Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are friends and family coming to watch you race? Here are some things NOT to do.

Last Saturday I participated in the National Half Marathon in Washington DC. I was excited to be running on a fast course through the nation's capital, but I was also excited because for the first time I had three supporters who would be following me along the route to cheer me on. You can see the story of my race here, but I also wanted to share some tips from my friends on how to make the race-watching experience better—or, rather, what NOT to do, based on our mistakes. Obviously, if a race only has a few hundred participants, rather than 15,000-plus, these tips are less critical. But if you're heading to a destination race with friends and family, hopefully these guidelines will help you avoid our mistakes.

1. Don't "thoughtfully" leave early for the race. I was supposed to be at the race 45 minutes early, so I figured I'd do my friends and family a favor and tiptoe out of the house before they woke up. They were planning on heading to the 6-mile marker to cheer me on mid-race, so this was the "thoughtful" thing to do, right? Wrong! Since they never saw my running outfit, they had no idea what to look for on the racecourse. They had to scan through throngs of runners and try to recognize my face. As it turned out, they only spotted me after I was about 10 meters past them. There was enough time to wave and say "hi," but that was it. They didn't even get a photo of me!

2. Don't wear dull gray and white clothes. I thought I was perfectly dressed for the race, with my white DART shirt, my white compression shirt, and my gray hat and dark glasses for sun protection. Wrong! I had inadvertently coordinated my outfit with at least 50 percent of the runners out there. Even the DART shirt I was wearing used the same color palette as the official half-marathon shirt that 11,000 of my running buddies had been given the day before in their goodie bags.

Could YOU tell these shirts apart at 50 meters? I wouldn't bet on it!
Ideally I would have worn something visually distinctive but not trendy. Since day-glo green seems to be all the rage these days, that might not have been a good choice (although it would have been better than white and gray!). Maybe a bright purple and pink hat? With tassles?

3. Don't be vague about your meeting points. Once again, out of consideration for my supporters, I was noncommittal about where they might want to stop to try to spot me along the race course. Ideally it'd be near a Starbucks, so they could sip lattes while they waited for me to show up. We settled on "DuPont Circle," which as it turns out is a huge intersection with a giant tunnel and two bridges over a divided highway. It's also the spot where hundreds of other fans had decided to camp out. Since they didn't want to lose unobstructed view at the edge of the road, my friends and family didn't have a chance to stop for coffee, and shivered for 30 minutes in 30-degree weather waiting for me to arrive. I didn't know exactly where they would be, so I couldn't spot them right away among the hundreds of fans. At the finish line, it was even worse, with fans lining the course 5- and 6-deep for over a quarter mile on both sides of the course. I never saw my supporters, and they didn't spot me either. If we had been more precise about where to meet, including the particular corner of the street they'd be waiting (perhaps using Google Street View in advance to confirm it), I might have had a better chance of spotting them.

4. Don't count on technology to help. Our ace in the hole was going to be the Live Tracking feature of the iMapMyRun iPhone app. My wife Greta and I both have iPhones, so the plan was for me to carry mine along the race course, and she could follow my progress on her phone. We had tested it out a couple times before the race, and it seemed to work. If I recorded a run while enabling Live Tracking, then she (and any of my friends on MapMyRun) could see my exact location. Even though MapMyRun successfully recorded my route, Greta could never find my live feed. Maybe the congestion of so many runners overwhelmed the network, or maybe we had configured it wrong, but this technology didn't work for us. Also, just running the app for 13 miles nearly completely drained my battery. It would never work for an entire marathon. Plus, the site doesn't give you as much information as tried-and-true resources like Garmin Connect, which not only mapped my course, but gives detailed splits and pacing information.

5. Don't be shy about expressing your support. The most visible spectators are the ones making the most noise, holding the biggest signs, wearing the loudest clothes. While I might not have appreciated the Navy fan holding a huge sign and yelling "Don't Give Up the Ship!" at two different points along the course (you call that motivational?), I definitely saw and remembered her.

