I ran my 3rd Marathon on Sunday April 2nd in the 4th annual Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon. Like comfort food, a warm quilt or a familiar accent, this race is home to me. I’ve run this race 4 years in a row. It was my first half marathon race. It was my first marathon race. And I think each time I’ve run this race it has been a PR or a first. This PR 4:25.04 and it was a blast.
It may be the same hills every year, but the sights and sounds are new.
Raleigh is a changing and growing city… not unlike other metropolitan areas around the country. There are sections of the course that will have brand new views one year later. Fayetteville Street has a new skyscraper, new developments are going in on Davie street, Hillsborough street is getting a complete makeover and looks much more like a college hub, and Moore square will soon get one of those nice makeovers. At the same time, all of the sights that we love are still there. The huge globe outside the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The historic Oakwood neighborhood will not change. It’s quirkiness and charm will always be there with its silver haired, Pom-pom shaking dancers and music blaring out of windows.
Peace Street is always going to be a battle. It’s about a half mile of climbing before you get a break and then climb some more. I have always loved the Native American drums at the bottom of the hill to give you one last adrenaline push before the climb.
It was a really fun weekend. I met new friends, ran with old friends, and set some new personal records.
When I signed up for this race back in March no one in my running family wanted to run it with me. Blame the hills. But somehow I was able to slowly convince two, three, four friends to join me in this challenge. It helped that one of the guys who was hoping to run his first marathon missed out on that opportunity two weeks prior. So, I gathered a group to support and celebrate his big accomplishment!
So, I went to the Expo on Friday. I never got a chance to go and check out the vendors because it literally turned into a selfie and groupie party! The more we stood around in the Brooks store talking, the more fellow runners would walk up and join us. It was the best. We hung out in there until they started turning lights off. So I grabbed a souvenir and some new compression socks and went home.
I know I could’ve found parking close to Dorothea Dix Park, but decided to follow directions and park downtown and take the shuttle. I got there early so it was really easy.
Some local knowledge: The Dorothea Dix property was once state owned. It was the site of the Dorothea Dix psychiatric Hospital. It’s now owned by the city and will be converted into what developers call a destination park like New York City’s Central Park. It’s now home to several different state departments and schools.
I ran the 5k last year, so I knew what to expect. It’s a different course but not by much. All I remember from the start is glancing down at my watch for my pace and gasping. I’m running a 5 minute mile pace? That pace needed to slow down real quick. I really had no plan for the race. I didn’t want to win. I just wanted to get out fast, run comfortably and finish strong. I wound up with a PR 21:59. If you come to Raleigh, I recommend running the 5k. It’s a fast but challenging course.
Afterwards I head home and get cleaned up and get ready to meet all the Rock ‘n’ Bloggers and #WeRunSocial’ers. I’m early so I go back to the Expo and take a nice stroll through the floor this time, and I’m so glad I went back. Because hidden in one of the booths was a jewel: a 26.2 sticker that isn’t a big ugly oval. (I’m sorry to offend anyone but I’m not putting any of those ovals on my car. I’m definitely not putting any hint white on my car. I have my reasons.)
It’s the perfect size and everything! I bought 3 at $2 each. I also got a circular 26.2 magnet that will only be used on race days. That’s to let other drivers know that I’m on my way to the race too!
I also have set up a dinner through BlackMenRun with even more runners at a fairly a new restaurant on Fayetteville street called Bare Bones. Great food, a couple of pool games, selfies and a lot of pictures later it was time to go home.
So, off to bed. I want to follow all the rules and show some discipline. Going to bed was easy after I laid out my clothes. Staying asleep was the hard part. I’m used to waking up early for work, but race day always gets me. The recommendation on the Rock ‘n’ Roll website is to be parked by 5:30 am for the 7 am race. I managed to get out the door and to a parking garage by 5:15. I picked the one off of Dawson street near Nash Square for an easy walk up hill to the car after the race. Here’s another tip. I stayed so long after the race that parking was free. Your supposed to pay $7 on your way out.
I’m early so, I relax in the car and wait for time to go. The pre-race group picture is at 6:15am. Nature called twice before the race.
We had perfect running weather. It was 40s outside but it felt colder because of the wind. But most people found a place to stay warm either inside or outside. All you needed was something to block the wind.
So, after the group picture and after gear check it’s time to start. I like the new start line on Fayetteville street facing the state capitol building. In Raleigh, this is the street where ALL of the big events happen: New Years Eve, 4th of July, Parades, Festivals. It’s closed on the weekend more often than not. So, it makes sense.
I take off at the front of coral 5. This is my warm up for the race. A nice quick start before settling down into my marathon pace.
Even at this stage in my journey, it’s hard to remind myself that I need to go slow to go fast. The only section where I allow myself to pick up speed is on Blount Street which is one of the only long downhill sections of the course. No headphones in this section. I’m just enjoying the sights and sounds:
- The big globe at the North Carolina museum of Natural Sciences
- The Governor’s mansion
- Moore Square
- Marbles Kids Museum
- Shaw University
- Chavis Park
Then it’s time to relax and count off those hills. If you’re not from Raleigh, these streets probably don’t mean anything to you. But they roll around in my mind often while I’m training for this race.
- Glascock Street
- Peace street
- Hillsborough Street
- Western Boulevard
- Avent Ferry Road
- Gorman Street
- Dorothea Dix
- Lenoir street
I know these hills. I’m ready.
We hit the marathon & half marathon split at Hillsborough street and made our way up the hill to Meredith College and back down Hillsborough. This where I found someone to run with and keep my pace in check. I stayed with them for 7 or 8 miles. We chatted about everything from other runners and running clubs to the accuracy of our Garmin watches. We got through NC State’s Centennial Campus and their bag pipe band and onto Avent Ferry road. Then I hear someone say, “that looks like lunch.” They were referring to the mounds of hills in front of us. I admit, I need to become a better hill runner and I’m intimidated. But I didn’t back down. Still, this is where I began to fall apart and cramp up. I walk it off and run when I can making the last 8 miles the hardest. I went from mid 9 minute miles to 10, 11 & 12 minute miles.
Gorman Street is what some might call a disrespectful hill at mile 18. Part of that slow down I also blame on a blister that felt like it was trying to form on my pinky toe around mile 16. That blister never actually formed, but I felt the pain. It’s the same toe that developed a blister about a month ago. Same shoes. Different socks. I also could have been hydrating more often. It’s always frustrating to have good training runs only to have trouble on race day. It’s part of the reason why I keep signing up for race after race. Anyway, I finally make it to the Dorothea Dix campus and I can almost smell the finish line but there’s still a long way to go… but finally a downhill. I pass the half marathon sweeper vehicles and struggle bus as I approach the final challenge: the Lenoir Street hill to Boylan Street. I tell myself… if you can make it up this hill, you’re almost done.
It was true. Of course it’s never over until it is over. But here comes the new finish line on McDowell Street right between the convention center’s shimmer wall and the Red Hat Amphitheater. It’s all down hill. So, everyone looks fast coming to the finish line… even me.
I forced myself to smile a little as I thought about the last 8 miles. Then I looked up at the time and I really started to smile…so I gave the announcer a high five. Despite all that I went through, I was still able to beat Oprah’s marathon time. It’s funny because when I mention that milestone to some people, they never even knew that Oprah had ever run a race. Diddy, you’re next.
Anyway, the new finish line makes it much easier to get to gear check, and marathon finisher jacket pick up. You are also closer to the beer tent and the finish line concert if that’s what you want to do.
For me it’s jacket time, selfie time and time to cheer my racing family across the line and plan my next race.