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October 30 2012 / Emily

Race Report: Ridge to Bridge Marathon

This year, I have run three marathons (so far?).  Two included “ridge” in the name, the other included “trail.”  I think I should seek out a 2013 marathon that has “flat” included in the name!

I think this is a gorgeous medal!

That said, the 2012 Ridge to Bridge Marathon was quite a success for me!  The short version is that I was able to run a smart race on a deceptively challenging course and blow away my goal.  Then there is the long (long) version:

WEEK OF RACE

My preparation the week leading up to the race was perhaps not the most ideal.  Sunday before the race I skipped my long run in favor of IKEA and ended up buying an almost 80 pound dresser, which I strained and pushed and tired out my muscles carrying it up the 22 stairs into my apartment.  Was sore and bruised from that.  Monday had kickball where I got my foot stomped with cleats and was pretty much tackled.  Thursday I didn’t eat lunch due to being so busy at work, and then went to a tailgate, ate junk food (brisket, mac & cheese, rice krispy treats) and stayed up late.  Friday I took the day off work to sleep in, since I knew I’d be up late, skipped breakfast in favor of a massive lunch which meant I wasn’t really hungry for dinner or tired for the early bedtime I should be having.

MORNING OF RACE

But that was all in the past when my alarm rang at 2:55a and I struggled out of bed.  I had my rather typical pre-long run breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter and dried cranberries, and a mug of tea.  Drank some water as well and gathered everything I needed into a couple bags, filled a water bottle and grabbed a banana on my way out the door.  Left the house by 4:15a and headed out toward Lenoir, NC.

The drive took a little over two hours.  There weren’t many cars on the road at that time, mostly just some 18 wheelers (literally) trucking along.  I listened to what used to be my running mix, though I haven’t listened to music while running in quite some time.  Jammed along to the upbeat music.  Set my cruise control and stayed steady as I cruised by the big trucks, imagining myself passing runners near the end of the race.

It was pretty dark, and on the highway there was enough intermittent oncoming traffic that I couldn’t use my high beams.  Startled me now and then to come across the remnants of a smushed deer in the roadway.  It’s just not the most expected thing, to see a big patch of blood and gore in the road.  Also scared myself completely at one point by accidentally pulling the wrong wand from my steering wheel and getting the windshield spray instead of the high beams.  It was funny once I caught my breath.  I did start to get a little sleepy as the drive progressed so I cracked open the Diet Mountain Dew I’d brought for after the race.  This is definitely not part of my pre-race routine and it might have haunted me later.

I reached my exit and started onto the back roads to the Brown Mountain Beach Resort, where the parking area, finish line and shuttles to the start would be.  Took the first turn and ended up on a two-lane road behind some slowpoke.  I was running slightly later than I had planned, and this fool going 40 in a 45 was not helping the matter.  Then we got to a school zone – mind you it is before 6am on a Saturday morning – and the signs read “25 mph on school days.”  What else does he do but slow to 25.  I’m figuring he is messing with me at this point.  Finally we get to a passing zone and I zip around him (safely!) and allow myself to go ohhh maybe 60 for a little bit… until I see some deer just standing in the road.  I have to brake pretty hard and wait for little Miss Doe to make her way out of the road to meet her friends.  It wasn’t a terribly close call, but still an unpleasant surprise.  It really got my heart beating and so I counted that as my pre-race warm up.

Chugging along down the road, I miss a turn and realize it a couple miles later when I fail to find the road after the church, which was really the road before the church which I thought was just a turn into their parking lot.  Back track and I get on my way and finally start seeing some other cars.  It’s a pretty small race, so I wasn’t expecting to see lines and lines of vehicles, but I was still glad to see some others and know I was in the right place.  Pull through a gravel loop and park on the grass, then it was time to hit the facilities and head to the shuttles.  Only one toilet available in the bathhouse near my car, but it was a flush toilet and a sink, so that was nice.  There were portapotties nearer the shuttles which seemed sufficient as there was not much of a line.  I don’t want to get too into my personal details but I’ll just say I visited the toilet and wasn’t able to do everything I needed.  Sadly, that’s relevant later.

