329.8 miles raced in 2010
Race: Umstead 100 mile
Place: Raleigh, NC
Miles from home: 2143 miles
Weather: 30-50s; sunshine
The best laid plans...
The Umstead 100 mile race was one which was supposed to serve a two-fold purpose for me. First, I was going to get my first 100 mile finish, in hopefully a fast time. Second, it would be a training run for my 204 miler which is now just 26 days away. In hindsight, it could not be both, at least not at the speed I was hoping to run it.
It was, however, a good lesson in a few things. One can never discount the affect that the unknown will have on a body in a long-distance race. Even if you are unaware of what causes those affects, they are just as strong. Last month I got sick before the Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race. As such, I did not have the energy to continue after 33 miles. One week later, I crushed my personal best in a 50 mile race by over 100 minutes. I knew the sickness had weakened me for one race and hoped the next week would be a different story. It was and I did well. But oftentimes things happen and we have no explanation. We can look back and think of something which may have been the cause but we have no idea.
I was sent an email recently from a person asking a question about if I have ever been discouraged in a marathon. After the laughter subsided in my head, I told her that yes, in the 114 marathons I have done, I have quite often faced down discouragement and moved forward. I preach to others that failure helps us learn, even if the lesson is not cut and dry. As I sat in a chair, done at 50 miles of the race yesterday (and yes, 50 miles is indeed a lot of mile but dear friends who offered encouragement to me, it was only half of the race I wanted to run that day), I hoped I could draw fruitful lessons from my experience. Here is hoping you can from my recounting of my day.
The Umstead 100 mile race is a convenient 8-loop course (12.5 miles per) on extremely easy on the legs runnable dirt surfaces. As I wished to run 16 hours for this race, that means an average of 2 hours per lap was needed. Allowing me to do the math for you, that is a 9:30 minute mile. I felt it was doable.
The course is not easy but it is not hard, per se. The back end miles of the loop are definitely a little challenging but I figured this would be where I would utilize some walk breaks on those 7th and 8th laps.
From the Umstead 100 website, a fairly accurate representation of the course elevation profile.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself (and a mite bit optimistic as well.)
Lap 1: 1:50:33 (followed by 2:07 break)
Fortunately, ANY plans I had of wanting to win the race were more or less thrown out the window when I saw some of the runners there. Sure, anything can happen during a 100 miler, but when you are outclassed, you are just simply outclassed. The cream of the crop was 30 year old Zach Gingerich, who I stood right behind in the bathroom line a mere 5 minutes before the race started. Wearing what can only be described as racing flats, I looked at him and thought: "I am going to get crushed today." With too many fast times to list, I knew about Zach's pedigree. Also, no less than two other runners who were definitely just phenomenal runners were milling around.
This knowledge actually made it easier to run my own race at my own pace. Nothing to win here, folks, move along. When the race started I found myself near the front which is where I should be given the pace I wanted to run. In the darkness of the 6 AM start I soon was next to a rather tall runner. Taking a chance I asked if he was guy named Nathan. Sure enough my headlight illuminated the face of a runner who I had met at a race or two and who I had seen on the roster, Nathan Echols. Nathan went out very fast, and after faltering a little bit in a few points ran a stellar 17:54:56. Excellent work, Nathan!
During this first loop I was just trying to find a rhythm. Even though I was not running much faster than my goal of 9:30 per mile (and I knew I would have to run a little faster than that average at first as there was no way I was going to be running that fast at the end), nothing felt quite right. Finally, after about 6 miles, I felt good. At the backside aid station, I could see on a straightaway, last year's women's winner Jill Perry who ran a 16:02. Since that was what I was hoping to run I knew keeping her in sight would be wise. But I also knew we were going a little faster than I wanted so "in sight" was fine. "Next to" or "right behind" was too quick.
At the end the first loop, my friend Dean Shuster (and jokingly race saboteur - he was at the Kentucky Derby Marathon last April which derailed 22 straight Boston Qualifying marathons for me. The weather did. Dean didn't.) was onhand to spread some joy. Returning from an injury, Dean was here to crew more than a few runners from his Columbia, South Carolina home - namely Rick and Matt who I had joined for dinner the previous evening. Rick would finish in 21:10 and Matt in 23:05, both getting a belt buckle in their first 100 miler!
Lap 2: 1:54:48 (followed by 3:31 break)
After a short break following the first loop, I started out again. I was in much better spirits and felt just fine and dandy. My mind had been playing with me a little bit but I was quelling doubts and realized this would be the lap were I began walk breaks on the uphill sections of the back half of the course as well as some steeper ones on the front half.
I had moved up conservatively and at the 7 mile aid station was in 15th place, exactly where I wanted to be. I was keeping ahead of those I passed and moving along efficiently. I began doing math in my head of what I could run even if I slowed exponentially, which on this loop I did not feel was necessary.
