This race brought to you by:
And Mother Nature…she thinks you need more rain water in your life…and your race.
The Asheville Marathon made it onto my bucket list of marathons a couple years ago when a friend mentioned that she ran it once.
I… I’m not making that up.
I wish I could say it took more than someone saying, “I ran this race at Asheville once…it was pretty neat. Hilly. There was some trail… it was at the Biltmore Estate, you ever been there?”
But. No. That is all it took for me to think, “I wanna do that race too!”
I knew nothing about the race. And nothing about the location: The Biltmore Estate. All I knew for sure, was that this race sounded pretty cool – cooler than running on a soul-crushingly flat route with no spectators, which pretty much sums up a lot of the races in my area (Despite all the hills around us…) and the direction of interest most of my running group was taking at the time (flat for fast, I guess).
“It’s hilly” was the warning I got repetitively.
I’m not scare of hills. I admit, there’s a love-hate relationship between me and hills… all the emotion is on me though. Sometimes I really love the feeling of powering up hill… I love that I feel so strong as I climb, because I pass people on the hills all the time. I mean, I’m so gassed at the top that I can’t tell if i’m being passed by them after the hill, but I don’t care. It’s a boost feeling strong on hills. My legs crave the climbs. Flat races are where I come away hurting. The diversity of muscle use and the mental game of challenging race routes feel good to me.
I signed up for Asheville this year because it fit into my marathon-a-month challenge, and because travel-wise it felt very doable. My husband started voicing some concerns about using up too much of his vacation time back in September, and I don’t like the idea of going on a trip without him.
Asheville, North Carolina is a little bit of a drive for us, about 5.5hours without stops, but it’s not bad. I figured if my man could pull off a half day on Friday and we left immediately after the marathon, he wouldn’t have to use any time. I also figured that if he decided he didn’t want to go, I could always find a friend who would want to spend a weekend at the Biltmore with me (Spoiler alert: Hubs really, really wanted to go and did). Things worked out beautifully and without burning any vacation time, we managed to pull off the most beautiful, romantic, and relaxing weekend trip in the history of us.
And I apologize. I’m probably going to have a lot of trouble separating just the marathon from the trip. The whole package was just so damn perfect! Ergo, this post will be long.
Here’s The tl;dr Version:
A marathon happened. I had fun, it rained a shit-ton on race day, and I finished about when I expected to.
As seems typical of me: I took care of signing up for the race and then put the whole trip out of mind for a few months. As race day loomed, I realized I hadn’t gotten a hotel set up for us yet. With a month to go, I called every hotel on the list and was soundly informed that all the cheap rooms for the race were taken. And in some instances, there were no vacancies left at all.
I had a race to run, but no where to sleep. Due to my…uh, well it wasn’t even laziness… maybe forgetfulness?
Yeah. Due to that, we ended up getting a room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate.
The cost of posh.
We arrived late in the evening and entered into a world of opulence. Utter, utter opulence. I worried that I did not pack clothing expensive or fancy enough to permit me to wander the hallways or go to breakfast or anything while we were there.
It helps that after 5-6ish hours of driving, I was too exhausted to care very much beyond a, “day-uhm… that is a glorious fire place. Is everyone here a millionaire? Shit. Can we afford breakfast here?”
It also helped that despite the opulence, the hallways still made me think of the movie The Shinning. I guess it doesn’t matter how posh a place is, when the halls look like this, you will still run like a madman if twin girls come at you ahead of a river of blood.
The room was also very swank, but the view I saw when I woke the next morning? That was worth the cost.
The view also reminded me of one thing. All those warnings…. “It’s a HILLY race”. Shit. I forgot that North Carolina doesn’t have hills…they have mountains. I probably shouldn’t have scoffed so freely about the ‘hills” warnings.
We had all day to wander the grounds and see the sights. Breakfast was beautiful (And thanks to some random jackass who was the stereotypical white male pain in the ass loud and rude “Murican in shorts and wife beater – I no longer felt inadequate or out of place). I felt like I was on vacation, and there was nothing that could wipe the dumb smile off my face. We walked to the “village” – you know, where the “plebes” lived when they worked on the estate back in the days of extreme opulence. Look. I made a lot of posh and opulence jokes. There was no avoiding it. You would have too.
