Apr 13, 2011

2011 Umstead 100 - 50 in 12:21 (PR)

The 2011 Umstead 100-miler, in which I took the 50-mile finish, was one of the more interesting races I have ever run.
Pre-race hanging out
One of the nice things about the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run is that the race director generously awards a 50-mile finish to anyone who goes at least that far. Umstead is the only race I know of with this policy - where one can enter a 100-mile race, go 75 miles, and not get a DNF. That's very friendly of the race organizers and frankly is consistent with the spirit of friendliness and hospitality that makes this race so wonderful.

Quick Synopsis

For the first 4 hours, I was running a 100-miler. Then, at about 20 miles in, I decided that I would not make it to 100. After nearlt dropping at mile 25, I convinced myself at mile 28 that I would not drop but go the last 22 miles and "Take the 50." Then, at about mile 38, I experienced a remarkable recovery which I used to both come from behind the 8-ball to attain a Personal Record at the 50 mile distance and at the same time consciously and intentionally sabotage any possibility that I could last 100 miles.

Detailed Report

Lap 1 (12.5 miles in 2:46), "Wow, look at everyone running away." Started like any other ultra for me. The first lap was uneventful. Spent a few miles with Meredith and Ethel and enjoyed the sunrise. Pre-dawn darkness seemed to have an unusually negative effect on me. Not much else to say.

Lap 1. Photo by Tammy Massie.
Lap 2 (3:02), "I feel horrible, I stepped in horse shit, and took a faceplant."  Suffice it to say that this lap went really badly. My condition deteriorated dramatically; much faster than it had in the 50-mile race I ran two weeks prior. I felt some lower-back pain and had a very negative disposition. It seemed far too early in the race to feel so bad, and that something must be wrong. I tried to convince myself to drop when the lap was over at mile 25. The negative disposition wasn't helped by the fact that, 9 miles into the lap, I stepped in horse shit. And, at the end of the lap, I tripped on something and took a very hard and painful fall, exacerbating my desire to drop. Had it not been for my wife's encouragement to continue, I may have done exactly that.
Lap 2. Photo by Ginette Portera
Lap 3 (3:35), "Let me go do the Airport Spur, and see if I feel better." The Airport Spur is a short out-and-back at the beginning of the loop. On the way back it comes within a half-mile of the start/finish area, which makes the idea of "just doing the airport spur" a rational strategy to assess my condition - figuring that if it doesn't improve I can just return after 3 miles. I used this same trick last year and it worked well. This year, it still worked, but in a different way. I didn't feel any better at the end of the spur, but I couldn't get myself to return either. So I made a deal with myself - don't DNF now, and just do the 50. It got me to continue.

I don't remember much more of this lap, except that many people passed me. By the numbers, this was my slowest lap by over a half-hour! At the end of it, I knew that I was about 30 minutes behind my PR pace for 50 miles. I told my wife I was stopping at 50. She agreed that it was probably a good idea to save myself for Miwok on May 7th, which is my primary "A" race this spring.

Lap 3
Lap 4 (2:55), "This is my last lap, so let's kill it." On the airport spur for this lap, I caught up to Meredith and Ethel, and spent about a half-mile walking and jogging with them. I felt great; in fact, a tremendous amount of energy was just begging to be released. So I started running ahead of them and felt really strong. For the rest of this lap, I tried to run as much as I could. Knowing this would be my last lap, I decided to Leave It All On The Course. Because I had just run 37.5 miles, I didn't think I could make up the half-hour required to get a PR, but I was going to run as hard as I could anyway. So I ran. I ran down hills hard. I ran up hills. I ran flats without walking breaks. I got in and out of the mid-lap aid station as fast as I could. In fact, it was at that aid station I realized that a PR was in reach, perhaps even 12:15, so I pushed even harder. I ran in the hilly Sawtooth Section. When I felt the pain I kept running. I caught a bunch of people who passed me in lap 3. I normally am not the one passing people, and it felt good.

Smiling because I'm about to finish lap 4. Photo by Tammie Massie.
When I finished the lap, there was little question in my mind that I was done. I had thoroughly exhausted myself in lap 4, and I felt not unlike what it feels like to run a half-marathon hard. I sat down and watched the people I had passed come in, many of whom were also stopping at 50. Being accustomed to having people watch me finish, this was a new experience. Being competitive by nature, I struggle with the fact that I am so slow, so sitting and watching for a half-hour was pretty satisfying.

Post-race thoughts

Do I regret not doing 100?

Unlike previous 100-mile attempts, this time the answer is an emphatic "no." I pretty damned happy with how I did, the main reason being I simply was not in the mood to be out all night - I had no desire to continue. this is in contrast to previous 100s where I was gung-ho about the night. This time, I was perfectly content with the idea of finishing before the sun went down and taking a PR in a shorter-than-planned race.

And that's why this race is so interesting to me. In the past I've always been overwhelmed by the pain and suffering, which caused me to drop, which in turn resulted in regret. That would have been the case had I dropped at 25. But this time I stopped at a point where I felt good and strong and in a positive mood. This has never been the case.

I am bothered that I still have yet to finish a traditional 100-mile race, but not as much as you'd expect. There will be other 100s I can run - including, of course, next year's Umstead.

On the Umstead 50

I started this post by saying that a nice thing about Umstead is that they'll gladly award you a 50 finish if you go that far. I will conclude by criticizing the policy. Despite my no-regret perspective on the 50 finish, having a 50-mile option that you can take mid-race makes it far too easy to quit, thus making a 100-mile finish more difficult. Rather than allowing people to choose the 50 mid-race, my suggestion would be to require participants to declare that they're in for just 50 before the race starts.  While this would most likely have resulted in a DNF for me personally (even though I might have declared myself for the 50 before the race had the option been available), it probably would have given me a little more drive to continue past 50.