by Deanne Avery

Wow, talk about a runner’s high! I have always felt it; well often, I have felt it. The runner’s high: the feeling of happiness and accomplishment I feel after running.

The Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore Estate weekend, however, was a high like no other!

This truly is my favorite race of the whole year, and I do spend the entire year in anticipation of this weekend. Yes, I am a race ambassador, but that’s because I love it so much and have so much love for this race to share. I want everyone to experience this at least once.

Race Expo

On Friday, I spent the day at the Race Expo, helping other runners with questions they had about the race. I love soaking in the entire weekend experience!

I met up with so many other runners there, which is always fun. Many of them I keep up with on all the socials, so I feel like I am a part of their life, and so to get to see them for a bit in person is super fun.

I love this race expo, and I was given a lot of feedback from other runner that it was awesome! There was so much to see and do with all the booths and brands there showcasing and selling their goodies. I generally always buy a shirt, a sticker of some sort, and always a bottle of commemorative wine!

The expo goes on for most of the day, so as people are getting in from out of town, they can stop by and get their race packets and explore the event.

As you work your way through the expo, you get your shirts at a table at the end. This year the half marathon shirt was short-sleeved and blue, and the marathon shirt was long-sleeved and grey. I love them! 

I stayed this year at the Residence Inn, and when I checked in on Friday, they had welcome bags made up for all the runners staying with them. They were full of water, snacks, protein bars, details about the race, and the information sheet from the race along with stickers and other fun knick-knacks. There was also a signed letter from the staff! Such a nice surprise.

Pre-Event Dinner

At 6 pm, I picked up a fellow runner, and we headed on the Biltmore Estate for the pre-event dinner.

This year’s guest was professional runner Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald. Little did we know that only three short months after dinner, Gabe would lose her courageous and lengthy battle with cancer. What a ray of light she was! I am so honored I had the opportunity to hear her words of encouragement as Gabe shared the very real story of her battle with cancer. She made a significant impact on me, and I was humbled to hear her encourage our runners for the race ahead of them.  

The dinner was lovely: We had pasta and salads and bread and yummy desserts, and I had a beer. 

That night I headed back to my hotel and pulled out my things for the half marathon so that I was ready to go!

The day of the half marathon: Saturday

Saturday morning, the morning of the half marathon, I woke up super early as planned so I wouldn’t feel rushed. I grabbed my bib and estate pass and headed to the race.

Saturday morning, it was a little cold and windy. My strategy was to start behind the pacers. This strategy is so helpful to me. I tend to start too fast and then have nothing left in the tank at the end. By starting at the pace I want to finish with, I can conserve energy. I also do not look at my watch during a race; it keeps me from getting myself “psyched out.”

I ran with my BRF Kim. We planned to stick together, and we ran most of the way with very, very few breaks to walk, and when we did walk, it was only for a few seconds. As per the usual, we did stop a few times to take pictures along the way! It was a gorgeous and super fun day. I loved running with her because it made the morning fly by and made the run that much more enjoyable.

At the last mile Kim asked me: “What was your half PR again?”

I told her, knowing what she would say next.

“Well come on, we are going to beat that!”

So we kicked it into gear and ran to the finish getting our half marathon PR! I cried. I could not believe it! Considering this is a course with some rolling hills and that we stopped several times for pictures, we killed it! 

I felt great too. We did not want to push it for the half since we’d be running the full the very next day, and I did not feel as though we had pushed it too hard! I was on cloud nine. I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the day on Saturday, being sure not to overdo it.

The day of the full marathon: Sunday

Sunday morning, the morning of the full Marathon, and I woke up super early as planned and followed my typical long-run morning routine. I packed up the hotel room, and we loaded up the car, I grabbed my bib, a day bag and my estate pass and headed to the race.  

Sunday was warmer than Saturday; the wind was not howling around, so that made it feel much better.

Kim and I initially thought we’d start with the 5:15 pace group, so we sought out the pacer to understand his strategy. He planned to run and walk hills, so we decided to do our thing and try not to get too far behind him.

We started in front of the 5:15 pace group and felt pretty good. We took our time in the first half of the race and walked a lot more than we thought we would leading up to the house. We also took a lot of picture breaks along the way! I was not watching the clock, but the 5:15 pacer did pass us, and Kim mentioned that he had to be ahead a bit based on her calculation, so we didn’t let that bother us. We kept our pace and kept moving along. 

The turning point at the Marathon –  the location where marathoners turn left onto the private part of the estate and the half marathoners stay straight  – is always emotional for me. We stopped to take in the vast river and snap a picture.

I managed to run down the 5:15 pacer at one point during the race and we chatted for a bit, and sure enough, he was a bit ahead. There was another girl with him that was running her first Marathon. They planned to stick together to the finish and push for the 5:15 pace. We settled into a rhythm with them for a bit, and then we kicked it up and forged ahead of them.

We figured we’d stay ahead of them as long as we could, and if we saw them coming, we’d try to hold on to the finish.

Earlier that morning, we had a brief conversation with Tom, another Asheville Marathon Ambassador, who was also pacing the full Marathon. He was pacing the 5:20 pace group, so we were going to try to stay ahead of him. We kept passing him on the out and backs, and in true Tom fashion, he kept encouraging us telling us what a great job we were doing! Each time we passed him, I thought, “We are doing this!”

Two PR’s in one weekend

I finished my second Marathon in 5:11!!! A 25 minute PR from the year before when I ran the Marathon ONLY. It was incredible!

Two PR’s in one weekend is unlike anything I expected! I still cannot believe I actually ran 39.3 miles in one weekend. I attribute this successful weekend to staying dedicated to a training plan.

We finished the race, got our marathon medals, picked up our challenge medals, and awesome Brooks Back Yard to Vineyard Challenger zip-up hoodie!

I love everything about this race!! The scenery is absolutely amazing. It’s pretty spectacular to run this many miles all on the beautiful estate of the Biltmore House. There is no traffic, just open fields, pastures of animals, blue skies, deep forests, a gorgeous castle-like home, fountains, ponds, gardens, lakes, no noises aside from the sound of the river moving softly alongside sections of the route and the sound of feet and heartbeats as other runners run alongside you. It’s absolutely serene!

If you are looking for a half marathon or marathon that is truly one of a kind, I highly recommend the Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore Estate.

I plan to be there again next year and running the challenge again!

Run with me in March 2020. I already can’t wait!