Monday, March 12, 2012

Bel Monte Looms Large

I have set the Bel Monte 50 Mile Endurance Run as a major goal for 2012 (second only to Leadville).  I ran it in 2010, and, not to sound overly dramatic, it changed my life.  It was the first time I had ever run 50 miles and was by far the most difficult course I had ever run.  I managed to get past all the cut off times (barely) and make it to the finish in 12 hours and 30 minutes, a whopping half hour before they packed everything up and stopped handing out medals.  During that race, I swore at least half a dozen times that I would never run a step again.  Then things would get better, and I would be on cloud nine.  I basically spent 12 and a half hours running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia like an improperly medicated bi-polar lunatic.  I loved it.  When I finally finished I experienced a profound sense of accomplishment, one I have not truly felt again.  While I was proud and excited to finish the Umstead 100 last year, it wasn't the same.

They have changed the course for 2012, but it still stands to be an exceptionally challenging race, as you can see by this elevation profile.

It boasts 12,141.9 feet of elevation gain and 11,767 feet of elevation loss.  Over the course of the 49.7 mile course, there are 25.2 miles of climbing and 24.9 miles of descending. Do the math, boys and girls, and it is painfully clear that there isn't a single flat moment on the course.

Ever since 2010, this race has held a special place in my heart.  When they opened the registration for 2012 I quickly signed up.  By this point in my training, I planned that I would have been running 60-70 miles a week, with several long runs under my belt.  Unfortunately, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my left hip in late January.  It has been sporadic and unpredictable.  There were times when it hurt so much that I felt I couldn't walk.  Then there are days when it doesn't hurt at all.  Stretching and rolling it seem to have little to no effect on the pain.  As a result, I have dialed back my mileage to a much lower level than I had wanted.  In fact, today was the first day I have run since the Umstead Trail Marathon last weekend. Things went very well at Umstead, and I had little to no hip pain, so my plan was to run a few days during the week and then hit as much single track on Sunday as I could stand/schedule.   I attempted a short 45 minute run on Tuesday night but was forced to abandon 30 seconds in when my recurring hip pain loudly announced its presence.  Bummer.

I was forced to step back and reevaluate my plan.  A reasonable man would recognize his situation,  acknowledge his pain/injury,  and accept that his lack of training would be a problem.  However, it has been said that "you won't find reasonable men on top of tall mountains."  I believe the same can be said for ultra runners.  After 30 or 40 seconds of careful consideration I decided on the following course of action:  run Sunday morning, as far as I could (at least 30 miles and hopefully closer to 40), at Umstead, with as much single track as possible, rest copiously for two weeks, travel to Virginia and run 50 miles of trails in the mountains.  Genius!  How could this plan fail?  Yes, I told Wendy I was sure this was the thing to do.  She replied that it sounded like something I would do.

My motivation to get out and run was further fueled by a recent purchase.  For several months now I have had my eye on a Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab hydration pack.  I have read several reviews, and everyone has rave things to say about it.  There were a couple of things holding me back.  Number 1, it's very pricey.  Number 2, I couldn't find anyone who carried it locally.  On Monday, I happened to find it on REI's website.  I have been a member there for years and love the fact that there is no risk with anything you buy.  You can always return it if you aren't completely satisfied with it.  That was enough for me.  I showed it to Wendy and her response was that I probably need it, and I should get it.  A matter of seconds later I had submitted my credit card number, and it was on its way to my local REI.  It arrived on Wednesday, but my work/family schedule didn't let me get there until Friday.  I was super excited to open it and try it on and very much looking forward to putting it through its paces on the trail.  Hip be damned.  I plan on using it for Bel Monte and will write a thorough review of it as a part of that race report.

The alarm went off at 4:45 Sunday morning, which was really 3:45 (thank you very much daylight savings time), and I met Tim on the outskirts of the park at 5:30.  He wanted to get in a short run, so we ran together for the first 3 hours.  We started off nice and slow in the pre-dawn cold, giving our bodies a chance to adapt to the cold temperature and early morning activity.  The night sky was crystal clear, and the moon was almost full and brilliantly bright - so bright, in fact, that we didn't even need our headlamps.  As we continued to run we gained momentum and were moving along at a decent clip by the time the sun finally broke over the horizon. After covering about 18 miles of bike/bridle trail and some single track we stopped back by the cars and Tim headed home.  I downed a granola bar and headed back out for another 2-3 hours.  Around the fourth hour I could really feel the fatigue setting in. I had run Umstead last weekend and Black Mountain the week before that.  My legs were heavy, and I was out of gas.  I ended up covering right around 30 miles in just over 5 hours.  I was whipped when I got back to the car.  I hadn't gone as far as I wanted, but I had suffered on the trail.  I am a strong believer that a run  in which you suffer helps to prepare you - physically, mentally, and emotionally - for a long difficult race. It is important to remind yourself that while it may really suck right now, as long as you keep going, it will get better. It can't and won't stay that bad for the rest of the race.  (This is a lesson I do my best to apply to life as well as running.)

