Thursday, March 29, 2012

Umstead Inspiration Trail Photo Tour

The Inspiration Trail appears on the Umstead park map as a 0.3-mile loop attached, like a growth, to the Company Mill Trail spur. I've ignored this tiny loop during previous visits to the park, because adding 0.3 miles to a Company Mill trail run seemed unnecessary, especially when you consider that the Inspiration Trail may actually cause you to get a little lost.

Inspiration Trail Head

But, a hike on 0.3-mile trail is perfectly reasonable for a lunch-break adventure.

Being that it's a loop trail, you can start out to the left or the right. (I went left)Inspiration Trail intersects itself

As with most every other trail in Umstead, this one affords views of a creek.
Inspiration Trail creek view

You may also take a seat and admire the view of this hillside. It's pretty. And, the incessant beeping from busy dump trucks at the neighboring rock quarry really adds something special to the atmosphere.
Inspiration Trail hillside view

A directional sign of some sort would be good here, right on that center tree, perhaps. If you go to the left, you'll follow some sort of unofficial spur that leads to other unofficial spurs. Going to the right seems to be the official route of the Inspiration Trail.
Inspiration Trail mysterious split

I unwittingly chose to go left, thinking the right-turn option was just a short sojourn to another bench. The leftward spur isn't terribly lengthy. So, it's definitely worth going that way unless you're incredibly pressed for time.

The trees seem almost foreboding without leaves on this unofficial spur.
Inspiration Trail spur with ominous trees

The undocumented Inspiration Trail Spur offers up another unofficial spur leading down a somewhat steep hill toward the creek.
Inspiration Trail spur down to the creek

How could you resist?
Inspiration Trail spur still going down to the creek

Due to overbearing vegetation, there's not much else for you to do as you get closer to that creek. If you were a nineties-era couple of lovers with a knife and a penchant for tree carving, however...
Inspiration Trail spur carved tree

Scramble back up that hill and continue along the mystery spur. This is what you just passed over after that hilly interlude.
Inspiration Trail spur intersection with another spur

Death is everywhere.
Inspiration Trail spur dead tree

Oh look! It's another descent on another spur, a spur's spur.
Inspiration Trail spur downward descent number two

And, we're next to the creek again, closer this time. I surprised a black snake sunning itself beside the water here. So, there are snakes. Be advised.
Inspiration Trail spur at the creek

Go ahead and crawl back up that hill to the spur trail.

This funky tree pretty much marks the end of the unofficial part of the Inspiration Trail. If you didn't know you were on the unofficial Inspiration spur, you'd feel a little lost right about now. Luckily, you're reading this blog post.
Inspiration Trail spur ends here

once you've retraced your steps along the Inspiration Trail spur and found your way back to the loop intersection, you'll see some pretty tame, pine-straw laden trail. It looks much like this. Note the reassuring blue-green trail marker.
Inspiration Trail easy path

And, before you know it, you're back at the start of the Inspiration Trail, at which point you can hike further into the park or back towards the parking lot. Watch out for those Company Mill rocks.
Company Mill rocks

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trail Review: Falls Lake Trail - Section 1

Falls Lake Trail: Section 1
(Falls of the Neuse Rd. to Raven Ridge Rd.)

Trail Location: Falls Lake State Recreation Area | Wake Forest, NC
Falls Lake Section 1 Map

Trail Distance:
7 miles (out & back)

Trail Difficulty:
Easy to Moderate

Awesome interactive map* >>
See the Falls Lake Recreation Area map page >>


Some would say that Section 1 of the Falls Lake Mountains to Sea Trail is a very good place to start. This is particularly true in my case, because Section 1 is the portion of Falls Lake that is most convenient, in terms of geographic proximity, to my house (at the moment). Parking is usually plentiful here, too. So, I start my Falls Lake trail runs here more often than not.

Why I'm reviewing Section 1 after sections 4 and 5 is beyond me. It just worked out that way. No one said trail running had to be logically sequential.

Those of you preparing to run the marvelous Mountains to Sea Trail 12-Mile or 50K Challenge, which you should run (if you haven't done so already), will be interested to know that the eastern-most point of Section 1 serves as the finish line for the 12-mile and the turnaround point for the 50K.

