I emerged from my pre-race taper funk with excitement about the Umstead marathon. Although my training focus had been for Uwharrie 20, I felt that my post-Uwharrie training had been solid and I was in good shape. Not peak shape, but solid shape.
My friend Danny and I met at Caribou for the traditional pre-race caffeine. There’s nothing like a hometown race that starts at 9 am; it was almost like sleeping in! We bantered with a barista, dropped off a cooler with emergency snacks near the Ebenezer Church bridge, drove to the race start, parked, and checked in. Soon a familiar face in a neon yellow jacket arrived; our friend Steve had parked at the Visitor’s Center to do his long run that day and thought he’d overlap us for a bit here and there. That is what he told us; neither of us had any idea he would end up running 22 miles and see us both to the finish line. I’m not sure that was really his plan either, but that’s how it happened.
TANGENTIAL ASIDE: This is the rockin’-est thing by far about our group running program, Runnerpeeps. Sometimes it’s not about running at all—it’s about the incredible community of people and the friendships forged along the way.
I was driven by my desire to better my 2009 time and the knowledge that I could score a hand-carved wooden bat plaque if I was a top-15 finisher. I also knew that the flattest part of the course is the first 2 miles. And, I did not want to get stuck behind people on the single-track part of the course (~7 miles of it over the first 9 miles), which is my absolute favorite part.
CLARIFICATION: These are all lame excuses for why I went out too fast when I promised myself I’d run no faster than 9 minute miles.
Danny ran with me for the first mile before announcing he was dialing it back. I pressed him a few times, but he would not budge. Drat. He’s smart. I knew we had different race goals (he’s doing the Umstead 100 in less than a month), but I’d hoped we’d run together for a little while. Steve ran with me a bit, told me to take it easy on the trails (pretty sure my response was a beaming grin) and sent me off on a short stretch on Company Mill.
TRAILS, WONDERFUL TRAILS: Oh, how I love the trails at Umstead. Sycamore is my favorite, but I love doubling up to run both Sycamore and Company Mill in a figure 8 loop that’s just short of 12 miles. I wasted energy passing a few people because I just wanted to cut loose. It would have been a swell strategy on a 10 mile run. Plus, I could not let someone with bright white shoes outrun me on trails, especially when she was trying to avoid puddles and mud. This was difficult in those conditions, and if you are a klutz like me, you’ve already miscalculated and stomped through plenty mud and water. This is actually an advantage, as it then frees me up to run through everything, which saves time and energy (it did, unfortunately, contribute to a giant blister). Steve told me after I hopped off Company Mill that she was a 3:30 marathoner and what the heck was I thinking?! Sure enough, she took my lunch money shortly after mile 19.
PLANTS (I HAD TO GO THERE AT SOME POINT): I saw clumps of these beauties along Sycamore. Not only did I not take this picture during the race, but I also refrained from pointing out the bluets, aka Quaker Ladies (Houstonia purpurea) to fellow runners. For me, this kind of restraint is remarkable.Up and then down to the aid station, where I saw my friend Sandra, then back to Graylin and down the back side of Sycamore. At this point the skies opened and it started pouring. Parts of Sycamore were not well-designed for erosion and the water funneled right down the middle of the trail, like a miniature whitewater rapid with loose rocks, mud, and roots. It was totally wicked.
Steve ran with me down part of Reedy Creek Road before sending me on my way down the Corkscrew. I felt great and the rain was mostly over. I didn’t really think ahead of time about what I might like to eat and grabbed an Oreo when I hit the Trinity aid station. Took a bite and decided that was not what I wanted at all, so I carried it just past the Ebenezer Church bridge and placed it carefully on top of Danny’s cooler. The fun part of Turkey Creek during the race is that you get to cheer on the leaders coming back. And the cool thing about that is that they often cheer you back and encourage everyone as they fly by.
OMINOUS FORESHADOWING: At this point, I’d eaten a half a squished pb & j and 2 shot blocks, plus some Gatorade and Nuun. I felt good and ran pretty hard up N Turkey Creek, hitting the halfway mark just under 2 hours, but my legs felt oddly tired at the top of Graylin, where it gets flat again. There I saw my friends Nancy and Kathleen, gave them a wave, and continued down to the aid station. I downed a Clif Shot as I came back out on Graylin, high-fived Danny with my now-sticky hand, waved at Nancy and Kathleen again, took a deep breath and turned left to head back down N Turkey Creek.
