2016 Umstead Trail Marathon: Running for fun

2016 umstead marathon start

Megan, Heiko and I hamming it up on Mile 1 of the 2016 Umstead Trail Marathon. Photo by Shannon Johnstone.

Set the right goals and you’ll win every time.

Umstead marathon is my favorite marathon. I say that having only run 7 marathons; 4 of them Umstead. Umstead was my 1st, 3rd, 4th, and this my 7th, marathon (2nd was NYC, 5th was Richmond, 6th was Blue Ridge). However many marathons I run in my lifetime, I hope that half of them will be at Umstead.

A few reasons why I love the Umstead Trail Marathon:

  • Umstead State Park is my favorite local place to run.
  • It’s hard. People don’t sign up for that reason. My point is, marathons are hard. There are no easy marathons!
  • Top-notch organization by Carolina Godiva and awesome volunteers.
  • Each year a different mascot is chosen and it’s a secret until the day before the race.
  • $70 entry fee includes a great t-shirt, finisher’s pint glass, SmartWool socks, Honey Stinger samples, chocolate, Moe’s burrito, and a door prize. Seriously!
  • Great hometown flavor and small, friendly feel with just 200 runners.

Lots of folks who are doing the Umstead 100 run Umstead marathon as a final run before starting their taper, so that was an easy decision. In the past, I’ve had trouble racing two long races a season (Uwharrie+Umstead, Uwharrie+Blue Ridge, etc.), ending up with nagging injuries during or following the second race. So my focus for Umstead was on a last long training run. No racing!

That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a few race goals. When you’re not trying for a PR, these are fun to play with, and you can learn a lot. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Run a personal slowest time. My previous Umstead times were 4:21, 4:14, and 4:16.
  2. Run a negative split. I tried this last time but Cedar Ridge had other ideas.
  3. Feel good after the race, as measured by my ability to eat the free Moe’s burrito post-race. I have never been able to do this.
2016 umstead marathon

Definitely the best I’ve ever felt at mile 21-something, at the top of the Corkscrew and about to head down the dreaded Cedar Ridge Trail. Photo by Arvind Balaraman.

Having fun is always one of my race goals, so I didn’t list it here. Because I run for fun!

I’ll cut to the chase with some numbers.

I made all three of my goals, finishing in 4:23 (I was planning 4:30) with a 10:03 pace–averaging a 10:08 pace for the first 14 miles, then 9:55 for the back half. I ran a 9:30 pace for the last 10K, something I did not think was possible since it includes the Corkscrew, Cedar Ridge, and Cemetery Hill (see elevation profile below). Unfortunately, I forgot to record my mile splits, which would have been fun to have. Instead I had to average out my splits for miles 4, 14, 21, and 25 to add the data to my Umstead marathon chart*.

 

Umstead marathon chart

2012, 2013, and 2016 Umstead Marathon splits. Wish I had all the splits for 2016. *Yes, I did this in Excel with splits from my Timex watch. I’m a dork.

The story that the numbers don’t tell is that I had a great time. The beautiful course and camaraderie among all the participants, organizers, and volunteers are what will keep me coming back!

 

LEAP!

give it a tryPssssst! I’ve been training for a big race this winter—the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. I’ll start at 6:00 am on April 2 and have 30 hours to finish the distance.

You better believe I’m nervous. This is twice the longest distance I’ve ever run!

Like any big goal, this one will be achieved in a Zen-like series of small steps. The run itself will be completed one mile at a time. There will be miles where I may have to focus on every step that takes me forward. As in: I can’t think about running 100 miles, but I can rock these next 100 feet, Yo.

I’m usually blasé about training. I’m Type B about most things. Through the Peeps, I’ve found that everyone seems to be on a training spectrum. At one end are people who really focus on their goal race. They have a training plan and they follow it to the letter, working hard all the way up to race day. Post-race, they relax and often take a break, sometimes feeling burned out. I’m closer to the other end of that spectrum. I rarely train hard or specifically. I’m usually at the low end of recommended weekly mileage. I sometimes make a plan but then never look at it.

