The course features 3 distinct climbs:
1) Roanoke Mountain (Miles 5-7, 700 foot climb)
2) Mill Mountain (Miles 11.5-12.5, 500 foot climb)
3) Peakwood (Miles 17-19, 500 foot climb)
I was running this race to enjoy the scenery, so time, nor pace, mattered to me. Going into this marathon with that mentality was quite refreshing since my past two marathons had very strict pacing goals. My race started fine, but by mile 3, I was beginning to develop some stomach cramps. Stomach cramps is something I'm not use to dealing with in marathons, so this did catch me a bit off guard. Fortunately, they seemed to disappear by mile 6 (but were to come back later).
After cresting Roanoke Mountain, it was two miles of downhill running. When I say the word "hills", what's the first thing that pops into your head? Probably running up them, right? But, what about running down them? That's something we don't think about much. But, did you know that downhill running is harder on the legs then running uphill? If you didn't, this race will make you very aware of that.
The halfway point marked reaching the top of Mill Mountain. Then, it was 2 more fun miles of running downhill. It wasn't until mile 16 that I started to realize I might be in a bit of trouble. I was starting to feel the sensations that a marathon runner dreads, the wall. Knowing that I had one more climb ahead of me, I was definitely concerned with how my body was going to hold up.
Long story short, by mile 18, my body was starting to shutdown. My stomach cramps had come back and now my lower back was starting to tighten up. The Peakwood climb consisted mostly of walking. But, I took comfort in seeing that all the runners around me were walking as well. Apparently, I wasn't the only one dying out there.
Mile 20 punched me right in the face. To add to my stomach and back cramps, my calf muscles began to tighten. Wee!
I was in complete survival mode for the last 5 miles. I had adopted a walk/run strategy because running a full mile was not possible. Many times I thought about stopping for a few minutes to sit down to relieve my back pain. However, better judgement prevailed and I kept on moving. It's in those moments you realize how important finishing a marathon means to you. No matter how bad you're hurting, the will to finish always outweighs the pain.
I crossed the finish line in 4:25:16. My 27th marathon is now in the books and I definitely had to earn that one! My thanks to all the volunteers and race officials -- first class race from start to finish! The Blue Ridge Marathon kicked my ass, but isn't that what the "toughest road marathon" is suppose to do?