2012 Umstead Marathon race report
Saturday morning I did something I haven’t done in almost three years. I ran an official marathon, the Umstead Trail Marathon. Since doing the National Marathon back in March of 2009, I’ve run the marathon distance or more plenty of times, most of those times coming in the past year or so, but have not actually run in an actual marathon race. I actually hadn’t planned on running THIS race either, but earlier this year the opportunity presented itself, as Bull City Running had some entries available. I figured that I would likely be doing a long run at Umstead anyway, so why not have some fun and make part of it a race.
Fast forward to this week. After the 10 miler last Sunday and the ensuing drive back to NC, I started the week off exhausted, which is why I slept for 13 hours from Monday evening to Tuesday morning. I spent the week acting like I wasn’t racing by doing back-to-back long runs Tuesday and Wednesday (29 at Umstead Tuesday, 21 on the Duke XC trail Wednesday) and followed that up with a track workout Thursday night. My “taper” consisted of running 5 easy miles Friday morning. The forecast for Saturday was somewhere between biblical rain and The End of the World. I woke up around 4am Saturday to the sounds of the promised rains. Rolling over, I briefly considered canceling my alarm for 6:45 and just sleeping in. But, I seem to have developed an affinity for suffering and misery so at a quarter to seven I was swinging my legs out of bed and going about the process of getting ready. This was actually the first race I’d be doing IN the Triangle area since moving here, and it was real nice not to have to either 1- travel hours the night before to someplace or 2- wake up REALLY early to drive an hour or so to the race site. This was basically in my backyard. Cereal, bathroom, dressed, supplies, bathroom, out the door around 8ish. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rain seemed to have mostly abated and while still overcast and threatening looking, it seemed like a pretty nice morning for running.
I drove to my usual spot on Old Reedy Creek Rd, put on my Pure Grits, grabbed the handheld full of Perpetuem, and started to jog up to the start. It’s about 2.5 miles from the car to Camp Lapihio where the race start/finish was (and also where the 100 will start/finish, conveniently enough). I got there around 8:45 and immediately saw John Stiner. It was nice seeing a familiar face and we chatted before I realized I needed to go into the lodge and check in. As I was waiting the few minutes before the start, John asked me what my race plan was. I hadn’t really thought of anything specific, my two big goals were to not get injured (VERY big goal, especially with the early miles on wet, muddy singletrack and how much of a clutz I usually am) and to get a good long run in, everything else in my mind would be a bonus. I told John I was going to go pretty hard until I blew up and then suffer to the end. Most of my long runs at Umstead have been pretty comfortable and I feel relatively fine at the end, I wanted to suffer some today, because I’m sure I will at some point over the course of 100 miles.
I had to check in at the timing tent and then I ambled over to the right side of the starting line. As is often the case at races, it seemed to me like there were dozens of people who looked super fast and I figured if I ran about what I figured I would (3:15-3:20), I’d be happy with top 5-10 or so. Considering the week I’d had, I didn’t expect to be particularly competitive, or have my legs be able to hold on for 3+ hours at a hard effort. I said hi to Alicia and Alisha and then lined up about a row behind the front. There was a countdown and then we were off.
The start went up the road into camp, slightly uphill before turning onto the bridle trail for an abbreviated out and back on the airport overlook spur. Right away some guy in a yellow Fleet Feet singlet blasted out to the lead, well ahead of everyone else. Somehow I found myself in 2nd a few steps behind a group of guys. I could hear them chatting and I thought briefly that I should hang back. But then I remembered my goal — run hard — and just went with it. As we turned toward the bridle trail, one of the volunteers cheered out that she hopes we look as happy on the way back in (at the end of the race) as we do now. As we ran the airport spur out & back, it was hard to remember I was in a race. It was Saturday morning, I was running the bridle trail at Umstead, welcome to every. single. weekend. So I was saying hi and good morning to people as I passed them and instead of just saying hi back, or ignoring me which is much more typical, they were cheering and saying good job. It was a bit weird at first. At the turnaround right by mile one the leader already had a sizable lead and I was a few seconds alone in second. As I ran back up toward Company Mill, I began to pass the rest of the field. It’s kinda neat being up in the front of a race on an out & back because everyone starts cheering. Often I feel pretty bad because usually I’m too tired or focused to saying anything back but it was early so I was able to cheer for everyone else too.
