It was a novelty when I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2019. It was known as America hardest road marathon, the footlevelers, with 7000 ft of total elevation (gain and lost). I finished in 4:45 and I thought I was slow because I had expected myself to finish under 4:30 or less. Now four years later, I had a chance to redo it and up the game to run it twice in one day also known as doing the Double.
Blue Ridge Footlevelers is one of the few marathons (might be the only one) that has an event where you could run the course twice and receive a time and an award for it.
I became aware of the double marathon during my first time there when I saw the doublers finishing their first lap of their marathon as we were about to start our race. They would be then joining us on their second lap. It was beyond my imagination those days of anyone capable of running a marathon twice.
Now fast forward to November that year, I ran the JFK 50, my first 50 mile race. I probably knew I was going to do a 50 miler since I usually plan things a year in advance, but still since I hadn’t run it at the time, it was a wonder for me that there were people out there capable of running two marathon distance on the same day.
By February 2021, I ran my first 100 mile race. The rest is history, because I ended up doing several more by 2022 and 2023. I was just a matter of when I would to go back to Roanoke to do a double marathon.
By then the challenge was no longer that hard to me, since I could run a 100 mile on trails.
MMT has way more elevation gains than Roanoke of 17 or 18 thousand feet of elevation change meaning 32000 feet of total elevation (about 4 to almost 5 times as many), so 7000 feet at Roanoke seems minor. I did the MMT last year, well 95% of it at least.
Note most races are measured by elevation change instead of total elevation gain and lost.
Spoiler: Before reading further though I didn’t finish the double marathon. Not because it was too hard for me but because the race was canceled halfway due to a storm. I only finished the first lap, and had a time of 6:22:00 for my first lap. Compared to my 2019 time of 4:45, over 6 hours finishing is slow. Not that I would mind. I am pointing it out my understanding of slow also has changed.
I was at least 6 miles in on the second lap before the race was called. I had a good time nonetheless.
I drove down to Roanoke after work on Friday. The drive was long. It was about 200 miles away. It normally takes about 3.5 hours. I ran into some afternoon rush hour traffic and it was over 4 hours before I arrived. My eyes had glazed over. We runners joked about couldn’t drive more than an hour but don’t mind running 6 or more hours out there. Indeed, I don’t like driving that far.
I arrived around 6-7:00 pm and made it to the expo, which closed at 8 pm. There were some people still around, but not a lot. There was a free concert happening at the amphitheater. I brought two pairs of new shoes at the expo, Altra Rivera 3 and Estalante 3. I feel comfortable in them. The volunteer asked me if I would wear both of them the next day since it was obvious I was running the double marathon because I was holding my bib and race shirt in hand. Hell no, because rain was forecasted. I don’t wear new pair of shoes in the rain. Rain ruins good shoes.
The forecast had 100% of rain for race day. So I chose to go with my beat up trainer pair. I had two old pairs with me but I know if my feet feel fine, I would not even have to change shoes midway.
My hotel Econo Lodge was only a mile from the start. I decided to rest early that night. I brought a Subway sandwich from next door. Price has gone up and my dinner cost me nearly $20 and I was grumbling about my footlong and drink being expensive since I could get a chinese buffet of an all you can eat at around that price (Hibachi Grill I think was under $20, same for a large bowl of Pho and drink, $16). Traditionally, I go for a buffet the night before a race and Pho afterward. They are my comfort food.
I did not want a buffet this time because I did not want to go bed with a heavy stomach. After eating, I tried to sleep early since I know my double marathon event start in the middle of the night at 1 am, but I was unable to fall asleep until closer to 11 pm.
I don’t know when I felt asleep, it might have been 10 or closer to 11 but I slept like a baby with the light on and my clothes unchanged. I had my REM sleep, which was great because that all I needed to have energy for the run.
The race, my first lap was going to start at 1 am. We had a choice to either start at 1 am or 2 am depending how fast we think we were going to run. The rule was we could not finish before 5:30 am or after 7:30 am. I chose 1 am and was planning to need a 6 hour to do this for my pace. 7 am finish.
