Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Monday, May 8, 2017

2017 Black Mountain Monster 12-Hour

The Black Mountain Monster is a 6/12/24 hour Ultra run on a certified 5K wooded loop between the railroad tracks and I-40 in Black Mountain. Most or all of the course seems to be on Montreat College's property as it runs by their track and field facilities and through their outdoor adventure (ropes, rock walls, etc...) areas. Perhaps they even use this 5K route for their cross country meets. I originally registered for the 24-hour event last November, thinking it would be good training if I got into UTMB in 2017. Mont Blanc would be over three months after the 24-hour run and I'd have plenty of time to recover. When I was again unsuccessful in the UTMB lottery, I looked around at what I could run in 2017 to keep enough qualifying points to register for the 2018 running of Mont Blanc and settled on Bryce Canyon, which some friends had run a few years back. I soon realized that Bryce Canyon's mid-June race date probably wouldn't work well with my doing a 24-hour run roughly five weeks before, so the race director, Mike Guyer, was happy to let me drop down to the 12-hour run. Quite a few friends would be there and despite my concerns about having done fewer long runs than I'd hoped (only two over thirty miles this year,) I was nervously looking forward to gauging where I stood fitness-wise with Bryce just around the corner.

Ray and I had gone up a couple weeks before race day to check out the course but had a little trouble following the hand-drawn map and we weren't allowed on part of the trails because Montreat was using their ropes courses for a class. We were still able to get a decent feel for what to expect. There were a lot of turns and a few hills, but nothing too rough, and there was even about a half-mile stretch of paved greenway. I rode up with Lee the Friday evening before the race to help set up a tent. The main reason for going on Friday was to get a good spot for the tent and, with some advice from Mike, we did. We would run right by it before and after the timing mat each loop, giving us two chances to get whatever we needed for the next loop. We also picked up our shirts and the little oval BMM stickers, but with the race starting at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, we didn't really need to get them early as there was plenty of time on race day.

When race day rolled around, I realized that this would be one of the few races I didn't set an alarm for. Most races either have early morning starts or late afternoon/evening starts (like Grindstone or The Boogie.) Mid-morning is somewhat of an oddity in my race history. With it being about a 45 minute drive to Black Mountain, there was no real rush. I packed the car with my folding chair, two of Brandon's Tanawha Adventures (filled) 5-gallon water jugs, my race gear, and my post-race clothes and headed out around 7:45. The weather Ray and I previously experienced, temps in the mid 80s, was drastically different than what was promised for race day. The forecast was calling for some periods of rain and cool temperatures with an expected high in the upper 50s and so far it was correct. It's about a quarter-mile walk from the parking area to the race start so the BMM has a truck and a Gator transporting the runners' heavier gear. Ray pulled in right behind me and we headed over to the start to find Lee. Beyond the cooler temperatures, it was a much windier day than expected, and a number of people were having trouble with their tents--some didn't even have stakes to anchor them to the ground. There were probably at least twenty tents in the large, slightly sloping field. Those near the bottom of the field, like us, had slightly softer ground from all the water coming down the hill, but it wasn't too bad.

Starting at Tent City - Weather looks good--for now...
Roughly 150 runners were registered, spread somewhat evenly between the three events. Ray and I were both in the 12-hour and Lee was in the 24-hour, which I had prodded him to do only to then abandon him when I dropped down to the 12. With his first 100, the Yeti 100, coming up, he decided to remain in the 24 and had different goals that would help him prepare for that event. It was a chip-timed race and like at Jordan Lake, they put the start/finish chute in a short out-and-back. It's not a big deal during the race, but it makes for a very congested start. If any were made, I never heard the pre-race announcements as I stood amidst the crowd at the start, I just noticed everyone started running. Up the hill, across the mats, a sharp U-turn, and we were off. I knew this first lap would show me just how accurately Ray and I had followed the course during our preview and as it turned out, we weren't terribly off. The main area we messed up was not finding a section of single-track around mile 2.5, but I think we were pretty close on everything else.

It would be pretty boring to describe every loop, and honestly difficult because they tended to run together. The splits are at the end of this post and I'll try to just summarize the day.

