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Sometimes the best way to prepare for a major race like the Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore, is to run more events!  The excitement and camaraderie of races is great motivation to stay accountable in training.  Michael, an ambassador for the 2019 Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore, shares his experience preparing for the upcoming marathon in March:

Let me start this off with a caveat: I love to run, but I’m an unsophisticated runner. Over the last couple years, I’ve stepped up from the occasional light jog to completing 10K’s and half-marathons, and even one longer trail run last year that I technically finished, even though I had to will my cramp-locked leg stumps over the finish line with a combination puppetry and witchcraft. I even signed up for my first marathon, the 2019 Asheville Biltmore Marathon, so I must be progressing, if only in blind ambition.

Still, every time I step up to a starting line, I’m instantly intimidated by the sleek, shimmering rainbows of futuristic gear and clothing. My shoes came from the discount place by Celebrity’s Hot Dogs. I don’t own a smart watch, or pedometer, or any other doodad that tracks time, distance, or the evolving hue of one’s aura. As far as I’m concerned, Strava is the name of that Italian restaurant downtown, a fine place to chow down on pasta the night before a race. (I did learn about carbo-loading, from an episode of The Office.)

I mention this as not only as a thinly veiled humblebrag about my modest running accomplishments, but also to warn you that I really have no idea how to execute a successful race plan or train for a marathon, much less write about it for a running blog. I tried to do my homework, scrolling through posts on the r/running subreddit, but it wasn’t much help. I found either the entries loaded with frighteningly detailed charts of meter-to-meter split times, or convoluted tales of mid-race bathroom breaks. And, while I enjoyed the latter, my recent race experience was disgustingly devoid of any such thrills.

Without much a marathon training plan to speak of, I decided to sign up for a couple of increasingly long races in the months leading up to the Biltmore race to keep myself motivated and in check. Having never raced this exact distance before, I was curious if it would feel more like a 10K or a half. With that out of the way, the first thing I’d mention about the Hullabaloo 50K and Relay is that it’s a blast, regardless of one’s level of sophistication. I’ve always enjoyed the post-race conviviality and endless supply of halved bananas I’ve found at other events, but the Hullabaloo is a decent party in and of itself. For one, it takes place at Oskar Blues REEB Ranch in Dupont, with all the canned beer and food truck offerings one would expect from OB. Beyond that, there’s bands and camping pretty much from sunup to sundown, and even the night before if you can swing it. Bluegrass bassist and distance runner Charles Humphrey III founded the event, and he camps out at the finish line all day, greeting every runner with a bearded smile and maniacal siren.

My favorite part of the course came after the second aid station, about 3 miles of mostly flat or slightly downhill stretches on Dupont logging roads. At this point, the weather felt perfect, the scenery formed a impeccable fall tableau, and as I fell into a silky smooth stride it occurred to me that world was in fact designed, down to the very faintest detail, by a miraculous and benevolent super-being. That’s right, I was high on Coca-Cola.   

It all came crashing down somewhere that I assume to be around mile 8 or 9.  At this point I thought, “I’m getting tired, and my thighs and calves hurt, but I’m almost at the end.” That’s when I saw a hill unlike any I’ve ever seen before. It was straight up as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t believe I’d run down this hill earlier in the race, but I guess you don’t think about these things the same on the way down.

Eventually, I made it to the top of the hill, passed the first aid station again, and began my descent down the steep hill back to the REEB Ranch. I’d worn road shoes instead of trail shoes, and the trail was covered in wet leaves, so despite my desire to really push it I had to let a couple people pass me lest I ended up stumbling on a rock or root and rolling down the hill. The very end of the loop veers slightly from the start, but it’s a glorious change, as you finish by passing over a mountain stream with a view of twin waterfalls in the background.

I high-fived Charles at the finish, put on the coolest hat I’ve ever owned, and helped myself to a complimentary cookie and Dale’s Pale Ale while I waited for my friends to come in. I’ve got some work to do before the marathon in March, but at the very least this was a great reminder of why I love this sport. We’ll be back, and I may even be on Strava by then.

-Michael, Ambassador for Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore