I’m back, a week and 26.2 miles later, with another race report! I wrote all about the build-up to this marathon here, because last week’s half went so well seemingly out of nowhere and caused the subsequent marathon to be way less of a big deal (in my mind, anyway). Below, I’ll describe my experience running the Peak to Creek Marathon, which begins in Jonas Ridge, NC, before literally falling of a cliff (okay, only sort of literally) and eventually ending at Brown Mountain Beach Resort (yeah, it sounds way nicer than it is).
Mark and I signed up for Peak to Creek back in May – I remember specifically because registration opened while I was at a work conference, and Mark ended up paying my entry to make sure I got in (it usually fills up quickly) – so, special thanks to Mark, because I never did pay him back for that.
We picked this race because it sounded like a good time – beautiful views, lots of downhill running (yay, quads), likely good weather in late October. For me, this would be my second marathon (with Umstead as the first), and running a lot of downhill miles seemed like a solid polar opposite to what the Umstead course is like. As I mentioned in my BCRF report, I followed Pfitz 18/55 with some modification until the training wheels fell off for a variety of reasons. With 2 full weeks off and 3 very low-mileage weeks (and no long runs), I wasn’t sure how this race would go or if doing it at all was a rotten idea. The half results from last week gave me newfound confidence that a) I could handle it and b) I could maybe even run well.
Mark and I headed out to Western NC pretty much immediately after work on Friday, barring a few “typical us” delays. We got food at Whole Foods to take so we didn’t have to deal with finding dinner (good call, too, considering we only found a Cookout near our hotel. Not the best pre-race food.) We made it to our hotel, a Days Inn, that we had kindly been given by a friend of Mark’s who could no longer do the race. There aren’t many options in Morganton, NC, and this Days Inn was amazingly one of the better ones. Upon checking in, we went up to our room to find…it wasn’t cleaned! There was trash everywhere, used sheets, a dirty bathroom…we turned around, went back to the lobby, got a different room, and finally proceeded to get ready for bed.
It was not the best hotel ever (okay, it was gross), so I didn’t sleep well, maybe getting 4-5 hours before the early wake-up of 4:55 am. The race didn’t start til 8 am, but being a point-to-point course, the logistics mean arriving earlier than we usually would (no rolling up 5 mins before the start this time…). We checked out of the hotel at 6 am and headed to the finish area to park and get on a shuttle to the start, up the mountain we would run down. I drank black tea before eating anything, and this upset my stomach to the point that upon arriving at the parking lot, I got out of the car and almost puked on a tree. I am really good at not throwing up, though, so I got my shit together and managed to get a few strawberries down to allow my stomach to settle. We finally boarded a shuttle and were off to the start.
We arrived at the start, a Marathon gas station in Jonas Ridge, NC, atop the mountain, waited for a portapotty, and then sat around the gas station until the start of the race. We ran out at 7:58 to drop our bag and get over to the line, I gave Mark a kiss good luck, and we were very quickly off.
The race starts with an uphill section – about 1.5 mi – and then this weird out-and-back with rolling hills. I immediately felt weak and not great, so I was really looking forward to the downhill portion beginning, because that sounded like way more fun. In this first 10K, my stomach started cramping up badly. I had a weird week of eating prior to this race – I was sick most of the week and had very little appetite, even the night before the race, so I’m guessing that played a role. At some points, the cramps were so bad that I thought about quitting.
Once we got through the out-and-back section, just before the mile 6 marker, the course veered left off the pavement and onto a rocky dirt road leading down the mountain. I had my watch on HR-only, so I only saw the few splits I happened to catch. I went through 6 mi in 54 mins, on pace for sub-4 so far. I happened to also see my mile 8 split: 9:44. I got concerned at this point, because my stomach pains were so severe that even running downhill was difficult and slow. The pain also made getting fuel in quite difficult, so I neglected drinking my Tailwind for over an hour, which was probably a mistake.
