Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Umstead Trail Marathon 2012 Report: Silly, Hilly, Not so Chilly

The Umstead Trail Marathon is much like the park itself: The race is this big, beautiful thing on the outskirts of the running community. Pretty much all of the area marathon runners know about it. And, they either love it, intend to love it, or don't care about it all.

Umstead Trail Marathon 2012 Pint Glass
The Finisher's Pint Glass
properly put to use.

So, too, is the general perception of Umstead State Park. Triangle residents love it, want to love it, or wish they could build houses on it.

If the Umstead Marathon were a Manhattan borough, it'd be TriBeCa, SoHo, and Greenwich Village all rolled into one (before Friends became so popular). If it were a dessert, it'd be tiramisu.

Silly Me

The lore of the Umstead Trail Marathon was not lost on me. Since my first run in the park two years ago, I'd wanted to race there. And, when I learned of this marathon in 2010, I knew I'd have to save it for when I was truly ready and well trained.

Instead, I registered for this race impulsively as soon as the link went live this past Winter, because I knew it'd sell out quickly (within 12 hours, I think). I did this in spite of the fact that I hadn't run more than sixteen miles or trained for a marathon since my first one in 2010.

But, registering for a race can be an important catalyst to training. And, besides, how hard could it be to start adding super long runs to my training plan again?

Umstead Trail Marathon 2012 Sloppy Single-track
While some of the course looked like this...
Umstead Trail Marathon 2012 Sloppy Single-track
...Most of it looked like this
(ignore the jovial dork on the left).
These two photos courtesy of the awesome Shannon.

Oh, yeah, that's right; it's hard to run twenty miles!

Granted, I was encouraged by the fact that I managed to complete those long runs (up to 24.96 miles, thank you very much). But, I was discouraged by how much I loathed those last few miles of each long run. And, then, being a breath away from puking at the end of those runs didn't do much for my self esteem either. What the hell was I thinking?

Ah, yes, it's Umstead!

So, I didn't feel all that comfortable with my training when taper time arrived. I would have liked to fit in a couple more 20-mile runs. A long tempo run, or some similar speedy distance thing would have been nice, too. But, I did what I could without breaking myself. So, I arrived at the race in the mud and the mist thinking positively.

For instance, after retrieving my packet from the registration table, I thought about how the revelation of the bat as this year's mascot on the eve of the race really made my day. What a cool animal for a trail race emblem! The mascotology analysts really nailed it this time.

Another pre-race positive, in my point of view, was the exceptional weather we had. Rain on a trail before and during the race just makes it so much more fun, I say. Playing in the dirt is one thing. But, turn that dirt into mud, and you've got ideal conditions for sloppy awesomeness!

Of course, when it rained lightly on me around mile nine, I remembered that I'd neglected to follow my own rain running advice with regard to the use of band aids. Luckily, there was no bleeding, just a little rawness for the remainder of the day.


The course description on the race website explains that the Umstead Marathon course is hilly. They're not joking.
Umstead Marathon Course Elevation

Sure, the elevation gain is less than 1,000'. But, those hills keep on rollin'. And the final few just before the downhill finish can be murderous. Umstead Marathon veterans talk about the return along Cedar Ridge (miles 22-24-ish) with disdain. And, there's a good reason for that.

I consistently cursed the hills in those last six miles. And, although I knew it'd be smart to walk them, I was also afraid that stopping my running momentum just once would result in me walking the rest of the course.

But, hills certainly aren't all bad. If you've got the fortitude and stamina, you can plod up the big ones on Turkey Creek to reel in a competitor or two. And, if you have a penchant for stupidity, you can have a real blast letting gravity and rapid leg turnover take you down those same big hills on the return trip.

Remember when you were a kid riding your bike so fast down a hill that you knew you'd lose control and crash at any moment? Turkey Creek hills can be kind of like that. Luckily, I didn't slip and suffer any injuries. I'm sure my carelessness here contributed to my lack of energy later in the race, though.

Around mile 19, on the long, subtle climb up from Turkey Creek Trail's intersection with Cedar Ridge Trail, I started to feel the fatigue. I played leap frog with a couple of folks, passed a few, lost to a few.

One particularly clever fellow played leap frog with me from mile 24 to 25-ish as he walked the hills while I shuffled up them. Then, he'd skitter past me on the downhill or flatter terrain. I loved that episode in the race.

