Apr 17, 2013

Hike Report: Appalachian Trail 4-State Challenge

(GPS battery died a couple of miles prior to the finish)
Most people have heard of the Appalachian Trail, a recreational footpath that extends a couple thousand miles from Georgia to Maine. Fewer people have heard of the Four-State Challenge, which is not an event, but an attempt to dayhike the trail from Virginia to Pennsylvania, passing through West Virginia and Maryland, almost entirely along the spine of South Mountain. This section is about 43 miles long and, depending on which GPS log you believe, contains between 6000' and 12000' of elevation gain. I love long hikes, so when a Hudson Valley Hikers meetup to do it came up, I eagerly joined. 3 of us showed up.
L-R Dorothy the organizer, Vince, Me

The invitation for this hike came out on November 8, and I sprained my ankle on January 2. The ankle hadn't healed completely by the hike day, but I had run as much as 16 miles on it and was reassured by a bail-out option at mile 25 in case it presents problems (it didn't.)

The ankle did present one problem in that I hadn't really been able to train long for three months, and the loss of fitness was apparent. Also, the long never-ending tail of a cold I caught two weeks ago was still manifesting itself as a persistent and productive cough. Both of these things would be a factor in the  fact that it took me over 20 hours to complete this, when this time last year I know I could have done it in 12. But I did complete it, exhausted but without serious issues.

We spotted cars at the beginning, mile 25, and the end, and water at miles 13 and 35. The car at mile 25 had water and lunch, and was a good bail-out option if necessary. This effectively broke the hike up into quarters.

The First Section  - VA state line to Gathland State Park

The crossing from WV into MD
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is not only a very cool little town, but it also is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. So on the day before the hike, when we walked in, talked to the guy who worked there and mentioned our plans, he told us that the start wasn't at the Shenandoah River as we thought, but an 800' climb opposite the river where we had to "touch the blue blaze" that marked the state line. It turns out that not only is the WV/VA state line NOT the river, but the trail doesn't cross it perpendicularly, but rather runs along it for 20 miles.

We changed our plans accordingly and parked on a road that crosses the trail about halfway up the hill, as close to that spot as we could. The first 3/4 of a mile of our hike was on the AT south until we found the blue blazed trail - we touched the blue paint, took a picture, and then turned around and hiked north.

The trail descends the hill and crosses the river into Harper's Ferry. It climbs a hill there, and then descends right through the middle of the town! It then crosses the Potomac River on a rail bridge (pictured above) into Maryland.

The next 15 miles or so would be familiar to anyone who has run the JFK 50 miler, except in the opposite direction. Our first three miles (including the mile that I ran to maintain my daily running streak) were on the C&O Canal Towpath, followed by the steep ascent to Weverton Cliff, and then northbound on smooth gently rolling terrain along the ridge to Gathland State Park at Crampton's Gap, where we stashed water.

Section 2 - Gathland State Park to I-70
Looking South from White Rock. The AT follows that ridge for ten miles to this point from Weaverton
This was the longest section of our day, and I personally started to feel a little worn out here. From Gathland, we do a 4-mile gradual climb up towards Lambs Knoll Peak (1758'), where the JFK50 course joins the AT. Then the trail gets very rocky for a few miles as it descends, seemingly completely off the mountain (but really only to just below 1000'). The hiking through Fox's and Turner's Gaps is gentle and smooth, and filled with backpackers. We seemed to be the only people day-hiking!

After Turners Gap we start the ascent towards Washington Monument, but not without going up and over a hill Southeast of Monument Knob, which is another climb to 1540'. Passing the stone tower to the left, the trail descends towards I-70, 3 miles away. There are three small climbs in this section, and a lot more dayhikers who can make a nice trip out of parking at I-70 and hiking to the Monument.

Section 3 - I-70 to Wolfsville Road
View of Maryland farmland to the West towards Hagerstown, from Black Rock Lookout

As was our plan, we rested at I-70 for an hour. It was really good to eat some real food, take our shoes off, and relax in the grass for a while. The calories re-invigorated me for the next 10 miles, and I also had hiking poles in the car, just in case, and I was glad to be able to grab them.