6. You are never going to be as cool as the coolest fans. Unfortunately, it's true, and there's not much you can do about it. My favorite fans are city kids with huge ghetto blasters, playing loud rap music. They're positive, they're dancing, and they always get me going. I wish I could bottle their enthusiasm and bring it with me on every run, but I just have to take it when I can get it. This time it came around Mile 11, and it was fantastic!

7. Don't keep your phone in your purse. After I missed seeing my supporters at the finish line, I gave Greta a call to reconnect. Unfortunately, between the cheering and the loudspeaker, she couldn't hear her ringer over all the noise at the end of the race. I called all three of my supporters, each with the same result. Meanwhile, running iMapMyRun for 13 miles had drained my battery below 20 percent. I sent Greta a text message asking her to call and just waited. Meanwhile, since they hadn't seen me finish, my friends and family were still scanning the hordes of runners crossing the finish line looking for me, getting increasingly worried that something had happened to me. Eventually we reconnected, but not before a few tense minutes after my phone had completely died! Greta suggests putting your ringer on vibrate and keeping it in your pants pocket at the end of the race to make sure you don't miss an important call.

8. Don't forget to check traffic plans. At the National Marathon, supporters (but not participants) could take the Metro to the race. But five years ago when I ran my first half marathon, Thunder Road in Charlotte, Greta and our kids had a tough time making their way in the car to the half-marathon finish line -- so many streets were closed due to the race that they nearly didn't arrive in time. So make sure your supporters know the race route and which roads will still be open to allow them to make their way to their preferred viewing points.

Hopefully these tips will help your supporters have a good experience during your next big race, and you won't look like a dope for dragging them along and then never seeing them. Remember, these are the people you're going to be sharing post-race drinks with, so you don't want to disappoint them.

See you on the road—preferably wearing bright colors!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Race Recap: The National Half Marathon

(Originally Published on MungerRuns)

6:15 a.m.: I've never seen so much traffic this early on a Saturday morning. It's wall to wall cars, crawling through narrow Washington streets. Originally the Metro was supposed to open early enough for runners to use public transit to get to the race, but perhaps due to recent budget shortfalls, that's not an option, so we're all driving in. Very, very slowly. We're supposed to get to RFK stadium at least 45 minutes early so we have plenty of time to find our corrals and get ready for the start. But 45 minutes from the starting gun, the stadium isn't anywhere in sight. I've got ambitious goals for this race. I'd like to run a 7:30 pace, finishing in a 1:38 PR. It's a relatively flat course, so I think it's doable.

6:30 a.m.: Finally, I see the D.C. Armory, across the street from the starting line. Now if only I can find a place to park....

8:57 a.m.: I'm crossing the finish line. I look up at the clock and see a disappointing 1:52. That's an average pace of 8:17, worse than I've done on training runs of this distance. My chip time will be a little bit faster, naturally, but still, I wonder what I could have done if things had worked out a little differently.

8:55 a.m.: I finish Mile 13 in 7:32. I'm still passing people right and left. It's been like this for nearly the whole race, just trying to make my way through the crowds.

8:47 a.m.: Mile 12's split is 7:56. I think I just let myself slip in to a bit of a funk for that mile. I know I can do better than that.

8:39 a.m.: Mile 11, 7:26. That's what I'm talking about! I knew I could do this.

8:32 a.m.: Miles 9 and 10 are solid, 7:38 and 7:39. Still not what I'm capable of, but it's difficult weaving through people on these narrow streets. There are potholes everywhere. I've got to watch out for those potholes.

8:20 a.m.: I pass the 1:50 pace team. Yes! This is the designated group of runners who agreed in advance to pace half-marathoners to a 1:50 finish. Now if only I can catch the 1:45 pace team. That would be a pretty decent bit of redemption, all things considered. Some streets are wide enough that I can easily weave through the slower runners, but on others it's quite a challenge. People tend to run in little clusters, and sometimes you get caught behind a group and can't figure out a way to get by.

