Most Saturday mornings, you can find me out with the Peeps at Umstead State Park, running the bridle paths or single-track trails. There’s a collective groan when we decide to run Turkey Creek—it’s steep and hilly. But here’s what I tell the naysayers: if you train at Umstead, every road race will seem easy.
There is a spot along South Turkey Creek—south of the bridge that parallels Ebenezer Church Rd, past where the trail climbs past the butt tree, but before you reach Loblolly Trail and the junction with Reedy Creek Rd. It looks innocuous enough, and I’ve run by it plenty of times in training, though always with eyes narrowed in fear and loathing. It is at this spot, mile 19, where my will to run drained away in the 2009 and 2012 Umstead marathons (summarized here, with agonizing detail here), my first and 3rd marathons. [Mile 19 at my other marathon, NYC, was in the Bronx, and wasn’t much better.]
Not bonking at Mile 19 sounds like a lame non-goal. But I’ve raced Uwharrie 20 twice without bonking, and I didn’t bonk on my 40 miler either. However, my pace was much slower for these races, because of the terrain and distance. Could I sustain a faster, steady pace for a marathon distance without crashing and burning at mile 19? I needed to know.
My second goal was to run even or negative splits. If I succeeded at these two goals I wondered whether that would lead me to an Umstead PR (sub-4:14). I thought it was possible. I wasn’t in as good shape as I was last year, but I thought I could beat my time if I ran a smarter race. It was going to be me versus my brain. [And those who know me would bet money that my go-for-broke attitude would make me smack that Mile 19 wall like a bug.]
It was a fast start. In past years I’ve managed to scrape into the top 15, earning a handmade wooden plaque of that year’s animal mascot. Both times, I was toward the front of the big pack and in the top 10 women (until mile 19). This year I was well behind that pack, clearly behind a couple dozen women. I wanted to work my way up to the front, but my brain knew that this race was against me and nobody else (not even the uber-fashionable woman who elbowed me—twice—in the first mile. Really?).
I ran with Steve a bit before we hopped on the single-track. He helpfully suggested that I not lose my mind on Company Mill. Next, he chastised me for slowing down too much. I suspect he was worried I’d talk non-stop for 20+ miles. Sure enough, he fled shortly thereafter and I didn’t see him again til Turkey Creek.
It’s a funny thing–running 5+ miles of single track at Umstead, then heading down the Corkscrew to Turkey Creek–to hit mile 9 and think “well, the easy part is done.” But, Turkey Creek lies ahead. Twice.
I passed my buddies Anna and Martin on Reedy Creek Rd., out for a run after they volunteered for morning parking duty. Carolyn was all over the course. Audrey was waiting with the Ladies in Red at the Trinity Rd. aid station, and Candace and Danny were on the Ebenezer Church Bridge. Diane and Richard were riding around the course on bikes, as was Tara. Dennis and Claudia were taking finish line photos. Jon, Steve, Pat, Joanna, and Andrea were all doing the race with me. Fran, Libby, and Robert, and Andrew and the boys were at the finish line. Hometown races rock.
I also recognized and met at least a dozen local folks, many of whom I’ve seen at races and connected with on the blogosphere and Facebook, which was really fun. Even after the race I was connecting names with faces in race photographs and regretting I didn’t meet more people.
At the Shamrock Aid Station (yes, I touched the clover for luck–I was on North Turkey Creek, for Pete’s sake), I caught up with Scott Lynch, who patiently waited for me to select a homemade cookie and fill my water bottle. We entertained each other with stories of rash decisions we’ve made while running. We were at 2:07 at the halfway point, a little behind where I’d wanted to be, but close (I was under 2 hrs at the half in 2009 and 2012, and wanted to be closer to 2:05). Sadly, norovirus came out of nowhere and attacked Scott at the bike+bridle aid station and I continued back by myself. I had no idea how bad it was until I read his race report afterward. Way to hang tough, Scott.
I ate another banana to ward off cramps, and started back down Turkey Creek alone and feeling apprehensive. How great was it to see Joanna and Andrea looking strong and steady! I crossed the Ebenezer Church bridge and left my banana-, snot-, and gu-slimed gloves with understanding friends, who also helped me ditch my long-sleeved shirt. I wasn’t really keeping track of my time, just checking mile times on my Timex at most of the mile markers. I came up on mile 19 and ran strong past it, but didn’t want to jinx myself by blowing a raspberry. I cruised into the Trinity Rd. aid station for a second time feeling very upbeat. And some guy had just said he’d try to hang with me—of course, my ego totally deflated when I found out that this was his taper run for the Graveyard 100 the following weekend (hope it went well, Sultan!).
Now it was just a 10K to go and it’s nice downhill cruising until you hit the Corkscrew. I tried to pick up my pace a bit, knowing the last few hills that were in store and wanting to see if I could even-split the race. I could tell that my legs had other ideas.
As I slogged down Cedar Ridge with my ITB complaining ever more loudly, I decided that a negative split was a tall order for Umstead. Running up the Corkscrew, Cedar Ridge and Cemetery Hill in the last 10K while picking up your pace is a bit much to ask. Just as I reached this conclusion, my spirits picked up when I caught sight of Jon and Steve coming back up the hill, and Candace and Danny at the turnaround.
Diane was waiting for me when I came back out on Reedy Creek Rd. I was feeling whipped. She said nice things and rode along with me as we caught up with my friend Pat and his bike escort Richard. I started slogging up Cemetery Hill. “Tell me a story, Diane,” I begged. “What’s going on with your foot, anyway?” It turned out to be the story of the Second Metatarsal Stress Fracture, a tragedy involving Diane’s foot in the title role. Not recommended at bedtime; it could cause nightmares. Get better soon, my friend.
I arrived at the crest and started feeling much better. In fact, I felt great. “Hey Diane,” I said. “What do you need? You’re almost there!” “See that woman up there?” I was starting to grin, a little slyly. “Yes.” “I’m going to reel her in.” Ah, but I’ve been that person so many times. When I came up beside her, just before the last turn, I said “hey, we’re nearly there. Let’s run it in.” I gave it my all on the last half mile in, finishing in a happy and completely done 4:16 (2 minutes behind my Umstead PR, 3rd fastest marathon–out of 4 😉 ).
I’ll cut to the data. Like any good scientist, I LOVE data, especially visual data. I made this chart comparing my 2012 and 2013 Umstead marathons and overlaying an enlightening piece of data—the elevation chart.
My conclusions from this chart:
1. No bonk! Woo hoo!
2. Umstead is flippin’ hilly. It’s a hard race, even if you do run there every weekend.
3. If the race had been longer, I would have caught my 2012 self. Or died.
4. I might have PR’d if I hadn’t picnicked at every aid station. All my slowest miles included aid stations. On the other hand, see #1.
5. Fastest mile was mile 26, 8:28 pace! Rock and roll!
What you can’t tell from the chart: Best. Marathon. Ever.