The day was bright and very warm, and it looked like the half marathon was still finishing up while we looked the place over. A staff member said that if she could do anything that day, she’d go into downtown and shop, and that’s what she recommended we do. We hit the expo first, which was small so it didn’t take any time really. A guy at the ChiRunning booth gave me a quick overview of the race… he was mostly wrong (Sir, after finishing this race I can handily tell you that mile 1 was not downhill. No part of this race was downhill. North Carolina is uphill in every direction!). Two women who just came back from the half marathon were passing through the expo and I asked them about the course. Everyone I met so far were laughing and smiling and just raved about how beautiful the run was! “Hilly, but gorgeous!” These girls bemoaned the hills. “Mile four is a black diamond!” One girl cried throwing her arms up. I laughed nervously. Exactly how steep did these hills get anyway?
The husband and I hit town for a few hours of wandering after the expo. Finding a parking space was such a nightmare. Almost as bad as trying to find one in Chicago…which was weird for such a small town. We wandered shops, laughed and joked, enjoyed the sunlight… got blessed by some random dude dressed as a nun riding down the roads on a giant bike.
We headed back to the Inn to change and do my shake out run.
We decided that since there was a trail head right across the roadway from the Inn, we would do that. After all, after the “hilly” warnings came the “some of the race is trail” warnings. I figured everyone meant gravel roads when they said trail, but I still wanted to run on some gentle ground before the race. My husband, who was having as much of a blast as I was, headed into the tree line with me. The trails were “okay”…but also shitty. It was difficult to tell whether hikers were allowed on some spots and not on others, it was obvious after a few hundred feet that we were on a “off road vehicle” trail rather than hiking trail…but where we lost the hiking trail wasn’t obvious. Other than this, the running on the trails was beautiful! And the hills didn’t bother me. I felt strong. I felt good. I was excited and SO READY! My husband, who was not enjoying the run that much, convinced me that I should stop while I was running happy, saving some of it for the race the next day.
We headed in, washed up and went back out on the town for dinner. My husband chose the restaurant, and wanting a romantic and nice evening, he picked “French comfort food”. The place we ate was delicious, and the waitress was hilarious. She even shared a tid-bit about the Biltmore Estate (that there are 44 bathrooms). I’d say we learned more about the landmark we were staying at by wandering the town and having people tell us random stuff than we would have if we actually went to it.
We topped the night off with dessert and a short walk around town, then went back to the hotel.
Thanks to being guests at the Inn, we had a pass that allowed us to drive through all the gate houses and check points. Lemme tell you how posh it feels to be waved through multiple check points where everyone else has to stop and show or buy tickets: Super posh. It was like we were very important people with very important things to do on the estate.
I slept like a rock the whole night. Which is really good, considering that we lost an hour of sleep thanks to the antiquated “day-light savings”. Who plans a race for a time change day!? Ugh. Despite an alarm clock fiasco – the alarm was set for a weekday, not a weekend, and so it never went off, I was awake and ready to go with plenty of time to get to the start. Thankfully we didn’t have to drive to the start line! The rules were so strict that people who had to drive in were required to be on the grounds before 0630. The race had a lot of rules, and reading them before the day made everything feel so restrictive or tight…like there was no room to have fun. But being there, and throughout the race, it was the most relaxed and low-maintenance kind of feeling for a race. Everyone was happy and chipper. I didn’t run into a single person who didn’t want to chat or be friends before or throughout the race. And the volunteers were wonderful! Especially since, on the “back half” the volunteers were the only crowd support you could have.
A drizzle started while we waited for the start. My husband hadn’t brought a raincoat, so he hugged me, told me he was proud of me, and said he’d be at the finish when I got there – then he headed back up the hill to the Inn to sleep some more and work on loading our car.
