On the eve of the 11th Umstead Trail Marathon, I thought I’d post my race report from 2009, my first marathon. It was fun to re-read and remember how I felt as a newbie at my first marathon (I’ve now completed 5–3 of them at Umstead). [Wow, I seemed so much more serious back then.]
Umstead is still my favorite marathon and I’m excited for my friends who are doing it this year, especially Will because it’s his first. I’m taking a break between Uwharrie 40 and the Blue Ridge Marathon and volunteering this year, and can’t wait.
[About the PS: Two weeks before the race, Ann was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I immediately freaked out and lost 10 lbs., while she rationally considered her treatment options (I did eventually get a grip). Today she is just months away from that magical “5 years cancer-free” mark. Woohoo! And, in hindsight, what she went through for treatment was far tougher than I ever could have imagined.]
Many people told me I was crazy when I signed up for the Umstead marathon as my first marathon. I think Steve’s exact words were “Umstead – stark raving bonkers.” It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. I love running at Umstead, I’d run most of the course at one time or another, and it seemed like a good challenge, something you can’t “fake.” And I reasoned that if I was only going to do one marathon, Umstead would be the one I’d like to tackle.
So after all the snow, I was happy that Saturday promised to be nice. As the week wore on, many experienced marathoners asked me if I was worried about the heat. All my training was in sub-35 degrees, but I didn’t think it would be that bad.
Andrew and some of my awesome friends volunteered for the race, including parking duty, the mile 2.5 water stop, and mountain bike people to monitor the course. Seeing them out on the course really helped, especially after mile 18. THANK YOU to Andrew, Nancy, Pat, Melina, Amanda, Dan, Bruce, Steve, Tom, Diane, Lisa, Rebecca, and Ben!
The race started and I was running too fast, trying to pace with Audrey. I think our first two miles were at an 8.5 minute pace. We chucked our long-sleeved shirts at the Y water table amid huzzahs and kept running. The first section was easy and flat. Everyone spaced out nicely by the time we hit the single track, part of Company Mill Trail, around mile 4. Audrey quickly disappeared down the trails as I decided no way was I going to break my leg so soon into the race! The guy in front of me went down flat on his hands and pushed himself straight back up, almost without losing cadence. Nice save! I still say the steep switchback up the Sycamore Trail is far better than the gruesome Graylin powerline hill. No spring wildflowers were out yet, but I looked.
Hit the Graylin gate for the first time feeling great, and whizzed down the hill back to Reedy Creek Rd. This first section was deceptively easy—lots of flats and downhills. But I knew Turkey Creek was looming ahead—twice. South Turkey Creek wasn’t too bad and I finally caught up with Audrey on the North Turkey Creek section. She was feeling dizzy and her hamstring—which she’d pulled last week—was hurting. We agreed we would have smoked this race if it had been a half marathon—we hit the half at almost exactly 2 hours. Audrey assured me she’d be OK and I kept trucking along. I have run Turkey Creek enough that I know exactly where the last big hill is (the hairpin turn after the bridge) and it was fantastic to see the sign for Graylin Rd. telling me I’d finished my first of two legs on Turkey Creek. I grabbed water at the gate before turning around—at this point it was hot and I was drinking 2 cups of water at every aid station. It was neat to double back several times during the race—everyone on the course, whether they were behind you or in front of you, managed a smile, wave, or a “good job.” Even the leaders at the front were encouraging everyone else along, and that told me I was in a good race with good folks.
The trip back down Turkey Creek is when I really started feeling pooped, and that’s when I was passed by several women. I was happy to see Ben on the bridge at North Turkey Creek, who has surely run more miles in Umstead Park than anyone. By the time I hit the old roadbed of Ebenezer Church Rd., I was running into the sun and feeling hot, thirsty and nauseous. I think miles 18 and 19 were the worst of my race, climbing up the hills of South Turkey Creek. When I hit the aid station at Trenton Rd., I was really feeling sick and knew I’d have a hard time finishing if I actually threw up. They were out of pretzels but still had Fritos. I hate Fritos. But they were the best d*mn Fritos I’d ever eaten. They were like Fritos from heaven. Bring on the Fritos! They made my stomach feel much better and I managed to eat a Gu with some caffeine and refill my water bottles. Then I pushed on. I remembered Diane telling me how excited she was when she passed mile 20 at Richmond, because it was the longest she’d ever run. I spent the next stretch tag-teaming with a couple of guys and one who was doing his second marathon, and it was Umstead again (see—I’m not crazy!). Every time we passed a mile marker I’d shout “This is the farthest I’ve ever run!” They surely thought that heat stroke was imminent.
