Ahh the old Creeper. This race is near and dear to my heart because I absolutely love the town where it takes place. If you are looking for a small race, a Virginia race, a race that is gentle on your joints, or a little weekend getaway in March–THIS IS IT FOLKS.
Virginia Creeper Trail Marathon 2011 & 2012
Race Website: Creeper Trail Marathon.
Size: 100 runners. Full marathon only.
Location: The race starts and ends in Abingdon, Virginia, a historic town nestled in the far southwest corner of Virginia, near Bristol, Tennessee.
Logistics: The closest airport to Abingdon is the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Tennessee. Roanoke Airport is also relatively close. Abingdon is a 6 hour drive from DC. If you fly in, you will likely need to rent a car to get to Abingdon from the airport and around town. There is little public transportation. There are several campsites, cabins, and bed and breakfasts in the Abingdon area (including Damascus, Virginia). There are also a few not-as-fancy hotels and one very nice hotel. Once in Abingdon, day-of logistics are very easy because of the race’s small size. Packet pick up is the morning of the race. Note that most restaurants and shops in Abingdon are closed on Sundays. Two very notable exceptions for yummy post-race food: Heartwood and Harvest Table (closes at 2:30).
Weather/What I Wore: Abingdon is a beautiful town, and the Creeper is a lovely trail. Unfortunately, this is not the absolute best time of year to visit. Each time I ran this marathon, I had cloudy weather, and in 2012, it was rainy. You will likely need to bundle up for the start of this marathon, but it is easy to shed layers as you pass the main spectator area a few times during your run.
Course/Terrain: The vast majority of this race takes place on the Creeper Trail, through a series of out-and-backs. The course is very flat, on a gravel and dirt path. There are some rocks, twigs, and roots, but I’ve been fine running in road shoes. Generally the runners of this race are very supportive, but most of the trail is not suitable for spectators, so there will be some solitary and quiet moments. This is probably not the best race for a first marathon unless you have a running buddy.
Speed: This race is flat and moderately fast. The footing may slow you down a bit if it has recently rained. My first time, it took me 4:05, a PR at the time, but I beat that time a few weeks later by 10 minutes at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. The second (rainy) time I ran the Creeper, it took me 4:01, 17 minutes slower than what I had just run at the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.
Race Amenities: This is a very low-key, no-frills event. There are ample water stops, but do not expect free GU and a brass band for entertainment. No t-shirt or medal, but finishers are given a nice paperweight.
Overall: Like It. Why not Love? Mainly because of its out and back structure (which makes it a little boring) and the fact that it is in March and not a prettier month.