Mind over matter...Never give up

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Umstead Trail Marathon - Raleigh, NC - Mar 3, 2012 - Part II

Umstead Trail Marathon course map from my Garmin
As the race started I felt pretty good.  I felt like I was going at a nice easy pace.  But as I also have experienced with 5Ks, an "easy pace" feeling is always relative to how fast the other runners are going.  I started to look around and notice that there were all guys around me, pretty fast looking guys.  Whoops, my pace was in the low sevens.  I tried to slow down but it felt really slow.  So I decided it was ok if the first 2 miles, which are on the fire road, were faster because having that time "in the bank" was going to be needed once I hit the single track, which is not my forte.  I enjoy running single track in general but am pretty slow in comparison to my road speed and prefer to not have anyone on my heels for fear of taking them down if I fall.  A few people shouted "first female" to me but my reply was "yep let's see how long that lasts" because I knew it would not.  If I had been better trained or not had the injuries or better weather or actually all 3, then maybe it would be feasible (and even then only if all the fast people stayed home).  But I knew it was only a matter of time because I didn't plan to go at break neck (literally) speed on the single track and risk getting injured before the race had even really started.  My second mile at 7:29 pace was on Old Reedy Creek Road and was even faster than the first (7:41 pace).
Not sure what mile this was but likely early in the race because I am smiling (photo borrowed from Shannon)
Right around the 2 mi mark there is a left turn onto Company Mill Trail, the first of 2 single track portions in the race.  My first run on that trail that I can recall resulted in a badly twisted ankle that swelled and turned a lovely shade of purple and black once I took my shoe off.  I've run on it several times since but I try to respect that it's a hilly, very rooty trail.  So I slowed a bit but not as much as I usually do in a regular run.  I let anyone who was close on my heels pass however as it was more stressful to hear them behind me.  Around mile 3, I'd guess, I heard a man and woman chatting as they ran so I knew my "first place" status was soon to be history and was totally fine with that.  Mile 3 and 4 were a respectable 9 mm pace.  Two other women running together passed me on Company Mill as well, so I was now in 4th place.  Still pretty good after the first section of single track.
I didn't even see this sign while I was running, but I did see the "tree of death" and walked through those roots (photo borrowed from Shannon)
Around mile 4 you turn back on Old Reedy Creek for a quick bit, up Graylyn, and then back onto the single track, this time the Sycamore loop.  On Old Reedy Creek was when I saw my RTR friends who came out to cheer me on (Scott, Ryan, Mariana).  I was surprised to really see them so looked around only briefly and wasn't even sure who all was there but just heard my name being called.  At some of the water stops, people I didn't even know were calling my name since I guess in a race this size, they maybe had a list of all the runners by their bib numbers.  So whenever someone called my name in the race I wasn't sure if it was someone I really knew or not.
Me again (in the pink shoes and Zensah sock), still looking fairly cheerful (photo borrowed from Shannon)
As I turned onto Sycamore, I thought about how much I really like this trail, with the creek flowing along side it.  It's very quiet and peaceful and the creek was really full from the rain so the sound of the water rushing by was nice.  Mile 5, which was on Sycamore, was slower at around 10 mm pace, due to the hills and lots of mud.  The next mile was faster and was the part of the course that was the change for 2012.  Usually, according to the race map, the course turns off of Sycamore, goes left onto Graylyn and continues up to the Graylyn gate.  But due to some reason that I can't remember, the course instead this year turns left on Graylyn and then another left into an area where they are constructing a new parking lot.  I had only just recently been to that area of the park on the 10 mi early weekday runs with Daren but that was in the dark so it really didn't look the same during the race.  There was an aid station there so I grabbed some gatorade before turning around.  But this section was a huge mud pit on race day, even more than it was the second day that I ran with Daren and slid on the mud a few feet like I was on ice skates.  This time the mud was so thick your shoes just sunk into it.  There really wasn't any way to run around it, especially since this is one of the turn around points so runners are on the trail in both directions.  So you just run through it and hope your shoes don't come off.

