"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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Night and Day on the Blue Ridge Mountains

Running in the dark with just moonlight and the headlamp illuminating the Blue Ridge Parkway ahead is a feeling of happiness, freedom and eagerness for what comes next. In some ways, the first loop of the double Blue Ridge Marathon is difficult in that it starts when normal people sleep and the drunks are heading home, but it is also easy as you do not see much in front of you and you have no idea how long that next climb really is. Thus began our 2015 edition of the Blue Ridge Marathon.

Even though I love Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Marathon, Amy and I were just not sure that we would be returning for the third year in a row. Kids, scheduling and frankly other new races made us almost scratch Roanoke from the 2015 list. However, once we got an opportunity to be bloggers for the event, we knew that we would be driving south on I-81. We've had such a blast at the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2013, that we decided to do it twice in 2014. It was an incredible experience that many can only hope to experience in their lifetime. Our 2015 trip would be more of the same. At first, the double was in question as the official race was not allowed to support it anymore and the cast of usual characters from the years past was not returning. Amy and I were determined to run it, even if we had to do it alone. Yet again, the mastermind behind the whole thing Kevin Green, gathered up the troops for another running of the double.

Crazy People
Six of us lined up on a dimly lit start line early on Saturday morning, as people were heading home from a long night of enjoying the Roanoke music festival and drinking. Without much pomp and circumstance we headed off into the early morning hours, with the expectation to finish the first loop before the official race starts. Last year, Amy and I cut it a bit short, as we had to sprint to gather our stuff and start very last. We needed and wanted more time in between this year. Right from the start, I was feeling so much better than last year. We settled into a nice easy pace as we made our way from the city into the first climb up the Roanoke Mountain. The climb was somehow new yet familiar, as I recalled the years past. Soon enough we were at the top and starting our descent toward the Parkway, and the climb toward the Mill Mountain Star.
City below
The steep descent from the star offers great views of the sleeping city below, but it also signifies that you are heading to the shortest, yet hardest climb of them all, the Peakwood. Both Amy and I were feeling pretty good through this whole stretch. Even the climb up Peakwood, while slow, was not terrible. I recalled dreading this last year, and just wanting to be done. While last year, I could not imagine running this course again, this year I was looking forward to it. Our easy, comfortable pace had us crossing the finish line of the first loop just shy of 5 hours. That gave us plenty of time to refuel, rest up and line up fresh for the start of the official race start at 7:30.
Creepy, right?
With less than 6 miles remaining on the first loop I started feeling this weird, sharp pain in my shin. It came out of nowhere and it would come and go. Few times when I stepped of a curb it was really bad that I winced in pain. I made several comments to Amy that I was possibly not going to run the 2nd loop. I did not know what to think. It was one of those weird pains that it did not seem like just normal soreness. Once we were done the loop, and rested a bit, I decided to give it a go and just call it quits during the race if it was really bad. Everything else was feeling great. I was tired, but my legs felt pretty fresh and ready to go. It turns out that I made the correct decision. By the time we started the official race, the pain was completely gone and it never returned at all. I must have tweaked the muscle or something. Crisis averted.
Ok. Time to do this again.
While last year I was questioning why was I even running this as soon as the official race started, this year I was feeling great and eager. We both wanted to beat our time from last year no matter what. The sun was out bright and early, breaking up the early morning clouds, and heating things up rapidly. We made our way up the Roanoke Mountain in a combination of walk/run as we saw fit, fueling along the way. Soon enough we were chatting with friends doing the race, and miles just flew by. Going down Mill Mountain once again, we refused the Moo-Mosas for the 3rd year running. Sorry folks. We climbed up the dreaded Peakwood, and shared misery, laughs and techno music with the neighbors and other runners. By the time we came down from Peakwood, it was hot! With about 2-3 miles to go, I started feeling a bit nauseous. Like a blessing, volunteers just holding up signs had bottles of water. Pouring that on my head cooled things off and I started feeling better. Now thinking back, I think I should have held back on bit of caffeine. I realized that every single thing I was consuming since 2 am had caffeine in it. Overload!!!
We ran up through the finish line in 5:32 which made our 52.4 mile time around 10:32 besting out last years time by almost 30 minutes. Success. While incredibly exhausted and tired at the finish, I was ecstatic not only to be done, but because I felt really strong, with no negative thoughts for the entire race.
Great success.
I was thinking long and hard about this race report and what to write. For some reason, I sometimes struggle to write about unique and interesting experiences. I am not sure why. I cannot describe enough how much Amy and I enjoy our time in Roanoke. Everyone from the race organization to a stranger on the street is super nice, supportive and accommodating. The Blue Ridge Marathon is definitely a must do for anyone that enjoys beautiful, challenging courses and the impeccable race organization. While this is not a PR course for the most, it is certainly a destination race.

Another year at the Blue Ridge was a success. From meeting friends new and old, spending time with family and simply enjoying the Blue Ridge mountains under your feet was a time well spent.

Thank you Roanoke. We will be back.

PS. If you are planning to run a long road ultra, do yourself a favor, and get some Altra Paradigms and Injinji socks. These shoes are incredible. I did not have any blisters or foot issues at all. They felt great going down those long declines, and a day after my feet felt fresh and not sore at all.

Some more photos:
Ready to go!
With Patrick Sweeney - Born to Run reminiscing.
Only one way but up!
Roanoke Mountain - hi.
Always smiling
The Star


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