A stretch of more manageable mud.
The off-and-on rain that was forecasted turned out to mostly be "on" to some degree. Combined with the rain the day before, the course had some muddy spots from the start. Those spots would get much worse as the day (and night) wore on and new areas, like the one pictured to the right, that were once pretty solid and dry would become problem muddy areas.

Before I realized the trail might be pretty muddy, I had planned to wear my Brooks Cascadias for the race, but (I think wisely) changed to my Salomon Speedcross 3s before the start. Not only did they handle the mud better in terms of traction, they kept some of the water out, even without gaiters. I didn't have any blister issues during or after the race and my feet mostly felt dry the entire time, though my Balega socks probably contributed to that.

They say that insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. I note that not in reference to this being a loop course, but to my once again having a meal the night before heavy in olive oil. I already have stomach/GI issues during long runs and the olive oil did a number on me. I certainly wasn't dehydrated, but made six porta-jon visits in the first 36 miles of the race (and seven for the entire race.) Even though it was cool and rainy, as a precaution against possible dehydration, I also took 3-4 S-caps over the course of the event.

If you scroll down to the lap splits, you'll note that every lap until the twelfth, was slower than the prior lap. Some of that was naturally slowing down, some was certainly the porta-jons and stopping to refill my water bottle, and some was the increasing amounts of mud and constantly changing the layers on my upper body. I would head out on a lap prepared for a strong rain and then the rain would quit and I'd be burning up--or vice versa. This continued until the rain finally let off for good around 7:00 p.m. and I changed into a dry shirt and light jacket that I would wear for the final three hours.

It's actually worse than it looks!
For most of the event, I ran alone, speaking to friends or co-runners only briefly in passing. With it being a relatively small loop, it was rare to go more than a minute without encountering another runner. I thought I had encountered just about everything in trail races but was proven wrong when one lady called me "babe" and "sweetheart" the two times I asked to pass as lapped her. It made me feel like I was in a diner, but was kind of funny.

Like so many long races before, I hit a bit of a wall between miles 30 and 40 and it shows in the splits as they were 3-5 minutes slower than my mile 31 split. This was a combination of everything--stomach issues, fatigue, and misery. At this point, I had already started doing the math of walking the rest of the 12 hours and began to seriously doubt my ability to finish 100 miles at Bryce Canyon next month and wondered if I should go ahead and drop down to the 50-miler. I knew that Bryce probably wouldn't be rainy and muddy, but it was going to be a lot hillier. I felt like my lack of training was really coming back to bite me now as I was past any distance I had gone in months and when I reached mile 40, I'd be past any distance I had run since Grindstone last October.

But around mile 40, a cloud was lifted (from me, not the sky--it was still raining) and things felt better. The mud was getting worse, but my body had seemingly self-corrected and while I wasn't about to run any more sub-30 minute loops, I could run/jog at a comfortable pace and hike the uphills. In a later e-mail, Bill would explain his theory for what happens to me between 30 and 40, but I won't get into it here as it's kind of scientific. My 14th lap dropped four minutes from the prior lap and though my lap times would again creep back up, I felt quite a bit better and knew that I could push through until the end.

I should mention that the timing tent is facing you as you cross the mats and make the U-turn. I didn't notice it at first, but after about 5-6 laps, I saw they had put up a large television screen that showed your lap split and place as you cross the mats. It showed that I was first in the 12-hour race. That surprised me quite a bit because I knew there were some guys ahead of me. So, I figured they must have been in the 24-hour race and tried to stay focused on just finishing. Unless I stopped and asked, or the second place runner happened to have crossed the mat within about the prior eight runners, I couldn't tell where they were in relation to me. Being more concerned about actually finishing the full 12 hours, I honestly didn't think about my place very much after that, though I did look at the screen on occasion to see if it showed the second place 12-hour participant. It never did until I started my final lap. It's hard to tell for certain, but only about twelve of the forty-one 12-hour starters went the "full" twelve hours, allowing for those who stopped because they didn't have time left to get a final mile or two after crossing the mat in the 11th hour.