The advantage is that I rarely burn out, because I don’t work that hard to begin with. WELL FOLKS, I’M WORKING HARD THIS TIME.

While I already had a qualifying race (Uwharrie 40), I knew I’d feel more confident if I could run 50 miles in the fall. The Old Glory Ultra was a perfect race, also with an 8-lap format, that helped me get my head around the distance. Maybe. I didn’t run into major problems that I had to troubleshoot, so rather than stressing about everything that went wrong, I agonized that nothing really went wrong (eye roll).

Somehow, I thought that running the additional training miles wasn’t going to be a big issue. I love to run and looked forward to logging extra miles. An aspect of ultras that I really like is the ability to go out any random day and run 15-20 miles if adventure calls.

In December I added yoga twice a week and in January I added strength training too. This is laughably inadequate to serious runners, but I never claimed I was serious, and these small additions were big steps for me. I hoped that they would help me stay healthy, and I do think they have helped.

Adding mileage has been a bit of an issue, as it turns out. I always undertrain the recommended mileage. The late Umstead 100 director, Blake Norwood, recommends 50-60 miles/week minimum. I will only have 2-3 weeks at that distance—my longest week was 67 miles. If you start surfing the web, you’ll very quickly psyche yourself out looking at training plans with 90-100 mile weeks. Of course, I’m not winning races, but for me, that kind of volume is unrealistic. Personally, I could not stay healthy, nor maintain the family/work balance that we need. In January, I ran 188 miles, and February is ending with a new record of 200+. That is a whole lot of miles for me.

With the added mileage, I have run into a few challenges:

  1. My left ankle has been bothering me since December, when I sprained it on a trail run. Of course I didn’t get it x-rayed. Don’t be ridiculous. It still hurts on trails and starts hurting about 3 hours into a fire road Umstead run. I’m sure it will feel great after another 24+ hours of running.
  2. My usually-sturdy calves have been really tight lately, feeling sore and bruised. This has kept me from doing the hill work I had planned.
  3. I’m pretty misaligned, with my entire left side tight from the hips down. This has probably caused most of the nagging hurts that I’ve experienced in the last 5 years: hip labral tear, ITB syndrome, etc.

As I told a friend, it’s always some damn thing. My friend Mimi is working hard to get me feeling good. I went in for what I described as “a little tune-up” and she laughed and told me to come back again next week.

I have had a lot of fun along the way. One Friday evening I took Stephen out to Umstead to run at dusk, and we finished a 12.5 mi Umstead loop just after 9 pm. It was exciting to be out there at night and we even heard coyotes.

I met a new friend, Megan, who is also training for the 100. As a big bonus, our pacing is similar. Not only that, but she was willing to meet me last weekend at 2:00 am for a training run! We ran two steady loops of the course, saw the sunrise, then picked it up the last 15 miles (!), finishing 39 miles just before 10:30 am. [Saturday night I slept for 13.5 hours straight.] It was Megan’s longest-ever run, so we cheered at miles 37, 38, and 39. What might have been a long solo slog turned into a pretty excellent adventure. In addition, my energy was great and I felt good the next day.

This coming weekend I will run my 4th Umstead Trail Marathon, as a “tune-up” race. My challenge will be to focus on running an easy pace and not try to place in the top 15 women to score a plaque (I’m 2 for 3, so the temptation is there). It’s a really fun hometown race and I can’t wait. After that, I’ll cut back my mileage until race day on April 2.

Some of the things I have in my favor are:

  1. I have an iron stomach. I can eat a variety of food when I run. On Saturday, for example, I ate a piece of leftover pizza and a carrot cake Clif bar on my [short!] 15 mile run. Honestly, the pizza was just to show off, but it was surprisingly good.
  2. I have no sense of elapsed time. I do feel sore, but I can run for hours and mentally feel like I’ve just started. I sometimes get unfocused, but I never get bored.
  3. I have a lot of positive energy and a good sense of humor that should help me past some lows. I possess a mental stubbornness that won’t let me quit.
  4. I have a wonderful, supportive family and a great pacing crew. My 15 year old son plans to pace a lap—I am looking forward to that as much as anything. Andrew’s support is rock-solid. Good friends will keep me positive and laughing through the night and steer me toward the finish. They give me confidence.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about how the next few weeks will go, how the race day will unfold, how I will feel, and how I will manage pain. I can’t predict what’s coming and what challenges I may encounter.

