Last year, I was lucky to score a spot in the Umstead Trail Marathon, and then I had an awesome day and won it. This was double lucky, because that scored me another spot in this year’s event without having to battle the registration madness increasingly seen at popular events. Whee! Here’s how it went.
I have to admit that I’m having a hard time writing this report without first talking about how my run focus and fitness in general are going. Let’s just say I haven’t transitioning my calorie intake to the reduced cardiovascular training load. Now, I’m the first person to claim that you don’t need to be a waif to run reasonably well, but when I’m banging on the door of Athena-qualifying weight, I’m not going to set landspeed records. So even though I hoped to run faster than the previous year, I knew that may not happen given my current fitness levels.
Even though I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the race before hand, I did check the weather forecast about 3 or 4 days out from the event and saw soggy news. Hmm. Maybe it will change. Then the day before, I get an email from my friend Alisha (who was running the race with me) commenting on the rain. Oh well. Rain it is. But this was a “warm” rain, starting at about 60 degrees and perhaps dropping to mid-50’s, so I wore short sleeves and shorts.
At the start line, I saw a woman looking rather focused. A-ha! I know that look. She’s looking for the win, and there I am plastered with #2 as my race number. Might as well put a target on my back. So we start and are marked by this lady, who runs just behind and next to us for the first portion. There’s another woman in black up ahead. Alisha and I just settle in to a reasonable feeling pace.
The plan was for Alisha and I to run the whole thing together, but she had a major calf cramp issue the weekend prior, so we weren’t able to stay together for more than an hour or so. Then I was running alone.
Since last year I negative split by such a large margin (8 minutes), my goal was to go a little harder on the first half than I did last time. I had hopes that this would bring me home a little quicker this year, but in the back of my mind, I knew my run fitness wasn’t in the same place as it was last year at this time. So I didn’t worry about my finish time too much and concerned myself with monitoring my effort.
This is a tough course that runs you over Turkey Creek trail twice, then saves three big hills for the final 5 miles . If you look at Turkey Creek’s elevation profile, it doesn’t look bad at all, but it has lots of steep inclines that can eat your legs alive and send your heartrate well over the appropriate level for a marathon run. It’s sneaky that way. Then you’ve got the long slog up corkscrew hill, hang a left down Cedar Ridge to descend for 1.4 miles then turn around and run right back up the way you came. Saved for the end is cemetary hill– not the long grinder that the previous two are, but a steeper pitch somewhat cruelly placed about a mile from the finish. I guess I’m just saying that if you come to this race and pace it like a typical road marathon, you’re in for some ugly surprises. That’s all.
Fortunately, I’ve run 26 miles in training already plus a 33 mile event. This just another training run, right? May as well, since these are the same trails and paths I run on all the time.
So I plugged away figuring I’m in a solid second place and doing my best. I get to 13 miles or so and there’s a guy telling me I’m 4 minutes back from the female leader. I say, “Ah, she’s gonna kill me,” doing the math in my head. “Well, she’s looking more tired than you are.” Hmmmm….at only halfway. It’s then that I realize there’s a chance I may catch up later. No sure thing. A chance.
At the turnaround point, she’s ahead by oh-I-don’t-know how much and there’s a stream of women oh-seems-like-less behind me. Like any of that matters. I just still run. Oh, and I pick up the effort and drive pretty hard on the first section back on Turkey Creek. I feel the effort as I head back to Old Reedy Creek road, but it’s completely manageable.
By the time I reach Old Reedy Creek road, I see the lead woman down the slope looking pretty stiff-legged. I keep pushing, knowing that I’ve got about 6 tough miles to go. I’m not feeling fresh, but I’m still going fine. I catch her at the base of corkscrew hill and she turns and tells me she’s been waiting for me. She was cramping.
In fact, I heard that several people had cramping issues. Maybe it was the warm weather. I took my Recovery e21 electrolytes, so I was fine.
After taking the lead, it was a matter of keeping strong. Each hill was successively more difficult and I probably slowed. I was pretty relieved to make the final turn to Camp Lapihio. Any time I’m looking forward to stopping about a mile or two from the finish, at least for longer distances, I take that as a sign I paced well. I came around the final corner and saw 2:39 on the clock, which wasn’t the blazing time I wished for but it was a soggy day and I did my best. It was a nice surprise to be able to defend last year’s title.
Maybe next year I can get the 3:30 monkey off my back?
Thanks to Jason and Kim from Bull City Running for being out there spectating. And everyone else that was out there cheering us all on. It’s not like it was super spectating weather or anything. Thanks everyone!