- 13.1 miles/Half Marathon, 26.2 miles/Marathon
- Trail Race
- Event Website
I have run the Tobacco Road Half Marathon every year since 2016, making this my fourth race on the American Tobacco Trail.
I picked up my bib at the expo at the Embassy Suites in Cary on Saturday, and I made my way around the various booths and vendors. I was happy to see that the tech shirts were back this year (last year, they had gone to a cotton t-shirt that is cool for athleisure wear but not for hard workouts). Because I had asked for a bigger size, thinking it was a cotton t-shirt, I needed to size back down to my running wear size. The woman in charge of shirts was there, and she assured me I could most likely exchange for the right size after the race.
For the first time this year, the shoe brand Altra sponsored the race. We received an Altra buff branded specifically for the race when we picked up our bibs. I liked this extra gift, although I did miss last year’s Feetures socks or the race branded water bottle from the year before.
I also made sure to pick up my parking pass. I register early for this race every year for two specific reasons: it sells out usually a month before the race, and the parking passes sell out months before that. The baseball complex that serves as the start/finish base has limited parking; if you don’t get a pass, you have to park at a business several miles away and shuttle in and out. This business is further away from my house, and I do not like to have to ride a shuttle bus.
I left my house around 5:00 a.m. and arrived at the baseball park about twenty minutes later. The parking lot was already pretty full at this time. I stayed in my warm car, avoiding the 30 degree temps and rolling the muscles in my legs.
At 6:00 a.m., I headed up the hill in the dark toward the start line. I stood in a quick porta-pot line and then found some friends for some pictures.
Finally, at 6:35, I checked in my bag to gear check, and I headed over to the VIP parking area to get in a nice, comprehensive warm up and to get my head in the game.
The lines for the porta-pots were super long as I passed them to get to the start line, and I’m talking less than five minutes from go time. If there’s one area to improve, they could use more of these at this race.
The gun went off at 7:00, and the day was just beginning to lighten. It was about 40 degrees for the entire race, just about perfect for me for races.
The course goes down then uphill in the first half mile as you leave the baseball park. Then, you have about two miles of road, and most of it is downhill. When you get to the American Tobacco Trail, the full marathoners to north on the trail while those doing the half go left, so things get a little less crowded.
Around mile five, you hit some uphill on the trail, and that’s where my work began. The heart rate got a little higher, and it was more work to keep the pace. Even on some downhill spots, it was still more difficult than I felt it should have been at that stage. I tried to stay in the moment, processing each mile as I was in it, doing the best I could at that time without thinking about the end result. I passed friends both who were racing (this out and back is great for that) and who were spectating, and it was hard to capitalize on that good energy, although I kept practicing my smile to make things feel better. The final three miles on the trail were the most difficult for me, as they have been in the past. Soft, sandy surface with an uphill grade combined with the fatigue that I was having made those miles slow and difficult. Once I hit the road again with two-ish miles left to the finish line, I found a new energy.
Those miles back to the park can be some of the most difficult, especially with the hills at the end. However, I was able to find some new energy stores and had some of my better splits in those miles. I didn’t have a lot of kick in final 400 meters, but I felt pretty accomplished when I crossed the line.
At the finish line, the race director as always was there shaking each finisher’s hand. I love that he does this, and I look forward to it each year. The medal, as always, is large and well done. I made my way back up the hill to the finishers’ area where I was able to quickly get my gear back and cuddle into my thick hoodie again. I was also easily able to exchange the race shirt for the right size.
In the finishers' tent, there was coffee, bananas, oranges, chocolate milk, the Great Harvest Bread Company’s fresh bread with butter and honey, hot Papa John’s pizza, and unlimited pours of Appalachian Brewing Company’s beer. The finish area is a football field sized tent with low and high tables, all this food, and a band playing 80s covers. It’s one of my favorite finish line parties, and I look forward to this whole race experience each year.
I’m already looking forward to Tobacco Road 2020.