I had gotten a free entry to a spring Rock ‘n’ Roll race as part of the goodies we got when the Mississippi Blues race got cancelled in January, so I decided that the Raleigh half would be my “redemption” run for not getting the chance to run in Mississippi. As I got closer to race day, the weekend mileage was calling for 24 miles, so I decided I would try to move up to the marathon at the expo. The week leading up to the race had some unexpected travel, so my biggest concern for the race was that I didn’t want to get swept. Having just done the New South Marathon the weekend before, I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond to another marathon, so I just wanted to stay ahead of that 5:30 pacer. When I got to the expo and went to change my bib, I was only the 15th person to upgrade to the marathon, which only cost me $35 (score!). I ended up being in corral 5 for the marathon. I knew this was a smaller race (at least for Rock ‘n’ Roll), but I wasn’t sure how many corrals there would be. I ended up getting into the corral with the 4 hour pacer (what??). Oh well, I figured that would give me plenty of buffer room before the sag wagon and my 5 hour pace band would help keep me on track as to where I needed to be to hit the overall cutoff.
I did the half marathon version of this race in 2015 and I knew that it was a very hilly race, but I was not expecting the nonexistence of flat sections. I think there were only a few miles of flat – everything else was up or down! The weather race morning was amazing – 50 degrees and overcast for virtually the entire run. I decided to just run by feel and not worry about my time too much. I recognized a lot of the half marathon course which we split from around mile 8 where we went off for a few miles into Meredith College before meeting back up for another mile or so and then heading off on our own for the second half of the race. I hit the halfway mark at 2:20:30 and was surprised at how good I felt. I didn’t think I would be able to keep up that pace for the remainder for the race, but that gave me a good cushion to break 5 hours again, so I kept an eye on my pace band to figure out how far below the 5 hour mark I was and see if I started to slip at all in the second half.
As we got to the halfway point, we ended up back on NC State’s campus, running through the quad of the Engineering buildings – that campus is huge! After leaving campus, we headed towards Lake Johnson and found the only flat part of the course (maybe an exaggeration, but it felt like the only flat area). As we veered onto the greenway path, the trail got more crowded, but certainly didn’t create an issue. This was definitely the most scenic part of the race and one of the few places I actually stopped to take some pictures!
After the lake, we headed back towards NC State’s campus and eventually downtown. This part of the race was more exposed with lots of running on multi-lane roads. I almost stopped to take a picture when we hit Achievement Drive, but by the time I thought about it again, I was on the wrong side of the road. By mile 23.5 we looped back onto the half marathon course and I recognized the section we were on. Just after this, I could hear a band playing Sweet Caroline from somewhere ahead of me and we were close enough to see downtown, so I was just counting down to when I would get to the finish line. As I passed the band and started heading up yet another hill, they started playing Bye, Bye, Bye by NSYNC and I just had to laugh. One last major hill to climb, but they had put out some great motivational signs to help keep runners going.
By the time I crested that hill, I knew I would be able to PR in this race and possibly even break 4:40, so I just kept moving. I turned one final corner just after mile 26 and could see the finish line, so I pushed myself to finish at 4:39:31 – a 7:11 PR in my second marathon in 8 days! I knew I had gotten to about 19 minutes below my 5 hour pace band around the halfway point of the race, but I didn’t believe I was going to be able to hold on to that until I hit those motivational signs at mile 25 and then I knew I could PR. This race was a huge boost for me mentally – the hills were tough (and again, not nearly as tough as they’re going to be) but I was able to keep pushing myself and only had 4 miles where my pace was over 11:00 and that included stopping to refill my water bottle twice. This was the perfect end to my last long week of training for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon and with this finish, I officially became a Marathon Maniac (#13742) and Double Agent (#2896) so I proudly posed with my signs after the race before heading to collect my new marathon jacket.
Now, after I finished, I was hurting and I knew it’s because I pushed myself, so that 3.5 hour drive back from Raleigh wasn’t too much fun, but we stopped for some Rita’s Italian Ice (quadruple chocolate for me!) and I got a short nap, so overall it was a great day. I know some people don’t like the super fluorescent shirt colors, but I like having a variety of those, especially as I’ve been doing more running at dawn / dusk this training cycle. I still wear all my actual reflective gear when road running, but you certainly won’t lose me in a crowd in this shirt!