Monday, March 4, 2013

Umstead Trail Marathon 2013

I explain to Brandy Burns why bagels are the most
delicious of all the breads. Photo: Harold Hill. 
Ticked off or Batshit crazy? This wardrobe dilemma crowded my thoughts and Facebook traffic 2 weeks before the 10th annual Umstead Trail Marathon. Each year the marathon's shirt and finisher's pint glass immortalize a creature from the park in the form of a sketched relief. Annually, a mysterious cabal of Cardinals, Illuminati, The Black Hand and Freemasons elect the design under the cover of darkness at a local Applebees. With great daring and deranged disregard for personal safety, AC detailed the esoteric process in his Running Down blog. (Pursue the link before he and his blog are disappeared forever. I suggest an anonymous IP address from an internet cafe under an assumed name. Don't forget to take your coffee cup with you. Don't leave fingerprints).

Heiko falls victim to bat peer pressure.
Local Facebook trail runners leaned liberally toward the 2012 bat. An Umstead technical shirt flash mob is something to behold. Made up of tens of runners, it can easily block out the sun and has been rumored to consume beer at an alarming rate. I earned the infamous lime green tick shirt and complimenting chalice 2 years ago at my Umstead Trail Marathon debut. Last year's UTM marked the first marathon distance race I singed up for, but did not complete. I took a single ceremonial step before mounting my bike. I did receive my blue bat shirt, but spent that race pedaling gels and waters around the course to the two able legged runners. 

AC is Fonzarelli's biggest fan and the lone tick.
By my deliberation, I earn full license to the bat shirt only after completing the marathon distance while wearing (or at least toting it in my waistband) the blue Chiroptera. My tendons were real tweaky on the right side. Odds of a full 26.2 finish figured at slightly better than winning the beauty contest in Monopoly. I couldn't risk an insult to the Tick with a DNF. And as Batshit crazy more accurately matched my demeanor for this year's running, I went with the 2012 shirt. Anticipating likely failure, I complimented the tunic with a pair of black running tights effectively shrouding my 26.2 and Hermes wings leg tattoos. Unhappily, this maneuver unintentionally answered the circumcision question with every picture of me at the race now posted on the internet. Kilts are demure in comparison.

Sorry ladies. He is married.
326 days ago, I scheduled the first available surgical slot following MRI confirmation of a brevis tear in an attempt to make UTM2013. I have not run 26.2 miles since October 15, 2011. In the last 30 days I have run 98.9 miles. In the previous 30 days I ran 38 miles. My surgeon estimated I could likely complete a flat marathon 12-18 months from the procedure. I translated this complex medical jargon to, "you should run a trail marathon with some singletrack in a year" (I did take the very reasonable liberty of rounding 10 months 3 weeks up to a year). My new trail name: Excuses. 

Barefoot Josh and his patented baby food fueling strategy.
The mind is willing, the body is old. My cardiovascular is close to fully restored (thank you elliptical), my tendons and soft tissue are in tip top condition for at least half of a 400 meter, and I am almost 100% delusional again. Steve, my father-in-law and eminent sage of North Carolina's inner banks, recently awoke from anesthesia to remark, "If your going to be stupid, you'd better be tough." I have adopted this philosophy as my mantra. It may be my next tattoo and I will never have to cover it in tights. I tweaked my right leg pretty good 2 weeks out from the race. A combination of many miles and little sense. My ankle hurt, but only when walking or sitting still. It almost went away when running. Two nights before the race I tried 2 flat miles on the treadmill. My wife noted my off balanced rhythm from downstairs. I admitted my over trained condition and made a solemn oath to my legs that I would not attempt the full distance this year. I compromised with a new set of goals. Best case: half-marathon. Realistic case: run all of the singletrack and walk in. Worst case: run 3 miles and wait for the Moe's burritos to arrive.

Lynch mob.
It is widely known that my leg oath's are my bond. With a stalwart resolve and great prudence I arrived at camp Lapihio promptly to proclaim my intention of dropping early to the park's inhabitants (mostly trees, but a few volunteers were nearby). Fortune smiled on me and I jumped at the chance to procure an additional tick shirt from 2011 in my size. Cognizant that I could not finish the 2013 race, the purchase would serve as a replacement trophy for the day's DNF. And as I plan to be one day be buried in that shirt, it felt savvy to have a spare for the trails. For its tenth anniversary UTM 2013's great animal reveal was a large headed duck on day-glo orange for the men. Pink for the woman. I rested easy and my avowal remained iron clad. Had AC gotten his desired opossum, I might have crawled for the finisher's mug. 