I saw Diane as I headed, run/walking and actually feeling better, up the Corkscrew. I’ll admit that I was a little frustrated walking these hills that I’d pushed myself on week after week. Running them so many times before and to have to walk them now!!! But I was still thirsty and feeling sick again. Diane checked to make sure I had enough water on me and asked if I’d needed any salt tablets. Sadly, she didn’t have any Fritos. I pushed on, knowing that Cedar Ridge was still ahead. I had told Nancy that if I didn’t show up after 5 hours to come look for me on the Cedar Ridge Trail, a long, cruel, rocky, downhill stretch to the turnaround at the creek and then a long slog back uphill. I managed to drink ALL of my water again between Trenton Rd. and Cedar Ridge. No matter—Andrew and the boys and Amanda, Nancy and Dan were there! What a smile that gave me! I asked for 2 water bottles to be filled, grabbed another cup of Fritos, and headed for the creek. Everyone coming back out was walking, and I was no different. I did run to the creek but did not have the energy to run back up that hill. But Andrew met me with a hug (and that’s true love, folks—I was utterly disgusting at that point) and walked with me on the last stretch out of that awful place. Of all the race reports I read later on, everyone seemed to agree that that stretch, at miles 22-24, clearly falls in the “insult to injury” category.
I finished the uphill slog, grabbed a last cup of Fritos (which were no longer the magical food they were at mile 20) and more water, and made the right turn onto Reedy Creek Road. My friends and family escorted me the whole way. That was so awesome. I’m afraid I was out of witty commentary at that point (and snapped at Nancy a few times—sorry, Nancy) so I just jogged along. I tried visualization at Cemetery Hill—I’d done the hill so many times from the Tile Shop (and even once consciously tried to put away a memory of me gliding over it for this exact moment), but still had to walk it. Rats.
The turn at the water fountain finally came and it was all downhill. This was the only really confusing part of the race, as there were many turnoff roads and I was certainly too loopy to figure out where I was supposed to go. Nancy helped me keep my bearings, things started looking familiar, the 26 mile marker came into view, and I actually started running hard, and ran across the finish line in a respectable 4 hours 21 minutes. That works out to a 9:58 average and it will tell you something about the difficulty of the course and the heat that my time was good enough to place 9th overall female! I was surprised and thrilled to make the top 10! I received an awesome, hand-carved, wooden frog plaque for my prize. And at the finish line, the whole Camden/Gottbrath family was waiting for me along with my family and other pacer friends. What a wonderful end to a great race.
Maybe it’s the post-race euphoria, but I highly recommend the Umstead marathon. Great support crew, awesome goodies, and you can train every mile of the course. There’s nothing better than running in the park on the fire roads. The trails were fun. The other runners were great, too. I might even do it again, and see if I can run the Corkscrew next time around. But having so many friends out there, along with Andrew and the boys, really made it a wonderful experience.
The crazy thing is that I’m trying to figure out if I could go on just a short little run this weekend. Not far. Not fast. Just to get out a bit. I guess I’m a runner now!
Thanks for reading.
It has taken years, but Andrew has finally convinced me that training with friends is key to achieving your running goals and a lot of fun besides. Not being as extroverted as Andrew (well really, who is?), I hated feeling over-scheduled each week, and as a result, I’d miss many workouts. It wasn’t until I began running with my friend Ann that I started actually looking forward to long weekend runs. It was a way for us to carve out time to catch up each week. Soon afterward Nancy joined us and we have run many a mile and shared many a laugh together.
Many thanks are due to the Umstead girls—Audrey, Diane, AnaRita, and Julie—plus others who joined here and there—for weekly runs in subfreezing temperatures starting from the Tile Shop. They carried me along and helped me discover that I was faster than I thought I could be. Likewise, the 5:45 a.m. Tuesday crew at the Y reliably busted my chops every week and made me a better runner.
I didn’t run with Bruce too much this training season, but I will not forget him getting me started on my first—and only—20 miler when it was 17 degrees when we started from the Tile Shop. Thanks Bruce!
Nancy has been a tremendous comfort to me recently as well as a running buddy. She is level-headed and a great listener and she picked me up several times when I was wallowing in uncertainty and self-doubt. She rode by my side to the finish, cheerfully rebuffing my grumpiness.
During the training for this race, my friend Audrey kept me going each week—agreeing to meet me in the cold, often before the sunrise. She laughed when I mapped out the hardest routes possible each week. She reassured me when I felt no confidence about the growing mileage. As a friend and an experienced marathoner, she did much to put me on the starting line in as good shape as possible.
Finally, there are 2 people who were with me every mile of that race:
It is both a blessing and a curse to have your husband as your running coach. There is no faking the weekly assessments of how well you are doing with your training! Andrew’s energy and enthusiasm is perfect for his role as a running coach, though it can be exhausting for his spouse! But, I could not have had more dedicated, enthusiastic support. As I paced off each mile, I kept thinking about the amazing things he did for me week after week, often putting aside his own workouts and plans, to ensure that I could reach my goal. Seeing Andrew out there on the course with Stephen and Simon carried me all the way to the finish line. He is both my husband and my best friend.
And—running a marathon is hard, surely one of the hardest things I’ve done. Yet it pales in comparison to the strength and endurance that my best girlfriend Ann will need for her race this year. During each mile of the race I thought of her vivacity, determination, humor, strength, and friendship. I have no words to describe how I felt when I saw her at the finish line. This run was for her.