After 42 marathons and ultras I’ve gotten to the point where finishing a marathon is not in doubt.
Dare I say that I’ve gotten a bit overconfident about marathons because they’ve become fairly easy for me if I’m not trying to set a PR.
The New South Trail Marathon was a good lesson in respecting the distance and the course for me.
The New South Trail Marathon
We were debating what to do for the long Easter weekend and had decided to stay home. But it seemed like a shame to have the kids out of school for a couple of days and not go somewhere (and by somewhere I mean a marathon). Trevor had suggested picking up a marathon in North Carolina and the New South Trail Marathon seemed like a great option.
The cost was only $70 for the marathon even though I registered just two days in advance. They also sent out race emails with good communication. We drove all day Friday to arrive at one of the Drury Hotels in Charlotte, NC. Packet pick up was at the North Face store on Friday night or on race morning at the starting area (which I took advantage of).
The race was held on March 26, 2016 at the U.S. National Whitewater Center just outside of Charlotte, NC and put on by the Whitewater Race Series (who do around 30 races in that location each year). They offer everything from 5k to ultras and triathlons.
After a restful sleep at the Drury Inn, Trevor and the boys took me to the starting location early Saturday morning. I picked up my bib number easily and everything pre-race was well organized.
I confidently told Trevor that I should be done around 5 hours and to come back and get me then. After they left I spent the rest of the time until the start relaxing in a covered pavilion area. They also had very nice indoor bathrooms nearby without a single line (take a moment to soak that in!). That’s about as luxurious as it gets pre-race.
The marathon started at 8:00 am and the half at 9:00 am. Temps were in the mid-50’s with a light breeze. It stayed nice and cool throughout the morning with light rain twice. The setting was full of trees starting to bloom, hills and beautiful scenery. However there was lots of pollen in the air which made my seasonal allergies start to go haywire.
The course started with a mile lap around the Whitewater Center to thin out the runners before heading onto single track. The course was well marked and varied from flat to advanced trails (with plenty of roots, branches, a couple steep down hills, and one uphill called Goat hill- long climb straight uphill. If a hill gets its own name you know it’s one to watch out for.
The marathon was two loops of the course with approximately 1,500 feet of elevation changes per loop. Tucked into the trees and visible from the trail were many obstacle course stations and zip lines. The course was not closed so there was some traffic from hikers and quite a few out riding bikes on the trails.
There were several times when I had to move off course to allow a bike to pass. Because the trail system was located near the interstate you could also hear cars and also airplanes passing overhead. There were only a couple of locations that had a handful of spectators other than the start/finish line.
The aid stations were every 3-4 miles apart and had water and sports drink but nothing fancy. There also weren’t any port a pots that I could see out along the course. The volunteers were friendly and encouraging. I took my pre-race UCAN and then carried some in my handheld bottle. I just wish I’d brought more with me as I had enough for around a 4:30 marathon, not 6:30. It really made me appreciate how well UCAN works because I could feel the contrast between the solid energy that it delivers verses the sports drink that I used a couple times in the last few miles.
The aid stations were just enough distance apart that I wished I had a handheld water bottle to use. Many runners were carrying handhelds or hydration packs.
I’m not the most coordinated trail runner and started tripping around mile 9. Fortunately I was able to catch myself during the early miles but it didn’t make my right hamstring very happy. Then for some reason I also got this huge blister on the side of one of my big toes which throbbed with every step. To my relief it popped around mile 12 so that I didn’t feel pain with every step.
I finished my first lap in just less than 3:00 and realized (not for the first time) that my projected 5 hour finish time was laughable. I used the bathroom, ate some orange slices, hydrated and ogled the cookies before deciding against one.
Finding a Running Partner
I overheard this lady talking to one of the race officials about a DNF due to knee issues. She was worried she wouldn’t make the 7 hour cut off time. I convinced her that with my gimpy hamstring and her knee we should run the second lap together. Her name was Cora and she lived in the area and had some experience running on the trail there.
I fell around mile 16 after tripping for the hundredth time and went down on right side, slid on some pine needles, and finally dug in my elbow to keep from hitting a tree. I did a brief full body assessment, decided that everything was still intact and got up. The worst of it was a bloody elbow and angry right hamstring. Cora gave me some Ibuprofen and on we went walking the uphills and moving forward. It was nice to have the company out there as talking really helped keep my motivation up.
Since I didn’t bring enough UCAN I started to feel a little whoozy the last 4-5 miles. But we crossed the finish line together in 6:27:32 for my 34th state. I saw Trev and the boys soon afterward and there were good crowds at the finish.
Post-race food included bananas, oranges, quinoa wraps, cookies (which sadly were all gone by the time I finished), and beer. There was a place to shower and indoor bathrooms. Race swag included a nice medal, long sleeve shirt, and gaiter. Although they did have a place to shower we needed to hit the road so I did a quick clothes change and got rid of the worst of the grit before getting in the car to drive home.
- The first place woman Amy Carver finished 4:21. The first place man was J.P. Delaney and he finished in 3:55. There were a total of 59 finishers for the marathon, 12 DNF and 283 finished the half marathon.
Post Race Challenges
Like I mentioned earlier, the later miles of the race were very uncomfortable because of right hamstring pain. Post race I was very sore with a stiff right leg from my upper hamstring through the knee. My shoulders and lower back were also sore which I attribute to not being used to running trails.
I took four days off from running after the marathon to let some of the inflammation go down. During this time I did daily Epsom salt baths, gentle foam rolling, had a chiropractic adjustment, did yoga, and had a sports massage. Then on day 5 post race I did a 1 mile test run. Toward the end I was really feeling my hamstring so I rested another day and then was able to do 2 miles just fine a week out from the race.
Since then I’ve been running easy every other day and gradually working the distance back up. During my 4 miler today I realized that I’m feeling about 80% better.