The section itself looks like a very aesthetically pleasing 8-mile walk along an uninterrupted section of the ridge. Climbing gradually out of the I-70 valley to Pine Knob, the trail reaches the ridge and is, again, gently rolling and smooth for a few the stretch, with a mile-long rock garden interrupting what is otherwise quite runnable terrain. However, this section also seemed to take forever. Its long duration and position within the day (miles 27-34 or so) really was taxing mentally, and we were all glad to finish it.

Section 4 - Wolfsville Road to Pen Mar

The finish!

This northernmost section is probably the hilliest of the entire hike. It has five distinct climbs, with four of them are in the 100-400 ft range. Between Wolfsville Road and Foxville Road (Pleasant Valley), there's a 400' climb after passing a large campsite, then a mile of tranquil grassy meadows. Between Foxville and Warner Hollow Road (which is dirt), there's a short climb of about 100' followed by a 400' drop, and after crossing you climb another 150' and drop about 300' to Raven Rock Hollow, where MD 491 is the northmost road crossing before the Mason Dixon Line.

With 5-6 miles to go, this section of the hike is a difficult way to end a long day. There is no water access until Pen Mar, and I got really thirsty on the 750' climb out of Raven Rock Hollow. After topping off my 3-liter reservoir at Foxville Road, I ran out about with 3 miles to go and immediately got extremely thirsty. The climb itself isn't too bad - I was tired and had to take a couple of breaks in the first half-mile where it's steepest (and where we gain the majority of the 750'), but I didn't have any serious issues. We then walk along the gently climbing ridge for a couple of miles before reaching the High Rock Lookout, which is the highest point on the AT in Maryland, on the shoulder of Quirauk Mountain, which is the highest peak on South Mountain.

Unfortunately, this is where things got really sketchy with me. I basically hit a wall very hard, and if I had it to do over again I would have left the AT at this point and walked down the road that goes from High Rock to Pen Mar. The AT doesn't stay up on the ridge at this point, but turns south, drops steeply down a rockfall / scramble called Devil's Racecourse to a point about 500' below High Rock before turning north again and gradually climbing a couple hundred feet before going parallel to the aforementioned road. It was on the descent down Devil's Racecourse where I apparently reached my limit. I needed to rest multiple times, and my thirst was really starting to feel extreme (though I knew this to be psychosomatic.) I asked Dorothy, who was fine, to go on without me. Overcome by thirst, and unable to eat due to the thirst, I probably took close to two hours to complete the last two miles. I was also unable to sleep the night before, so I was extremely tired at this point and felt an overwhelming need to take a nap.

When I finally reached Pen Mar Park, it was about midnight. A pepsi machine promised immediate gratification in the form of calories, hydration, and caffeine, but it only took dollar bills, a drink cost $1.50, and I had only a single $1. (plenty of 5's and 20's though.) Likewise, the water fountain near the restroom was turned off, and the doors were locked (though the lights inside the restroom were turned on!) I had no choice but to continue to the finish line, then to the car, where Dorothy gave me what was left over of her drink.

The water fountain would have been really nice, and I made say so to Washington County.

This 44-mile hike took me 20 hours, but only because I rested often, was overcoming a cold, am largely untrained due to the sprained ankle, and crashed and burned at the end. A more fit person can do it closer to 16 hours, and your average mid-pack ultrarunner should be able to do it in 9-12. It has a few technical sections, but it's largely runnable provided the runner is used to east-coast rocky trails, and while there are numerous climbs, only a few are steep and none really exceed about 1000 feet. While you're in the neighborhood, it's definitely worth checking out Harper's Ferry, which is one of the neatest towns I've ever come across. And, finally, don't underestimate Western Maryland as a hiking destination. It may not have the huge mountains that New Hampshire has, but it definitely would be a mistake to ignore it.

