|The end of a grueling day and warmer than I'd like.|
The race, oddly, begins at 9:00 a.m. I'm not sure of the reasoning for this but since they want you in the park before 8:00 a.m. it makes for an early start if you plan to drive from Burke County on race day. Figure on just under a three-hour drive from Morganton, depending upon how fast you drive.
The race is in its seventh year and each year, they have selected a different animal to serve as the mascot. In its duties as mascot, it appears on the t-shirt, finisher's awards, and overall awards which I will describe later. This year, the mascot was a rabbit. Past year's mascots include: a turtle, bird, fish, frog, and flying squirrel. I think they select the mascots based on animals you'll find within the park.
As I mentioned, the course is primarily wide trail. It is full of rolling hills, none of which are extremely long or extremely steep, but there are a lot of them. I imagine that unless you have an internal compass or you've memorized the course map, you'll quickly lose track of where you are in relation to the start/finish area. There are several out-and-backs so you'll always have a rough idea of how many people are in front and behind you. Weather conditions can vary but we were fortunate this year that it stayed relatively cool most of the day. I spoke with one runner who had run six of the seven races and he said one year it was in the upper 70s and one year it rained up until the start then stopped, leaving it warm and humid. The multiple out-and-backs and numerous trails throughout the park make it a good race if you have family coming with you. They have the choice of either meeting you at certain points, following you through sections, or just going off on their own and walking, running, or biking. The park is not closed so you will encounter other walkers, runners, and bikers. Horses are even allowed on some trails, though I saw none this day.
I didn't notice much of what was on the aid stations but I did hear one person mention gummi bears and I believe they had bagels and chips. Lemon/lime Gatorade, water, and Coke (in later stations) were the drinks offered. The post-race food included the same things from the aid stations plus burritos (veggie and chicken) and chips from Mo's Southwestern Grill. This was the first time I had heard of this restaurant. If you're hungry, any food tastes especially good, but I must admit that the veggie burrito was very, very good. It was also huge, probably 4" in diameter and 8-10" long. The veggie included rice, beans, cheese, and some other vegetables. Spectators can purchase them for $5, which I assume is the price at the restaurant?
There is no awards ceremony, everything is handled as you finish. Instead of medallions, each finisher receives a (pint?) glass with the race logo and mascot. If you take the glass to the sponsoring local brewery post-race, you can get it filled for free with beer. Instead of overall awards and age groups, they give special awards to the top 15 male and female finishers. It's carved wood sillouette of the event mascot (rabbit this year) with a plaque that lists your place (12th place female--for example.) You can begin to see where changing the mascot each year encourages people to come back to the race--the "collect-them-all" mentality. That might also explain why it is so difficult to get into the race and why it fills up so quickly. People return each year to keep their collection up-to-date. I'll add that they also had you draw a slip of paper upon finishing for door prizes. I didn't get a prize and the only person I saw get one appropriately won some soap (a locally made specialty soap.)
The awards can't take all the credit for bringing people back each year as the race directors and volunteers did a great job of making the day enjoyable. Also, even though it's winter and there is no color on the trees, it's a really nice place to run and you can easily imagine how colorful it might be in the autumn.
Pre-race and post-race, you can gather in the lodge where they have a fire burning--at least this year, they did. There was also a massage therapist available post-race to help work out any tightness. There are numerous tables at which you can sit with friends (current or new ones) and swap stories. There are runners on the road you leave on so while they do allow you to head out, since the road is narrow, you are asked to yield to the runners. You probably won't encounter more than a few as it's just a short stretch where you'll have to share the road.
I honestly didn't know what to expect of this race, though having had races in other state parks (Medoc Mountain, Weymouth Woods, DuPont--technically a state forest) I had a pretty good idea of what the course would be llike. It actually exceeded my expectations and was definitely a race I will put on my short list for future years.
Umstead Trail Marathon