Blue Ridge Marathon

Bill Rodgers
After reading so many people's blog on their experience of America's toughest road marathon, the Blue Ridge Marathon, I'm starting to lose my own chain of thought/memory. Bottom line is I had a lot of fun and surprised myself with a sub-4 finish. My estimate was around five hours, or maybe even 5:30 if condition was tough like last year's monsoon. Here's my account of it:

Three and a half hour drive from Charlotte straight to packet pickup at Roanoke's Taubman Museum of Art, a modern and iconic building in contrast with the rest of the historical railroad downtown. It was Friday evening and the streets were lively. People were on the patio and on the street with live music playing. I strolled around a little but not too much since I wanted to save my legs.

My hotel was only about a mile away. I contemplated on just walking there from the hotel, but ended up driving half a mile or so to park at the Civic Center. Half a mile could be a haul after a marathon. After dropping my bag off, I headed to the race start. Bill Rodgers started us with a speech and after a quick count down, off we go!

Bill Rodgers said marathon is a race of strategy. One simple rule of thumb is always to save up your energy for the latter part of the course. I guess having a race strategy also involves an accumulation of race experience and the study of each race - its course, condition, and etc. Well, I had no idea how I'd do in a course with 3600' climb, with ups and downs which totals up to over 7500' elevation change. The only thing I know how is to start easy, listen to my body, and mentally prepare myself that I'll be running for five hours.

The Blue Ridge Marathon course consists of three major climbs: The Roanoke Mountain, the Mill Mountain, and the Peakwood neighborhood, which my friend Emily Hoar has aptly named Mt. Peakwood. A general survey of runners has agreed that Mt. Peakwood was the toughest, and I'd agree. We headed quickly into an ascend after a mile. The first two to three miles were awkward. I hadn't worked into a good rhythm yet, wasn't sure whether I was running too fast or vice versa, and I hadn't warmed up yet either. After the first couple miles came a relief -- a downhill portion. Different people have different opinions on downhill, especially about the several steep downhill on this course. Some say they are taxing. I, on the other hand, think of them as recovery. And I am grateful for them. Past mile five we started to head up to Roanoke Mountain, where the first portion of very steep hills occurred. I did not run all the hills and at first, it was embarrassing to stop while others were still running. However, knowing a little recovery for my body would do so much good in a long run, I stopped and let others passed me. I continued the walk and run cycle till I reached the top of Roanoke Mountain and it paid off. I blew pass quite a few, though I felt like I cheated a bit. Strategy, that's what it was.

After coming off Roanoke Mountain, we had some "flatter" surfaces till ascending Mill Mountain at Mile 12-13. (It was only half way!?) It's not as hilly as Roanoke Mountain and we also began at higher ground. I welcomed the easier summit. After that was a long and steep descend and back into town. We picked up the Roanoke River Greenway from there at mile 15. Then came Peakwood. It began with a long gradual hill for several miles before it became steep again. While still on the Greenway, I caught up with two guys who were running and chatting. One of them, Mark, just ran Boston last week. "Are you running with the old guys for a little bit?" He asked. I smirked and replied, "Well, if I could keep up." I wasn't joking. Mark kept his chatting through the climbing, pointing out beautiful homes along the way, and eventually sped pass me. He went up those hills like he was doing his warm up on level ground. Remarkable.

One thing I learned from doing races is that you shall never trust spectators when they yell "last hill!" They are never true. We finished all major climbs at around mile 21, but I had people telling the wonderful tales of last hill since mile 18-19. Even the allegedly "all downhill after 21" wasn't entirely true. There were some up and downs throughout, my legs could attest to that. Mile 21-26.2 weren't easy. I really wanted to stop running. The thing is, unless I quit, the distance remained was not getting shorter and certainly not the time remained either. There wasn't really a choice but keep going. Finishing well is hard. The only thing I find helpful is to think about what I'd think about this moment an hour from now, or tomorrow, or the next day. Perhaps the only thing harder to swallow than pain is regret.

I finished. Running the last stretch, I could see the big FINISH sign and the clock ticking at 3:59. I mustered whatever I had left and hoped to make it within that minute. I did.

First in AG.
Three days later, I found another marathon which claims to be the world's toughest marathon, the Lemmon Mountain Marathon in Arizona with 6000' vertical. The organizer of BRM quickly corrected me with a "we've been down that road." They've even taken up on certain challengers and sent them to do the Lemmon Marathon as a comparison. Winner of both marathons Tim Sykes comes to the conclusion that Blue Ridge is tougher by the number of days he took to recover. Well, I'm glad the claim still stands, that I've done America's toughest road marathon.

Final shout-out to all volunteers at the race. They were truly amazing. Needless to say those at the aid stations were lifesavers, but quite a few were just out along the course to cheer us on. We all needed that on those hills. Thank you.
Anyone up for a double next year?


  1. Wow, Phyllis! Congrats on a great run.

  2. Congratulations for finishing under 4 hours on a tough course. And good job on getting 1st place of your age group too. Don't you love the awards?
    It's fun to read everyone's version of the Blue Ridge.