“The forecast is still calling for freezing temperatures and snow in the mountains,” the meteorologist cheerfully announces. I turn off the tv and toss the remote aside is disgust. I have a half marathon to run in Asheville, NC and the harsh winter is not relenting in March. I pack both my long running pants and my shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, multiple jackets, and ear warming headband. I’m trying to remain hopefully it will not be horrifically cold during the race, but my rational mind accepts the truth.
In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina
North Carolina is my home state, and Asheville is only 2 hours from Charlotte. It is a fun city full of breweries, hiking, and history. My mom loved the Biltmore Estate in my youth, so when I learned they hold a race on its extensive, beautiful grounds I knew I needed to run it. It is a boutique race, but since the half is more popular than the full, they offered a half option both Saturday and Sunday in 2017. I received a discount code from a race ambassador in my online running group, and signed up for the Saturday half.
Mike and I head straight to packet pickup upon arriving in town. Mike had run the 10k in Vegas, and he was willing to run a half, but did not want to start with one known for its elevation. Instead he signed up to be a volunteer, working at the first water stop. As a volunteer he got access to the grounds, food, and festivities the runners get to enjoy. The expo was small, held in a hotel, but with lots of sponsors and a smooth layout. I grab my race packet, Mike got his volunteer gear, and we head over to our hotel to check in.
We spend the night exploring Asheville and tasting local beers. We retire relatively early as the race starts at 7:30 a.m. but Mike must be there 6:30 a.m. for his volunteer duties. The 5:15 alarm goes off with neither of us excited. It is so cold in the room we know the weather is as bad as predicted. I peek out the window, but luckily no snow has fallen over night. I change my outfit a couple times, each time putting on warmer and warmer gear. Lastly I put on my down jacket which I will bag check before the race.
We had heard conflicting information if Mike would be able to drop me off at the race start before heading to his aid station. Once on the grounds we discover it will not be a problem. It is so early not many people are arriving yet. He drops me off at the start around 6:00 a.m., and I make my way to the sponsor alley where some porch heaters are set up. It is COLD. The temperature is still in the teens, but worse is the wind. Bone chilling gusts of wind. I huddle up around a heater and speak with the fellow runners seeking warmth. We all put on brave faces and pretend we aren’t miserable. Sadly, the time comes to turn in my down jacket to bag check, and shortly after we gather into the starting corral.
When I finally cross the start line I realize my legs are so cold I cannot even tell if my knees are bending. I feel like I have wood planks for legs. I trot along, waiting to feel human again. I start to notice some snow flurries in the air, but they are intermittent so I am not worried about accumulation. I pass the first water station, saying hello to Mike. I feel bad for him, at least I’m moving to stay warm. Mike has to stand in the freezing wind having water spill continuously onto his gloves.
Around the 5k mark my legs finally start to feel normal again. Of course, that is just about the point you see the “3 miles to the estate” sign which signals the start of 3 miles of grinding incline. I cannot say it was easy, but the reward of seeing the gorgeous estate at mile 6 was well worth it. I stopped mid run for a quick selfie, a real rarity for me but I couldn’t resist.
After running in front of the estate the course weaves through the winery, then follows a stream. The path changed to gravel, and the scenery lost some appeal on the back half. Finally I heard the crowd, and could see the finish line, but a glance at my Garmin told me I still had 3 miles to go. How could that be? The course was curving towards the finish line. At the last minute I realize instead of turning towards the finish line, I must continue straight down a single wide, muddy track for an out and back section to gain the extra miles. Such a mind tease. Since there was no room to pass, I was held hostage to a set pace, but I was spent so I did not mind much.
Finally the out and back was complete. I turned towards the finish line, which of course included another incline. Why do race organizers love to make you run uphill before a finish line? I crossed the timing mat, still freezing, but warmed by the amazing woodelian handed to me, and a metal tumbler. Mike was waiting for me at the finish, and immediately commented on my wind burned face. “Look in a mirror, buddy,” I respond. His wind burn is worse.
I retrieved my jacket from bag check and we went in search of the heated stable I had heard rumor of. We graciously accept our free Catawba Brewing beer, took a few salty snacks from the well stocked food tables, and I grab a Gatorade. Then, there behind the food tables, was Mecca. A large, heated, enclosed stable. Was this here prior to my race while I was freezing in the wind for over an hour? The answer is probably yes, but for mental sanity I tell myself no. Either way, relaxing and snacking in a heated space, blocked from the wind, was the perfect ending to a cold, but rewarding race.
*Author’s note: They also held a full and half marathon on Sunday. It continued to snow all day, and those poor runners had to run with approximately 6” of snow on the ground. I give them serious respect, as the cold wind and flurries were almost more than I could handle. Despite the freezing conditions, I really enjoyed the course and the after event is nice. I would definitely recommend this race, just make sure you dress warmly!
Race: Asheville Half at Biltmore Estate
Location: Asheville, NC
State #: 3
Chip Time: 2:09:31
Age group: 46/127