Backyard to Vineyard Challenge: Marathon – Asheville, NC (2016)

Day 2 of the challenge was met with cooler weather and threats of rain. I met up with one of my co-workers who has been part of most of the relay craziness over the past few years and we ran together for the first few miles. Since the half marathon and marathon follow the same course for about the first 10 miles, I was able to fill him in on what to expect. We ran together for the first few miles until we hit the steep uphill near mile 2, right before the first water station and I bid him adieu and did my first walk break of the day. 

It started raining almost as soon as the race started and by the time I made my way up to the Biltmore Estate, I had started to get cold (lots of walking on the uphill sections here), so I pulled out my light rain jacket and kept moving. I stopped to take a few more pictures at the Biltmore and then took advantage of some of the downhill section.

The first 10 miles of the race were exactly the same as the half marathon, then just before mile 10 we headed across the river to the other side of the estate. This section was a lot more remote and had a lot more trail sections – mostly muddy dirt roads, but some of it was just 3-4 inches of mud to wade through. Despite the mud and cold, I enjoyed the back half of the course. We even got to see some deer jumping the fences as runners came through. The rain was consistent, but not a downpour by any means. Eventually it eased into more of a fog / mist and the camera on my phone helped create some interesting pictures after it got foggy as well.

I loved the dragons on the barns

My goal for this race was to finish the weekend strong, without injury, and without wanting to crawl in a hole and die. These weren’t easy races by any account, but I enjoyed both races (yes, even the mud, which is still covering my shoes!). The elevation gain in the first 6 miles of both races was definitely tough, but I’ve learned that I’m able to pretty easily adjust my speed / walk when I need to on these uphills and then take advantage of the downhills whenever I can.

I caught up with Beth a few times throughout this race as she was volunteering while I ran. At one point, she was directing traffic and then directing runners just after mile 20. I was really grateful to see her at that point because I was still cold from the rain and didn’t want to stop to get in my bag to get to my peanut butter filled pretzels. Luckily she walked with me for a minute and helped me get them out of my bag before heading back to her post and cheering on other runners. I ate a lot more solid food during this race than I have on any previous runs – a pack of peanut butter crackers in the first half, some cookies at several aid stations and then the peanut butter filled pretzels later in the race. I’m learning to keep more salty foods with me while I run as most of the aid stations and random food given out by spectators during the races I’ve run are sweet and usually that’s the opposite of what I’m craving if I’m tired of eating GU.

About 4 miles from the end on one of the out-and-back sections, I passed Chris who was on his way to the finish line. By this point, the sun actually came out and it started to get a little warmer. On my way back to the finish, I saw my friend Michelle who was also doing the challenge (she was the one who posted about it on Facebook and inspired me to register almost a full year before the event) and wished her luck as she finished up the course as well. I ended up finishing the race in 5:21:40 which is not my slowest marathon time and I was very excited to finish under 5:30. I didn’t have any real goals for the race, other than to finish, but going out conservatively on the half marathon on Saturday definitely seemed to help on Sunday. 

The marathon finish was (unfortunately) the opposite of the half marathon, so we ended up going up the hill that we went down to start the race. After the other hills in this race, it really wasn’t much, but ending uphill is always hard! The volunteers gave me my medal and allowed me to get a blue blanket for this race and then I made my way up to get my challenge jacket. When I got to the booth, I found out we also got another medal for the challenge! There was still a lot of food left, even when I finished, which is always a plus for those of us who aren’t as fast. 

I was impressed with the organization of this race. The only downsides were some confusion at the hotel when we got to the expo (to be fair, we came in the back of the hotel and didn’t realize we needed to go to the hotel lobby to start the whole process) and having to go to the top of a hill to get food / bus back to the hotel. As I said before, staying at the host hotel was great because I got to wander around the expo again on Saturday after the half marathon and didn’t have to worry about driving anywhere the morning of the races. 

