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.
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