|Umstead Trail Marathon course map from my Garmin|
|Not sure what mile this was but likely early in the race because I am smiling (photo borrowed from Shannon)|
|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)|
|Me again (in the pink shoes and Zensah sock), still looking fairly cheerful (photo borrowed from Shannon)|
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)|
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).
|2012 Finishers Pint Glass, complete with bat of course|
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.