Friday, March 9, 2012

Marathon of Mud

That would have been a much more appropriate title for the 2012 Umstead Marathon held at Umstead State Park just down from the Raleigh Durham Airport. The storms started to roll in on Friday with various wind/rain/tornado warning covering the local area. I had been warned by Tom that the weather was going to be wet, but this that was an understatement. Friday night the wind and rain came down so hard that I jumped me out of bed at 2am to look outside. My Midwest raising has taught me what to listen for in a tornado, and I was a bit startled. I told John that I wasn’t too sure if the race was even going to happen and tried (in vain) to go back to sleep. Like usual I had tried, and failed, to get to bed early to get sleep. I would say I maybe got a collective 4-5 hours. That being said, when the alarm clock went off at 4am, I climbed out of bed and started the race routine. I did text Tom to be sure that he still wanted to race, he wasn’t as sure as I was and left the option open to pitch out. I thought about it for 2 seconds then texted back that regardless if it was up there or here in Charlotte, 26 miles was on the running schedule. Why not go get a shirt and have some fun while doing it…the race registration wasn’t cheap so let’s go!

Before the race- All smiles
I downed my typical oatmeal and 2 cups of coffee, gave the pups their breakfast and a little bit of love then we headed out the door at 4:45a to go pick up Tom. We trekked the 2+ hour ride up to Durham and noticed that as we got further north, the rain started to lighten up. By the time we pulled into the park, it has pretty much stopped. We parked, went inside the lodge to pick up packets and spent time discussing what to wear/take off for the race. I opted for my sleeves, racing jersey from One2Tri Racing, Under Armour compression shorts and my Saucony trail shoes. It was a warm morning temperature wise, but the rain created a dampness and the temps were predicted to drop as the morning went on so I wanted to be ready. I also decided to don my CEP compression socks paired with Injinjis to see how my calves would hold out. They have been tight lately and with the success I was having with them on my training runs, I was hoping they would help for the race. I strapped on my Spy belt (I still don’t care for it) stuffed with Stinger Gels and S! caps, grabbed my Amphipod hand bottle and we headed to the start.
There were a few things I did different nutritionally for this race. First, I only carried 2 gels with me. The aid stations were going to be stocked with Honey Stinger Gels (my fav) so I decided I would grab them along the way as opposed to haul them with me. I also carried an E-Gel which a lot of my triathlon teammates  recommended. Since this wasn’t going to be a “podium” race for me it was a perfect time to tinker. Secondly, I ate a Bonk Breaker bar on the way up to the race instead of my typical PB&J (gasp). Finally I started my race with a Gu Brew tab already in my bottle. Typically I start with water and add along the way. Again…perfect time to try new things!
In the lodge we saw a few familiar faces, said our hellos to people we recognized from New River and Weymouth Woods and chatted about the upcoming races. Mike, a fellow runner who had joined us on of of our midnight runs in Charlotte was running the race too. Note: this will be the same site for the Umstead 100, my first 100 mile race that is coming up at the end of the month so a lot of people were out racing to get a feel for the course.  Just before 9am we were called to the line.
As the gun went off, we found ourselves stuck in the back of the pack. Tom and Mike were content chatting and keeping each other company so John and I decided to zig zag around runners to put ourselves in a good spot for when we hit the single track. Most of the race was going to be on the park’s bridle trails, which are the width of a single lane road and covered with fine gravel, but the technical parts in the woods were going be sloppy as it was so passing would be tougher than usual. As we hit the first little turn around…I started counting females. I knew that the first 15 would place and I was curious; John and I both had me at 20. I chuckled at my competitiveness and told myself that this was supposed to be a good solid training run and course preview,  “no racing” I reminded myself.. As we started to settle into a comfortable pace we chatted with a few fellow runners about the course. The course was deemed as "hilly" but we got a fair warning that there was a monster near the end that we needed to save some legs for.
We dashed through the first few miles then finally into the woods to the single track. I felt pretty good despite the mud and occasional root we had to navigate over. I am not typically a fan of trail running (what?!?) but I found myself enjoying the focus on the technical side of it. As my pace began to quicken, John pulled back his pace (he is nursing a sore knee)and I trudged forward. I managed to trip up, yes up, three stairs on one of the bridges not because they were slippery but because occasionally I am just a clumsy runner. After I realized I wasn’t hurt (minor panic) I just began my typical mantra of “relax and run your race”. For the first time I felt comfortable and nimble on the trails. It seemed like for every steep climb, there was a forgiving down hill and that would stay constant the rest of the race.  I managed to pass a few girls there and realized that I was somewhere between 12 and 15 for the ladies. Not too shabby for a training run I kept thinking to myself.
