Race Recap: Grandin Court Road and Trail Challenge (10K)

I love running in smaller races. Races that draw large crowds have their place, but my preference is to aim for neighborhood runs. I’m especially fortunate to have a few that run through my neighborhood or are close enough to run to as a warmup.

The Grandin Court Road and Trail Challenge fits that description. Sponsored by a Baptist church, the race is held about a mile from my home and uses a lot of the streets and trails I regularly run for the course. It started as a 5K but organizers later added a 10K option, which is basically a second lap. The 5K is still the popular choice, drawing more than 100 participants this year. The 10K had 18 runners total.

I’ve come to appreciate the 10K distance a lot recently. To me, it requires more strategy and endurance than a 5K. My times running a 10K have improved, especially in the last few years now that I’ve done more training for marathons. The 10K is also the distance I mark off when I’m doing a marathon. After 20 miles, I tell myself “Now, it’s only a 10K.”

The first mile of the course followed rolling hills through neighborhood streets in SW Roanoke City. Runners then entered the woods for the trail portion, which followed a curvy path for another mile. There were certain places where we had to loop around, which I think caused some confusion among the leaders of both races. When I hit the trail portion, it looks like the marshals got confused and directed some of the lead runners to go in a different direction. Not sure how they ended up or if they recovered their lead.

Since it was near my house, I knew the trail well and enjoyed running through the paths. It had rained that morning, which made the path muddy and some of the rocks slick. The last half-mile left the trail and returned to the roads for the finish.

Those of us doing the 10K were directed to run the course again. I felt faster and stronger the second time through, and especially enjoyed hitting the trail again. I crossed the line at 51:37. That’s slower than my PR, but I was pleased with the time given that part of the run was over trails that I typically do at a slower pace.

Since I didn’t drive to the race, I made a plan to walk/run back to my house as part of a cooldown. The rain returned with a downpour which soaked me as I ran through the woods home. Some of the marshals were still on the course and thought I was in the race. I had to wave and tell them that no, I was headed home. I was drenched and muddy when I got home, but I felt great.

Next up is a 5k race at the local high school, also in the neighborhood. Beyond that, I’ll start training for the Blue Ridge Relay (my first relay event since high school) in September. I’m also signed up for a speed training camp that the Roanoke Fleet Feet store is holding at the track near my house.

Bring on summer.

Race recap: Blue Ridge Marathon

2015 Blue Ridge Marathon finisher's meda

The finisher’s medal doubles as a belt buckle.

The sign read “I’m sure this seemed like a good idea 4 months ago.” I nodded at the truth of that statement. Of course, 24 miles into the 2014 Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon and having gone up my 9th hill (a rough estimate), I would have agreed with almost anything that I could read. I was two miles from the finish, about a mile from my home, and was ready for this adventure to end. But I had prepared four years for this race, and knew I had to finish. 

Course change and the weather
The two headlines from this year’s race were the course changes and the weather. Because April rains had forced organizers in past years to re-route the race at the last minute, the course was changed for 2014 to reduce the reliance on the low-land greenway areas that had been prone to flooding. That meant more hills (woot!), especially later in the race. The most significant was the hill at mile 24 near Black Dog Salvage on Memorial Avenue. As hills go, and compared to Peakwood, Mill Mountain, and Roanoke Mountain, this hill is relatively small. But having already climbed and descended those, this hill felt like an added dose of misery. 

But it wasn’t all bad. The course changes also accommodated the new starting area and finish line, Roanoke’s newly renovated Elmwood Park. The finish was actually on a slight, downhill grade (much better than the plunge that runners take at the Richmond Marathon) and put runners right in the middle of the postr-race party and Down by Downtown music festival. 

The weather was the other big news of the day. After a week of chilly and windy weather – not uncommon for Roanoke in April – race day on Saturday was warm and sunny. That made for a great start, but taxed most of the runners still on the course after 9:30 a.m. or so. I drained the bottles on my hydration belt and sought refills at most water stops. By the end of the race, I just wanted something cold to drink. That complimentary finish-line beer, courtesy of Parkway Brewing, was downright tasty and perfectly chilled. 

The race
The first half of the race followed the same course as before, a downhill start on Jefferson before taking a left turn onto Walnut for the climb up Mill Mountain. A friend of mine lives on Walnut Avenue and was amazed at the sight of thousands of runners (organizers estimated that 1,885 participated in the three races), coming up his street. Walnut eventually turns into Fishburn Parkway as it ascends Mill Mountain. 

