The Tobacco Road Marathon has been on my radar for a couple of years. I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews, and it takes place in Cary, North Carolina, which is where one of my college roommates lives. It also coincided with the kids’ spring break, so this race became a mini family vacation for the Smiths. We left on a grey, bleak Saturday that typifies Saint Louis in March and arrived to a gorgeous spring afternoon. I see why people love this state: it’s a beautiful place with near- prefect weather. This held true for our race day as well—it’s hard to top 40 degree temperatures, a completely shaded trail, and a sunny, clear finish in a local park.
We spent Saturday night with my friend, Kara, and her family, which worked out extremely well. They have similarly-aged kids, and Kara was gracious enough to watch ours while we ran. The littles had a great time together– when we got back from the race, my youngest actually said, “Wow. I didn’t even realize you guys were gone.” And it’s always nice to catch up with old friends. I was even able to sneak out for a couple of hours after the race to grab a couple of drinks with Kara.
The race itself went very smoothly. I pre- purchased a parking spot at the start/ finish, which was $10 very well spent. It allowed us to avoid waking up extra early to catch a shuttle and gave us the chance to make trips back and forth to the car before and after our run. There were roughly 900 marathoners and 2,200 folks doing the half on out-and-back sections of the Tobacco Road Trail. We were instructed to self- seed at the start line, which always makes me a bit nervous, but people did a fairly good job lining up according to their ability. (i.e. I didn’t have to spend the first mile of the race weaving in and out of walkers.) We ran along the highway for about 2 ½ miles until we got to an entrance point for the trail, and then the full and half split.
I was initially worried that the out-and-back nature of this race would cause a lot of congestion along the trail, but I ended up really liking the format. Tobacco Road is very pretty, but it’s also quite monotonous. (We saw the same lovely trees over and over.) Watching other runners coming and going gave me something to do. This was also the first race in the 2018 Marathon Maniacs Signature Race Series, so there were a ton of club members to see along the course. There are some very hilly portions of North Carolina, but fortunately this is a Rails to Trails course, so all of our inclines and declines were smooth and gradual. The first few miles were slightly downhill, which felt great, and it wasn’t too painful when we turned around and began retracing our steps uphill.
At mile 12, we crossed back over our entry point to rejoin the half marathoners on another portion of the trail. There was a bit more congestion in this section as both full and half runners were coming and going. This section also had slightly steeper grades, and I was convinced that we were going uphill in both directions. Once we exited the trail, we re- traced our steps back to the finish line.
Even though this wasn’t a super- flat course, I’m happy with my performance. I decided to try for a faster marathon and went out with the 3:25 pace group. Our pacer was great, and the group was extremely nice—just enough talking to keep me distracted through the early miles, and then everyone kind of hunkered down towards the end of the race. I stuck with the group for twenty miles, then walked through a water stop and wasn’t able to catch back up again. I still managed to come in at 3:26:22, which is my third fastest marathon to date. The course was manageable, there was plenty of on- course hydration and nutrition, and again, the weather cooperated. I loved the fact that we didn’t feel the sun the entire time that we were on the trail; even when we lost our shade during the final miles on the highway, I never felt uncomfortable.
For a race with under a thousand participants, I found this one to be quite competitive. There were some really fast registrants and a large number of Boston Qualifiers. (The marathon actually gave everyone who qualified a special long sleeve shirt, which was super- nice.) I REALLY wanted to get an age group award at this race, and I fought hard for it during the last miles, as there were six of us who all finished within thirty seconds of one another. When I checked in at the results table, I was told that I was fourth in my age division, which really stung. However, once the race finalized the finish times, I moved up to second. I might be proudest of this finish as I went in to the race not expecting to place and then ended up doing rather well.
I’d definitely recommend Tobacco Road to other runners as a fast, well- run event.
** Race Highlights: This was a really good race overall. I loved the weather and really enjoyed my pace group.
** The Downside: I could have done without that second uphill section.
Sub 4:00 State #26, BQ State #25, Sub 3:30 State #10
Finish Time: 3:26:22
Overall Place Within My Gender: 18/ 357 (2nd in my age group)
Total Training Miles: 5,621.6
Shoe Total: 18