The 4th Annual Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon on April 20th was a poignant event for many of those involved, coming just five days after the bombing at the famed Boston Marathon, and less than a day after the second of two brothers involved was captured by Boston area police.
There was a moment of silence before the race started; many runners of the full and half marathons wore blue wristbands proclaiming a “run for Boston.” Fifteen half-marathoners (13.1 miles) switched to the full marathon (26.2) earlier in the week as a way to pay tribute to the fallen in Boston, where three spectators and a policeman (later in the week) were killed.
As it was one of the first major marathons in the country to be run after the Boston tragedy, the Blue Ridge Marathon took on somewhat of a national focus. In fact ESPN’s Outside the Lines program on Sunday morning spent the first ten minutes or so on the local race, highlighting the increased security and extra precautions taken. About 100 law enforcement officers were stationed along the route, compared to about 25 in previous years.
Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins spoke before the race about a “highly visible law enforcement presence” that would be evident at the race. Many runners went out of their way to thank police officers as they went through intersections where there was traffic control needed – mindful perhaps of the yeoman work done by a number of law enforcement agencies in the Boston area in tracking down the two brothers responsible for the bombing there.
Those extra measures in Roanoke included backpack checkpoints and the removal of trash containers and mailboxes along the route where bombs could have been planted. Former Roanoke Star editor Pam Rickard, who had run in Boston and finished 18 minutes before the bomb went off, was interviewed by ESPN for Outside the Lines. Rickard ran a double Blue Ridge Marathon – starting at 2am with a handful of other runners, then running again at 7:35am in the official race, after finishing the first 26.2 miles.
Veteran marathon champions Frank Shorter, an Olympic gold medalist, and Boston Marathon multiple winner Bill Rodgers had words of inspiration at the marathon starting line and at a pasta dinner the night before, when Rodgers told the audience that the bombers had picked on “the wrong group,” noting that marathon runners are a tough crowd. Shorter was a medalist at the Munich Olympics in 1972, when PLO terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage, killing many of them at the airport during an aborted escape attempt.
A cool, sunny morning greeted runners on race day – ideal conditions that took runners over three major climbs in the marathon: Mill Mountain, Roanoke Mountain and Peakwood Drive in South Roanoke. It’s no wonder the Blue Ridge Marathon is billed as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.”
More than 1200 runners took part, about two thirds of that total in the half marathon. Chris Powers of Philadelphia was the top overall finisher in the marathon with a time of 2:39:48; the top female finisher was Heather Wesolovski of New York in 3:24:25. The best half marathon time was Brad Adams of Knoxville in 1:20:06; Sarah Glenn of Roanoke was the first female to cross the finish line in the half marathon, in 1:29:17. All but Wesolovski’s time were course records.
“What an incredible event!” said half marathoner Diana Christopulos of Salem, who vowed to return next year. Many others shared the same sentiment, despite a challenging course layout for both the half and the full marathon. In its fourth year, the Blue Ridge Marathon attracted runners from the majority of states and several foreign countries.
(Publishers Note: Roanoke Star Editor Gene Marrano finished the half marathon in 1:56:09, 9th out of 30th in his age group and 165th overall.)
By Gene Marrano