Boarded the shuttles, unboarded and boarded a new bus, then we were on our way up the mountain around 6:45a.  I started feeling a little hungry and wished I’d eaten the banana I had in the car.  Chatted with my seatmate for a few minutes then closed my eyes a little for a rest.  Reached the Marathon brand gas station (yes really!) at the top where the race would start and we had packet pick up and bag drop.  There were also portapotties up there but I failed to visit them as it didn’t seem needed.  Steve of Steve’s House of Running found me and we hung out until it was time to move toward the start line.  Temps were cool but not overly cold and I dropped my sweatshirt at bag drop and was ready to go in short sleeves and shorts.  Met up with some other friends who were also running the race and it was nice to have idle chatter to calm the pre-race nerves.

THE RACE!

Wouldn’t you know it, suddenly it was a little past 8:00a and time to start the race!  The pack of runners (323 finishers, not sure how many may have dropped out along the way) listened to the National Anthem then it was go time.  We crossed the starting mat (which seemingly didn’t recognize my chip, as my chip and gun time were identical) and started on some paved roads.  The starting 6 miles had some small dips and rises, but were rather flat on average.  We had a little out-and-back turn around and got some pretty views of the remaining late-fall leaves and a morning fog still sitting in valleys in the distance.  I had started alone since my friends and I were all running different paces, but after about 2 miles of being 40 yards behind Steve I decided we should run together if we were going to run that close.  I was worried that one of us was running the wrong pace, as his goal pace was about 0:44/mile faster than mine, but it worked out okay.  We stuck together for around 4 miles until the aid station just before turning onto the gravel road that would become the descent.  His goal, was to run the first 10k easy, so that’s how we were able to run together.  I was still a bit faster than my goal but was feeling comfortable.

We got to the aid station about 54 minutes in and I decided I should take my first gel as I was still a bit hungry and figured some calories would help in any form.  Had my standard strawberry Clif Shot and a cup of water before turning onto the downhill road.  I thought The Scream half marathon was exactly the first half of the Ridge to Bridge (R2B), but R2B added more distance at the top, so the mileage wasn’t exactly the same.  It was the same downhill route, but the end point (13.1) of The Scream was about mile 18 of R2B.

Shortly after eating my gel, my stomach had some complaints.  It was then I remembered that there weren’t any toilet facilities along the course except a whole lot of trees.  Had a recollection of a mention of some around mile 18 or 19.  Tried to put all that out of my mind.  The runners were pretty thinned out by this point.  Still runners visible ahead, but not too many.  Steve had pushed on at the aid station and I was glad to see him gradually disappear ahead of me since I knew I couldn’t run at his pace the whole time.  I did, however, see my pace pick up as the downhill began there.  First split was right at 9:00 and I had to rein it in.  Next few were 9:08, 9:16, 9:30.   It was counter intuitive to see my pace slow as the decline increased but I knew it was the right move.  The Scream had left me with totally shredded quads by the time I got to the flat sections so I knew it was in my best interest to hold back on these downhill miles.  Some other runners were passing me but I didn’t mind.

I was feeling very comfortable with my pace as I cruised along.  Mostly ran alone through here, though I chatted briefly with a couple runners.  Mostly I just looked around and enjoyed the scenery.  There were more leaves down than up, but there was still color in the trees.  Also there are a lot of rhododendron through here, so the mix of their evergreen with the autumn leaves was very nice.  Weather was comfortable and mostly overcast, which gave the woods a nice glow without being blinding.

Soon I was already at the halfway point.  Time was 2:04, which seemed appropriate.  I was certainly planning for a positive split on this course given the elevation change.  There was an aid station set up along the road there, with a nice 13.1 sign and a photographer.  I was very pleased to find the photos on facebook later and the photographer was kind enough to send me a high-resolution copy of the photo.  I’m glad I saw the camera because I refrained from sucking down my next Clif Shot until I was past the camera.  As I looked through all the pictures, there were quite a few of people taking in their gels, which isn’t the most flattering.

