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March 10 2013 / Emily

Race Report: Umstead Trail Marathon 2013

More than a week has passed, and I am finally making the time to write up my recap of the 2013 Umstead Trail Marathon.  I’ve spent the last week majorly slacking, in terms of both exercise and blogging.  I’ll try to rectify one part of that now.

This race was my rematch with Umstead.  Last year it really beat me down, but charmed me enough to bring me back for Round Two.  If you’d like to read about my 2012 version of the race, check it out here.

The date is Saturday morning, March 2, 2013.
Time is approximately 5:30am.
Scene: my itty-bitty yellow kitchen.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Water is on to boil so I can have some oatmeal and tea.  Typically before a marathon or other long run, breakfast is two packets of instant oatmeal with some dried cranberries and peanut butter.  Woe is me when I open the box and find only one oatmeal packet remaining!  I hoped this was not an omen.  I had my little bowl of oatmeal, and put a banana in my bag as I expected to become hungry again in the time before the race began at 9:00am (ate it in the car).  I also decided to take a little peanut butter sandwich on a Sandwich Thin, so I got that ready.  In some random decision, I thought it would be a great plan to cut the sandwich into six wedges and put into a small baggie, for mid-race fueling.  Peanut butter on bagels was perfect during the Frosty 50k, so who knows, perhaps it would be a good idea here too.

Scene: Umstead State Park.  Raleigh, North Carolina.

90 minutes later, I’m arriving in Lot C at Umstead State Park.  As with last year, parking was carefully coordinated and each runner had an assigned parking lot.  I was in the same lot as before and parked in nearly the same spot.  There was a short walk to the race headquarters with portapotties, packet pickup and a fireplace.  The line was long for the toilets, so I stood in that first to ensure I had a chance.  The wait was only like 5 minutes, so not bad at all.  Then I headed into the packet pickup and received my bib, race shirt and some goodies.

The 2013 mascot was the Ring-Necked Duck.  Shirts were neon pink for women, and neon orange for men.  While I already have a few lovely pink running shirts, this duck will definitely be worn and shown off… I mean, like it or not, I’ll be noticed!

I'm talking "I see you don't have a pink highlighter" sort of neon...

I’m talking “I see you don’t have a pink highlighter” sort of neon…

Then I put my packet away, pinned on my bib, and stuffed three strawberry Clif Shots and a baggie with three wedges of peanut butter sandwich into the pockets of my RaceReady capris.  This year I decided to carry my handheld water bottle, so I was able to stash my car key in the pouch of the bottle.

Weather was a great improvement over last year, which had a round of rain during the first part of the race, and while it was pleasant in the later parts of the 2012 race, temps were probably into the 50s which was a bit muggy with the damp air.  Not that I can really complain about marathon temps in the 50s, but 2013’s weather was dry and mid-30s to start, mid-40s by the finish.  Just wonderful for running.  Wore my capris and a long sleeve tech shirt over a singlet.

I found a few folks I knew from the running cyberspace community and chatted until it was time to start the race.  In the days leading up to the race, I was primarily concerned with the race mascot and shirt color.  Did not really have nerves about the race itself.  Oh, just another marathon.  When did that attitude show up?  Wow.  But surrounded by a bunch of other runners bouncing around with nervous energy, I caught a little of that.  Had I taken this too lightly?

Decided to start out slow and see how everything worked out.  Ran the first mile or so with friends Darrel and Iris (of Manic Runday) until we let our own paces spread us out a bit.

round and round she goes...

round and round she goes…

The course takes a little out and back on the bridle trails before starting into the single track portion of the race.  That’s all the wiggly bit in the middle of the map.  One detour back onto the bridle trails to visit an aid station, then it was back into the woods.  I think it was about mile 8 when we emerged back onto the always-rolling bridle trails for the remainder of the race.   I’ll be honest, looking at the map is utterly confusing.  I couldn’t begin to recreate this course if I visited the park by myself.  I don’t know where we went.  Besides apparently along that red line.

Thinking back to last year, I was feeling a lot better comparatively at this point in the race.  It certainly helps that I didn’t fall down on the trails.  That saved me a bit of time for sure, as I didn’t need that moment of sitting and seeing if I was still properly assembled, no time taken to wash mud out of my skinned knee/shin, and fully functional opposable thumbs.  Plus, carrying the water bottle cut down on my aid station visits, especially in the early parts of the race.

The main things bothering me during this portion of the race was the guy in front of me in a little caravan on the single track who was just launching snot rockets with no concern for any runners a few feet behind him (close calls, no hits!), and the lady who seemed to be carrying Tic-Tacs in her pocket, and who I was leap frogging with for a couple miles.  Single track was not her strongest portion, so ultimately she pulled ahead and I didn’t have to listen to her rattle for the rest of the race.

