Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Tobacco Road Marathon

Cornelius, NC-based DARTer Bobby Aswell knocked out yet another marathon for 2011, this time at the Tobacco Road Marathon held near Cary, NC.  

In the midst of all of the NCAA hoopla, I ventured down to Tobacco Road to run the Tobacco Road Marathon on Sunday, March 20.  In its 2nd year, the event starts at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC where participants start with 3 miles on pavement followed by 20 miles on the American Tobacco Trail and finish with 3 miles on pavement.  

USA Baseball Complex
Like most races, things kick off with packet pick-up.  The race expo was on Friday and Saturday and packets were available for pick-up both days.  However, the expo closed at 5:00 pm on Saturday and packets had to be picked up by then as there was no race day pick-up.  Nicole had a 1:00 pm soccer game on Saturday and since I didn’t believe that I could make it to the expo by 5:00 pm, I arranged with fellow DARTer Mike MacIntyre, who was running the half-marathon, and friend Troy Eisenberger, who was running the marathon, to pick-up my packet and I would meet them race morning to get it.  This is not the most ideal situation but I’ve done it several times in the past and it was my only available option.  Race morning arrived and I met Mike and Troy and got my packet with no issues.

As with most marathons, there always seems to be at least one issue of some kind.  In this race, it was parking.  The USA Baseball complex and the adjoining Thomas Brooks Parks have 900 parking spots available.  If you sign up for the race early enough, you have the option of buying a parking pass for $5 which will get you one of those prime spots.  Once the parking passes are sold out, your options are to ride with someone who has a parking pass, get someone to drop you off at the start area, or park at remote parking 5 ½ miles away and take one of the 15 buses to the start area.  As I didn’t have a parking pass, I opted for the remote parking scenario and got there at 5:15 am in time to board one of the first buses.  The bus left and seemed to be driving a long time to go 5 ½ miles.  It turned out the bus driver was lost!  After several u-turns and turnarounds, we arrived at the starting area around 6:00 am, still plenty of time before the 7:15 am start.  However, the trend of ‘lost’ buses continued causing the race to be delayed by 15 minutes to allow all of the runners to get to the starting area. 

After the race, the buses were available to transport runners back to the remote parking area but I received a ride back and I’m glad I did.  When we left, the line for the buses was as long as a football field!  I would highly recommend getting someone to drop you off at the starting area or signing up early enough to snag one of the $5 parking passes and bypass the remote parking issues.

As for the race itself, it’s excellent!  After starting at the USA Baseball complex and running 3 miles on pavement, marathoners turn left onto the American Tobacco Trail which consists of mostly crushed and compacted gravel making a very forgiving surface that’s very easy on the legs.  Runners continue down the trail about 4 ½ miles before turning around and heading back in the opposite direction allowing you to see all of the runners behind you.   At around mile 15, the trail changes to a combination of about 2/3 asphalt and 1/3 crushed gravel, with the gravel section being on the right going out and thus on the left coming back.  Then, around mile 18, the trail changes again but this time from asphalt to mostly hard-packed dirt before hitting the turnaround point at mile 19.  In addition to a forgiving surface, the trail is shaded and provides excellent protection from the sun and heat on warm days.  

American Tobacco Trail
From an elevation standpoint, the course is essentially flat though there are a few long inclines but nothing really steep.  As you exit the trail around mile 23 there is a slight incline but no major hills from there to the finish.  

The aid stations come frequently and are well stocked with water, energy drink, and very energetic volunteers cheering you on.  For an extra boost, many of them have music, GU and GU Chomps as well.

After finishing the race, runners are presented with fruit, bagels, pizza, and other goodies to help replenish all of those burnt calories.  Massages are available for $1 per minute and the lines were long as many runners waited their turns.  

One of the highlights of the race is the medal.  It’s very high quality and huge compared to most medals:

When all was said and done, I ran a little slower than last year but still finished in 3:09:41, good enough for 3rd in my age group and received a huge beer mug engraved with the race logo and age group finish place.

All in all, I believe this course runs very well and will present a PR opportunity for a lot of runners.  In fact, several runners I know had PRs this year.  I’ve run the marathon the first 2 years and will probably go back for the 3rd year as well.  You know what they say, ‘the 3rd time is the charm!’

Bobby Aswell

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