America's Toughest Road Races: 2023 Re-cap - Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon

America’s Toughest Road Races: 2023 Re-cap

America’s Toughest Road Races: 2023 Re-cap

The 14th running of the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon was certainly memorable. Thunder and lightning may have forced an early cancellation of America’s Toughest Road Races, but the rain did not dampen the spirits of runners or the success of the weekend.

“You can’t control mother nature. The last thing any race director wants to do is cancel a race once it’s started,” said Kait Pedigo, event manager for Roanoke Outside. “It’s not a small task getting 1900+ runners and 400+ volunteers safely back to the start line. I couldn’t be prouder of how our staff, volunteers, public service partners, and community responded when lightning struck an hour and half into the race.”

We know runners have hundreds of choices when it comes to choosing a marathon. As a small, specialized race that prides itself on providing an exceptional experience, it was important to us to honor the choice to run America’s Toughest Road Races. So, within hours of canceling the in-person race, we pivoted to create an opportunity for runners to finish their race virtually and earn their medals.

An overall increase in registration, visitors, and economic impact

  • A total of 3,018 runners (5% increase over 2022)
    • Runners came from 38 states and seven countries
    • 51 % were visitors from outside the Roanoke Region
    • Gender Breakdown: 55% Female, 45% Male, and four Non-Binary Runners
  • The Anthem Star 10k saw a record 823 participants (up 12% from 2022)
  • The Freedom First Down by Downtown Music Festival featured 31 shows in 11 downtown music venues including headline event at Elmwood Park: Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers with Kentucky Ruckus, and Liv Sloan & the Die Hards.
  • The weekend of April 20-23 saw an economic impact of $1.2 million from the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon and the Freedom First Down by Downtown Music Festival.

Major growth in the Sunday recovery run: America’s Slowest 5k presented by Altra

  • 501 “runners” (up 137% from 2022) came together on Sunday, April 23, at River’s Edge Park to drink coffee, eat donuts, do goat yoga, listen to live music, and go for an easy recovery run/walk along the flat and beautiful Roanoke River Greenway.
  • This year’s Slow-K hosted a dozen local artisan and wellness vendors, as well as the Fleet Feet Recovery Zone and, of course, running shoe demos with Altra, the official shoe of the Blue Ridge Marathon.

A new goal for challenge-seekers

We released a new challenge in January: The Full GOAT, and it filled immediately.

Competitors were tasked with conquering ALL of America’s Toughest Road Races, including: The Blue Ridge Double Marathon, the Foot Levelers Full and Half Marathons, the Anthem Star 10k, and America’s Slowest 5k Presented by Altra. The total distance: 101 miles, all having to be completed on the official course, meaning 26,280′ of total elevation change.

On race day, 25 bold souls, dubbed the “Original GOATs” or “O.G.s,” having already completed three of the five races virtually, lined up to complete their final leg. While the cancellation complicated the completion of the the inaugural Full GOAT, they persisted and each completed the challenge. We are inspired by the group and excited to launch the 2nd year of the challenge soon with refined rules and an invitation to these O.G.s to fill the first spots on the 2024 start list.

A growing community of challenge-seekers from every walk of life

  • Thor Johansen was told he may never walk away, and yet — with the help of Foot Levelers custom orthotics — he charged ahead to conquer the Blue Ridge Double Marathon. Read about Thor here.
  • John Joseph Peake passed away with cancer at the age of 29 this past December. Before passing, he challenged his family to run the Blue Ridge Marathon, and so a community of 94 people showed up to do just that. His mother completed the full, virtually.
  • Shamaill Ross said she’d “never do Blue Ridge” until she was inspired by the fitness community to complete the Anthem Star 10k in 2021 and is now mentoring and building a community of runners of color. Watch her story here.
  • After his wife’s death in 2022, Matt Thompson was moved to jump feet-first into leading Fleet Feet Roanoke’s role as the local training partner and race merchandiser. Watch his story here.
  • Danny Keatley started his 1000th race, at age 76 in the Foot Levelers Half Marathon.
  • Betsy Davis, at 82 years young was the senior most person in the race and completed her Anthem Star 10k. Meet “Running Granny” here.
  • Ashley Bowels and Jeremy Theis were inspired to get married on race day, steps from the finish line.

A commitment to sustainability

With many thanks to our Impact Partner, Recover Brands, we’ve made efforts toward sustainable and earth-friendly event practices:

  • Runners enjoyed 100% recycled and sustainably-made race tees, the Recover Eco Tee
  • 13 boxes of used apparel were recycled as a part of Recover’s Closed-Loop program
  • Runners also recycled almost 100 pairs of old running shoes through the GOTSneakers program
  • Aid stations featured all compostable and recyclable materials (including compostable cups and recyclable GU packets)
  • Thanks to The Harvest Collective, and their waste system, we were able to divert as much event waste as possible from the landfill and into compost and recycling

A confident look ahead to the 15th anniversary of America’s Toughest Road Races on April 20, 2024

Fourteen years in, the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon has built a race culture that has taken hold of the Roanoke Region. The April race has become an annual celebration of our running and tourism industries with a cumulative $9.2 million in economic impact since 2010. It has also guided Roanoke to become an event- and tourism-ready region that excels at producing safe, exciting events for thousands of visitors from all over the world. The success of this ever-green race culture is seen most keenly in the additions of other major races like the upcoming Virginia’s Blue Ridge IRONMAN 70.3 and the internationally-televised Virginia’s Blue Ridge Go Cross Cyclocross.

Beyond our region, we are seeing that the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon is now a fixture in the running industry, appearing on lists like Runner’s Worlds Toughest Races in the World. The sentiment is clear: America’s Toughest Road Races is a must-do race. Registration is now open, with nearly 400 runners having already signed up.

To join us as we celebrate the 15th year of America’s Toughest Road Races as a runner, volunteer, or sponsor, please give us a shout!

One of the early morning Double Marathon Starts

Foot Levelers Staff host the famous Star aid station
Anthem Star 10k winner, Chad Albright, approaches the finish
Miss Blue Ridge awards an Anthem Star 10k finisher
Carilion Children’s Family 1 Miler Participants race to the finish
Runners enjoy goat yoga at America’s Slowest 5k presented by Altra


Officially Virginia's Best Half Marathon - Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Half
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