The half marathoners and 10k runners turned onto the access road that led to the Mill Mountain Star, a signature Roanoke landmark, while the marathoners stayed on the parkway spur to reach Roanoke Mountain, about 3 miles away. I spent this time talking to other runners who had participated in the marathon before. I also met a few runners who were, like me, doing the marathon for the first time.

After climbing for six miles, I finally reached the top of Roanoke Mountain. A bagpiper played tunes as we ran by the water stop. It was great to reach the top, but a long descent awaited. This was the hill that, a year earlier, had dashed my plans for running the 2013 marathon after my knee gave out. I had done a few training runs since and had managed to go easier on the downhill to save my legs for later. 

I made it back to Mill Mountain and began that descent at just about 2:27 into the race, not my best half distance, but I wanted to run conservatively in the first half, knowing that the notorious Peakwood climb remained.

The course flattened out after coming down Mill Mountain, a nice change from the long descent, as we followed the greenway through River’s Edge park into the South Roanoke neighborhood. I attend church with a lot of folks who live in that neighborhood. It was great to see so many friends out cheering all of the runners on. Even though the climb up Peakwood was long and twisted with several switchbacks, the neighborhood support was great. Residents had yard signs, handed out snacks and drinks, and even hooked up a few sprinklers for runners to pass through. After reaching the top of Ridge Road, the highest point just off Peakwood, residents and sponsors were handing out champagne. A nice touch, but I think bad things would have happened if I accepted the offer.

After going up Peakwood, which I was walking by then, I just wanted to reach the finish line. I had 6 miles to go and kept telling myself it was only a 10k. I hit the wall coming down Jefferson. For a moment, I didn’t think I could make it, but then I caught a glimpse of my family cheering me on. That helped me pick up the pace and tackle the last 6 miles. I finished at just over 5 hours. I was hoping to finish just under five, but given the heat and the hills, I’m glad to have finished. 

Every aspect of this race was well planned and executed. Perhaps the best part, though, were the volunteers. At every water stop and turn, course volunteers offered encouragement and good cheer. They all wore bright orange t-shirts that read “You run mountains and I help …” a take-off on the unofficial race motto “You run hills, I run mountains.” At mile 23, I ran by a neighbor, who is also a U.S. District Judge and a fellow runner, who volunteered to marshal the race. He offered the right words of encouragement at a key time for me. That was very cool. 

As a Roanoke resident, I think the marathon is one of the best things to happen to our region. Everyone involved in the race – organizers, volunteers, police, fire, rescue personnel, the park service, and the local media – came together to show what a great place Roanoke is. Even folks stuck in traffic honked horns and offered encouragement. 

It was a great race and I’m already planning for 2015. 

Race day is almost here

ImageWith the 2014 Boston Marathon in the books, and all of the dramatic stories that came from it, focus now shifts to spring marathons this weekend. The one on my calendar is the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon this Saturday.

This marathon means a lot to me. It’s in my adopted hometown of Roanoke. It’s the race I’ve essentially trained for since May 2010. I stopped midway through a tempo run that month, thinking I had pulled a hamstring. Little did I know at the time that it would be more than a year when I would run again. Turns out the hamstring issue was a back injury that, at first, made it practically impossible for me to walk more than 10 feet. I had surgery a year later and was walking and running again by the end of 2011. At the start of 2012, I committed to run Blue Ridge in 2013. I ended up running the half marathon thanks to a late training knee injury. For 2014, though, it’s the full distance or bust. 

I’ve trained since last spring for this race. I ran the Richmond Marathon in November, mostly to see whether I could still go the distance post back surgery. I did and finished with a better time than when I first ran it in 2004. 

I feel ready for this race. Even though I’ve dealt with some nagging injuries since March, they aren’t troublesome enough to make me want to drop out. I’ve scaled back my mileage, added some cross training, and became one with my foam roller the last 6 weeks or so. Three days out, I feel good. 

I think my strategy is simple. Go slow, take walking breaks on the steeper parts of the climb, and stay as light as possible on the downhills. My legs started to get heavy around mile 21 in Richmond and I’m anticipating a similar experience for Blue Ridge. Despite the challenging course, I intend to enjoy every minute of this race. I’ve waited four years to do this.

The weather promises to be great. Spring in Roanoke is a glorious time. And the volunteers, organizers, and fans of the race will be out in force to cheer on all of the runners. 

I can’t wait. Run all the miles!!!

Race recap: 2013 Anthem Richmond Marathon

Finish line at Richmond Marathon

Crossing the finish line in Richmond. I wore The Oatmeal’s Blerch shirt as inspiration.