Apr 1, 2013

Race Report: 2012 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run: 28:39:22

Preamble: When I started writing this post, I had no idea it would be a year before I finally finished it. To be honest, now that April is here, I can't honestly say that I would ever have finished, but with Umstead 2013 this weekend I figured I should finally get my final thoughts down for the benefit of anybody who is running and actually takes it upon themselves to read this monstrosity. There may be a few brave souls who actually read all 6209 words from beginning to end, and I salute you. Hope it was worth it.

Written in April 2012

If I were to determine one thing that made my successful finish this year's Umstead 100 different from the two previous years in which I dropped, that thing would be the detailed plan. And there are two things that plan had built in: Realistic goals, and a tremendous first half that'd let me complete the second half without worrying about cutoffs.

Cutoffs are the single most powerful demoralizing factor to me in any race, but especially in a 100-miler. I have on several occasions been faced with a midnight decision to continue through the in a hopeless pursuit of a goal in which I cannot achieve in time, and every time it has been enough to get me to drop from the race. The goal of this race was to finish 100 miles. I would not be satisfied, as I was last year, with a 50.

The Plan

So, knowing this about myself, I planned to PR the first 50-mile split. I felt the risk of going out too fast far outweighed the risk of falling behind the cutoff. A 12-hour first 50 gives me 18 hours to do the last, allowing a slow-down factor of 1.5 - far above average.

I took the course - which is eight laps of 12.5 miles each, and broke it up lap by lap. I assumed a slow-down in each lap, increasing in length as the race wore on and compounding on itself. I started with my recently-set half-marathon PR - 2:07 (at 13.1 miles), and found a nice equation that would get me a 12-hour first 50. I could add nearly 40 minutes to my half's time, creating a sufficiently easy start, and still slow-down ten minutes each lap for the first 50. Thus, the first four laps: 2:45, 2:55, 3:05, 3:15.

For the next 50, I knew I would slow dramatically so I planned for it. Lap 5 would be 3:30, 15 minutes slower than lap 4. Then, I added a half hour for each of the three remaining laps: 4:00, 4:30, and 5:00. This is a 17-hour plan for the second 50, giving me an hour of grace should I slow down earlier than expected.

The 4:30 and 5:00 laps in particular are planning for the worst. For me to take that long to cover 12.5 miles, I'd have to be death marching (and indeed, I was.) I intentionally created a plan that would allow me to have such a slow last 25 and still finish with an hour to spare.

OK, so I built a plan that allowed for death-marching. But I knew that wouldn't be enough. More than anything else, I also needed the discipline to avoid the pitfalls that would kill my plan. One pitfall was succumbing to fatigue too early, which I could avoid by not going out too fast. I knew I could PR the 50 - I'm just in that much better shape than I was during my last 50. But if I went out too fast and crashed into a death march at mile 45, I'd be screwed for the second half.

The other pitfall was stopping at aid stations, sitting down, hanging out, etc. - doing anything other than making forward progress. Even in a death-march, I know I can complete a lap in 5 hours. The only thing that could cause me to take longer than 5 hours, then, was spending time in an aid station, as I have been known to do. This mental footnote - focus on always making forward progress for 29 consecutive hours - was to me the most formidable aspect of the entire race. It was what had me dread the race in the days approaching it. It was what had me completely on edge in the minutes approaching the 6am start, and even in the entire first lap.

Race Build-Up

After working a full day, the family and I flew into Raleigh late Thursday night and were in bed by 1 AM. I couldn't sleep much and at 7 AM I reluctantly woke up and went downstairs to get my daily mile in on the treadmill. I then grabbed Joe and the two of us went to Hertz to change our car (Alex wasn't fond of the Town car we got) and by the time we got back, Alex was waking up. We had breakfast (Waffle House!) and went to Umstead State Park to get checked in. We were early, one of the first non-volunteers to get there, and after hanging around for a half-hour we took off to hit Walmart for some race necessities, and New Balance for a pair of 1-size-too-large shoes. By now it was 3 PM. We knew we weren't going to attend the pre-race briefing and pasta dinner and we otherwise had run out of things to do, so I called Tony and took a ride over to his hotel room to hang out with him and his wife Ginette for a bit, just to kill an hour or two. It is always good to see them and that hour really did lift my spirits a bit on the "day before the day."

