Ridge to Bridge Marathon Race Report

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Marathon
Tags: , ,

Marathon No. 3 is in the books. Can somebody please return my quads and calves to me?

I have been slacking lately on posting here, but this past weekend’s marathon is definitely worthy of a race report.

But first, a quick rewind. Before running in the 5th Annual Ridge to Bridge Marathon in Jonas Ridge, NC on 10.30.10, I achieved a significant running milestone at the Big Peach Sizzler 10k in Atlanta on 9.18.10. I actually WON my age division (35-39) for the first time in my brief running career. I posted a PR of 40:33, holding off a hard-charging 17-year-old kid named Forrest down the stretch.

I could write a full race report about it, but the marathon is my focus here, so I will spare you the details. However, I will say this: the Sizzler is a great race. Very well organized — as are all Big Peach Running Co.-sponsored races in Atlanta — and very fast. If you are looking for a good time to get into an early group for the Peachtree Road Race, this is a great race to run.

Now back to the marathon.

I had targeted the Ridge to Bridge Marathon (R2BM) earlier this summer in hopes that it would be a good race for me to run a Boston qualifying (BQ) time. Like many runners, I didn’t expect Boston 2011 to sell out in 8 hours! The unexpected sellout left me disheartened, but I went ahead with my plan and kept my hopes alive for a BQ for 2012.

The R2BM is VERY different from the 2 other marathons I have competed in — the ING New York City Marathon or the ING Georgia Marathon (now sponsored by Publix).  For starters, it is run in the mountains of North Carolina with only 300 runners. Oh, and the other little difference — it descends a total of 2,700 feet. Almost all of that descent takes place over a 9-mile stretch between mile 5.5 and mile 14.5.

While running a downhill marathon might seem easy to some non-runners, those who have run downhill for any significant length of time will tell you that it is no easy task. Compared with my experiences in NYC and Atlanta, this marathon was much tougher. Yes, this was my fastest marathon time of the three, but it was also the most painful 26.2 I have run. This marathon is not to be taken lightly.

Before competing in this marathon, I battled through a variety of injuries, most notably a twisted right ankle (golf cart mishap) and a reoccurring right calf strain. Needless to say, I wasn’t as well prepared as I had hoped to be. In the 4 weeks before the race, I was only able to get in one run of at least 20 miles. But enough with the excuses.

I drove to Morganton, NC with another Atlanta runner (Michele) I had met on the Brown Mountain Running Club‘s message board and checked in to the not-so-lovely Days Inn. Note: if you are going to run this marathon, spend the extra $25-$30 and stay at the Hampton Inn in Morganton.

After checking in and picking up our race packets at the nearby Quality Inn, we drove 30 minutes to the race’s finish area at the Brown Mountain Beach Resort for a little test run. I’m glad we did. I had planned to wear a new pair of K-Swiss K-ona triathlon shoes for the race, but the dirt/gravel road surface was a bit rougher than I had expected. After our 4-miles test run, I decided to stick with my old faithful Asics Gel Nimbus shoes. This is NOT a trail race, but the road had sticks and small rocks strewn across it. You have to watch your footing a lot more than you normally would running on an asphalt road course.

Oh, and for the record, the race packet was great. A tastefully designed tech long-sleeve shirt in fall colors. A nylon bag, gloves, an oval R2BM sticker for your car, a few coupons and a small bag of candy (it was Halloween weekend after all).

The next morning, we all piled into about 6 very nice buses (they each had a bathroom on board) and drove about 45 minutes up the mountain. When we got off, the sun had begun to rise. It was a beautiful brisk Fall day.

I was near the front when the gun went off and soon found myself running in a nice small group at a pace slightly faster than I had targeted. The first 5-6 miles are mostly paved and very flat. I figured I would keep the pace at about 7 mins/mile. This is about 30 secs faster than what I needed to average over 26.2 in order to reach my 3:15:59 Boston qualifying time goal. This wasn’t an uncomfortable pace for me so I stuck with it.

After reaching the 5.5 mile mark, I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and headed down the mountain. This is where things got interesting. I quickly realized that I might lose a toenail at some point during the race. My toes were JAMMED into the front of my shoes on just about every step I took. Ouch.

Secondly, I noticed really early that it was hard to slow down. I was still averaging under 7 mins/mile. Some miles clocked in between 6:30 and 6:45. At one point, other runners I spoke with on the descent said “respect this 9 miles”. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to slow down. Still, this didn’t seem like it was going to be much of an issue. That all changed at about Mile 15 when I hit the flat road. My calves felt like they were going to explode! Most people I spoke with about the race said that my quads would hurt the most. I have been biking a lot, trying to build up my quad muscles, and I think that really helped. Regardless, I was still hurting.

By the time I reached Mile 17, I seriously wanted it all to end.

Here is a note we all received from race director David Lee in the days leading up to the race. I guess I should have read it more carefully.

Miles 6-16: The big drop begins at about mile 6 and continues through about mile 14 with only one rise at about mile ten. Keep an eye on your watch to make sure you’re not running too quickly over this section. Averaging even 10-15 seconds below goal pace is running more aggressively than necessary. One can easily go much faster at various points in this section; the hard part is resisting the urge to do so.

This is where the course’s scenery helped. The crystal-clear river (Wilson Creek) to the left, the bright sun shining through the autumn leaves, the sound of pickup trucks rumbling by with shotgun racks in the back window and Confederate flag license plates on the front… it was all quite lovely.

