An Inside Look at Virginia’s Notoriously Hilly Blue Ridge Marathon

first_imgRunning America’s Toughest Road Race“Complete. Don’t compete.” That was the advice I was given by Pete Eshelman, race director for the Blue Ridge Marathon.The race was 10 days away and I was preparing to travel to Roanoke, Va., from my home in Phoenix, Ariz. Eshelman was answering questions and going over details via a live chat with me and several other runners.Dubbed “America’s Toughest Road Race,” the Blue Ridge Marathon starts in downtown Roanoke and winds up and over three neighboring peaks for a total elevation change of 7,430 feet.The half boasts more than 3,700 feet of knee-pounding elevation change over 13.1 miles. There’s also a 10K and an unofficial double marathon that starts five hours before the marathon.This is what many call a bucket-list race — attractive because of its sheer difficulty, its obscurity (the marathon caps at 600 runners), and the beauty of a lush, winding course that traces part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, offering sweeping views of the valley below.Looking at the course map and elevation profile, I can’t help but wonder: What is it about misery that loves company?This race is touted as “brutal,” which is precisely why folks like me are traveling from around the country to run it. Meanwhile, millions of weekend warriors are lining up for local mud races, military-inspired obstacle courses, and harrowing nighttime trail runs. It’s a trend I find perplexing – the more punishing the race, the more eager we are to sign up.brm1Photo by Eric Brady“Complete, don’t compete” is easy advice to follow. I’ve run a dozen half marathons, always finishing squarely middle-of-the-pack. Sure, I train and strive to improve, but my number one goal for every race is to have fun, to feel strong, and to get to know a new place by running it.Past Blue Ridge Marathon participants have said you should expect to add a minute per mile to your typical pace. So, on race day I seed myself in the 10:30-mile corral. Almost immediately after the starting horn, we begin climbing, up city streets, over a bridge, and directly toward the mountain.I jog at a steady pace, feeling strong, enjoying the energy of the crowd and the view… until the road reaches a 10 percent grade and I begin to wonder how long I can sustain this.To distract myself, I focus on the scenery. Dogwoods are blossoming and the forest is vibrant green. Wisteria vines hang like garland from the dense undergrowth. It’s a welcomed contrast to the brown desert landscape I live in.Just as I think I can’t take another switchback, we reach the Mill Mountain Star, the high point of the half marathon course and the start of a long, beautiful two mile descent. The middle third of the course is fairly gentle as it skirts the Roanoke River, and I’m actually able to carry on conversations with other runners. I take it easy, with self-preservation in mind.The second major climb, Peakwood Drive, starts around mile 8 and is steeper, though shorter than Mill Mountain. It meanders through the historic neighborhoods of South Roanoke. The race offers plenty of official aid stations with both food and water, yet the locals take it to a new level, camping out in their yards, blasting music and offering runners beer, mimosas, and champagne. Southern hospitality at its finest.When I see runners toasting with plastic champagne flutes at the crest of Peakwood, I’m reminded of the other advice Eshelman gave: “Take your time and enjoy the company, the views, and the people you meet along the course… Oh, and seriously consider walking the downhills.”I see what he means. My knees endure the descent with a twinge of pain. Mostly, I enjoy the effortless stride compared to the plodding uphill sections. It’s a perfect antidote to the climbs, both physically and emotionally.I cross the finish line tired and relieved, but not depleted. It’s a rewarding sort of exhaustion. My time is about 25 minutes slower than my usual half marathon pace, but I finish in the top third for my age group, better than my usual ranking.Is the Blue Ridge Marathon really America’s toughest race? I’m not sure. It’s definitely the most challenging half I’ve ever run. But in anticipation of its brutality, I trained hard, ran conservatively, and I recovered quickly.One thing I can say for sure: It’s the most beautiful, most supportive, and friendliest race I’ve ever run. Add it to your bucket list.brm2What got me throughAside from months of training and relentless hill repeats, that is.1. The right shoes: They had to be light, but provide enough cushioning for 13.1 miles of hills, and roomy in the toebox so that my toes didn’t slam against the front on the steep descents. For those reasons and more, I loved my Saucony Mirage 3s ($110; They’re perfect for those of us who want stable, low-profile shoes that don’t weigh you down.2. Layering tops: With more than 3,700 feet of elevation change and a predicted temperature range of 45 to 70 degrees F and 70 percent humidity, I needed a layering system that was simple and versatile. I chose two Lululemon running tops – the Cool Racerback and Run Swiftly Long Sleeve — because they’re lightweight, seamless, and they layer together perfectly. I was able to stay warm on the cool sections and cool on the steamy climbs. Bonus: Silverescent fibers in the fabric meant I didn’t stink up the beer tent at the finish line. ($42-$68; Handheld hydration: Carrying a small hydration bottle let me skip the first couple of aid stations and get into a groove on the ascent. I love my NATHAN QuickShot Plus ($20; because its zippered pouch also stows an energy gel, and it feels like you’re carrying nothing.4. Recovery drink: Since I knew I had a long flight home the next day, quick recovery was a top priority. I went with TwinLab Clean Series Sport Protein ($44 for 20-serving container;, which is packed with protein, amino acids and free of artificial sweeteners, preservatives and GMOs.–Gina DeMillo Wagner is an award-winning journalist specializing in fitness, travel, and parenting. She blogs at thedailyb.netbrm3last_img read more