After the six hour point had passed and that event ended, it was noticeable how many fewer runners were on the trails. Over the next few hours, more would stop for reasons ranging from "had enough" to reaching their mileage goal. I eventually figured out that Ray had pulled out and gone home (at the 50K point.) For most of the day, I felt like I did a pretty good job of eating something. With our table so close to the course and the start/finish aid station a little set back from the course, I tended to forget about the race-provided aid and just relied on what I brought. I was surprised to find out that the race had Huma gels, which are my current favorites. They are pretty expensive gels so to land them as a sponsor was a major coup for Mike.

It's hard to tell how muddy this part was!
After a time, like with all of these small loop courses, I was running from point to point and I had it pretty well memorized, even the best paths around the muddy sections (when there was any way around them.) One section had so much mud and water that about mid-race, they brought in pallets and mulch to lay across the trail. It would have been a really messy spot had they not done that. In the picture to the right, you can see how the water had accumulated. It was probably 8-12" deep in that area to the right of the pallets and underneath the pallets was either quicksand or mud. I was never quite sure which. While the pallets helped, I still slowed down on them because the spacing between some of the boards was just enough for my foot to fall into if I stepped wrong.

As I headed away from my table after my 17th lap, I heard someone back at the start/finish area yell my name. I was too far away to tell who it was and thought it was possible they were cheering for the guy running toward them. I later figured out that it was Brandon and Johnny. I had forgotten that Brandon said he'd be coming out at some point during the day. My 18th lap was my longest for two reasons. First, I made my final pit stop at the porta-jon, and second, I changed into my dry shirt and jacket and getting the wet clothes off took a while. I don't think the actual running part was any slower than the prior lap had been. Things were holding together pretty well. I was running and walking in the same spots on every lap on a consistent basis now.

When I headed out for my 19th lap, Johnny appeared and said he was going to run it with me. I warned him it wouldn't be very fast, but later realized how cold it was for those standing around out on the course and he might have been doing it in part to warm up. He and Brandon and Greg had come down to hang out and support some other runners. I don't know if it was the dry clothes or a fast, fresh runner pacing me, but the lap with Johnny went pretty quickly. Of course, the distraction of someone new to talk to certainly helped. The next (20th) lap I did alone and knew upon starting it that I had time to reach my goal of getting a 100K. It went a little slower than the lap with Johnny had, even though I walked the same spots as I had been. I believe part or all of this dropoff was because the sun had set and I was now running with a headlamp.

Brandon joined me for what would be my final lap. I had about 53 minutes left so obviously I couldn't get in two laps. Partial laps count at the 1, 2, and 3 mile marker so if I really felt good, I could continue to one of those points with any remaining time, but I didn't think it likely that I'd try. During our lap, Brandon told me about some more races that he's planning and we talked about other things that have since slipped my mind. Like with Johnny, the lap passed a bit quicker with someone accompanying me. Not necessarily on the clock, but it felt faster.

Brandon split off as I headed up and crossed the mat for my 21st lap. At about the 2.5 mile point of that lap, I had told him I was feeling a bonk coming on and it stayed with me until I reached the mats. I had 14 minutes left in the 12 hours and probably could have made it to the one mile point, but just didn't feel like going out there and then having to come back. Plus, to my surprise, Paul had shown up to help me pack my stuff and get it back to the car. 20 laps, or a 100K was my primary goal aside from just surviving. 21 laps was a secondary goal for only one reason: I got 21 laps at Jordan Lake 12-hour last year. That was a smaller loop, but I guess a part of me liked the idea of getting the same number of laps in.

I got a pottery medallion for the win though it didn't feel quite right given that at least a couple of the 24-hour guys were ahead of me and got more miles in their first 12-hours than I did. But the biggest thing I took away was the reminder that there are low points you have to get through and just because you're struggling early on doesn't mean you can't turn things around. The concern I had about Bryce Canyon is still there, but I just need to remember to take it easy and gut out the tough spots--and most importantly enjoy the views.

I wish I had taken a picture of my legs post-race, to show how thick the mud was caked on, but I did manage to get this of my shoes the next morning. The first picture is post-race. The second one shows how well they clean up with a hose and brush.