I set the alarm to wake up past midnight at 12:01 to be sure I get the AM/PM thing not be mixed up. Somehow I slept through the alarm or I might have messed up with the am/pm setting. It has happened before (at my MMT race when I overslept).
It wasn’t until 12:45 I was shock awake. I was having a real nice dream of running in some race. I was happily laughing in my dream. I remember in the dream I was running yet I was late to the event. I was running around trying to find to the start. It seemed stressful but I was having a happy dream somehow. That was when I woke up, and realized my dream had become my reality and you bet I was not laughing. I was about to be late in my real marathon. Thank to the dream I woke up, because I could easily have slept till morning and I could even have missed the morning marathon.
I already packed everything and had my bib on and water pack filled beforehand. So grabbing those, I put on a longer sleeve short, feeling it might be a cold night. I grabbed my rain jacket too and food bag, I got into my car and drove to the start. There was no time to lose. It should not take long for to drive a mile, maybe couple minutes, and at most 5 minutes.
However unfortunately, I drove down on Orange Avenue thinking the start was on Orange, due to my half awake state. I did not realize I had to make a turn on what was like the main street of Roanoke. I drove on for maybe 5-6 miles before realizing my mistake. Then I put on google map to help me get me back. By then the race had started.
I arrived to the race parking lot past 1 am. I put on my headlamp, my reflective jacket, and my flashing lights and walked to the start. Luckily they had a volunteer still there to check me in. I unofficially started my run at 1:12 am. I told the volunteer, I wouldn’t mind if she recorded me starting at 1 am, to make the math easier when they had to combine my time for the first lap with the second lap.
I didn’t remember to start my garmin watch until I reached Walnut Street’s bridge crossing. It was about maybe 5 minutes later. So my watched recorded my whole race time as 6:15:00. My official time for the first lap was 6:22:00. About 7 minutes more and half mile shorter of 28.5 miles.
It was a quiet night. About 40 other runners started ahead of me. They were now at least a mile ahead. I, having done the race before, the roads seemed familiar to me. Originally, I was worried and wanted to run with someone who knew the course. However, now having to run by myself, I just had to make it work. I did have the turnsheet/map in my hand. I also had the running app telling me where to turn but unfortunately, once I was up on the mountain, the app stopped working since it had no cell signal. I think I had the battery saver mode on, so it was interfering with the app. If I didn’t have that on, it would have drained my battery before the end of the race. Those running phone apps is kind of a catch-22. The newer Garmin watches can give turn directions and avoided this issue. You bet I want one of those.
The first 6 miles was pretty easy. It was just one straight road up to Mill Mountain and then to Roanoke mountain. There were check points along the way, where volunteers checked us in as we passed them. They also served as race marshalls, to ensure we were on course, plus also served as aid stations, with water for us to refill our bottles. Many of them had waffles for us. Cheers to them for staying up all night for us.
By mile 6, the fast people already reached the turn around point and were coming back down the mountain. I was able to see many of them as they passed me.
By mile 7 I was able to catch up to some of the slow runners, like about the last 4-5 runners slower runners.
Unfortunately on the way down from Roanoke Mountain, I did not pay attention and missed a turn at getting off of Blue Ridge Parkway. I added like 3.5 miles onto my run on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Later, I found out people did try to chase me to let me know I went the wrong way, but they just couldn’t catch me.
I was again about 20 minutes behind everyone. It was now around 3 am and 13 miles in (my watch distance, the race distance was much less, maybe at 10 mile). Runners who started 2 am caught up to me as they came down the mountain. They were very fast and an enthusiastic bunch. There were not many of them, maybe 5-8. They gave me encouragements. I couldn’t keep their pace though and soon I was alone again after they passed me. I noted that the first crowd of runners I passed were subdue and didn’t cheer but the second crowd (2 am people), they were as excited as I was and it was fun. The 1 AM runners were too serious in their run.
