one of my Richmond friends stopped to walk with me and determined that this would not be her race. (She ended up finishing in her goal time, anyway!) And shortly after that, I struck up a conversation with another runner, and we ended up running the rest of the race together.
Suddenly, the most humbling of races became fun again! We basically ran all the flats and downhills and walked the uphills for the rest of the race. We discovered that we are both ambassadors for this race! It was great to run with someone who was not a newbie to the Blue Ridge half like me. She confirmed what my friends told me: that, indeed, the uphill on Peakwood was so steep, there are points where you could reach out to the road ahead of you and touch it while still standing. It’s true! And as steep as the uphills were, the downs were equally so. Trying to stay upright for those was a battle for eccentric muscle control. So it was either go all out, allowing the hill to guide your speed, or walk. We took a cue from Frozen and let it go. Besides, Patty always says to never waste a downhill! And nothing passes the time more quickly than exchanging all of your best stories with someone new! So grateful for Jenn’s company on the course!
The view from the top of Mill Mountain at about mile 3 was spectacular. The downhill from that was spicy, but such a relief from the incline we just ascended. And waiting at the bottom? Mimosas. We then spent some time running along the beautiful and fairly flat Roanoke Greenway, and then the climb to the top of Peakwood Mountain began. The houses through these areas were so amazing! I did find points where I truly understood the idea of reaching out to touch the road in front of you during that climb. At the top of the second mountain were all the snacks, anything from fruit to pretzels to chocolate to Skittles, and there was also champagne and strawberries! We made our way an even spicier downhill and back downtown to the finish, stopping along the way to take pictures with a mannequin and to enjoy some treats from people in the neighborhood, including mustard packets and shots of Coca-Cola!
The post-race event was well organized with plenty of space to socially distance. Our names were called as we crossed the finish, which is always fun! People were generally compliant with the mask mandate, and the Blue Ridge Marathon even provided fresh, disposable masks at the finish. Instead of someone hanging your medal on you, you picked it up from a table. Post-race food was pre-packaged to limit exposure. And post-race free beers were from local craft breweries and in cans instead of from kegs in the name of safety. I enjoyed my brew from Three Notch’d, which happened to be a Buskey cider from my native RVA.
I’ve got to say, although the Blue Ridge Half Marathon lived up to its name as America’s Toughest Road Race, I would totally run this one again. The course is beautiful, even if it’s challenging, the race is very well organized, and the support on the course is outstanding! The evening of the race, there was an outdoor concert for participants, and you could also register for a coffee and donut fueled “slow-K” on Sunday, a walking 5k along the Roanoke greenway. This was definitely a race to check off my bucket list! And, y’all, as tough as the half was, there were marathoners and even about 100 double marathoners! They are a special kind of crazy, and I mean that in the best, only runners could understand, way!
I’m so very grateful to run a real, in person, race again! I hope this means that more live events will happen this year. I’m also super grateful to be fully vaccinated so that I have more confidence in safely traveling and participating in events like this. Many thanks to the Blue Ridge Marathon for asking me to be a part of their ambassador team and to the event planners for managing to adapt their race to the evolving Covid restrictions and still make it a fantastic event. I will be back next year!
Today, my legs are more sore than if I’d run a fast and flat full marathon. It’s crazy! Have you been able to run in a live event yet this year? If so, how was it? If not, would you be comfortable yet participating in a live event? I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.