Brandy makes the turn at this year's strangely shaped orange cone.
The first glimpses of lunacy did not present until I witnessed the finisher's china at the lodge. True, the pints were adorned with a large headed duck, but they had a large 10 marking the anniversary and they were tricolor. That is right black, orange, AND blue. I immediately wanted one. By now, other runners had trickled in, some competing in their first marathon (awesome job Iris). Many with more grievous injuries than I. Pretty sure I saw an eye patch and one guy looked like he had a battle mace  protruding from his torso. A few were hideously handicapped. Scott Lynch succumbed to plague, he ran following a night of norovirus (congratulations on a new PR Scott! If you subtract portojohn time Scott won the marathon by over 2 hours). Complaining about my paltry tendon issues came off pretty lame in comparison. One woman near the fireplace burst into flames. She was not dropping. I slowly started to cross my fingers and reconsider my present abilities.

The call to the start interrupted fireside socializing and we made our way into the cold. As my more ambitious friends strategically positioned themselves near the line, I sought out some prettier faces who were likely too polite to ignore my chatter. I maintained a 9:45 pace for the first few miles, while Brandy B. tried to get away from me. After she slipped away, I managed near 11 minute pace with Sherri through the singletrack. My course knowledge advantage allowed me to keep up until we entered the bridles on Reedy Creek and then I did some alone miles. 

No expense spared at UTM. French waiters refill
 your water glass at every turn. 

I was able to maintain an 11 average pretty easily, including frequent walking breaks and blood sugar checks. An extended stop for vasaline repair on my left foot at the Graylyn aid station still left me with a sub 5 time. With only the bridles ahead and feeling not too gimpy, I went completely mad and decided a 4:45 - 5:15 finish was very reasonably achievable. The cardio felt great. I did not wear a HR monitor because I wasn't going to finish, but I'd estimate bpm at a super comfortable 70% of max. Maybe lower. My iffy tendon was ok while running, a tad twingy while walking. Easily solved, just run more. I began to believe in an Umstead miracle. Just like 1984 all over again, but without all of the hockey players and USA chants. I might have chanted USA a little bit. 

The rabbits.
With 2 Turkey Creeks ahead, I wasn't quite a fanatic believer yet. I had some new glimmerings of faith (definitely not reason), but I wasn't ready to give up on pork or don a burka yet. I kept the 11ish pace up and really concentrated on keeping my form balanced and hopefully, less likely to cause any damage. I had played a little on some of the singletrack downhills and really opened up the throttle once or twice. Now, I shortened my stride and went automatic. Outbound on Turkey Creek remains my favorite part of the race. It is inspiring. You pass the halfway point, you see all of your friends again on their return, you still feel strong, and by now you have probably forgotten about Cedar Creek. I knew there was a boost waiting ahead. I was told they had coke at the turn around aid station, but it turned out to be the cola kind.

Call her Steak sauce. Type A Type 1.
The assent up Turkey Creek (it ascends in both directions) was a who's who of everybody faster than me. One of my favorite parts of trail running, no one cares. Following only swingers, the Danish, and drunk Amway salespeople, trail runners are some of the nicest people on earth. Even the leader's will drop a nod of encouragement at you between breaths and many of the peak trained will still stop for a hand of cribbage (but not bridge. Nobody plays bridge anymore). They will even save you a burrito at the finish. I saw everybody on my way out. Too many to list here, just read the finisher's list. 

Boom! Pow! Biff! (stomach gurgle). To the
Bat cave.
After the turnaround, I began to consider the pros and cons of each beer as a finisher's pint first test. I had it down to either Guiness or Blue Moon when I got the first twinge in my left arch. At first, I suspected some sort of squirrel hijinks. The bushy tailed rodents are not above messing with your footwear when you are not paying full attention. I untied my shoe and re-laced with a little extra room. This bought me a few more miles. Around 19.7 miles, a nail was driven into my left arch. Even walking, every time the body's most amazing spring compressed I felt a stabbing pain. My calm and entirely composed yelps attracted the attention of James, a bike volunteer and harbinger of doom. I stopped and massaged the arch for awhile, hoping it was just a temporary 30 minute cramp. We decided to walk to the 20 mile aid station and reassess. Jame's tri training shows in his amazing bike balance at speeds well below 1 mph.

James, my escort to mile 20 aid station and harbinger of doom. 
My lurch into the mile 20 AS pretty much restored my original more reasonable goals. I was just shy of 4 hours with only 6.2 to go. I only needed a 3 mph walk to beat the last cut off and finish at 6 hours. 4 out of 5 pirates can handle that pace. I knew I would replay the events countless times in my head while drinking out of old finisher's mugs. Amazingly, this was my first bout with a plantar fasciitis issue. I think I have sampled most of the other injuries. It surprised me occurring on the left. That leg has been pretty stable, even though its my surgery side. In sober retrospection, quitting was the only option (I am writing this 2 days later with my left foot submerged in ice water). Also, the call of a free Gator ride in Umstead offered its own siren temptation. A quick jaunt to the start assured a still warm finisher's burrito.

