As I sat at the Charlottesville Airport waiting for my flight to Chicago, one thing only was on my mind – did I want to buy the Virginia is for Lovers t-shirt at the airport gift shop? Sure the price was a little high but nothing too awful. And I really, really love a state with a clever slogan t-shirt! And no, don’t evne think that horrible idea Hot Topic came up with a couple years ago that only ran states down was so something I wanted to sport. But a Virginia is for Lovers tee? Suh-weet! But even as I sat there contemplating buying a pretty awesome t-shirt I knew I should have bigger things on my mind – like the run I had just performed or how much friends can help out in this world – running and beyond.

I had arrived in the state of Virginia the day before 4 hours ahead of schedule and even though my buddy John had my entire trip already planned out, 4 extra hours were not quite easy to fit in there. So, I got to airport code CHO and thought, perfect I will take a bus downtown, hang out there and wait for him to come over. John had already told me he would not be in until at least two but I didn’t mind. When you are trying to run 50 states, you always lament never getting to spend enough time in a location – not too much time. The only down side is we both supposed there would be a bus waiting or a train line to go downtown – nope. Taxi it was! And that cost more than I would ever hope but whenever you travel, you get used to paying more than you should.

I got downtown, got a nice little lunch, found a CD store and picked up Tennis, and hit the expo and picked up a pretty rocking tee. There were just a couple small issues – it was only two and I had yet to hear from John and the expo was much smaller than I had figured and well, nationals were going to be hard to find. What are nationals? I call anyone that travels the country looking for marathons a national. You see them from marathon to marathon and always have something to talk about. Well, it seems like in Arkansas they were all over the place! This run was a little smaller from Little Rock and I could not find one national – other than John, who was not contacting me yet.

So I walked a couple blocks from off the beaten path and away from the downtown ped mall to see what else the CHO had to offer and that ended up being the smartest decision I ever made on the trip. The town is full of history bragging about the fact that Jefferson, Madison and Monroe had spent time there in the same building at one time. The town square was historically awesome as was the architecture and if you are ever looking for a couple old cool statues with Civil War ties? You probably can’t do much better than Charlottesville.

I got bored after a while and broke down to drink – the title sponsor was Miller Lite and they were really pushing Miller 64 – known for the 64 calories it possesses. I recommend. Much more taste than the similar Michelob Ultra. I was talked into it by one of their four models that were handing out free coupons for a taste at the bar. I have been to both small and large marathons and than can be one of the most disappointing things about the smaller ones – no freebies. I feel like if this thing would have been a bit larger it would have been free beer! Especially since Miller was the title sponsor? They did it at Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina I could go on.

John did show up with his sister in tow and we went out for another drink. Now drinking before a marathon is something new for me. I enjoy drinking I just like to abstain before a big marathon. I can honestly say I have never had a full drink before a run so this was getting a little unsettling – runners do not like to break their traditions. After that we went out to dinner and I stopped drinking. And John’s family was fantastic. They made me feel like a family member – no problems at all! After dinner, his sister was more than willing to give us her room and leave with her boyfriend. Everyone went to bed early and a good night’s sleep can always help when running in the morning. Really the entire family was accommodating and saving the $60 on a hotel? Excellent. Not to mention the fact I did not have to get a rental car? Priceless.

And it cannot go without mentioning that we left for the marathon with 20 minutes to go and walked there in time to start! We ran into another national and John chatted it up for a while. I was a little annoyed – the race started in like six minutes but you understand. Marathons can be a huge social exchange for some of us. Heck I just signed up for Kansas so I can run into four friends I can’t wait to see! Someone said to me, “wouldn’t you be a national then?” Yes! Yes, I am.

Lining up to the start line was not so easy late in the game and I was farther back than I like to be. But when we took off, I found my spot soon enough and got towards the front and in a comfortable spot. The beginning is so important and it may not seem like it but other runners have so much farther to run and catch you, but it takes a while and a lot of energy. There are also psychological advantages to being out front and heck, even when you hit the half mile point you already know you aren’t coming in first (not that much of a worry anyway but you get the point). The run took off and it was amazing in a way. The support was not as strong as most runs I do, but they had arrows spray painted all over the place and you pretty much knew which way to go at all times. Even with the reduced staff, the run had all sorts of twists and turns and only once did I almost stop to find my way – more on that later. Those plucky arrows eased my nerves more than once during the race.

It was not an easy course from the get go and around mile 6 a huge hill came up and I could only watch as three runners passed me. My left leg has mostly healed but hills are kills and I just thought wait – I will be back and sure enough I passed all three in the next two miles. The hills kept rolling and killing that leg but I kept up and wondering when my leg would give out. The course doubled back on itself a lot and on paper looked meh but it was actually not bad at all! We ran back over the UVA bridge and went down to the home stretch (well for the half folks) and took a left turn to run along another hilly (leg still holding)  running path through a nice little forest stretch. We came back on the same path and those hills never seem that bad on the downside, but when they come back? Ugh!

The course hooked back up with the halfway point and just when we got about .1 from the finish we hooked left again and ran the final 10K through another awesome riverbank path. It seriously seemed a lot longer than 6 miles even if it was pretty beautiful. It was rated one of the 10 best new marathons according to Runner’s World and I can see why. It was a nice mix of city starting and ending on the downtown ped mall and going through the old town square and mixed in two awesome running paths and a nice little run into the country as well. I liked the course in short.

There was a massive hill at Mile 24 and I watched as three more runners passed me and took advantage of my leg. But then a funny thing happened at Mile 25. A runner neared behind me and got within a tenth of a mile. I pushed and didn’t slow down. The other runner did not go away but he wasn’t catching either. There was a slight incline and boy even a small hill kills that leg but it ended quickly and I was still there in front of him. I ran in fast only pausing to ask where the finish line was and beat him by two seconds. Victory was mine! The victory was not over the other runner. The victory was that the leg made it the entire 26.2 with slowing down only on inclines. The course was tough but I was tougher – 3:15:25 missed a PR by seven minutes but this course was much tougher.

John came in running with some girl he had just met on the course. She had just qualified for Boston and he had helped run her in. John is the master of running every course he can pushing other runners along the way. He really is a great guy putting other runners before him in these races and not worrying about PR’s anymore. He was the same guy that pushed me in Louisiana and the same runner who runs every weekend with no goal in mind and makes it up during the run. I am sure he could have come in around 3:20 but instead he made sure she hit her goal instead.

We went back to the apartment afterwards and the family invited me out again and it was actually really nice to finish up with some kick-ass Thai food afterwards. It was a good time had by all and they had to drop me off at the airport early thus the t-shirt dilemma.

No, I never did buy the tee – I just sat there basking exhausted in another run and how great it is to have good friends to help me along the way with the ride. Not just to keep things cheap but to make the entire trip more than worth the price of a marathon and a plane ticket. Thank you marathoning for giving me these new friends.


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