Blue Ridge Double Marathon – Roanoke, VA (2017)

It’s taken me a few days to wrap my head around this race, but as I finally got out on my first recovery run and my legs are finally feeling normal again, I figured it was a good time to reflect on last weekend. I didn’t get off to a great start, hitting major traffic on my way out of Charlotte, so a drive that should have taken just over 3 hours was close to 4 by the time I got into Roanoke which meant I was hitting the expo around 4:45 – just in time for everyone to sneak out of work early and pick up their packets. The setup for figuring out which lane to go into to make sure I got the right packet was super easy – lots of big signs and ropes took me directly to the volunteers handing out the marathon packets. They pointed me into the building next door to get my race shirt and free socks. I got inside and it was crowded! When I walked inside, I went to the first upstairs I saw and ended up in a section that was wall-to-wall people that had all of the race merchandise for sale. Luckily I asked someone in line if it was just to purchase merchandise and they were able to direct me back downstairs on the other side of the hall to get my free socks and then up a different set of stairs (you know, where the giant “race shirts” sign was) to get my race shirt. Since it was already almost 5:00, I didn’t even look at the merchandise because I knew I couldn’t afford to wait in that line if I wanted to get sleep before my first race and I was already out later than I had wanted to be. So, back down the stairs and up the other side to get my race shirt (super soft and I love the dark blue / teal color!) and bag for gear check.

I quickly made my way to Carrabba’s to pick up some chicken parmesan before heading to my hotel room to get all my gear ready for my midnight wakeup call. I did one last weather check and realized it was going to be a rainy race, though it was going to be warmer than I had originally expected. Since this was my first ultra, I packed an entire extra set of clothes with the intent of changing in between races. I also added extra food and a portable charger and my watch charger for when my watch decided it was too tired to keep going on. I ended up in bed a little after 7:00 and got about an hour and a half of sleep before the music festival (which was two blocks away near the finish line) woke me up. Even with my ear plugs in, it felt like we were on top of the drum section, so I was awake until about 10:00 when the concert finished which meant I got about 2 2-hour naps before my midnight wakeup.
Since my hotel was so close to the start / finish line (maybe 2 blocks), it was an easy walk over to the start line where I found a bunch of people hanging out and waiting for our 1:00 am start time. We did an official check in and I tried to get a picture of the group, but for some reason my phone wouldn’t turn on. Soon enough, we were lined up in the street and Molly, the Race Director, did an official countdown and then we all took off. I was surprised at how many people were at the 1:00 am start – I really expected the majority of people who were crazy enough to do the double would have been much faster and start at the second double start time at 2:30 am. It was nice to have so many people to start with as it felt like a super early group run. I traded off and on with several groups of people as we climbed the first hill to Roanoke Mountain and just tried to keep a steady hike up the hills and running the flats and downhills. The top of Roanoke Mountain is right around the 7 mile mark and is the highest point on the course at 2,144′ with some 13% climbs on the way up. On the way up, I had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Green who is the brains behind the double marathon – he came up with the idea several years ago when he was coming down to run the race, but since he was training for a 100 mile race, he decided a marathon wasn’t enough and convinced some of his friends to do the course at night before the official race start and thus the Blue Ridge Double Marathon was born. This was the first year where the double was an official part of marathon weekend, so the field was limited to 60 participants and 50 people showed up in the middle of the night to take on the challenge.
After a quick check in at the top of Roanoke Mountain, we headed back down the mountain and retraced our steps heading towards Mill Mountain and the giant star that sits above Roanoke. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my phone to turn back on during this first lap, so I couldn’t get any pictures of the star at night (it was awesome). As we went through the parking lot at the top of Mill Mountain, we took a small trail around to the front of the star and for some reason I had thought we were looping back around to the “front” of the aid station, so I didn’t go off-course to fill up my water and it wasn’t until I was headed back down the hill in the opposite direction that I realized we weren’t going past that spot again and I had missed my opportunity to fill up. I still had some water left in my other bottle, so I figured I would be fine until the next stop, but it was the first mistake where I wasn’t quite thinking clearly. Heading up to Mill Mountain, we “only” hit an 8% grade and 1,733′ before heading back down which was certainly steeper, getting up to 10% grade with tree / moss covered winding roads down. The last of the mountains is Peakwood Mountain and while it’s not quite as steep as Roanoke Mountain, there’s a false top where you climb up more 10% hills to 1,484′ before going downhill a bit and then up what seems to be the steepest part (though it only registers as 11.5%) to 1,605′ for the final mountain climb just before mile 19. The last 10k winds around downtown on and off an urban greenway and this was the hardest part for me mentally in the first lap. The “hard” part was over – I had conquered 3 mountains, but there was still so many miles left before I would finish! By this point, I was on my own, having lost the others I was running near, but about half a mile before the finish, I could hear someone coming up from behind me and I could tell they had to be from the second start wave – they were running fast and strong – as he passed me, he told me good job and was quickly out of sight. I could hear how close he was getting to the finish line as the cheers got louder and I knew I was getting even closer. (He ended up finishing the course in 4:16:08 and ended up as 4th overall double finisher.) I made the last turn and made my way through the crowd (lots of cheers for the double finishers) and finished my first lap in 5:48:45, which is just barely my slowest marathon (by about 4 minutes).
After I finished, I grabbed by drop bag from our Double Marathoner tent and headed to the VIP area (I was given VIP access because I was a ambassador / blogger for the race). It was great to have a dry area and real bathrooms to change in, along with chairs to sit in and someone even had an iPhone charger for me to try to get some battery life into my phone before lap #2. I had almost 45 minutes before the next race started, so I took my time to organize my pack, reload with fuel / water and eat some more snacks before I headed off to the start line. While I was sitting in my own little world, Julie (another ambassador / blogger) came over and found me! I was on her team at Ragnar Trail WV a few years ago and we’ve kept in touch through social media over the years. She posted about this race last year which put it on my radar for this year.
After refueling, stretching and putting my bag back down at gear drop, I headed to the start line where I found the 6 hour pacer, Kristin, who ended up being one of the bloggers as well! I told her my goal for the race was just to finish the second lap, so we talked through strategy and she promised she would help keep me on track. As we headed up our first of the many hills to come, Kristin kept telling everyone around us that I was running the double and I got lots of cheers from everyone around me – it was a great boost to kick off the race. Kristin explained that she had two pace bands – one based on even splits and another based on even effort. Even though we were walking a lot of the uphills at the beginning, we were still on pace for an even split (running the same time for each mile) which meant we were a few minutes ahead should we end up slowing down on the steeper hills later in the race.