Afterwards, Alex, Joe and I went to what has become my pre-race ritual - an all you can eat sushi place, and the restaurant we found, Orchid Japanese Restaurant in Raleigh, fit the bill perfectly with made-to-order sushi, sashimi, cooked-food, and rolls, both standard and special. All-You-Can-Eat sushi has proven to be a winner as Last Meal Before The Race for me. It allows me to gorge myself on fuel, but I don't feel heavy the next day and digestion is not an issue either.

We went to bed at 8, woke up at 4:30, and were at the start by 5:30 AM. Friday was a very nice day in Raleigh, North Carolina, but on early Saturday morning, it was raining. At 5:55 AM, sitting in a chair far behind the group standing at the starting line, I distinctly remember staring at the countdown clock and thinking a thought that went something like this: "I really regret signing up and committing to do this. But I can't go back now. Too many friends are watching."

The Race
Lap 1 - Plan: 2:45 - Actual: 2:42 - GPS Log
As it always does, Umstead started in the dark. I had my headlamp but didn't use it. I decided that I start running right away with the race, as opposed to my normal practice of walking the first 15 minutes which calms my nerves. Except that since the race starts up a hill, and with a lot of other people walking, I really didn't get a chance to run until Reedy Creek Road (Airport Spur).

The Course - A Brief Interlude

At this point I want to review the course, because it matters. (If you're familiar with it, skip this paragraph.) The Umstead course is a 12.5 mile lap, repeated 8 times. The first half-mile is the Headquarters Spur. We start each lap going uphill out of HQ, and finish each lap going back down. At the end of HQ Spur, we meet Reedy Creek road, and on the way out we turn right onto the Airport Spur - 3/4 mile out, 3/4 mile back. Mostly flat, but gradual long hills here are definitely felt in later laps. After returning from the Airport Spur, we continue straight, passing the HQ spur to our left, over some rolling hills, significantly including Cemetery Hill, the highest point of the course. This lasts about 2 miles. We then go down a long hill (called "Snake") before crossing a bridge, passing a lake to the right, and beginning a mile-long climb called The "Olive Garden." Shortly after passing the fifth mile in the lap, we reach the top of Olive Garden and turn left onto South Turkey Creek trail. It has a few ups but is predominantly downhill to the mid-lap aid station, located right before Mile 7. Coming out of the aid, we enter the North Turkey Creek Trail, known to Umstead Runners in the race packet as "The Dreaded Saw-tooth 79 Section." It has the steepest hills of the course (there's one called "Despair"), which go up and down seemingly non-stop, and is generally the part that makes me miserable. That lasts 2.5 miles or so. Coming out of this, we have a glorious 4/5 mile downhill called "Power-line" before we cross a bridge, go up a hill to rejoin Reedy Creek Trail about 1.5 miles from the HQ Spur. We turn right, go back up and over Cemetery Hill, and then continue on to HQ Spur, where we make a right turn and run the last half-mile downhill to complete the lap. Got it? Good.

I was extremely nervous. Much more so than in any other 100-mile attempt. This nervousness lasted pretty much the entire first lap, but didn't appear to affect my pace in any way. My plan was to run the flats, walk the steep hills, and run the gradual hills. And, of course, don't waste time in aid stations. Light came up after a couple of miles and I had no issues at all. I don't remember eating anything - but I did get some calories from heed at the aid station.