(Fortunately, the wise walking fellow moved so far ahead of me shortly before mile 26 that I didn't have to pretend that I'd have a chance of beating him. Good for him)

Not so Chilly

The previous week's warm weather clashed sharply with the overnight storm system that loosened the Umstead soil so well. It was humid and barely brisk at the start of the race. So we gathered comfortably in our colorful play clothes outside the lodge in anticipation of the start.

I had the opportunity to talk with famous runner bloggers Barefoot Josh and Der Scott who offered me some fantastic tips about fueling before you need it. This was enormously helpful to me during the race. And, everyone's favorite run-down speed demon, Anthony C. stopped by in his bike gear to wish us good luck.

For the first time, I got a sense of that trail runner camaraderie that more socially acclimated people than I know so well. And, that sort of thing really helps lift one's spirits before and during a race. I mean, I'm happy to relay the ol' "good job" to anyone passing by. But, imparting those tired, overused words to a friend turns out to be more of a benefit to me than the other party, I think. Maybe that's just because I'm so socially inept.

With blood sugar low after my 3:55:50 finish, I felt cold and hungry. So, I scarfed down some calories while chatting with Josh about his awesome 9th-place finish. Then, I put on my jeans and jacket while waiting to congratulate Scott on his new personal best for this race.

The sense of triumph in the air was almost palpable as I watched each runner carry themselves to the finish line. The rain had definitely stopped for the day. But, the temperature remained cool and pleasant. So, hanging around and enjoying that foresty Umstead smell while snacking on Moe's burritos, cookies, and bananas made for a marvelous post-race recovery time.

I can definitely understand why so many people love this race. And, I'm glad to count myself as one of them now.


Inov-8 f-lite 195 for the Umstead Trail Marathon 2012The weapons of choice for this Umstead adventure were the Inov-8 f-lite 195s and a new pair of Injini socks. Both items suited me just fine over those 26.2 miles.

I woke up that morning feeling a little dry in the mouth. So, I opted to carry water with me. I used a new Ultimate Direction ten ounce hand-held bottle, which was okay.

It was nice to have the bottle while I sipped those Honey Stinger gels between miles four and ten. But, then the bottle was empty after that. And, I didn't feel like stopping to fill it. So, I was just carrying an empty bottle for roughly sixteen miles. I'll probably leave the bottle at home next time. The aid stations were sufficient, I'd say, especially in that weather.


The race directors, voluteers, and spectators were supremely awesome! Thank you all so much for standing around in the rain to ensure that our race went as swell as possible.

The aid stations lacked for nothing. And, the biker people were never far away. There's just something about a bright, yellow jacket on a gray, Umstead trail that warms a tired runner's heart, right?

The Cedar Ridge biker fellow had some especially encouraging things to say about training and form while I ran by. And, that was just awesome!

So, thanks so much, Umstead Marathon support team!

And, thank you, dear reader, for scrolling all the way to the bottom of this race report!


  1. Excellent race report, Ash! Also, very good beer selection for the post race libations! You really nailed the camaraderie and the social aspect of UTM, and trail racing scene in general.

    Umstead is a tough puzzle of a race, one you seem to have cracked on your first try. Congrats on a great sub-4 hour finish! I look forward to seeing you out there again, next year.

    1. Thanks Scott! I'm sure I was only able to beat the 4-hour mark, because you told me I had to do it, or something like that. ;-)

      Oh, and, that was my first time trying the Belgian Style IPA. I usually get the Ranger IPA. They're both great, of course.

  2. Ash, loved the recap. I have to agree, the weather was perfect for a trail race. The muddier and wetter, the more fun right? Congrats on a great race!

    I'm curious, where'd you get that elevation profile? I was wondering what it looked like. Weird that it uses much of the 100 miler course but THAT course is 1,000' for only 12.5 miles.

    1. Thanks very much, Mark!
      I took the elevation profile from the Map My Run page for the course linked from the race's website. (here) I assume it's relatively correct. But, I wouldn't be surprised if there was something wrong with it.

  3. Nice race! And nice time for such a technical race on muddy trails - well done! Sounds like a good race to do - I like the idea of off-road / trail marathons.

    1. That's so kind of you to say, Petra! Thank you! This really is the best marathon in Raleigh, NC.
      'Course, you have some spectacular looking off-road races in your corner of the globe, too. I'd love to run one of those fell races!



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