Music, Food and Fun Return May 31-June 2 at RiverFest

first_imgBy Torri SingerRED BANK – The Wells Fargo RiverFest is back and ready to present a full family-friendly weekend from Friday, May 31 through Sunday, June 2.The festival kicks off summer 2013 in the right spirit with New Jersey’s largest free outdoor food and music festival, sponsored by Wells Fargo. RiverFest will be held at Marine Park – rain or shine – 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 31; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 1; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, June 2.Danny Murphy, owner of Danny’s Grill and Wine Bar, is the 2013 RiverFest organizer. He was also one of the original founders of the Red Bank RiverFest back in 1980.The festival that locals know and love today is far different than what they would have found 30 years ago, he said.“We had 14 restaurants, ran for one day under one tent, 5,000 people showed up and most of us ran out of food by 2 or 3 o’clock,” Murphy said.Over the years RiverFest has evolved, but one thing attendees can be sure to count on this year is the great variety of food and music.Featuring local and regional businesses and musicians is somewhat of a RiverFest tradition. This year event-goers can sample food from 21 local restaurants and caterers while listening to live talent such as JoBonanno & The Godsons of Soul, Motor City Revue, Brian Kirk & The Jirks and The Jazz Lobsters.“It’s just amazing, we were voted as one of the top 100 events in the U.S. by Life Magazine,” Murphy said.As popularity for the event has grown, the number of people who make RiverFest a summer destination has multiplied, to say the least. “The event exploded into over 100,000 people over the last few years visiting between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”A new addition to RiverFest is its effort to go green. An official sponsor of the festival, M&S Waste Services, will help to organize a “zero waste” event, encouraging vendors and community members to recycle waste throughout the weekend.As for the future of RiverFest, Murphy expects it to keep growing in size and with the times. For next year, event-goers anticipating RiverFest 2014 can look out for some new additions. “Different vendors, more homegrown artwork and more artists and painters to slowly evolve with the cultural aspect of the festival,” Murphy said.Additional information about RiverFest 2013 is available on its website at more visitor information, contact the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, 732-741-0055.Interested vendors and sponsors, may contact This Is It! Productions, 201-653-2699, ext. 201. Visit the RiverFest 2013 website at read more

Zuma: SA farmers make things happen

first_imgThe prize Bonsmara heifer that waspresented to President Jacob Zuma.(Image: Nicky Rehbock) Bultfontein, a tiny farming town in the Free State province, was put on the map recently when President Jacob Zuma stopped by.The occasion was the annual Boertjie Kontreifees (Afrikaans, meaning Young Farmer Community Festival) and the president was there at the invitation of the local agricultural union.Speaking at the town showgrounds, the festival’s venue, Zuma praised the hard work and initiative shown by commercial farmers in that region, and suggested a partnership be set up for them to mentor young, small-scale producers.“I have come to see what is being done here, to learn and be part of the group of people who are prepared to work with others … to produce food and cattle,” said the president, adding that farmers are not the kind of people who just talk the talk, but are individuals who make things happen.Although the actual town of Bultfontein is small, with only about 1 000 residents and 40 000 in surrounding settlements, it’s by no means insignificant. Nestled in one of the maize heartlands of the country, it also produces top-quality stock cattle and sheep, wheat, sunflowers, peanuts, potatoes and tomatoes – and its grain silos are the biggest in Southern Africa.Visitors from neighbouring towns and farming communities flock to the four-day Boertjiefees each year. The 2010 event, no doubt scheduled to celebrate the beginning of spring in September, attracted about 30 000 fans and raised more than R100 000 (US$14 050) for schools, churches and charities in the area.Food and craft stalls, evening entertainment with top local musicians, farming equipment demonstrations and Saddle Horse shows were among this year’s highlights.Doing it for themselvesZuma said the community outreach programmes run by the Bultfontein farming union were an example to the country.“Let us start to encourage people to work together as communities to till the land. No government is going to walk into a village and say: ‘Here, we will help you’. The residents must show they can start doing things themselves, then assistance from government will come.”The president said he was speaking in the context of being a “villager” himself, having been raised in the rural district of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.“If possible, the subsistence and commercial farmers of this land should join hands. People are keen to produce more food – because if everyone can eat first, crime will be reduced – and the surplus can be sold on behalf of the community,” he said.Zuma added that Bultfontein seemed the right place for children from subsistence-farming communities to learn about commercial agriculture, and that he was willing to send people from his own village to the Free State town for this purpose.Referring to the producers in the Bultfontein district, Zuma said: “One thing I love about farmers is that they don’t sleep – they work, and that’s why they’re so successful. That must be passed on to every citizen of this country.”Gift of cattleTo show their appreciation for the presidential visit, the local farming community presented Zuma with a Bonsmara stud bull and a heifer.Bonsmaras, a hardy South African breed of beef cattle, are ideally suited to the often dry, harsh Free State plains.Zuma named the bull “Nsuze” after the river that runs through his home village of Nkandla.It’s unlikely, though, the cattle will ever see his village – soon after they were handed over to the president, they were transported to a nearby rural development project where they will be kept on his behalf.Before being whisked off by helicopter, Zuma apologised for his brief visit, and promised that he would spend more time there in the future.“Next time I’ll clear my diary, so I can come here in the morning and observe the whole day, so we can create more relationships and find a common vision of producing extra food to make South Africa more self-sufficient,” he said.last_img read more

