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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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More downhills:

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

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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.

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

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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.”

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After that, the course looks more like this:

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

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They have a bagpiper playing at the start:

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There’s even a race for kids:

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

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Some runners cross the finish line looking like this:

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

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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!

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • marcus September 22, 2014, 7:40 am

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

    Reply

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