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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.