My experience running the Blue Ridge Marathon!
Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Blue Ridge Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador) and check out Bibrave to review, find and write race reviews!
Let me just start my post with this statement: The Blue Ridge Marathon is not for the faint of heart! It’s definitely a race I would suggest for those that are looking for something different or for a challenge. I would not recommend running this race if you are looking for a PR or to qualify for Boston. This race is labeled as THE toughest road marathon in America and I can confirm with you that it really is. Race weekend here offers the ability to run the 10k, half marathon, marathon or DOUBLE marathon for those that are doubly crazy! I choose to run the marathon. For my training leading up to race day my coach gave me some long runs with speedwork but then I also focused my long runs on getting a lot of elevation in. I found a hill along my run that was about a half mile up and down and began just running it over and over again. My last long run that had hills included I ran that hill for 12 miles in total. I really think that helped prepare me for what was going to occur on race day. The best thing you can do is prepare for what will come on race day so that when things don’t go the way you want them to you can adjust and adapt and still power through.
I live just outside of Philadelphia and so that meant about 6 ish hours of driving to get to Roanoke, VA. With 2 kids that are age 7 and 8, we decided to break up the drive in 2 days. We drove a little more than halfway and stayed over in a hotel before making it the rest of the way the day before race day. We got to the Roanoke area around 5pm and headed straight to the expo. I loved that it was situated right at the finish line so I knew where we would be ending the race the next day. The expo was low-key and very chill. You could grab your bib and race shirt then browse the other booths for anything else you might need. Think socks, sunglasses, sneakers, race fuel, and also fun shirts/hoodies/hats that were Blue Ridge themed! We stayed for a bit to listen to the band and took some photos then headed back to the hotel for dinner.
Our hotel was less than a half mile from the hotel so my kids and husband walked me over on race morning. I stretched out a bit then got into the start line up. It was cloudy and cool but no rain! The energy was booming and I felt blessed to be there. You were in the start area with all the runners (double marathon, marathon, half marathon, 10k and relay). The gun went off right on time at 7:35am and off we went!
I took some of this info right from the race website because I feel that it describes the race perfectly and then added in some of my thoughts along the way!
The course begins easily with one mile of rolling hills, before taking its first turn upward as runners begin the 2-mile climb up Mill Mountain. At the top of the day’s initial climb, the race enters the Blue Ridge Parkway, where there are several lengthy and challenging hills over the next two-plus miles. Then runners will encounter the most beautiful but challenging portion of the course – the climb up Roanoke Mountain.
Roanoke Mountain ascends approximately 780 feet in two miles with multiple switchbacks. Runners will see magnificent views of the region’s mountains and valleys as they pass the numerous overlooks, and will be rewarded with the best view at the top. The steep decent on the back of Roanoke Mountain is equally beautiful and difficult as the gradient forces runners to keep their speed in check. I loved that during the descent down the mountain you got to see the other runners that were making the climb up. There was a lot of encouragement offered from them to me and me to them.
After 4 miles of climbing and descending, the course returns to the Blue Ridge Parkway where runners will re-trace their steps toward Mill Mountain. Participants will then ascend Mill Mountain (the part not covered on the first pass) to the famous Mill Mountain Star, overlooking the beautiful Roanoke Valley and — much of the course still to be run!
From the Star, runners will encounter another major 2-mile decent down Prospect Avenue – also known as the “old road” to Mill Mountain. Back on the valley floor the final 10 miles is rolling with several challenging hills. Don’t let mile 18 and 24 sneak up on you!
The Valley section of the course briefly skirts the Roanoke River before turning into the historic and scenic area known as South Roanoke, famous for its beautiful homes. A lot of the residents were out cheering us on which was amazing and much appreciated. Be aware of a long climb on Avenham and Peakwood Avenues as you turn into the neighborhood. This climb left me breathless! You will crest the hill right at 20 miles.
The terrain flattens out for the next 3 miles as you make your way through Old Southwest, along the Roanoke River Greenway, and through Wasena before heading downtown to the finish line at Elmwood Park. When I got to flat I could pick up my speed but when it came to the uphill I slowed considerbly and sometimes even walked just to conserve my energy.
So all in all you are climbing 3 mountains and then throughout the rest of the course you are running some rolling hills. Just when I thought the hills would be done, there were more! Even at mile 26 when you only had .20 left the first .10 was UPHILL!! It was so hard that I had to laugh at times so that I would not cry. This was one of the best marathon experiences I have ever had. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible you feel once you have completed this race. It’s unreal. You must find out for yourself. As you are completing the race they will call our your name and where you are from. You then get congratulated by a volunteer and receive your awesome medal and a bottle of water. There are plenty of post run snacks/food to snack on and it’s a really nice area to hang out at.
I ended up placing 6th place overall and second in the Masters category. The awards ceremony went off around 2pm so we walked back to the hotel so I could change in the RV. Our hotel would not give us late check out, which stunk. How could they expect me to be done the race before normal check out time, especially this race? We then walked back to the fnish area but along the way is the cute little downtown area of Roanoke with a bunch of stores so we browsed those before getting back. Each trophy is hand-welded from a recycled rail road spike by a local high school shop class to look like a little runner. Each one is completely unique and made by hand just for you! I’ll treasure it forever!