Lap 2 - Plan: 2:55 - Actual: 2:45 - GPS
In 2011, Lap 2 is where I fell apart, and I was bracing for a similar thing to happen this year. Nothing like that happened. In fact lap two was run in almost an identical fashion to lap 1. The rain was pretty much the same, and honestly the only thing that concerned me was that I may be going to fast. Clocking another 2:45 lap wouldn't be the end of the world - I knew that - but I also knew it could cost me an hour off my time later in the race if I crashed early. I rationalized this by realizing that the effort still felt stupid-easy. I continued to run the most gradual hills and walk the stinkers. When I finished this lap, it was only 11:30 AM and I was in really good shape for the 12-hour 50-mile split if I could hold it together (which was by no means certain.) I passed my pack to Alex, who commanded that I eat something (someone told her to make sure I ate.) I think I ate a meatball sandwich, but was forcing it down. Not hungry at all. I asked Alex to give me back the pack so I can get out, but she wouldn't until I ate something else. But I wasn't thinking about food, rather I was thinking about wasting time in the aid station. I grabbed another meatball sandwich and got the hell out of there.

Lap 3 - Plan: 3:05 - Actual: 2:56 - GPS
I had assumed going into the race that it would be the mid-way aid station at this lap that I would change into my one-size-too-large shoes, which were in my drop-bag at the mid-lap aid station. But this lap was going so well that I opted to run by and get it in the next lap. When I realized that I could run three sub-3 hour laps, and at the same time come in less than 10 minutes ahead of plan (for this lap), without pushing the pace at all, I decided not to waste any time. Those shoes will still be there in the next lap. After about noon, the rain stopped and by 1 PM the sun came out and we were firmly in the "steam hour" of rising temps and high humidity. For my part I kept going as easy as possible and tried not to let the heat bother me. I was making sure they put ice in my 100-oz camelback at every aid station (which were effectively located at 10K intervals) and emptying it before the next one, so not only was I keeping cool, I knew I was getting plenty of fluid. There was one point around here where I went a solid 4-5 hours without going to the bathroom. I was not supplementing with salt at all, so this was a cause of worry. However I was "going" freely by late afternoon, and didn't concern myself with it. I remember completing this lap being very pleased that I was still doing well, but also very aware of the fact that it's way too early in the race to be getting confident.

Lap 4 - Plan: 3:15 - Actual: 3:23 - GPS
This was the first lap where I started walking all hills, no matter how gradual. I also changed my shoes on this lap. I knew I was behind my plan for the lap but ahead of plan overall. I honestly don't remember much about this lap. I had my headphones on, was listening to some podcast, and just kept moving forward. Heat was probably hitting me pretty hard, and I do remember that the Saw-tooth Section on this lap was particularly nasty to me. I also remember commenting to someone that I was on pace and could possibly run a sub 11:20 50-mile split if I turned up the intensity, but at the risk of killing the second half of my race. I basically felt spent, but not so spent that I skipped running long downhills like the mile 9 hill, Power-line  and the backside of Cemetery Hill. The long day was definitely affecting me. I ended up managing an 11:47 50-mile split, which was a 30-minute PR. I had plenty of time to finish, if I could just hold it together through the long night and keep moving forward.

Lap 5 - Plan: 3:30 - Actual: 3:38 - GPS
Just before starting this lap, it was about ten 'til 6 PM, and I had just told Alex to grab Joe and go back to the hotel for the night. I was 50 miles in and ready to go out on the 12.5 mile lap 5, which would finish just after the 100K mark. I knew it would be dark by the end, and that I was starting to get significantly tired. I asked for a pacer, and "one will be here at 6:30." (This was at about ten til 6.) I had no intention of waiting that long, so I went out, hoping to get a pacer where it mattered on lap 6 and especially lap 7. So, I ran alone, the same as lap 4. Just cruising along the best I could, walking every hill, and getting through the lap. It was right after the mid-way aid station that I caught up to my friend Jim Plant who was walking with his friend. In fact, if I remember right, it was right before that hill that every Umstead runner knows and loves, "Despair." I asked him if I could join him through the Saw-tooth Section and he graciously agreed, which I really appreciated. This is the section that really knocked me out on lap 4 and having some company through it would be extremely helpful. Anyway, on the Wednesday before the race, at the top of Despair at the base of a tree, Jim had set out eight white rocks, for eight successful ascents of Despair during the race. I watched him pick up rock#5 and throw it into the woods, leaving three rocks. I didn't know at the time, and neither did Jim, that those this would be his last lap, as an Achilles Tendon injury would take him out of the race. On all my subsequent laps (spoiler alert: I finished), I saw those rocks sitting there, and it reminded me of Jim and how much a bummer it must be for him.