By mile 13, I caught up to the tail end again of the 1 am starters. I still knew I was about 15 minutes behind the race pace. Lucky there were no sweeps for the night run. Even though I was behind on my pace, I was not in danger of being pulled from the race. I got to Mill Mountain, it was all downhill from there so I could run much faster to make up the time.
It had a very nice view at the Mill Mountain, looking out onto the city below from the Roanoke Star. It was one beautiful sight. I did not take a picture because it was night time.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Once I got back down from the mountain, it was easier. We were in the city around 4 am. There were already some occasional traffic on the roads. The signs for turns were easier to spot and there were street lights. The terrain was flatter. I followed the road markings.
5 am. I think I was passing the hospital where the finish line was around the corner. Yet I still had maybe 8 miles to go. I had to get back to finish by 7:30 to start the second lap (2nd marathon). I remembered someone was passing me. I told the person, 40 more minutes before the finish line opens. we couldn’t finish before 5:30 am because the finish line was not ready yet. I think we had somewhere between 8-10 miles to go, likely 8 ish. I said he could finish before 5:30 (doing 5 min per mile), while I need two more hours for this. I was half joking of course. I was jealous of the fast people taking way less time than me.
Climbing Peak Hill was hard. I had to walk. The volunteer said I was not that far behind the runner ahead. I was estimating maybe 10 mins behind the pace. I hoped to close the gap.
By mile 20~ish, I passed the second to last runner. The sky was dawning. The time was around 6 am. I knew by then I could make it back in time. People were waking up and walking their dogs. The street was not so lonely any more.
The final few miles I was able to see some runners at another out and back segment. I caught up to race pace of 16:20. They were couple miles ahead of me. They cheered me and I cheered them back. I am a loud and boisterous runner. I passed a few slower runners. My feet were still fresh. Catherine, I found out ran the course virtually a week prior and the year before, she finished with an hour to spare at the transition. Not this time. She came in just as the 2nd marathon was about to start.
Less than two miles from the finish, they had police blocking the traffic for us. I felt like a king as I was only single runner at the time running on a wide road. They allow us to use the road now. People who were running in the morning race were also arriving. Some cheered me. I started having the runner’s high and crowd support motivated me to run even harder. I made it to the finish line by 7:22 am crossing the finish. At least for the first marathon is done.
I had maybe 10 minutes to get to the car and freshen up before the start of the second race. I refilled up my water. I took my food bag with me. This would be my breakfast. I didn’t get to use the transition area they had for us. I used my car as an aid station instead.
The food was originally for my first lap but I didn’t bring it with me, and now I took it. I did not have time to change shoes or shirt. My feet felt great and had no blisters or hot spots. I kept the same shoes on then. I didn’t have to change socks or lube up. Though when the rain came later, I regretted of not having put on some lube because my shorts were cutting into my private area.
I got back to the start with about 5 minutes left. I missed the national anthem. There I met Iris, who was in my running club. I didn’t know she was running this race. We were excited and caught up on stories. Iris was one of my crew for the Devil Dog. It was good to finally see her again. Roanoke was her first marathon 10 years ago, she told me. This was her second time running it. She is a friend of Catherine. She said several members from my runner club was there that day. One was 4th female overall before the race was canceled.
For second lap, I planned to go slower. Having Iris as my companion helped. I kept at her pace. The second lap we had 7.5 hrs to run it. It was an hour more than our first lap. However, we had to reach mile 20 by a certain time, which means we had to maintain 16:20 pace for the first 20 miles. We were doing like 15-16 min mi pace, so we were a bit ahead.
6 miles in, it started raining. Then thunders and lightning started happening around us. It got very cold. I had my jacket on but I was still shivering. They called off the race around 9 am, about an hour and half into the race. We had to turn around and headed back. They reopened the roads. Police officers were telling us if we run, we run at our own risk.