Why do I insist on running with frozen peas?
Unfortunately, the UTM committee protects itself from lollygaggers looking for free golf cart rides. To ensure that lazy runners don't abuse the race's infrastructure and medical assets, a complex shaming ritual has been implemented. I was quickly provided with an ice pack, directions to the finish, and unlimited well wishes. After several minutes, a sprinkle of whining, and some expert limping, the volunteers ascertained that I was not physically able to make the finish on my own. Responsible for keeping the park pristine as a condition of hosting the race, they called in for further instructions on how to properly dispose of my carcass. A biker (I think they called him "the cleaner") was dispatched to verify my lameness factor. He briefly considered letting me biodegrade, but decided against it as too time consuming. I was deemed an eligible candidate for shaming and extraction.

Doug Hensel's chauffeur service for slack runners.
The Umstead dishonor ritual tilts toward PSYOPs, more than physical torture, as you have already demonstrated physical pain. The aid station enlistees and 2 bikers formed a circle around me. They held hands with me in the center. Somebody was chanting lightly in Latin. I was forced to renounce the duck. They were going to shave my head, but abstained as it is presently only milometers high. Several small children threw Oreo cookies at me. Everybody symbolically turned away and the cleaner demanded the surrender of my race number. I believe it is to be burned later and then never mentioned again. Disgraced and not requiring immediate medical attention, I was asked to wait near the shame tree until transportation arrived. 

After a half hour passed, Doug H arrived in a horse drawn cart to transport me to the start. Actually, a horse drawn cart may have been slightly faster. Doug was in charge of breaking down the aid station and returning its many pieces to the start. He was driving a 1985 stolen red Chevy, loaded with runner's booty. Food, tables, water, signage. Irene Ryan was sitting in a rocking chair over the cab. He found room for me near the passenger seat and we jumped in line between 2 police cars and farm traffic. Skipping Cedar Creek, I was within 3.5 miles of the start by foot. To cover the distance outside of the park by roadway, we drove almost 13862 miles. Thanks for the ride Doug! On our journey, we got pretty close talking the day over by the fire at our campsites throughout the month or so it took to return to Lapihio.

Sally is so bad @ss.
Factoring out some small exaggeration in the timeline, I was able to finish just before Brandy B. Of course, the use of any red pick up truck to cross the finish disqualifies a runner. So she did beat me on a small technicality. I finally got that burrito. Even quitting at 20 miles, my insulin sensitivity was great. I witnessed Iris cross the line for her first marathon finish. That first time energy is always rejuvenating and contagious (hopefully unlike Scott's norovirus). Its always awe inspiring. I watched Sally chomp down miles on her way to the hundred again this year. A month ago, I would never have believed I would be satisfied with a 20 mile finish at UTM. But slowly, even I am capable of some perspective. A year ago I took one step. Six months ago I was still fresh out of a boot. The year of the duck left me unable to finish because of OVER training. What a gift to be able to over train again. I am grateful and a little smarter than last year. I will stretch, I will ice. I am taking the next 2 weeks off. I scheduled a mountain climbing class to keep me distracted. I hear by publicly make a solemn oath of no running to my legs for at least a fortnight. And its common knowledge that my leg oaths are sacrosanct. Please, if you see me in the park off of a bike before the ides of March, feel free to forcibly escort me out. It should be easy, presently I have little to no lower leg strength.

Anthony Corriveau finally gets his Opossum
A quick note on Jay's after party. Even without a qualifying finish, I was invited in a reporting capacity. His house is very convenient to the park. He live's under one of the larger trees on Ebeneezer. I got my annual Blue Moon (like a real boy) and 2 glasses of red (Though they did make me wear a pink duck shirt while drinking the wine). To spite Scott's PR and his GI tract, I had my 2nd serving of black beans in the form of the best pork chili I have ever tasted. (4 times in one day Scott! You may be faster, but my legume records will stand for decades. Moe's burrito, Chili at Jay's house, Nachos with black beans and jalapenos for dinner, and left over Rick's Diner black and butter beans for late night snack.) Thanks for opening your home Jay. Although, I did make the rather disturbing discovery of your pasties stash when opening cupboards in the kitchen searching for a mug. Best, AND LAST, Umstead marathon WITHOUT a finish to date. 

This homeless park child beat me to the finish.

Galloway cheer leading section.

Jay Spadie (on Turkey Creek return), faster only because of the the aerodynamic properties of pasties. 

Diane models a stress fracture, JoAnna's tights by Vera Wang. Hydration system by Jimmy Choo.

Duck it! Denied.