Friday, April 22, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Blue Ridge Marathon, by Bobby Aswell

DARTers Bobby Aswell and Mike McIntyre, along with all the other participants in the Blue Ridge Marathon, endured some nasty weather this year.  Bobby recounts his efforts and obstacles along the way to finishing one of the few marathons ever called off early.

Running a marathon is tough enough when all of the pieces fall into place but when something goes astray, it can become downright brutal.  On the day before the Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, VA, I was doing my last run when I thought I saw Murphy jump behind a tree but it was too late, the damage had been done!  I stepped into a rut and twisted my right ankle very badly.  I couldn’t believe it!  Murphy’s Law strikes again!  Oh well, I’d just have to deal with it!

 Billed as ‘America’s Toughest Road Marathon’, the Blue Ridge Marathon challenges your inner self to see what you’re made of.  With over 3,600 feet of elevation gain and over 7,200 feet of elevation change, it’s hills, hills, and more hills!

After running the inaugural event in 2010, fellow DARTer Mike MacIntyre and I were looking forward to returning for the 2nd running in 2011.  Unlike mega marathons with huge crowds, the Blue Ridge Marathon is more low-key with about 1,000 runners between the half and full.  To further substantiate its claim as ‘America’s Toughest Road Marathon’, for 2011 the race directors added another ‘hill’ at mile 18 to test your strength and see what you’re made of.  Doesn’t get any better than this!

Never one to shy away from sticking her hand into the mix, Mother Nature added a few more challenges including 30-40 mph winds, torrential rain downpour, and thunder and lightning! The rain was so extreme that a section of the greenway course around mile 21 was rerouted the day before the race due to flooding.

Race morning arrived with my right ankle very sore so I iced it, put on my ankle wrap, and took some ibuprofen.  I decided to run steady just hoping to finish without doing any further damage to my ankle.  Only time would tell!

Mike McIntyre ready to roll!

Scheduled for a 7:30 am start outside the Taubman Museum of Art, we headed over for the short walk from the Hotel Roanoke at 7:00 am.  The wind was howling and the rain was already coming down in buckets!  Even with a hat and my trusty ole kitchen garbage bag on, I was drenched from head to toe and looked like I had just stepped out of the shower.  What a way to start a marathon!

After the National Anthem, the race started and we were off.  The first mile or so heads out of town before starting the 2 mile climb to Mill Mountain.  After reaching the summit, you proceed onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for several more climbs and ultimately start the climb to Roanoke Mountain which gains approximately 780 feet in 2 miles.  The uphill sections are brutal, with mile 6 being as steep as any hill I’ve run in a race, and the downhill sections are just as severe!  With the downpour, the road was covered with water making all of the switchbacks and hairpin turns very slippery.  You had to run with caution or else take a chance on your feet slipping and losing their footing.

Leaving Roanoke Mountain, you return to the Blue Ridge Parkway for several miles then make your way up the other side of Mill Mountain to the famous Mill Mountain Star which offers great views of the Roanoke Valley.  From there, there’s a major descent for a couple of miles and then some running through some beautiful neighborhoods.  It was at this point that my Nike watch ‘drowned’ and I was left with no idea as to my splits or total time for the last 11 miles.

At mile 18, you encounter the ‘new’ hill added for 2011, ‘Peakwood’.  A ‘killer’ of a hill, ‘Peakwood’ is almost 2 miles of grinding and climbing and comes just when you’re starting to get tired.  You finally crest the hill with your 20 mile warm-up done and ‘only’ a 10K to go to reach the finish line.

The final 10K is run through some beautiful neighborhoods and on the Roanoke greenway before heading back towards downtown to the finish line just outside the Taubman Museum of Art.  Compared to the first 20 miles, the last 10K is relatively flat with a few climbs up and over bridges.
The road was swamped with water the final stretch to the finish line but I made it, bad ankle and all!  With hurricane like conditions, the refreshment area looked like a mud pit so I bypassed it and just grabbed a couple of chocolate milks and a coke for later.  I headed back to the hotel, cleaned up, and waited for Mike in the hotel lobby.

Hurricane-like wind and rain! (photo found on internet)

At this point, the rain was really coming down, thunder rumbling, and lightning flashing in the sky.  Shortly thereafter, I saw Mike in the hotel lobby and he informed me that the officials closed the course early and pulled the remaining runners due to the lightning.  He wasn’t happy about it but felt it was the right decision for the safety of the runners.  After Mike changed, we headed over to the awards ceremony where I found out that I finished 15th overall and 1st in my age group in 3:36:12.  For my efforts, I received this very unique award:

Awesome age group award

Outside of a few extreme marathons that I’ve run, including Pikes Peak and the Mosquito Marathon in Leadville, the Blue Ridge Marathon ranks as one of the toughest.  The uphills are relentless and the downhills are so extreme they leave your quads burning but the beauty of the course is almost unparalleled!  If you’re looking for a beautiful course that will challenge your physical and mental toughness, then the Blue Ridge Marathon is for you.

Bobby post-race, garbage bag and all!
Bobby Aswell

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