The 2013 Anthem Richmond Marathon served as a homecoming for me in a few ways. First, I grew up in Richmond, and always enjoy the chance to run through its streets whenever I visit family. I grew up close to the marathon route and remember seeing runners coming down Monument Avenue towards the end of the race in the late 1970s and early 1980s (the course was different then). Some runners were happy. Others clearly wanted the race to end. In high school, I would run many of the same streets that make up the route – Monument Avenue, Westmoreland, Grove, and Cary. I had run Richmond in 2004 as my first marathon, and I was glad to have the chance to experience it again.

In another way, the marathon marked my official return to distance running. I had been training for more than a year to get ready after I had been sidelined with back surgery in 2011. For most of 2010 and early 2011, I doubted whether I would ever run again. Having the opportunity to run and beat my 2004 time by 12 minutes gave me an incredible sense of accomplishment and put me on a runner’s high that I’m still riding.

The course was similar to 2004 but had changed to feature a downhill finish onto Brown’s Island. I stuck to my plan to start slow and aimed to keep my pace between 9:00-9:30 minutes for most of the race. That pace had served me well during training. Whenever I tried faster runs, I would often burn out and feel twinges of pain in my hips and legs for a few days afterward. I guess it was my body’s way of saying that was fast enough.

Having run the course before, I knew some aspects of it would be tougher than others, and I tried to prepare and train for those moments. After crossing the river around mile 8, runners follow Riverside Drive before working up to Forest Hill and Semmes Avenue. The bridge coming back from the Southside provides a great view of the city, but can feel like it drags on much longer than its span. In 2004, I struggled for a few miles after crossing the bridge. This time, I reminded myself what I needed to do and focused on keeping a good pace. Before I knew it, I was across the bridge and turning onto Main Street.

I struggled a bit after I hit 20 miles. My legs got heavier and my pace slowed. But the crowd support was great; Not overwhelming, but not sparse either. There were always runners around, too, to offer words of encouragement if I slowed down to walk.

The course had water stations every two miles. Spectators also set up their own stations and handed out all kinds of stuff — wet towels, junk food, and beer. I passed a guy handing out orange slices from a plastic bag. They were probably fine, but it looked a little sketchy to me.

The traffic control was great. Police were stationed at every intersection and managed to keep the traffic flowing when there was a break in the pack. I tried to thank every officer I saw and was glad other runners were doing the same. The bands and DJs along the way provided the right tempo to keep going.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the race was an overhead phone call around mile 13. A runner actually answered his cellphone and tried to tell the person who called him to try him again on Sunday. “I’m halfway a marathon,” he said. Apparently, the caller didn’t understand, so the guy tried to explain he was running an actual marathon. I have no idea why he answered it in the first place, but he kept his patience before finally hanging up.

I crossed the line at 4:11, but my net time was 4:08. Not a sub-4:00 like I had once hoped, but I’m very happy with the outcome.

Next up is the Blue Ridge Marathon in April. I’ve registered to go the full distance this year and am already planning a training strategy to keep my legs from wearing out. With three big climbs and descents, I’ll need to keep them strong for as long as I can. I’ll probably run the Colonial Half Marathon in Williamsburg in late February as a tune-up for Blue Ridge. That’s a great race to run and a good excuse to check out Williamsburg.

Happy running.

Run the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2014

Top of Roanoke Mountain

The top of Roanoke Mountain, the second of three peaks to climb during the Blue Ridge Marathon.

I’ll start by admitting a hometown bias, but I think the Blue Ridge Marathon, run in my adopted home of Roanoke, Virginia, is one of the best-managed races I’ve ever done. The course is challenging: two mountains early in the race for the 26.2 distance, followed by a third ascent on the second half of the course. Despite the challenging course, the marathon provides some of the best scenery found in this area. The enthusiasm of the crowds, course volunteers, and your fellow runners can help you overcome any obstacle or wall you encounter.

This short video from the 2012 race provides a glimpse of the experience.

In 2013, I trained to run the full marathon but had to change plans and switch to the half after some late-training knee trouble. I’m already training for the 2014 race, and I’m committed to running the full distance. Having run my share of races of all distances, and in different places, I’ve learned that it’s the details that make the difference between a good race and one that you wouldn’t consider again.

That’s not the case for Blue Ridge. The planning, the course support, the pre-and post-race celebrations, and the expo, to name a few, are all well managed. As an example, the 2013 race required a last-minute course change thanks to heavy rains that flooded the last few miles of the course. Emails were sent to every registrant several times once the decision to reroute had been made. Runners at packet pickup were told of the change, and signage was made quite clear on race day. Put another way, by the time of Saturday’s start, I could probably count on one hand the number of runners who hadn’t been told of the change.

