Saturday, May 4, 2013

Umstead 100 mile trail run April 2013

Friday, 4/5/13, 6:18 AM, Dorthea St., Raleigh, North Carolina

“OH!  OH!  You have to get up and drive me to the park.  They’ve already started!”
Those were my panicked words waking Rick from his sound sleep.  It took him less than a minute to remind me the run was Saturday morning.  Oops.

I’ve felt a 100 mile run on my horizon for a few years.  I looked for a race with reasonable weather [not too hot], a reasonable course [no mountains or single track with roots and loose rock], no waist deep water crossings, no bushwhacking to find the course, and preferably in the springtime so I could train all winter.  Umstead fit all the criteria, plus Rick’s sister Rachel and her husband Chris live in Raleigh and were happy to have us visit.

The first hurdle was scoring one of the elusive 275 entry spots.  Umstead is regarded as a rather ‘easy’ hundred miler, so lots of people want to run.  September 8 at noon Eastern Time, found hundreds of Umstead hopefuls at their computers pressing the ‘refresh’ button waiting for a chance to fill in the entry form.  All the slots are taken in less than one minute.    Qualifying requirements are liberal and I was proud to mention my success at the Arrowhead 135.   Umstead would be my first 100 mile attempt. 

For training I ran the Dubuque Triple D marathon in January, free-lanced a 35 miler of my own in February, and made it through a snowy and wet Hawkeye 50K in March.  I ran hills regularly.

We drove from Cedar Rapids to Raleigh, N.C., allowing me to pack lots of running clothes.  I had several choices for water containers, two pair of shoes, a headlamp and flashlight and a schedule Rick worked out for me with finishing times of 27 hours, 28 hours, 29 hours and 30 hours, the time limit. 

We mapped out a driving route from Rachel’s neighborhood where we were staying to Umstead Park.  I did two test drives so I could get there in the dark on race morning.  Everyone is assigned a parking lot on Friday because parking in limited.  Some people are in lots very close to the race course.  Power Line parking, where I was, is not along the course.  No matter.  Race HQ is in a spacious and large lodge built by the Civilian Conservations Corps in the 1930’s.  There is a cozy fire place at the far end, and lots of tables and benches.  A full kitchen is connected to the lodge.

The North Carolina Ultra Running Association and the North Carolina Roadrunners Club band together to supply hundreds of volunteers.  The event is superbly organized in every way and they graciously ask for suggestions for improvement.  After the one hour pre-race meeting Friday evening, I said “If a person can’t complete a hundred miler here, I don’t know where they could.”  In addition to the usual amenities, the race had a free pasta supper the night before for racers and one guest, free breakfast for racers and crew, pacers for anyone after 50 miles or 10PM, an on-site sleeping cabin with ground pads, sleeping bags, food brought to you and showers for anyone finishing during the night who was too tired to drive home, and free breakfast for finishers Sunday morning that featured the most heavenly scrambled eggs ever eaten.  There were veggie burgers at the aid stations.  There was more GU than I’ve ever seen or consumed.  Front runners stayed for hours to cheer back-of-the-pack finishers.  Chip timing mats at three locations each lap allowed those at home or at the race HQ area to keep track of their runner via computer.  These people want you to finish.
The 6AM start (Saturday am, [rick]) was on time with no fanfare.  We were a mass of headlamps and reflective clothing making our way on the course.  The 12.5 mile loop is wide enough for two to four people across.  The surface is fine granite with no loose rocks or potholes.  There are several wooden bridges.  Each lap features 1000 feet of climbing.  There were some monster hills in length and steepness.  The main aid station at race headquarters and the halfway aid station at mile 6.5 featured a huge variety of hot and cold foods and beverages.  The three in-between aid stations had water, Gatorade and a few portable snacks.  Racers were never more than two or three miles from food and water, so I saw no need to carry much with me.  Lots of other racers had large camelbaks filled with stuff, but I had two tiny plastic bottles [the kind you can put in a carry-on bag at the airport], one with water and the other with sweet tea that fit in the pockets of my tights.  The high temperature was 63 degrees and the low 40 degrees.  There was no danger in my mind of dehydrating in three miles.  Hands free running is a luxury I wasn’t going to pass up.