Around mile 10, the nice downhill section was suddenly…not downhill? We were definitely climbing – I was not expecting the climbs in this whole downhill section, so I was caught a bit off guard. Apparently, lots of people were, because this was where I started to see lots of folks walking and where I could make up some ground and pass some people. I stayed strong through this first hilly section as well as the second just before mile 13. I went through the half at 1:58 – perfect. Aside: I am thrilled because prior to last week, I’d never run sub-2 for a half, and now I’ve done it twice in 7 days. Cool. The scenery on this part of the course was stunning – the race runs through Pisgah National Forest, and the fall foliage certainly adds to the beauty. Somewhere before the half, my stomach pains finally dissipated, so I focused on systematically drinking Tailwind to not end up too depleted.
I enjoyed 2 more miles bombing downhill, even picking it up a bit and taking advantage of the hill. My quads are strong and didn’t feel beat up, but my hamstrings felt like they were getting a serious smackdown. As I saw the mile 15 marker, I realized things were about to flatten out – this came earlier than anticipated (I had thought mile 17 at least), and I almost immediately felt like garbage. Realizing you have another 11 miles to go on rolling hills (but sure, trending downhill) in a race advertised as a downhill marathon sucks – I was mentally prepared to try and hang on for the flatter miles, but the dramatically downhill section seeming so short (only 8ish miles, with a few hilly sections) was surprising to me. Once it bottoms out, the course does a mile-long out-and-back in the ghost town Mortimer, NC. This felt uphill both ways, and it was demoralizing. I started to feel like blowing up was inevitable, but I braced myself and hung on for as long as I could. Miles 16 and 17 clicked off uneventfully. The course was now running along Wilson Creek, and it was starting to rain, so things got a lot drearier – less pretty scenery, no more comfortable weather, no more legs under me at all…
I blew up at mile 18. I was hoping I could hang on for longer, but the rolling nature of this section of the course and the lack of long runs for the past 5 weeks caught up with me. I eventually let myself walk. The last 8 miles were long and miserable; it was pouring, my stretch goal of sub-4 was totally out of reach, and I felt weak for letting myself give in to walking so early on. It was as if my legs didn’t notice what was happening until 18 miles, and then they figured it out: “uhh, Ari… what do? you haven’t made us run this far in over a month.” This whole last long stretch was boring and slow and mostly about mitigating damage – running enough to not totally ruin what started off a decent race. The only highlight I can really think of is that I ate an orange slice at the mile 21 aid station and started drinking some gatorade, which fortunately didn’t further upset my stomach.
This death march eventually led me back to the Brown Mountain Beach Resort, where Mark was waiting on the corner before the turn into the parking lot. I was happy to see him and asked him to run it in with me, catching him completely off guard. What I didn’t yet realize was that there was another 800 or so meters of the race, circling the parking lot, before I could finally be done. Mark let me do most of this lap alone and then ran me in the last little bit. I finished in 4:18:05, a pretty bad blowup considering my half split, but still over a PR by 1 hour and 4 minutes from my first marathon, a 5:21 at Umstead.
We waited for Mark to get his award and then headed back to the car, where I blasted the heat for 20 minutes trying to warm back up after running in the rain for miles. I went through some mental gymnastics – happy about the PR; happy about being able to run this race that was almost totally off the table a few weeks ago; happy to be sore but not in pain; upset that I blew up; mad at myself for being mentally weak and walking parts of those last miles. I eventually landed on thrilled about the huge PR and about the future – sub-4 feels very attainable with a solid cycle not interrupted for multiple weeks with health issues.
Mark and I ‘celebrated’ our races by getting Kilwin’s ice cream and then laying in our AirBnB bed for a few hours. We finally rallied and went over to Sierra Nevada Brewery, a convenient 5-minute drive away, for some delicious food (and a flight for me)!
A day later, nothing hurts, but my hips are a normal amount sore. Quads…not sore. *shrug* If you want to have your quads not be sore after a lot of downhill running, I would recommend….lifting more weights. Wearing the Clifton 3s was also a good choice and saved my feet from being super beat up from running on rocks for ~20 miles. I’ll do a slow shakeout today – the way I feel, I’m not sure how extensive my recovery needs to be, so I’ll try and ease back into some ‘normal’ mileage this week.
I think I’d like to focus on some shorter-distance stuff and work on building some speed before I run another marathon. I’ll likely run Umstead again, though, because it’s an amazing race, so that doesn’t give me too much time before I’ll be back in the grind of marathon training.