Eno

My favorite race photo. Trails = joy. Photo by Scott Lynch.

I’ve finished running my longest distances for training. I’ve done my best preparation. At this point, I can only hope that it’s enough.

It’s time to trust my training and see where the path takes me.

It’s time to close my eyes and stand at the edge of possibility.

It’s time to leap!

Nature Photography Challenge

Gallery

This gallery contains 7 photos.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing my friends’ posts for the Nature Photography Challenge (‪#‎challengeonnaturephotography‬), and after Julie Tuttle and Dan Pittillo challenged me, I spent a few days thinking about what kind of “theme” might guide my choices. I decided to … Continue reading

Think BIG in 2016

It’s that time of year. You’ve seen the posts and heard people gripe about those overly ambitious New Year’s Resolution makers taking up space at the gym—crowding classes and maybe even taking their favorite spin bike. They drop by the wayside in droves after a few short weeks.

I admire these people. I admire them for daring to dream big. For having the courage to acknowledge that they want a change and then going for it.

WHAT IF–?

What if a your encouragement helped someone stay on track? A smile or a kind word? A shared moment of camaraderie at the water fountain: “Whew, been awhile since I’ve done yoga,” “Don’t worry, it will feel easier next time,” “Boy, that is going to hurt tomorrow,” or “I remember the first few times I tried to run. It was tough.”

Do you remember your first run? How did you keep going? How did you stay motivated?

I know. The reality is that many of these people will get discouraged when they fall short of a goal that was too big, and most will give up. But what if something you said helped someone stay on track for another day, another week, or maybe until they reached their goal? What if your encouragement during their first run (and check-in with them the next day) kept them going, and they discovered a love of running? The generosity of your kindness costs little.

I know I’d rather be in that camp than the one that rolls their eyes, shakes their heads, and waits for them to quit.

Take a page from the book of New Year’s Resolution makers.

Think BIG in the coming year.

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A listicle race report from my first 50 miler: Old Glory Ultra

The Old Glory Ultra was my first 50 mile race. I’m still surprised that I completed it and that it went so well. I ran for hours, I had a great time, and I learned a lot of things that I want to remember. However, rather than writing an endlessly long and boringly detailed race report, I settled on a set listicles. Listicles are hot–Buzzfeed-worthy–and I teach millennials, after all. In the end, my plodding, story-telling self became annoyed by the sound-bite format, so if you want a real story, ask me on a long run sometime (by then, the story will be good, though the percentage of truth will undoubtedly decrease).

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Pre-race shenanigans in the Foxfire Country Club.

Pre-race silly shenanigans at the Foxfire Country Club. One of many reasons I love doing races with these guys.

 

8 Facts

  1. The race was the Old Glory Ultra, held at Foxfire Village outside of Southern Pines.
  2. The Southern Pines Ultra Running Club put the race on. They did a great job. Now they’re called ROAM – Runners Of Abundant Miles.
  3. This was my first 50 mile race. It was in an 8-lap format.
  4. The course had 2-3 miles on trails at a nearby park, plus grass/cart paths on the golf course.
  5. I ran 5 laps with Danny, then a lap with Karla, then a lap by myself, then a final lap with Karla.
  6. Jon also ran the 50 and Carolyn paced him for 4 laps.
  7. Karla was 2nd overall female in the 10 miler, and 4th OA!
  8. Running is a team sport. I would not have arrived at the start, much less crossed the finish, without the encouragement and support of my husband Andrew, my kids, Stephen and Simon, and the many miles logged with my Runnerpeeps crew. Y’all rock.
This is what the course looked like at 5:30, 30 minutes before we started.

The course was a bit dark at 5:30, 30 minutes before the start, but the starry sky was incredible. Glow sticks lit the way on lap 1.

