Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Thursday, April 24, 2008

2008 Charlottesville Marathon

If you're looking for a nearby April marathon, or you just want one the weekend of Boston because you feel bad for not being there, Charlottesville is worth considering.

With a 6:30 a.m. race start, race day packet pickup is a bit tricky. You essentially want to get there on Friday evening because it's located in a small running store near the start/finish and I imagine if there even is race day pickup, it would be very crowded inside. Friday evening packet pickup ends at 9:00 p.m. Parking isn't the easiest on Friday evening or on race day.

The race begins in historic, downtown Charlottesville in an interesting shopping/dining area. It looks as if they closed off a street years ago, planted a row of trees down what would have been the median, and bricked over what would have been the asphalt. What's left is a stretch of stores on either side of the walking area that continues for perhaps a quarter mile--we didn't go all the way to the end. There are restaurants here and also a movie theater. It seemed a popular place for the UVA kids on Friday evening.

The first few miles are fairly forgettable, I believe we were in town, but I remember very little other than skirting by UVA's campus. Soon, however, you are in the rolling hills of the country. Giant homes with enormous horse pastures provide a visual distraction from your running. There were two portajohns at about mile five (you also hit them on the way back to the finish as the course is kind of a lollipop,) but the less modest had plenty of trees they could duck behind along this part of the course.

At (I think) about mile eight, the half marathoners turn around and head back to the finish. Soon after this point, the marathon leaves the paved road for a gravel road, comparable to Wilson's Creek without the creek. You are on this stretch, in the shade, for maybe three miles. Back to the pavement for a few miles, then it's an out-and-back detour down a gravel road at miles fifteen and sixteen. The course continues its rolling hills and you are still in the country as you head back toward the finish line. I can't remember exactly which mile it is that you return to the road you originally ran out on, but eventually you pick that up. You don't follow it all the way back the way you came out and there's a very long and moderately steep hill at mile twenty-three. Clear this and you are detoured through the UVA campus at about mile twenty-four. Spectator's like to keep saying that you are on the last hill, but don't believe them. When you are back to city streets at about mile twenty-five, that's when it's truly a (mostly) downhill finish.

I haven't run enough different marathons to cite an example of a similar race, but the rolling hills probably make it one you won't PR on, unless it's your first or second race. I was pacing a friend, so I can't really say how much the hills might have slowed my time.

But this isn't one you have to hurry through. The scenery is such that it feels more like you are out for a long run, rather than in a race. I should also mention that the area is covered in redbuds and dogwoods, both of which were in full bloom at the time of the race.

The aid stations were more numerous and better spaced than you are led to believe in the marathonguide comments from the 2007 race. There is never a long gap between stations. On the downside, all I can remember them having other than Gatorade and water were plain and chocolate gels. The shirt was all that was in the bag, but it was a wicking shirt with a not-too-bad logo. They had pizza and bananas at the finish line and someone was handing out some new performance drink, but I think they ran out of those shortly after we got one. Nobody in our group placed, but we did hear that people weren't happy with the awards. First, they took place 3:30 into the marathon, so it's likely some age group people weren't finished. Second, I didn't see the awards, but I take it people didn't like them, maybe it was the design.

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