The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon heads into its 7th year on April 16th, and over the years, the moniker of “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” has proven true time and time again.

After navigating the 26.2 miles and 7,430 feet of total elevation change to finish first last year, Masashi Shirotake told The Roanoke Times, “I live in Charlotte where it’s not so hilly. This was very tough...I’m used to flat courses.”

Amy Ostrofe of Suffolk finished first among female runners in 2015. Ostrofe described the downhills as the toughest part of the entire 26.2, telling The Roanoke Times, “I’m not so good at the uphill, but by the end I was thinking ‘No, not another downhill.’"


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Of course, the full marathon may not be for everyone. However, an update in 2014 to the half marathon course means even those conquering the 13.1 mile course will battle more than 3600’ of elevation change, incorporating both Mill Mountain and Peakwood.

So why do Blue Ridge Marathon runners put themselves through it? Organizers at attribute it to the ‘breathtaking views and stunning Blue Ridge Mountain scenery offering some reprieve to runners as they persevere to the finish line!’

In fact, legendary runner and former American marathon record holder Bill Rodgers said, “It’s such a challenging course and such a beautiful course, that’s a great combination. Any marathoner, ultra-marathoners, trail runners...would like to come out and see this area because it is so pretty. The vista going out as you get to the top of Roanoke Mountain is stunning. It’s worth the climb.” (Rodgers says with a smirk and a nod.)

Rodgers isn’t the only runner singing the praises of the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. One scroll through the five star ratings on tells you everything you need to know about America’s Toughest Road Race and Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

  • “The same way as there is no way to prepare yourself with this tough course, unless you live in Roanoke, there is also no way to prepare yourself for how nice this town is, unless you live there too. The 1000s of volunteers and spectators, to the scores of EMT and Police Officers that help make the 'toughest road marathon in America' feel like a walk in the park.” – New York City, NY 
  • “Having run over 90 ultras and 30ish marathons, I must say this was one of the most organized and fun events I have participated in. Do yourself a favor and do not wear headphones: the volunteers, spectators and communities provide excellent cheering and music on their own.” – North Carolina 
  • “The crowds are amazing - Peakwood, I love you. It is my favorite race - this year sealed the deal for me. I've run over 30 marathons to include some international ones and Blue Ridge takes the cake.” – Baltimore, Maryland 
  • “This race is by far the most difficult marathon I have ever run, but it is definitely my favorite… The organization, the views, the volunteers, and the spectators - all wonderful! Everyone should put this race on their bucket list, but be warned, you will want to do it more than once. I am definitely going back in 2016!!” – Holly Springs, NC 

Talk to any of the dedicated contenders who have challenged themselves in these races in the past and they’ll tell you that the culture of the region, the southern hospitality and the spectators who gather to cheer on the runners compete with the beautiful views as the reason for returning year after challenging year.

Let’s say you want to enjoy the race, without the hassle of running the 26.2 miles. That’s easy enough thanks to all of the restaurants, clubs, hotels, museums and downtown shops that welcome visitors with open arms and live music.

Show up early and stay out late, because downtown Roanoke is filled with live music and throws a great party before, during and after the marathon. In fact, we have an entire music festival and conference for you to enjoy!

Down by Downtown is a three-day celebration of music, with concerts at Elmwood Park Amphitheater on Friday and Saturday nights (4/15-4/16), as well as live music nightly in five venues in downtown Roanoke alongside the Big Lick Music Conference. More than 50 acts will perform throughout the week and at the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon finish line.


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Headlining this year’s Down by Downtown music fest is famed New Orleans-based funk band, Galactic. The band has been recording for more than 20 years, creating songs with influences of hip hop, electronic, rock, blues, and jazz. Consistently pushing artistic boundaries, Galactic approaches their music with open ears and draws inspiration as much from the sounds bubbling up from their city’s streets, as they do from each other.

Whether you’re one of the thousands watching or one of the hundreds running, don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy Virginia’s Blue Ridge on and around April 16th!

Check out our full Calendar of Events for more ideas of things to do in Virginia's Blue Ridge and be sure to sign-up for our monthly e-newsletter to get more information about the region!