In addition to my lengthy narrative below, an alternative account of traversing the Falls Lake Section 1 trail may be read in less time and with fewer complex sentences if you refer to this document, which exists on the site. I'll point out that the document in question does not have my astoundingly saturated, blurry trail photos. Just sayin'.

Running the Trail

If you want the most trail for your time, you'll start at the trail head directly adjacent to the Falls Lake fishing area parking lot, which is called the "Tailrace" fishing area and never seems to close during daylight hours.

The trail begins at a slight incline on a jeep road heading southwest from the parking area. It extends for a few meters until you see the Mountains to Sea Trail sign on your left, tempting you with single-track trail. By all means follow that sign!

Falls Lake Trail Section 1 turns to single-track for a bit here

You'll reach an intersection, at which point you have the option to take a left onto the Falls Lake Raven Ridge trail, which is not part of this review. So, continue following the MST trail (white blazes) to the right up a steeper hill unless you want to see what the Raven Ridge Trail is all about.

(Now that I think about it, I can't believe I haven't checked out this little offshoot of the Falls Lake Mountains to Sea Trail. Next time)

Falls Lake Trail Section 1: A short piece of jeep a trail
Falls Lake Trail Section 1: Follow the trail marker off the jeep trailContinue running up that incline and step nimbly over a few roots here and there. Traipse through a batch of fallen leaves that never seem to dissipate in spite of the season. Then, emerge from this foresty bit to cross a paved (gasp!) road that would take you to the Falls Lake Dam. (Turn right if you really want to see the view from the dam right now. You could see it on your way back, though)

Section 1 of the Falls Lake TrailHop the gate (or go around) barring entrance to another gravel trail and follow tire tracks through knee-high weeds, a tick-infested obstacle course during summer months. This is a short stint off single-track terrain, though, because you'll be following a trail marker to the left right

Don't be dismayed when you suddenly find yourself crossing another paved road. This is the road to the visitor center, which has bathrooms. Look to the right, and you'll see those amenities. Turn left and immediately right again to follow the trail through some smallish pine trees.

Cross a little more pavement and follow the trail marker's arrow toward a set of wooden stairs. These descend to more single-track trail with some good rocks and a nice view of the lake.

Very soon, you will find yourself crossing another piece of pavement. This is the last one until you return to the start. Veer left as you continue along the pine-needle-laden trail. Then make a right when the trail intersects again with the blue-blazed Falls Lake Trail. (Remember that you're following white blazes)

There's some pretty standard single-track terrain through the trees now. You'll skirt the edge of a hillside and leap over a few erosion barriers. Then, you will find yourself running through some fairly short growth for a short time. And, in the heat of the summer, you'll miss the tree cover at this point.

Falls Lake Trail Section 1 leafy single-track

Cross over a utility easement, which gets quite muddy after rain, and continue through more of that dense forest. There are several little hills now. But, the trail is fairly compact for a while. So, you'll feel like zoning out, as if you can just roll with the terrain.

Follow a nifty, narrow piece of the path down a hill to an exceptionally high foot bridge, which carries you over an attractive stream. The trail is sandy with several rocks to step over. Be careful.

Run through some rather overbearing vegetation and spider webs (probably) before breaking through to a spacious portion of the trail. More scenic views of the lake can be enjoyed here as you run near the shore.

Pay attention to a steep dip in the trail, which acts as a runoff stream when there's a surplus of water. Get your feet wet if necessary.

Falls Lake Trail Section 1 gets rolling
Falls Lake Section 1 at Raven Ridge Rd.

The sounds of speeding cars will crescendo as you get closer to Raven Ridge Road. The lakeside byway is visible and, before you know it, you'll see bright sunlight reflecting off the pavement in front of you. You've reached the end of Section 1.

Turn around to run it all again for a full 7 miler. Or, maybe you're feeling adventurous and want to check out Section 2, which will add another 5.2 total miles (out and back) to your run. Turn right and follow the road by the lake to find Section 2, you crazy runner, you.

My Favorite Features of Falls Lake Trail Section 1:

  • Easy access to the trail head on the east side.
  • The rolling terrain (for the most part) gives a nice flow to the trail. And, the hills are a great workout.
  • Marvelous views of the lake make it hard not to love this section. The dam is worth checking out before or after your run.
  • Crazy-ass deer with no fear of people. They just stand in your way and dare you to make them move.