It was fun to see things shake out in the first lap.  It’s amazing how fast the crowd at the start turns into no one in sight after 12.5 miles.  I enjoy listening to pieces of conversations.  “I asked the judge for a five minute recess which I used to get my entry spot.”  “Every decision made about the New York Marathon was WRONG!”  “I started running at age 62.”  And so it went.
My quickest lap took 2 hours 18 minutes, my longest lap took 4 hours 10 minutes.  Everyone walks to some extent, even the winners.  I’m not a fast walker in spite of efforts to improve.  I watch people closely who outpace me easily but don’t seem to be working hard.  I try to keep up, but I never can.  It’s a mystery to me. As my slow walking frustrated me, I glommed on to Dennis Miller from South Carolina during Lap 3. He was a good walker and he was happy to visit with me.

Edward Dennison Miller was a few months younger than me and had completed a couple other 100 mile foot races before Umstead.  After exchanging the customary information about ourselves, Dennis told me about the one person he knows from Iowa.  A  co-worker when both lived in Florida, this former Iowan from small west/central town of Atlantic told Dennis she had never seen a black person or Jew until she went to college.  He still found that astonishing.  Dennis could walk for hours at a pace of 4.5 mph.  His plan called for walking ~40 miles of the Umstead 100.  I don’t remember what all we talked about, but it didn’t take long for Dennis to pass the “Would you want to be stranded in an elevator with this person?” test.  He was funny and my walking pace was quicker when I was with him.  As we neared the end of Lap 3 we separated at the HQ aid station.  36 miles in the bag at 2:30PM.  8.5 hours into the race.

Around mile 40 Rick, Rachel and Chris showed up on bikes.  They spent part of the day riding the Tobacco Trail in nearby Durham,  N.C.  All day Umstead runners shared the park with other people on bikes, on foot, pushing strollers and hiking.  The race course used a small portion of trails throughout the park.  It was nice for me to see some familiar faces and hear about their ride earlier in the day.  Rachel enjoyed meeting Dennis.  We were moving along and enjoying the conversation.  We all made it to HQ together completing Lap 4 at 6:30PM.  I had a hot spot on the ball of my right foot.  It was a pleasure to learn that Danny, the volunteer Red Cross guy would take care of it for me.  He had various products and talked with another runner in the lodge about the best thing to use. 
 It felt nice to be off my feet for a few minutes.  I ate something, changed my socks, put on a long sleeved top and reflective vest.  It would be getting colder and dark soon.  Half done – 50 miles to go.  New batteries in my headlamp paid off.  There was just a sliver of moon that looked beautiful at midnight.

Lap 5, mile 50 to 62.5 was slow for me.  It would be dark soon and I was not entirely familiar with where I was on the course during the 12.5 mile loop.   I walked a lot after leaving head quarters to let my food digest and regroup for the long night.  I like walking breaks, but they are slow.  It takes forever to complete miles and it’s tempting to get sucked into the lodge or find a cozy lawn chair by the heater at the second aid station. A bright spot was meeting Meredith Murphy from Pennsylvaina.  She was a Badwater finisher in 2012 and noticed my Arrowhead shirt.  It was fun to talk about Badwater and Arrowhead .  I was alone for much of the lap and thought about the pacer option.  I always thought pacers were for fast people who wanted to keep their speed high.  It never dawned on me that I could have a pacer.  At the pre-race meeting it was mentioned that sometimes pacers are ready to do a lap, but no one asks for them, so they wait for their opportunity.  Maybe I would be doing some nice volunteer a kindness by asking for a pacer.  After much mental debate I decided I would see if a pacer was available for me for Lap 6.

I was alone finishing Lap 5 in the dark at 10:15PM.  I was introduced to Emmaline, my companion for Lap 6.  I felt the need to be honest with her that I wouldn’t be a “fun” companion.  I was getting tired, my legs were sore, and I’m not much of a talker.  I needed my energy to go forward.  I felt like I was on the edge of bonking constantly.  Eating was difficult, nothing was appealing.  At one point I walked for 30 minutes with a bite of hot dog bun in my mouth.  Off we went to conquer Lap 6 walking as I ate some food.  Emmaline, a pharmacist who had never run more than 13 miles, who had never run at night was good natured enough to find the fine line between ordering me to run and suggesting it was time to move faster than walking.  She was marvelous.  I ran when I could on the flats and downhills.  We saw eyes of animals in the dark.  Lap 6 took us 4 hours.  It is a mental victory to move past 50 miles.  I was envious of other racers who were laps ahead of me.  Mega-runs are about patience.  I wanted to be faster, but more so, I wanted to finish.  I know if I kept moving I would make the time cutoff of 30 hours.

