Its been six weeks since the Tobacco Road Marathon but I still want to review the race for those who might be interested in putting this on their future calendar.
The Tobacco Road Marathon was on March 18, 2018 in Cary, NC. Close to Durham & Chapel Hill. The race venue is the Thomas Brooks Park & USA Baseball Fields. Race is traditionally held on a Sunday and requires travel to the area on Friday or Saturday to pick up race packets. Small expo at a local hotel. Easy & fast, in and out. A few vendors, like my favorite girl, Gypsy Runner.
If your traveling with the family, there isn’t a lot to do in this area (or maybe we just didn’t know where to look?). Beautiful area though. New neighborhoods. Nice homes. Cute boutique like shopping areas. Nice.
Race day started bright and early
like always. Getting to the race site required some planning. There was a local pick up area in Cary called NetApp, where people could park & get shuttled to/from the race site. There were a few onsite parking spots that required pre-purchased parking passes. Then there was runner drop off at the venue. Fortunately, my daughter now has her license. GASP! She was able to drop me off, then drive back to the hotel with her little brother, then return to pick me up. This race would have been challenging, logistics wise (as a mom with kids & no other adult to supervise), had she not been able to drive. I’ve taken them to a lot of races & I usually pick a hotel on the race course or close to the start/finish so they can sleep in at the hotel, then come to the race when they are ready. This race started at the park, then ran to the American Tobacco Trail, stayed on the American Tobacco Trail, then ran back to the park for the finish. You need access to a car to get to packet pick up and to/from the race. No shuttles for local hotels. No way to spectate without access to a car.
On to the race! The important part, right? Please note that the majority of these photos are courtesy of Amy at Gypsy Runner. I wanted to ring the PR bell, so knew I couldn’t waste time with photos. Thanks, Amy for always helping me out! I love seeing your smiling face at expos and out on the marathon courses!
We got to the race early. The race started at 7am but the parking areas shut down at a certain time. I think they wanted everyone in the parking area by 5:30 so that the shuttle buses could come/go without issue. It was cool. Probably upper 40s at the start and while we were waiting. I rarely take throw away clothes but did this time because I wasn’t planning to check a bag. The plan was to run the race, finds the kids, leave. We were headed to Disney World for Spring Break & this was just a pit stop for momma to grab another state!
The race started promptly at 7am. Start/Finish area was easy to find, just down from the row of port-o-potties. It was still dark when we started the race but the area was well lit around the bathrooms & the start/finish area. Photo courtesy of the Tobacco Road Marathon Facebook page:
We left Thomas Park with an incline to get out of the park and onto the road. Key to remember because that’s a downhill to the finish line! Couple other rolling hills in the 2.5 miles from the park to the American Tobacco Trail. Then the marathoners had 21 miles on the ATT. Very few turns. If you are ever afraid of getting lost, this is the type of race for you. There was never any question as to where to go or where to turn. It was very well ran, volunteers were great. All road crossings were patrolled.
The race was advertised as fast & flat. As a Midwest gal, I know flat. Any race that claims to be flat, will probably have more hills than I can get when I make an effort to FIND hills to run. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this race. I will say that it was pretty flat. There were a few rollers to/from the ATT. Once on the ATT (where we ran 21 of the 26.2 miles), it was pretty flat. This was an old rail trail. So the inclines/declines were not visible, you’d just feel it in your legs. On a slight decline, you could feel the load lighten and the pace got easier. On the incline, you couldn’t really “see” it but you could tell you were going up because it took more effort to hold the pace. But honestly, I heard some people complain post race about the elevation, Garmin showed 735 ft of gain, Strava showed 819 ft for the entire race. Small gains & losses over time.
The ATT was a mix of crushed limestone and asphalt. Mostly tree lined with giant pines which provided a break from the wind and the sun. Temps started in the upper 40s but climbed to the 60s while we ran. Humidity was low to non-existent. I don’t do well in heat & humidity so while I did notice that it was getting warmer toward the end, it didn’t effect my performance.
There were 9 aid stations on course, most of which we hit 2x since the trail was an out and back. All stations were well stocked with fluids, food items & there were port-o-potties!