I understand their policy because for the safety of the volunteers and runners, the event had to be canceled. However, I agreed too with many runners that we were left unsupported midway through the race and there were confusion as to what to do. Most of us turned around and headed back to the start/finish area. I was not sure if there were buses coming to pick us up. My motto was, I can walk back on my own power.
I wish they had closed the race in stages instead. I know there were no optimal solutions. With a canceled race, they were going get complaints. Some chose to continue on their own and were surprised no water or food served since the volunteers also had left their stations. Again the roads had reopened. I didn’t think that was safe but I think they wanted to send the message to us that we should not continue the run.
The rain lasted only about 15-30 minutes. In hindsight, the race could have continued. Many (ultra) runners said they had been through much worse and dangerous or exposed situations before. What they experience that day was nothing. Hindsight always is perfect 20/20.
As for me, I did not continue on. It was obvious we wouldn’t have the aid support. I had my water pack so in theory I could run a marathon unsupported. I was also having some rub burn issue so as soon as I could get to the finish area the better. I checked with Iris, she also wanted to get back quickly. It took us maybe an hour to get halfway down the mountain. We got to mile 12 and 13, where the buses made their way up. We got on the buses. We were overjoy that the buses came for us. I knew I could make it back to the start by walking or running (we were probably at most only 3 miles away) but having the bus take us back was way better than walking in our wet clothes. The bus waited until it was fully packed before heading off. There were maybe 50-60 of us on a bus. We arrived back at 10:30.
The finish line was a busy place. They were serving food and drinks still. I did not mind grabbing myself a slice of pizza. Those that did not take the bus were coming in. I guess they were the 3 hours finishers (half marathoners/marathoners). They were still handing out medals. The volunteers though received words that the race closed at 9, but had remained for last hour and half serving finishers. They were understaffed because majority of the volunteers had left. It was a shoestring operation! I did not stay for long because as more buses arrived, it was going to get more chaotic.
It was a hard call to whether continue the run or give up for a lot of people. There is a bit of shame of giving up on a race. RD made the call, so in a sense the RD took on the blame. The drama is still going on the social media. All runners who did not finish were converted to a virtual race. We could submit our time and get a medal. There were questions how many miles do we now run, since the race was shutdown halfway, whether we had to redo from the beginning and or how to combine the two timings and courses for the upload. Technically, I think you have to redo the course from the beginning, the whole 26.2 miles. But it is a virtual event now. Who cares. RD just wants everyone to be happy and go on until next year event. Some were calling boycotting the next year event. Some were asking for a discount or refund. Basically I think do whatever they want since it is a virtual race. The race would not count for anything. This got people upset.
FYI I took a medal and a finisher picture and I even cross the finish line (don’t tell anyone 🤫) and I rode on the bus back! People who rode with me on the bus, asked you could do that? sure! why not! Sorry for those who did continue the race in their own power and ran to the finish without the aid station supports. They were beasts. But you know I will do the full 52.4 mile run on my own, right (I will just use part of the upcoming 100 mile race as my time👍)?
My action somewhat took away their honor, but to me since the race was over by 9, anyone who came in after that would not be recorded. We made the finish celebration to mean whatever we wanted it to mean by then. Hence there were a lot of dramas happening and complaints on Facebook going on. People were discontent that they didn’t get the proper recognition or for some was the opportunity to continue. I don’t really care by then. You go out there and have fun and deal with what was given. Stop giving people a hard time. Having the race canceled is part of the journey. Iris told me in her years of running never once was a race canceled on her midway.
There was no DQ-ing for those came in after 9 o clock (or technically we all DQ-ed) and that was why people were upset.
For me I think, we received no words from race organization on what to do and there was a general of confusion! I mean we clearly understood the race was canceled. It was like what’s next then. None of us wanted to go home. For me it was a successful fun run finishing with a group of friends and we celebrated we survived the ordeal being three hours out on the course. It was for our friends and family also because they wanted to see that is the end of the trip and all the training. So we took photos at the finish line. Our group promised we will be back next year to do it properly.
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