Free race picture! Always an awesome perk for runners.

Overall I was feeling pretty good as I started, though I did have some pain on the outside of my right ankle. I wasn’t sure what that was about, but it was new, so I decided to just keep an eye on it to see if it got any worse. We made our way up to Roanoke Mountain again, making friends with Chip, who was also planning to stick with us as far as he could.

Totally different view than in the middle of the night!

After a quick stop for my first pictures of the race, we all headed down the mountain. At this point, my right knee had gotten pretty grumpy and overall the downhills just hurt. Soon Chip and I were behind Kristin, but we were sticking together pretty well as we headed up Mill Mountain. At the top, I took advantage of the plethora of volunteers who were offering to take pictures and got one in front of the giant star.

Still smiling!
Course markings pointing us away from the Roanoke Star

On the way down from Mill Mountain, it was like running through the rain forest – it was pseudo-rainy / foggy but we had gotten above most of the clouds on our climbs, so as we descended, we were going back down through them.

I lost Chip around the half-way point as he was able to go down the hills faster than I was – so I just kept trucking along, making my way past the Moo Mosa table (and taking a free drink) and winding down the steep hill.

After Mill Mountain, there was a little reprieve before heading back up Peakwood Mountain. I hadn’t noticed all of the signs on the climbs as I made my way up the first time, but the second time I saw them and they gave me a chuckle, even though I knew what was coming up next. I was still passing people going up the hills and actually was feeling pretty good hiking up them – to me, the uphills were much easier than the downhills, which I guess means I did something right in training.

Signs from front to back: Keep going only one mile to the top of Peakwood!
Pain today great status update tomorrow
Don’t stop champagne at the top! Run! Run!
It will be flat in half a mile

At the top of Peakwood they had champagne (which I declined) but one of the volunteers filled up my water bottle as I made my way around the short loop at the top before heading back down what I considered the worst part of the race. By this point, I wasn’t feeling well – I don’t think I had been taking in enough calories and my legs absolutely hated me going downhill, so miles 19-20 were my lowest point. I tried going down the hills backwards, but I couldn’t handle more than a few steps before getting nauseous, so I had to turn back around. On the way down from Peakwood, I got passed by the two guys I had been leap-frogging with for most of the race (including Chip) and saw them quickly head out of sight as they took advantage of the downhills.

After the worst of the downhills were over, I knew the rest was mostly flat-ish with some small rolling hills back to the finish line. At one of the road crossings, a paramedic was directing traffic and told me that the race was being called due to bad weather in the area and that I should stop at the next water stop. Still feeling pretty terrible, I said okay and as I approached the next water stop, they tried giving me stuff and I asked them, “But I thought I was supposed to stop here?” to which I was told “No, you can keep going, they’ll come pick you up” – okay… so I kept run / walking and before long I could see a cop driving up the road towards runners, stopping to talk to each one. When he got to me, he asked if I knew the race had been cancelled and I said yes to which he said “Okay, the bus will be coming up behind you to pick you up” – okay… so I kept going. As I got into downtown, there was another race official who was stopping people and he said we all (there were a few of us around at this point) had to make a decision about whether to continue on our own with no course support or take a shuttle back to the finish line. I asked him to just tell me in a official voice that I had to stop, which he obliged and then I asked where to pick up the bus!

Where my race officially ended, 47.8 miles and 11:18:26 after I started

I ended up going to an awning beside the hospital to wait for a bus and was joined by another runner before we saw the bus come down the road a few minutes later. The bus made a few more stops, including picking up a huge group of people a few blocks later under a building overhang. The race official’s radio was buzzing as we made our way back towards the finish line and eventually got dropped off. By that point, it was raining heavily again and the temperature seemed to have dropped. Luckily the gear drop area had a tent for us to sneak under to get our bags and heat blankets to keep us semi-dry and warm. I even got one of the volunteers to help point me in the right direction back to my hotel so that I wouldn’t spend time wandering around trying to figure it out.