N Turkey Creek, round 2, was also pretty fun, as it was again a chance to see and cheer on other runners. I had heard from a few people that I was between 8th-11th female, but there were several women close behind me and every time I got to where I could see the front of the race, I couldn’t seem to count past 8, though there were definitely several more women in front of me.
EARLY WARNING SIGN: When you can’t count past 8, inventory your body and try to figure out why your brain isn’t working too well. I don’t claim to be a math genius but I can usually make it to 10 on my own.
I was still running, but suddenly, I could not hold my pace. I think that’s called a bonk, or maybe a wall. I hit the Ebenezer Church bridge and probably should have stopped and eaten Danny’s snacks. I didn’t figure I needed anything since I had just eaten a Clif Shot, and I wasn’t that far from the Trinity aid station. All I had to do (famous last words) was head up S Turkey Creek a couple miles to the aid station.
As I crossed the bridge and started unhappily walking up the first hill on South Turkey Creek, Steve was there waiting. I was surprised to see him, figuring he’d finished up his run long ago and headed home. He greeted me with a warm and friendly “what took you so long? I nearly froze to death sitting here waiting for you.” The bark from my curmudgeonly English pal could not have come at a better moment; he might as well have been handing out free kittens and Uwharrie cookies.
The next section to the aid station was a misery of cramping quads, calves and toes. I hung on and tried to suffer quietly. Up until then I had been sub-10 minute miles; here I couldn’t hold an 11 minute pace and was passed by 4-5 women. I was discouraged, especially because this was exactly the same place where I crashed and burned in 2009.
Steph Jeffries, powered by Fritos™
The Trinity aid station seemed like miles away but it finally came into view as Steve peeled off to grab some water and meet me on the other side. I decided not to try a new kind of gel (Honey Stinger) on a moderately unhappy stomach. Instead, I ate two cups of Fritos, half a banana, and threw down 2 cups of Gatorade with a water chaser.
The cramps vanished almost instantly and I was on my way to mile 20 and the Corkscrew. I couldn’t catch any of the women who passed me but I was able to hold a stronger pace on that very long hill.
Soon, I was heading down the dreaded Cedar Ridge Trail, almost a mile and a half of loose rocks and quad-busting descent, followed by a turnaround at the creek and a slog back up the hill. The cramps returned with a vengeance. As I passed mile marker 24 coming up the hill, I started wondering if I had 2.2 miles to go or 3.2 miles to go. Was I starting mile 24, or had I already run 24?
They say that the last 10K of a marathon is a mental game and clearly, I was losing.
Fortunately, my friend Audrey picked me up right about that time, and soon afterward I saw Danny. Audrey made me laugh, lied and said that I looked good, hauled me up that blasted road, grabbed me some Fritos and handed me off to Steve, who ran with me the last 2.2 miles (I did finally figure it out. Fingers may have been counted.). He started handing me Fritos one by one and singing the Batman theme song for entertainment. At the time this seemed totally random to me, but of course, 2012 was the Year of the Bat.
I was able to run Cemetery Hill this time, the last big hill, very slowly. This was one of my goals, as I’d had to walk it in 2009. When I reached the top, I stretched out my legs and picked up the pace just a bit. Not fast enough to catch anyone, but enough to have a pretty strong finish. Andrew and the boys were there waiting for me, and Danny and Steve came in together a few minutes later. Go Peeps!
So happy to see Andrew at the finish line. Andrew is wearing his “coach face,” wanting to know how I feel, how did it go, etc. I’m thinking about cookies.
LESSON LEARNED FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE: During miles 19-20, I felt so discouraged about feeling bad. Everyone else I saw looked great to me. It helped to read that everyone had their tough moments on the course. It’s been fun to read all the recaps of the race.
WHERE DID ALL THOSE CRAMPS COME FROM? I honestly have no idea. I have never cramped like that before. I thought I was pretty well hydrated, and I ate a ton. My legs started cramping just before mile 19, disappeared abruptly after loading up with food at the Trinity aid station, then returned with a vengence at mile 21. After the race when I was trying to put on a shirt, my whole upper body seized up with cramps—shoulders, arms and chest. My face was crusty with salt. I need to figure this out. Ideas?!
BREAKFAST: steel-cut oatmeal with walnuts and milk, 2 cups of coffee.
RACE FOOD: half a banana, half a pb&j, half an Oreo cookie, another half of a banana, 1 Cliff Shot Mocha (with caffeine), 3 Cliff margarita shot blocks (3x salt), 3 cups of Fritos, ~4 cups of Gatorade, 12 oz of Nuun, and 24-30 oz of water. Isn’t that a lot?!
Me and my peeps!