Sunday, March 13, 2016

Brave New Run - Asheville Half Marathon at Biltmore Estate Race Report


Last year, two of my training buddies encouraged me to sign up for the Asheville Half Marathon at the Biltmore Estate. The two of them and a friend participated last March and said everything about it was beautiful. So, I signed up in November and was excited about the challenge. (A lot of climbing in the first half, and then flat.) Plus - it was at the Biltmore! Although my family has been to Asheville a few times, we have never been to the Biltmore Estate and it's one of those "bucket list" places to visit.

I was even happier to later find out Andrea Peet was going to be there along with several other Team Drea members. A few Team Drea folks were taking on the half marathon as well. I decided my first big race of the season would be my MedALS race (we will find a person with ALS and give our medal to them along with a note of encouragement). So, I had to finish. I also had to do something else - and I will get to that at the end of the blog.

If you've read my blog you know that I had spiraling down a bit since September. First it was a struggle to balance life with busy kids in two different schools, then it was genuine depression and anxiety. Then skin cancer. So - training has been spotty. Spotty enough to the point my coach recommended NOT doing the half at all because I wasn't trained. So, ever since that warning three weeks ago, I scratched and clawed my way into decent enough shape to race without him making me sign a waiver (and also because I have an Ironman this year).


I knew this was going to be a challenging course. All of the elevation gain is in the first half of the course, and the second half is basically flat. I had not been training intensely on hills, but I had been doing *some* hill work, so I knew I could get up them. I was just going to be a bit tired afterward.

Our hotel reservation was for the Village Inn on the estate - literally right by the Start/Finish line. After our morning rituals, we walked right out to the start line. For breakfast, I had two Skratch Liege Waffles with a dollop of peanut butter and a cup of coffee. I drank *some* water. Armed myself with five Gu's (I don't LOVE these, but I used them a few times this winter, so decided to stick with it for now), BASE salt and a flask of water.

Warmed up a bit, placed myself behind the 2:30 pacer and then it was time to run!

I felt really strong at the beginning. This pace was perfect for me and I planned on keeping an 8:00 run/2:00 walk. I've been doing well with that for longer distances. The first hill was a steady climb over the course of a mile and I was happy to keep my run/walk interval without feeling fatigued. Definitely got the heartrate up, though, and I was REALLY relieved to reach the top and see the first aid station! Whew. And an excuse to walk for a second. ;-)

Next was a lovely, long downhill and I skipped my walk interval because it felt so good to be running downhill. My heartrate felt fine, so I wasn't worried that I overdid it. I was a bit thirsty and wasn't sure if this was because of my dinner the night before or perhaps even my lack of water this morning. We went underneath I-40 and I prepared myself for the next climb. I knew it was a long one.

A relentless turning path that went up. And up. AND up! Thankfully because of the trees and the twisting, you never really see how far you have to climb. The ascent is a little less than two miles long, I think. I started walking sporadically and felt my HR go WAY up when I tried to jog, so I just powerwalked up that hill. I was passing joggers, so I knew I was keeping a decent pace. I also knew the 2:30 pacer was out of sight, but I couldn't see the 2:45 girl behind me. Whew.

Finally got to the top-ish, where another aid station greeted us. There was one more climb after that - but that was ok because this was what waited for us.

Obviously I stopped to take a few pictures. I wasn't looking for a half-marathon PR today, I just wanted to enjoy the race itself and enjoy running. 

We started the descent back down - and I was happy for that. "Yes! I might finish under 2:40 today after all!" (My half-marathon PR is 2:32 and that was a flat course). Right after we passed the beautiful gardens and greenhouse, a horrible side stitch came out of nowhere.

I had to walk. And walk and walk. The pain finally went away when I reached the bottom of the hill and the next aid station where I stopped to use the restroom. This part of the course has a short out-and-back, and unfortunately I saw the 2:45 pacer gaining on me. It reminded me of Rinny catching up with Daniela Ryf in the 2014 Ironman Kona Championship. You know, except at 12:00/mi paces, not 5:00/mi. ;-)

Unfortunately all the walking downhill made my legs say, "Sooo.... whatcha doin'? 'Cause I was thinking we could do that walking thing again..." when I tried to get back into my 8:00/2:00. It was also getting fairly warm and the sun was pretty bright. So, I just ran as often as I could and didn't feel badly about it whatsoever. I did my countdown at mile nine (one 5K and a quick mile run! I've got this!), then at mile ten (one 5k left! Just a snack!) and then came the remainder of the race.

*insert wide-eyed emoji here*

Miles eleven through thirteen on the half-marathon course are another out-and-back, but the path is very rocky and narrow. There was a lot of running traffic in the opposite direction and quite a few walkers going with me. Very difficult to navigate around folks when I wanted to run, not to mention you also need to focus on the ground so you don't step on a large rock or into a hole. I walked more than I intended to and then she passed me. The 2:45 pacer.

"Oh no!" I said.

"You mean - 'it's so nice to see you?'" she joked. She commented that she felt like the grim reaper at that point, because clearly most people ahead of her at this point in the game had intended on finishing faster than 2:45. I tried to shuffle along behind her, but the trail was just too rocky for my tired feet.

Finally turned around and headed back. There is one last uphill on a paved section of road that leads up to the finish line. I saw Andrea and DP and waved, and then Blazeman rolled across the finish line.

With Andrea after the race
The race was beautiful - just stunning. The only challenging part was miles 11-13 because of the terrain and narrow trail. If you hill train in preparation for this race, you will have a wonderful and strong race. If you don't hill train, you will walk a lot. It's a perfect first half marathon, perfect for a girl's weekend, perfect for couples, perfect for families, perfect for someone who just wants to run and see beautiful mountains and scenery. I will happily race this again if I can. I also had a lovely time with my friends Sara and Maureen.

Sara, Maureen and Me


My overall time was not a PR (chip time was 2:48 and change, watch time was 2:45 - not sure if it auto-paused when I stopped to potty?). But something else was a PR - and it was important to me that THIS race, my MedALS race, brought this experience to me.

Folks - I don't really care for running. Don't get me wrong - I actually really like short and easy runs, and I love long, slow runs on the flat greenway when deer flies aren't buzzing me. But when I run fartleks, hard intervals and hill repeats - I don't like the way it feels. I don't mind my HR going up in other exercises, but something about running... ugh.

So, I usually spend a lot of my runs thinking about how much I suck at it, how much I don't like it, when will it be over, how I'll never be good at running, and lots more self-loathing. The negative thoughts flow and multiply and I just want it to be over and done.

I wanted to accomplish one and only one thing during this race: to feel gratitude and joy.

Could I really do that? Could I really enjoy myself for 13.1 miles? Not worry about IMNC? Not think about how slow I am, or that I am slower, skipped swims, gained weight, bad mom, bad friend or or or or....??

Yes. Each and every time I started to ask myself "do you really think you can-" I simply said, "just run."

Just run.

And I ran. Well, sometimes, especially the second half, I walked - but I put one foot in front of the other for 13.1 miles without negative thoughts.

View from the estate

You shouldn't always just ignore negative thoughts. Sometimes you need to sort through them.

But sometimes you deserve a vacation away from Negative Nancy.

For 2 hours and 48 minutes - I tried so hard to stay positive during something I usually consume copious amounts of self-loathing.

Andrea Peet says,

"... time passes regardless,
but you get to decide how you want to spend it."

So, yesterday, I decided I would spend 13.1 miles being thankful. Brave. Grateful. Smiling. Feeling strong. Ignoring that negative voice.

And I finally achieved the most important PR that will set a new standard for the way I approach my training, my races and my life.