I will never forget the enchanting trips to the Biltmore Estate that my parents took me on when I was a little girl. Because in my innocent little eyes, it was the far-away castle in my fairytales and I was the princess that was meant to roam its historic halls. (Sure, in reality it was a not-so-distant 2-hour drive from home, and it was a hefty $65 entry fee that opened the gates to my whimsical dreamland…) but nonetheless, it was a magical mansion to me and it would always hold a special place in my heart. 💖
So when I recently discovered that the Biltmore hosts a 15k/5k race every year, I had a “shut up and take my money” moment and immediately began dreaming of how this run would be my fairytale ending to a fantastic spring racing season.
Needless to say, I began planning every detail of this weekend back in December of last year. And since my boyfriend agreed to join me for the adventure, we decided to make a fun little weekend out of it. We nestled in the most adorable rustic cottage in Asheville, and we spent all day Saturday exploring the eclectic sights of the city. The sun was shining, the drinks were flowing, and my date was dreamy. It was a perfect pre-game for the race that had been harvesting butterflies in my tummy for so long. 👌
But the next morning when my obnoxious alarm clock went off at 5:30am, we immediately realized that Mother Nature wasn’t on our side today: it was raining cats & dogs, and the forecast predicted for it to continue for the next 4 hours! I looked over at Matt, who looked equally has reluctant to leave our warm bed, and seriously questioned if we should even bother. But something inside both of us knew that we couldn’t miss it. Call it adult-ing, with maybe even a dash of #fomo, but we both felt obligated to lace up for this race we drove so far for.
So 30 minutes later, and there we were: parked in the middle of a dark, open field with rain pelting down on the windshield, scratching our heads about how we got ourselves into this mess. We had absolutely no enthusiasm to get out of that car, (and truth be told, I’m pretty sure we both silently debated hightailing it to the nearest McDonald’s instead.) But the dreaded 7:15am start time was fast approaching and unfortunately the Biltmore’s Facebook page hadn’t given us an inclement weather excuse to call it quits.
Therefore we took a deep breath and dived into the monsoon surrounding us. We jogged over to the bright yellow starting line and huddled with several hundred others who stood there drenched, anxiously waiting to the get this show on the road. Within seconds we were also soaked, but fortunately, within minutes we were off.
The first mile was pancake flat, but the open fields provided us no relief from the torrential downpour. And on top of being cold, wet, and sleepy-eyed, things got even worse when I realized I just made the worst running decision ever: I decided to leave my headphones in the car. 😱 You see, I’ve NEVER not run a race without some Tiesto to get me through it. But since this rainy course was no playground for a pricey pair of Bose headphones, I decided it would be best if they were tucked away, nice and dry. Though, when it hit me that I had 8.5 miles of heavy breathing ahead, I instantly regretted this move. (Shoutout to all of you who run only to the whistles of the wind. Ya’ll are so much stronger than I am!)
Regardless, I kept on truckin’. It was hard and it was miserable. And without having music to distract me from my discomfort, I began thinking of every excuse in the book as to why it would be okay for me to walk: 1) this weather sucks, 2) my knees are killing me, 3) I’m hungover. (haha, guiltyyyy…. 🤢)
But then when I was feeling my worst, everything took a turn for the better. I rounded mile 3 into the most storybook meadow, and by some magical powers above, the rain finally cut us some slack. That’s when I discovered that we weren’t running on the Biltmore grounds anymore: we were frolicking in the Shire. The grass here was the most vibrant green I’ve ever seen, the dewy foliage was glistening, and the songbirds were serenading us each step of the way. In that moment, the magic of this race took over me: I wasn’t trudging through the storm anymore, but instead, I was a kid again, splashing and smiling through the puddles. I momentarily forgot about the treacherous journey that lay ahead of me, and I actually started having fun.
That childlike grin stayed with me for the next mile or so, and changed my outlook on the dreary situation. That is, until the unsuspecting mile 4 hit. You see, what started as a seemingly innocent hill quickly turned into a mile-long monster that devoured each runner, one-by-one. This never-ending climb broke even the bravest runners amongst us, and I’m pretty sure everyone in the pack had to surrender with a walk at least once. It was painful and discouraging.
Just as we were nearing what I hoped was the top of the exhausting slope, a runner next to me turned around and randomly asked, “Have you ever run this race before?” It took me a few seconds to reply (mostly because I couldn’t breathe, but also because I needed to process why homeboy thought this was the most opportune moment to spit game…), but I was finally able to blurt out a simple, “No, why?” when he coyly responded, “Because you’re gonna wanna soak this in…”
Then we rounded the corner, entered through mighty steel gate, and stared face-to-face with the majestic castle I had been working so hard to see.
She was regal, breathtaking, and beautiful all at the same time. She was more spectacular than I remembered, and every painful step I took to find her was absolutely worth it. Seeing her gave me the strength I needed to sprint through her colorful gardens, past her powerful waterfalls, and into mile 7 of the race.
With 2.3 miles to go, it was time to test my limits. It was time for me pick up the pace and see if I could salvage a semi-impressive time, despite the odds. So I spun my wheels, and huffed and puffed into an uncomfortable 8:00 pace. I felt strong and confident, but unfortunately Mother Nature wasn’t going to let me have this win that easily. At that very moment, the sky cracked and poured what felt like several hundred buckets of rainwater down on me.
I was drenched, my legs were heavy, and my energy was running out. I looked over at my fellow runners and could tell they were equally as wiped. We all needed a boost to make it through this trying course, so when I lined up with two other struggling joggers, I enthusiastically reminded them, “Way to go guys, we’ve got this!” Those simple words instantly put a pep in their step, but somehow managed to encourage me even more. I had spoken the exact words I needed to hear, and at that moment, the grueling conditions were no longer an obstacle for my speedy legs.
With about 50 yards to go, I looked up to the bright yellow finish line and that’s when I spotted him. My knight in shining armor had finished his 5k race and was cheering for me with the biggest smile. He was so handsome and so proud of me, and I have no doubt that it was his joy that propelled me into my strongest sprint across that golden line.
We embraced in a loving hug, shared notes about our runs, then beelined for the breakfast food buffet. On the way, we stopped to check our official race times and couldn’t believe what we saw: Matt placed 3rd in his division, and by some miracle, I placed 2nd in mine! Seriously, what are the odds that in our first official road race together, we both managed to take home a medal!? All we could do was laugh.
Moments later, we both got to soak in the glory of standing on a podium. Sure, our journeys to get there weren’t as picture-perfect as we had hoped. And we faced many trials that very well could’ve overshadowed this experience for us. But by making that 5:30am decision to give this race a shot, I can confidently say that I earned my fairytale ending.
1:19:31 finish time
8:33 average pace
3rd place F25-29 out of 28
14th place female out of 220
47th place overall out of 335