8:17 a.m.: Miles 7 and 8 are okay: 7:44 and 7:38. Mile 7 was nearly entirely uphill, and I passed a ton of people there; the street was just wide enough to give me room. Although Mile 8 was flatter, the roads were also narrower, so there were fewer opportunities to slip by.

8:01 a.m.: I complete Mile 6 in 7:40.

7:58 a.m.: I pass the 3:45 full marathon pace team -- that's a 1:52.5-minute pace for the half. A few years ago I would have been thrilled to finish a half at this pace. Now I'm thinking I might still have a shot at 1:45, but I'll have to really turn it on.

7:56 a.m.: Heading under DuPont circle, I'm looking for Greta, Pat, and Suzanne, who said they'd be here to cheer me on. Slightly behind me I hear Pat's voice: "Is that Dave?" I turn around to see my wife and friends. I try to give them a big smile and a wave; I don't want them to think anything has gone wrong.

7:53 a.m.: I complete Mile 5 in 7:49. The street ahead of me is just one vast sea of people, all of them running at what seems to be a sub-9-minute pace.

7:46 a.m.: I pass by the White House. I wonder if the Obamas are going to come out and greet the runners. I've just run through the most famous part of the Capital, with all the museums and monuments, and I barely noticed them. Too many runners to avoid.

7:45 a.m.: Miles 3 and 4 weren't good enough: 7:50 and 7:44. I've got to do better if I want to make up for all the time I lost...

6:45 a.m.: I finally find a parking spot. Thank goodness! Do I have time to go to the bathroom? I don't think so. There are people everywhere, and long lines at all the porta-potties. Some guys are just taking leaks against trees. I'm not that desperate.  Off to the starting line. I've got plenty of time... I walk briskly and confidently towards the starting area... until I look down at my wrist and notice I left my Garmin in the car! Do I have time to go back and get it? I'm in the third corral, so they might not even start me until 7:10 or so. I decide to risk it. Fortunately it doesn't take long, and I arrive at my starting corral at 6:55. Plenty of time to spare! I decide to snap a picture of the crowd. It's just an immense mob of people (I later learn there were over 16,000 runners). This is by far the largest race I've ever been in:

It's a brisk morning, perhaps a couple degrees above freezing. For me, this is ideal running conditions. The wind is very light. I'm wearing my DART shirt, a long-sleeved compression shirt, the free gloves provided in our bag of goodies from the race registration, and compression tights. I'm also attempting to track my run with MapMyRun's iPhone app, but I'll save that discussion for a different post.

7:04 a.m.: The race starts, just a bit late. I'm amazed at how quickly we start moving, even back in Corral 3 out of 10.

7:06 a.m.: I cross the starting line and start my Garmin. I have my sights set on the 1:40 half-marathon pace team, just a bit ahead of me. I need to finish a couple minutes faster than them in order to make my goal of a 1:38 half-marathon, which would be a huge PR for me (my previous best is 1:42:56).

7:14 a.m.: I've caught the pace team and complete my first mile in 7:57. I need to pick up the pace a bit, but it's crowded and hard to negotiate my way through the crowd. Hopefully things will start to open up within the next mile or so.

7:15 a.m.: I notice a slight depression in the road just about the same time I step in it with my right foot. It's probably only about 12 inches wide and two inches deep, but it's enough to cause me to stumble. I try to regain my balance, but it's too late; I can't get my left foot under me in time, and I go crashing to the ground. I land on my left knee and elbow, but as I wave my right arm in a last-gasp effort to regain my balance, I feel my right arm pop out of the shoulder socket. I know this feeling; it's happened to me several times before: A dislocated shoulder.

Amazingly, several runners come to my aid and help me to the side of the road before others can trip over me. I tell one guy what happened and he offers to help me pop it back in. He seems to know what he's doing, so I let him try. We try a couple times, but my shoulder muscle is too tight. I tell him he should get going and I'll find a medical tent. Fortunately there's a water station just 50 meters away. I ask if they know where the medical tent is. They don't. I keep walking, and finally I see it, just past the end of the water station (which, to the first guy I asked's credit, extends over nearly an entire block).

