Mind over matter...Never give up

Sunday, March 4, 2012

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.


  1. Great blog and postings! I have always enjoy your race reports and will be running (fast) vicariously through you :-)

  2. Hi, I just heard about the Umstead marathon, my parents live nearby in Cary. I love running in Umstead, although only been a few times. Would someone like me who's (street) marathon PR is 3:55, and only run 2 trail half's, be okay in this Umstead marathon? I hear it's only a few hundred people... are some people "slow" like me? :) Thx!

  3. Hi BklynRunner, first 3:55 is definitely not slow! If you like trail running and have done 2 trail half marathons, I think you'd be fine. I had never done a real trail race before this. Only about 6 miles of the race is single track and that is in the first 8 miles. The rest is bridle trail/fire road. It is quite hilly but lots of fun, great crowd and atmosphere. Registration fills very quickly (200 is the limit and will likely fill same day) so I'd recommend registering right when it opens, which I think is 8am on Wed, Nov 28th for next year's race. Good luck!