Running America’s Toughest Road Half Marathon
Last weekend I traveled to Roanoke, VA to run the Blue Ridge Half Marathon – America’s Toughest Road Half Marathon! There were four races taking place: the full marathon, half marathon, 10k, and 1-miler. I was signed up for the half marathon, which takes you over two separate mountains!
Roanoke is about three hours from where I work. I’ve been a couple of times and each time has been enjoyable. My friend took me to the best restaurant Roanoke has to offer and I wasn’t let down — it was delicious. However, this time I wasn’t here to eat, I was here to learn! So, I left right after work in order to make it in time to pick up my bib. The expo was open from 3-8pm on Friday downtown. I found a parking spot and went to pick up all my stuff.
I was there about 30 minutes before closing time, and there was no line. I got my bib in about 2 seconds and went inside to the expo. There was a spot to pick up your race shirt, your free Farm to Feet socks, and any last minute items from Fleet Feet Sports. I was in and out of the expo in about 10 minutes and went to check in at my hotel.
Here is my takeaway from the expo. I was surprised to find Huma gels, as not many places carry it.
And here I am ready for race day!!
The race was set to start at 7:30am. Since this was my first time running the race and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to find parking and get to the start line, I got up around 5:45 to get ready. I was out the door a little after six and drove the 10 minutes to the start line. I was so early that I easily found parking at the parking lot next to the park. Since it was a little chilly (in the 40s), I sat in my car until 7am, and then got out to make my way to the race start.
I waited in line for the bathroom (which surprisingly moved pretty fast), and then found my way to the corrals, which were self-seeded. All of the races started at the same time, and I moved back to the last corral, Corral E. There were about 2,200 people running in the races, but it was not overly crowded at all. I thought it was super interesting that people were actually spreading out instead of trying to get to the front of the line.
One thing that was helpful was being able to see who was available for questions! There were people on stilts answering people’s questions (and posing for pictures). What a great idea!
The race starts in the city with one mile of rolling hills, and then travels up a beautiful-tree lined road as we ran two miles up Mill Mountain, the first of the two mountains in the half marathon. Everyone from all three races were together, but the marathoners split off before mile 3 to run up the Roanoke mountain before rejoining the course.
This part of the run was very beautiful, and while it was all uphill, it wasn’t terribly horrible because there were so many people around. There were also motivational signs to keep you going.
As you can see, I was feeling good at this part – it wasn’t even 3 miles yet!
We turned up a switchback and kept climbing to the top of the mountain.
I finally reached the top of Mill Mountain and encountered the first food stop. It was amazing! I’ve never ran a half marathon with such goodies as this one offered. In addition to the water and Skratch, there were bananas, orange slices, gummy bears, and pretzels! It was great to grab a quick snack before I stopped for some photos at the Mill Star and beautiful view.
Here I am with the Mill Mountain Star:
There was a beautiful view from the lookout! It was a clear day so we could see so far.
I’m on top of the world!!
But now, it was time to continue running, this time DOWN the mountain for two miles. After the first switchback, the lovely people in the beautiful mansion were serving orange juice and mimosas!
Running down Mill Mountain was probably my favorite part of the race. I was fast and felt awesome. Only positive thoughts were running through my head. Seriously, running up and down Mill Mountain was amazing and I highly recommend at least running the Blue Ridge 10k for this experience.
You could see people on the lower switchbacks:
After Mill Mountain, the half marathoners run a bit through some neighborhoods and parks before coming up to Peakwood Mountain. I was lucky enough to join up with a few ladies for a few miles, which was super helpful because I was running out of steam. The sun was starting to get hot and the hills were starting to get really serious.
As we were nearing Peakwood, there was a great view of Mill Mountain.
Unlike Mill Mountain, which is mostly just trees, trails, and a few houses, Peakwood is all neighborhood. These houses were beautiful to look at and it helped to keep my mind off of things for a bit.
Look how steep:
The view as I climbed Peakwood:
The course flattens out slightly, but then there is more climbing! It was hard to run up these hills, so most people were walking. No shame!
The top of Peakwood was a huge party. All the neighbors were out, handing out fruit, chocolate, wet towels and other goodies. It was great to stop for a moment and catch my breath before the descent.
I was fast again on the downhill (which was great to try to catch up on my slower time going up), but I started to get a side cramp.
I kept going and was glad to find some people handing out watermelon. I normally don’t like it, but this was probably the best watermelon I have ever eaten!
You get to the bottom of Peakwood and you think it is all going to be smooth sailing, but there are MORE HILLS! I was so exhausted at this point, and had to walk backwards for a little while.
Other people needed to walk to – this course is so tough! I can’t even imagine how the marathoners were feeling at this point.
I finally only had one more overpass to go as I made it back to the city and the finish line. I had a good view of the second mountain that I survived.
Finally! I finished! My official time was 2:57:57, which I was very happy about, but also very suprised! For all of the hills, I kept an awesome pace. Though, I do think that the downhills helped with my time.
Each race distance got a different medal, which I like. The half marathon medal doubles as a bottle opener.
The post-race snacks included water, soda, recovery drinks, bananas and oranges, Dominos Pizza, and some other goodies. The pizza smelled so good!
In addition to free race massages, they were also offering rolling with Addaday rollers. I stopped to get some of my leg kinks worked out before heading back to my hotel.
There was an after party with live music, beer, and vendors, but I did not stay since I had to check out of the hotel and drive home.
All-in-all, this was a great race. I LOVED the first 10k of the race and definitely encourage everyone to run it at the minimum. The second part of the half marathon was grueling and hard, but what else would you expect from America’s Toughest Road Half Marathon?!?!?!
The aid stations were great and the community support while running up Peakwood was friendly and encouraging. I will definitely be back next year!