The City of Oaks Marathon is held in Raleigh, NC. The 2022 event was on Sunday, November 6. This event has something for all distances – 5K, 10K, half, and full marathon. Originally, I signed up for the half marathon but when Coach Twiggs put a 26-mile training run on my schedule, I felt like I needed to get a medal for my efforts. I went back and forth for a long time on whether I should sign up for this race. I had a lot of fears:
- It’s a lot of pressure to run a marathon. To just do one “for training” was something I could not get my mind around.
- City of Oaks is not a large race like a world major or Disney. I’m a back-of-the-pack runner, so this was really nerve-wracking to be alone or maybe not even finish.
- The race only had a 6-hour limit. My current PR for the marathon is 5:57, so that is barely squeaking in. I would be really upset with myself if I didn’t finish, and this limit added a whole lot more pressure than it just being a marathon.
After my successful 23-mile training run, I decided to be brave and just got for it. I changed my half marathon registration to the full, and then the pressure was really on to do it. If I could stick to my prescribed training pace of 13:15, I would finish under the 6-hour limit, but also earn a PR with a time around 5:47.
The race logistics and communication were my two biggest complaints about this race. I don’t know if I was extra nervous because of the fact that it was a marathon or because travel was required. I lived in Raleigh for many years, so I shouldn’t be nervous about that, but I know that I was.
They offered to mail your race bib to your house instead of going to packet pick up. This was an extra $6.99, which is a nice option, but sometimes I like to go to packet pickup just to see what it is. They continued to mail about the deadline, but they never communicated when and where packet pickup would be. When I emailed to inquire about this, they said they weren’t sure and would communicate details later. Well, that makes it difficult to plan!
Ultimately, I decided to have it mailed to my house. This is nice because I got a picture of Churchill with a bib, even though he wasn’t there to tell me good luck for the race.
Packet pickup ended up being at a local school until 6 pm or something, so it was good that I had it mailed to me.
Another issue I had with logistics was with parking. The race started and ended in downtown Raleigh, but they communicated 3 parking areas that were between 0.3 and 0.7 miles away from the start. Some of the areas were street parking, which I scoped out the day prior. I didn’t feel confident at all that I would be able to find a parking spot, and this stressed me out a lot. I’m not great at driving, let alone in cities. Luckily, I drove through downtown from my Airbnb to those spaces and found a paid parking spot just down the street from the finish line. This ended up working perfectly, so I wish their communication would say there was paid parking in different lots downtown.
Alll of the City of Oaks courses lap each other and turn off at various points, but they all pass some of the big sites of Raleigh like the NC State Capitol on Fayetteville Street. Something I really liked about this marathon course is that the breakaway from the half and full happened at mile 8 where the full went straight onto a greenway and the half turned around at the end of Hillsborough St. Mentally, as a marathoner, that was a lot easier to process than seeing the half marathon run to the finish line when you had to turn off and do 13.1 miles more. The Charlotte Marathon is set up this way, and I think that would make for a really hard mental game.
The other thing to note about this course is that the Raleigh course is really hilly. If you’re doing the half and shorter distances, you have a few hills, but it isn’t anything too much if you live in the Piedmont area of NC, since that is just your normal. The full marathon, on the other hand, had some HUGE hills on the greenway. I remember running down one around mile 10 or so thinking this is going to be really hard to go back around. We were around mile 21 when we had to go back up that section, but that wasn’t the only one!
The City of Oaks Marathon races started at 7 am. I left my Airbnb around 5:30 am, not sure about what I would do with parking. This would give me enough time to fumble around and figure something out. I had my hydration pack full with no-flavor Tailwind, a few Ucann gels, and some graham crackers to eat before. The time change happened that morning, so I had an extra hour to prep for the race. I was incredibly nervous, so I was trying to find ways to calm myself down.
The weather was also not looking good. It was warm (I think around 74 in the morning) and the air was THICK! I made sure to pack S-Caps and Salt Tabs to help, but I knew this would make the day that much harder. I was sweating just standing around waiting for the race to start because of the humidity – this was not a good sign! You can even see the haze in this picture from the humidity. I was scared this was going to turn into 2020 WDW Marathon again, and that was NOT something I wanted to repeat – especially on a smaller race when I was already expected to struggle.
Miles 1 – 8
Since this is a smaller race (I think about 770 registered and 565 finished the full marathon), they don’t have start corrals. Everyone (all distances except the 5K) started at the same time. There was a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, then we were off. Well over 2,000 people registered for the half (1,700 finished) and 1,220 registered for the 10K. Imagine almost 4,000 all at the same time going down a city street. It was absolute madness! Topple that with me trying to run/walk (I placed myself towards the back, but then a lot of people came late), and it was a fiasco.
I wanted to make sure to start my intervals from the beginning because I was doing the full and needed to conserve my energy. I had to run through the first 1 or 2 walk breaks but eventually was able to get off on the side to walk. Originally, I started at 20:30, but I had to back off because I was going much faster than my 13:15 goal pace; my first 5K was under 12:00/mile!
