From time to time, our little running group likes to change things up and hike instead. There are so many amazing sights and experiences in SW Virginia, that sometimes I take them for granted. One such view that is practically on our front doorstep is McAfee Knob.
What can I say about McAfee Knob that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the most photographed spots along the Appalachian Trail and for good reason; the views are breathtaking. Watching fellow hikers get too close to the edge of the knob is breathtaking too, but for different reasons.
From 311 to the knob is eight miles, round trip. Our group chose to take the fire road up to the trail, because most of us aren’t actual hikers. We’re really just in it for the social aspect of the outing.
And the pretty pictures.
Because I’m trying not to trip while staring at my feet anyway, I might as well enjoy the flowers along the trail. And look for heart rocks.
Because there are so many hikers on the mountain, you’re not likely to see a lot of wildlife along the way. Which is just fine with me. No snakes or bears.
After about two miles, we transitioned from the wide, easy fire road onto the more technical Appalachian Trail. Some in our group hiked a slightly longer route and approached the knob from the east. How they got over there, I have no idea, but they were advised to go that route by a fellow hiker because it had “a way doper view”. I hear that trail skirted the cliff, and their views focused on foot placement so as to remain on the mountain, not enjoying the “way doper view” from a freefall.
Don’t expect solitude while taking in the views at McAfee Knob, especially on weekends. If the weather is nice, the knob will be jammed up like a Disney park during spring break.
Not to worry, if you chat up the other hikers, you’ll meet some fascinating people and maybe even hear a crazy story or two. We met a few through-hikers and loads of day-trippers. One group was leaving as we arrived mid-morning. Maybe we drove them out? I wouldn’t bet against it. They were hiking the 28 miles of Virginia’s Triple Crown (Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth) all in one day. *gulp*
Be sure to bring water and a snack. This is a good spot to re-fuel for the trek back down the mountain.
After resting awhile and soaking up the views, it was time to head back to civilization. We gave our knees a good pounding on the rocky trail, and then rewarded them by taking the more hospitable fire road for the duration of the hike.
Pro tip: When hiking the knob on the weekend, get to the parking lot on 311 early. Like, 6:30 to 7:00 AM, early. It fills up quickly. If you’re hiking in a group, I recommend meeting at the park-and-ride lot (Orange Market – intersection of 311 and 419) and carpooling to the lot at the trail head on 311. We finished our hike about 11:00 AM and there were people literally blocking our parking spot hoping to snag it as we left. There were friendly volunteers directing traffic, trying to smooth out the parking situation. But fair warning, weekend parking at 311 is dog-eat-dog.
I’ll just come right out and say it. Blue Ridge is the best race. Regardless of which distance you are running, this one will keep you coming back year after year. Spoiler alert: It will beat you every time.
Isn’t ‘insanity’ doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Maybe so, but you will love this insanity! Blue Ridge truly has something for everyone: Carilion Children’s 1 miler, Anthem Star 10k, marathon relay, half marathon, full marathon and for those of you with zero good sense, the double marathon! Seriously. You really can run the full, twice in one day. You’ll earn a sweet double finisher gift if you do.
Blue Ridge boasts of being America’s Toughest Road Races for good reason. Unless you’re doing the children’s 1 miler, you will encounter some crazy elevation gain and loss throughout each race course. Forget PRing this one. Just focus on finishing it, and enjoying the gorgeous views and the outpouring of community support along the way.
The pre-race expo is always a good time. Bring some extra pocket jingle to buy race gear like the hoodie my husband, Mark is wearing here. If you see something you like, buy it. Race merchandise is limited and sells out quickly.
Mark chose to interval this as his first full marathon with twin goals of staying on course and beating the sweep. His walking pace is faster than my running pace. Also, you can’t get lost at Blue Ridge. They do a great job of marking the course and there are helpful course marshals everywhere. Just follow the arrows that match the color of your bib.
I pre-registered for the half marathon but planned to switch to the 10k, because I was rehabbing a bone bruise in my foot and had not been able to train properly. At the last minute, I decided to stick with the half and walk it. My friend Kelly was walking the 10k, so we adventured together for the first 5 miles, stopping to take selfies with everything and everyone. Race day is a much different experience without the pressure of trying to PR.
