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Tobacco Road Marathon: Just What I Needed



The Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, North Carolina was exactly what I needed!  When I initially decided to add a marathon to my season after my 50k, I wanted to PR-chase, but no options for that pursuit lined up (details here), which I now see as one of the biggest blessings God could have given me.  I went into this race with no time goal because I wasn't sure how much the gravel would slow me down.  My major goals were to enjoy it all, to be thankful, and to compete in the elite field.  What I ended up getting was what I think is the best marathon I've ever run!  While my time of 2:48:51 is nearly 3 minutes off my PR, based on the gravel course and elevation (including the climbing from mile 21-25), I think it was a stronger performance than the 2:46:08 I ran on a nearly perfect course with a pack of women.  I have also never felt so strong during the final miles of a marathon, which was a victory by itself.  I took home $1000 for placing 2nd overall female, so my hubby's happy too!


The race spaced out starting times due to COVID restrictions, and I started at 5:58 a.m. with only the marathon elites, with the first wave of non-elites right behind at 6:00 a.m.  They started the elites together so we would know who we were racing, which only worked when those contending for top spots started in the elite wave (more on that later; it did not affect me).  I knew a woman with a low-2:30 marathon PR was entered, meaning I'd most likely be racing for 2nd at best, and when she went out at sub-6:00 pace that confirmed my suspicion.  For the first mile I was with two other women, who I met and talked goals with to see if we could work together - it was going to be very lonely for any female elites out there alone.  Lauren's goal was to break 2:50, and I told her I suspected I'd be in the high 2:40s if the gravel was what I expected, so we immediately teamed up.  She and I eased away from the other woman, and also eased our pace down gradually for the first few miles.

This image represents most of the course;
so thankful to run with others the whole
way because it all looked the same!

The first 2.5 miles of the the race are on the road, then there are two long out and backs on the American Tobacco Trail, a rails to trails gravel path, then back the same 2.5 miles of road to the finish.  Lauren and I ran side by side for about 21 miles of the race, and were joined by Gabe, a man who caught up to us from the 6:00 a.m. start, for a good portion of it.  I was really excited to help Lauren to her first sub-2:50 and she looked very strong.  Around mile 21 I pulled a few steps ahead as I worked towards a man ahead of us, using my 50k strength to power up a very long incline, and I continued to encourage her to stay on me; we "just" needed a 40 minute final 10k.  I went into the race without a time goal, although ironically I'd told Jon that if the gravel was okay I thought I could run 2:48, which he told me was too ambitious for gravel.  During the race, once I knew what to expect with the gravel, teamed up with Lauren, and saw our half split, my for-sure became sub-2:50, though I knew splits would fluctuate based on the elevation and I didn't use my watch aside from looking at my half and 20 mile elapsed times.  

I sure have a knack for choosing races
with climbs at the end this season!

Around mile 22 I caught the man I'd been gradually chasing down, and he looked like he felt good for that point in the race.  I encouraged him to go with me and he did.  The road was a nice sight to see at 23.7ish, and I knew I was going to close well.  I ended up running a 6:07 final mile for a 2:48:51 and a second overall female finish, which the race announcer broadcast to a few spectators (spectators were discouraged with COVID protocols).  Lauren was just behind me for her first sub-2:50 marathon, and we were quickly in a sweaty hug.  It's amazing how much you can bond with someone you've never before met over shared miles!

I thought my splits lined up well
with the elevation changes

It's rare to feel that a race really couldn't have gone any better, so I treasure that feeling about this one (although it would have been better for me if the overall female has slept in, hah!). I ran my 4th fastest marathon ever on a course that was far slower than anything I've run sub-3:00 on before (unless you count my marathon split of my 50k - Tobacco Road dirt was better maintained than Frisco dirt).  I spent so long chasing the perfect marathon day (fast course, deep competitive field, ideal weather) and a very specific marathon time, while feeling like anything short of that was a let-down, which made this experience very freeing.  I never stopped loving the marathon, I just didn't love feeling like a failure even when I ran (what I thought were) really good marathons of 2:46-2:49.  This marathon was just what I needed.

In addition to the race, this was the first time I've taken time off work or traveled anywhere except to visit family in Kansas since before COVID.  I also really needed a vacation, and the Lord sure blessed me with this opportunity for an amazing girls' trip with Christian.

My Strava activity is here.

My official race results are here.

Overall results are here.

You can read about the overall female winner here.

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8 hours ago, ocrunnergirl said:

Great race, Sara! Awesome that you and Lauren worked together.


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No suspense, no disaster, just a solid, well-run marathon. How often does that happen? Congrats, Sara.

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10 hours ago, Dave said:

No suspense, no disaster, just a solid, well-run marathon. How often does that happen? Congrats, Sara.

Gotta appreciate these when they come, but also gotta do it again on a fast road course!

Edited by SIbbetson
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