Lap            Lap Split         Race Time
  1                  25:55.64             00:25:55
  2                  26:09.56             00:52:05
  3                  26:43.72             01:18:48
  4                  26:57:12             01:45:46
  5                  27:16.29             02:13:02
  6                  28:03.43             02:41:05
  7                  30:06.97             03:11:02
  8                  33:09.36             03:44:22
  9                  33:15.00             04:17:37
10                  34:26.90             04:52:04
11                  38:13.49             05:30:17
12                  37:37.88             06:07:55
13                  39:24.85             06:47:20
14                  35:21.13             07:22:41
15                  35:52.93             07:58:34
16                  36:32.86             08:35:07
17                  37:33.12             09:12:40
18                  40:25.98             09:53:06
19                  36:45.56             10:29:51
20                  38:04.81             11:07:56
21                  38:03.66             11:46:00

Results from Wilson Timing.

Results on Ultrasignup (may have to click on "12-hour" on the page.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 Assault on Black Rock

I don't do many reports on shorter distance races for the simple fact that I don't enter many shorter distance races. I don't enter because they require you to run harder and that hurts. But Doug Thompson talked me into signing up for the Assault on Black Rock as part of our already schedule run that weekend. We were to run on the Black Mountain Crest Trail to familiarize him with the course before he competes in the 2017 Quest for the Crest. So, we planned to go over to the Bowlens Creek Trailhead after the Assault and run from what will be his first aid station as far as time allows and then come back to the car. But, we had to survive the race first.

The course profile. Serious stuff.
Assault on Black Rock is in Sylva, NC, a city I hadn't visited in probably thirty years. I wouldn't actually see much of the city as the race takes place at Pinnacle Park, just outside of Sylva. It's a seven mile run/hike/climb to the top of (I guess?) Black Rock Mountain. It gains 2,770' over the course, but the vast majority of that is in the first half of the race as shown in the adjacent profile graph (courtesy of the Assault on Black Rock Facebook page.)

I believe about 92 people registered for this year's race, which benefits the Clean Slate Coalition. Though I wasn't really concerned about trying to place high, I wondered who the fast runners might be. Last year, the race attracted a number of fast runners I knew, but of that group, only Johnny Zarbock had returned this year. I saw a few "Norm's Maggots" jerseys and given their reputation knew that they would be fast, and Sayrd, a friend from the Revolutions running club had shown up--though I knew he was coming. Actually, a lot of people looked fast so I knew I'd have to be very careful about not getting caught up in their pace early on. Since it takes me so long to get going, I have trouble starting on an immediate uphill, which is exactly what this race promised--with that hill lasting for the better part of 3.5 miles.

The race start/finish area was a simple affair, but that was fine, and with the on-and-off drizzle, they had built a fire in a firepit. The shirt was a nice color of green and the small fit me pretty well--though if it shrinks in the wash, I'll have to pass it on to Leslie or a niece/nephew. Doug and I made the 1.5 hour drive that morning and arrived in time to loosen up a little bit, with Sayrd accompanying us, on adjacent trails that weren't quite as steep. But the 9:00 start time came quickly and we soon found ourselves on the starting line.

The airhorn start sent us on our way up the double-track, rocky road bed. I really tried not to pay attention to those around me and their pace, but I did notice Johnny, in his NC state flag jersey, had quickly gotten well ahead, along with a number of other runners. There were also quite a few people right around me. I was probably on the outer edge of the top ten after the first half-mile or so and still just wanted to run steadily and not be afraid to take a quick walk if I absolutely had to. This was the first race in a long time that I didn't either have on a pack or carry a water bottle. There were water aid stations at miles 2 and 2.5, so I figured that would be fine--especially given the cool, misty morning.

