The past weekend was expected to be nice and I had some extra time on my hands. This gave me the perfect opportunity to take a little field trip to Cary, NC and preview the Tobacco Road Marathon course.
After racing Saturday morning, I headed east on I40 to Cary.
Mapquest works great because I didn't have any problems finding the park where the marathon starts.
With a quick switch of clothes I was off on my Mt. bike for a course tour.
Because I had a course map, I had a fair idea of the roads that I was crossing. But it seems that I wasn't the only one out doing a little recon on the course. Several times, I got asked about the roads crossing the trail.
The course layout has roughly the 1st 3 miles on the road and the last 3 miles on the road with the other 20 miles being run on the Tobacco Road Trail. This was my first visit to the trail so I didn't really know what to expect.
The first 3 miles have some rolling hills. From there, you take a left on to the Tobacco Road Trail and basically do the south end of the trail. According to the Marathon website, you go almost to the trail head. Then you reverse course and head toward the north end of the trail.
Passing where you entered the trail and passing where you will later exit the trail at about 23 miles. Basically, the course forms a big "T" shape.
The south end of the trail is mostly this powdered dirt. It is similar to McAlpine Trail here in Charlotte. There are some later nasty rocks at the road crossings.
There are 2 bridges on the south end of the course and 1 tunnel. The Tunnel did have some standing water and mud in it. The bridges were maybe 50 yards long. The north end has at least 1 bridge crossing.
At each road crossing they have these green gates. There is a place to run around it but I wondered on race day if they will have these gates open for the runners.
The north section of the trail starts around Green Level Church Road. This section appears to be newer. At least, the new fencing and recently planted trees make it appear as such.
The trail also changes. In this section the trail has a paved half and a dirt half. So essentially, you can either run on the paved path or on the dirt path beside it.
My ride covered the course from end to end. And of the two ends, the North is much rougher and rockier but only near the very end. There you really only have to deal with it for maybe a ¼ to ½ mile.
This course has been advertised as one of the flattest course in NC and while that may be true, it is certainly not flat.
I covered the entire course running on Sunday morning.
You have to remember that this is an old rail road grade.
So once on the trail, you have lots of long stretches where you can just see the rising or falling of the course ahead. At one point, I could see in the distance cars crossing the trail at 3 different points at the same time. The climbs are not steep but they do seem to drag on forever. I could really feel them in my quads.
As I said, early the first 3 miles have several rolling hills. The last 3 miles isn't really rolling but is more of a steady grind either flat or uphill to the 25 mile point. After 25 miles, you are pretty much home free to the finish with some rough road and pot holes to step around. One additional fact about the last 3 miles, you are out on a wide open road so there is no shade and nothing blocking the wind from blowing into your face.
Reflecting on the course, I really only have two concerns. The first being the dirt trail. If it rains in the days before or the day of, it could make for a muddy race. The 2nd concern is with the width of the course. With 900 marathoners and 2000 ½ marathoners it could be a tight squeeze. Much of the course is no more than 8 to 9 feet wide. I am almost certain that we will be catching a lot of ½ marathoners before they make their exit on to New Hope Road. I am just not sure how we will pass them if they are walking 2, 3, or 4 abreast. Then, we have a similar issue meeting the marathoners on the return trip from the north end of the trail. I don't know if the race directors have thought this totally through, but I hope they have.
Thoughts from my field trip to Tobacco Road Trail – by the Cool Down Runner