I had my gel and some water then headed on down the hill.  I didn’t know at that point how much hill there was left, since I was a bit disoriented from the changes from The Scream course.  Some of the steepest was still yet to come, about 2 more miles until we leveled out.  My stomach made a complaint again and I ignored it, hoping it would go away.  Not a lot of memorable miles through here, just steady downhill.  Fortunately not a lot of auto traffic either, mostly just some volunteers or spectators moving along to the next aid station.  You can tell by the running stickers on their cars – and the vuvuzelas blowing out the windows!  There was one non-run related vehicle that passed once, a small pick up with some cage areas on the back and a sticker I thought said something about an empty dog box.  I noodled over that one for a while before figuring I must have mis-read it and pushed it out of my mind.

At mile 15, most of the downhill was done and we turned left onto a paved road.  There was an aid station and a turn around.  I saw my friend Emily, who had been volunteering at packet pickup (I didn’t even have to say my name!  nice to avoid the awkward spelling-out of my name…) and the aid station at the top of the hill.  She had changed out of her sweats and was in running gear.  She joined up with me for the short out-and-back.  She mentioned the aid station had some cookies and fruit, and I said that all I wanted was a toilet.  Well, there wasn’t any of that, but she ran and grabbed me a paper towel in case I needed to use the trees.  We chatted a little along this stretch and she said that she was waiting for another friend of hers to come through, who she was going to run the last 10 miles with.  First I saw Steve during the out and back (my out, his back) and gave him a very solid high five.  Then Emily saw her friend (her out, my back) and she wasn’t far behind me.  I told them I was going to run along but maybe if I saw them again later, we could run together.

Things were familiar here, as I passed the spot where I saw the passed-out runner during The Scream and knew it was getting close to what had been the finish line for that race.  I thought back to try and remember if there were toilets at the finish… it was a campground and there were picnic shelters, but I couldn’t remember any facilities.  Passed them – and nope, none.  I was starting to get uncomfortable and that next mile slowed down a bit.  Then lo! to what would my wandering eyes did appear but a general store which I eyed until I saw a pair of nice green portapotties behind it.  There were a couple other runners in line there, but I will just leave it as this: the two minutes I spent waiting and utilizing these meant I could finish the race without catastrophe.  Sorry if this is TMI but it’s my blog.  I was pleased to find the facilities very tidy with plenty of TP and even hand sanitizer.  I’ve seen enough awful portapotties at races, both before/after and on the course, that a clean one is worth praising.

Much relieved, I set out to make up some time.  The mile marker for 18 was just ahead and I was feeling good.  I passed a number of people who had passed me on the downhill.  I told myself I had to keep holding steady to the pace here, didn’t want to wear myself out before mile 20.  But then mile 19 was 9:44 and while that was my goal pace, I felt like I was in molasses.  Goal pace shouldn’t feel slow at this stage of the race, it should be comfortable to mildly challenging by now.  So I sped up a little, still feeling comfortable, and knocked out a 8:47 for mile 20.  Hmm… no still not quite right.  But nice to know I could do that and still feel good!

I saw the pickup truck with the cages again, and yes, the sticker did say “happiness is an empty dog box.”  Curious.  It wasn’t long before I saw some more similar trucks but these were full of hunting hounds.  I guess they were out with their humans hunting fox or raccoon.  Two trucks were pulled to the side of the road and each had about 5 hound dog heads sticking out of the sides of cages in the back (or “dog boxes” I suppose) watching us run by.  They sure do have floppy ears and mournful eyes, but are rather pretty dogs too.  Oh I should also mention that once we finished the downhill, the flat (net downhill but it feels flat by then) section was mostly along a river, Wilson Creek.  It was full of fly fishermen, standing around in waders and surely wondering why there were so many runners out and about on a quiet Saturday morning.  The route crossed Wilson Creek a few times, just small bridges but bridges nonetheless, which I suppose answers my question of “well what ridge and what bridge?”  The ridge is the town of Jonas Ridge where the race begins, and the bridge is really multiple bridges.  None particularly notable.