Another mile or so and I was turning onto the Company Mill trail, the first stretch of single track. I couldn’t even see the leader anymore by the time I reached it. Instead of my usual caution and slow approach to running the hiking-only trails, especially the downhills, I let loose a little.The trail was a mess from the rain. It was very muddy and slippery in spots, especially the bridges (FORESHADOWING!) and I had to occasionally reign it in to avoid turning slips into outright spills. As I came off of Company Mill back on the bridle, the first aid station was there. I think this was the first time someone cheered for me by name. I didn’t see who it was but that was a lot cooler than “Go 221!” or “Good job runner!” There was a considerable downhill to the bridge on Graylyn and I again just ran hard. Especially on the bridle trails, all downhills basically meant sprint. At the bottom the course turned back onto single track, this time the Sycamore trail. This is the only stretch of the race I haven’t run on yet. It was basically the same as the rest of the single track I’ve run here, some roots, some rocks, rolling up and down, and it was very wet and muddy.
Coming off the trail and turning to go down a hill to the next aid station, I was about 5 miles into the race and at that point had no idea what time I was at (I wrapped my Garmin in seran wrap to keep it dry. I didn’t really care about pace or whatever, I just wanted it to keep track of time, mostly for the running I’d do AFTER the race, and I left my regular Timex which CAN handle rain at school over the weekend). Because it wasn’t really raining, I peeled off some of the wrap so I could see the face. I was apparently running right around 7:00s or just a bit slower apparently. I saw the leader motoring up the hill as I was coming down. At this point, I figured he already had about a 2-3 minute lead! I grabbed some water and took off up the hill. There was a line of runners coming into the aid station as I was leaving, probably only 20-30 seconds back. That was a bit depressing, to have been running relatively hard and everyone else was still right there. On the next stretch of the Sycamore trail, I was just hoping the shirtless guy who had been right behind me would hurry up and pass me already so I didn’t have to wonder when it would happen. I hit 7 miles in about 49:30 and a few moments later, I came to a bridge with some steps. I apparently took the first step too fast because my foot slid forward and I slammed my left shin into the step above. There was loud expletives being yelled for a few seconds. I hobbled off the bridge, checked my shin, decided it probably wasn’t broken, started jogging, stopped and checked it again, cursed at myself for being a careless dumbass, and then kept going.
By the time I was back on Graylyn I was saying to myself that I didn’t want to see anymore goddamn single track (and fortunately for me, I wouldn’t the rest of the race). I was now heading up the same hill I had run down a few miles earlier, my shin was a non-issue. This time at the aid station at the top, I grabbed a water and a honey stinger Ginsting gel. It tasted pretty good and I figured Honey Stinger products have been pretty good to my stomach. To that point I had just been sipping my Perpetuem every so often, and I had a package of honey stinger chews in my pocket for later. This portion of the race course, the Reedy Creek to Turkey Creek bridle trail, is the part of the park I am definitely most familiar with, having run it dozens of times over the past few weeks. The course ran down what is apparently called Corkscrew Hill, which makes sense as it winds around. Again, I was running hard down the hill. I was 9 miles in and I think the watch said something around 64 minutes, which seemed about right. I hit the bridge at the bottom and the long, gradual uphill began. Sort of like last weekend at Club Challenge, this hill didn’t feel particularly bad. In running the 100 course so much, I’ve come to actually enjoy this section, the uphill is never THAT steep, so I can just grind and not slow down all that much. I got to the top which is apparently the Trenton Rd aid station and everyone was cheering and again calling me by name. I did what I had started doing at pretty much every aid station (and would do at pretty much every aid station til the end), stopped to grab a cup (or two) of water and an orange slice. Tasty. I turned and started running the gently rolling Turkey Hill section.
Because this stretch is such a long out & back, on the left side of the trail I could see mile markers all the way up to mile 21. It helped break things up, first I’d come to the mile marker I was actually at, then some time later I’d see one in the opposite direction, always narrowing the gap. For the next 2ish miles from the aid station, down to the two paved bridges, I was just cruising. Around mile 11 I noticed I was right about 84 minutes which meant right on 7:00 pace. I knew that meant if I somehow held that, I’d run about 3:03, much better than I anticipated. I also figured I’d blow up at some point, probably on the next section. The next section is, on the Umstead 100 website, known as the sawtooth 79 because it’s about 2-2.5 miles of fairly steep ups and downs. I was going to treat it just like the rest of the race so far, plod along up the hills as hard as I could and bomb the downhills harder while catching my breath. Somehow, today the hills didn’t seem as bad as they normally do. I definitely slowed some on the ups but I think I made up for it on the downs. And while my legs were definitely a bit tired, they didn’t seem to be getting worse and cardiovascularly I was completely fine. There was an aid station around mile 13 and it was here that people started telling me how far back I was. I wanted to tell them I didn’t care at all, because I had no inclination on going any faster to try and catch someone so far ahead. Although I WAS surprised to learn I was only 4-5 minutes back, I figured the gap would have widened considerably more.
