It only took 6 years, but I finally ran my first "road" marathon. I couldn't think of a better marathon for me to run than Peak to Creek, a mostly gravel, scenic route through the Pisgah National Forest in the mountains of North Carolina. I've been eying this one for quite awhile and finally decided to attempt it this year. This would also be the first marathon for my brother in law, Tom.
The day came quickly and I was feeling a little nervous about achieving my original goal of sub 3:05, especially since training wasn't ideal. Therefore I made a secondary goal of at least running under 3:20, but would still make an effort for the 3:05, reassessing that goal during the run as to what felt comfortable.
Hannah dropped Tom and I off at the start to a clear, but extremely chilly morning. It wasn't long before we were off, everyone trying to warm up as we traveled the winding paved road through beautiful multicolored views of the high mountains and hills of western North Carolina. I bumped into a few friends and acquaintances while trying to hit the planned 7:25 pace on this first 6 mile section. There is a spot on this section that opens up to grand views of the Roan Highlands and I couldn't help but think that is where I should be, high up on the AT. I snapped back to the race at hand though and realized that at least I was on the most beautiful road marathon I could think of and was about to hit gravel for the most of the remaining 20 miles, just another reason why I chose this marathon over others.
I hit the gravel road at mile 6 right on pace schedule. I decided to try and stay relaxed for the first 2 miles down to the first aid station where I would drop my extra shirt and ear warmers, but hoped to stay on the targeted pace of 6:45 for this long 9 mile downhill section. I ended up hitting the aid station 1 minute behind, but wasn't too worried. I began to pick up the effort a little to try and sneak it in under the 7 minute mark. I felt like I was running fairly quickly, but by the time I hit the half marathon mark I was already 4 minutes behind planned pace. I don't really know how this happened, but my hamstrings were beginning to start feeling tight, so I decided to abandon the 3:05 goal and switched to trying to go under 3:15.
I made it the turnaround in Edgemont at the bottom of the hill with 10.5 miles to go and plenty of time to reach the goal 3:15 if I could average 7:30 for the last 10 miles of this flat section. I began picking off runners over the first 3 miles of this section and was hitting or going under 7:30 for each mile and it felt comfortable. But around mile 19 my stomach started to feel off and I believe that started my slow down in pace. I wasn't exactly sure of my splits during this section, but it felt very long between each mile marker. I tried to hold off the inevitable pit stop for as long as I could, but somewhere around mile 23 I could wait no longer.
The stop cost me about 3 minutes. As soon as I was back on course, I picked up the pace to try and make up some of the time and not having to worry about my stomach, it felt a lot easier to go faster. I started passing many of the runners that had gotten in front of me during my pit stop, but the miles were still seeming to come very slowly. Near the end the goal of 3:15 was looking unlikely, but I kept pushing to squeeze under the minimum goal of 3:20.
Soon the surface changed back to asphalt and I spotted Hannah and Michael cheering me on. I was near the finish and I picked it up some more. Then at the entrance of the campground loop I saw Mad A! That really got me pumped to bring it in strong as I was not expecting him to be there at all. I made it past the turn to head back to finish and saw someone in front of me and couldn't help but try and reel him in before the finish, so I picked it up even more. I got by him with about 100 yards to go and crossed the finish line in 3:18:35. I was spent and just stopped as I stepped down on the finish mat.
I am very happy with my time, although I still think of what could have been if training would have been better and if I could solve my stomach issues during runs. I gave it the best I had on the day though and still came in under my minimum goal. Tom really killed it as he ran his first marathon ever in 3:29:08!
I will say this as a final note. Road marathons freakin' hurt!