Once you get back on Graylyn, you turn right and then left onto Sycamore to finish the loop.  I knew at this point this was the last bit of single track.  I was thankful because I assumed after this I could speed up a little (which was, it turns out, not the case).  But I also just tried to enjoy it because I discovered that this part of the course is actually refreshingly different.  By this time everyone was fairly spread out and it felt more like going through a nice leisurely run in the woods rather than a race.  No pressure of who is ahead or behind you.  During this part, there were only a few guys here and there who passed me or who I passed.  Somehow I had managed to keep my feet fairly dry until about mile 7 or so, when I zigged instead of zagged and went directly into a huge puddle and my left shoe was then full of water.  In fact it was so wet I actually stopped after about 1/4 mile and took my other foot and stepped on the left one to try to squeeze out some water.  But the damage was done so I just hoped it didn't turn into a blister situation.  Ever since switching to Balega and Zensah socks, I haven't really had any blisters so would not know how to deal with that in such a long race with so far left to go.  Turns out my Zensah compression socks did just fine so there were no blister issues.
Just a sampling of the mud on the trails that day (photo borrowed from Shannon)
Although I was almost wishing away the single track part, the second half of the Sycamore loop in particular was really fun and was the best part of the race for me, though I probably wouldn't have predicted that at time.  The course here is either down hill or flat and miles 7 and 8 were a decent pace for me for single track at 9:18 and 9:04.  After leaving Sycamore, the course turns left back onto Graylyn and then left back onto Old Reedy Creek.  I was back on the bridle trails which I am most familiar with and I can usually hang an 8 to 8:30 pace on these or sometimes faster.  Mile 9 and 10 were where I picked up speed (splits were 8:05 and 8:01).  I remember passing mile marker 9 and thinking, why yes, I can do another 17!  I felt pretty good.  Somewhere around here I also passed one of the women who had passed me on the single track early on.  So I was now the 3rd woman.  I also saw the RTR crew again around this time.  Also at this point was when the rain, which had really been misting or non existent, really started to pick up.  But it actually felt good and I was glad in the end that I wore my hat, which I really don't like wearing but will do so reluctantly when it's raining hard.  But the rain slowed down after about another mile or so.  In the end I was also glad I chose to wear shorts and a tank top.  I would have been way too warm with a LS shirt, jacket or even arm warmers.  Even with the temps dropping, I felt fine temperature-wise the whole way.  At the water stop at the Trenton gate I saw some other familiar faces from RTR (Brandy and Kristine) and I turned onto Turkey Creek.

Somewhere between mile 10 and 11, just after turning onto Turkey Creek, was when I felt the first signs of trouble with muscle cramps.  This varied throughout the rest of the race as to location but I really struggled with it for the remainder of the race.  I usually have this problem in my calves or quads in a marathon, but not so early in the race.  Not sure if it was poor nutrition leading up to the race, lack of rest that prior week, electrolyte issues, being undertrained or just the fact that I ran so much single track and then was trying to run Turkey Creek which is really hard and something I never had done before.  I spent the rest of the race focused on managing this issue.  The good news I guess is that I wasn't as worried about my "behind knee/calf/hamstring injury" but rather about the cramping getting worse and forcing me to drop or slow down and not meet my 4 hour goal.  So I began to fill my water bottles with gatorade at every water stop and drank a lot of it.  So much in fact that I don't think I can look at Gatorade for a while.  I guess it helped but did not eliminate the issue.  I had to adjust my speed and stride to cater to where the cramps were at the time.  They were everywhere from my toes and feet, to my calves, to my quads and inner thighs.  Miles 11 and 12 were still pretty fast at 8:22 and 8:11, despite the cramping.  Of course they were also downhill.  Miles 13 to 15 were slower, ranging from 8:45 to 9:04, but still not too bad considering they were uphill.  I felt better after reaching the end of Turkey Creek and turning right onto Graylyn for my second trip to the muddy turnaround.  I filled my water bottle again with Gatorade and headed back down Graylyn and a left back onto Turkey Creek going in the opposite direction.

