Peak to Creek Marathon - Jonas Ridge, NC

Finish Time: 2:55:47

Average Pace: 6:42/mile

Final Place: 10 out of 312

 

So, I have a new marathon PR!!! 

This year has been a worldwind. In 2018, I have PR’d every major distance that I ran - 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon. In fact, I PR’d in the marathon twice (out of the three that I ran), with overall finishes of 1st, 2nd, and 10th. I think it’s safe to say that this has been a milestone year for my running. 

But enough of that, let’s get to the subject at hand - The Peak to Creek Marathon. This was my “A” race for the year. I did not taper for most of my other events this year and just ran straight through training. But this event was my big one; it was the prime focus of the year. 

I had a pretty solid buildup to the race. I ran two marathons in the spring (one of which I jogged as a training run). Then during the summer I focused on speed, track work, and short races. Later, I began to ramp up mileage and started hitting consecutive 100-mile weeks as this marathon approached. I was injury free and relatively well rested. I felt pretty confident leading up to my race and a couple days before the start, I listed the following goals in my log: 

”A” Goal - Break 2:50

”B” Goal - Break 2:55

”C” Goal - Break 3:00 

The only potential hiccup in my plan was the weather. It was forecasted to be in the 30’s (that’s good); but the weather also called for a good bit of rain in the days leading up to the race (that’s bad).  The course is net downhill and mostly off-road. Just in case you need a reminder from your elementary school days: water + dirt = mud. And mud and downhill is a recipe for disaster. I didn’t want to stress over things that I am unable to control, so I just managed what I could. I brought two pair of shoes with me on the drive - my trail shoes and my road shoes. I figured I’d make a last minute call based on the weather when I woke up.

Getting to the Race

I had a pretty busy week leading up to this marathon. I spent the preceding week in cold and windy Cleveland for a work trip. I got back to Atlanta on Thursday night. Then I woke up Friday morning and drive from Atlanta to my hotel in Lenoir, NC. I arrived at my hotel at 6pm, ordered some food, and was in the bed by 9pm.   

Race Morning

I woke up race morning at 4:30am. I had oatmeal, a bagel, and some coffee for breakfast. Then I left my hotel for the 30 minute drive to the finish line so that I could catch the race sponsored bus to the start line.

Driving to the bus pickup location was interesting. The road that led to the finish line was equal parts dark and curvy. I felt like one wrong turn and I would drive the car right off the road. It felt like a video game, honestly. So yeah, I was a bit nervous driving in.  

It rained a good bit the day before, and I could tell the ground was a bit soggy. That said, I still decided to go with the vaporflys. All though I just bought the new pair with the flyknit upper, I went with the OG vaporflys because I had a feeling that this course was going to wreck my shoes... remember that formula about water and dirt.  

There was ample parking at the finish line. There were also several busses lined up waiting to transport runners to the start line. The buses were coach-style and very comfortable. The ride to the start was about 30-40 minutes. I was hoping to get some additional sleep, but the person I sat next to wanted to have a conversation for most of the ride. I didn’t mind too much though.

At the start line, they had packet pickup, several portopotties and a pickup truck that handled all of the bag drops. I had time to hit all three spots and run a warmup mile before the race started. I also bumped into a local buddy - Brad Frink. He was running his first marathon and looking to go sub-3.

As the 8am start time approached, I made my way towards the front of the pack and mentally revisited my goals, meditated, and prayed. And then... We were off!

If you’ve ever ready any of my recaps, I enjoy breaking my marathons into smaller segments. This race can be divided into three main segments:

1. The upper rolling hills (miles 1-6)

2. The middle drop off (Miles 7-15)

3. The final flat-ish (Miles 16-26.2) 

 

The Upper Rolling Hills (Miles 1-6)

The first 6 miles took place on paved roads and largely consisted of an out-and-back across rolling hills.  

The first section was mostly uneventful. There was one aid stop which we crossed twice by nature of this being an out and back. The road were mostly fine in this section but there was a hill about a half mile before the turnaround that was very slippery; I definitely almost bussed my behind on this section. I’m talking arms flailing, wide-eyed stumbling, but fortunately I caught myself before actually hitting the pavement. Other than that, it was all good. I took my first gel right around mile 5.5, just before entering the downhill section. By the time I got to mile 6, I was in 13th place, by my count. My splits over the first 6 miles were:

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The Middle Drop-Off (Miles 7-15)

Once we made a left off of the road and hit the trails, the elevation began to drop FAST. The downhill nature of this section was great, but what wasn’t great was the mud. The ground was so soupy and muddy and slippery that it was VERY difficult to keep focused on my running. I’m not exaggerating  when I say that with every single step my foot would land then slide a couple of inches before I could pick it back up for my next stride. Conditions were flat out treacherous. I was basically in a perpetual state of slipping as I went down the hill. It was here where I really wished I had my trail shoes. 

