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Blue Ridge Marathon grows, hosts new event

Race hits about 3,000 runners, is set to begin Saturday at 7:35 a.m.

ROANOKE, Va. – Hundreds of people flooded into Roanoke Friday for the 10th running of the Blue Ridge Marathon, which brings thousands of people to the Valley each year.

The races begin Saturday at 7:35 a.m. at Elmwood Park, rain or shine. Roads begin closing at 5:30 a.m.. A full list of closures can be found here.

The event showcases the beauty of area and it’s considered to be America’s toughest road race because of its elevation changes.

It continues to grow more and more each year.

The number of runners jumped this year by 21 percent to about 3,000 participants. 41 states and 10 countries are represented.

And the runners and their friends and families bring in big business. The event has netted a total of $4.5 million to the region in total.

Pete Eshelman never thought it would get this big when he founded it a decade ago.

“We're ecstatic,” he said. “The whole reason we got into doing this marathon in the first place was really to give people a reason to come to Roanoke and experience it and learn about it.”

Many hotels were at or near capacity as of Friday afternoon.

The race is considered a bucket list marathon for many runners because of how challenging it is to run up and down the mountains. There are three challenging sections: Mill Mountain, Roanoke Mountain and Peakway Drive.

Plus, the weekend has many of the amenities and entertainment the big-city races have.

There are race distances from about 6 miles, to the marathon, to a double marathon, for which runners start in the middle of the night. All 100 spots are filled up for 50-plus mile race.

Runners surveyed say they love the atmosphere of the races.

“The number one thing that they cite is how friendly the spectators and volunteers are,” Eshelman said.

Runners 10 News talked to said they’re both excited and a bit nervous for the challenging course:

“This is my first race, my first 10K, and I'm so excited about it,” said Frances Harrington, who came in from New Jersey.

“The course is good. It's beautiful. We just actually drove a little bit of it, and it's a lot greener this year, which is good,” said Gary Sines, who traveled from Ohio.

“It's absolutely gorgeous. I'm a mountain girl so I love mountains and camping and all that stuff. Even driving in this morning it was gorgeous,” said Michelle Carlsen, who lives in Indiana.

About a dozen nonprofits help make the race happen.

“The community support is what has made this event grow and be successful,” Eshelman said.

That includes Roanoke City Fire-EMS, which has increased its staff for Saturday.

“Be mindful. If you're driving downtown pay attention to street closures,” said Trevor Shannon, Roanoke Fire-EMS Battalion Chief of Emergency Management.

More on the race can be found here.

On Sunday, starting at 9 a.m., there’s a relaxing race, which is new this year for the Blue Ridge Marathon. Organizers call it "The Blue Ridge Slow-K, America’s Slowest 5K.”

It can be a recovery run for people who race the day before. Others will be entering their first-ever race, and it gives people who are in town to cheer on friends and family a chance to take part in the fun.

“You get a coffee mug. We'll have doughnuts, coffee and hot chocolate. You can get it before the race, during the race, after the race. You can take a doughnut with you while you walk,” Eshelman said.

There will be yoga stations along the course Sunday and there will be mimosas at the finish line.