It wasn't long before I, along with everyone around me, found myself fast-walking the hills. I was probably running more than I normally would have in the past, but there were some sections that really called for a walk. As we went up, the pack around me thinned out. I never looked back to see who was behind me, but sometimes I could hear a brief conversation and knew that I was far from alone. Surprisingly, I found myself gaining on Johnny on the walking stretches. In his defense, he'd run 43 miles already that week, so he probably was starting to feel some of that. When I caught up to him, I warned him not to bend over so much on the walking because he's cutting off his air. Whether he took the advice or not, I don't know because I slowly pulled away from him, figuring he'd catch me on the downhill, along with many others who were currently behind me.

At the first aid station, they asked if I wanted water and I said "sure." They handed me one of those little 6 or 8 oz. water bottles. While I understand the convenience of the bottle for the aid station volunteers, it did mean I'd be carrying whatever I didn't immediately drink for a while. I think I maintained a pretty good pace considering the climb and no one was running me down, though if they had, I couldn't have done much more to have stayed ahead of them. I finished off the water and dropped the empty bottle at the mile 2.5 aid station and noticed the trail had leveled off somewhat (refer to the profile above.) I was able to run a fairly decent pace on this stretch and tried to take advantage of it, knowing that a severe climb lay ahead.

Roughly a half-mile later, I made the left turn off the double-track onto the steep, muddy, single-track to the summit. This was a tough section of steep, muddy trail (climbed 650' in 1/3 mile) where I sometimes found myself grabbing trees to pull up. I kind of figured out what to expect from talking with Johnny at the start, so at least I was somewhat mentally prepared for the climb. I kept waiting to see the leaders come back toward me and the further I went, the more I began to wonder if they had gone up and down so fast that they had already gotten back to the point where the return course split off from the outbound route. That would have put them over a mile ahead after two and a half miles but it wasn't totally out of the question. Since I was down to a hike, I also wondered if I'd be passed in this stretch, but I couldn't imagine anyone running up it.

Finally, the lead runner was coming back toward me and said something to the effect of my not being far from the top. Shortly after seeing him, I reached a false summit where the route went up and down a ridge for a little bit. In this section, I saw the next two runners and made room for them to get by. There was slushy snow in places up here and at 5800' it was a bit cooler and breezier than it had been on lower sections of the course.

I could hear voices above me as I passed under what must have been "Black Rock" and came up to the top from the opposite side. There were a few volunteers at the summit and one took a Sharpie to my bib and sent me on down the other side of the rock. I had to kind of slide down the steep, but short rock face and of course that's when one of the volunteers was taking pictures, getting us not running! Hahaha. Anyway, we ended up looping the entire rock and I saw some camping equipment set up under the rock as I completed the loop and headed into traffic, back down the course.

Since I could now see the other runners coming toward me, it seemed that there were quite a few people not far behind. We tried to make way for each other and that worked well until one time when I lost control and slammed my hip into a tree and ended up hugging it for a moment. It wasn't bad at the time, but later in the day, I'd find a nice bruise that was pretty tender to the touch.

Much of the descent down that now 650' drop over 1/3 mile was run just on the edge of my being under control. It wasn't that I was trying to race down it, but it was so steep and muddy, it was hard to go slowly. Many times, I'd have to look ahead to find a tree to grab to keep me on the trail and from hitting other runners on their way up. I saw Doug and Sayrd on this stretch, as well as another member of the Revolutions club, Kevin. Despite trying to use caution, the descent went much quicker than the climb and soon enough, I found myself back out on the double-track, ready for a (hopefully) runnable three miles to the finish.

And I actually felt really good as I started running again. It was a little bit gravity assisted as I was on a gradual downhill, but I felt like I was running at a 5K pace, at least at the time. There were not many rocks to worry about dodging, so if there was any part of the course where anyone could make up time, this was it. I got to the split pretty quickly and was sent down a trail we hadn't come up. I had no idea what this trail would hold and why we were going down it, but it was also double-track and early on it was very runnable. I didn't look back on the descent, even on the switchbacks, but tried to listen for Johnny, Sayrd, or other runners to come by me. The first place female was pretty close behind when I was coming down and I wondered if she was one of those runners who's really good on downhills and would be zipping by at any moment.

