Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014 Umstead Marathon

Viva La Revolucion Opossum!
Photo by Harold "Galoot" Hill 
'Possum For The People
And thus began the Opossum Revolution.
With Umstead Conclave's endless regime of opossum oppression, we took matters into our own hands and set out to put the critter in it's rightful place. We had our own shirts made for the race.

The revolution was carefully orchestrated, with cells simultaneously  rising up on Saturday morning
 from the east coast all the way to the west coast in Port Angeles WA. With Barefoot Josh and Iris Sutcliffe
Friday afternoon at packet pickup we learned what we were up against.
This leaked document here details the inner working of The Conclave's process for selecting the Hickory Horned Devil for the this years "official" mascot. It is no coincidence that the gigantic and disgusting beast is the complete opposite of a cuddly opossum.

A photo of the gigantic "hickory horned devil" about to consume
another victim in Umstead Park.
Photo by Chas Willmon.
Fly Trap
But we were ready, because we had been planning for weeks in advance.
Since our numbers were few, we had to resort to guerilla tactics (wait... what about a gorilla for a mascot?).

Sabotage! We stole the fly from the official 2014 shirt

We infiltrated the company that prints the Umstead Marathon shirts with a mole (wait... maybe a mole for a mascot?) . This conspirator secretly sabotaged the official shirts by leaving the iconic symbol of the Umstead Marathon, the horse fly, off the shoulder. Instead he put it on our rebellious opossum shirts.  We had captured the Umstead flag!

To make ours the legitimate Umstead Marathon shirts of 2014,
we liberated the official fly from the Conclave shirts.

The only thing left to do was to actually run the marathon, which suddenly shook my resolve in the revolution.

Despite trying many times, I had not run continuously farther than 18 miles in the last 3 years (since the Umstead marathon 2011 coincidently). My last 4 marathon and 3 ultra attempts have ended with suffering. Either DNF or painfully walking and shuffling the last miles. There was no reason to think this time would be any different.

"No, don't think of it as pain," the very wise running guru Harold "Gallot" Hill said to me before the race, "it is just different levels of love and enjoyment. Embrace it!"

Photos by Conclave member and plaque carver Dennis Geiser
Running With The Devil (Hickory)
He was so right! Even though I expected to be reduced to a painful walk at mile 18, I would still be in my favorite place and time: The Umstead Marathon. It only comes once a year, enjoy it!

Common sense suggested that if I wanted this marathon to be different than my last four, then I should start very slow and easy. Shannon didn't agree with common sense and told me to just "go for it".

So I left the heart rate monitor at home and just went out fast with the pack, planning to enjoy it while it lasted.

I saw Lorraine coming back at mile 17,  leading the race with three guys struggling behind her. 

Lorraine Young led the way, blasting out of the start at an insane pace. Only 3 very fast guys could keep up with her, and that small lead pack was out of sight quickly.

I found myself in the second pack with a guys like Ronnie Weed, David Nash, and Mark Manz. These guys ALWAYS finish way in front of me in races, so clearly I was going too fast. But I was following Harold's advice to enjoy the race, and for me that meant to run the single track recklessly. 

The Conclave was on the lookout for conspirators,
trying to pull them from the course. In a moment of cowardice, I tried to hide my uniform.
One of my favorite things to do is to come out and try to run Company Mill and Sycamore as fast as I can (which isn't that fast). But I have probably run the "Figure8" route maybe 50 times, and I know every rock, every root and every turn. So I just let out a "whoop" and plunged down Company Mill and had fun.

The switchbacks on "power-line" hill on Sycamore.

Swearing Spouse
Behind me, Shannon and Monique were trying to "take it easy" on single track. Despite this, Shannon tripped on a root and fell while walking up Sycamore around mile 5.

She earned a bit of trail love and bruise on her shin. First she screamed every single obscenity in her vocabulary as loud as she could. Then she proceeded to apologize to the long stream of runners behind her.

Don't feel bad for her though. After she limped along for a while, she picked up the pace and ran the second half faster, getting wood for the 8th time.

Scott represents the revolution among the volunteers.

Running With The Devil (Hickory)
When I came out of the single track around mile 8, I felt surprisingly OK. But by mile 10 my legs were getting sore and assumed they wouldn't last past 16 as usual. I walked up the "Big Mother F'er" hills on North Turkey creek, and then got "lei'd" at the tropical themed aid station. This gave me a huge boost.

I had been counting the men coming back, and when I got to the turn-around at 15, I realized that I was was in 10th place! I couldn't believe it. If I could just stay in the top-15, I would get "Devil Wood"! However there were many guys not far behind me, and my legs could blow up at any moment.

The finish line welcoming committee awaits the first place finisher with "Devil Wood"
Dennis Geiser

Mile after mile ticked by, and amazingly my legs were still working. What was different this time? Was it the 600 calories of gu? Was it that I didn't try to "train" for this? Because I was better rested? Or maybe I was being driven by the spirit of revolution!

Umstead Marathon is a party in the park

Seize The Day
As everyone who runs this race knows, the real test of Umstead awaits at the bottom of Cedar Ridge around mile 23. And just like the sign says, my wheels almost came off. I had turned to walk back up the hill when my hip, hamstring, and calf all simultaneously began to seize up.

ARRGGHH! I had to immediately switched back to running with tiny little steps to hold off the cramps. I had to tiptoe the last 3 miles like I was balancing a huge stack of dishes. If I stopped running or made any sudden movements it will all come crashing down.

Photo by Dennis Geiser
Hearts by Google.

Co-opting The Revolution
I crossed the finish line so completely exhausted, it took me a moment to grasp what was happening.
Someone was handing me a Hickory Horned Devil plaque. After three down years, I didn't think I would be "Getting Wood" ever again, and I was deliriously happy. The day had gone perfectly, it simply could not get any better.

And then it got better. 

Conclave member Denise then handed me a stuffed opossum. 
It was the Carolina Godiva President and all around wonderful person Brandy Burns who had the idea many months ago. Instead of trying to oppress the opossum, the Conclave had been secretly planning to give me exactly what I wanted. I was stunned. 

The dream realized.
2014, The Year of The Opossum!

If you think there is a better race somewhere else, then you are wrong.

It Just Keeps Getting Better
The lesson here is that you cannot fight The Conclave. They will kill you with kindness.

There are many posts on Facebook and marathon.com reviews saying that "Umstead Marathon is THE best race anywhere, period"
And this is not an exaggeration. The organizers and volunteers owe no allegiance to an outside cause or shoe store. They are motivated by one simple thing: they genuinely enjoy seeing runners happy, and at this they succeed prodigiously.

Behind the scenes, the Conclave makes it happen
Dennis Geiser)

The Umstead Marathon is absolutely perfect in every way, and I would not change a thing.

Well, except that one thing...

Long live the Opossum Revolution!

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