Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Race Recap: Ridge to Bridge Marathon

I'll have to admit that I was less than thrilled about running in the Ridge to Bridge Marathon (Oct. 30, 2010).  This attitude was in direct violation of my motto of "Running is its own reward".  I shouldn't have been so gloomy about a race that was:

Just over an hour's drive away
Limited to a field of 300 runners, many of whom I knew
Almost entirely downhill and thus
A great Boston Marathon qualifying course

The negatives were mostly a reflection of my own idiosyncrasies and included:

Not being overly fond of downhill running
Boston filling up (in one day!) before Ridge to Bridge even happened

Frankly my reason for running Ridge to Bridge was to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2011.  I had qualified five years ago at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon but never went.  Now that I had entered another age group qualification (sub-3:30) I felt that now was the time and Ridge to Bridge would be the place.  When Boston 2011 filled up in record time and before I even had a chance to qualify at Ridge to Bridge, I was peeved to say the least.  Sure, I could run a qualifying time that would be good for 2012, but that's gratification delayed for too long.

Some marathons are coveted primarily because they have significant downhills, thereby making for quicker times.  I prefer courses with rolling hills and have never been very good at going fast downhill.  Ridge to Bridge has a total elevation drop of nearly 3,000 feet, most of which occur in miles six through sixteen.  Ten miles of gnarly downhill of a course characterized by a narrow dirt road didn't appeal to me.

James hamming it up.
So it was with this sour attitude I went up to Morganton, NC the day prior to the race.  Usually I go alone to marathons and ultras, but this time my wife Laurie and son James came along with me.  We checked in at the Quality Inn host motel and I went to pick up my race packet.  A pleasant surprise included in the packet were the items shown in the picture below.

Contents of the swag bag.
Usually at marathons I receive a number, a timing chip, a shirt, and some vaguely relevant brochures (and at worst emery boards, Post-It notepads, and pencils).  For this race I also received a DayGlo orange drop bag, a hard plastic tag with my name on it, an R2BM bumper sticker, and a pair of cotton gloves - all quite useful items.  There were also maps of the course as well as a map showing the local attractions and businesses.  The Quality Inn was offering a free breakfast bag beginning at 4:00am which consisted of a muffin, breakfast bar, and banana.  Nice touch, I thought.

The family and I skipped the pasta dinner at the motel's restaurant and went out to find some pizza, ending up at Buck's Pizza on Fleming Drive.  Definitely nothing fancy on the inside, with laminate countertops, tables and seats, but the barbecue chicken pizza was excellent.  After dinner I met up with some fellow DARTers including Todd Hartung, Bobby Aswell, and Théoden Janes and we shot the breeze for a while before heading to our rooms for some shut-eye.

On race morning we met at the motel lobby and rode up to the start together along with Alice Watson.  It was nice to be in a warm minivan, as there weren't any buildings we could inhabit before the race started at the junction of Highway 181 and Mortimer Road.  Laurie and James were going to get breakfast before meeting us at the finish at the bottom of the hill.  With little fanfare the runners were given the go-ahead by race director David Lee and off we went.

34 degrees at the start.
David had warned us on the Ridge to Bridge website info page not to try to bank too much time on the big downhill sections, as the last ten miles might prove a challenge if a runner found themselves tapped out at the end of mile sixteen.  The first six miles, Mortimer Road, consisted of a twisty asphalt road with an out-and-back section before we turned onto the famed Pineola Road.  Pineola began the long descent and is best described as a hard-packed one-lane dirt road normally occupied by hunters, their trucks, and their dogs.  Dr. Mark Ippolito, a fellow DARTer and Davidson resident, joined me at the beginning, along with Kim Holland, a Wilkes County runner-acquaintance of mine.  Mark was gunning for a sub-3:20 which would qualify him for Boston.  While Todd, also on with his sights set on a sub-3:20, was ahead of us he was within sight the entire way down the hill.

It's hard to visualize ten miles of steep downhill, but that's what Pineola Road was, with some sections maxing out at a 7% grade (That means that for every 100 feet traveled the road dropped seven feet.).  Mark was feeling good and my bladder was complaining about the combination of excessive coffee and jouncing around so he and I parted ways at about mile twelve.  After that I ran mostly alone and was passed by runners taking advantage of the decline.  At around mile fifteen I "landed" on the flatter asphalt ground of Edgemont Road for a short out-and-back before stepping onto the dirt road of Brown Mountain Beach Road.  Brown Mountain Beach Road parallels Wilson Creek downriver and so the course became a gentle downhill with the occasional rise.  It was at this point I was beginning to feel good, especially after I looked at my Garmin Forerunner 205 and figured that if I kept pace I would not only run a Boston qualifier of sub-3:30 but might even break 3:20!

I caught up to Todd around mile 16.5 and stayed with him a short while.  I spotted Mark just ahead and decided to catch up to him, since he seemed to also be on track for a sub-3:20.  It wasn't until the aid station at mile 21 that I came alongside him and suggested that we take in a gel to have enough energy to finish the last five miles strongly.  Selfishly I didn't wait for him but instead pushed my pace, hoping that he might try to chase me down and thereby get under 3:20 as well.  Near mile 22.5 I came upon another running buddy Mitchell Rippy of Shelby and wished him well.  My last three full miles were 7:18 for mile 24, 7:23 for mile 25, and 7:19 for mile 26.

To the fanfare of Laurie, James, other spectators and finished runners I completed it in 3:19:05, which was a personal best for the marathon and my best result since Thunder Road five years ago.  Mark finished a minute and a half later and made Boston qualifying with 26 seconds to spare.  While Todd didn't qualify for Boston his time of 3:24:21 was his best in the past several attempts.  Théoden shattered his previous personal best with a time of 3:26:33.  Bobby, who was shooting for a sub-3:00, just missed it with a strong 3:02:40.  Alice battled stomach issues and came in at 5:06:17.

Another pleasant surprise in addition to the swag bag was the spread laid out for everyone.  Hot, tasty barbecue sandwiches, freshly grilled hamburgers, homemade pumpkin bread and apple cobbler were complemented by generous amounts of water and soft drinks.  My bad attitude prior to the race morphed into serenity as I spent time talking to other runners about their experience.

Me and Dr. Mark Ippolito
Dr. Mark Ippolito and Théoden Janes
Mitchell Rippy and Todd Hartung
Bobby Aswell with his 2nd place age group award.
All in all it was a good race and I shouldn't have shown prejudice against it beforehand.  This marathon is a terrific race unto itself and I would recommend it because of its small size, friendly volunteers, and scenic views.  Ridge to Bridge Marathon proves that there's more to running than qualifying for Boston (though it does help).

Chad R.
Davidson Area Running Team

    1 comment:

    1. Good job Chad! It sounds like the run was enough reward to change the attitude. Boston selling out in one day was crazy. Perhaps there will just have to be a strong representation of DART at Boston 2012.


    Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.