I chatted some with a lady at the start, but once the run started and we got into the hills…. haha! This is funny, because it was all uphill at the start…just…slightly less so until the first mile was past. From mile 2 through 8 it was all rolling hills of various degrees. Mile 4 was pretty impressive as a hill, and I could see why the girls from Delaware called it a black diamond. During these miles, I made friends with a Michlob Ultra runner from Illinois who was stopping to do this marathon as she “passed through” on her way to Miami for a cruise; and with a local girl who kept claiming that she was “falling back” due to not feeling well…just before she would surge past all of us. I also made friends with a woman from Florida, who I kept pace with a little better than the others, so I stuck with her a lot longer. It was funny to me that I managed to find these women, and a few more, all around my pace who had similar humors to mine. We cracked each other up with stories about bears and race mishaps and adventures. The miles passed. The rain did not. By mile 8, as we bottomed out for a little flat running, and a quick intro to what they considered “trails” the drizzle from the start turned into a downpour. That downpour lasted almost an hour… and never really stopped so much as slowed to a drizzle and picked up again on and off for the rest of my race. I chatted freely with everyone and anyone around me, and they chatted just as happily. We crossed a bridge around mile 10 or so and no longer had the hope for pavement as we started turning back up hill toward mile 13.
The ChiRunning guy said that around this point I would reach the top of a “significant hill” but be “rewarded with a view of the Biltmore House over your shoulder”. Hahaha. No. It was raining so hard, and the dirt / gravel road we were on was slick, rutted, covered with puddles, and uneven. My attention through pretty much all of the second half of this race was 100% on where my feet were going to land. Energy drained fast on the hills now, because the ground was slick enough that my foot would slide a little as I pushed off in my stride. I gave up on trying to avoid puddles. My shoes were already squelchy from the rain water and I was covered in mud. They should have given us more than one Tide pod in our swag bags at the expo. Tide should have sponsored mile 15.
I enjoyed listening to my Florida friend moan about the hills and the mud. It was hilarious. “I want to run on the good side of the dirt now!” She cried as we were forced off the…uh…less puddled portion of the track by on-coming runners (the race has out and back loops in spots). I splashed through a puddle and laughed, “We are on the good side! We’re ahead of them! We’re closer to finish!” “Hey! I like that! Our side is better!” She cheered and we trash talked each other through another mile. At one point I moaned about how good it would feel just to be able to put on a dry shirt. The rain was pounding us, and we were slowly slipping along toward mile 15. I realized the shirt wouldn’t stay dry for long, but just having a fresh one for a moment would help a lot with my mental game. I felt like I weighed 100lbs more with my soaked shirt. And I was feeling super self-conscious. After all, I feel fat on the best of days…having my shirt stick to that fat is awful. A guy running near us at the time heard me commenting about wanting a change of shirt and Florida was mentioning just wanting dry shoes. He turned toward us and told me, “You should know that you look beautiful. You wear that shirt well and really… you’re beautiful right now.”
Holy shit green shirt man. I mean, in the retelling, it comes across a bit creepy, but at the time, man. He was just being nice…very sweet. Florida and I gushed about how nice he was and how well trained his woman had him, and we ran on. He caught up with us a little later and we chatted about his love life – a new girl friend and how divorcing his wife had him focused on his sons and his job. “Its easy to tell when I’m in a relationship, because my running always suffers then.” – Green. “I have a friend that calls that relationship fat.” – Me. “Oh SHIT! This is the funniest shit I’ve ever heard!” – Florida. “Make me glad my husband supports my hours and hours of running.” – Me. “Lucky gorgeous girl, you.” – Green. Green shirt guy would show up on and off at the loops, and he’d drop a comment about how pretty I was each time. Along this race I was given a lot of random and out of the blue complements. Maybe it was how relaxed I was on this weekend… how happy… stress-free. Who knows? But it made me feel so happy, despite the dragging feeling from the soaking wet clothes and the start of the different marathon run pangs. Ah, hamstring, I see you want to hurt now.
We crossed some thing the race called “Dam hill”, took a sharp decline and then falttened out for the last time. No more hills. Well. No more signifiant hills. For North Carolina, this was as flat as it got. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief…except me. Now my quads were beat, sure, but my hamstring was too…and the hills were giving me something to focus on beyond just getting my legs out ahead of me with each step.