Features I Dislike:

  • I'm not fond of the pavement crossings. It kind of feels like you don't really get started until you're finally done with those. But, they're not terrible.
  • Spider webs and deer flies are plentiful in the warmer months.
  • Hunting season makes me nervous.

Getting There

Falls Lake Trail parking area near the damAs I mentioned above, my favorite way to access Section 1 of Falls Lake is via the Tailrace Fishing Area parking lot at the intersection of Falls of the Neuse Rd. and Pleasant Union Church Rd. This is a great place for parking, because the gate here does not close at silly times like the gate at the main entrance to the dam and visitor center. Plus, there are bathrooms.

Of course, you could always park at the other side of Section 1 if it's convenient. You would just park on the shoulder of Raven Ridge Rd. and run. Obviously, there's no gate to bar your way at off hours here.


Falls Lake Trail Section 1 is one of my favorite trails in the Triangle, mostly due to time spent running there. I wish I had better photos posted in this review, because the trail is significantly more appealing than what I'm showing you.

Essentially, you just need to go over to Falls Lake and check out the trail for yourself. Or, hey, sign up for the MST 12-Mile and 50K Challenge!

The Falls Lake Trail Section Four Elevation Profile.

Once again, I've borrowed the elevation profile below from the MST 12-Mile Challenge race website. This image depicts elevation for Falls Lake trail sections 4 through 1. So, guesstimate the last 3.5 miles indicated on the right side of the profile image to get an idea of Section 1's elevation profile.
Mountains to Sea Elevation Chart from Bull City Running

More Triangle-Area Trail Reviews >>

* Albeit not accurate in relation to the map pictured above, which is the map I generally follow. And, you're most likely going to follow that map, too, since your a runner; the map pictured above.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New Balance Minimus Trail Zero, a 12athon DNS, and Gear

Zero Zeros for Me (So Far)

Whoa people! Can you believe I haven't posted an exceedingly lengthy review of the New Balance Minimus Zero Trail and Road shoes yet?

Minimus Zero Collection courtesy of Minimalist Running Shoes I mean, I've been anxious to see the Zeros in living color ever since New Balance published those detail photos and, later, a profile of the designers several months ago.

And, then there was that first week in December when everyone seemed to have a review pair, except for me. And, I wondered how many fn' page views a blogger needs to receive each month in order for New Balance to take notice (or acknowledge a friendly email).

Anyway, by now there's a plethora of reviews about the New Balance Minimus Zero on the web. And, strangely, I'm not feeling as anxious to buy a pair as I thought I'd be.

See, the thing is that there are so many more minimalish shoes out there now than there were when the New Balance MT10 Minimus Trail broke on the scene last year. And, it was a game changer. Now, in 2012, the minimalist shoe market is quite a bit more competitive. And, I'm not going just plunk down $100 on a pair of shoes just because they're so pretty. (And, they are pretty)

But, if someone were to give me a pair of the Minimus Zeros, like, as a prize, or something, I'd certainly say thank you.

A 12athon DNS

So, it seems that my enthusiasm for completing the Umstead Marathon dulled my sensitivity to complaints lodged by a certain tendon in a certain ankle. And, it wasn't until my first run three days after the marathon that I finally took notice of, and processed, said complaints.

Four days of apologetic non-running were, apparently, unacceptable recompense for my insensitivity during marathon training from the tendon's point of view. So, I had to concede that this month's 12athon would be my first running event DNS (did not show, for those of you wondering what that acronym represents). Naturally, I am dismayed.

I completed 3.14 miles this morning. But, the tendon is still cranky, which makes me fn' cranky.

Virtual 12athon Shirt

Speaking of the 12athon

There's official Virtual 12athon gear, which may be purchased here! How cool is that? (Answer: Very cool indeed.)

There's a shirt, a hat, and a water bottle. I plan on buying all three before the end of the year, because the logo is so cool.

That's It

Sorry for the sundry-style post. I just wanted to get that bit about the Minimus Zero on the blog. And, I'd been meaning to write something else about the marathon, just to remind you all that I ran it and loved it (in spite of the injury I seem to be suffering as a result).

And, I wanted to mention the 12athon gear here, too.

So, really, all three components of this post are equally important, not just the first one.

Oh, and I just wanted to say "hi" and wish you all a happy Spring day.