Nearing the end of the second loop, now I was beginning to see more and more runners. The nature of the course, wherein runners ran back and forth by each other for a 2 mile leg, allowed many greetings to be shared by all. Another one mile section later on did the same thing. And, of course if you got passed by someone, they could always say hello to you. Not that you want that to happen!
Heading out, I saw my friend Andy Kumeda was not far behind me at all. I knew he was running well faster than he had ever run before and I was right. Setting a personal best in the 50 mile, 100k and 100 mile distances all in the same day is one hell of a way to spend a Saturday (and 45 minutes of Sunday, technically!) Awesome work, Andy!
Lap 3: 2:07:05 (followed by 35:10 break)
This third lap felt fine to start with but by 2 miles in, I was experiencing some problems. My leg had been hurting from the beginning. However it had never hurt very bad and was definitely not hurting as bad as it could be here. No, for whatever reason, my energy was simply not there. At 28 miles, I could tell something was just not up. Near 30 miles, Andy passed me and kept motoring on. A few other runners passed me as well and I fell in behind them. For two more miles until the back end aid station, I stayed on their tails. Having just filled my water bottle at mile 5, I did not need to stop. When they did, I kept right on. Soon I saw Andy in front of me again and I was feeling pretty fine. I chalked this up to the highs and lows of running an ultra, even while my energy continued to ebb.
I walked much more than I really wanted to over the next few miles but knew this was an all day event. When I rolled into the end of the third loop, I was still under 6 hours (and my desired pace for the day) but knew something was amiss. I could not understand what. Here at 37.5 miles, running 1:30 slower per mile than I had in my 50 mile race at Iron Horse, and taking in many more calories, I was spent. I decided to sit down in the dreaded chair and try to take in real food.
Lap 4: 2:30:33
Sitting is never a good idea in an ultra unless you really need it, or so they say. But I felt I really needed it. As my Powerbar shipment had not arrived before I left for north Carolina, I was relying on Vanilla bean GU to get me through the race. GU is fine but I can only stomach so many of them. To this I think the greatest feat Lance Armstrong ever did was not surviving cancer or winning 7 straight Tour De Frances but rather taking in a reported 13 GUs during his first marathon ever.
Eating food and trying to get real calories in me, I could feel my left calf tightening a bit. Again, not as bad I thought it would be but still there. I could also tell that unless my energy level changed, then inevitably my stride would change and following that would be potentially injuring the leg further with a bad stride. So I sat. And I sat. And then I saw Zach come in having completed 50 miles. In 6:18. Are you freaking kidding me?! Only twice had 15 hours been broken at Umstead (course record was 14:38) and he did the first half in the low 6 hour mark? I predicted to Dean that he was going to run 13:30. I was wrong. Zach ended up destroying the course record in 13:23. Kneel before Zod!
Meanwhile, nothing was happening with my motor. Dean, to his credit was trying to get me moving. I found that if you dropped to the 50 mile option, there was no DNF, just a 50 miler completed. Even as I goofed around with some crew members about how nice my butt was (which was why I was sitting on it) and then fake mooned them afterward, I know this option crept into my mind.
A few miles into this fourth loop and I knew the day was done. I was finding it harder and harder to run on the flats and downhill portions, let alone contemplating doing so on an uphill. There may be nothing more difficult than completing a portion of a course that you know is going to have you finishing before you wished to. When it happened to me at Rocky Raccoon, I at least tried to enjoy the day and sat on a park bench and looked at nature. But here, today, there was no enjoyment. I wasn't getting a DNF but I wasn't getting what I wanted either. That is, however, how life can be.
Final time: 9:03:49
While lingering doubts remain about how much this is going to help me for the 204 miler in less than a month, I know I made the right decision. I could have fairly easily ran four more loops at the same pace as I had done this last one (mostly because I wasn't running much and was simply walking every uphill) I would have finished in the 20-21 hour rage, give or take and would have my belt buckle. But this is not what I came to do and the risk of injury was too great. So, I got a hard 50 miler in, ran 22 miles after I realized I was probably done for the day and wisely stepped off the trail. I did get to meet many running friends in person for the very first time which was a special treat. I also got to close a chapter on a part of my life that needed to be closed. And one of my best friends in the world, Christine, got engaged while out on a run back in DC! So, all and all, in a day that was indeed filled with unfulfilled promise, lessons were learned and progress was made.
Now begins the all hands on deck preparing for the American Odyssey 204 mile Relay which I will be running solo. I am continuing to look to fill a full crew with backups to go with those I already have, so if you are looking for an adventure and wanted to spend two days (or less - your call) in an RV traveling from Gettysburg to DC while cheering me on as I run 204 miles, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Should be a blast out there making history!