The muddy conditions definitely slowed me down, but the big downhill nature of this section more than made up for loss of time due to the slippery conditions. 

By this point, I had one person ahead of me in sight. I could feel myself slowly closing on this person, but then I’d stop and use the restroom (10 seconds in the trees) and they’d gain more ground on me. This happened two times during the downhill section. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill I was pretty much right behind this runner and I had someone else right behind me. There was a water stop at the end of this section where I took my 3rd huma gel. 

I tried to let my body dictate the pace over these miles. I didn’t want to go too fast and end up blowing out my quads at the end. I also didn’t want to spend too much energy trying to brake the whole way down. I think I managed pretty well; here are my splits from the downhill middle section:

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The Final Flat-ish Section (Miles 16-26.2)

The last 10 miles of the course maintain a net elevation loss, but the decent is significantly less steep than the middle section (as you can note in the elevation figures at the end of this section of the write-up). Not only does the elevation level out, but there a few short uphill sections with give this part of the course an almost rolling sort of feel. This is probably somewhat relative because after 8 straight miles of downhill, any mole hill will feel like a mountain. 

This section starts with an approximately one mile out and back. It was pretty cool because I got to see the leaders, and they were rolling! By my count, I believe I was in 12th place at this point.

And here’s one of the biggest downpoints of this particular marathon. Right after the out and back, there’s a part of the course where you are supposed make a right off the the road that we’d been on for miles. I assure you that I did not see any sign directing me to turn and there was no coarse marshal to direct the traffic here. I just happened to see the person in front of me turn and then a bystander taking pictures confirmed (when I asked) that I should turn here. On my own, I would’ve never made the turn. Well it turns out that the leaders who came before me didn’t have anyone to follow. They blew right past the turn, and in doing so dropped way out of the top position. I’m not sure how far they went before they turned around, but it was far enough for them to end up finishing behind me despite the fact that they were on pace to finish a good 15-20 minute ahead of me. The RD emailed a very heartfelt apology afterwards, and I can only hope that they will more clearly mark (or better yet staff) this turn for future years. 

So as always, the back end of a marathon is always the most difficult. This is especially true when you have a big downhill in the middle. It took extra work to get my legs to continue to motor at a sub-7 pace over the last 10 miles. Clearly, I wasn’t alone in this. I could not even keep track of my place because there was so much passing going on through this section - me passing some people, while other people were passing me. 

I took my 4th and last huma gel at mile 21. This was a small victory for me; it was my first time being able to take every gel that I planned to take before the start of a marathon. I’ve experimented with different gels at different frequencies, but I think I’ve finally found my niche. 4 gels is the Max I can handle, and I spread them out accordingly. I take water with the gels and Gatorade at the other stops in between gels. That seems to be the recipe for solid energy and a content belly. 

Anyway, around mile 22 is when things got really tough. The 22nd mile is a thing for me; I can always tell how things are going to go down the stretch by how I feel when I cross mile 22. I knew this was was going to take some soul searching. By my 22nd mile, my pace hit the 7:XX/mile range. While this is definitely a bonk, I’m happy to report that I never slowed more than that. My slowest mile for the day ended up being a 7:44 minute 23rd mile.  

The finish of this race is especially brutal. It ends precisely where the day started. If you remember from the beginning, I told you that we parked at the finish and are then bussed to the start. Well down the last stretch, runners actually have to run a lap around the parking lot... yes, you have to run right past your car and circle the lot before reaching the finish line. It’s like the last demoralizing stretch before reaching the promised arch of the finish. This lap was super muddy as the parking lot was all un-paved dirt road. Big mud puddles were everywhere. 

But after circling the lot and coming up one last little hill, I saw the finish line. I sprinted to the finish and claimed another PR! I’m now a 2:55 marathoner! My last 5+ miles were about a minute slower per mile than my desired goal, which led to me missing my “A” goal by approximately 5 minutes. But I’m still happy with the personal best.

Here are my splits from the final section: 

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Post Finish

One cool aspect of this race was the abundance of free food afterwards. Since I eat a plant based diet, there was really nothing there for me. Everyone else seemed to enjoy the grilled meat, cookies, etc. It was a nice touch. 

I ended up 10th overall and 2nd in my AG, for which I earned a pretty cool hand made mug. As a big coffee and tea drinker, that mug will definitely get much use in the Patterson residence.

Overall, this was a good race. There are some areas for improvement - course marking, expanded food options at the finish, and clearer communication regarding expected course conditions in the rain. But most of that is easy to address and overall I’d rate this course a 3.5/5. 

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