I usually don't like road races with turn arounds.  In a 5K in particular it's very distracting.  But in a trail marathon it turns out it's really nice to see friendly familiar faces along the way several times.  Each time I saw Heiko who was very close by, he had a big smile on his face.  That really helped me feel better.  I am sure I had a smile also, at first, but I think it got smaller at each turnaround, with each new leg cramp.  Shannon was snapping pictures along the way and was very cheerful and encouraging.  Carolyn and Jim came soon after.  Carolyn was also looking fairly cheerful despite her own struggles with some injuries.  Jim looked refreshed as if he was out for a 3 mile jog.  I believe shouted something like "holy shit Mary, your in 3rd place!" when I saw him around mile 16 or 17.  By that time I was glad to be past the 16 mile mark, which was where I started to have trouble in Boston.  I just hoped I could maintain a pace to keep me under 4 hours and that not too many women would pass me in the last 9 miles.  I knew that a few were close (the down side of the turnaround at mile 15).  A woman did in fact pass me around this time but my focus was on managing the cramps and I didn't want to try to speed up and make things worse and risk not finishing, so I resolved to let her go without too much concern (ok well part of it was a bummer, but I mostly let it go since I knew I didn't have a choice under the conditions).  Miles 16 to 18 were between 8:55 and 9:10 but since this is fairly downhill, it was much slower than I'd normally run this part of the course if it wasn't for the cramping.  Mile 19 was hilly so my pace dropped to 9:28.  Mile 20 was a bit better at 8:56.  I caught up to the woman who passed me earlier at the rest stop around mile 20 but only because she stopped for a drink.  After this I didn't really try to keep up with her and her lead grew as my cramping continued.

I remember I commented to Brandy at that point that if this was a 20 mile race it would be awesome right now!  Once hitting the 20 mile mark, while I know it's here that the real race is supposed to begin, I felt at least the end was in sight.  I knew the rest of the course very well.  I headed up Old Reedy Creek Rd knowing that there were 3 hard sections still to run.  Corkscrew Hill, which is a tough one for me usually, was first.  Just before Corkscrew, mile 21 goes downhill, passing Reedy Creek Lake. The cramping was getting worse so I did that mile slower at 9:17 despite the downhill.  Mile 22 was only rivaled by mile 24 for the hardest mile on the course.  Mile 22 (9:40) included Corkscrew Hill and the flat part of Cedar Ridge.  I often hate Corkscrew but I usually love Cedar Ridge.  On this particular day, however, I did not.  Even the downhill at mile 23 was hard.  Every leg muscle was cramping now, so the downhill was particularly hard on my quads and hips and I finished mile 23 in 10:29, wondering how in the world I was going to get back up Cedar Ridge.  Mile 24 was where I did the most walking.  I hate walking and usually don't do it because it makes it worse and my muscles seize up.  But I couldn't help at least a few times slowing to a walk and probably letting out a few grunts and perhaps some not so pleasant words under my breath.  A guy passed me and offered words of encouragement which helped a bit.  I was watching the clock now because my current pace (not average mile pace but current) was slowing to 11 and 12 and higher at some points.  I was getting nervous that I'd miss my 4 hour goal.  So I willed myself to run despite the cramping.  Mile 24, at 10:48, was my slowest in the race, much slower even than the single track, which I wasn't expecting.

