Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Race Report: Tobacco Road Marathon

The Tobacco Road Marathon in 2018 was selected as one of the the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics' Signature Races for the year, so members who ran got an opportunity to get a second medal upon finishing the race.  While I already had North Carolina checked off for a marathon, I still needed a race to sing at there, and luckily, I snagged the gig after a few back and forth emails with the race directors from July until November 2017. The race itself is largely along the American Tobacco Trail, starting and ending in the city of Cary, where my aunt and uncle live, so it's a city I'm somewhat familiar with.

As per usual, I booked a flight after work on Friday to get me to Raleigh, for race weekend. Traffic was a mess heading to LaGuardia on Friday (as it usually is), so I got in a cab to take me to my secret entrance via footbridge over the Grand Central Parkway, where I then walked over to Terminal D for my flight. I arrived later that night, picking up a rental car and driving it to my cousin Alex's new apartment in downtown Raleigh.  Upon arriving, we headed out for drinks at Carolina Ale House, just down the street.  We encountered the cutest corgi ever, a 3 month old named Merlin, as we were leaving, who turns out to live in the same building where I was staying - Alex knew Merlin's owners well.  I'd be having another tete-a-tete with this cute little pup later on in my trip.

After dinner, we headed back to Alex's place, and I slept soundly that night in his guest bedroom.  The next morning, I headed to Cary and to the race expo at the Embassy Suites, where I met my friends the Robys and Roehlers, from Rhode Island and Kansas, respectively, upon walking in.  Not long afterward, I'd end up seeing the Provenchers from New Hampshire, there too.  We would all be meeting up again later that night for dinner.

I love me some Goodberry's!
When I was done at the expo, I grabbed lunch in Cary, meeting up with another cousin Cyndi and her twin sons Brandon and Zack at a nice Peruvian sit down restaurant.  After the delicious meal, I goaded them into heading to a North Carolina staple with me for dessert, heading to Goodberry's Frozen Custard. Being that it was St. Patrick's Day weekend, it was fitting that the custard flavor of the day was mint chocolate chip. Alex joined us there, again.  With a bit of the afternoon left to go, I met up with Hollie, also in town for the race, to grab a beer at Fortnight Brewing.  We then headed to dinner at local Italian restaurant Traviana's with our friends in the 50 States Club we used to be members of, and to also celebrate our friend Sophie's 100th half marathon that she'd be running the following morning.  It was a fairly early dinner, and I was back at Alex's to conk out since I had an early wake up call the next morning.

Maniacs and Fanatics photo before the start! (Photo by Garrett Anderson)
Pinoy Maniacs!
At 4:30am, my alarm went off, and I was dressed for cold weather and out the door by 5am, in Thomas Brooks Park for the start by 5:30.  It was super COLD.  With the race beginning at 7am, I was there pretty early, but having met with the race director the day before, he had me come at that time to ensure I got a parking spot using the pass he gave me as close to the start/finish as possible.  I stayed in my car as long as I could before leaving, and through chattering teeth and high 30 degree weather with a slight wind, I met up with fellow Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs for a group photo, then headed to the startline.  Upon meeting with the start announcers, I climbed a scaffolding to be positioned high above the runners where I met the Mayor of Cary and then sang the national anthem, checking off the state of North Carolina as my 42nd anthem state.

The startline
I climbed down from the scaffolding and found Hollie, who was kind enough to video my singing of the anthem for me, before we jumped back a bit to start the race.  We started together, as we ran the first 2.5 miles down hilly roads, from Brooks Park Lane turning right onto Green Level Church Road, then left to Morrisville Parkway. The cold isn't helping any, and my legs already feel like lead, as I painfully make my way down the asphalt.  These first 2.5 miles clock in at about 28.5 minutes, a 11:24 pace. Things get a little easier once we're on the American Tobacco Trail, but my legs still feel a bit rough.  The 4:40 pacer comes by, and I'm able to keep up for a short period of time, alongside a new friend Charlotte, who's dressed as a NCSU Wolfpack cheerleader. Her schtick is to wear a costume (many that she makes from scratch) to every marathon.

Running on the roads before the trail

Entering the American Tobacco Trail
The American Tobacco Trail is a former Norfolk Southern Railroad line turned recreational rail-trail. While the course is called a "trail," it is NOT a trail like an unpaved single-track course. Constructed in 1906, the original railroad traveled from Duncan to Durham near the New Hope River, transporting tobacco leaves from farming communities in Wake, Chatham and Durham counties for processing at the American Tobacco Company in Durham. The construction of a new reservoir to the west, damming and flooding the Haw and New Hope Rivers to create Jordan Lake, necessitated the relocation of a section of the railroad corridor onto higher ground, so eventually, the railroad went into disuse, with the tracks eventually being removed in 1987. The N.C. Department of Transportation purchased the then informal recreational trail corridor from the railroad company in 1995 and subsequently leased the corridor to the counties to be developed and operated as a recreational trail open to the public. Named the American Tobacco Trail to reflect its historical roots, planning and construction of the trail would occur in the late 90s, and would be built in sections, with openings starting in 2001. Parts of it would be gravelly, but most of it was asphalted over with a gravel shoulder. Overall, the trail is 22.6 miles long, but for this race, only 10.6 miles of course (with out-and-backs) would be used.