This part written in May 2012

Lap 6 - Plan: 4:00 - Actual: 3:40 - GPS (Until Battery Died)
I came into the Aid station sometime after 9:30 PM. Alex and Joe were long gone, presumably sleeping in the hotel room. It was dark, I had just completed 100 kilometers, and my main concern was the long night and my mental state. Would I be able to continue without sleep? The answer was simple: I needed company. So I went to the pacer captain and asked for somebody. After a minute, not one but two people were with me. "We're ready to go for a run!" "Well, we won't be running much, but awesome, let's go. I didn't ask for two people, are you sure this is OK?" Yes!" The two people were Grant and Matt, local high school students. Grant was, as I recall, a cross country runner, and Matt was a slightly-less focused CC runner recovering from an injury. By slightly-less focused I mean his attention is split among the several sports he participates in, among them lacrosse. Both were unfamiliar with this ultra-running thing and were eager to take a walk with me, and I was thrilled to have them.

Having two high-school cross country runners pacing me proved to provide a delightfully unexpected perspective that I was really interested in. These guys train in this same park and Grant in particular was intimately familiar with every inch of it. I asked (and promptly forgot the responses) many questions about how he trains, his mileage, the kinds of workouts he does, what time of day he does it, all sorts of things and it made for a great conversation. The thing I do remember is that the cross country team has given names to many of the hills in the park; names that I'm using in this report. There are ones familiar to all Umstead runners, such as Cemetery Hill (which we ascend and descend twice every lap), and Power-line (which we descend once per lap - that must be a bugger to ascend.) But he also gave names to the hills that don't have names, such as "Olive Garden", which is the longest sustained hill on the course, and "Despair" (I think every Umstead 100 vet knows exactly which hill that one is.) He also talked about a couple of hills not on the course, such as Corkscrew. Normally I'd be interested in checking these out, but at mile 70? Hell no. I'm just trying to finish.

But it wasn't just a one-sided conversation. I also was asked all sorts of questions about ultra-running and was happy to talk their ears off about all the races I've done and the people I know and what it takes to complete an ultra and the perspective and the mentality. They were, as far as I knew, gripped by the knowledge - though, honestly, I don't know if they were really interested. For all I knew, they were just following directions they give to pacers, "keeping me talking." Whatever their intention, I was grateful to have them there, because the lap went by rather quickly, and we even had some running periods on the downhills.

Most memorable question and answer: They asked me, "What is the most interesting thing you've seen today?" "Oh I haven't seen anything interesting, because it hasn't gotten interesting yet. And I'm in the wrong place anyway. You want to see interesting? When we finish this lap, go into race headquarters. THAT will be interesting. It'll be like a World War I infirmary in there. If you want to see interesting, you'll get it in that lodge there at about 2 AM."

Unfortunately, the lap itself was not uneventful. When we were in the mid-lap aid station, the volunteers there were hanging tarps, enclosing it. "What are you guys doing?" "There's a storm coming." "What? There's no indication of that!" As soon as we walked out of that aid station, however, the sky started to flash. Oh no, Thunderstorms. We continued. Flashes got more frequent. After a mile, it had started to rain. After two miles, it was torrential. Flashes every second, that lit the sky like midday. I had no idea how long it would last, but I did know it was midnight or thereabouts, I had 30 miles to go, and the weather was.. crazy. This was on our minds, but our bodies kept moving. I don't believe I slowed down significantly, and the rain wouldn't matter. Even if it rained through the rest of the race, all it meant was I would finish wet. The good news, however, is by Power-line  the rain stopped and things started to clear up. But, half a day later, we talked about that rain a lot in the post-race tent. It was the focus of all our conversations. For my part, the storm was actually a blessing because it started at the most difficult part of the lap, and ended when things got easier again. It was a distraction from those punishing hills!