"Can you help me out?" I ask the woman who's minding the station.

"Sure. What's wrong?"

"I've dislocated my shoulder. Do you think you could help me pop it back in?"



"I don't think we're equipped to do that." Their medical supplies don't seem much more extensive than a cot and a couple of clipboards.

Then the other guy manning the station says "Hey, we could ask the doctor."

I'm wondering why they didn't think of that right off the bat. The doctor turns out to be some guy who was standing next to the course taking pictures. Or maybe he really was manning the station, and just didn't expect to very busy only 1 mile into the course. In any case, he's happy to help. I tell him I've had this happen before but my shoulder is a lot tighter than usual and I think we should be able to pop it back in.

He seems a little perplexed, and asks me what happened. I tell him about the pothole and the fall, and he looks relieved. "Oh, you fell. I thought you meant you were just running along and it popped out." Then he shows that he really does know what he's doing, carefully positioning my arm so it pops back into place. They take down my name and phone number, but fortunately it looks like they're going to let me keep running. A minute or two later, I'm back on the course.

7:29 a.m.: Oh. My. God. My split for Mile 2 is 15:18. How am I ever going to do this? Is it even possible to make up this much time? Is it worth it?

Then I see a tiny yellow flag, waving about 100 meters ahead. Is that the 1:55 pace team?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Tobacco Road Marathon

Cornelius, NC-based DARTer Bobby Aswell knocked out yet another marathon for 2011, this time at the Tobacco Road Marathon held near Cary, NC.  

In the midst of all of the NCAA hoopla, I ventured down to Tobacco Road to run the Tobacco Road Marathon on Sunday, March 20.  In its 2nd year, the event starts at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC where participants start with 3 miles on pavement followed by 20 miles on the American Tobacco Trail and finish with 3 miles on pavement.  

USA Baseball Complex
Like most races, things kick off with packet pick-up.  The race expo was on Friday and Saturday and packets were available for pick-up both days.  However, the expo closed at 5:00 pm on Saturday and packets had to be picked up by then as there was no race day pick-up.  Nicole had a 1:00 pm soccer game on Saturday and since I didn’t believe that I could make it to the expo by 5:00 pm, I arranged with fellow DARTer Mike MacIntyre, who was running the half-marathon, and friend Troy Eisenberger, who was running the marathon, to pick-up my packet and I would meet them race morning to get it.  This is not the most ideal situation but I’ve done it several times in the past and it was my only available option.  Race morning arrived and I met Mike and Troy and got my packet with no issues.

As with most marathons, there always seems to be at least one issue of some kind.  In this race, it was parking.  The USA Baseball complex and the adjoining Thomas Brooks Parks have 900 parking spots available.  If you sign up for the race early enough, you have the option of buying a parking pass for $5 which will get you one of those prime spots.  Once the parking passes are sold out, your options are to ride with someone who has a parking pass, get someone to drop you off at the start area, or park at remote parking 5 ½ miles away and take one of the 15 buses to the start area.  As I didn’t have a parking pass, I opted for the remote parking scenario and got there at 5:15 am in time to board one of the first buses.  The bus left and seemed to be driving a long time to go 5 ½ miles.  It turned out the bus driver was lost!  After several u-turns and turnarounds, we arrived at the starting area around 6:00 am, still plenty of time before the 7:15 am start.  However, the trend of ‘lost’ buses continued causing the race to be delayed by 15 minutes to allow all of the runners to get to the starting area. 

After the race, the buses were available to transport runners back to the remote parking area but I received a ride back and I’m glad I did.  When we left, the line for the buses was as long as a football field!  I would highly recommend getting someone to drop you off at the starting area or signing up early enough to snag one of the $5 parking passes and bypass the remote parking issues.