Approaching mile 11, I was waiting to see the leaders come back at me, as this is an out and back section.  I re-read my 2012 report a few times in the lead up to the race and recalled that is where I saw them last year, at their mile 19.  But it was about a mile further into my race before I saw the leaders approaching, where we were each about 100m to our mile markers 12/18.  They looked a bit fresher than I remember the lead runners looking last year.  Was everyone having a better race this year?

well... it's kind of all the hilliest.

well… it’s kind of all the hilliest.

The miles were clicking off comfortably at this point, as we got into some of the hilliest hills.  Or at least it seems that way.  They don’t stop, these hills.  Not much flat here.  I was allowing myself the luxury of walking up many of the steepest bits.  There was a great sign at an aid station at mile 13: “Hills are an Investment in Gravity.”  So true!  I scrapped my way up and enjoyed the dividends as I just let it fly going back down.  A few times I would have been better holding back a little, but I was just feeling unstoppable and pushed past the uncomfortably-steep-hopefully-I-don’t-start-a-rock-slide-as-I-tumble sort of feeling.  Exhilarating!  One of the roaming bike volunteers rounded a corner as I was catching air (well maybe) down one hill and he gave me the biggest cheer.  It felt so good to feel so good.

I tried to remind myself that the marathon doesn’t even start until mile 20, but it was just seeming like a great day.  I tried not to think about it too much.  My goal going into the race was to beat last year’s 4:56.  I thought it just might be possible to aim for 4:45, if I stayed upright and ran smarter.  The little abacus in my head was rattling around and started thinking about much larger improvements, but I tried not to get too ambitious.

Wait, is this the turn around already?  Did I take a wrong turn and cut off a few miles?  It’s like I blinked and skipped a few miles.  But this is such a great race, I don’t want to miss it!   I keep thinking about the Wheels Fell Off hill that was still many miles ahead, but my brain kept singing “the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…”  Maybe I could keep my wheels on after all.  I’d been enjoying the out and back and greeting the folks I knew who were ahead of me on the course.  Once it was my turn to “back” the out and back, I got to see some others still moving ahead.  Always like to cheer for other runners!

I’d eaten a Clif Shot at about hour 1 and hour 2, and it was coming up on 3 hours now.  I decided to give my peanut butter sandwich wedges a try.  Thank Umstead I was carrying water, because that was about the driest thing I’ve ever eaten, or so it seemed.  Thank goodness the runners were pretty spread out and nobody was coming toward me, because my chewing was Valley Girl Gum Smacking sort of unattractive.  I had two wedges over perhaps 30 minutes and it was like chewing a tough well-done steak wrapped with paper.  Just keep working at it, and eventually it’ll break down, but woof.  That is not going to make my standard rotation.  Maybe a lot more peanut butter would have helped?  The Fritos I grabbed at an aid station somewhere in the middle were much more satisfying.  Two in-race food gambles.  Both fine on the tummy, thankfully.

just another little climb on the bridle trails

just another little climb on the bridle trails

Kept hauling through the hills and watching the miles tick by.  Splits were edging up toward 11 minute miles as the hills rolled on, and I started to wonder how the last cruel out and back hill (aforementioned Wheels Fell Off hill) would knock me down.  The 4:30 finish time I’d been trying not to let myself think about at the midpoint, seemed still possible, but I was still waiting for it all to catch up with me.

As I did last year, I stopped for a handful of gummy bears at one of the later aid stations and walked a way with my snack so I didn’t choke.  Much easier to tolerate than my peanut butter bits.   I continue to be impressed with the volunteer support at this race.  Great aid stations, and solo volunteers on foot and on bikes all over the place with water, gels and encouragement.  You won’t go wanting at Umstead.  Speaking of not going wanting… I was just running along when I noticed I was seeing the same guy in orange knee socks stop to “water a tree” for the third time.  He certainly hadn’t been wanting for liquid intake.  Seems like a bit much to me, but I definitely try to avoid needing to make pitstops during races if possible, and my noticeable dehydration after marathons is evident.  Maybe I’ll seek a happy medium.

Up ahead, I saw my friend Darrel who had pushed off ahead in the early part of the race.  I very, very slowly reeled him over the next half mile or more, and we ran together for a little while until a downhill that was friendlier to my knees than his, and I went on ahead.  Nice for a few minutes of company and solidarity.  With a 200 runner cap, the race thins out early, leaving the out and backs one of the few opportunities to see many other runners.  I mean, you’re never really alone, but it is sparse.  Part of the charm, of course!

So that 4:30 I was mentioning… I started allowing myself to think that the other most ambitious midrace goal was still in play… 4:26.  My brain-abacus determined that would be a solid thirty minute improvement.  It would be close.  I still had some oomph left in my legs and I started pushing up the hills in the final 1.5 miles or so.  Cemetery Hill was the last beast to conquer.  I saw a couple other runners forging up at a walk, and I wanted to keep running, so I just looked at my feet and the ground right in front of me.  Doesn’t look like a hill that way, or at least that was the idea as I tried to trick my brain.  I did feel guilty about the two or three runners I passed in that last stretch.

