Disclaimer: I received entry into the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to find and write race reviews!
NOTE: CLICK HERE to check out my review of the Blue Ridge Marathon at BibRave.com!
In 2019, I took on the Blue Ridge Marathon for the very first time. While the race itself was incredibly challenging (and rewarding!) and the community support outstanding, my overall experience wasn’t quite what I hoped for – largely a result of the logistics/travel of my weekend as a whole. Ultimately, when the chance to return to Roanoke came back around this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fully enjoy race weekend!
My return to Roanoke this time around gave me a full race weekend experience…and then some! WHY? Because I was attempting to run the DOUBLE Marathon.
Yes, you read that correctly. I consciously made the decision to attempt two marathons back-to-back on the one of the hardest courses in the country AND doing so after saying THIS three years earlier:
Team BibRave was in full effect in Roanoke and one member of our crew attempted the DOUBLE MARATHON! After running the regular marathon, I think I’m good.-Me, excerpt from my 2019 Blue Ridge Marathon race recap
This time around, I was that person from Team BibRave.
With that said, let’s start where any good story does – at the beginning!
After a roughly 6-hour drive, I arrived in Roanoke around 4:30pm and checked into the hotel. The AirBnB I stayed at in 2019 was great, but booking a hotel less than a five minute walk from the start/finish/expo was a no-brainer. Dropped my gear in the room and headed immediately to the race expo – as I was on a bit of a time crunch as the Double Marathon was set to kick off at 1:00AM! The expo was held at nearby Elmwood Park, which was also the main hub for the Down by Downtown music festival taking place at the same time (more on that later).
The expo was pretty low-key for a marathon, which included a handful of vendors and community partners. Not a ton of fanfare really, which was actually nice. Packet pickup was just as low-key – probably in and out in less than 2 minutes. After that, I moved over to the amphitheater to enjoy some of the music festival before grabbing a bit of food.
Saturday started early – VERY early.
After much less sleep than I had planned on getting, I headed down to the start line around 12:40am for the 1:00am start. I arrived to find around 60-70 others who would join me on this grand adventure. After checking in, I met up with a “familiar” face! Nick Nichols from Virginia Beach – owner of Leave Your Mark – life & endurance coaching – and I had connected via Instagram a few weeks earlier. This was not only going to be his first ultra, but also his first marathon. Nothing like choosing “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” for his first (and second) marathon!
Our adventure was slow going to say the least – in large part a result of the numerous uphill sections of the course. Nick and I had plenty of time to share stories, learn about one another, and say plenty of unpleasant things to the mountains of Roanoke. During our adventure, it became increasingly clear to me that I while I was doing well on water (or thought I was), I wasn’t really able to tolerate anything else. This would come back to get me once we arrived at Peakwood (aka the 3rd mountain). Nick and I tackled Peakwood with the same drive that had gotten us up and over the first two peaks. However, once we reached the top of Peakwood, it was evident that I needed to change my strategy and my body was definitely fighting just to keep moving forward. So, at 18.5 miles into the race, Nick and I separated – mainly as I knew I was starting to slow him down. After a brief moment on the side of the course, I felt somewhat better, but still had 8 miles to go…just to finish the FIRST marathon.
Those last 8 miles were a struggle to say the least. I tried to eat what I could, but my body wasn’t liking that idea. I tried using music to push me along, but that just annoyed me more. The runners who started their Double Marathon adventure at 2:30am had mostly caught and passed me by this point. I was definitely hitting a lot of lows, but there was ONE positive that kept me going: I was still moving foward. I didn’t stop although my body would have preferred that I did.
After 6 hours and 21 minutes, I finally arrived at the finish line of “lap 1” of the double marathon. Grabbed a banana and some pretzels, a chocolate milk, and a Coke – all of which stayed down I’m happy to report. However, I had to make a quick u-turn out of the FINISH area to get reset at the START for the beginning of what would “lap 2” for doublers, but what was the normal marathon start for everyone else. Lap 2 began 14 minutes after I returned from Lap 1.