8 Numbers

  1. 50 miles = 8 laps x 6.25 mi loops
  2. 10 hours, 11 minutes
  3. 12:13 min/mi pace
  4. I was 6th of 13 female finishers, 24th out of 37 total finishers.
  5. 5 friends = 177 miles total
  6. 4:47 for the first half; 5:20 for the second half (not sure where the extra 4 minutes went)
  7. 25 mi = my longest training run to prepare. 50 miles was my longest weekly mileage. I wish both of these had been better, but lost 2 weeks of training because I was sick. But you don’t need crazy mileage to run ultramarathons.
  8. 5 species of oaks: turkey (Quercus laevis), blackjack (Q. marilandica), water (Q. nigra), post (Q. stellata), and scarlet (Q. coccinea).
Lap 3 done! Danny and I are 18.75 miles in. Weather was perfect for running all day.

Lap 3 done! Danny and I are 18.75 miles in. Weather was perfect for running all day. Photo by Karla.

8 Answers to Questions You Might Ask Me

  1. Yes, 50 miles.
  2. I did it one mile at a time.
  3. Yes, Dad, you have to pay. Fifty-one other people did, too. Don’t ask how much. I got a really nice t-shirt and earned a medal.
  4. Yes, it did hurt after a while. Especially my feet.
  5. I enjoyed the course far more than expected. It was pretty, with lots of visual variety and a couple miles through the woods on dirt—OK, sand—it was in the Sandhills.
  6. The terrain was easy but the course was hilly. So, neither easy nor difficult.
  7. Sure, I’d do it again. I might even run farther.
  8. I enjoy the physical and mental challenge as well as the journey. In the midst of a very busy life, and one that has experienced some stress and sadness lately, I appreciate the luxury of spending a day focusing on a singular, relatively simple task that brings me joy, plus the time to reflect and feel grateful for all that I have.
Star Wars chicken noodle soup. Because everyone needs The Force at mile 25.

Star Wars chicken noodle soup. Because everyone needs The Force after 30 miles of running.

8 Things I Ate
1. Uwharrie cookies
2. Bananas
3. Coconut chocolate chip Clif bar
4. Fritos!!!
5. Gummi bears
6. Salted caramel Gu (2)
7. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
8. Star Wars chicken soup…and more.

8 Lessons or Items that I’ll Remember for My Next Long Run

  1. Sunglasses really helped—have had problems in the past with blurred vision and goopy eyes at the end of long runs (and for hours afterwards). I love the pair I have but they’re very dark—would love a clear pair.
  2. Thinking ahead about what I needed to do at the aid stations helped me be more efficient. I *wasn’t* efficient, but it moved me in the right direction. I might even make myself a checklist for a run with a similar format.
  3. At times I found myself enjoying the conversation and the miles but then suddenly realized I needed to drink water or eat something. The flow is wonderful (and having no concept of elapsed time is a true gift in these kinds of endeavors), but I need to remember to pay attention.
  4. Love my lucky running hat from Ann. I love that she gave it to me, and it’s really excellent. Lightweight, shades my face, reflective, hides my gray hair.
  5. Vaseline. Soooo many uses. No chafing or blisters.
  6. Gin gin ginger chews. They really helped settle a queasy stomach.
  7. Wet washcloth in a ziplock bag. Loved wiping the salt and grime off my face after many miles.
  8. I didn’t like my water options for a multi-lap format. The Fuel Belt was comfortable and I liked mixing one bottle of Nuun and also having plain water, but I grew annoyed trying to fill 3 bottles at the aid station. I switched to a single bottle belt but it was not padded and would not stay put—kept riding up and spinning around. I’m thinking about a belt that is wide and padded and holds 2, 12 oz bottles. With laps, it didn’t make sense to wear my 70 oz. hydration pack.
Packing for a long distance race. I packed 5 hats.

Packing for a long distance race. I packed 5 hats.

8 Things I Wore
1. Pearl Izumi fly shorts
2. Saucony long-sleeve shirt
3. Baleja hidden comfort socks
4. Brooks Glycerin 11s, size 10
5. Moving Comfort rebound racer sports bra
6. Dirty Girl gaiters
7. REI running hat
8. Tifosi sunglasses

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Jon and his star pacer, Carolyn, getting ready for another lap. These races are like a tailgating party. Photo by Karla.

