Race Report: The Scream! Half Marathon
I honestly cannot recall a recent race that caused me so much stress as The Scream! Half Marathon did. Foolishly, I wasn’t overly concerned about the actual running of the race, but rather the logistics.
When I registered for The Scream, I realized I knew a handful of other people who were running the race. One friend set up a facebook group event page with dozens of registrants from her running groups in the Charlotte area. Though none of them live in the Winston-Salem area, I figured I’d probably be able to coordinate rides with at least one of them. See, the course for The Scream is point to point with most parking at the finish area. The race organizers set up an optional shuttle system that would drive you from the parking lot at the finish to the start line at the top of the mountain. But you had to select and pay for this limited option upon registration, and I figured I’d be able to figure a ride out, and decided not to pay the extra $10-15. Lesson learned!
Get to the week of the race and the facebook group is getting active again, people talking about driving and all, and I’m realizing that everyone I know has rides set up and no room for me. Note, I didn’t ask to be included so it’s not like I was ignored or left out, but I started getting very concerned that I had no ride figured out to get between the start and finish. Then the race director gets some bad news from the Forest Service and even the finish parking has to be moved from the finish line to a campground like 8 miles from there, so another (free for everyone) shuttle comes into play to take everyone from the finish line to the campground parking. You know, just to complicate things more. I managed plan a ride from some very kind ladies who were also in the facebook group, so that part of the stress was at least calmed some. My plan was to drive to the start area, run the race, and then have them drive me back up to my car.
Saturday morning my alarms start going off at 3:30am and I’m out of bed by about 3:45. Getting up that early is just awful. I tried to get to bed early, but it’s really difficult to get “enough” sleep when waking up that early. Not like I can just get into bed at 8pm and expect to fall asleep. So it was about 5 hours of sleep for me. Had a cup of tea and some oatmeal with dried cranberries and peanut butter before getting dressed and packing a dry bag for after the race. Based on some reports of the quality of the course, I decided to wear an older pair of shoes in case I got really muddy. I put on a t-shirt and threw a tank in my bag in case I changed my mind, but I thought it was going to be mid-60s and rainy, so I wanted to be sure I didn’t get chilled. I knew we’d be getting our race shirts at the finish line, so I planned to change into that in case I was soaked through. Brought some flip-flops for the post-race bag too.
I was out the door around 5:20am and realized I needed gas. Of course. Filled up the car, put my running playlist on the stereo and took a drowsy drive out west toward the mountains. There were some rainstorms along the way. Most of the trip mileage was on the same highway (40) but once we got to the exits for Morganton it was time to get on some smaller roads. The winding road up the mountain (behind the slow shuttle buses of runners) was tedious, especially as I was getting concerned about having time to park at the top as well as getting my packet picked up and using the facilities. But I parked, got my packet and then got immediately into the porta-potty line. It was raining now (just briefly though), and I decided to keep on the t-shirt, so I pinned on my bib number and tied the chip onto my shoelaces. I had my post-race drop bag with me when they announced last call for bags… but I was a few people from the front of the bathroom line and that was more important. Once I took care of that, I ran to the truck carrying the bags and was able to throw my things in there just before they drove off. Phew!
Runners started moving a little ways down the road to where the race would actually start. As soon as I started a little warm-up jog that way, I regretted not wearing my tank. It was warmer than I’d expected, around 70, and incredibly humid. I met up with a few friends and said hello before race announcements and the start of The Scream!
The first 2.5 or so miles of the course were on paved roads, before turning off just after the first aid station. The rest of the route was on wide gravel/dirt roads. We were told the conditions were pretty good throughout, though a bit slick past mile 10, which was accurate. There were lots of twists and turns in the course, and I tried to be smart about running the tangents, but it was challenging with some bumpy sections of road where water run-off had carved the road away. The consistency and condition of the roads really reminded me of the Umstead State Park, where I ran a marathon in March (Umstead Trail Marathon Race Report). Here at The Scream, the roads were open to traffic, but there isn’t much out there besides hiking trails, so there was only a handful of cars to deal with throughout the race.
Around mile 4, we rounded a bend and it seemed like all the trees were gone, leaving just rhododendrons. I love rhodo forests, and it was so pretty to run with these blooming rhodos all around, some in pinky-purple but mostly white flowers. Most of the way the route was covered by a lovely canopy of green on either side, with all sorts of trees, shrubs and ground cover. It seemed almost prehistoric at times, when the humidity/fog was at its strongest and it was just so hazy. It was incredibly humid throughout the whole race, but there were times when it was just like running inside a cloud… keeping you from seeing runners fairly close ahead of you!