It’s not where I wanted my day to end, but given all of the tornado warnings that kept interrupting my afternoon hockey watching at the hotel, I’d say the race officials definitely made the right call.

A couple of final thoughts:

  • If you want a really funny analogy / race recap from a marathoner who has done over 400 races, check out this Facebook post.
  • Some runners have terrible luck – the guy who joined me to wait for the bus at the hospital has run this race 3 times and has only finished once. He ran the race the only other time they had to pull people from the race, back in the early 2000’s when they had to stop because of flooding! We joked with him on the bus that it was his fault the race was called this year.
  • The Hampton Inn was a great hotel location-wise since it is so close to the start / finish line, but noise-canceling headphones or a white noise machine would be good to bring with you if you need an early night Friday night due to the concert that is just a few blocks away.
  • A lot of the talk on our blogger page in the days leading up to the race was concern about the rain – I was actually excited about having rain / overcast weather instead of hot temperatures. This course would be absolutely brutal with full sun and a hot day – there are a lot of sections that are completely exposed. I’ll take rain over heat every single time!
  • I was 100% fine with not continuing the race at the time and wholly believe it was in my best interest – even though it only rained in Roanoke, the temperature did drop throughout the day and I wasn’t moving fast enough to generate much heat. I also didn’t have my rain jacket with me since I was so hot overnight in the rain, I certainly didn’t think I would need it during the day.
  • I was not happy when I saw the final results and saw that runners who opted to continue “on their own” were given finishing times, some over an hour after the race was officially cancelled (the race was cancelled at 4:52 from gun time and there were 28 people who had finishing times over 6 hours, some even over 7 hours). I sent an email to the race regarding this and Julia very quickly responded and said she understood where I was coming from – it was a learning experience for everyone as this was their first year having to institute their emergency management protocol. For awhile, I was upset that all of these people had official finishes even though we were told everything was cancelled and was being taken down much earlier, but the reality is, finishing would not have been a good decision for me in those conditions. Yes, I could have probably finished within those times – I had a little over 5 miles to go when I stopped – but it would have been a rough finish even without the downpour and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. It may not have been the ultra I thought I was going to do, but I finished an ultra, running 21 miles more than I have ever done before!
  • I really would have benefited from someone acting as race crew or at least a checklist for my switch between races. I did really well at: changing clothes, charging my somehow dead phone and restocking my fuel supplies, but I also made some easy mistakes: I put my portable charger in my pack, but not my watch charging cord, so it was at less than 10% battery when I stopped, I didn’t have an iPhone charger in my gear bag because I left it at the hotel and I didn’t realize the temperature was going to drop as the day went on Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t take my rain jacket with me (since I was sweating in the rain overnight).
  • This race hurt! I think my hiking background and all my long runs certainly helped with all of the uphill sections, but my legs took a beating on the downhill sections – for awhile I thought I may have actually done something to my right knee as it felt really swollen by the time I finished and it was really hard to move for the rest of the day on Saturday. Luckily after some long rest periods, it ended up being fine.
  • I need to take in more salt – I was struggling with nausea in miles 19-20, so I just slowly ate my baby goldfish which really seemed to help. I used up all 4 of my Nuun tablets during the two races, but because it was rainy and really humid, I was drinking more than I thought I would, so I should have brought more Nuun tablets with me too. I did fill up with SKRATCH at my last water stop since I was out of Nuun, but didn’t end up drinking much of it before stopping.
  • I swore when I was on the course and after the race that I would never do this again… then I said never the double… now I’ll say maybe. Enough time has passed for me to ignore how hard this race was, plus, I still haven’t technically finished 50 miles yet, so we’ll keep it as a maybe.
I was an Ambassador for this race and as part of that got a free race entry and VIP access in exchange for writing and posting pictures about my training and race experiences. You can catch up on all of my posts related to this race here

One thought on “Blue Ridge Double Marathon – Roanoke, VA (2017)

  1. Molly Bullington says:

    Love the race recap! I totally hate that I had to call the race due to lightning in the area, but it is what it is… lightning is definitely a safety hazard. Like you (& Julia) said- we certainly learned a lot, and have even revised the race results to indicate that if a runner's finish time was after 4:52:59, then they aren't considered an official finisher. That way runners that knew that they ran the whole race can still see their time, but it's not able to be used for official results (i.e. qualifying for anything).
    I'm glad you had a great time, and I hope you do come back and try again! The last time that we had to call the race it wasn't just flooding- it was torrential rain, severe thunderstorm, 60 mph wind gusts, and yes, it was raining so hard that those crazy folks that didn't heed our warnings and get on the bus wound up running through knee deep water!
    OK, enough with the bad weather stories- every other year of the race, it has been BEAUTIFUL! I really do hope that you come back and race with us again. We loved having you!
    -Molly Bullington (the RD who had to make that awful call!)

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