Umstead 100 Mile Race
by Will Brown
[This race report by Will Brown is from his first 100 mile race April 5-6, at the Umstead 100 Mile.]
A little after 8 AM last Sunday morning, I was standing by the side of the trail on a beautiful spring morning in Umstead State Park, just outside Raleigh, North Carolina. The sun was just over the trees, and it would have been a beautiful day for a brisk morning run, then coffee, donuts and the Sunday paper. Not that day. I was at the last aid station at the 95 mile mark of the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, eating Oreos and washing them down with Mountain Dew. As I shifted weight, the squishing feeling under the balls of my feet reminded me how badly blistered they were.
At first glance, there were few signs of the human struggles that had taken place on the trail over the last 24 plus hours. It was a five mile out and back course, run 10 times. Then I looked beside one of the tables under the tent. A pair of legs with dirty running shoes was sticking out of a sleeping bag. The aid station captain was shaking the person and telling them "You said just 10 minutes." There was no response except a muffled grunt. A DNF after 95 miles, it looked like. There was one other runner there, a guy in a pink cap that I had seen time and again. He was sitting in a chair, and as I watched he put his head in his hands. The captain came over to him and he looked up and sadly asked how he could get transportation back to the start/finish. I felt badly for these guys, but I had to get out of there quickly in case this stuff was contagious. I thanked the aid station folks for the last time, and started moving again.
The first 50 miles of the race had gone smoothly. It was a hot day, and the wide bridle trail didn't offer much protection from the sun. The trail was more of a gravel strewn dirt road, which would turn out to be deadly to my feet as the race wore on. The course had a total ascent/descent of 7,000 feet, not large in comparison to most, but enough to provide plenty of uphill and downhill work. I stayed well fueled and hydrated, taking sodium and potassium capsules regularly. When the heat of the day wore off, I felt ready for the challenges awaiting me. This would be all uncharted territory from here on. My longest runs had been my two 50 mile races. My 50 mile time was 12 hours flat, which was good for me, especially considering the heat.
I met my evening pacer, Debbie Griffith, at the start/finish. I pulled what I needed out of my night bag and sat down for the only time in the race to change socks. I didn't like what I saw on my right foot - a good blister on the inside of my big toe and one on the heel. Debbie, alias Ms. Nightingale, helped me get some tape and a bandaid on them well enough to stay. We grabbed headlamp and flashlight, and with a hearty "9 OUT" ( my bib number), we left the aid station in the fading late afternoon sunshine.
Debbie was great company for the 50 to 60 loop. I hope the unaccustomed ultra run/walk routine didn't do anything to her legs for Boston in a couple of weeks. When the sun went down, I fired up my headlamp, which provided plenty of light for both of us. We caught a great view of Hale-Bopp away from the city lights. Debbie was kind enough to ignore my occasional rude bodily sounds caused by 12 hours of eating odd food and the onset of middle age. In exchange for her tact, I explained to her the little-known significance of the squiggly patterns in the dust on the side of the trail. :-)) I didn't demonstrate how they are made.
Mike Fiorito, the leader, and eventual winner, lapped us at one point. I introduced Debbie and he slowed down for a bit to say hello. Where else but in a race like this would that happen?
I had a very slight bout of nausea after the 55 mile aid station, probably caused by the turkey and cheese sandwich I had there. I stayed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and soup the rest of the way and it didn't return. Debbie suggested I get some water down, and she was right - the sensation went away. This most enjoyable loop ended all too soon, and I said goodbye to Debbie and headed out for loop 7.
There were now fewer people on the trail. Umstead provides a 50 mile option, and many of the 104 starters had taken it this year. I was running alone, and there was often enough starlight for me to turn my headlamp off. There was no way to avoid all the small rocks on the trail, so it didn't matter much where your feet landed. Occasionally on straight stretches of the trail, I would see the headlamps and flashlights of runners coming at me, like a bobbing string of white Christmas lights in the forest. The temperature was now agreeable, and an occasional gentle breeze welcome. About 10:45 PM, I popped the first of 2 Vivarins I would take during the night. They would turn out to be all I needed to stay awake.
I ran loops 7 and 8 alone and fairly smoothly. It was a pleasure seeing lister Barry Craig at the start/finish who had driven up from Charlotte with his wife to spectate. They ended up donning volunteers' shirts and working the aid station all night. I knew the balls of my feet were blistering, but the discomfort was bearable and I decided not to attempt any repairs. At some point I felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my right foot, and then some relief. I realized the blister had broken, easing some of the pressure. My right big toe began to throb on the downhills from beating up against the end of the shoe. I did my best to ignore it all.
