Tobacco Road Marathon: Race Report

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The 2015 medal

The Story

A friend of mine familiar with the North Carolina area told me that there was a fantastic race around called Tobacco Road. It was also selected by Runner’s World as one of the top 10 marathons in the USA. As the registration fees for early birds were pretty cheap ($50), I registered immediately. The course seemed wonderful and is really flat. The race director highlights that this is an  ideal Boston Qualifier: pretty flat with good temperature, you might get a good time and qualify to run the mythical Boston race.

If you plan to do it, I would recommend to register early: the early bird registration is $50 and the fees goes up to $110. At $50, this is a fantastic deal but for $110, it seems too expensive for what it is and you might prefer to sign up for another race (Pittsburgh?). While the race was not sold out, it might be a good idea to register as soon as you know you can make it to save on registration fees.

How I got there

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Natty’s Greene Brewing Company

Many friends decided to run the race but as a matter of fact, for several reasons, I was the only one to finally make it it. As I never DNS or DNF (for now … knock on wood!), I went there alone! As I was working in DC the week before, I take the drive from Washington, DC to Raleigh. This is a pretty straightforward drive.

The conditions for a horrible day were met: I fell few days before the race and injured my arm/hand and I was sick two days before, so, I was looking forward to see what will happen. Also, this is the first time I tapered before a race and did not run on Saturday before the race and took plenty of sleep. I wanted to see the impact of sleep over my performance and ability to race.

I arrived in Raleigh on Friday. Packet pick up and the race expo are at the Embassy Suites hotel on Friday and Saturday. You cannot take your packet on race-day, so, be careful to get there at least a day before. The expo is pretty basic with running stores, shoe sales, etc. I took my packet on Friday and want to Natty Greene’s, even if I was sick. The race is sponsored by Natty Greene’s Brewing Company, so, this was also a good opportunity to go and try their beers! In a nutshell: the food is ok and the beer is average. But obviously, they sponsor the race, so, what the heck, give them your bucks!

On the other hand, I was totally sick on Friday and was just hoping it will eventually get better after a few hours. The strategy was just to try to sleep as much as I can and avoid to overload my stomach and just try to keep something inside. Very romantic week-end in perspective. I got plenty of sleep during Friday night and Saturday and did not do any carb-load or special nutrition strategy. It will be definitively an interesting race!

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Safety measures were already up on Saturday

The Race

The race organizers did a pretty good job to make the area safe and convenient for runners. On Saturday, there was already signs to indicate there will be runners on Sunday. This might be be so significant but it shows the attention and efforts the race director put into his event.

The race is well organized. Parking is limited at the start so you have to park few miles away and a shuttle bus connect the race site with this parking. There are a lot of portable toilets as well, either at the start/finish line or even on the course (there are not many but they are there very often).

 

 

The elevation profile - pretty flat
The elevation profile – pretty flat

 

The race starts with 2.5-ish miles on the road and after, you run on the Tobacco Road trail. You start a first 6-ish out and back (so, 12 in total) and do another 5-ish out and back  and finish by taking back the road (2.5-ish) to the starting line. Simple course, not exactly flat (it has slight hills, see the elevation chart) but definitively not an aggressive elevation profile. This makes this race a great Boston Qualifier for those who do not like hills! There are many aid stations with Water/Gatorade (probably even 2 to 3 miles) and some propose GU gels. Also, the second turn around (about mile 19-ish) is more an ultra-station with Peanut Butter & Jelly, Pretzels, etc. The beer enthusiasts will be happy to know that there is a beer aid-station (probably not official) around mile 7-ish and 9-ish). I appreciate the initiatives but on this day, I did not want to try such a thing, especially so early in the race! But it shows the support of the local community and how nice and friendly is the people around!

Over all these miles, you can see the nature, run on bridges, listen to the birds: that sounds very romantic. But what seems a great race on a sunny day could be a nightmare with more rain. We were lucky that the race was on a sunny day but in case there is rain it can be a complete muddy course. So, your race experience might be impacted significantly by the weather.

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Get ready at the starting line

Once you finish, you get your medal (yeah!) and you can go to the dedicated finish area to get chocolate milks, beers, pizza and bread! The beer was nice and pour were smalls so that you do not drink too much  (which can be hazardous, especially if you have a long drive right after!). The bread was great and tasty, the Great Harvest Bread Company did a great job, their products were definitively the most appreciated sponsor here! I would have made my complete post-race recovery with bread and butter but I did not want to take too much!

The medal is very cool and original, another good reason to sign up! The ride back to the parking lot using the shuttle takes about 10 minutes, the system set up by the organizers is really efficient!

As for popular Boston-Qualifier race, the emphasis is put on the PR bell, the potential BQ for every runner, etc. Fortunately, a runner from Steel City Road Runner got her BQ at this race! So, it seems to be legit!

Lessons Learned

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Representing the Steel City Road Runners

This race was the first one after a long time. As I was injured, the training was really different and this gave me an opportunity to learn a lot. Some thoughts:

  • sleep is definitively underrated and carb-load overrated: the race was done on an (almost) totally empty stomach but after two 9 to 10 hours night of sleep. During the run, I was able to put down three gels and a peanut butter square. I felt great (no bunk) and not tired at the finish. No wall effect as well.
  • walking might be necessary and do not impact significantly your time: the pain related to the injury started to come back sometimes, making running extremely difficult and painful. When it happens, I just walked for one to two minutes and then, the pain disappeared. It happened three times during the race. This is probably better to lose 6 minutes on your finish time than suffering for four hours.
  • running is definitively a mental process: all the conditions were met to have the most terrible experience. Previous injury, not having the friends I was expecting, being sick before the race, the list might be long and I could just decided not to start. But putting your ass on the starting line is probably the most important step to finish. Do, stop whining or complaining: put your ass on the starting line and do your thing. Action matters more than anything else.

The Take-Away

This is a great beautiful race if you run it on a sunny day. For $50, this is a great deal and I would not consider to run it for more (I would consider running another race). If you want to qualify for Boston, this is a great opportunity, especially if the race takes place on a sunny day.

The race is really well organized and there is nothing to complain about, there is truly a great event! This can be a great opportunity to make a road trip with other friends and discover North Carolina! Plus, you can meet famous people: Sean Astin, an actor in “The Goonies” and “Lord of the Rings” ran the race! Pretty cool!

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Tobacco Road Marathon: Race Report

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