Race Report: Umstead Trail Marathon
Yesterday I completed my tenth marathon, at the Umstead Trail Marathon held at the William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC. This actually marked my slowest marathon yet. And the post about it is marathon length… you have been warned.
Friday night I stayed home, put my feet up and enjoyed a carbo load while watching some of the week’s TV from my DVR. Macaroni and cheese, garlic bread and wheat beer. Fry wanted some of the beer for himself:
Race day began around 5:00am with a typical pre-run breakfast of hot tea (Bigelow’s Lemon Lift tea is a favorite) and bowl of oatmeal. I like to melt a spoonful of peanut butter into the hot oatmeal for some additional flavor and added protein. Also added dried cranberries. I was finished packing my bag of mostly unnecessary stuff (2 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs socks, 2 extra running shirts, windbreaker, change of clothes for post-race, hat, Garmin, Clif Shots) and out the door by 6:30. I’d felt awake while futzing around the house in the morning but I got rather drowsy on the 90 minute drive to Raleigh.
Arrived at 8:00 and parked in my assigned lot. The race directors were very well coordinated, assigning each runner a parking lot ahead of time – it was quick and easy. There are a maximum 200 registrations available for this race part of it is surely based on the number of cars. Had a short walk to the Race Headquarters in a cabin where I picked up my packet, which in addition to the bib number and shirt also included a nice pair of wool socks, Honey Stinger gel (need to try this brand), fruit and nut mix and a bunch of Triangle-area race fliers. Took my things back to the car where I finished getting ready to run – shoes and socks, braiding my ponytail, stuffing the many pockets of my RaceReady shorts with gels, etc. Then got back to the Headquarters cabin to mill around with the other runners before the race started at 9:00am. I was very glad I’d gotten in the 1-person portajon line around 8:10 BEFORE getting my packet and doing all that, because when I was back around 8:45 the line was probably 40 people deep.
It was interesting to note how many runners were wearing shirts from previous years of this marathon. 2011′s shirt was an easy to spot bright highlighter-neon-green with a giant tick – they choose a new mascot for each year. I found this fun post from a blogger who breaks down his thoughts on Umstead’s mascot selection process: Running Down on Mascotology. I’d venture at least 25% of the runners were wearing shirts from previous editions of this race. Says a lot about a dedicated group of runners! This year the mascot was the bat. I love it, and love that they chose a brand for the shirts – Brooks – that makes women’s shirts that actually fit. I will be able to wear this shirt without looking ridiculous, and I will wear it proudly.
Okay, on to the race. It started with some pretty flat, wide road to get people spread out. I tried to start out easy as I have a habit of going out too fast, especially in a smaller race like this with no crowds to slow me down. I felt comfortable but knocked the first 2 miles in 9:39 and 9:21… I was hoping for closer to 10:00 pace to start out. Then we ventured into the singletrack section of the race which amounted to 5.5 or 6 miles. This definitely slowed the pace down as we navigated the roots, rocks and mud puddles. There were a couple of small creek crossings through here, but nothing you had to get your feet wet for. However there were some unavoidable puddles on the trails which squished through my shoes, turning my socks into nice little blister machines.
Around mile 5, I was regretting that I hadn’t tossed my calf compression sleeves into my big bag of stuff, as I thought they’d be nice to have for the drive home after the race. About mile 6.5, I slipped in a mud puddle and took a hard fall. Sat for a moment to assess the damage, and was glad there weren’t any runners immediately nearby. However, I could hear some behind so I’d have had help quickly enough if I’d been seriously hurt. Results: scrapes down left knee and shin, banged up right knee, small scrapes on right elbow/forearm and significant swelling and bruising to the lower thumb area/meaty of my left hand. And some mud on the butt of my shorts that someone identified later as “a pretty good indicator I’d taken a spill.” A couple miles later – the singletrack was done – at an aid station, I got some water and assistance to wash some of the dirt off my hands and out of my scrapes. The volunteers throughout were just fantastic. They even had cyclists riding the course to be sure everyone was okay, to cheer us on and even offer gels if we wanted one. Wonderful people, all of them.
All the singletrack in the early part of the race definitely wore me out early. I’m usually rather fresh up until at least mile 10, and the going doesn’t get rough until mile 16-18 or so. But I was tired early. We weren’t even into double digit miles when I got my first hint of feeling defeated. There were a lot of out-and-back sections in the race, which are usually pretty nice. You know what’s coming when you’ve run it once before. But when I was on about mile 11 and saw the leaders coming back around their mile 19, and THEY looked really worn down, it wasn’t encouraging. Often when I see lead runners, they look effortless and comfortable. These guys looked beat too, which made the next miles harder still. Then as we progressed forward and I was the one at mile 19, and I saw the mile 11 runners plodding along, I felt bad knowing many of them wouldn’t be able to make the 6-hour cut off, which was enforced at a number of cut-off points along the route.