On the ATT, we headed out to the north initially, then flipped between mile 8 & 9. Then headed back south, past our point of entry until another turn around between mile 18 & 19. As always, that last turn around always feels great. I also am a huge fan of out and backs, particularly when I know people running. Watching the other runners makes me happy. I like to encourage them, cheer for the fast people at the front & it distracts me from the task at hand.
Not a ton of spectators. Logistics put most spectators at a trail head that intersected with a road we were crossing. Some dogs. A few signs. But everyone was enthusiastic & encouraging.
I really liked this race. I picked it for a few reason. Fast, flattish, few turns, smaller number of runners & the fact that most of it was on a rail trail which would feel a lot like my old training runs. Some people run better on Saturday mornings with their friends than at big venues with long waits & a bazillion spectators. I’m probably more of the Saturday morning girl than the “wait & shiver for 2 hours before the major marathon” girl.
I knew I wanted to try to run faster since I’m not allowed many races this year. I’m in the midst of training for Ironman Lake Placid. When I run less races, I’m faster. No brainer there. And my back is feeling the best it has in several years. I’m not 100% but to be honest, this is probably as good as its going to get. Also, it was important to plan and execute a race strategy, just to know that I can do it. After Lake Placid, I’m going to take a break and then see if I can qualify for Boston. This race time was not anywhere what I need to run a BQ but it was all about planning & executing.
I did have a snafu leading up to the race (pulled something in my foot) so went with Plan B vs Plan A, in the name of being smart & facing down a lot more training for Lake Placid in the next few months. I started with the 4:10 pacers with the plan of running away from them before the finish. I figured I could easily gain a couple minutes and drop into a 4:08 before I hit the line, if I was smart. That’s really the hardest part, being smart. And patient. The first half of the race feels so easy, its hard not to just go with it and run faster. Well, take my advice, going faster than the plan is a good way to blow up. I used to run less races & try to go faster but I always blew up. I would go out too fast! Every time. That’s really how I started running more races. I decided that I worked too hard for ONE race, for it not to end in the result I wanted. I decided I could run A LOT of races and have a A LOT of fun, and really my times weren’t any slower than going out too fast & blowing up.
Anyhow, shout out to the 4:10 pacers. They did a great job. I even dropped back 2 different times to get something out of my FlipBelt. The one pacer checked on me both times & basically “yelled at me” to close the gap & regain contact. I will say that the added pressure that someone was waiting on me did help to make sure I didn’t fall off pace. They even told the runners to start floating away from them as we got close to the finish, that a pacers job was to finish alone, on time, with all their runners ahead of them. I had already started moving ahead after we got off the ATT in the last 2.5 miles. That was the last thing I heard them say as I was pulling away. And I was able to ring the PR Bell at the finish! 4:08:09 was my chip time. Good day!
Overall a great race. There were 1088 full marathoners that started the day, 884 finishers. The half started 2277 runners & 2202 finished. Great race, if you are looking for a fast run. Since most of the race is on the trail, the camber of the road is not as much of an issue as in other races. Not too crowded. Just enough aid & support. Low entry fee! Definitely a good one.
This was my 27th state, 49th marathon. My 50th marathon will be at the end of Ironman Lake Placid. Now that’s going to hurt. LOL!
** Hope you are all healthy & running happy ** Amanda – TooTallFritz
Awesome report and happy to hear you got to ring the PR Bell! This report great in the sense I may target this one some day when comes time to add NC to the state list! Sounds like a good, solid low-key marathon run. Rail trails can have hills or what you can’t see as a hill are long graded, ascents, but smart of you to recognize you can feel it in the calves! Ring-Ring!
So for someone who doesn’t know the area well … what hotel did you end up staying at? Do you recommend the hotel? Did your husband come along for the trip or was he working/deployed for this journey??
We stayed at the Comfort Suites in the Research Triangle area. Just the kids & I. Since the race didn’t have any hotels on route and the shuttles didn’t pick up from any hotels, I picked a nice but economical place (we were just stopping over on our way to Disney) with a pool & breakfast so I didn’t need to worry about the kids getting breakfast while I was running. It was good. I’d stay there again. Not much in that area but there was a great place for dinner right down the road that wasn’t super busy. Page Road Grill.
The host hotel was where packet pickup was located, and near some shopping areas. But no matter where you stay you need a car.
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