Joys of the Umstead Marathon

Now that I’m home from the Umstead Trail Marathon and considerably cleaner than when I walked in, I want to jot down a few of the joys of the day. This may not be coherent; while I feel fine, my brain is a little fuzzy, and I had trouble figuring out how to exit the park.

Many of the joys were expected: connecting with old friends and making new ones; enjoying a beautiful day in a beautiful place; running a negative split; even making the best-case time I’d set for myself. But the unexpected ones were even greater. Here are a few, in ascending level of unexpectedness.

  • Hearing from another racer, “How can you walk so fast?”—this affirmed the utility of the Sunday hikes Wes and I have been doing, at a not-slow pace. If you know you’ll be walking even a single hill of the race, it’s good to practice the movement. Walking recruits muscles differently than running does, and walking fast uphill is different still.
  • Crossing the finish line and being handed, instead of a medal I wouldn’t treasure, a random door prize: a $50 gift certificate to Great Outdoor Provision Co. Better still, I’ll be at the Cameron Village store in two weeks to psych folks up for the Raleigh Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon.
  • UmsteadFalling in mile 22—not just a stumble, but an all-out splay downhill on the Cedar Ridge Trail. I hit so hard that the head of one of the safety pins holding my number to my shirt broke clear off, and I had to rearrange them as I collected myself. I hit so hard that I skinned my chin and thought for a moment I had broken my nose. (I’ll spare you that photo, but this is my shirt.) I hit so hard that I was tasting dirt for the rest of the run. And I hit so hard that I had a surge of adrenalin that carried me all the way through the finish. I often spend runs in fear of falling, but it’s not so bad when it happens. I’m grateful for the reminder.
  • Molly+VanessaJust before the start, after hearing my name, two women across the table from me introduced themselves. Here they are: Molly and Vanessa, who came from New England to run this race. As Molly explained, they used my marathon training plan to get ready. (You can find it at Athleta and at TrainingPeaks.) While it was serendipitous to meet them—what if they’d been at the next table over?—I also had the joy of running with them for a few miles, hearing why they’d chosen this race as their first marathon, and how their visit was going. I got to see them numerous times along the out-and-back spurs in the race, and I got a short video of them crossing the finish line together. It was an incredible feeling—not quite like being a proud parent, as we’d only just met, but maybe like being a proud sperm or egg donor, or seeing someone weep while reading your novel on a plane. What a joy to see that the training had them ready and smiling as they crossed the finish line. Thank you, Molly and Vanessa, for making my day.