Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014 Umstead Marathon report

The first weekend in March is bittersweet.  The days are getting longer, the air is warming but not yet too hot...and it means I'll have to start cutting my grass again soon.  More happily, it also means the Umstead Marathon is upon us yet again.  This race is nothing short of the best marathon in the world - comprising the best park in Central North Carolina; a challenging but reasonable course; dedicated, detail-oriented organizers; enthusiastic, friendly volunteers and talented runners who don't act like they're talented.

This was to be my fifth marathon, and my fourth Umstead. I really have no business running in this event, but I felt some serious regret in 2012 when I skipped it.  So, no matter the poor shape of my legs and cardiovascular system (and conversely well-trained liver), I sat by my keyboard as registration opened in early November and was one of the first to sign up.

I have no race photos.  This would be a even more boring post with no pictures.  Here's a bouncy house.

Training was decent November through January, logging about 110 miles a month.  Work travel and fermented barley led to a 55 mile February, but come race day I felt OK despite not doing a long run over 16 miles.

We were granted nearly perfect weather on race day.  Right around freezing at the start, rising to the low 50s by early afternoon with some good cloud cover.  The usual pre-race festivities took place - people congregating by the fire in the lodge, the race director reading the names of several people who have participated in all 11 Umstead Marathons, and runners making several trips to the port-o-johns.

From here I'll divide my report into five equal pieces.

Miles 0-6, 1:03:14

About five miles of this is single track.  Last year I went out too "fast" (9:30 min/mile) and I paid for it later.  That was my first race on this new harder course, which had significantly more single track and I tried too hard to stick to a 10 minute pace.  This time, I laid back and didn't push it.  I even took a restroom break at about 5.5 miles - three pre-race portajohn visits apparently weren't enough.  I felt good, except for some groin issues that were new.

William B. Umstead does not approve of so many portajohn references

Miles 6-12, 2:02:47

After exiting single track for good at mile 8, most of the course is gentle downhill until mile 12.  I was still taking it pretty easy.  I got a bloody nose.  Only the second of my life unless you count the ones from people punching me.

Miles 12-18, 3:06:57

This section gives us the worst of Turkey Creek Trail.  The uphills hurt and slow you down.  The downhills tempt you to make up time, punishing your quads.  The only relief is the wonderful Paradise aid station.  I start "speedwalking" the steeper uphill sections around mile 16 or so as the pre-twinge of calf cramps set in.  I'm sure this is pure coincidence that this is also the longest training run I did.

Miles 18-24, 4:22:12

...and the wheels start to fall off.  This is easily the most difficult part of the course, and not just because it's near the end.  There are the well-documented horrors of the Corkscrew and Cedar Ridge, 2 miles of nasty steep uphill.  But even worse is The Sneaky Bastard.  This section starts right at mile 18 and is over a mile and a half of nearly constant, gentle incline.  It's uphill enough that it slows you down, but gentle enough that you don't really notice it and can't figure out why your pace is dropping.  Or at least, this is how I imagine it would be if I was ever in good enough shape to feel normal at this point.  The Sneaky Bastard also saps enough energy to make the two hills mentioned above even more miserable.  I ran-walked this section (or really, walked-ran-walked-r..walked) then was saved by the Reedy Creek aid station, where the wonderful volunteers plied me with Fritos and their own private stash of Endurolytes to help quench the thirst that wouldn't go away.  I was also fortunate to run into fellow runner Klay Barrow at the aid station, and we chatted for the mile or so run down to the base of the Corkscrew, allowing me to forget my many aches and pains - except when we were talking about our aches and pains.

The less said about the Corkscrew and Cedar Ridge the better.  It took me 14 minutes to go between markers 23 and 24, and I was shattered at this point.

Never mind what I'm doing with that hand in my pocket...(thanks freeracepics.com)

Miles 24-end, 4:49:45

I hobbled to the finish.  Not much to say here.  My inadequate training reared its ugly head here, as my legs were stiff and cramping.  Not a strong way to finish, but I got my pint glass and burrito, so all was good.  21 minutes better than last year, but off my personal best by 6 minutes (that was on an easier course).  I'm sure I had race winner Tim Crews sweating near the end, as he edged me out by a mere 108 minutes.


The usual stiffness and soreness took over on Saturday and Sunday, but it nothing too bad.  Until 2am Sunday night, when I was awoken by a very intense pain (worst I've ever had) on my inner left knee.  One of the reasons I chose my wife was her training in sports medicine; she ran downstairs and got me some ice.  I fell asleep icing the knee, while she was unable to go back to sleep.  I'm such an ass.

I was able to go to the climbing gym Tuesday night with no issues, so I'm sure I'll forget the pain from this race and sign up next year.  After all, I only missed a coveted top-15 plaque by 68 minutes or so.  With another lackluster training period next year I'm sure to get one.

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