As people finished and others dropped out, there were fewer people on the course.  It got cold during the night.  Running was a good incentive to keep warm.  Before Emmaline and I finished Lap 6 I told her I wanted a pacer for Lap 7.  I re-fueled at the HQ and Hugh appeared at 2:15 AM to replace Emmaline.  I briefed him on my status:  sore, tired,  can’t talk much and wanted to finish.  Even at 4 hours per lap, I had the time to finish.  It was excruciating to entertain the thought of walking for 8 hours.  The more I ran the faster I would finish.  As long as there was adequate time, I was not quitting.  Hugh knew every inch of the course. His yard backed up to Umstead Park and he ran the trails almost daily.  He told me of every flat stretch, small hill, large hill, up and down as we approached them.  There is magic from pacers who allow the struggling racer to dictate the pace, especially a racer who is a stranger.  I knew I should run flats and downhills.  The transition from walking to running was tough, but I ran.  The mind controls the body.  At mile 9 in each loop is a 1 mile down hill.  It seems to go on forever.  At the bottom I told Hugh that running down it was both horrible and wonderful.  My legs were so sore, but running got us down faster.  I would not walk down hills. I had to get done!  Hugh was a gentle man who was giving up hours of prime sleeping time to help me through 12.5 difficult miles.  I wanted to give him a good effort.  By the end of Lap 7 it’s easy to get a little excited about finishing.  One more lap, and at 6:30AM it was getting close to sunrise.

Of course I wanted to employ a pacer for Lap 8 if one was looking for work.  I was teamed with Ivy.  She was younger than me and seemed happy to be part of the event. During the night I discovered the power of fresh orange slices.  They energized me.  Ivy loaded up on sliced oranges in a  Ziploc bag.  When we walked I would eat one at a time until all the rinds were back in the bag.  At the half way aid station she got another bag full.  All night there was a direct cause and effect between eating and energy.  As the final 12.5 miles passed, I knew I would meet my goal of finishing 100 miles.  It was exciting.  I ran more on this lap than the previous two.  I looked at people who were various distances behind me.  Would they finish?   I don’t like the pressure of cutting the finish time close to the limit.

It’s not over until it’s over, but I allowed myself to be excited after the last short uphill,  Only two more easy miles to the finish line.  Ivy and I ran slowly toward it.  I wanted to finish running.  Time passed 1O AM before the final mile.  I had more than 90 minutes time cushion!  Rick and Rachel are not early risers, but they made it just in time to see me cross the line at 28 hours, 22 minutes. 

 Race director Blake Norwood personally greets every finisher at the line.  “This race kicked my butt!” I said and he replied he’s heard that more than once. 

Tears of relief and happiness poured out as I hobbled into the lodge with the help of Rick and Rachel.

I found another limit and lived to tell about it.  Twenty four more people finished after me.  It was fun to sit out in the sunshine of the late morning to cheer them.  I’m now a member of the 100 mile club!

I lost track of Dennis Miller during the night.  He quit after Lap 5.
It was common to see racers texting and talking on their phones while on the trails.
I spent little time off my feet.  The most was 20 minutes getting First Aid for my foot.
I changed my socks once and used the same shoes, Saucony Shadow 6000.
I wore a simple wristwatch that beeped on the hour.
I added clothes at night and wore the same Capri tights with pockets the entire time.
I didn’t see any anyone running barefoot.
Dennis Miller calling me a “Bad-Ass” several times.  It’s a compliment!
Pacers ROCK!  “We’re here to help people finish.”
What to eat remains a puzzle to solve.
I didn’t trip or fall once!
The weather was perfect.
I’d recommend this race to anyone considering a 100 mile attempt.  After 19 years, they have it all figured out.  They want you to finish.

263 starters with a record 162 finishers
Racer ages ranges from 27 to 70 years.
68 first time 100 mile finishers, including me.
I finished 137th overall and 8th in my age group of 50-59
Overall average pace was 17:01

Ahh, Feet up, food and massage.


  1. Very interesting to read your account. That is a lot of climbing! Would you consider it tougher than PBP?

  2. Congratulations on your victory!