So now I'm home, showered, and changed, with a full stomach and a little ibuprofen in my system.  I am looking forward to Bel Monte in two weeks.  I'm also scared of it.  Really scared.  I know it is a tough race, even when you are properly trained and injury free.  I will get as much rest as I can for the next two weeks and go in to the race a little undertrained, but hopefully not too injured.  Even if it's awful, it should be awesome.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Umstead Trail Marathon Race Report

The Ninth Annual

Umstead Trail Marathon

March 3, 2012

William B. Umstead State Park

This past Saturday Wendy and I ran the 9th Annual Umstead Trail Marathon.  This was the 7th time I've run this race, and I plan on returning every year as long as I am able and they will have me.


The UTM, which is put on by the Carolina Godiva Track Club, takes place entirely within the borders of Umstead State Park, in Raleigh NC.  It starts out at Camp Lapihio, deep inside the park.  The race is capped at 200 runners and quickly fills up each year.  Runners start out at the lodge and follow the bike and bridle trail for the first couple of miles before turning onto some single track.  The bike and bridle trails are wide and smooth, made up of finely crushed rock and hard packed dirt.  The single track varies greatly depending on where you are.  Some sections are soft and relatively easy, while others are extremely technical with lots of rocks and roots.  This year we had the added bonus of water and mud, but more on that later.

All of the single track is at the front 1/3 of the race, finishing up between mile 8 and 9.  You can see the course map here.  After that runners will stick to the bridle trail (mostly).  However, there are still lots and lots of hills with which to contend.  After finishing the single track, the course runs up a short, but steep hill and turns left onto Reedy Creek trail.  This section of trail rolls downhill for about a mile, crosses a beautiful wooden bridge, and then goes up for about 3/4 of a mile.  At the top it turns left onto Turkey Creek Trail.  This section of the trail has been compared to the profile of a house key.  It is constantly rolling up and down for several miles.  At the end of Turkey Creek, there is a short out and back to the turn around and then back down Turkey Creek in the opposite direction.  In spite of its hills, Turkey Creek is a fun section because you get to see so many other runners.

Just past mile 21, as runners are headed back toward the camp, there is a detour down Cedar Ridge trail.  This section of trail, which is about 1.3 miles, drops down to Crabtree Creek before turning around and heading back up.  This is a tough section of the course mentally as well as physically.  The trail is rockier than the rest of the bridle trial and you know running down you have to turn around and come back up.  The good news is that at the top you have less than two miles to go.

The final challenge at around mile 25 is Cemetery Hill, which is a short, but very steep rise.  (It seems a lot steeper after 25 miles than when you are fresh.)  After that the course rolls gently back down to the start finish area, where runners are greeted enthusiastically and presented with a pint glass, a chance to win a door prize, and lots of excellent food.

The organization, aid stations, and volunteers for this race are all incredible.  I can't say enough positive things about it.


Friday night Wendy and I dropped the kids off with her parents, ordered a pizza and a movie, and relaxed at home.  The 9am race start, along with the fact that we live 5 minutes from the park entrance, meant that we got to sleep until about 7am, which is an incredible luxury on race day.

We drifted off to sleep Friday evening with the sound of the rain POURING down outside.  The forecast for Saturday morning called for temperatures in the low 60s with 100% chance of rain through 10am. After that the temperature was supposed to drop slightly throughout the day.

Sure enough when we got up Saturday everything was soaked, and it was still raining.  Our friend Tim, who frequently appears in this blog, stopped by and picked us up a little after 7:30 and we headed to the park.

Because of its size, the logistics of this race are incredibly simple.  There is a lodge with a fireplace, where runners can hang out and keep warm right up until the race start.  The lines for the porta-johns aren't even that long.

By the time the race director said "GO" it had stopped raining, but the clouds were still low and heavy. My plan for this race was to run in full support of Wendy.  She had been training well and running strong.  This was her 10th marathon and the first one she had ever run where she wasn't somewhat injured or sick, or both.  She ran it last year in 4:22 and was hoping to beat that time.  I, on the other hand, ran the Black Mountain Marathon last weekend and have been nursing a hip injury.  So I told her to run her own race and that I would try to keep up with her as long as I could.  I figured, if I had a great day, I could hang with her through the first half.  The first quarter mile of the race is a gradual incline up to the main section of the bridle trail.  I just followed her and tried to keep my heart from exploding.  As she glided effortlessly up the hill, I thought I was in serious trouble.  Thankfully, I managed to hang on until the grade leveled out and was able to recover on the flat and downhill sections.  This process repeated itself over and over again for the first 10 miles or so.  Each time I thought I was redlined and about to lose her, two things happened.  I put my head down and said just hang on a little bit longer, and then, either the grade would level out, or we would get behind a slightly slower runner on the single track, forcing her to slow down just long enough that I didn't throw up.