So serene!
Bacon does a body good.
After a couple miles running northward on the trail, the fastest runners began to run back in the other direction, and eventually a little while later I would see several of my faster friends on the other side of the trail running south - including Jose, Jeanette, and Todd.  All the while, my right foot began to go numb, which I had initially chalked up to the cold temps. But eventually, near the 10k mark, I decided to stop next to a ledge and loosen the laces on my right shoe, finally realizing, "well crap, my shoes are tied too tight." As I stop to readjust a bit, my friend Jun passes me by. I eventually continue on, feeling much better having made the adjustment, and I clock in a slightly better pace in the ensuing miles.

Mimosa station!
With the views very similar throughout the whole race - trees, trees, everywhere, on both sides... and then there's the trail - there wasn't much to actually write about.  There were some great aid stations throughout the course, though - one of note was the mimosa station, which I took advantage of both times I passed by: the first time with the aforementioned mimosa, the second time with bacon.... and another mimosa. :) We also passed county lines markers along the way, and it was nice seeing the different signage marking the division between both Durham and Chatham Counties. We eventually reached the turnaround point, just as the trail got to Scott King Road in Durham County, just a little past the mile 8 marker. An aid station was conveniently located right here, as we began to make our way south.  Not too far behind me on the out and back, I spotted JC, who was sporting an injury but was still gingerly making it through the race, as well as Hollie, who decided to run alongside our friend Juan.  The cold weather seemed to have made this race a bit tougher for most of my friends!

Entering Durham County on the out....
...and returning to Chatham County on the back
On the southern portion of the trail
As I continued southward, my legs got really tired, and even before I reached the halfway point, I knew it was going to be a rough day.  I passed the mimosa (+ bacon) stop for the second time, then eventually reached the halfway point in an uncharacteristically slow 2:36.  I continued to struggle on until reaching the road where we had split off from the half marathoners, now just past our 14 mile mark, to begin a new part of the trail I hadn't seen before. On the other side of the trail, came more fast marathoners only a few miles from the finish, as well as some of the half marathoners who would be finishing past the 3 hour mark.

Moonshine at the mile 19 aid station!
At first, it was a slight downhill along this southern portion of the trail, so I ended up doing a mile roughly two minutes faster than I had been; but it was short lived - I returned back to my struggle-bus miles as I trudged along on the back half of the race. I was actually quite surprised with the slight up and down there was to this trail, as it wasn't completely flat as I had imagined - I had thought that railroads were supposed to run along flatter terrain?!  In any case, I continued on as best as I could, maintaining a slow, but steady pace forward.  The aid stations kept my spirits up though - the local Black Girls Run chapter set up a great aid station, complete with some upbeat music, and so as I passed through, I loved entertaining them with my dance moves, which I got to do when I came back through the second time on my way to the finish.

Another highlight of the second half was passing by the Mile 19 ultra style aid station, located very near the last turnaround point in the southern half of the trail. JC had caught up at this point, and so we took advantage of the "treats" they had at this station - in particular, I was given the heads up by my local friend Maureen, who had told me they would have moonshine waiting for me. Naturally, I partook and even got JC to take a swig, too! And then heartburn ensued.

JC and I being... JC and I! Hehe!

Turn around soon...
After the turnaround point at about mile 19.66, I had roughly 4 1/2 miles left on the trail before heading back on Morrisville Parkway as it made its way to the finish back in Thomas Brooks Park.  Along the way, I met a fellow Filipino runner who was struggling in these last few miles as well. Carmen was local to the area, and running her first marathon.

We finally got to the end of the trail with just over 2 miles to go, as we turned right onto Morrisville Parkway.  I was slowing down significantly as we headed into finish, as my legs and feet were just hurting too much.  At the same time, the wind, which had been obstructed by all the trees along the trail, was giving us a little bit of trouble now that we were on the open road.  After the turn, we reached the mile 24 marker, and since I was still having fun with this race despite my already slowing down time, I took a quick tequila shot, as I ran past a fun aid booth (complete with someone dressed as a taco) before continuing on.  As we turned onto Green Church Level Road at mile 25, I found my friend Dave, also having a tough time today.  We came into the finish, and I crossed the line in 5:42:38. As it showed, I was having a slow first few months on the roads.  I got my headstand completed near the finish, and grabbed some much needed food - pizza - just as I retrieved my extra medal for the signature series, before heading back to Raleigh.

A hard-earned Victory Headstand!

Reuniting with my BFF, Amy!
As I wasn't leaving til Monday, I had all day Sunday to relax after the run.  I headed back to Raleigh and my cousin's apartment for a much needed shower, and nap, since I had an early morning.  I had arranged to grab an early dinner with my college friend Amy out in Durham, where we went to a burger joint called Zinburger.  It was nice getting to see her, which I try to do every time I'm in the area - we've known each other for over 15 years, since our days singing a cappella and watching Sex and the City back in Ann Arbor!  She and her husband Chris have been married since 2008, and have a cute two year old named Calvin - but at that moment, my lovely friend was due with her second child, another boy, who would be coming in July!  After dinner, I headed back to Raleigh, and got to have more snuggles with Merlin the corgi, whose owners were grilling some burgers with my cousin in their apartment building's courtyard.

I had an early flight the following morning to get back to New York, and experienced the worst ever security lines I've seen at a domestic airport - let alone a smaller hub like RDU.  Even the TSA agents were surprised at the lines - they said they'd never seen it like this before on a regular day other than at Christmas time.  Luckily, I got through it and was able to board my flight back to New York, heading straight to work, like usual.

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