Umstead Trail Marathon Race Report
Photo Credit: Clarke Babcock

Race: Umstead Trail Marathon

Runner: Erin Hunt

Race Date: 03/07/2020

Location: Umstead State Park-Raleigh, NC

Results: 3rd Place female-3:54:41

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3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The low key, ultramarathon vibe
  2. Each year the mascot of the race is a different animal, and you don’t find out until the shirts are given out at packet pickup
  3. The race is cup-less and they do a great job of letting you know beforehand.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

There were some speedster cyclists out on the course and a couple brought their horses on the bridal trails unaware of the event. It is a public park and this isn’t the race director’s fault at all, but it is a good reminder to read signs or check websites for event dates before going to a park. (Especially if you’re bringing HORSES!)

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

The parking is kind of weird. The start/finish is at the very back of the park, so there isn’t a lot ready to hold a bunch of cars. They will spread you out and some people can end up parking a half mile from the start. You should plan on arriving early to avoid this, but you can’t arrive too early because the park doesn’t open until 7. Be strategic about when you get there and carpool if possible.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I had a really great day. I used to live right by this park and have done the race before, so I knew what to expect. The beginning 8 miles or so include a good deal of single track, and from then on you are mostly on hilly fire roads. The single track is interjected with fire road every couple of miles, so if you want to pass someone, you have a little bit of time to do that on wider trail before hopping back on single track. Knowing this, and also knowing that the toughest parts were at the beginning, I held back and kept a comfortable pace while others burned themselves out on the tough, technical beginning.
Once we were done with the single track and cruising on the fire road section, I started to inch my way towards the front. Again, knowing the park so well I could anticipate climbs and prepare for them. I moved up to 3rd place at around mile 22, and gave it my all on the last big climb.

This race is in the same park as my upcoming 100 miler, so the main goal of this was to gain confidence leading into the 100 and spend some time on these specific trails. I got 10th here last year, so I did also want to at least remain in the top ten and hopefully move up to a podium finish. I ended up knocking 30 minutes off of last years time, feeling great throughout the day, and reaching all of my goals.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Hold back! It’s easy to push too hard on the single track, but you have a lot of hard climbs coming. Save some energy for those.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Relax and run your own race and good things will happen.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

You get about 2400 ft of gain, and that comes from steep hills rather than slow rolling. It’s important to train both up and downhill running for this race. The downhills are very fun to bomb down, but if you haven’t practiced that you could risk pulling a muscle or taking a tumble.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Yes! You’re in the woods the entire time.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Mid-level difficulty for a trail marathon. Hills obviously, and the single track is somewhat technical, but it’s 100% runnable.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Very well organized. However, it does have that ultramarathon vibe, so don’t expect a big shiny medal and a huge finish line.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

There were strong runners from various track clubs and racing teams in the area. They post who is running as people sign up, so you can get a good idea of who is showing up if you want to.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Nope! It may fill up because they do have to limit the amount of runners, but you don’t have to sign up the minute registration opens.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Cupless, so wear a hydration pack or carry a bottle. They are pretty frequent for a trail race. Gatorade and Honey Stinger were available at each one, and I think they had some other “real food” snacks as well.

Weather and typical race conditions

It was in the low 40s at the beginning of the race and got up to the mid 50s I think. Perfect weather for the past two years. It gets pretty sunny on some sides of the park, so don’t forget your sunscreen.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Just something to put your liquid in, and the park really appreciates it when you have a carpool buddy.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

If they come with you and stay the whole time, then yes. If they just want to jump on the course and cheer, they’ll have to know the park well enough to put their car at a different entrance or bike in and find you. Once your car is in a parking spot by the start/finish, you can’t move it until the runners are well on their way.

How’s the Swag?

I really enjoyed it. You get a tech t-shirt with the mascot animal of the year on it. You also get some goodies from local brands, a foldable reusable cup in case you forgot your hydration pack, and socks. They don’t do medals, instead you get a logoed pint glass of water handed to you when you finish. Top 15 finishers get a wooden carving of the mascot animal. Last but not least, when you cross the finish line you are handed a number. They do a raffle inside, so you take your number in and see if you won anything.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

10/10 would recommend!

Erin Hunt is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Erin, check out her coaching page.

Umstead Trail Marathon Race Report
Photo Credit: Clarke Babcock