I hit the mile 13 marker right at 1:31. I was just about halfway but for some reason, mentally, I felt even closer to the finish then that. Back onto Graylyn and back down the hill toward the same aid station I was at about 9 miles ago. As I was turning to go down, the leader was heading back up Graylyn, so year, I figured about 4-5 minutes was accurate. I still didn’t care. I stopped again to grab another honey stinger gel and some water and an orange and was off. Before I got back to Graylyn I saw the same line of guys in roughly the same order coming back down. Again I was a little demoralized that while I was slightly further ahead this time, it was only by about 80 seconds. I didn’t take into account that I was feeling the same, if not better, than I had the last time I saw them. Actually, definitely better. In fact, as I turned back onto Turkey Creek trail, I was feeling better than I had at any point yet. And I was going slightly faster. The long back portion allowed me to see most of the field which was really cool. I was a little less vocal but tried to give some thumbs up and smile. It took me a little over 20 minutes to go from 13 to 16, which surprised me quite a bit. As I went hard down the last sharp downhill and came back to the narrow stretch, I realized I was almost back to the bridges and a lot further along than I realized. Cool.
It was a very gradual, mostly uphill stretch back to the Trenton Rd aid station. The whole time I was thinking mostly about the guys right behind me and figuring if they were running as well as they looked and I was running as slow as I felt, it was a matter of minutes before I got caught. I kept the hammer down and as I came back to the aid station, I could hear a trumpet playing Gonna Fly Now from Rocky. At mile 9ish of the Broad Street run I found the actual song exceedingly annoying. But I was feeling like crap and worried about not meeting my goal at that point. Here, I was in a great mood, I was feeling good, I felt very close to the finish even though I had another 7ish miles to go, and I noticed it was a young boy doing the playing. Kind of reminded me of a young Scott, so after grabbing another orange and a water I gave him a thumbs up and a wink as I departed. The next mile or so were downhill, and (SURPRISE SURPRISE) I was running hard. I kept waiting for the inevitable blow up and the longer I ran, the less likely said blow up seemed. I caught a quick split of about 6:30 on this downhill. I noticed I was at 2:18 at mile 20, so I had actually sped up in general somehow. I started to think that if I managed NOT to blow up, maybe I could hold off the rest (as I figured no one else would be going much faster than 6:40-6:50s at this point) and hang on to second place. I got back to the bridge that signified the start of Corkscrew Hill and there was a guy who mentioned I was about 8-9 minutes behind the leader now. This seemed far more likely to me and helped me relax; I WAS running for 2nd place, now I probably wouldn’t even be reminded about the leader anymore.
As the hill leveled out toward the top I could see the aid station and someone was standing with an orange slice, as if they read my mind. I grabbed it and a quick water and was off on the Cedar Ridge out & back. This being a fairly brief out & back, I figured I would see the leader coming toward me any second. It was mostly downhill on the way out and I felt like I was absolutely flying. There were moments on some steeper spots where I was actually going, ‘WHEEEEEEEE” out loud and throwing my arms up like I was on a roller coaster. I can’t remember ever being that happy at either of the other two marathons I’ve done, especially not so late into it. But then I didn’t see him right away. Where the hell was the leader?. I briefly worried I had gone the wrong way until I came to the mile 22 sign. But still no leader. And then, finally I saw him. And for the first time all race he did not look too strong, or like a running robot. He actually looked human, and unhappy. The biker who was escorting him looked up and let out an audible gasp off surprise when he saw me. That made me laugh as I ran by. Only maybe a minute later I came to the turnaround. Already? Cool. I went around the cone and began the climb back up, glancing at my watch. One minute went by, still no one coming toward me. Two minutes. Three minutes. Four minutes. What is going on? Where the hell is everyone? Finally about four and a half minutes after starting my way back I saw 3rd place. And he said something to the effect that the leader was just up ahead and looking bad and to go get him. That was NOT what I wanted to hear really. I could just picture it in my head, catching up to this guy and then having him start feeling better and making me actually race all the way to the finish and still losing. Not exactly what I wanted to do today. I had spent almost three hours accepting the fact that I was going to run pretty well and finish in 2nd, so this was throwing me off. A few guys later, I see Ronnie Weed coming at me telling me the same thing and that I’m gonna catch him on Cemetary Hill. I realize that no one else knew that I wasn’t TRYING to catch this guy and I was not about to try to go harder now because I was closer. I was in the middle of re-lowering expectations in my mind when I came to the powerline cut again and sure enough, there was the leader in the yellow singlet, walking next to the bike and not looking to hot. Balls. I guess I AM going to catch him. As I went by him, I asked if he was ok and patted him on the back. I didn’t know what to do, I’ve definitely felt like crap in a race before (see: Triple Lakes 40 miler last year) and if someone had caught me late in that race (like I was expecting), I’d probably want something similar. I hope I didn’t come off as condescending.