I was running pretty fast for me, but not faster than I could safely dodge the occasional rock. Eventually, the trail got more technical and I had to slow down. Around this time, I began to notice what felt like a blister on the heel of my right foot. I assumed it was from sliding around in my shoe on the downhill. It quickly escalated from being noticeable to being somewhat painful if the heel hit the ground, so I tried to land my right foot closer to the toes. It worked, but it was a bit awkward on the more technical stuff. Even though it was misty, off to the left, I could see that I still had a lot of elevation to lose, but it was dropping quickly.

I came upon a trail junction with some volunteers and my first thought was that this was the mile two aid station from earlier and I still had two miles to go. Then, I realized they had moved down the course to direct traffic and while I didn't know what I had left (like with Umstead, I didn't look at the map very closely,) I knew/hoped it couldn't be too far. And, it wasn't. I started to see things I remembered from the morning and heard the creek we had paralleled early in the race. After a minute or three, I could see the start/finish area ahead. I was still moving at a pretty good clip, but favoring that right heel, and I heard some lady say something about "him being injured too" when I came through. I didn't hear my time because they were asking for my bib number, which was pinned to my shorts and covered by my shirt. I did know I was fourth overall, which was way better than I expected. Johnny came in shortly after me, then another guy, and then Sayrd.

The awards ceremony started a little over two hours after the race began, so there were some runners still on the course. One thing that this race does that I'm a little unsure about is award belt buckles to anyone breaking 101 minutes. I don't know the significance of that time cutoff, but the awarding of buckles does step on the toes of the 100-miler tradition, as Sean Blanton pointed out on the race's Facebook page. I like that they came up with a creative incentive to break a certain time goal, but kind of wish they'd have thought of a different award for doing so. People breaking that time were also eligible for a door prize that they picked. I grabbed a pair of lightweight gloves, figuring if I couldn't use them, Leslie could. There were no age group awards and the top three male and female overall won engraved glass beer steins.
The course map, which I again forgot to study.

Parking involved them using (with permission) a lot of private property so I'm not sure if the race can grow much larger than it was this year, and they may not even want it to. It was a good, challenging run (with a lot of hike) tempered only by the fact that we didn't get to enjoy what must have been a nice view at the summit on this overcast morning. Ironically, as we were leaving, the clouds were breaking up and the sun had come out, but Doug wasn't interested in hiking back up to the top. So, we headed out to get something to eat and then drove to the Bowlens Creek trailhead to let him experience some of the Quest for the Crest trail. We wouldn't have time to do as much of it as he originally wanted, but at least we made almost to the Woody Ridge trail junction and he got to see the view and the profile of the Crest Trail stretching out toward Mount Mitchell. When we combined this hike with the race, we determined that we'd have roughly 12,000' in elevation change in our 15 mile day, which explains why my thighs would be sore for the next several days.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Umstead Marathon

Before starting my write-up for this year's Umstead Marathon, I was curious to see if I was doing write-ups the last time I ran this race, in 2010, so I looked back. Sure enough, I had started in 2008, so I did have an entry for this race. Unfortunately, it was back when I was kind of reviewing the race and not talking about myself so much, so I have go by memory to recall how that year's event went for comparison purposes.

Just as in 2010, I came to Umstead "fresh" off of a Mount Mitchell Challenge the week before. That year, the Challenge was very cold and Umstead was a very warm day. This year, things were reversed. Well, Umstead wasn't very cold, but it stayed fairly cool for most of the day.

Umstead State Park is unusual based on all the state parks I've visited in that it's in a developed area. Right off Highway 70 and not too far from the well-known Angus Barn restaurant. With a 9:00 a.m. start, Lee and I rode up together on race morning, heading out from Hickory at about 5:15. Paul was bringing his daughter, Lizbeth, from Raleigh over to bike around and he was going to run while we raced. Melissa tagged along with us to meet up with Lizbeth and ride around.

The lodge at the start/finish area is a great spot for check-in, etc... There are lots of tables and benches to sit on while you get ready for the start and they keep a fire going in case anyone needs to warm up. I caught up with Chuck Millsaps, with Great Outdoor Provision Company and a great sponsor for TRU, before the race and said hello. Our car was parked less than 2/10 of a mile from the start so we took our packets (which included the race shirt--a woodpecker was this year's "mascot," socks, a little bar of soap, and some assorted food/energy products. I believe most of this was probably donated by GOPC as they are the main sponsor of the race.

