My main goal for the race this year was to have fun and so it was a most successful weekend. I would have liked to have performed a little better but all things considered I'm pretty happy with the results too.
Frank and Karla met me in Durham where I was working Friday afternoon and we headed to Boone from there. The trip was quick and uneventful and headed straight over to packet-pickup upon arrival. Good timing as the Trail Angel walked up right behind us. After a short visit and seeing some other friends we checked into our motel and then back into town to meet with Lisa and have dinner at Peppers.
It had been getting a little chilly as the sun went down and I was expecting a cool start for the race but when I awoke at 5am Saturday the temperature was about the same as when I went to bed. there was a light fog and a little shower but it stopped before we got in the car to drive to the start. We saw a lot more friends from the NCRC and MTC but even with the small starting field of around 400 runners I somehow missed seeing quite a few that I know were there.
Due to construction around the stadium we couldn't start on the track this year so we ran a loop around the parking lot to make up the distance. Karla,Lisa and I were planning to run together as much as possible so we started off at an easy pace and tried to avoid getting off too fast in the excitement and with the downhill start for most of the first two miles. It was already a bit warm and humid but with a mostly shady course I didn't think overheating would be too much of a problem today.
As we hit the first climb just past the two mile mark we settled in and began to enjoy the beauty of the course. Winklers Creek flows along this first section heading out of town and we were enjoying listening to the music of the flowing water and seeing the homes built along the creek. What a nice place it would be to have a summer home. Everyone was feeling fine and we continued to put the miles behind us having too much fun. After turning onto Shulls Mill road things seem to get even prettier and the forest was covered in rhododendrens which along with the views help to take your mind off the 2 mile climb from there to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Due to the haze it was hard to get a good view of Grandfather but we stopped for photos at the usual spot around the 10 mile mark. We took them quickly and a passing runner was kind enough to offer to get one of all three of us before we began running again.
Once we got to the Parkway we had a break from the climbing and enjoyed a nice long downhill stretch. It is nice to relax but you still have to hold back because there is a whole lot of climbing to come and you don't want to beat you legs up this early in the race. All too soon the downhill ends as we reached the halfway point in the race. Our goal before had been to finish around 4:30 and we were right on pace to do that at the half but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to sustain that today but we were all comfortable with that and just kept plugging along.
The climb up to the 15.5 mile aid station was slow and I was getting tired and could tell I had no climbing power left in my legs but once again the course flattened out for a little while and I was able to keep up a decent pace until we got to that hateful little steep hill known simply as 17. That's what Laura has always called it anyway so that's what I call it. And I always walk it. Even the year I was running sub 4 pace I walked the steepest part of it. So we walked it too and were glad to finally get to the end and the aid station at the intersection of Hwy 221.
From that point the steepest climbs are all behind you with just long gradual climbing with the occasional short downhill break. We were all still feeling pretty good and I was gaining more confidence that I would make it to the end with the ladies but just before the 23 mile mark the course gets a little steeper for about half a mile and I had to take a short walk break. I didn't say anything and just let the ladies move on ahead and after awhile I guess they noticed I wasn't right behind them anymore. Once I got some powerade at the aid station at the top of that hill I took off trying to catch up with them. I was able to close about half the gap but then on the next climb around mile 24 I started losing ground again. At that point I gave up the chase and just planned to finish in as good a shape as possible. Unfortunately I began getting some really weird calf cramps that felt like a small ball moving around in each one. I have never experienced anything quite like that but at least they never did completely knot up on me and I was able to keep moving although very slowly.
The sound of the bagpipes and seeing the stadium were a most welcome sight. Scot Haywood was standing there waiting for me as I entered the stadium and ran the lap around the track as an escort with me. I tried to look my best for the cheering crowds but I was really glad to be able to stop running. I think that my lack of mileage the past year and the Ironman three weeks ago had finally gotten to me. Karla and Lisa were waiting for me at the line and then Frank found us and we walked back down the hill to the marathon tent.
Lisa would take 3rd place in her age-group with Karla finishing just two steps behind her. Laura was the winner of her age-group and another friend, Julie Garrett was the overall Master champ in a great time. Several other friends did well but the performance of the day had to be Tim Meigs, a fellow runner from Raleigh. Tim was not only the Mens Masters Champ but finished 2nd overall in an amazing time on this tough course.
After the awards we went to relax and then met with a large group (18) of MTC friends at Casa Rustica. What a great way to end the day.
Will we come back next year? Could be. Karla is already talking about trying for a faster time and the way she is training hard now I don't doubt that she can make a big improvement. All three of us are planing to try to qualify for Boston at the OBX this Fall and hopefully we'll just keep building from there.