Anyway, now I had this surreal moment where everything hit me. With about three miles to go, I had just blown right passed the machine who had been leading the race and now I was in first and the closest person behind either of us was at least eight or so minutes back. It was very likely I’d win. WHAT?! SERIOUSLY?! SHUT UP! KEEP RUNNING! That’s something like what happened in rapid succession in my head at that moment. I think some people at the aid station were a little surprrised when they saw me, now with a fancy-pants bike escort coming out of Cedar Ridge first. I didn’t take anything at the aid station but I did thank them (at least I hope I did, in my head I did) and kept rolling. I’ve run the stretch from the Graylyn trail junction to Camp Lapihio dozens of times, this is part of my long run loop, there was not much more left to go at all. I kept the throttle down, this was the only stretch of the race, from here to the finish, that I was absolutely all out on. I also realized that I would very probably come close but not quite break 3 hours. I was ok with that. The guy on the bike asked me if I wanted anything, water, gel, etc. I said no thanks. People on the trail I passed were cheering, which now just felt cool. I wondered how surprised John would be to see me coming through first. I hit Cemetary Hill (which until last week I didn’t realize had a name) and made myself treat it like the end off a long run, which meant push hard. I actually caught up to the biker before the top, at which point he mentioned no one had done that before. I think he was just being nice. At the top I knew the rest was mostly downhill. The turnoff finally came into view, I made the right and headed for the finish stretch. As I went back onto the camp road I remembered what the volunteer had said at the beginning of the race and I made it a point to smile and thank the volunteers here. I wasn’t feeling as good as I had at the beginning, I was feeling BETTER. As I barreled down the final downhill stretch, I could see mile 26 and a volunteer was talking into a walkie talkie, probably mentioning my imminent arrival. The road rounded and the finish came into view and I could hear people clapping and cheering and all I can remember is feeling really pleased and smiling. I crossed the line first in 3:00:36 and got my pint glass (seriously, I love getting beer-related race things) and my bat plaque that said “1st Place Male”. Baller.
John found me and we talked for a little bit. People were asking me how I felt. The honest answer, pretty good. I just ran a 9 minute PR on a fairly hilly course and won the race and I didn’t hurt myself, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty damn good. We waited around for the next runner to come in. The guy in the yellow singlet must have rallied as he came in about ten minutes later for second. Apparently he had started cramping, ugh, been there, sucks. I grabbed some food and then headed out for a few more miles. I decided not to run quite as much as previously planned, the effort made up for the lower volume in my mind. And I wanted to get back and eat a free Moe’s burrito and have John work on me a little bit and see everyone else finish. I’m happy I got to see Alicia turn for home as first female (WOOT! REPEAT CHAMPION!),making it a very good day for the Bull City Track Club. I know I had to run the race myself, but without people like John (who keeps my legs from falling off), or Kim and Jason and the folks at Bull City Running (who run the greatest running store in the world, by far), or the countless volunteers who were always so friendly and helpful, I doubt I would’ve run nearly as well. It was so cool hanging out after the race, seeing everyone else come in, talking with a bunch of other runners, like Alicia and Alisha, Josh, and Shannon (who is also running the Umstead 100) and is practically my neighbor. They wanted to know about my plans for running the 100 (which I still have only the bare minimum of an idea about, aside from ‘I’m going to run it and hopefully finish before April 1st’). After everyone had finished, I helped John pack up his car and walked the 2.5 miles back to mine. I stopped to sit on the bench that overlooks Lake Crabtree for a few minutes, just relaxing and taking in what turned out to be a nice afternoon. I decided that it had totally been worth it getting out of bed this morning.
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