I was so glad to turn off Cedar Ridge but that was short-lived because Cemetery Hill was soon to follow.  I walked once on Cemetery but knew the end was soon and knew also that I needed to run that mile in less that 11 minutes to feel comfortable that I'd meet my 4 hours.  I ran it in 10:26 even with the bit of walking.  Mile 25!  While my leg cramping was continuing and I was feeling a bit nauseous from all the Gatorade, I was looking forward to the end of the race.  I swear mile 25 felt like it was 2 miles long.  Once I turned right off Old Reedy Creek to head back to Camp Lapihio where the start/finish is, I tried to speed up and was desperately looking for the finish line.  That also seemed like it took forever and I was afraid I'd taken a wrong turn.  I passed the marker for mile 26 and really did my best to run faster.  I ran that last 0.2 mi at 7:38 pace and crossed the finish in 3:56:43.  I was 29 of 169 finishers overall, 4th female overall.  I was so glad to be done and to have finished in under 4 hours, despite my injury (which wasn't really a factor during the race it turned out), the weather, undertraining, or the leg cramps.  I was handed my 4th place female finisher wooden bat plaque (awesome!).  I was also offered Gatorade which I couldn't even look at, got my bat pint glass (love it!) and picked my door prize ticket from the basket, which was membership to Godiva Track Club for 1 year (pretty cool).
Wooden bat
2012 Finishers Pint Glass, complete with bat of course
I wasn't feeling so great stomach-wise from the overload of Gatorade, so I grabbed my clothes and quickly headed to the car to change, wondering how I'd do that, being as cramped up as I was.  Fortunately a woman had "accessed" an empty cabin that was on the way to the parking lot, so she could wait there with her two sons while her husband finished the race.  I asked if I could use it to change and she agreed.  It seemed to take forever to change, as I was moving very slowly.  But I felt much better once I was changed and then I headed to the car to drop off my dirty stuff and get some food/drink.  I called Keith to let him know I had survived and headed back to the lodge to hopefully say hi and thanks to folks who had cheered me on along the way.  I also tried to eat one of the Moe's burritos but after one bite I knew that wasn't going to happen, so I just ate some of the snacks I brought instead.  I left after having a chance to say thanks and goodbye to most folks and thankfully was able to get out of the mud pit of a parking lot without much trouble.  Others who needed a tow truck to get out were not as fortunate.  I was tired, a bit sore and just thankful to have met my goal.  I left thinking, yep, I'd do this race again!

It's over 24 hours later and I really have to say this was a truly great race.  I loved the NYC marathon, I was proud to have made it to Boston, and enjoyed the experience of Marine Corp, but this was completely different than NY, Boston and Marine Corp.  It was really nice to run it in a place that I think of as home, with so many words of encouragement from other local runners as well as the wonderful volunteers.  My sincere thanks goes to the many volunteers who really did a spectacular job.  The race was one of the best organized and most well run that I've been to and I have no doubt I'll run it again. 

Umstead Trail Marathon - Raleigh, NC - March 3, 2012 - Part I

Umstead Trail Marathon course map from my Garmin
I wasn't sure I'd make it to the starting line, let alone the finish line of the Umstead Trail Marathon.  Last fall I was thinking that I'd like to run this race someday and so put it on my 2013 list.  But in late November as the race registration was about to open, I had this crazy idea to sign up for this year's race, despite not having been training up to that point for a race of this distance.  So that probably was strike 1.  But I was excited at the idea of a race that was more for the fun and challenge rather than for a PR or to qualify for Boston.  I was also interested because it was a small race, looked like lots of fun and was on "home turf" where I run every weekend.  Plus the cool t-shirts, pint glass and the possibility of "getting wood" (aka the hand carved wooden plaque that goes to the top 15 male and female finishers) was pretty cool too.
Pint glasses for prior years (borrowed from Umstead Marathon website)
So in December I started to ramp up my running, running more often during the weekdays in the mornings and running longer on the weekends.  That was going well until I felt my upper left calf was pretty sore after a typical 4 mile run on the road just before Christmas.  Then, instead of resting it, I figured I'd just run through it, as I had planned to run Jimbo's Boxing Day Bad Ass Mad Ass Dumb Ass Fat Ass Fun Run (which had a great t-shirt that I can only wear to bed after the kids are asleep!).  Jim really put on a great event.  The goal was to run as many laps as you wanted of a 1 mile loop at a park in Sanford NC.  Turns out I barely made it 2 laps before my calf "popped".  This is a signal to stop, right?  Well, my signal was delayed and I limped through another 4 loops before waving the white flag.  I then was forced to take several days off but when I ran again, things seemed much better.  So the training recommenced.
Best t-shirt that I can't wear around the kids
I ramped up the long runs and did them all in Umstead as training for the race.  Lots of running on Turkey Creek and Cedar Ridge (very hilly) and a little single track here and there.  I ran my longest run, a 22 miler that started out as a 20 miler but I was feeling good so upped it to 22.  At the end I still felt good but made the worst mistake of sitting on the couch with the kids the rest of the day.  I started to have a tendon/muscle soreness behind the left knee after that, likely related to the original calf issue and to not stretching after that long run, but it wasn't bad enough to not run.  So run on it I did.  Until the one day I had another bright idea that I'd better practice some single track running mixed in with bridle trail running.  So I got up early in the pouring rain one Saturday to run 10 miles before joining RTR for their regular single track Saturday run. Well I got about 3.5 miles out, just to the bottom of Cedar Ridge where the water crossing is.  I am a wuss so I turned around at that crossing and was heading back up when again my calf snapped, this time I am sure it was an audible snap (at least in my head it was), followed by a curse word or two from me.  Crap, now I had to limp back to the car another 3.5 miles.  That was painful but I hoped to run it off because walking back would take even longer.  I was at least smart enough to skip the single track run that day and to look into sports med docs the next day.