Mile 18 I had to step off the route for a pit stop…ugh…it was not good. But once it was over, I was fine…except that I lost my group of fun girls. I hustled along toward mile 20 – which had the additional pain of letting you pass the finish line. During this time, I picked up Jennifer, a girl running her first marathon (And doing amazing, by the way). She was struggling a little, and I needed company more than anything at that time. So I slowed and ran along with her. We picked up a pacer who had dropped back from her group – we all have bad days. The three of us encouraged each other along, taking walk breaks at the water stops and telling jokes. Around mile 22 I felt msyelf zoning out and I was starting to drop my impromptu team. I called back to them that I was zoning and asked if they were okay if I went on ahead. They said sure, and I was off.
Zoning out didn’t last as long as I had hoped. My hips were starting to tighten up too now. I pulled up along side Antony, a Marathon Maniac who was super nice, sweet, and dragged me the rest of the course. He talked about his 50 states goal, and about his favorite races. He shared all kinds of great stories and helped me get through the last four miles. Within a half mile to go, a Welshman came up along side us and I kept pace with him to the finish line. He, Antony and I all hugged it out and thanked each other for the support. A couple other people finished behind us, and we hugged and thanked them for the support too. That was the happiest, most together finish line I’ve ever crossed. Also. No one was hurrying us out of the way. We were welcome to stay and hug as many finisher as we wanted! haha!
With a soft finisher’s blanket wrapped around me and a bottle of water in hand, I called my husband and told him to meet me at the PT tent.
I would recommend Asheville to anyone. I would do Asheville again. That says a lot. I don’t like repeating races that much. I only do the Pig each year because almost all of my running group does. I prefer new experiences. But I feel like I could do the Asheville again and it would feel like a different race. Who knows how it would be to complete that race on a bright but cool sunny day?
Rain and mud and all, I managed to pull a 4:15:15. Good enough for 11th in my Age Group and just about what I was expecting to do. Between the hills, mud, and pouring rain, I thought for sure I was going to fall to a 4:30 time… but this is nice. Antony told me to expect Asheville to add 20 minutes to my normal marathon time, and that’s pretty accurate.
My husband and I rounded out our opulent and romantic, wonderful trip with a visit to Sierra Nevada Brewery for lunch on our way back home. When I asked the local girl during the race where I could go for a good burger she first replied that she didn’t eat burgers, so she couldn’t think of anywhere to send me. A few miles later, she and Illinois were yelling “Hey! Kentucky! Go to Sierra Nevada! Got to Sierra Nevada!” Turns out that’s a beer that my husband likes…and likes well enough that when I brought it up while we were thinking of where to go, he lit on the idea immediately.
Readers. This was the best damn idea in the universe! The place was beautiful…oh, by the way, the sun came out IMMEDIATELY after I crossed the finish line. Like an ass. It poured all the while I ran, and the minute I was finished, out came the sun.
Sierra Nevada Gastropub was amazing. The food was so amazing that when I took a bite from my husbands buffalo sliders, I nearly cried. My burger was a little over-cooked and it was still fucking delicious. Our waitress was very patient and had a good sense of humor. When I ordered my beer she asked if I wanted a whole or half sized serving…
Me: “The fuck is this half bullshit? I ran a whole marathon! I will have a whole beer!”
Waitress: “You’re hilarious.” When the beer came it was in such a huge glass that I thought I would drown before I finished it. I am not a beer drinker usually, and I typically hate most beers…including Sierra Nevada… but still… Me: “Oh shit…” Husband: “You are drinking all of it.”
I figure he just wanted to make sure i was out cold for the majority of the drive home. After all, he’s been putting up with me wide awake and energized for two days straight. Don’t worry, folks. I drank the whole beer. And resulting food/beer coma was worth it.
And that’s Asheville Marathon. If you’re on the fence about it, do it. But get your hotel room immediately. And if you like to sleep in, splurge for the night and stay on the grounds of the Biltmore. Its worth the posh, the swank, the special treatment, and the cost for a little more sleep, guaranteed parking, no need to pay for an extra pass for spectators, and the views.