Though there was no announcement that I heard, with about five minutes before race time, everyone started moving toward the start area, just outside the lodge. With under two minutes to go on the clock, a race official announced that the race would be starting in a few minutes and that there would just be a two word start (ready, go.) I assumed it wasn't going to start on time since everything seemed so casual, but right as the clock read 9:00, he sent us off.

I only remembered parts of the course from 2010 but knew that we'd have some gravel road for a couple miles and then some trail. We ran out the entrance road for a ways and then did a U-turn around a cone and headed back. Mile one and I was already doing something I didn't remember from before. So, early on I got to see several runners I knew coming toward me. I was running at a comfortable pace--probably about the same as at the start of the Mitchell Challenge the week before. I had debated whether to wear my pack and have access to my two soft-flask bottles, but ultimately decided to just carry my handheld. I noticed before the race started that my lid wasn't screwing on very well so the bottle leaked a little bit during the race. More of a nuisance than a problem.

We turned onto the trail and I was in a small group of people. I wasn't concerned about passing the guy ahead of me and the guy behind me seemed to feel the same way. It was a good pace and I was a little worried that if I pressed too hard, last week's run would come back to haunt me. This section of trail rolled up and down and twisted through the woods. Quite a few roots and not so many rocks. I managed to keep jogging even in spots that required a bit of a hop up. Like I mentioned in the previous Mount Mitchell post, I really wanted to focus on running everything I could at Umstead to get out of that hill-walking mindset that ultras have put me in.

We came off the trail somewhere around mile four, just above an aid station. Melissa and Lizbeth were there with their bikes. I gave them my long sleeve Grindstone jacket that I had started the race in, taking me down to just my blue 2016 TRU shirt.

I ran through this first aid station without stopping, a practice I hoped to continue as long as possible. I knew that with the possible exception of a hill around mile 23, nothing was extremely steep on the course. It would just be a matter of holding it together and not running out of gas.

Between the first and second aid stations, the same digestive issues as I had the prior weekend began to creep up. There was a Porta-Jon at the second aid station but I didn't want to stop so early in the race and pressed on. I was basically staying around the same couple runners for much of the race. The yellow-shirted guy ahead of me and a reddish shirted guy behind/ahead off and on. I really didn't know what place I was in, despite the out-and-backs and seeing the leaders, but that was really only important if I wanted to get one of the top-15 finisher awards. I thought I might be somewhere around top 15-20 at this early point in the race, but tried to stay focused on just not overdoing it.

New to this year's race was a second section of single-track trail. This was a nice section that had a few bridges (the steps were pretty narrow and steep, so hard to take at a run pace) and a couple creek crossings that you could easily rock-hop. Relative to the rest of the course, I had no idea where I was or where I was headed. The trail wasn't really flagged, but there were no side trails. Anywhere on the course where you had to turn, there was a person, so flagging wasn't terribly necessary.

I have no idea what mile this is.
I kept going, the need to find a porta-jon steadily increasing. With the leafless trees and lack of hills, there was nowhere to jump off into the woods, so I had to make it to an aid station that had facilities. Once back on the gravel road for good (maybe mile 8 or 9) I went through a couple aid stations, sometimes passing a runner who had stopped, and sometimes they'd pass me back once they got going again. Mile 10 had a porta-jon but for some reason, I decided to wait. I think it was because it was so close to the actual volunteers. I don't know that my distress was slowing my pace, but it sure was a distraction I didn't need. This section of gravel road is a huge, looping, out and back. In fact, until I looked at the map, I didn't realize how much a part of the course this out and back represented.

Finally, relief came when I realized I was heading back to the same aid station I had seen at roughly mile 5.5. As I entered, I asked them to refill my bottle and headed straight for the toilet. This was my first non-running moment of the day but I certainly didn't linger.