Wilson Creek from the finish area

Was trying to get my splits in line here and just wasn’t quite getting there.  Mile 21 was 9:21 but then 22 slowed to 10:12.  Okay, too easy.  Come on me!  Can you tell I don’t look at my pace until the mile beeps?  Maybe I should allow myself to glance at it at the half mile or something, so I don’t get so out of whack.  While the 10:12 would still be just fine in most of my marathons – especially at mile 22 – I was feeling good, so I wanted to keep pushing it.  I ran into a couple girls here who I had met once or twice before.  One girl I ran the Fellowship of the Idiots run with in January, via some mutual friends, and the other girl was a friend of hers as well.  We ran together for a mile or so here and it was nice to have some company.  They asked if I had a goal and I mentioned I was aiming for 4:15 and was reasonably comfortable predicting success in that goal at that time!  Man it’s nice to have some confidence.  The three of us split off then and I was back to running by myself.  I was still ticking off some great miles and started to think about 4:10.

Around mile 23 I see my friend Emily up ahead, running with her other friend.  I slowly catch up to them, calling out that I was coming.  Emily thought I had been up ahead but my pitstop had slowed me down.  I was still feeling strong at this point and her friend was fading some.  More of their friends who had already finished were backtracking the course and Emily ran on ahead with me for the last couple miles while the other friends ran with other girl.  Sorry if that is confusing, I don’t know names.  It was very nice to have company, and since Emily is a faster runner than I am, and had not run the whole race, she was on pretty fresh legs.  Though she did run a marathon the previous weekend.  She is way a more maniacal Marathon Maniac than I am!  She helped push me along as I was starting to fade.  I’m sure my pace would have fallen away a bit without the company.  Instead, mile 25 was 9:01 and mile 26 was 8:31!

almost to the finish!

Okay, now we’re approaching the finish.  The awful terrible no good finish.  I didn’t know the finish was a stupid lap through the stupid parking lot.  Emily kept calling it my victory lap.  I kept saying NO IT’S NOT, WHERE IS THE DAMN FINISH.  So the route snaked through the parking lot (the gravel strip with cars in the grass on either side.  There were people walking back to their cars and cars  trying to leave and I cursed quietly at them and reminded Emily that there was no way I was going to yield to a vehicle in the last half mile.  Damn this parking lot was big and remarkably stupid, which I suppose should be expected for a parking lot.  But where was the damn finish?  Mile 26 sign and still no finish in sight, where was it hiding?  Was there a finish?  Was I going to have to run forever?  Don’t think I didn’t want to hug my car when I saw it but it wasn’t the end yet.  Finally Emily tells me the finish is up around the corner.  Up?  You can’t be serious, an uphill finish line around a corner?  Oh yeah.  Totally serious.

Anyway like it or not, there – finally – I could see the finish chute.  Once I was right on top of it.  I really really prefer finish lines where I can see them for a ways before arriving there.  Helps with that finish pacing.  Emily peeled off here and I launched myself up that hill and across the finish line.

FINISH LINE!

Whoa.  Are you serious.  Stopped my Garmin at 4:09:38.  I felt so awesome.

Okay well real talk I felt really tired.  I accepted my medal and foil blanket and saw my friends.  I probably mumbled something like “omg 4:09” before plopping myself down on an uncomfortable short stone wall and being still for a moment.  But then I felt awesome again.  I had blown my goal out of the water!  I hadn’t bonked!  I had finished really strong!  And I hadn’t pooped my pants!  Seriously like I said this is my blog and I will celebrate ALL of my victories, whether you like it or not.  I struggled to crack open a bottle of water and wished I didn’t have shoes on anymore.  But while my drop bag was like 8 feet away, my flip flops were way away in the parking lot (note: not that far away).  Someone (Steve? Stephen?  Christina?) went and got me a Mountain Dew which was the nectar of the gods and Steve got my drop bag and I relished the moment.