As for the race itself, it’s excellent!  After starting at the USA Baseball complex and running 3 miles on pavement, marathoners turn left onto the American Tobacco Trail which consists of mostly crushed and compacted gravel making a very forgiving surface that’s very easy on the legs.  Runners continue down the trail about 4 ½ miles before turning around and heading back in the opposite direction allowing you to see all of the runners behind you.   At around mile 15, the trail changes to a combination of about 2/3 asphalt and 1/3 crushed gravel, with the gravel section being on the right going out and thus on the left coming back.  Then, around mile 18, the trail changes again but this time from asphalt to mostly hard-packed dirt before hitting the turnaround point at mile 19.  In addition to a forgiving surface, the trail is shaded and provides excellent protection from the sun and heat on warm days.  

American Tobacco Trail
From an elevation standpoint, the course is essentially flat though there are a few long inclines but nothing really steep.  As you exit the trail around mile 23 there is a slight incline but no major hills from there to the finish.  

The aid stations come frequently and are well stocked with water, energy drink, and very energetic volunteers cheering you on.  For an extra boost, many of them have music, GU and GU Chomps as well.

After finishing the race, runners are presented with fruit, bagels, pizza, and other goodies to help replenish all of those burnt calories.  Massages are available for $1 per minute and the lines were long as many runners waited their turns.  

One of the highlights of the race is the medal.  It’s very high quality and huge compared to most medals:

When all was said and done, I ran a little slower than last year but still finished in 3:09:41, good enough for 3rd in my age group and received a huge beer mug engraved with the race logo and age group finish place.

All in all, I believe this course runs very well and will present a PR opportunity for a lot of runners.  In fact, several runners I know had PRs this year.  I’ve run the marathon the first 2 years and will probably go back for the 3rd year as well.  You know what they say, ‘the 3rd time is the charm!’

Bobby Aswell

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Race Recap: The St. Leo School 10K

(Originally published on Mungerruns)

It used to be that nearly every road race other than marathons covered the 10K distance. When I was a college student and on the track team, the coaches encouraged us to sign up for 10Ks over the summer, and I signed up for one, the Bar-S Stampede. I have a vague recollection of running it in about 45 minutes, and being quite disappointed. A few years ago, I ran my second 10K, a turkey trot in Hickory, North Carolina, and I would have been thrilled to run it in 45 minutes. In fact, I was thrilled with my actual result, about 49 minutes for an 8-minute pace.

Today I ran my third 10K, the St. Leo School road race, and I was hoping once again to do better than 45 minutes. After completing a 5K in 21:32 last month, I thought I might be able to do a 10K at the same pace, for a 43-minute overall time. I might have been able to do it under perfect conditions -- cool weather, a good week of training beforehand -- but conditions weren't perfect today. It was a little warm for me, in the mid-60s, and I had been off in the mountains of Colorado skiing instead of training for the race, and probably overextended myself trying to make up for lost time when I got back.

Me after the race
Still, my plan was to run 7:00 splits for as long as possible and see if I could run that elusive 43-minute 10K. One hitch in my plan was that this year's race covered a new course. I didn't know what to expect -- when I could run fast and when I just needed to hang on.

The race start was odd. Usually as many runners as possible push up to the starting line and there's a lot of jostling for position. In this race, only about 15 or 20 racers seemed to be interested in standing closer than 20 feet from the start. I started to wonder whether I really belonged among them, but I figured I might as well get close to the start and avoid the crowds. After the starting whistle (yep, there was no gun, and no chip-timing either), we all took off down a steep half-mile long hill. I took it easy on this part; I didn't want to injure myself before the race started. The next half mile was all uphill, and as usual, my Garmin beeped about 20 meters before we reached the official Mile 1 marker: 7:04. I'll give my Garmin splits for the rest of this recap; after the first mile the Garmin's mileage gradually creeped earlier, but I didn't keep track of my "real" splits. Overall the Garmin measured the course at 6.29 miles, about 120 meters longer than the official 10K distance of 6.21 miles.

