"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Few, The Proud, The Doublers - Blue Ridge Marathon Double

It was my second low point of the race at around mile 42. Tears started coming out and I was losing it. I was battling extreme doubts of my abilities as a runner. I was looking for excuses to quit…

Shakeout run - Sunrise in Roanoke
Amy and I had such a great time last year at the Blue Ridge Marathon that we definitely wanted to return at some point. Then Amy became an official blogger and I won another free entry, and thus the plans were made. It was also around that time that we immediately thought how cool it would be to do the “toughest road marathon in America” twice. Last year we learned of these crazy people that were doing a double, and now we were going to be them. This would also be our first race/run longer than 50K. We are very talented when it comes to picking our first races. Our first 50K was a super hard North Face Bear Mountain 50K race. Now we were signed up for a double road marathon with over 14000 feet of elevation change over 52 miles. It didn’t hurt that this run coincided with our 10th year anniversary. All couples take anniversary race trips, right?

Blue Ridge Marathon takes place in Roanoke, VA, over 3 mountains and through city streets. The course is absolutely spectacular. What makes this race stand out even more besides not being too crowded, is an amazing race organization. Everything from the packet pickup, aid stations, and the finish line spectacle is organized to such detail that nothing is missed. Virginians really know how to show that Southern hospitality. You encounter nothing but nicest people anywhere you turn. Cherry on the top is the awesome neighbors along the course, that unsolicited, come out in huge numbers to support the runners, not only with their voices and cowbells, but also with amazing spread ranging from donuts, coffee, mimosas, champagne and many other goodies. It certainly makes the race go by much faster.

Altra powers - Activate!
This year we did not come alone. We brought our kids, Amy’s mom and uncle. Kids seem to enjoy going on long trips with mom and dad and support us at races. We were also very blessed that we have cousins living right outside of Roanoke in Virginia mountains. This made our stay very homely and nice. We drove down from Pennsylvania on Thursday night as we were joining bunch of other local runners for a short 3 mile shakeout run on Friday morning with Zoe Romano. Zoe ran the entire length of Tour de France last summer to raise money for her charity. It was great meeting and chatting with her. We also ended up meeting some #runchat folks that we converse with on Twitter all the time. It is always so great to meet people in person. Rest of the day was spent at the expo and getting some well needed rest.  
Shakeout Group
Amy and I stayed at the Hotel Roanoke on Friday night, as it was few blocks away from the starting line. Since we were doing the double, we had to be up at the start at 2:30 am with the goal of finishing right before the official race kicked off at 7:30am. Kids stayed with the cousins in hope that we could get some rest. We got up around 1 and started getting ready. I was so exhausted from the day before that I just didn’t want to get up. Even the night before I didn’t get that great of a sleep due to driving and kids waking up super early as usual.  Getting up this early was new to us and we were not used to getting up that early to go running. I had some coffee and had couple of bars for breakfast. The bars did not go down smoothly, so I am not sure if that was good idea, but more on that later. We got dressed and headed out with 25 minutes to spare. 

Ready to go
The double marathon is official/unofficial race, as while there is no official support from the race as far as the refreshments go, the race director Ronny Angell is there at the start to see everyone take off. This year, all the double marathoners got a special medal as well. Really a nice touch that was not expected. The double itself is organized by Kevin Green, an ultrarunner from Detroit. Even though Kevin was not running the double this year, he got up extra early to see an early group leave at 1:30 am and then again see us off at 2:30. Along with another support vehicle, he paced us almost the entire way, and provided much needed support. 

The night was perfect. Clear skies and temperatures in mid 40s made for great running conditions. We got down to the start, dropped off our bag and got to meet some really nice people that would become our friends over the next 26 miles. After a short speech by Kevin and Ronny (RD), we were off. We were going to run most of the first 26.2 as a group at a nice and easy pace. Plan was to walk most of the hills and run everything else. Right from the get-go, I was feeling a bit off. Not sure what it was. I was feeling little hot and my belly was acting out a little bit. I told Amy that I was just feeling a bit funny, but we pressed on and tried to settle into a nice easy pace. Soon enough around mile 4 I had to hit the potty, and actually started feeling much better after that. At first I thought we lost the group, but Kevin had picked a perfect spot to stop for refueling so we were able to catch up to everyone. 

Top of Roanoke Mountain
Running at night up Roanoke Mountain in the dark was such a beautiful feeling. Just the glow of the headlamps bouncing of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the city lights of Roanoke below. Just as planned, we walked the steep stuff and ran when we could, or really when the group picked it up again. For the most part group stayed together. Even the people that went a bit ahead would slow down and allow everyone to catch up eventually. Second mountain on the course is the Mill Mountain, which sports a huge glowing star on the top. However, that late at night (in the morning?) the star is actually off, so we only got to see if once we were actually under it. From the Mill Mountain, the course goes straight down hill for about 2 miles. By the time we got to the third mountain, the neighborhood of Peakwood, the race staff was out of the course putting mile markers so we started to see how much further we had to go. Peakwood is infamous for being a steep climb with 1 false peak and tricky neighbors that tell you that you are almost on the top. We knew better this year. All the “real big” hills are over after Peakwood, but the course continues to be a constant battle of up and down for the next 6 miles to the finish. Going was getting tough, but watching the sunrise made it much easier.