I hoofed it back to my car and changed into flip flops, but first admired how absolutely filthy the gravel-dust and dirt roads had turned my feet.  Also grabbed my compression calf sleeves for some recovery.

they used to be rather black

I headed back to the finish area where my friends were still hanging out.  I thought I should get some food in my belly and I needed to pick up my race shirt.  Since I picked up my packet at the start, they just gave us our timing chip and bib number, so as not to make anyone carry their race shirt down to the finish.  Makes sense.  I’d registered for a women’s medium shirt and when I picked that up, I could not even get my arms into the long sleeves.  Something seemed wacky about the shirts.  I am no super model, but I rarely have a women’s medium cut be too small.  I’ve had mediums be way too big, and smalls be way too small (once even quite big), but a medium is usually fine.  They were allowing runners to swap out sizes, but they were out of women’s large and men’s small, so my choices were women’s XL and men’s medium, which was the smaller of the sizes.  It’s pretty big but I’ll survive.  Better that I can fit into it at all.

just a pretty front logo, blank on the back

I wasn’t particularly hungry but I headed into the clubhouse at the finish.  There was a lot of food – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, a couple kinds of pasta, cookies, ice cream, etc.  I took a slice of cheese pizza and ate about half of it before I felt nauseous.  I really need to figure out what upset my stomach.  This has been an ongoing issue for me in my longer races.  My Diet Dew before the race was out of the ordinary but I don’t think it would be the culprit.  I’m sure it was a combination of things, not least my poor diet the few days before the race, but I sure wish I could have those two minutes back that I gave to my angry digestive system.

Anyway, all in all I am super pleased with the race.  I blew my 4:15 goal out of the water.  I ran a smart race and passed a lot of runners on the back half.  I had a very strong finish to the race with great splits.  I have heard many tales of woe from other runners who ran this race, didn’t respect the hill, and have disappointing times as a result.  My experience at The Scream was invaluable in preparing me for this race.  My training plan probably didn’t hurt either.

I had a great time, ran a great time, and am already looking forward to whatever is next.

4:09:38! R2B finisher! 🙂

 

race website, including link to pdf results: http://www.my-bmrc.org/#!r2b-marathon

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14 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. hinsone / Oct 30 2012 9:19 PM

    Congrats on your great finish and huge PR and I’m very very happy to see “Woe is me” turn into “Whats next?” I knew you’d feel better once you destroyed that race. And you did. And you do. 🙂

    • Emily / Nov 1 2012 7:24 PM

      Thank you! I’m glad to be past that rough patch too. On to crazier adventures!

  2. laurenquartz / Oct 31 2012 9:13 AM

    Amazing amazing! You rock. And you almost convinced me I should run a marathon one day. 🙂 So proud of you, friend. Hope you keep this confidence coming! ❤

    • Emily / Nov 1 2012 7:25 PM

      Thanks friend 🙂 I hope that if your body can handle it, that you do attempt a marathon one day! I’d love to train along with you. 🙂

  3. Kim / Oct 31 2012 9:39 AM

    Congrats!!! What a great PR!!!

    • Emily / Nov 1 2012 7:25 PM

      thank you! I was so pleased.

  4. Darrel Wells / Oct 31 2012 11:07 AM

    Congratulations on running a great race, Emily! Looks like the Pfitz plan worked! Loved the report, too!

    DW

    • Emily / Nov 1 2012 7:26 PM

      Thanks Darrel! I definitely got results from all that training. It was worthwhile in the end.

  5. Steve / Oct 31 2012 3:13 PM

    great running Emily. Really glad it all came together even after you got sick a few weeks back. Finishing strong is a great feeling in marathons, especially on a course with such a tempting section to go hard on in the first half.

    • Emily / Nov 1 2012 7:27 PM

      Thanks Steve. It was certainly a challenge and we both were able to rise to the occasion. This is the best marathon finish I’ve had, just being able to keep picking it up in the late miles. A testament to the benefit of the more intense training plan.

  6. David / Nov 8 2012 9:28 PM

    Emily, congratulations and thanks for the report, I always like pictures. Also read your post on your transformation to ultras. Best to you and we are going to miss you in the world of marathons. Maybe some day. I’ll see how it goes for you. Keep running. Oh, and what are your thoughts on the compression socks. You noted how you put them on when you took the shoes off. Big help? Thanks.

    • Emily / Nov 12 2012 12:18 PM

      Hey David! Thanks for reading. I need to post an update, but the foray into ultras may be delayed. Either way, I’ll be back to marathons sometime in 2013 too! As for the compression sleeves, I am not sure if they really help much, honestly. My calves aren’t usually the sore muscles in the first place. What I need are shorts and/or sleeves for my quads, which take most of the beating. So the calf compression might just be a placebo effect for me.

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