After that first mile, the rest of the course was gradual, rolling hills. None of the hills were especially challenging, but there was also rarely the relief of a long downhill stretch, or even a flat stretch. We were running along lovely residential streets with really nice old houses. There weren't a lot of folks cheering us on, but every couple of blocks someone would be standing at a corner clapping and shouting words of encouragement. I ended up running at about the same pace as a woman wearing full-length running tights. I wasn't complaining because she looked great in them, but it seemed an odd choice for such a warm day. My Mile 2 split was 7:12, and I wasn't feeling great. A 43-minute race was probably out of reach at this point and I'd just need to hang on.

Just after Mile 2, we circled a roundabout and headed back on the same route, the same gradual rolling hills. My Mile 3 split was 7:13. As we turned the corner off of the road we had been running on, a teenager was calling off times: 20:30, 20:31, etc. I looked down at my watch and it read 22:57. This girl was nearly 2 and a half minutes off! I said "that's not right" to no one in particular, and a guy in a green shirt said "I wish it was!" Green Shirt Guy passed me, and we rambled along pretty residential streets with the same gradual hills. I was really starting to feel worn out.

Up ahead I could see we were coming up on a road with runners headed the opposite direction. Could that be the 5K runners, who had started 10 minutes earlier than us? They were clearly running too slowly to be the 10K race leaders. As we got closer, I could see they were wearing yellow 10K bibs -- the 5K runners had white ones. What was going on? Woman in Tights seemed very confused -- had we taken a wrong turn? Finally I figured it out: We had actually tripled back, and were running along the same road we had been on twice before. Those runners were the middle- to back-of-the-pack 10Kers. I reassured Woman in Tights that we were headed in the right direction. Finally, just before the Mile 4 marker, we turned off this street for good. My Mile 4 split was 7:30. Yegods!

On Mile 5 I tried to pick up the pace. There were, after all, only a bit more than 2 miles left. The gradual, rolling hills and the heat were taking their toll though. I was sweating profusely. I did manage to pass Green Shirt Guy again on a downhill, but he passed me for good on the next uphill stretch. I pulled away from Woman in Tights for good at this point, but not because I sped up. My Mile 5 split was 7:29.

Mile 6 started off with a slightly steeper-than-usual uphill stretch. I tried to stay focused on good form. I had warmed up on the end of the racecourse, so I knew that at least the final quarter-mile would be downhill. I was hoping for more downhill than that, and my GPS record suggests that most of Mile 6 was indeed downhill. It didn't feel like it as I ran it. I did, however, manage to pick up the pace a little: 7:19. Still, a couple of people passed me during Mile 6; they clearly had more left in the tank than I did.

The last two-tenths of a mile were a real struggle. I knew I should be sprinting, but I barely had the legs. I did manage to pick up the pace a little, and no one passed me during this stretch, which I covered at a 6:36 pace. I crossed the line in 45:41, about the same as I had done in my first 10K, 20+ years ago. I don't remember so many hills on that course, though! My average pace according to Garmin was 7:16, but for the official distance of 6.21 miles, that works out to a 7:21 pace. Not bad, but not as fast as I was hoping.

It did turn out to be good enough for third place in my age group, however -- that's my first age-group award, ever. Here I am "testing" the metal content of my medal:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mini-review: Skull Candy Chops Earbuds

I'm not a big fan of online running-related product reviews.  The comfort and performance of apparel and especially shoes are highly subjective.  What works for one person may not work for another.  Also, it seems like some online reviews are thinly veiled pleas for getting free merchandise from manufacturers.  Not that I'm above it...

However, there are some things that come in handy for running.  For DART reviews I'll refer to them as handy tips that are product-related, and I've got a few in the hopper.  This time around it's about the sound.

While you won't often see me sporting tunes while on a run, sometimes I find that listening to music takes away some of the tedium of a dull route or long run.  Until recently I've been using the standard-issue earphones which are inserted into the ear canal.  Unfortunately they tend to fall out while running and I find myself repeatedly jamming them deeper and deeper into my ear in an effort to keep them in place.

Good for home or office, but not on the trail.
There has to be an easier way to keep the buds in place.  Enter Skullcandy's Chops model.  The Chops have an over-ear bracket that keeps the buds in place no matter how much jostling happens.  I used them for the evening portion of the Iron Horse 100-mile run and had no problems.  I'm not going to discuss the sound quality, as that's not my bag, but they do pump out the tunes nicely.