The hills were relentless and my feeling of defeat was strong. I guess there was a bit of a lull during miles 11-12 because I knocked off a couple more at 9:39, 9:43, but most of the rest were in the 11:30-12:00 range on the back half of the course as I allowed myself to walk up hills then hated that the downhills that followed were mostly too steep with some iffy footing to really let it fly, so I didn’t get that walk time back. Though the trails were wide (10-12 feet) and the footing was generally even, there were parts where water run-off had washed away little rivulets. It had rained hard the day/night before and some during the race, which was through by around mile 8-9, and the rest of the race was under heavy cloud cover. Turned out to be a lovely day to run, really.
A few hours into the race, some of the crew was out on a little truck, delivering lunch to the volunteers. Their lunch was the same food awaiting us at the finish line… Moe’s burritos. I do love some Moe’s, so I spent the next couple hours thinking about the burrito I was still miles away from. Breakfast had been around 5:30am and it was noon with 16-18 miles under my belt along with 300 calories of Clif Shots and some from Gatorade, so I was pretty hungry. The aid stations were ultra-style, with water, Gatorade, Coke, Fritos, Oreos, bagel pieces, oranges, bananas and gummy bears. The only thing that appealed to me from the spread was gummy bears, so I enjoyed a handful of those around mile 19 and took my time walking and chewing carefully. My sore hand slowed my gel-consumption and the really nice aid station volunteers made sure we were well taken care of, so overall I lingered at the aid stations longer than usual. According to my Garmin, the difference in my “moving time” and “elapsed time” showed I stopped for a total of 10 minutes along the way.
As I continued trudging along, I kept my eye on the (mid-race adjusted goal) prize of finishing below 5 hours. I’d been thinking the early singletrack might allow me to get my first negative split race, but it wasn’t to be. (A negative split is running the second half faster than the first.) The final nail in that coffin was the long, winding, rocky (read: slow) downhill from about mile 21-22.5… that was another out and back section. That made miles 22.5-24 a long, winding, rocky UPHILL, which had a sign at the base/turnaround point “Welcome to the Wheels Off Hill.” (Oh, the wheels had long fallen off my bus.) I pitied the runners I saw coming down as I was trudging my way back up. Mile 23 alone took 13:24. I ran alongside a lady in a 2006 Umstead Marathon shirt for a while, and she complimented my form. “You are a good runner,” she said, “your hair doesn’t swing when you run.” I’m not sure I’ve ever been complimented on my form before, especially not at mile 24 of a rough marathon. Brought a smile to my face.
We mostly continued uphill until around mile 25. Thankfully the final mile.2 was flat. I was cheered along by a few pockets of spectators and volunteers while pushing through the final mile. I really thought I might burst into tears once I crossed the finish line, but I was too tired to muster that up. I heard “and from Winston-Salem, here comes Emily – finishing the Umstead Trail Marathon in under five hours!” and I crossed that line with my head held high; no more defeat. It was definitely my toughest marathon yet. Finish time 4:56:59. 113 of 169 finishers. 7 runners did not finish.
A few feet after the finish line, I was given water and my finisher pint glass which I held firmly. It was so nice to stop moving for a moment. The volunteers here were so great as well, asking what I needed, and could they get me anything else. I had some EMS workers help clean the partially scabbed in dirt out of my cuts with alcohol wipes. I took a few moments just to be still, then walked into the Headquarter cabin and after a couple wipes of hand sanitizer, I tackled my Moe’s chicken burrito. Welcome. To. Moe’s. I also picked up my door prize of a 2010 finisher pint glass… not sure what I’ll do with that one since I obviously was not a participant or finisher in 2010.
As I walked back to my car, a few of the rowdiest cheerers who had encouraged me along just before the finish were heading my direction and had some more kind things to say. It might have been that moment I decided I wanted to come back next year and tackle the damn thing again. It was a rough race. I felt defeated and slow. My friends ask me how it went, and I truthfully answer “it was bad.” But that fades quickly. Trails are a different beast, and Umstead is a fight I want to get into again. Maybe next time I’ll defeat Umstead instead of just finishing.