In the middle of loop 8, I realized I was deteriorating. Not bonking, but it was getting progressively more difficult to run the stretches I had been accustomed to. Walking was no problem, and I could still manage about 80% of my power walk. I wasn't feeling any sleep deprivation, but I did have a thought that I couldn't get out of my head - that maybe I had miscounted loops and was really on number 9. I really believed that was a possibility, but the start/finish folks dashed my hopes quickly.
The sun rose on loop number 9. I was looking forward to having my circadian rhythms kick in and give me a boost. It helped a little bit, but I was beginning to realize that the second half of the race starts at 80 miles, not 50. I had to disappoint my wife at the start/finish. The aid station folks knew us all by name by then, and would give us a cheer when we came in. She knew where I was on the course, but they hadn't told her my loop count, and she thought I was finishing. Ah, not yet, honey. One more loop. Leaving the aid station was very, very difficult. Loop 9 had been interminable, and the thought of doing it again was almost more than I could bear. A thread of ultra wisdom crossed my mind - no finisher has ever said they wished they had dropped at 90. I moved out.
Trudging up the first long hill about a mile out, I passed Grand Slammer Bob Boeder coming down, who was on his way to the finish. He was walking downhill and not looking very happy. That made me feel a little better about my state, and I felt a burst of pride just to be in the same race with people like Bob. Joel Zucker, one of my main 100 mile mentors and supporters along with Ron McBee, was running about half a loop ahead of me, and passed me going downhill. His hearty encouragement gave me another hit.
On that last loop, I found a balance of running and walking I could hold. 50 steps running on the flats and the downhills, and walking until I felt like 50 more steps. I knew I could walk the whole loop and still have plenty of time on the cutoff, but it didn't seem right when I could still do those 50 steps. The 5 miles to the aid station were a major milestone. After avoiding the threat of a last minute 95 mile DNF there, I could smell the barn. Two mountain bikers passed me right next to the 2 mile marker and asked me if I was in the race. I proudly pointed at the sign at said "Yup. 98 miles down, 2 to go." I remembered the day before passing that sign for the first time when some comedian had said "Only 98 miles to go."
The last long uphill was interminable, but it ended. The short 200 yard stretch on asphalt actually felt good on my destroyed feet. I turned left onto the dirt road I knew so well, for the last time. I began to run with 100 yards to go and held it the rest of the way. Someone called my name for the last time and I simply stopped running. No joyous shouts, I just stopped because I was finished.
I hugged my wife and shook hands with Joel. I didn't feel the euphoria that one feels after marathons. I felt gratitude. I was grateful to have finished, and grateful just to be a part of this strange and wonderful thing called ultrarunning. Joel and I posed for my wife's camera, and she caught a picture of two dirty, unshaven guys, one an ultra newbie, (but no longer a 100 mile virgin :-)), and the other a veteran of races such as Hardrock, smiling through their discomfort to give the camera a victory "thumbs up". This may sound a little hokey, but it's true - we were severely tested and were not found wanting. Life doesn't get any better than that.
Finishing time 27:31. Temperature - 83 during the day, maybe 60 at night. I used 20 ounces of a slightly stronger than recommended Succeed! Amino solution every 10 miles, supplemented with water and occasional Mountain Dew. I used one Succeed! electrolyte capsule every hour during the day and every 2 hours at night. I drank one can of Ensure Plus every 10 miles and had a variety of aid station stuff as my tastes varied. I didn't really ever "bonk". No cramps, no barfing, no nausea except for that short turkey sandwich bout. Someone else recently said they thought the electrolyte capsules improved their attitude. That happened with me, also. I did not experience any grumpiness, although that could have been due to the aid station volunteers and the race officials. Blake Norwood puts on a very fine race.
As always, no product endorsement is intended above, just a report of what worked for me.
Feet. Bah. Well broken in Adidas TR Response's, but swelling and the terrain caused severe blistering and toenail damage. I need another half size for 100's, and it's back to the drawing board on my blister preventative system that worked in 50's. The blister on my right toe was the size and color of a large grape and sprayed about 2 feet in the bathtub when I drained it. National class distance, if not world class.
List notes: In addition to Debbie Griffith, Barry Craig and Joel, it was good to meet listers Carey Stoneking, Jay Hodde and Charlie Kline. Oh, there was that local guy I saw a few times during the day and night as he was lapping us - great race, Mike. Special thanks to Robert Huber, the lobsterman, who was my virtual pacer in Austria, running a loop that he and I had run last year in Salzburg, at the same time I was laboring in the North Carolina woods.
Will Brown Raleigh, NC firstname.lastname@example.org
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