I truly wasn’t sure what I was about to encounter when I signed up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon; all I knew was that I wanted a challenge.
It most certainly didn’t disappoint.
With 14,860 feet of total elevation change, this took me quickly back to my run I did almost exactly 1 year ago, my Rim2Rim2Rim experience at the Grand Canyon. Although this was a couple miles longer, I figured this would be a similar although easier task than I encountered last year. I was surprised at how many similarities I encountered along the way however.
I rolled into Roanoke early Friday afternoon and met up with a fellow West Virginian who was putting me up for the night for some great pasta at Ragazzi’s, which was exactly what I was looking for. After catching up for a bit and getting my fill, I headed on down to the City Market Building to pick up my packet and check out the area. I ran into a couple of gear reps I knew from other races, as well as the Saucony rep I had passed along a copy of my book to, hoping to continue to work the channels for the shoes that have helped me run every mile without a blister or foot problems. (Shameless plug for a connection here lol). As I was heading outside, I ran into Brie Jackson, a reporter for WSLS10 in Roanoke, who was interviewing one of the race directors. He mentioned to them that I was doing the double, so they asked for an interview. The text can be found here, but below is the video as well.
Having completed my check-in, I headed back to my friends house to unpack and prep everything for the next days adventure, then headed down to Corned Beef & Company to meet up with a few of the Double Marathoners for some late evening dinner. We would need all the fuel we could get to plow through the 52.4 miles and the mountains we would be climbing. I was inspired by each of the stories I heard, from runners who were champions of many distances to those that were tackling there first ever ultra (what a course to do that on!). There was a small group leaving early, and the ladies asked to see if anyone else would run with them as they didn't want to be out there alone. Since I didn't know the course and wasn't interested in racing, just getting the miles in, I and a couple others jumped in and said we'd be happy to.
After a good meal, then crashing for about 2 1/2 hours at Pat's, I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off at 1215AM. Excited about the upcoming adventure, the adrenaline was flowing and I threw my trash in the car and was off. The weather was just about perfect, holding at around 48 degrees, with the wind blowing just a little. I met up with the group right at 0130 and we posed for a few pictures and the mastermind behind this event, Kevin Green, and stepped off around 0140.
The flat part of the course lasted about 4 blocks, then we turned left and started climbing. Mill Mountain was the first climb, and we shared stories and introductions all the way up the first climb. One of the reasons I love running in the dark is that it never seems like I'm actually climbing as steep as the road really is. That would prove true on the 2nd loop. Since we left a little earlier than the 2nd wave, that included runners who were familiar with the course, we took our time and ran where we felt like it, and walked up the steep climbs. About 5 miles in, we hit the 1st really steep climb up Roanoke Mountain with our first warning sign:
We certainly took advantage of some walking the next couple of miles, enjoying the amazing views that would only get better as we continued on. Making our way around the loop, mile 10 brought us back down to where we entered that section, and we met up with Kevin (the Double Race Director) and his wife, who were providing an amazing rolling aid station for us. The 2nd wave had just entered the loop a few minutes earlier, so we missed cheering them on, but had Kevin give them our best. We made our way back down the road to mile marker 12, where we started the climb to the Roanoke Star. The view of the city was amazing from the star, especially since it was an incredibly clear night. I grabbed a panoramic photo to try to capture it, but the photo below just doesn't do it justice.
I had stepped ahead of our group who stopped at the bathrooms at the top, so I could try to grab some more photos on the way down. Lori & her fiance caught up with me, with Libby & Chris following just behind. Another port-o-john stop at the bottom of the mountain (us guys made use of the woods lol) and we were off on some flat ground before the climb up Peakwood. Libby and I started rolling through the park towards Peakwood at a pretty good pace, and soon we had split off a bit with the other 3. The crazy part was that this was her first try at a marathon distance, let alone a double marathon, let alone with these climbs(!), so we just chatted a bit to get through the last section before the climb. The race crew was coming through laying out mileage markers, and passed us as they put down the 21 mile marker. The sun was starting to come up, and we were feeling pretty good at this point. I did my best to talk to keep our minds off the climbs and the distance, and Libby thanked me a couple of times for keeping her going, as I knew she was tired from not only the distance and climbs, but also not having been to sleep (see adrenaline) after our meal the night before. We made our way down Peakwood, and passed the other 3 as they were heading up. As we crossed the bridge to finish up the last mile, the last 3 from the crew that took off after us was just crossing it, which meant we were 2 miles ahead of them, but they only had about 30 minutes to finish up the last 3 miles to get to the start at 0730. (They all made it just in time!)
Our initial plan was to wait for everyone at the finish/start, so we could all cross together, and Libby and I rolled in around 7:10 AM. We waited around for another 10 minutes or, but I had to get my gear to the car a couple of blocks away, and knew she wanted to drop some stuff off herself, so Kevin told us to go ahead and cross the line.