I could provide other examples, but I hope you get the idea. No question the course is challenging (the race organizers take a lot of pride in the “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” slogan), but you’ll find it’s worth the effort when you experience the scenic beauty along the Blue Ridge Parkway, see the cheering crowds through South Roanoke, and cross the finish line downtown to a cheering crowd ready to celebrate your accomplishment.

Don’t just take my word for it, check out what these bloggers (including yours truly) had to say.

I hope you’ll join me next April. To enter, leave a comment on why you’d like to run the 2014 Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. I’ll choose a winner at random and will be in touch.


  • The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments that are submitted.
  • The winner will receive an entry into the 2014 FULL 26.2 Marathon.
  • The winner will receive a code via email to waive the registrations cost & online registration fee.
  • No airfare/ travel expenses included, no lodging included, no pasta supper included.
  • You can receive an entry Daily for tweeting about the contest so make sure you come back each day to enter via the widget.
  • Contest runs Sept. 23 through Midnight (PST) Sept. 29 2013. Winner chosen Monday Sept 30.

Books on running

Like most people with busy lives, I can only concentrate on something for so long before I lose interest. That’s sometimes the case, too, unfortunately, with running. It’s easy to lose focus, especially when the next race date is still months away, and durn, the bed feels so cozy at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday.

I’ve tried all the tricks I’ve seen about breaking up the routine and getting out of the running rut. While it’s fun to try a new route, run at a different time, or go with a group, I’ve found the best way for me to regain focus and recharge is to read a book about running. So here, in no particular order, are the books I read whenever I feel like a slump is coming. In most cases, I listen to these books while driving back and forth to my job, but I also read some, too.

Born to Run

I won’t say much about Christopher McDougall’s book, other than it’s become my go-to resource when I need to be reminded why I run. I often repeat Micah True’s mantra “Think easy, light, smooth, and fast” when a run seems difficult. Just focus on the easy.

Once a Runner

John Parker’s novel of a college runner in the 1970s provides a lot of good characters and imagery on what separates the elite runners from those who have a passing interest in the sport. I cringe whenever I read the track workout towards the end. I have not read the sequel “Again to Carthage” but it’s on my wish list.

Running for My Life

Lopez Lomong’s account of his life as a “lost boy” of Sudan who found a new life in America, primarily through running, is heartbreaking, frightening and inspirational. To hear about children literally ripped from their mother’s arms by soldiers, only to escape by the slimmest of chances, would be enough to terrify and put things in perspective for anyone who tweets “First world problems.” Lomong’s journey to Olympic athlete from a refugee can inspire anyone to get off the couch and go for a run.

Tread Lightly

Peter Larson, author of Runblogger, and Bill Katovksy wrote a book covering more of the technical aspects of running. It’s a good read, and the list at the end offers lots of good advice.

Eat and Run

Along with Micah True’s motto, Scott Jurek’s “Sometimes you just do things” mantra is often repeated on difficult runs.  If you enjoyed Born to Run, you’ll appreciate Jurek’s point of view of the race and his ascent as an elite trail runner. His tips and recipes are also great resources.

In addition to the ones above, I have Race Across the Sky and Running with the Buffaloes on my shelf. I haven’t cracked either yet, but I hear they’re good. I’m also listening to Running with Kenyans.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Matthew Inman’s latest work on his blog, The Oatmeal. His post The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances captures the motives and reasons why we run in the dark. Plus, it’s funny as hell. As a bonus, I ordered and just received his technical T-shirt. If you’re running the Richmond Marathon on Nov. 16. Look for me wearing it.

What do you read to stay inspired and focused? Share it in the comments.


Official blogger

Official Blogger - 2014 Blue Ridge MarathonI’m excited and a bit humbled, too, to be named an official blogger for the 2014 Blue Ridge Marathon. I live in Roanoke and have followed the event since its creation in  summer 2009 and its inaugural run the following April. I signed up last year to run the full marathon but had to change plans after a late knee injury. I ended up running the half marathon and enjoyed every minute of it. The course is challenging, but the race support and online community that’s grown around it are two of the many great things about this race. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to show off the scenic beauty of Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Between now and the April race, I’ll post training updates and other thoughts about running, nutrition, gear, and so forth. I’m training for the Richmond Marathon this November. I last ran that in 2004 and I’m looking to break my finish time of 4:20. I’m recovering from a calf strain, but I should be back on track with training in the next week.

Happy running.

