Sunday, March 25, 2012

Umstead Trail Marathon

I registered for the Umstead Trail Marathon as a training race for my true goal race of the entire year, the Umstead 100 Endurance Run. The marathon was 4 weeks prior to the 100 on March 3rd, 2012 and uses some of the same course and the same start/finish area. But first, a little background on the challenges I faced in the weeks before the race:

On January 28th 2012 (two weeks after a successful 100K at Weymouth), I was running with my friend Bob Sites at Umstead park and my left foot starting hurting. It wasn't too bad and it didn't seem to get worse as we went along, so we finished the 11.5 mile run and I went home. Unfortunately, when I got out of my car, I immediately knew I had a problem as I was now limping at the walk due to the discomfort under the outside of my foot. I called my PT first thing Monday am and somehow miraculously got an appointment for that afternoon. My PT and the othopedist he sent me to later than week both diagnosed it as peroneus brevis tendonitis, likely a result of the multiple sprains I endured at Pine Mountain 40 back on December 4th. At the time, I thought the sprains were not such a big deal as I finished the race and following it, could run without pain. My training since Pine Mountain included a 41 miler at Umstead and Weymouth Woods 100k and my ankle did not bother me at all during those runs. But...apparently, I had stretched the ligaments out so badly that my ankle is now "VERY LOOSE" in the words of both the PT and the orthopedist and the peroneus brevis tendon was having to work extra hard to stabilize my foot. I was experiencing moderate pain where the tendon attached to the fifth metatarsal. Knowing I had only 5 short weeks before Umstead marathon and just 9 weeks before my goal race of the Umstead 100, I got myself in a walking boot and wore it all times except for when I rode my bike, showered, and slept. I iced and heat packed my foot at my desk at work several times a day. I also started on Ibuprofen at the insistence of my PT (I have been trying not to use it for running pain since I read of the adverse effects on healing), started applying Voltaren gel (a topical anti-inflammatory that is absorbed through the skin) four times a day, and started doing the PT recommended ankle strengthening exercises.
I took two weeks completely off from running and started riding my bike as much as possible since I could ride without any pain and was hoping to maintain some fitness that way. I saw the PT 2-3 times a week for the next 5 weeks and he did massage, ETS, and ultrasound therapy. My foot did improve and after 2 weeks I started back running just 2 or 3 flat miles at a time and carefully worked my way up to a 10 mile hilly run at Umstead a week before the Umstead Trail Marathon. I got out of the walking boot the weekend before the race and was feeling okay.

Prior to my injury, I planned to run 6 miles before the marathon to make it a last long run of 32ish before the 100. However, seeing as I was now coming back from an injury, I just hoped to get through the marathon without a relapse of my tendonitis. I needed to finish it in one piece to regain confidence for the long haul. If I couldn't make it through the marathon, I would be more worried than I already was about a successful finish at the 100.

My favorite big green mossy tree on Reedy Creek hill
Race day arrived with predictions of thunderstorms, some severe, rain and temps in the 60s. I went into it fully expecting a downpour while we ran. The totem animal of the race this year was a bat and the race shirts were a nice deep blue color. I saw many friends before the start and found Elizabeth, whom I had talked into running the marathon with me months ago. She had run this race as her first, second and only marathons a few years ago. I convinced her we would be taking it easy and running it "ultra style" as a training run for the 100 and it would be a great time and she agreed to join me.