The rain had turned large portions of the course into a soupy, muddy mess.  Lots of people slowed way down or tried to jump over or around the puddles and mud.  I knew that there was no way to keep my feet dry on that course, and I was trying to save as much energy as I could, so I just took the most direct line every chance I could.  That often meant running straight through the mud and water.  After all, what's the point of a trail race if you can't splash through the puddles?  I mean, really!?!  The rain came back around 10:30 and really came down for a while.  It was perfect timing and served to cool me off, as I was starting to feel warm from the exertion.  Plus, I love to run in the rain.  It's almost like I can feel the water absorbing into my body and giving me energy.  It is by far my favorite running weather.

We were averaging right around a 9 minute pace for the first 6 miles or so, and Wendy was running well.   Just before mile seven, one of the volunteers told Wendy that she was the 9th female overall.  Although she didn't admit it at the time, that lit a real fire under her.  She knew she was running well and wanted to keep it up.  The first 15 men and women each get a plaque.  She finished as the 16th woman a few years ago and has really wanted that plaque for a while.

We had the number 8 and 7 female in our sight for a while after that.  At the second turn around just before mile 15 we finally got a chance to see how close the next woman was behind us.  The answer, close.  There was a whole herd of them, just behind us.  Shortly after this Wendy started to run out of gas.  She had only brought 3 gels with her and had already eaten two.  We quickly discussed strategy about how to keep up her energy level.  As we were formulating a strategy and deciding what would be best to eat at the aid stations, she slipped a couple of places, down to 12th overall.  We played leap frog with a couple of other women coming back on Turkey Creek, yo-yoing between 10th and 12th place.  We passed a woman who had been several minutes in front of us for a long time as we were coming back up Cedar Ridge Trail and then it was a race for 10th place with Carrie Bertolozzi, who still had the ability run uphill.  Wendy would pass her on the flat, only to have her pass us again on the uphill sections, over and over again.  Finally, after watching her run up Cemetery Hill ahead of us, we were able to pick up the pace for the last mile to pass her.  She was a fantastic rabbit and a good sport the whole time.

As we crossed the finish line they announced our names and said that Wendy was the 9th female overall.  Two seconds later, they corrected that to 10th overall, in 4hrs 10 minutes and 38 seconds.  This was her second fastest marathon and a truly amazing experience.

It was a great race for me as well.  I loved that we got to do it together and that I got to experience her high placing vicariously.  (In order for me to have placed in the top 10 for the men, I would have had to have run a 3:32, and that is not going to happen.)  I also had an amazing race.  I love the course and the race, the runners and the volunteers.  On top of that I went in with very low expectations and ended up running my fastest time for the UTM by 11 minutes.

Tim, who ran the Mount Mitchell Challenge last weekend also had an amazing day.  He ran it in 4:24, which was within a minute of his time last year.  He said after the race that this was the first time he had ever run tired from start to finish.  Pretty impressive performance for someone who ran to the top of the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and back down only a week ago.


No major injuries.  My hip hurts like the dickens, but it has for a while now, so I can't blame the race for that.  We have a couple of pairs of VERY muddy shoes, and I have one spot of nasty chafe where my shorts rubbed my thigh raw.  Other than that, we're both in good shape and ready for the next adventure.  Thanks to Carolina Godiva Track Club for an amazing race, Umstead State Park for hosting us, and to Raleigh Running Outfitters for their continued support.


Wendy on the way to the race

Tim trying to concentrate while flashbulbs pop in the car.

Inside the lodge-Pre-race (hello, reflective clothing)

Preparing the Start/Finish banner

More race prep

The crowd mingles and waits for the start

Inside the lodge, moments before the start

Racers head outside for the start (That's Tim in the center)

Runners line up

Just moments to go

A very blurry shot of Wendy on the single track

Turkey Creek

Typical of my view of Wendy for most of the race

Wendy right after crossing the line, with her 10th place award

Happy and Tired

Each year of the race has a different shirt and a different mascot

Carolyn gets her picture taken for a change

Tim Crosses the line

Great Run.

Post race chow

Chips and salsa hit the spot for some

while others opt for a burrito

That's right.  She ran the whole race in a tutu

Just the way trail shoes are supposed to look


Bottle- Nathan  Hand held sprint
Belt-Nathan-Shadow Pack
Nutrition - Powerbar Gel

Bottle-Ultimate Direction Handheld fastdraw-extreme
Belt- Nathan 5k-runners-pak
Socks - Smartwool
Nutrition - Powerbar Gel Blasts
Bandaids - Sponge Bob Square Pants