Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Saturday, March 4, 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!

No comments:

Post a Comment