Planning a wedding took a lot of my time during my little hiatus from blogging. You know what else did?
Training for a marathon.
Taking the Plunge
After our wedding, I found myself with a ton of free time that I wasn’t used to having and a lack of motivation to work out for the sake of working out. I didn’t run much for the last couple of months before our big day and instead did a lot of strength training to get ready for it. I knew I needed to sign up for a race to motivate myself to start running again, especially with the holidays coming up. That’s when I found the best race ever, the Asheville Marathon and Half!
I picked this race for a few reasons. First, Asheville is where we had our “mini-moon!” At around three and a half hours away, it’s the perfect distance from home to be a destination race without breaking the bank. Asheville has become one of my favorite places. Surrounded by mountains, laid-back folks, totally weird in its own perfect way, lots of craft beer and good wine… you can’t go wrong here. Another thing sold me on this race: the ENTIRE thing is run on the grounds of The Biltmore Estate. Running the full would give me the chance to explore parts of the estate that are normally not open to the public. I was sold. I registered for the race a few weeks after our wedding, and then it was time to start training!
For a training plan, I picked Hal Higdon’s Novice II Plan. I average about 30 miles a week on the plan with one 20-mile run. I was worried about the one sorta-long run during the week that maxed out at 8 miles, but it really wasn’t an issue. I just planned to leave work right at 2:45 (my contract time) on those days to get my run in. Training through the winter in South Carolina was glorious! It was great to run at about 4:00 in 50-60 degree weather. I did my weekday runs solo, but usually met up with some running friends for my weekend long runs when I was in town. Since I trained through the holidays, some of my runs let me explore places besides Aiken, which was a fun way to learn my way around!
Out of all my training runs, this 14 miler was my toughest one. I’m pretty sure it was all mental because it was my first time running longer than a half marathon. I also did this run in Newnan, GA, where I’m not as familiar with runner-friendly roads. I did a lot of car-dodging the first half, then did 7 miles on my husband’s old high school’s cross-country track. Not the most exciting, but I got it in!
My 19-miler was the best. I had my running girls with me for most of it, and our local ice cream shop had a special ice-cream-for-breakfast event! I had never had a hot waffle topped with ice cream, but you MUST TRY IT! It’s even better after running long on a cold morning!
Before I knew it, it was time to taper and get ready to race! I personally love the taper. It’s the perfect time to catch up on everything you don’t have time for during training, like cleaning your car, sitting on your butt watching Netflix, and snuggling with dogs.
We traveled up to Asheville after work on Friday with both of the doggies. All week, the forecast was for freezing rain the day of the race… until Thursday, when they started predicting 3-6 inches of snow. Don’t I have the best luck with weather?! I packed way too many options for the race, because I was sort of in denial that it would actually snow. I was also nervous about getting to the race if there was accumulation, because we opted to get a cabin about 30 minutes away in the mountains. We got to our place at Cabins of Asheville, right up the road from where we stayed on our mini-moon, and got the dogs settled. It was so cozy! I definitely recommend these cabins if you are planning to visit this area.
On Saturday, we spent the day exploring downtown Asheville with my running girls Missy and Sheri. We met up for lunch with our friend Nancy, who ran the Saturday half. She filled us in on the course and as we ate, it started flurrying outside!
We headed back to our cabin for an early dinner. I made spaghetti and bison meatballs from Run Fast Eat Slow. Then, it was time to get my gear ready before an early bedtime! We planned on being out the door by 5 AM to give us plenty of time to get there in the bad weather. I had the sweetest helper while I got all my stuff ready.
We woke up at 4 AM on race day to…. SNOW! There was about 4-5 inches on top of my car, and it was still gently falling when we left the cabin. Thankfully, the city was prepared and salted the roads, so we had no issues getting to the Biltmore. The employees and volunteers seemed genuinely excited to be there and were so helpful, which helped calm my nerves a bit. I was super bundled up, but not enough to hang out around the starting line. We waited in the barn to stay warm until the race started, after a 30-minute delay due to the weather. Before long, it was time to line up!
Missy and Sheri were using the Galloway method, but Jeff and I planned to break at each mile, so we split off pretty soon into the race. I was feeling good and set out on my own at around mile 3. I got way too hot and had to take off my jacket right around that point, then caught up with my girls right before we got to the Biltmore house!
I hung with them for a bit before picking up my pace a bit. Jeff and I found each other right around mile 8 and hung together until the course split between the half and full at around mile 10.
These pictures can’t come close to doing the course justice. I’m sure it’s beautiful without the snow, but on this day, it was a winter wonderland. I felt like I was on the set of a Disney movie the entire time.
The course took us over hills, bridges, trail, gravel, and through vineyards. It was so gorgeous!
Miles 15-20 were a bit of a blur. I perked right up around mile 20, because the course took us right past the finish line!
Seeing Jeff and Missy waiting there and cheering gave me a burst of motivation that I really needed at that point. I was starting to get tired, and had officially entered into the realm of running farther than I ever had before. The mental game was on. The last six miles of the course were out-and-back, which definitely played on my mental strength. I took my pickle juice at about mile 22. I was skeptical about it before the race, because everyone I asked told me I would know when to take it. They were right! I knocked it back when my legs started really feeling like lead. It helped me for a bit, but I hit the wall HARD at mile 23. So many people were walking at this point and I was so ready to be done. Doubt started creeping in as I texted my mom telling her how hard it was. She ended up sending my inspirational texts about every 5 minutes until the finish. Did I mention she’s the sweetest? 🙂
That last 5k was the toughest one I have ever run. I finally understood why everyone says you aren’t halfway through a marathon until mile 20. I drew on every mantra, memory, and power song that I could to get me to the finish line. With a quarter mile to go and the finish line in sight, I stepped up the pace as much as I could.
After 4:54:36, I finished. The tears flowed as I realized just what my body and mind had accomplished. From the first day of training to the moment I crossed the finish line, I learned so much about my own strength and will. The marathon can and will change you.
See that profile?! I definitely earned the rest of the day that I spent eating tacos, drinking wine in the hot tub back at our cabin, and snuggling with the pups and my #1 cheerleader throughout this whole process.
So, did I convince you to run Asheville? If you’re even just toying with the idea of running your first half, full, or challenge weekend, DO THIS ONE! From the course to the staff and volunteers, this is an amazing race. If you decide to join me on March 17-18 next spring, you can sign up here. Use these codes for a 15% discount off ALL EVENTS between now and July 31!
Enter invitation code JULIABIPS2018AMAROCKS and discount code 2018AMAJULIAROCKS for your discount. I’ll see you at the starting line!