Finally, the last turn toward the finish appeared.  Surely the finish line would be just right there.  Or right there.  Come on, now where is it?  Gosh that road seemed a lot longer than it did to start the race.  Wait!  Mile 26!  SO CLOSE.  Then through the trees, the finish banner appears, and there is a crowd at the finish line, cheering.  They called out that I was the 100th finisher, and I won a car!

Well… they did say that.  But I didn’t win a car.  Who needs a car when I can dominate Round Two with Umstead?


photo by Helen Bac

I made it. Finished in an official time of 4:26:36.  100/179 finishers.
And yes… thirty minutes faster than last year.  More than a minute per mile.  Well deserving of a fist pump and my best-ever finish line photo.  I cannot help but love being captured hovering with both feet off the ground.

The volunteers came over immediately to see if I needed anything, and to hand me my finisher pint glass.  So kind of them to ask if I was ready to hold it yet.  How tragic it would be to watch that shatter.  I clutched it to the point that being crushed was the only way it would break.  Took some time to stretch out and rehydrate some more.  Picked up my door prize of a selection of Honey Stinger products, then grabbed a cup of Coca Cola and a Moe’s burrito.

all smiles

all smiles

It was great to see some friends finish, and to have some friendly faces to chat with after the event.  I have been calling them friends happily, though I suppose they’d be like “oh right, Emily is that girl I met at a race once, and now she likes every Umstead comment I make on facebook,” but that counts as friendship… right?

Check out a couple of their race recaps:
Manic Runday

Friends like blog traffic!  Like they don’t have enough already…

Anyway, before long, I was home and giving the pint glass a test run.

Boulevard seemed an appropriate choice...

Boulevard seemed an appropriate choice…

but the best part is the floating duck on the other side, when your drink is at just the right level:

not pollution... just beer.

not pollution… just beer.

This marked my 13th marathon, and it felt like a lucky one indeed.  My 2013 Umstead Trail Marathon absolutely left me with a glass half full.  I will certainly make an effort to come back for Round Three.



Leave a Comment
  1. Scott Lynch / Mar 11 2013 8:25 AM

    Excellent report, and congratulations on a big Umstead PR! Umstead certainly isn’t easy, but that’s its charm. Hope to see you at more NC races sometime in the future! But please forgive me if I can’t remember your name. I’m great with faces, but terrible with names.

    • Emily / Mar 23 2013 1:59 PM

      Thank you! I am not the best with names either, no worries. 🙂

  2. laurenquartz / Mar 11 2013 9:09 AM

    Woo hoo! Go Em!!! What a fun race recap to read, and so proud of you for doing so well and staying so positive all race long! Really made me want to run a marathon with you once I get past this whole growing a baby thing. 😉 Maybe that will be my fun get back in shape post-baby goal.

    Hugs! And Congrats again!

    • Emily / Mar 23 2013 2:03 PM

      Thanks Lauren! I’d love to run with you for some longer distances once your body is ready for it! 🙂

  3. Paul Starling / Mar 11 2013 9:10 PM

    Another great race recap, Emily! It was almost like I was there again. I ran Umstead way back in 2005 in 4:29:08. I remember it being quite hilly, so your finishing time and 30 minute improvement was amazing! Congrats!

    • Emily / Mar 23 2013 2:07 PM

      thanks so much! I was floored by my improvement 🙂

  4. Kenley / Mar 12 2013 1:05 PM

    Very Impressive Emily! A huge Congratulations! Thanks for sharing a great Race Recap! Cheers to many more in the future. Love the pics of NC! Miss those Pine Trees!

    • Emily / Mar 23 2013 2:07 PM

      thank you very much!

  5. Steph J. / Mar 12 2013 11:19 PM

    Nice re-cap, Emily! I remember seeing you on Cedar Ridge (I did the Frosty 25K in 2012, so I remember your shirt). Congrats on smashing your previous PR. 30 minutes, wow!

    • Emily / Mar 23 2013 2:09 PM

      thank you! I remember seeing you out there as well. Now if I can only keep knocking 30 minutes off each year, I’ll get one of those wooden animals…

  6. Jo Johnson / Nov 12 2013 10:13 AM

    Just looking to enter this year…Loved your entry here…great run and great account! I also agree that any run in Ulmstead is hard to locate on a map, or again in real life…I can account that this weekend, a 9 mile run turned into a 14 mile run due to my inability to get around that Park (with signs…)…once again great account!

    • Emily / Nov 12 2013 1:36 PM

      Thanks for reading. 🙂 It is a great race, I hope you can get registered!


  1. Race Report: Tar Heel 10 Miler | run. eat. nap. drink.
  2. Cancelled. | run. eat. nap. drink.

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