I made an appointment for later that week and his advice was "do not run on it if you want to be able to run the race".  Strike 2.  Well that was new for me, I never got that advice before.  So of course I followed it...oh wait, no I didn't.  The race was just about 6 weeks away at that point and I planned to follow the advice, but one day as I was heading out to the gym to do spin class or the elliptical or something else that I like much less than running, I saw how warm it was out and decided to just run anyway.  And it didn't feel bad, so I ran again a few more times, short runs of 3 to 5 miles.  That gave me a false sense of security however because when I went to the Inside Out Sports Chase the Grape Run (a run followed by free wine tasting at Sip across the parking lot, first Wed of every month) in early February, they decided to do a hillier than usual route and my behind the knee thing was hurting again.  Also my hamstring had been sore over the past few weeks and wasn't improving.  Uggh, guessed I should follow the docs advice afterall.  I tried water jogging classes a few times.  It was mentally painful for me because I have no patience (that is why I run, because it's fast).  Water running was slow and boring to me and when they mixed in some water aerobics I really felt I was being tortured as I am not a group class kind of girl.  Not that water running is easy, it's not.  I was the last one across the pool each time and women and men much older and much heavier than me were lapping me.  It was a good alternative to running, but one that I'd only do if I was forced to again due to injury.  Same with the elliptical.  I am not a fan.  But I was heading out for a week long business trip and so did the elliptical every day before my meetings.  By the time I returned home, I couldn't stand it anymore and after 1.5 weeks of this I decided to try to run again.  The race was less than 5 weeks away and if things weren't better I'd rather know and drop now.  I was not comfortable just doing water running and elliptical and then showing up on the starting line as my doctor indicated some of his patients had successfully done.

I was also going to PT 2x per week and that seemed to help.  I decided to try a short run one chilly but sunny Saturday, sticking to the ATT which is softer than the road and flatter than Umstead.  That was a great run.  I did 6 miles (probably more than I should have) at sub 8 mm pace (faster than I should have) because I was so happy to be running again I just couldn't help it.  I did 10 miles at Umstead the next day and it went well.  Things seemed to be on the mend.  I ran a 6 mile and 4 mile run that week on the road but this only aggravated the injury again.  So the next weekend I went back to ATT on Saturday and did 10 miles and to Umstead on Sunday and did 18.  Both felt pretty good.  I didn't want to risk running on the road at all now, so I joined Daren and his group for the earliest Umstead runs I've ever done.  5:30 am start (so I got up at 4:30 am) in the dark with headlamps, 2 days in a row, 10 miles each day, around 10 mm pace.  Those runs really helped to finish off my training.  They were followed by a Saturday 10 mile single track run of Company Mill and Sycamore (part of the race course) with Stephane and then a 10 mile Sunday run at Old Reedy Creek, to round out the weekend before the race.  I had my last PT appointment on Monday and I ran only once during the week before the race, 4 miles on the road on Wednesday.  That was pretty much it for my training and either I was ready or not.  I decided I'd rather DNF than DNS, so made up my mind that I'd just do my best and see what happened.

Work was crazy busy that week as were kid activities (tae kwon do, swimming, book fair, etc) so I didn't get much rest that week and didn't eat very smartly (chili, burritos, sushi, chick fil a, etc).  So this would be strike 3 and 4 I guess.  But wait, there's more...