I broke back out onto the bridle trails and began chatting with a runner who introduced herself as Shannon. She had spent a lot of the miles, armed with a camera, taking pics and darting in front of me only to fall back again. We talked about the course and discovered that we both would be running the Umstead 100 at the end of the month.  Excitedly the next few miles were spent exchanging our race goals, walking the hills and familiarizing me (she runs out there all the time) with what the course for the 100 miler. I was excited to have another person that I can look forward to spending the wee hours of the morning with. As Shannon began to speed up, I decided I was running out of my comfort zone and began to fall back. About this time I noticed that I was getting hungry and very tired. I hadn’t run this hard and this far in warm weather in a long time and I had lapsed on nutrition. As I reached up to wipe my face, it felt like I had rolled in the sand. I was loosing an incredible amount of salt and I panicked. In the running world, if you can see or feel the salt you are loosing from your body, it can be a bad sign.  Thinking back I had only gone through one Gu Brew tab, 2 bottles of water and 2 gels… not enough if I was going to finish strong. At the next aid station (just before mile 15) I dug out an S Cap and popped one in, filled my bottle and dropped in my last Gu Brew then practically tackled the volunteer for a gel. I got a brief glimpse of Tom and then John whose faces looked way more comfortable than I felt. Tom shouted a quick “lookin good, how are you feeling?” and being the eternal pessimist I shouted back “not too bad.”.
At that aid station, (you actually visit it early in the race) you have a long climb out and then the route retraces its steps along the bridal path, so I knew what was coming up as far as terrain. I began to think about the rest of the race and started to hit that awful 17-20 mile mark where your body begins to breakdown and you seriously doubt that you can make it. This is where the mental toughness takes over. I was out there with no pacer other than my watch and nothing but finishing in mind. I knew there would be hills and I knew they would be hard. I focused on the miles one at a time. Taking the up hills best I could and relishing the down hills and occasional cheering spectator.  I kept thinking about the rest of my day; how good it would feel to finish and the wonderful food I would get to devour after. Tom had told me that Moe's was a sponsor for the race and there were burritos, chips and salsa to eat after. YUM!  I was getting painfully hungry so I began to focus on the next aid station and getting calories. I was on the hunt for a banana when I got to one but that was a no go…I settled for an orange. I began to pick up my pace and caught up and passed two females and their pacers. We chatted briefly and I kept pushing on. At the next aid station, I grabbed my much welcomed banana and downed another gel.  As we turned into the final little out and back, one of the course workers told the female in front and me “you guys are 9 and 10 female!” I was shocked that I had managed to move that much in the second half of this race? I felt rejuvenated.  This part of the course descended for what felt like forever and it was a long time until I started to see the leaders coming back past…If I had to estimate I would say it was about a mile and a half in. I am not typically a strong climber, but I knew I had a few left in me.  Shannon was about 2 minutes ahead as the next female and we exchanged smiles and cheers on our passing and I decided it was time to maintain my place and finish strong.  As I pushed the climb, a  gentleman who had been watching the race and cheered for me several times already,  greeted me with a “you are looking strong, one more hill…not quite as bad as this one… you got it”. He was perched on his bike right at the mile 22 marker. It is amazing how someone you don’t even know can bring so much joy and motivation with just a few words.
  As I turned back onto the main road…I began seeing the signs counting the miles…23, 24…I knew that I had what is known as “Cemetery Hill” still to come and it was a decent challenge. I had been on that section of trail last year to bring Steve (a fellow Ultra runner and friend) in from his 5th lap of the 100 miler so I had an idea of what to expect. The rolling climbs allowed me a clear glimpse of the crowd behind and ahead and I began to relax. I was cruising by the time I crested the top of the hill and turned back towards the finish. As I spotted the white finish tent and heard the announcer calling names, I picked it up just a little bit to pass that one last runner. Once a competitor, always a competitor! I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:06:42 as was announced  as “8th place female” and a  totally butchered version of my name, lol. I had completed my second official “marathon” and was feeling awesome. Nothing hurt, my legs were not lead and I had placed higher than I thought or was expecting. I couldn’t have asked for a more successful “training run.” I headed back out onto the finishing stretch to cheer in Tom, Mike and John. We all agreed it had been a great day to run, despite the rain and hills. Somehow I managed to stay the cleanest of the three of us.

After- With  my 8th Place "Bat"

Tom's mud collection