I was passed by at least one person and maybe two while at that aid station, but I didn't care. I felt so much better. Now, I just had to make the return trip around the big loop. I tried to run steadily as now my biggest enemy was fatigue from last week's Mitchell Challenge. I was eating Huma gels and a PowerBar gel and had taken one S-cap. I had not even glanced at an aid station table so I have no idea what they had to offer.

I think the mile 13/17 aid station had a Hawaiian theme and they were handing out leis. Every so often, you'd see one on the ground before or after the aid station. I don't know if runners decided they didn't want them or they just fell off of people. I had pulled ahead of the guys I had been following but figured they were close behind--I wasn't about to look. Though they weren't really steep, it wasn't easy to mentally keep running the hills, but I managed to do it. Even though I didn't care if I got passed, I tried to use the possibility of that happening as a motivation to keep running.

When mile 21 rolled around, I knew I was coming up on that dreaded out-and-back that has a horrible hill on the way back. I reached the aid station at that intersection and commented about the hill coming up. The volunteer laughed that the hill was great in the direction I was running, meaning it was down. I couldn't remember how long the out-and-back was (I really should have examined the map before the race) but I quickly realized I had forgotten a lot of this section. It was longer than I thought, but also flatter. It wasn't until right before the turnaround (at a wide creek) until I reached the steep part of the hill. When I turned around, I suddenly realized the first female was right behind me. I hadn't heard her coming and knew she'd get me on the hill, which I already knew was going to be a walk. I believe in 2010, I was really fizzling at this point and walked a lot of the hill. I was shocked to find that I really only walked about 15-20 seconds of the hill and was able to jog the rest of the way back to the aid station. It seemed like runners were pretty close behind me, which pushed me onward.

I would stay within eyesight of the lead female on the homeward stretch, but only gained ground when she stopped to walk a couple times. I took one brief walk break but began to worry I was being caught. I passed a spectator (or volunteer?) around mile 25 and asked him if there was anyone close behind me. He said no, but then he laughed. I didn't know if the laugh was because he was lying/joking or because it was funny I asked. As I turned right about a half mile later, I glanced over and saw someone not very far behind. I began to speed up, thinking I had maybe only a quarter mile to go. As I pushed, I began to realize I had farther to go than I thought. I couldn't give any more at this point, and just did what I could to hang on.

I crossed the line without sensing anyone right on my heels, and saw the clock as I did so. I was kind of hoping for something in the 3:30 range since I'm a bit out of marathon shape, so the 3:33:30 it showed wasn't too bad. It was ten minutes slower than seven years ago, but I'm older and they did add a little more trail. For what it's worth, I do remember having to make a porta-jon pit stop in 2010 as well. I was one place better than last time, at 9th male/10th overall and was given a wooden silhouette of a woodpecker to complement the rabbit of 2010. They had us draw for door prizes and I won a pack of freeze dried backpackers stew. It's good through 2023 so I told Leslie we'd keep it in the basement for emergencies. We got logoed pint glasses as finisher awards, which I had expected since they do that every year.

Unlike in 2010, I am now familiar with Moe's Southwestern Grill and knew what to expect with the finish line burritos. I loved it in 2010 and it was (if possible) even better in 2017. I surprised myself at not having an appetite for the tortilla chips, but made relatively short work of the veggie burrito as I waited for my friends to finish.

I talked to Scott Adams for a while post-race and then caught Chuck as he finished. Melissa, Lizbeth, and Paul showed up at some point and we all waited on Lee to come through. With a nearly three hour drive home, we didn't stay long after he finished--just enough for him to get a burrito and his door prize (GOPC gift certificate.) We did make one side trip--to get Cook Out milkshakes--on the way back. A reward for a long days work.

Just like I put in my 2010 report, it was a very well organized event and was pretty enjoyable. Races in state parks seem to always be special and there's a good reason why Umstead sells out every year, they've got a winning formula and they stick to it.

Oh, I will add that they also generated age-graded results. Well, it didn't adjust your time, but gave everyone a performance index rating and then reranked all the finishers. I moved up one spot. I guess that means I ran about what was expected for my age.

Also, I apologize for making my last two race reports so much about digestive issues. One day, I'll find out what I am doing wrong and run a pit-stop-free race!