8 Stories, 1 per Lap

  1. Jon says he’s going to run with me and Danny today, then disappears off the front. One guy sprints around everyone on the cart path near the start, yelling “Playing through!” You have to love long distance races—people are always so much fun. Danny and I get lost in the dark woods with two other guys, but we were not as lost as Jon. He appears behind us around mile 4 with some speedsters. Hilarity ensues.
  2. Drop off head lamps; eat Uwharrie cookies, split a banana. Realize that we were idiots for getting lost and bicker about whose fault it was and how much extra we ran. Nickname one woman we keep seeing “Whinypants” and feel sorry for her friends.
  3. Danny continues to introduce himself to fellow racers. “My name is Danny. I’m a Libra. I like long walks on the golf course.” I claim I found him hitchhiking on US 1 and can’t get rid of him. I can’t believe that we’ve run 20 miles already. We get back to find Karla getting ready for her 10 mi race. Carolyn is out pacing Jon. We know he’s been there because there is half a can of chicken and stars sitting on the ground.
  4. We joke around with the race photographers—the results should be good. My stomach is growling. We see hole #15 6 or 7 times. We look for Karla on the 10 mile run and figure out that some of those runners skipped the section through the woods. Eat Star Wars chicken noodle soup at the halfway mark and hope that the Force will kick in soon. I carry so much food out of the aid station that I’m dropping it on the ground.

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    Danny drags me away from the food table to start another lap–5, I think. Photo by Karla.

  5. Neither of us feels great, but Danny thinks I should go ahead. I agree but can’t run fast enough to actually lose him, though I try 3 separate times. Laugh at the ridiculousness of a looping, hilly course. Turtle trying to outrun a fellow turtle. Who cares if I finish the loop 3 minutes ahead? I sure don’t. We are finished with 50K at the end of the lap! Danny says he’s going to take a longer break at the aid station to see if he can get his energy back. He doesn’t fool me.
  6. Karla goes out with me on lap 6. She takes my mind off feeling sick by telling me about the 10 mile race and filling me on how Jon is doing. At the halfway aid station I open my bottle and realize I’d accidentally filled it with blue Gatorade and hadn’t noticed for over an hour. Water has never tasted so good. My shoes are feeling tight, but the conversation makes the lap go by quickly. We finish the lap to find Danny drinking beer. Neither Karla nor I is surprised.
  7. I start the lap feeling horrible, but suddenly, I’m euphoric. I feel great! Can’t tell if it was the bathroom stop, the Fritos, the ginger chew, or some kind of spiritual transcendence. It was my 4th fastest lap, so I’ll take it. There are fewer runners out on the course, since many of the 50K people are finished. I appreciate running solo for a bit to mentally re-charge. I think about the many special people in my life. Then, since I’m in the Sandhills, I start identifying trees. But I can only remember the five species of oaks I saw, plus longleaf pine.
  8. I return to the aid station for the last time but can’t think of anything I want to eat. I know I should eat something. Danny is asking what I need and I honestly don’t know. My feet hurt. Finally I look up at him and the aid station volunteers and say solemnly: “The. DOGS. ARE. BARKIN’.” I grab some Fritos, I think, and Karla and I head out. Just as we’re about to make the turn into the woods, we see Jon and Carolyn who’ve looped back out of the woods, about 20 minutes ahead of us. We cheer at them and head on. I started out feeling excited about finishing, but now I’m just dog-tired. We make the last turn to run by hole 15 and I know the end is near and pick up the pace a tiny bit. I see Jon, Carolyn, and Danny standing at the finish cheering me in and wonder if everyone else has left. Woo HOO! Fifty miles done! The race director hands me a medal and I thank him for a great race. We pack up our stuff and hit a Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner. Jon, Danny and I all order exactly the same thing: bacon cheeseburger with fries and a pint of Sam Adams’ Octoberfest. What a great day with great friends!

    Woo HOOO! Fifty miles and done! Photo by Danny.

    Woo HOOO! Fifty miles and done! Photo by Danny.