I backed my intervals down to 15:30 to try to slow down. One or two people told me “thank you” for raising my arm to signal my walk break, as I think I was the only one run/walking at that point of the race.
It was really fun to run through downtown Raleigh to see all of my old sights. A lot of my downtown experience was the bar scene, so running a marathon is quite a difference! I even ran past the Junior League of Raleigh building where my Junior League career started, which was a fun surprise. It’s funny, one of my favorite things to do is to visit and tour state capitol buildings. North Carolina is one I need to do. Not only have I lived in NC longer than any other state, but I actually lived in the capital city for 6 years! So typical, isn’t it?
Even though I changed my interval, I was still running under 13-minute miles at the 8-mile mark. I don’t understand because running this interval is much slower when I’m at home.
Miles 8 – 22
The second section of the marathon was most of the race and all marathoners. I marked this off at where the half and full marathon split and the marathoners spend the entire time on the greenway. It was really hot and humid at this time. My goal was to stay strong on my 15:30 intervals for the whole race, which was okay at this point, but I couldn’t believe I still had 18 miles to go.
The greenway was really nice, and the noise of Hillsborough Street faded away. Little did I realize how many large hills were waiting for us! I was able to zone out here, just run, and say hi to some fellow runners while commenting on the weather. I started to struggle and chose to only walk around the halfway point. Since I did 10 miles with a power walk the day before for Mock Dopey 1, I figured if I could pull off 14-minute miles I could still finish under the 6-hour time limit. Just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I also finished my whole hydration pack of Tailwind at this point – on top of taking water at every water stop! This was going to be really hard.
It was a really scenic view, which was really nice because of the colors of the trees. Everyone was struggling at this point. Around this point, I also saw the leaders coming back down. They were looking strong, but even the fast people were walking and looking hot.
This greenway took you up until around mile 15.5 or something, which was close to North Hills. I can’t believe that I was able to run from downtown to North Hills; seems like such a far distance! When I turned back around, I saw that I wasn’t the last person and tried to cheer people along. I had started passing people at this point because it was such a struggle. According to the race results, from the halfway point to mile 20, I moved up 29 places and I was just power walking. That’s how bad it was.
There were people with medics, too. One I saw was a half marathoner on Hillsborough St. with an IV. Another girl I saw on the greenway was flush white on the ground. I kept telling myself, just be safe and be steady. This is a training run and there is never a need to push yourself that hard.
The hills were killer. Mile 20-22 was 170 ft of elevation gain, which was quite steep. Writing it, it doesn’t seem like it should be that bad, but it was awful! My pace slowed to a slow walk where I was clocking over 15-minute miles. I was definitely feeling it!
Mile 23 – Finish
It felt like forever, but eventually, we got off the greenway and back onto Hillsborough Street. We did a weird out-and-back then were really back onto the road to get us back downhill. While 3 miles doesn’t seem like a lot compared to doing 26, these last 3.2 miles were killer. I was so, so tired. Miles 24 to the end were downhill, but I was still walking. I was trying to stay with my power walk, but I was so hot and so dirty. It was hard having an empty pack, and I hadn’t had electrolytes or calories since mile 13. I was too scared to take any of the electrolyte drinks they had on the course because of what happened at the 2021 Chicago Marathon. Maybe it would have helped, but I didn’t want to chance not being able to finish.
When I saw the 25-mile marker, I tried to run, but I couldn’t sustain my intervals. I had to just power walk. Some of the people around me were able to speed up and add in some running intervals. I was so impressed with them! I desperately wanted to, but I couldn’t. It was one girl’s first marathon, and she was doing amazing!
Eventually, we got back downtown, and I knew we were close. We crossed over Glenwood where we started, and it was just a little bit. I tried to press on and turned the final corner. There it was – the finish line! It was straight ahead and the clocked showed around 5:57 – I could finish in under 6 hours! It took everything I had but I powered in at the end. That short speed burst clocked in at less than a 12:00 mile, I think. But I finished!
My official final time was 5:57:38. It is hard to believe that I had finished my fourth marathon, and I finished it at a race where I was so nervous. The City of Oaks Marathon is the kind of race that good runners sign up for and for people who really like marathons – but I did it! I snuck in just under the time limit, and I couldn’t be happier.
This was my third fastest marathon, but that was okay. It probably had the second worst conditions, outside of the 2020 WDW Marathon. There is a lot that I can do to improve, but I had even more to be proud of. It was a challenge for me to sign up, but I did it, and I stuck it out through the conditions, and I changed course so that I could finish. The race party was over and the race food was gone, but it was okay. I earned my cool spinner medal and gained a lot of confidence – more motivation to do better the next time.
This was the first of three marathons that I have coming up. Dopey 2023 training is coming to an end, but there are still a lot of miles to go. Next month, I will do the Kiawah Island Marathon, which I am less nervous about because there is a 6.5-hour limit. Then, I will cap off my training season with Dopey 2023 in January – what I have been working towards!
If I can accomplish all of these, I am going to apply for the bronze level of Marathon Maniacs. I haven’t been able to say that yet, but if I can do 3 marathons in 90 days, I might as well. I’m not sure if I’ll do it again, but you just never know!