Skullcandy Chops
So if you're like me and you're tired of having to monkey with your earphones on a run, then give these a try.  I got mine from Skullcandy, but there are other manufacturers out there with a similarly styled offering.  -Chad R.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Timmy-thon 5k, Davidson College, March 12th, 2011

Just received word about a 5k race to be held on Saturday, March 12th at Davidson College's cross country trails.  It's not often that a race takes place on the trails.  Below are the specifics:

1st Annual Timmy-thon 5k

When: This Saturday March 12th
Time: 10 A.M.
Where: Cross Country Trail entrance behind Baker Sports Complex on Davidson Campus
Distance: 5K
Fee: $15 entrance fee
Other information: All participants will receive a free shirt, the largest donation will receive a prize, best time will receive a prize.
For more info send an email to Taylor at tagunnell@davidson.edu.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Umstead Trail Marathon

Cornelius, NC-based DARTer Bobby Aswell recently completed the Umstead Trail Marathon.  Held at the William B. Umstead State Park near Raleigh, this very popular race is limited to only 200 participants and fills up fast.  Below is Bobby's recount of the race.  Bobby finished in 13th place overall with a time of 3:21:13.

"Every now and then you hear about a race that all runners rave about. For the past few years, one of those races has been the Umstead Trail Marathon in Cary, NC. The marathon is run on the confines of the William B. Umstead State Park and consists of about 6 miles of single-track trail with most of the rest run on bridal trails.

Part of the mystique of the race is just getting into it. With a field size limited to 200 due to park regulations, you better be ready to type fast when online registration opens. For this year’s race, registration opened on November 29, 2010 at 8:00 am and I was at my computer ready to roll! Within a few minutes, I was in!

Months later as race day approached, the 10-day weather forecast was calling for rain race morning. Trails and rain don’t mix together too well so I was thankful the forecast changed and the rain was delayed one day.

Race morning arrived with the starting time temperature expected to be 51 degrees with the day warming up to the low 60’s by noon. With a lack of rain the preceding days, the trail was in excellent shape for running.

The race starts precisely at 9:00 am and the first 1 ½ miles or so are on an out and back dirt road leading to the start of the single-track trail for the next 6 miles. On a technical level, the trail is moderate but does have some tough climbs and several tough spots including the “Devil’s Spine” and the “Tree of Death”, so called because of all of the roots covering the entire trail around the tree making footing treacherous.

(photo found on the internet)
Around mile 8, the course changes to bridal trails, essentially one lane dirt roads, for most of the rest of the race. The race director describes the course as challenging and very hilly and he isn’t lying. One hill after another, up, down, up, down, and so on. Several of the hills have nicknames as they really wear on runners: ‘Corkscrew’ hill, ‘Wheels Fell Off’ hill and at mile 24, ‘Graveyard’ hill.
(photo found on the internet)

Awards are given to the top 15 male and female finishers and are unique wooden plaques every year. Each year the race mascot is kept a secret until race morning which adds to the race mystique! Last year’s mascot was a rabbit and others have included a turtle, fish, and frog so I was curious to find out what this year’s would be. At packet pick-up, I found out: a tick! That’s right, a tick! A tick on the lime green short-sleeve technical t-shirt, a tick on the finisher’s pint glass, and, if you’re lucky enough to get wood, a plaque shaped like a tick with brown legs! Very unique award to say the least! I managed to finish 13th Overall in 3:21:11 and won a giant tick!

Post-race festivities help ease the transition from running to recovery and include free massages, burritos from Moe’s, bagels, Gatorade, soda, gummy bears, and other munchies. All of this in the confines of a heated lodge steps from the finish line.

So, is all of the hype about this race justified? Yes, definitely! All in all, it’s a great race that I would highly recommend to any marathon runner! In fact, if you decide to run it next year, you’ll probably see me at the starting line!"