Taxes, safety nets among many topics on first day of OFBF County Presidents’ Trip to D.C.

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Time for insight and learning helped to kick off the 71st annual Ohio Farm Bureau County Presidents’ Trip to Washington D.C. on Monday.Each year leaders from Ohio’s county Farm Bureaus to come together and carry out the mission of their grassroots organization by voicing the thoughts and concerns of agriculture to the various areas of D.C. that play a role in the industry, especially that of elected officials.The group converged at the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters to hear from a number of experts in agricultural matters to prepare for meetings with representatives later in the trip. Tax policy specialist Pat Wolff was on hand, touching on various parts of tax reform. A unique subject, she noted, as the Republican led House, Senate, and White House all want tax reform — something that hasn’t been on the agenda for quite some time.“This is real and this hasn’t happened since 1986,” Wolff said. “The bill is not written yet. It may be written in pencil somewhere, but definitely not pen.”Wolff highlighted positive and negative areas of the tax reform “blueprint” so far.“One thing that’s in the proposal that’s not so friendly to farmers is the loss of deduction of business interest. So we’re asking farmers to tell their members of Congress why it matters whether or not they can deduct interest,” she said.Listen to Pat Wolff speak to Ohio Ag Net on AFBF’s tax reform stance.170313_PatWolff_AFBF_WEBSpeaking on regulatory reform was Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy with Farm Bureau. He focused on attempting to keep regulations similar to Waters of the United States (WOTUS) from happening again by trying to have a more open and transparent process of rulemaking.“The system is out of whack and that’s what we’re trying to fix,” Schlegel said.WOTUS looked to give EPA power to regulate bodies of water not traditionally in their scope. Many in agriculture felt it to be government overreach, being railroaded through Congress to the ire of many farm groups.Shlegel especially noted that Ohio looks to play a big role in the effort as Sen. Rob Portman wants to introduce a reform bill, an area of the highest priority for the Farm Bureau. Schlegel also helped clarify to members exactly what the recent Executive Order by President Trump on WOTUS actual did as he has no power to repeal the current law. He pointed out how the EO directs EPA to certain actions to start the repeal process.“He can’t legally yank it. You can’t just do that,” Schlegel said.Director of market intelligence John Newton looked to the 2018 Farm Bill and the changes to safety net programs Farm Bureau is advocating for — specifically in dairy after the failed Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) of the 2014 Farm Bill.“Participation in MPP, because people really aren’t happy with it, has declined,” he said.AFBF has suggested the inclusion of an MPP alternative in the next farm bill called Dairy-Revenue Protection. The new safety net program, which is still in its infancy, would boil down to four decisions that would need to be made by the dairy farmer: 1. Milk price 2. Amount of milk to cover 3. Coverage level (60-100%) 4. Which quarters to coverIf enacted, an indemnity would be paid to the dairy farmer if actual revenue falls below the guarantee. The program looks to be submitted to USDA in April for consideration.Hear Newton speak on the changes that AFBF hopes to see down the road for safety net programs.170313_JohnNewton_AFBF_WEBAlso on the day, Matt Roberts of the Kernmantle Group, spoke on the state of the ag economy. Keith Stimpert, Ohio Farm Bureau VP gave a state organizational update.Tuesday and Wednesday will be busy for trip attendees with legislator meetings and other D.C.-exclusive activities, all with the hope of spreading agricultural information.last_img read more

24 days agoSean Longstaff says Newcastle away support deserved better

first_imgAbout the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say Sean Longstaff says Newcastle away support deserved betterby Paul Vegas24 days agoSend to a friendShare the loveNewcastle United midfielder Sean Longstaff says the away support deserved better after their thrashing at Leicester City.Longstaff hailed the travelling fans who still cheered even after Leicester’s fifth went in with Newcastle down to ten men with Isaac Hayden having been sent off.“The away fans travelled again. We should never put them in the position where they’re cheering just for the sake of it,” said Longstaff. “It’s a tough one. The first half, we go a goal behind, but we’re still getting into some all right positions. The sending off kills the game, but still, the second half is embarrassing.“It’s hard for the fans to take. It’s a Sunday night, late game, miles away from home. They were still singing at the end. We can’t thank them enough for what they bring.” last_img read more