At about mile 19, I started to feel a twinge in my right hamstring. I actually let out an audible “NO! DON’T DO IT!” This was the same hamstring that almost brought me to the ground at Mile 19 of the NYC Marathon. This time the muscle spasm held off… until Mile 23. When it hit, it hit hard. My hamstring went into a full spasm. My leg curled up under me as I tried to massage the cramp out.  I had to stop completely. I managed to get back on the road again after about 30 seconds. Then, about 1 mile later it hit AGAIN. This one was worse. I actually yelled out loud (I think I might have scared some hunters … or at least  a squirrel or two). I had to stop and walk this one off for about 50 yards. My time for this mile dropped to 9:37.  With the two spasms, I was “stopped” for a total of 2:05, according to my Garmin.

According to my carpool friend Michele, I need to get more salt in my diet or take in more electrolytes in the days leading up to the race to avoid cramping. (I didn’t cramp during the ING GA Marathon and drank NUUN tablets all during the week leading up to the race. I didn’t do that for R2BM. Lesson learned.)

When I finally reach the finish area, I figured I had about 2 minutes to reach my Boston Qualifying time of 3:15:59. It hits me that I might not make it. After I cross through a fence and enter the parking area, volunteers point me to the LEFT. The finish line is to the RIGHT!

I look one of the volunteers right in the eyes and say “that’s cruel!”  She laughed. I didn’t. From here, I have to make a loop around the parking lot and then sprint to the finish. I can’t see the official clock and try to go as fast as I can without stretching out my stride too much. It’s basic survival at this point. It’s a fine line. The last thing I want to do is bring on another spasm in the closing yards.

My watch says 3:15:45 as I start to crest a small little hill and go around a corner for the finish line. As I reach the top of the hill I spot the clock… 3:15:59… I actually see the clock tick over to 3:16:00 with about 50 yards to go. I was so crestfallen that I let out a “F_ _ K! I’m not sure if there were any little kids nearby. If there were, I apologize.

What if I didn’t stop and walk for a few steps at those two water stops early in the race? Could I have started to run sooner after the hamstring spasms? Perhaps.

Did I give it EVERYTHING I possibly could? I’m not so sure I did. I crossed the line at 3:16:17. My official chip time comes in at 3:16:14. Yes, that’s just 15 seconds. Are you kidding me? I finished 6th in my age group and 29th overall out of  265 total finishers.

However, there’s good news. The 2011 Boston Marathon is sold out and I wouldn’t be able to run until 2012. Here’s the catch: I turn 40 in May of 2011. The qualifying time for the 40-44 age group is 3:20:59! Your qualifying time is *YOUR AGE ON THE DATE OF THE BOSTON MARATHON*

So, unless they drop the times between now and 2012 (which is entirely possible), I’m in! I guess there’s something to be said for turning 40 after all. If they drop the times, I might still be able to petition. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Regardless, I’m still disappointed that I missed my time goal. However, there are worse things to worry about in life. They gave every runner a very cool handmade ceramic medal in the shape of an acorn.

I remember seeing medals given out at the race from years past and they were in the shape of a leaf, which I thought was pretty cool. This year, the overall winners got a vase and age-group winners each got an original bowl-shaped ceramic leaf as their awards. Very unique.

My new friend Michele absolutely killed it. She’s 49 and ran 3:40:20 for third place in her age group. She has run 37 marathons and this was her first age-group award. Of course, I forced her to pose for a picture!

Although I was disappointed with my day, I was psyched for Michele. What a great accomplishment!

As much pain as I am in, I would definitely run this race again. It’s in a beautiful location and is very challenging. I would love to see what my time would be if I had used a different strategy.

Since my first marathon (3:46) on Nov. 1 2009 until now, I managed to knock off 30 minutes and qualify (hopefully) for the world’s most exclusive marathon. Not a bad year, I guess.

  1. Susan Lance says:

    I think you had a great race!!! Congratulations! Nice meeting you!

  2. Drew says:

    Great race report, Mike. As beautiful as that course sounds, I don’t know as I could ever convince myself to run downhill for 9 miles. Congratulations on your perseverance and BQ.

  3. Kim Misita says:

    Great recap Mike! I know the feeling of all the what if’s…but regardless the race turned out the way it did and you ultimately reached your goal of Boston….yeah!!! so cool…hope you’re feeling better day by day!

  4. Mary Ann Buteau says:

    Love the recap – great job! Your stamina amazes me! See you in Boston 2012!

  5. Michele Keane says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Mike. An thanks so much for the ride. Hope you are recovering well (I actually ran 3 miles yesterday). When you get a chance, can you email me the picture with the award. Thanks. See you at Riverside Park.

  6. Tim Moe says:

    Nice recap on the race. I am also seriously looking at this as a qualifying run for Boston. This gives me a good idea of what to expect, and maybe how to best prepare.

  7. Mike says:

    Hi Tim,

    I think you’ll really like this marathon. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s a great race to try for a BQ. You will be hurting over the closing miles, but not nearly as much as you will be in the days after the race. That’s when my pain really started to set in. (I tell you this not to scare you away, but to let you know what it’s really like.) With only 300 runners, it’s a very low-key race, which I really liked. It’s just you against the clock.

    Good luck in your training. See you in Beantown!

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