16 Photos That Show What ‘America’s Toughest’ Road Marathon & Half Is Really Like

Held every April in Roanoke, Va., the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon & Half Marathon bills itself as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.”


The reason? More than 7,400 feet of elevation change over the course of the full marathon, and some 3,600 feet in the half marathon.


“We actually encourage runners to walk the downhills,” race chair Pete Eshelman told The Weather Channel in an interview describing the race.


Most runners say the most crushing parts of the race are the downhill stretches on the Blue Ridge Parkway and above the Roanoke River, Eshelman added.


More downhills:


The half marathon course gets a makeover in 2015, and organizers say it’s now the nation’s toughest road half marathon.


In 2015, the half marathon is set to feature a course with an overall elevation gain of 1,897 feet, and a total elevation gain/loss of 3,790 feet.


It has an 8-hour course time limit, and organizers say walkers “are permitted and encouraged.” (Emphasis added.)


The half marathon begins, according to the race website, with “one mile of rolling hills, before taking its first turn upward as runners begin the two-mile climb up Mill Mountain.”


After that, the course looks more like this:


Along the way, you’ll find yourself doing lots of this:


They have a bagpiper playing at the start:


There’s even a race for kids:


Amazingly, this guy finished the race in less than 3 hours — an amazing accomplishment.


Some runners cross the finish line looking like this:


And for others — probably most! — it’s more like this:


Photo credits: Hany Honsy Photography, Kemper Mills Font Photography, Nick Schrein, Eric Brady. All photos used with permission from Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon & Half Marathon.

6 comments… add one
  • Andy Johnson May 11, 2016, 3:47 pm

    We have a challenging June race in Tennessee but nothing like this!

  • Mike November 6, 2014, 2:50 pm

    The Sandman Half Marathon in Wytheville, VA is the Toughest Road Half Marathon in America. The winner from last year said it was much harder then Roanoke!

  • David Huggett November 6, 2014, 9:42 am

    I live in Roanoke and I am running my first 1/2 in two weeks (Star City Half). I know this is a challenging course, but I hope to run it in 2015.

  • Teri October 20, 2014, 4:48 pm

    I am only at the beginning of my half marathon experience as I’ve only done one race. This race is a for sure goal in the near future!

  • Lori Lynn Short October 7, 2014, 2:32 pm

    I am very interested in running this race. I am always ready for a challenging course. This course looks beautiful. Please keep me updated on this race and registration. thanks hope to see u out there on the road.

  • marcus September 22, 2014, 7:40 am

    Really liked the photos. This one I must do sometime in the future.


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