My initial “plan” once I finished was to simply start marathon #2 by crossing the timing mat and then claiming a DNF right away. I was ready to cash out and go to sleep. However, I caught up with Nick again prior to the start. We chatted for a moment and then we were off again before I knew it. Well, HE was off again – jogging even – and I was walking VERY slowly along the side of the course. I made it about a quarter-mile before I had to sit for a moment.
The second wind was coming. I began to feel “strong” again…as best I could at that point. Maybe it was the Coke. Either way, I got back up and started walking again. No running to be had unless it was downhill – and even that was a stretch. I was making friends with the race sweepers because I was literally bringing up the end of the race. Before I knew it, I was making the climb up Roanoke Mountain AGAIN.
I should mention that I have a new found respect for those who are near the back of the pack or even those who are the last person in a race. I spent my entire 2nd marathon attempt in last place but I wasn’t upset or demoralized by it. In fact, I enjoyed it! I had the opportunity to watch every – single – runner come past me on their way back DOWN as I was going UP Roanoke Mountain for the 2nd time. Getting to cheer them on and getting cheered on by them definitely helped keep my spirits up as I started to feel the struggle again.
And a struggle it was to finish that 1st climb for the 2nd time. Once I reached the summit of Roanoke Mountain at 2,161 feet and crossed the 7 mile timing mat, the decision had to be made. Do I run/walk my way back down and risk possible injury or worse? Do I call it a day and hitch a ride back down with race officials / EMS? My decision making skills were much stronger than the rest of me at this point and I opted to call it a day, having completed nearly 33.5 miles of my original goal of 52.4. I could feel the initial indicators of dehydration and, after my DNF for similar reasons at a different race in 2017, I realized what was happening and that it was time to wave the white flag.
After hitching a ride back to the finish area with some really great local EMTs, I hung out in the main first aid station for about 30 minutes crushing sports drink after sports drink to rehydrate. I relocated to my hotel with the help of some friends that had come into town for the race / music festival and I proceeded to try to sleep. My body struggled with that as well, but after a few hours of sleep and a few rounds with the massage gun, I met up with those same friends from earlier an amazing “lunch” (at 3:30pm).
After another brief chill-out period back at the hotel, I headed out to the amphitheater nearby to catch The Wallflowers concert – the headlining band of the Down by Downtown music festival. It was a great show, but as expected, I left a little early as I was still pretty beat and again very hungry.
BUT HEY – WHAT HAPPENED TO NICK? I’m very happy to report that he ended up completing the entire DOUBLE marathon! He looked incredibly unfazed when we crossed the finish line (check out his Instagram), but you could tell he was BEAT.
I woke up on Sunday and didn’t feel like complete garbage! My feet were pretty beat up and walking without some form of shoe was incredibly painful. HOWEVER, I’d been looking forward to this particular Sunday for a while.
The morning after the Blue Ridge Marathon, the organizers put on the SLOW-K – more affectionately referred to as America’s Slowest 5k. I kid you not – they provide registered participants with a coffee mug (rather than a shirt and medal), free coffee (if you’re into that- I’m not); and free donuts. If you want something a little different, you can get your mug filled with a mimosa instead…which was definitely my preferred drink of choice after a crazy weekend.
And then – you walk a 5k. That’s it. Running is NOT encouraged. In fact, the slower you go – the better!
This was my second trip to Roanoke for Blue Ridge Marathon weekend and I have a feeling that it will not be my last. This is definitely the event for those seeking a challenge, absolutely beautiful scenery, fantastic community support, and so much more. This marathon (or double, or 10k, or half) will challenge even the most well trained runner, but will provide countless positive memories. My double marathon adventure didn’t end how I hoped, but I’m still very satisfied with how I did fare!
NOTE: CLICK HERE to check out my review of the Blue Ridge Marathon at BibRave.com!