Learn : Marathon Story  

Running Background:

I consider myself an intermediate runner and I primarily run as a hobby. I decided to run a marathon because the race is the goal, and it inspires the training. The training is a lot more important than the goal, but without the goal it mostly gets put off.


I didn't follow a specific training program. I averaged about 50 miles per week leading up to the race.

In terms of training advice, I took a page from the ultramarathoners training plan -- I did a fair number of back-to-back long days. Up to 17 on one day and 18 the next. It worked quite well for me.

Race Day:

The 2008 Umstead Marathon was better than expected. It started with rain, which is kind of unusual for the area 'cause its been in a drought for the past couple of years. Also unusual is that it's been preceded by a week that's had more rainfall than the rest of the year combined.

The rain turned trails into creeks and creeks into streams and streams into... bigger streams. But it also turned all our socks into soggy messes. All part of running, but wet socks tends to lead to blisters, even if they're "blister free" socks.

And so we began, cold, wet, excitedly miserable (or maybe miserably excited) into the 5th running of the Umstead Marathon; a race with its ups and downs. And ups. And ups. And even more ups which didn't seem quite fair, because the downs were so easy and fast and the ups were so difficult and slow. And tiring. And tough.

I started out lucky, meaning I had some friends with whom I'd run a few times in the park prior to the race. We chatted about running and tapering and how lucky we were that the rain slowed down and eventually stopped. And after about two miles or so our talking stopped because we hit the single track trail, and we couldn't hear one another over the squelching of our feet in the mud, or splashing through water.

(I am exaggerating. Some.)

There were hills, but they were fine because it was early in the race and we were all feeling pretty frisky. There were rocks, and roots, but being careful kept anyone I saw from face planting. There was water, but I've already mentioned that ad nauseam.

And then we were free; back on the bridal trails; roads of hard packed dirt which are a pleasure to run. Better, the first few miles after breaking out of the single track are minor inclines or major declines, and I felt like I was flying. And then the first uphill comes.

And another.

And soon I was on Turkey Creek Road thinking -- well, the uphill is protecting me from the wind, which they promised to be 20-30 mph today, so I'm glad. When I crested that hill, the wind was in my face and I thought: well, the wind is in my face and it's keeping me from over striding and it'll be a really nice awesome help on the way back. And if feels deliciously cool, so that's nice too.

Of course, I really didn't notice the wind helping me all that much on the way back. But it was at this point I really started to feel myself smile. I mean, I think I was floating on a sea of endorphin between mile 11 and mile 19, and it felt quite nice. I ran and thought about my form. I ran and thought about my friends. I ran and thought about a poor friend who was probably running in three feet of snow, sleet and sub zero temps. And he may be one of the few who actually makes it this far into my rambling race report, so I don't mind mentioning it. :)

I also thought about the hot spot(s) on my right foot, and how Asics shoes tend to be a little too narrow in the forefoot for me, and how I bet that my pinky toe and rubbed itself bloody. This little piggy squealed "ouch! Ouch! ouch!" all the way home. And the joys of bloodstained socks. Badge of toughness, stupidity, or both. In my case, probably more the latter than the former.

I finished Turkey Creek and found myself measuring myself against the next challenge -- the corkscrew. The traitorous wind, so kind earlier in the race, now blew full force into my face when I could least afford it. Typically, when I'm confronted with a hill, I'm able to detach myself from reality and run it a step at a time, not letting myself see the full amount of work I have to do to conquer. This time, though, I whined and complained and bitterly thought to myself: "Will this flipping hill ever end?"

It might've, but I'm wondering if I'm going to be running it again in my nightmares after the race.

In a last little bit of trauma, there's an out and back 2.5 mile section of the course called Cedar Ridge, which would have more appropriately be named "Insult to Injury." It starts around mile 21.5, and running down it isn't bad, unless you count the fact that it's pure torture on legs already abused by all sorts of unsavory hills earlier in the race. But knowing that you had to run up it again -- that every agonized step downward would be paid for with interest by an even more agonized step upward. I marked out the parts I'd walk up by how little control I had over my legs on the way down.

I finished that little jaunt and hit mile 25 with about 14 minutes left to go before my four hour time goal. At this point, my brain was so glycogen deprived I couldn't remember if that meant I had 1.2 miles left to go, or 2.2, and I thought I'd better stick with the larger number just so I won't be crushed if I'm wrong.

I knew that two miles in 14 minutes was a seven minute mile, and I've run a seven minute mile before, so it was possible that I'd make my goal. But I also thought about my other goals -- and realized somewhat distantly that those goals were in the bag, barring injury, blowing up, smacking against the wall, or being run over by a bicyclist.

Or choking on a gummy bear. That happened earlier in the race. Thankfully, I was all out of gummy bears, so it was a lot less likely. But I still worried about it as a possibility.

I kept running. There were a couple of women with baby joggers going up a hill, and I wanted to catch them because I didn't want to be beaten by women pushing baby joggers. Then I realized that baby joggers weren't allowed on the race and wondered if I was really in trouble, because I had started to hallucinate. Then when we all reached the summit of the hill and they cheered me as I passed them I realized they weren't part of the race after all, but my mind had tricked me into running the hill when my body desperately want to walk, and I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or angry.

I was still mulling that over when I saw the finish line. Somehow I called upon my legs to move faster, and they did. I finished strong, happy, and with a smile on my face -- or maybe that's a grimace of pain... sometimes it's hard to tell the dif.

But I do feel like it's effected my writing style -- for better or worse, it's kind of hard to tell. And if you've made it this far -- Thanks! I think I'm still on some sort of endorphin high, so I have no idea whether I'm being coherent.

My final stats:
Distance- 26.2 (26.56 according to Garmin)
Time- 3:57:44
Pace- 9:04 (8:51)
Climb- good question. Garmin Training center says 9781 feet, which I find hard to believe. Ascent (with smoothing set to 84, whatever that means) says 5408 feet, which feels a lot closer but still might be an overestimate.

It was a great race; a lot of fun, with wonderful runners, awesome volunteers, and a very nice goodie bag (yay free smartwool socks!) now all I have to do is figure out how long it'll take me to recover...


My recovery wasn't too bad. I took a cold shower directed toward my legs, and I used a foam roller -- It's painful, but it works.

Running Gear Recommendations:

Garmin Forerunner 305
Kept me honest about my distances, warned me when I was in danger of overtraining, and helped me spot measurable improvements in time, heart rate, and that sort of thing over my regular course.
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GU Energy Gel
Kept my sugar from crashing during long training runs and during the race. Even though it was a tough, tough race, I didn't hit the wall.
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Smartwool Socks
Though I did get blisters, they were still far less than they could have been, considering my feet were sopping wet.
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Tips/Words of Encouragement:

Find a mantra. Make it yours, and never let your negative thoughts take control. Never let your focus dwell upon how much pain you're in, or how fatigued you are, or how easy it would be to give up. Focus on the positive. Failing that, focus on the neutral. But focus on something! :)

Plans to Run Another:

I'm planning to continue to run marathons because they keep my training on track.

Looking back at this race, I probably wouldn't have brought my hand-held water bottle -- it was more of a distraction than a help. I trained with it, but I don't think I needed it during the race. But, it was sort of like a safety blanket...

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