My marathon experience is quite limited relative to many runners I know.  I had run 3 of them before this one, Marine Corp in DC, NYC and Boston.  All three were very large road races that had water/gatorade stops at every mile and the weather turned out to be perfect for all 3 of them (probably because John Williamson did not enter them!).  Well I suspect that John secretly did enter the Umstead Marathon at some point because as the week wore on the weather forecast got more grim.  Lightening, thunder, strong winds, heavy rain, etc.  Strike 5 (I think I lost count now).  And it went from 50%, to 70%, down to 60% and back up to 80% chance of rain in a few days.  Hmm, looks like I'd better learn to swim.  I feared (and a small part of me, just a small part, hoped for) a cancellation.  I was at Myrtle Beach in 2010 for the half marathon when they cancelled for snow and I was not prepared for that race so was totally ok with it being cancelled.  Plus my inlaws live there so it's not like I shelled out a bunch of cash to travel there only to have the race cancelled.  But this time I really did want to run, so figured I'd do it anyway if it was cancelled but others would unofficially run it (depending on the lightening situation).

On Friday late afternoon I picked up the kids from school and we went to pick up my race packet.  We were all excited to see what the Umstead mascot would be this year.  That's another pretty fun thing about this race.  The mascot, which is on the t-shirt, pint glass and award plaque, is kept a secret until the race packet pick up time.  I had put in my guess a few months prior, coyote.  I have never seen one there but know others have seen and heard them.  Other cool choices, as mentioned on the Running Down blog, were copperhead, opossum, bat, and of course the elusive stegosaurus (well just because you haven't seen one yet doesn't mean there isn't one!)  Duck, while kind of lame, would have actually been most appropriate given the weather conditions.  Well that or whale, which was my daughter Grace's guess.  But now she says she was only kidding.  As we sat in the car outside the Great Outdoor Company, my son Owen's final choices were coyote or water snake (also appropriate) and Grace chose bat or deer.  I stuck with coyote.  And the winner....bat!  A totally cool t-shirt and the blue color was awesome too.
Cool bat shirt!
After a trip to chick fil a for dinner (in retrospect not the smartest move pre-race), I spent time prepping my stuff for the race the next day (clothes, food, etc).  I finally went to bed, later than I hoped, with no rain in sight.  Ah, see those weather folks clearly got it wrong, afterall 80% chance of rain means 20% chance of not rain, right?  This happens a lot for our RTR Sunday runs, most folks will cancel when bad weather is predicted and then by the time we start running the weather turns out perfect and these are some of the best runs for those of us who do show up.  And then...at 2:58am, KABOOM!  Huge thunder clap followed by lightening, gusting winds and pouring rain.  Ok, well looks like my "perfect weather for marathons" streak is clearly over.  I slept on and off for the next few hours but kept checking the weather and the Umstead website (not sure what I expected to see there, hopefully the race directors were not up at 4am, but perhaps they were).  I got up at 5:30am and started to get ready and pack all the running gear I had just because I couldn't decide what to wear or bring for after the race.  It was raining but not much thunder so the race was likely still on.

I am sure I was nervous for my other marathons and half marathons, but I was actually physically feeling sick a little about this one on and leading up to race morning.  I woke up at 5am most mornings feeling anxious that week before.  And even on the drive to the park that morning, I think my hands were shaking.  I felt under prepared already but with the weather conditions combined with not being a really savvy single track runner, I was pretty scared.  Once I got there and parked (in a mud pit that I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back out of), saw a few familiar faces (Jim, Shannon, Heiko, Michael, Charles, etc) and was introduced to some other runners I knew of but had never formally met, I felt a bit better.  In fact I almost lost track of time and then realized I'd better figure out what I was wearing (I settled on tank top and shorts, no long sleeves or arm warmers) and do a last minute potty stop.  I did that (ah the beauty of Umstead is you don't really need to wait on the potty line) and was on the starting line just in time.  It was the calmest starting line area of a marathon ever.  No one clammering to get up front, no one jumping into faster corrals (there were none of course) and everyone was still chatting calmly until the start.  This was no NYC or Boston, for sure.

My Umstead race experience - continued in part II.