"You guys are all sick for trying this" the announcer said over the intercom, "but these two just did their first marathon, and are getting ready to leave with the rest of you to run it again. THEY are truly insane!" The applause was deafening, but welcoming as we crossed with our hands in the air, ready to tackle it again.
I saw Pam Rickard (a runner I have admired for a long time!) finish with the other Double Runners a few minutes later, and we greeted them as they crossed the line with about 5 minutes to spare. One last swig of Gatorade, and they started the countdown for marathon # 2.
The heat was already starting to pick up, and the climbs seemed even higher the 2nd time around. With the roads being visible now, they certainly looked steeper anyways. I did as much fast hiking as I could up the steeper sections, but still felt pretty strong since we took it easy on the first loop. A few conversations with people asking me if I was one of the double runners, and the excitement I could hear in a few voices as they said they'd love to attempt it in the future helped power me along. I started doing CrossFit at CrossFit Morgantown about 3 months ago, with a focus on core and flexibility, as I couldn't even get parallel on a squat when I started, let alone going just below parallel. I am still working on my flexibility, but I was feeling no pain or tightness in my lower back, where in the past with some steep races I've become lazy in my stance and hunched over, since my core wasn't that strong. I can honestly say, even a couple of days afterwards, my back hasn't tightened up, nor did I seem to have any issues with my posture during the 2nd marathon.
Reaching the top of Mill Mountain, we were greeted by a man in a kilt playing some awesome bagpipes, and a spectacular view down the valley.
Coming back down the mountain was a different story than the climb, as my quads were now starting to say slow down. I purposefully had held back on the first loop going downhills to save my legs, but these climbs were unforgiving. I was feeling good, but also could tell I needed to keep fueling to replace the calories I was burning off, especially as it grew warmer. At the top of the Roanoke Star overlook, the guy who was kindly manning the food table held the bowl of pretzels up as I grabbed handfuls and shoved them in my mouth. "Take as much as you want" he said. I obliged.
Mile 17(43) brought me back to Peakwood, and as I started around the turn, I noticed another food table. I approached it after downing a few cups of Gatorade and water from the drink table, and noticed an aluminum pan with wax paper over it. I pulled the paper back and saw the nectar of the Gods. Homemade sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits...and they were huge. "Are these for the taking?" I asked the gentleman behind the table. "Sure!" he said, and I grabbed it and started munching on it as I climbed the mountain. I got some funny looks from people as they passed me and as I passed some others, but I didn't care. It was the best sandwich I had ever had. There was a group of people standing outside their house that was playing some awesome music as we approached, with "Wagon Wheel" by Darius Rucker jamming over the loudspeakers. I took a break from my sandwich, and danced a jig with the group for a few seconds before I continued on. It felt good to take the experience in and enjoy the moment.
Another 1/4 mile up the road, I passed a guy sitting in a beach chair, who had a box of Krispy Kreme donuts in front of him. "Need a donut?" he asked as I went by. "ABSOLUTELY!" I said.
That donut was the best donut I had ever consumed in my life.
I took my time back down the mountain, talking with a few runners that had passed me earlier, and others that I had passed earlier as they caught me. With my Operation Welcome Home logo on my Freedom Run USA shirt, it helped strike up conversations with a number of veterans and current military members. It was awesome to hear their stories, and gave me a chance to say Thank you and share my own. Others just inquired about my journey and said they would pick up a copy of my book and help get the word out. Very encouraging.
The temp was right at 80 degrees when I crossed the finish line, with 4:47:00 ticking off as I stepped over the mat. The lady was about to put the medal around my neck, when I remembered that Kevin told us all to make sure we told them we were Double Finishers, so I mentioned that to her. She went over to the table and picked up the Double Marathon medal and placed it over my neck, and I couldn't have been more proud. I was about an hour and 17 minutes off my normal pace, but with the conditions, the climbs, and the fact that we had already ran it once, I was definitely not disappointed.
The town of Roanoke went all out to make this a great event, and it is one I plan on running again next year, and trying to bring some of my great friends that run these insane races also with me. I made some great new friends this year and experienced memories that will last a lifetime.
Maybe a triple in our future?
At the young age of 39, I took on the greatest challenge of my life, an effort that pushed me both mentally and physically like I had never been challenged before. I completed a 3452 mile 100 day run across America, capped off with a 100 mile finish from Annapolis MD to Rehoboth Beach DE in under 24 hours, all to raise awareness and money in support of the men and women I consider my heroes, those that have worn and now wear the US Military’s uniform.
My book, “Freedom Run”, was released in April of 2013, detailing my journey to honor those who have bravely served, and describes the life-changing events of my run across America. MORE>
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