The miles were ticking off nicely as the downhills sloped and sloped. It was the kind of run where I was thinking “oh, another mile already? Great!” Unfortunately, that was not to last. It’s amazing how challenging small uphills and even flat bits become when you’ve been roaring (or more appropriately, screaming) downhill for a few miles. While The Scream! is billed as 13.1 miles of Pure Hill, I read that as “downhill” and wasn’t prepared for the non-down sections. I did admittedly take for granted the benefit that the downhill would provide. I went into this race thinking of an easy PR, probably a big one. Not so fast, Emily.
Scroll back up to the top and note the little uptick in the elevation just past the number 6. After ticking off the previous 6 miles in 9:02, 8:59, 8:26, 8:08, 8:08 & 8:40, the sudden addition of UP to my DOWN brought mile 7 up to 9:12. Then with mile 8 came the first time in the course where I really started to find the decline to be too much. Too steep, too fast. This was where I could feel it in my quads and needed to start reining myself in. The downhills where you have to hold back are the worst kind. I just love to take a downhill and FLY. Plus, the footing still needed attention.
The aid stations came on or right around the even-numbered miles. They (almost) all had water and sports drink (as was detailed on the website), and as the runners were pretty thinned out, they could see us coming and asked “water or Gatorade?” so they’d hold out the appropriate beverage per my choice. Many thanks go out to the volunteers along the course! I did miss the table with the gel packets. I don’t usually need a gel during just a half marathon, but my stomach was feeling quite empty (and sloshy) during the earlier miles, so I considered it. I was a bit past the aid station when my brain registered having seen the gels sitting there, and I didn’t feel like turning back to get one. No big deal though. The sloshy stomach faded after a while anyway.
At mile 10, I was planning on grabbing a cup of Gatorade, but for some reason they only had water at that particular station. Hopefully they can get that ironed out for next time, I heard other runners before and after asking for it also. Would have been good to have a few calories at that point in the run. They said it would be available at mile 12.
As promised/warned, the course quality started deteriorating around mile 10. The road became a bit slick and proper footing required more attention. I never got close to actually slipping, but I thought about it a lot more. I saw more than a few bloody knees after the race, and runners saying “I don’t even know what happened, I was up then I was down!” Count me as very thankful for not wiping out.
Earlier in the race I’d seen a pair of girls running together, one of them being very talkative (loudly) even though they were both wearing headphones. Hey everyone – if you’re going to talk with your music in the background… turn down your music so you don’t need to yell. Running in the woods is supposed to be peaceful. I made a point to get away from them without completely sprinting, because the talking was annoying… I mean they were calling out each quarter of a mile. I don’t need to hear that. They caught up sometime in this stretch and we leap frogged for a little while. As far as I can figure, the one in purple was helping pace the one in pink. But purple just wouldn’t shut up. This was during one of the flat/up stretches, and pink wanted to walk (as did I, and I did), and purple was pretty annoying about not wanting to let her. Purple crossed the line between encouraging and annoying. “Don’t you want to do this? You can still do this! You can have 15 seconds. Okay your 15 seconds is up. Now we have to run. Come on, start running…” A lady I happened to be running near turned to me and said “I hope they are really good friends, because I’d want to punch her right now.” Yes – exactly what I was thinking.
At mile 10, I’d checked my overall time and noted that I’d need a pretty good 5k time to cover the rest of the course and get a PR. Of course I don’t expect to get a 5k-race worthy performance after 10 miles on my feet already, so I had to let the PR go. I revised my goal to keeping it under 2 hours, which only needed around 10 minute miles. I figured there was still plenty of downhill left so that was easy as can be. Turns out there was a lot more flat/up left than downhill, or at least that’s how it seemed. Around mile 11 we turned onto a better-maintained but still unpaved road which ran along a nearby river, which was very pretty. I was anticipating my cup of Gatorade as I approached the mile 12 aid station. If I was still chasing a PR, I probably wouldn’t have stopped at this station, but I was just trudging through at that point so it wasn’t a concern. As I was taking my cup, a runner came back from the opposite direction yelling “there’s someone down up ahead!” The aid station volunteer couldn’t hear him, so I relayed the message back. Runner down up ahead. I drank my cup and ran ahead, with the volunteers not far behind. I saw the guy passed out, leaning up against the banked side of the road, and for a scary couple seconds I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. I probably waited by the guy for no more than 10 seconds, as the volunteers were right behind. I knew I couldn’t be any help so I pushed on, but this was definitely the end of any inkling of a strong final kick. I was tired too and didn’t want to push. Hard to overdo it after seeing someone who obviously pushed too hard. Just past him was a pretty one-lane bridge as we crossed the river we’d been running along.