That's all, really.

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!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Running in the Rain: Suggestions for Umstead Marathon Runners

If you're planning to run the Umstead Marathon this Saturday, and you're trying to find ways to divert your attention from running by thinking of things indirectly related to running—such as the weather—then you've probably checked the Raleigh weather forecast at least twice already. And, you would have seen forecast imagery that looks like this.

East Coast 3-3-2012 forecastThe green glob spanning much of the East Coast represents rain, folks. And, unless the local meteorologists are conspiring against our collective Umstead state of mind, then we can expect to see some precipitation during the race Saturday morning/afternoon. So, let's examine some helpful tips for running in the rain to prepare us for this 26.2-mile adventure.

First of all, we must respect and acknowledge that certain weather conditions, "inclement weather" to be precise, will require the race directors to "cancel" the marathon. (My assumption is that lightning will be the determining factor) Online dictionaries define "inclement" with words like stormy, severe, tempestuous, and a bunch of other subjectively vague terms.

But, whatever the directors decide Saturday morning, we must understand that things would go very badly for them indeed if some poor runner were zapped by lightning while they, the race directors, were the responsible parties.

Now, if the race is "canceled" due to inclement weather, I see no reason why we can't just have a fun run of sorts. And, if the directors wanted to leave the pint glasses and trophies in a box at the finish line for us, that would be fine.

Anyway, legal stuff aside, here are those rain running tips for Umstead:

Leave your race shoes in the car until race time. Walking around in the mud while it's raining is a good way to make your feet unhappy before you force them to carry you for 26.2 miles.

Sure, you and your feet know that they're going to get wet anyway if it's raining. But, feet generally like to stay as dry as possible for as long as possible. So, if you start out with soggy, muddy shoes right away, you can be sure that your feet are going to find a way to tell your mind that you're an asshole. And, when your mind hears that kind of talk from your supporting body parts at the beginning of a marathon, you're pretty much screwed.

So, walk to the registration table barefoot if you have to. And, just before the start time, go dry off your feet and retrieve your shoes. If your car is parked far away, carry your shoes and a towel in a plastic bag while you mull about the starting area.

muddy shoe printChoose footwear wisely. Single-track trails can be slippery when wet. They're riddled with smooth rocks, loosely fallen foliage, and roots. These are all things that can be even more precarious with rain. So, footwear capable of traversing such slippery stuff is ideal.

However, single-track trails make up roughly 19% of the total marathon course. So, don't go overboard with the shoe selection debate. Bridle trails with crushed gravel are not so slippery when wet. And, unless there's a deluge eroding whole pieces of Turkey Creek Trail away, you won't need the Bare-Grip 200 to get you through a rainy Umstead landscape. Just be careful on the single-track stuff.

Don't let the puddles mess with you. I had the good fortune to run on Loblolly during inclement weather a few months ago. And, aside from the cracking sounds of thunder and brief periods of hail, the things that made me run faster than I'd intended were the precariously positioned puddles that formed suddenly along the trail.

It's reflexive to try and leap over a puddle or evade it as best we can. And, that requires some extra energy. But, really, if your already soaked, the best thing to do is run right through! Don't waste your energy unnecessarily during a marathon.

(Again, this is more of a single-track issue. So, most of your race will not be affected by puddles. But, if there are puddles in your path, try to conserve your energy)

Dress for the temperature. Sure, rain makes the temperature colder. But, if it's 60 degrees and raining, you do not need your jacket while you run a marathon. You'll overheat or find yourself stuck carrying a jacket for a few miles. And, why would you want to carry a jacket during your race? Why?

Wearing a hat with a brim keeps the rain out of your eyes. Not much else to say about that unless you wear the hat backwards.

The techiest technical fabric in your running wardrobe will be your friend. So will things like band aids, Vaseline, and Body Glide.

Wetness and chafing go together all too well, I'm afraid. And, that cotton blend just isn't going to cut it if you want to avoid chafing.

Don't count on running your fastest race if it's raining. Muddy trails, potentially strong winds, and, um, rain do a lot to slow runners down. So, just take care of yourself out there. Don't kill yourself. Don't keep looking at your watch or Garmin. Running in the rain is a lot of fun, actually. And, even if this doesn't turn out to be your fastest marathon, it might be the most fun yet!

See you on Saturday!


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