By the way: Did six miles today of road and trails. While I was coming down the hill on a trail near my house, I came within about 5 feet of a skunk (a constant fear and nemesis of my pre-dawn runs). He/it ran off into the underbrush and I slowwwwly kept walking. We saw each other and I kept going. Fortunately, no spray. I shouted “You’re supposed to be nocturnal!” as I kept going.

Hit the pool

Banetov2I’ve had to curb my running the last two weeks because of a calf strain. It’s weird. Almost a year ago to the day, I endured the same strain, pull, or tear (I’m not quite sure) in my left calf. Last year, I had to lay off for a week or so before I was back on the road. This time, the recovery took an extra week. I was doing six miles through downtown Roanoke when I felt a tightness in the calf that wouldn’t go away. When I turned to go uphill near the base of Mill Mountain, my calf froze. I ended up walking the three miles home.

Unlike last year, I decided to hit the pool to keep at least some momentum for my training. I’m a born runner. I can swim, but it’s not a strength. Still, my kids had finished their first year on the summer swim team. For the last two weeks, I’ve arrived at the Kirk Family YMCA pool at 5 a.m. (ugh) to get in 10 laps or so. I use a combination of freestyle swimming, kickboard paddling, and aqua running using a jogging belt to hit that distance. I’m not ready to change sports entirely, but I’ve enjoyed the chance to get in the pool and give my joints and muscles from pounding the pavement. I think it’s helped, too.

Earlier this week, I did a three-mile recovery run and crushed the time that I had set for it a few months ago. That wasn’t my intent, but my legs felt strong and, most importantly, my calf was fine. I’ll ease back into the runs starting tomorrow, but I may keep the pool workout as part of my cross-training routine.

What do you do to keep fit while recovering from injury? Leave a comment below.

Photo by Wikimedia user Danielle dk under Creative Commons License. 

July 4: Redeeming a soggy, muggy day

The alarm sounded at 6 a.m. for me to get up and prepare for the Four on the Fourth race that was being held in downtown Roanoke. For the better part of the week, our region had experienced heavy rainfall, and while flooding was an issue, I thought the course would be spared from the brunt of deluge. I was wrong. While checking email, I saw that the race director had sent a cancellation email. The likelihood of rerouting the race at the last minute (on a holiday, mind you) was slim, and officials were having no luck getting approval from authorities. Since it was pouring rain while I was reading the email, I wasn’t too disappointed. I texted a friend who was running the race with me the news of the cancellation. “Good. I’m going back to bed,” he replied. I agreed and fell back asleep, too.

About 90 minutes later, I was up again and itching to run. There was another 5k race in the area, about 30 miles away, but my return to dreamland meant I would have missed the start. Instead, I started plotting routes to run. Most of my longer routes utilize the Roanoke greenways. Given the heavy rain and flooding, I knew that chunks of the greenway would be under water. (A presumption that was later confirmed). “I want to run to something that isn’t flooded,” I said to my wife. “Try Mill Mountain,” she replied. I think she was joking, but I thought it was a good idea.

I got dressed, put on my Sketchers Go Bionics, turned on my GPS watch and hit the road. I kept to higher-ground streets and roads that would offer me a view of the flooded Roanoke River, but would keep me mostly dry. I took a few pics along the way.


I ran through downtown Roanoke, took a right onto Jefferson Avenue, and followed that to Walnut Street. I crossed the Walnut St. bridge and began the climb up Mill Mountain. It was slower going this time, and I had to walk through a trouble spot, but I enjoyed the chance to run up the mountain again. I hadn’t done since the Blue Ridge Half Marathon in April. I made it to the top and took the picture below at the observation deck.


The trip down was uneventful, though I ran into a friend whose dog wanted to join me. The culverts and ditches on the mountain were flowing, but I didn’t encounter any treacherous areas. I finished the 11 mile run with a 9-minute/mile pace. I was hoping to go a bit faster than that, but given the humidity, stops I made for pictures, and the mountain incline, I was pleased with the outcome. It was also the furthest distance I’ve run in the Go Bionic minimalist shoes (which are becoming my favorites in my three-shoe rotation, and are solid contenders for my shoe of choice for the Richmond Marathon in November).

All in all, not a bad way to spend the start of a soggy July 4th. I didn’t run the race I had planned for, but went a longer distance and enjoyed myself.

As we approached dinnertime, my friend who had planned to race with me that morning texted to ask if I wanted to join him on a quick loop through a neighborhood. I replied that I had done 11 miles earlier that day, which included a run up Mill Mountain. His response: “Good lord man.”