We also got all kinds of goodies for the two races, including:

  • Race shirt (short sleeve for the half, long sleeve for the full)
  • Wooden finisher medals
  • Embroidered fleece blanket for each race (I got green and blue)
  • Special Backyard to Vineyard Challenge medal
  • Backyard to Vineyard finishers jacket
This was the first time I’ve ever tried almost 40 miles in one weekend and I was definitely tired (I took a nap after both races) and sore, but after a sports massage when I got back to Charlotte on Monday, I actually felt pretty good. I took advantage of the hot tub at the hotel Friday night before the race and then Sunday after the marathon and made sure to roll out my hips and IT bands after both races, so I’m sure that helped as well. This weekend has made strongly consider an ultra marathon for later this year. It’s something I’ve been contemplating for awhile, so I’ve started doing more research and am trying to figure out if I can fit one into my schedule. 

Backyard to Vineyard Challenge: Half marathon – Asheville, NC (2016)

The weather for this race weekend changed at least three times a day for the entire week leading up to the race… it was going to rain, it was going to be 70, it was going to be sunny, it was going to be cold, it was going to thunderstorm… needless to say, the unpredictable weather made it very hard to plan race gear for the weekend! Beth and I both overpacked for this weekend, but the good news was, no matter what the weather was going to be, we were prepared! 

Since it was the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to dress up for the half marathon, including clover earrings, bows, homemade tutus (complete with glitter tulle) headbands with 4-leaf clovers on them and ridiculous shirts from Target. 

We stayed at the host hotel where the expo was held, which turned out to be a great idea, or a bad idea, depending on whether you think going to the race expo multiple times is a good idea. To complete our crazy outfits, we both bought shorts from Gypsy Runner so that we could use the pockets to hold all of our GU and other gear without interfering with our outfits (fashion first, clearly).

Since the race was all within the Biltmore Estate, we took a bus from our hotel to the race and then back again after we finished. It was really nice to be able to just walk to the lobby of the hotel to get on the bus instead of having to drive into the estate and much less confusing since when we left on Saturday morning it was still dark! Because it was warmer than we expected and I had a marathon to do the next day, Beth offered to pace me for the half and we had fun with the race, stopping to take pictures and making sure to walk when we needed to on the uphills.

Beth prancing up to the Biltmore

The majority of the hills on this race were before you got to the Biltmore Estate at mile 6, and after you get back to the bottom, you do a couple out and back sections so we got to see lots of people throughout the race. 

They made this sign just for me!

The volunteers throughout both races were awesome! On Saturday, we had one guy high-step run with us for awhile and then on Sunday they were out there in the rain, wind and cold cheering us on and offering us all kinds of goodies (I ate at least 3-4 cookies during the marathon) and supporting all of the runners. My favorite was definitely the guy who filled his beard with glitter. There are a few miles that are on a mostly gravel road and that was the worst part of the race for me because it was so uneven, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop me from running it again in the future. We had a lot of fun with this race and I finished at 2:38:01, which is my slowest road half ever, but I went into the race just wanting to take it easy to save up for the marathon, so I’m happy I accomplished that goal!

In addition to the race medal, all finishers got a fleece blanket embroidered with the race logo, Asheville Marathon & Half, Biltmore Estate, “Relax & Celebrate” – the race directors definitely know how to take care of their runners. There were plenty of snacks and water after the race, though it was at the top of the hill which can be a bit of a deterrent after racing. Overall, I really liked this race and I felt good going into the marathon the next day.

I will say that I did everything you shouldn’t do on race day – I tried a ton of new things – new clothes (shirt, shorts, tutu), new inserts in my trail shoes (though I did keep my old inserts with me, which another reason I wanted the super large pockets in the shorts and the inserts were ones I had previously used in hiking boots), a new headband and I didn’t carry water with me. Probably not the best idea given I was planning just under 40 miles for the weekend, but I’ve gotten very comfortable with the half marathon distance and didn’t feel like I was going to put my marathon in jeopardy by trying all these new things. This is definitely a do as I say, not as I do situation.

We also learned the hard way that glitter tulle is not your friend! In addition to getting glitter everywhere when we made the tutus, we were both covered in glitter by the end of the race and the glitter tulle was more stiff than the regular tulle and kind of scratchy, so we both ended up with marks on our arms from where our arms rubbed against it during the race. Lesson learned, but they did turn out pretty nice and we both got a lot of compliments on our attire for the day, including multiple comments that if there had been a costume contest we would’ve won – totally worth it!