E and I on the Reedy Creek hill
The start time of 9:00 AM arrived and we were off down the trail, taking it easy.  We ran all the downhills and flats and walked any significant hills. There were only a couple of light showers though it was humid and fairly warm the entire time. There are about 5 miles of single track trail early on in the course and there were some muddy sections. At one point, I put my left foot smack dab in the middle of a mud puddle and I felt the water and grit immediately seep into my shoe. I was careful on the single track as my PT had warned me to avoid trail running until I could get my ankle more stable. I walked through any questionable footing. The last thing I needed to do was sprain it again and cause more problems before the 100. I had taped both ankles for the race to help prevent me from turning them and re-injuring myself. We saw Rhonda Hampton, my ultra mentor a couple of times as we emerged from the woods and crossed the bridle path to the next section of single track. Rhonda was on her bike and caught me running a few times and commented that I should not be running the trails - I should be walking them. Technically, she was right as I had been advised to not run single track at all until my ankle was stronger and more stable. She knew how careful I needed to be and how important it was for me to start the 100 healthy, so I did not mind her being my "mother hen". Thankfully, we made it through the single track sections without incident and got to the smooth bridle path that was the remainder of the course. I was able to run a bit more freely without so much caution and that was a relief.
Smiling for Gene on the narrow bridge
The creeks throughout the park were swollen from the heavy rain the night before.
For the first 11 miles or so, I was feeling pretty good considering I hadn't run farther than 10 miles and I'd only done that once since Jan. 28th when I hurt my foot. However, I started feeling ill at about mile 11 on the first trip on the infamous Turkey Creek trail (we would take the trail out the hard direction and then back the "easy" direction during the race). We saw Gene Meade and Amy Surrette's daughter, Kayla, just as we ran over the narrow bridge. Gene was out to support the runners and take some pictures. During this time we saw lots of familiar faster faces coming back the other way having already made it to the turn around. In all fairness, I must say E is much faster than I am and she was running the race my pace. She could have had a much better time than we ended up with had she not been running it for fun with me. We continued on Turkey Creek, passed the aid station where I believe I saw pink flamingos stuck in the ground - or maybe I was having a daytime hallucination - and where my friend Mo Percy was volunteering, finally reached Graylyn, ran the spur down to the bike and bridle trail head where there was another aid station, came back up that hill and then started on Turkey Creek back the way we had just come.  We saw Gene again at the pink flamingo aid station. He took this photo of us on our way back through. I love this one because he really captured the feeling of running in the humidity on a tough course and of the struggle I was personally having to keep going strong despite not feeling well. I have never felt so bad during a marathon distance before.
Gene took this picture just after passing the Turkey Creek aid station on the way back. It captures the internal struggle I was having.
We saw ultra veteran Sally Squires and ran near her for a while. She was concerned with making the last cut off which was at the top of Cedar Ridge and this got us concerned since we were right there with her. We picked up the pace some then despite my queesy stomach and headed back to Reedy Creek trail. The problem that I was having is that I didn't want to eat because I was afraid my stomach would reject it, but I did not have any gas in the tank due to not eating. I was, as they say, bonking. I finally took a chance and had a gel and some honey stinger chews once we were back on Reedy Creek trail. I hoped it would be fine and it was. I perked up a bit with the sugar. Don't get me wrong, I was not jumping up and down with the thrill of running at the moment, but at least I was able to suck it up.We walked with a purpose up the cork screw hill to Cedar Ridge, now on a mission. At the aid station at Cedar Ridge, we made the cut off with maybe 15 or so minutes to spare. I munched on a cup of salty Fritos and we were cheered down the trail by the encouraging volunteers.

We started down Cedar Ridge, arguably the toughest part of the course which was deviously placed by the organizers at miles 21-24. We saw Jimbo Plant looking strong and grinning on his way back up the trail.

Jimbo Plant on Cedar Ridge
 Cedar Ridge has some rocky and uneven places and though it is not single track, I took care with each foot placement as we ran it. Soon enough, we reached the bottom and the turn around just before the creek. I think it would make things more interesting if the course took us through it in future years. It would have been especially fun with the full muddy creek this year.
E and I at the bottom of Cedar Ridge
 So, back up the trail we went in the hard direction with plenty of climbing but at least we were pretty close to the finish, relatively speaking. When we got back to Graylyn, I swear E took off. I know we really weren't moving that fast - it was probably about a 10 min mile, but it sure felt faster me being the ultra slogger that I am these days. We ran the rest at this respectable pace and then nearly sprinted down the dirt road to the start. Some of the speed demons who had finished well before us were driving out and they were all very nice and pulled over as we passed by. I pushed myself to keep up with E as she flew to the finish. We crossed the line in 5:31; slower than my goal of being under 5:30, but I didn't mind because I was in one piece and I was able to finish the entire marathon without reinjury. My biggest worry had been that my foot would misbehave and I would have to DNF (I had made E pinky swear that she would finish the marathon even if I had to drop). That would have been a real bummer seeing as Umstead was in just 4 more weeks and I needed to be healed. I saw Rhonda again as I was driving out and I gladly took her words of wisdom to heart. She told me that it was a good sign that I had a tough race and struggled the race before my goal race. She said that it was a sure sign that Umstead would go well for me. Thanks Rhonda, that's the plan.
At the finish after changing into dry clothes