Finishing the first loop
Amy and I made it across the official start line around 7:15am, finishing our first marathon in about 4:45. We quickly grabbed our bag, refilled our hydration packs, changed the shirts and rushed to get started with everyone. Due to some confusion, I had to run all the way to the gear check to drop off my bag, so we actually missed the actual start. As we crossed the start line, we were pretty much dead last. There were some walkers on the course doing the 10K race. We started off slowly with a walk for a little while to get some hydration and fuel in us. At this point my legs were already sore, but not terrible, and we still had another marathon to go. 

How far did you say???
Somewhere around 2 miles in (mile 28ish) I had my first low point. All of a sudden I was hit with negative thoughts. Can I finish this? Why are we doing this? I can just turn around and go to sleep. I already did one marathon, why do another? I was really thinking about quitting. I was telling Amy to go ahead and not worry about me, but she refused and stayed by my side. I knew that she could have ran some more, while I was walking in my funk. I just told myself to fuel, relax and just keep going. Soon enough, I was feeling much better. I was in a better mood and ready to go. Around mile 3.5, also return mile 10, we saw the race leader coming towards us, a fellow Philadelphian Jeff Powers, who won the race last year. Jeff looked super smooth, and he was cruising down the hill. As we kept climbing, I started to wonder, where is the second place? About 10 minutes later second guy comes running by, looking very gassed, followed shortly by 2 girls, and then another 2-3 guys. Jeff would go on to win the race in 2:52:24 and 2 girls went on to finish 2nd and 3rd overall. So impressing and inspiring. 

Up the hill - always up the hill
Miles slowly ticked off 1 by 1. Somewhere on the Roanoke Mountain we crossed the 50K mark, and everything beyond that point was our longest run to date. It was great to see that. At the time, it motivated me to keep going. It was starting to get warm. Eventually, the temperature would make it up to high 70s. My belly was starting to feel funny again, so I started taking some more gels. On the first loop, some neighbors had coke, and I really craved some but there was none to be found. Things started to unravel for me again after the Mill Mountain. We were on our way to Peakwood. My body was rebelling and it did not want to go up anymore. I was trying to come up with excuses in my head to quit. I was trying to justify that I’ve already done 40 miles, and that should be good enough. Why do I need to run the whole thing? Tears from various emotions came out. It was definitely the lowest point in any race I’ve done so far. I was doubting my training, my preparation, fueling, everything! Again, I kept telling Amy to go ahead, and again she decided to stick it together with me. I told myself, that I didn’t want to live with that disappointment. I wasn’t hurt. I was tired and cranky. I had to stop being a baby, suck it up and go ahead. And ahead we went. I guess letting it all out really brought me around. The funk started to get better and it was over. I was going to finish even if I had to walk the rest! (I didn’t walk the rest)

Getting it done
Peakwood sucked even more the second time around but we did it. We stopped at every station, poured water in us and on us, and kept checking off mile after mile. Of course there is a huge hill at mile 24.5 (over 50 miles in). Why not. We knew that was the last long hill. After mile 25 marker it was rolling streets to the end. I just wanted it to be over but at that point there was no doubt that we would finish. Soon we heard the finish line, and we ran across it together holding hands as the clock ticked 5:57. 

Finishing together!
53 miles, 14000+ feet of elevation change, 6 hours of up, 4.5 hours of down and ONLY 12 minutes of flat running terrain later - we were done! Our time for nearly 53 miles was 10:45 plus or minus few miles. All the doubts, all the negativity and all the pain went away as soon as I crossed that finish line. There was nothing but joy and happiness. Right there, that feeling is why I run. If there are ever any doubts I need to remember that moment. We were greeted by super Ronny and Kevin who stayed around to wait for all the doublers. There were also few others that crossed before us, Pam, Sherman, Sarah…

With some of the doublers
Words cannot describe great time and great race we have had in Roanoke. Regardless, of my issues during the race I had such an amazing time that I would not trade for anything. I’ve met so many great people and without a doubt I will be back. City of Roanoke and the race organizers put on such a class event that it truly should be on a bucket list of anyone looking for a real challenge.
There are definitely lessons learned for me in this race. I need to rethink and really work on my fueling. I have some ideas on what went wrong I think I will be ok to fix these issues in 2 weeks time when we go to California for Born to Run 100K. 

I always like quality bling bling
As I am writing this few days after the race, I have no soreness in my feet, all thanks to the Altra Olympus. What a great shoe. Both Amy and I wore them for this race. Look for my full review very soon. People can say what they want about maximal shoes, but they were made to pound roads for 50 miles. You just have to try it. 

I fueled with Tailwind Nutrition and some VFuel gels. As usual, Tailwind worked great. First part of the race I had a mix of Naked and Lemon flavor, but the second part was all caffeinated Razz flavor. I did have to take some gels, but I am not sure they were needed. Like I said, I had some mental stuff going on, and I need to figure out few things before the next race. 

Post-race and since the race I have been drinking bunch of Cocogo to get my electrolytes back in balance. That stuff really tastes great and it works!  
What did we just do?
Lastly, I have to give a shout out to Amy, who pushed me and supported me along the way! Happy anniversary love! What a great way to celebrate! 

Go forth and run. 

And now some extra race pics! See Amy's post for even more.
Shakeout run with Zoe Romano

Playing with GoPro

Starting the second - DFL!

Here comes Amy

You are almost there!
Bamm! Done!


  1. great post!!! I love you!!!! Our 10th anniversary could not have been complete without a double Blue Ridge!

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