I spent the next 3/4 of a mile in a slow walk/jog/run process. I wasn’t checking my watch, and thought even the 2 hour goal might be toast by now, with all this walking. Then I saw my friend Phyllis running back toward me. She had finished a good while back and was looking for all her friends and helping run them in. So I got some great company for the last quarter mile or so of the race. You can read Phyllis’ blog post about The Scream here.) Thanks to her for snapping me out of the haze of walking so I could have a strong run to the finish. I crossed the line with an official chip time of 1:58:21, good for 4th in the Women 25-29 age group. I’ll take it!
We were handed our finisher medals in a small plastic baggie. Wish they would have taken the extra time to unwrap the medals. I still haven’t taken mine out of the baggie. Before I unwrap and put it away, I’ll slip it around my neck so I can say I’ve at least worn it.
Once I could finally stop moving, all I wanted to do was sit down, but there was nowhere good to sit. I grabbed a bottle of water and downed it, then filled it about halfway with Gatorade from a cooler and downed that too. I was feeling light-headed. Tossed that bottle in the recycle bin and grabbed another bottle as I looked around for somewhere to sit. I was soaked through from sweat and humidity and I just didn’t want to sit on the ground. I made my way to a small pavilion where we picked up our drop bags and t-shirts. I was pleased to get the size I registered for, but as there were no people manning the shirts, I did hear other runners saying “oh this looks sort of big, I’ll get a small instead of the medium I registered for.” Our bib numbers did have the shirt size printed on them, so I think they should have had someone handing the shirts out, instead of just boxes out for the taking. Hopefully everyone was able to get the size they registered for. I’ve had it happen to me, and it stinks, when you’re not first in line so what you chose is all gone.
Took some time and sat at the picnic table getting my bearings, catching my breath and changing into my flip-flops! I got one blister and will have one colorful toenail, but no serious damage to the ol’ feet from this run. I changed out of my soaked-through shirt into the race shirt, which was nice and dry. It’s a fun tech shirt, with a big graphic on the front and a quote on the back.
There were shuttles bringing runners back to the campground “finish” parking, but I didn’t catch one right away as I mingled with my other friends who were hanging out too. Turns out they were friends with the guy who had passed out, and they’d all carpooled, so they were waiting for him. A number of emergency responders showed up for him, but it seemed to take a while. I realize we were sort of in the middle of nowhere, but it was a bit disconcerting to see how long it took for help to arrive. He got an IV and lots of attention, and turns out he is just fine.
I was asking if any of my friends knew the women I was supposed to be catching a ride with, and was a little distressed to find out that nobody did. Figured since they were all in the facebook group they knew each other! I hadn’t done a good job of memorizing their faces, and there was absolutely no cell reception, so I was unable to pull facebook back up on my phone to remind myself of what they looked like. Based on our previous discussions, I was expecting one to finish around my time and the other to be about 30 minutes later, but after an hour I still hadn’t seen anyone who looked familiar nor had anyone approached me. I was getting worried. Another friend of Phyllis’ was also looking for a ride back up to the start so I made friends with her. I told as many folks in that general circle as I could that I had found another ride and crossed my fingers the other ladies weren’t waiting for me somewhere.
After ~15 minutes we were lucky enough to find a car about to head up to the start. They were so kind to let us hitch a ride, even though it required moving 2 empty car seats from the back seat into the trunk. We drove up the course in reverse, which took probably 40 minutes. The surface was better for running down than driving up! I am so thankful for those folks. The driver had not run, but the lady in the front had done the race. The ~6 year old sitting in the middle of the backseat barely even noticed us as he was plugged into some video game.
At the top, my car was parked at a gas station. Still no cell coverage to try and contact the ladies who might have driven me, no wifi either. I headed into the gas station store to grab some snacks for the drive back home.
The drive back down the mountain to the highway was uneventful. Once I got into Morganton (the nearby city), I finally had cell coverage and was able to get into facebook to let the ladies know that I had found another ride. I was sick to my stomach thinking of them waiting around for me, after being so kind to offer unknown me the favor of a ride. I will never make the mistake of turning down a shuttle option again.
All in all, the race was harder than I expected. My fall marathon, Ridge to Bridge, runs this same course then adds another 13.1 of mostly flat for the second half of the race. I’m very concerned about that marathon now. Obviously I won’t run the first half as quickly, but the memory of how difficult the short flat/up bits felt during this half make me dread 13.1 more miles of that flat. Hopefully it won’t be as humid that day. At least I will know a lot better what to expect of the course. My initial feeling of wanting to drop out of the marathon is fading, even though my legs today are marathon-level sore after only a half marathon.
To help these tired legs, there has been a lot of The Stick and the foam roller already today and will be more as soon as I publish this post. Hurts so good.