The community support for Blue Ridge is second to none. Homeowners along the route come out to bolster the runners with music, signs, words of encouragement and unofficial aid stations. Our friends Donna and Lorelie have awesome front yard cheer stations, families offer apple juice boxes and other treats to the runners, homeowners set up their sprinklers streetside to run through. There are some quirky surprises to look forward to as well.
Don’t be concerned about having to walk during the race; nearly everyone walks the uphill sections. You’ll meet some great people with interesting stories to tell if you’re chatty. A few years ago, I met a 72 year old lady who was walking the half with her teenage grandkids and trash-talking them the whole way up Mill Mountain. She was so funny! This year, we met some nice people who were visiting from Pennsylvania and we gave our beer tickets to them. #glutenallergy #designateddriver
Smile for the photographers along the race course! Blue Ridge offers free race day photos. You can search them by your name or bib number after the race.
There’s a party at the star with food, drinks, music and lots of opportunities for picture-taking. Pause your tracking app, take a selfie or two and soak in the panoramic views of the Roanoke Valley.
Once you’ve had a moment to rest at the star, it’s time to head back down the mountain. The “Old Road” is very picturesque and offers beautiful woodland views. You won’t be on it for long before you start to see some curious signs.
These ladies serve up mimosas to the runners at Rockledge, an historic, stone home on the side of Mill Mountain. Whether you enjoy a mimosa or not, pause a moment and take in the stunning city views before leaving Rockledge.
You won’t lack for entertainment during Blue Ridge. There are funny signs along the course.
And musicians to serenade you.
Kelly and I said goodbye at the Walnut Avenue bridge where the 10k course heads to the finish and the half course pops onto the greenway towards South Roanoke. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Enjoy the relatively flat section of greenway through McClanahan; you’ll start to climb again on 22nd Street and as you wind your way through the rolling hills of SoRo. The calm before the storm that is Peakwood.
Round the corner onto Somerset and enjoy one last water stop before it’s time to climb again. I had just barely started up Peakwood when a man yelled to me “It’s not far now! You’re almost to the top!” Liar. You tell beautiful, beautiful lies.
As you climb, you’ll convince yourself that the top is just around the next curve.
Or the next one.
At mile 8.8 there is a short downhill section that, for the uninitiated, may trick you into thinking that was the worst of Peakwood. Don’t be fooled. You’re going to climb again. Even more demoralizing, full marathoners will breeze right past! Resist the temptation to trip them.
And just when you’ve given up all hope of ever cresting Peakwood, there it is! The party in the cul-de-sac! These friendly volunteers will greet you with champagne, fresh fruit and more importantly, with smiles and words of encouragement.
Grab an ice-cold towel to wash the sweat away before you begin the trek back down into SoRo proper.
The downhill stretch from West Ridge Road through Rosalind Avenue is the reward for completing Peakwood.
South Roanoke in the springtime cannot be prettier. These gorgeous views almost make you completely forget the pain that is Blue Ridge.
Be sure to stop for a selfie with the mannequin. ‘Cause that’s not awkward at all. I told you there are quirky surprises!
Cresting the bridge in front of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital on Jefferson Street. One more mile to go. But who’s counting?!
After I finished the half, I met up with our friends Nikki and Michelle to wait for Mark to finish. He earned bragging rights within our circle of running friends by being the first in the group to tackle the full.
I haven’t said ‘never’ to a full marathon, but after watching friends limp around post-race in various levels of pain; let’s just say I’m not currently interested. When I finish a half marathon thinking ‘Boy, I could really go for another 13 miles right now!’, I’ll sign up for a full!
I’m super proud of this guy. I honestly expected him to be in serious pain by the end of the race. Two blocks from the finish line, he yelled to Nikki, “This is fun; you’re doing it next year!”
After receiving your finisher medal, hobble on over to the the Fleet Feet Recovery Zone and have your aching muscles rolled out by a friendly volunteer, or enjoy a massage by a physical therapist.
Once you can walk upright again, visit the food tent for post-race pizza and other snacks, or head into the Elmwood Park amphitheater for live music, food trucks and craft beer. It’s time to revel in successfully completing one of America’s Toughest Road Races!
For more information on the Blue Ridge races, click here: https://www.blueridgemarathon.com/ While you’re there, go ahead and register for the next race. Blue Ridge will kick your butt, but you’ll love it. Promise.
I’m not in partnership with any brands mentioned in this race review. I’m simply sharing my experience with this race.