An easy 100 miler. Is there such a thing? No, but people do claim Umstead is easy. Those people obviously won it or have never run it or maybe hallucinated the entire time instead of just the last 12.5 mile loop (like I did). I can barely walk, my feet are covered with my usual heat rash, blisters decorate my feet, the outline of my sports bra is imprinted in my skin, and I looked exhausted. I can tell you: Umstead is hard. Any 100 miler is hard. But Umstead is definitely not easy.
Logistically easy, yes. It’s a 12.5 mile loop, with a headquarter aid station with an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet that I hope to emulate at my wedding if I ever get married one day, free pacers, lots of room for drop bags galore, a roaring fire indoors, and the friendliest volunteers. (It’s the South, and aren’t people in the South known for their hospitality? These volunteers gave me their personal clothing to keep me warm.) Then there are the other unstaffed water stops, including Aid Station 1 with water, Gatorade, Gu, pretzels, cookies, M&Ms, Snickers, other candy. Then you can leave your other drop bag at Aid Station 2 and chill out by the space heaters in the back when you get hypothermia. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Two drop bag spots you hit up 8 times each, great volunteers, smooth surface (carriage trails) make this course rock. Plus, with the airport spur, headquarters spur, and in and out between the unstaffed aid station and and the headquarter spur, you get to see your friends a lot. And a lot of my friends were out there – including Tony, Ray K., Emmy, Steve Tursi, Mat, Tammy, Glenn, amongst others. It was great fun.
What makes Umstead hard are the hills. Rolling hills don’t seem so scary, but by your eight loop, they seem ominous. What I was charging up loops one through six, I was suddenly arm-in-arm being dragged by my pacer on the very end of my last loop. Wanting to cry, hating the hills, the downhills hurt worse, ow, ow, ow.
Ray K. and I start out FAST. I feel good, but worry it’s too fast. Pound, pound, pound, not very much walking. We talk about Burning Man, running, races, love, the usuals. Ray K. is so funny, talking to everyone, joking around, making new friends. Running with him is such a blast. We’re doing really good, in great spirits, and the pace doesn’t feel killing. I smile, I rush through aid stations. I feel great.
Ray K. and I are still together. Good times. More chatting, advice from the ultrarunning guru himself. I start to feel a little dizzy and Ray K. insists I drink Gatorade and munch on some pretzels. I end up drinking a four cups of Gatorade per lap, which balances my electrolytes, and also makes me pee. I’m carrying water in my fuel belt, sipping on that periodically.
Ray K. and I run more. I hear the story of Barkley, of Ray K. running Barkley. I’m hurting just a little, but mostly feeling good. He stops to change his pants at the end of the loop…and I lose him.
Where is Ray? Feeling good, except a little lonely. Decide to combat loneliness by charging up all the hills. Blake (RD) sees me, and says, “Running up this hill? You’re an animal!” The day is beautiful – high low 60s, breeze, I’m RUNNING!
Bonus: I run the first 50 miles in 9:25, my fastest 50 miler ever!!!
Still feeling good. Singing to myself while running – out loud of course. Charging hills. Feeling amazing. Up, down, I’m FAST. Or I feel fast. Gatorade. Pretzels. Lots of vanilla gu. Powergel blasts. Too many wintergreen mints, to present nausea. Water. Endurolyte. Occasional other random snack. Smiles. Getting called PINKY because I’m wearing pink visor, pink long-sleeved shirt, pink polka dot running skirt, pink compression sleeves, pink leopard print gaiters. I feel great. I can’t stop smiling. I feel amazing.
Okay, this is getting hard. These hills…ow. Start running with this guy Steve, a dentist. Talk about our lives, our running, our partners, surgery, life. Walk more but when we run, we run FASTER. Smiling still. Everyone keeps saying, “You look great.” I am feeling strong, but it’s starting to get rough.
My asthma bothers me. I take two puffs. The number on the counter on my inhaler reads “100.” This has significance, I am sure of it.
Meet my amazing pacer, Kevin. Kevin responded to a Tweet I posted on Twitter, “Both my pacers for Umstead are injured. Can anyone help?” He lives in Cary, mere minutes from the course. A triathlete training for his first Ironman, he worried about keeping pace, but I assured him I’d be running slow. And slow I did.
I walked more than I had previously. He pushed me to walk less, run more, pick up the pace when I was walking. We learned more about each other, talked about training, running, cycling, work, places we’ve lived. I’m feeling rough. My feet are swollen, I can feel a big blister on the bottom of my foot growing and I want this race to be over. NOW.
But thanks to Kevin, I finish – which would have been much more difficult without him.
This is horrible. My feet don’t want to move. We hobble out, and running is becoming more and more painful. We discover speedwalking is faster than the hobbling I’m calling running, so we do a lot of that. We run, I laugh at how ridiculous I am running. The miles seem to go on and on. The airport spur. The first unstaffed aid station. The unstaffed water spot. And then…the aid station.
I can’t stop shivering. The combination of the slower pace, the dropping temps, and the wind have made me really cold. I’m chattering. The volunteers try to warm me up. It’s mile 94.52 and I can’t even stand up. They warm me with blankets, wool and fleece. I lie down but it doesn’t help. I sit in front of the heater. I eat a little potato soup. I drink some hot cocoa. They tell me I’m so cold because of my low blood sugar, that I need to eat. I eat a few grapes. “At nine calories per grape, you need every grape you can get in you.” Animal crackers. Nothing really sounds appealing. I try to eat, at everyone’s begging.
I’m still cold. A volunteer lends me his pants. Another woman from Colorado lends me an extra jacket, giving me her address so I can mail it back. We wrap a fleece blanket around my neck.
I will not quit. That’s not even an option. I am finishing this thing, though it’s not 18 hours like I had hoped.
Kevin pulls me up. Arm-in-arm, very tightly, we walk very quickly out of there. We talk about how I’m feeling better, about how good it will feel to finish, about everything. The branches off in the woods form into different things, and my minor hallucinations entertain me as I hobble on.
Gatorade. Power gel blasts. We’re finishing this. I have no idea what time it was until Kevin tells me I am definitely breaking 24 hours.
In the main gate. I’m running, as fast as I can. It hurts so bad, it hurts so good. I push on. Faster. Ow. People are cheering me on, though the crowds have thinned as many of the crews are asleep, home, or in the lodge, warming up.
Down the stupid steps, Kevin telling me each step because he knows I’m a tad delirious. And up the steps, I’m running up them, screaming with hands in the air, wearing all these donated clothes, so happy to finally finish this wretched race, this beautiful race.
And I’m done. Four minutes off my PR. Not what I had set out to do, but I ran harder than I ever had. I felt great. Runners’ high. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful race, a beautiful struggle.