Lap 7 - Plan: 4:30 - Actual: 4:39
High School kids, being kids, have parent-imposed curfews and unfortunately couldn't join me for another lap (In fact one of them called their mother halfway through the loop to say he'd be late.) But this was the lap where I knew it would be critically important for me to have a pacer. Regarding the cutoff, I knew I was OK as long as I didn't fall into a pattern of 30-minute miles - which was a distinct possibility - so a pacer would help me there, especially with a dead GPS battery. But more importantly, I again needed someone to keep me talking, keep me awake, and keep me moving. Even more dangerous was the possibility that I would start taking breaks, and that has historically proven to be a killer to me in 100-milers.

So again I went to the pacing captain, and said, "please tell me you have someone available." She didn't have to say a word, as Jack, my pacer for lap 7, leaped to his feet, eager to go out. I was so grateful.

It's now between 1 and 2 AM, and I had 75 miles behind me. Less than a marathon to go. People who volunteer to pace at Umstead go through an actual training program that prepares them for all manners of runners, and it was my goal for that to be not necessary. In my own mind, I have expectations for both myself and my pacer. Here is the person I wanted myself to be for my pacer: an emotionally stable guy (NOT a forgone conclusion after 80 miles at 3 AM) who consistently moved without drama. My perfect pacer was: someone who moved with me, and who kept me awake and moving. I think both of us fit this bill perfectly. Jack was the perfect pacer for me at this point.

Jack is categorically different from Grant and Matt. Jack is about my age, has a job, a wife, kid(s). His experience and perspective towards ultras and 100-milers was similar, but, having gone to the pacer seminar as an adult with a job and kids and a mortgage, he had much more focus on "serving the needs of his runner" than volunteering. It would be too much to say I felt uncomfortable by all the attention I was getting from him, but it definitely was unexpected and encouraging. I appreciated his attention & eagerness to do things to help me along. I liked that he kept me posted on the paces we were maintaining (about 20 minutes per mile), and felt bad that I was slow, because he was clearly ready to run. On the other hand, I knew he was OK with getting a guy in essentially in a death march. The pacer training class apparently prepared him for the worst, and what he got - (a mover, no drama), was a lot less work for him than it could have been.

I wanted to hear what they told him in the pacer seminar. Strategies for keeping someone going, for dealing with emotional distress, for encouraging and for all the general crankiness people in my situation can dish out. This was extremely interesting to me and as the miles melted away I found myself engaged in the various conversations we had. Like Grant and Matt, Jack also learned a lot about me, about my background, about ultras, about my ultra-running friends, and about the possibility that one day he (the pacer) would one day return to Umstead as a participant. In a time where I was getting really tired, the good-natured banter kept me sufficiently awake so that I could continue to move.

One of the more interesting things about this lap was that we (and by we, I mean I) opted not to use our flashlights for the vast majority of it. Poor Jack was instructed to bring two or three super-bright (and unlikely to be super-cheap) flashlights, and they were indeed an order of magnitude brighter than the headlamp I had. Just as a goof, I shut mine off at the airport spur, and he shut his off, too, and we were OK. I liked not having the light, and so those super-bright lights that he purchased just for the occasion went unused.

Interesting things happen in a 100-miler. At some ungodly hour, we were arriving to the top of Olive Garden, and there was a woman curled up on the side of the trail in a fetal position. Her pacer was just standing there, and the look on his face said, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do." So we offered to help. He said, "Uh, she's OK, told me to wake her up in 5 minutes."

After the Olive Garden, there's a generally downhill 2 miles to the mid-lap aid station. This section is deceptively long - I always feel like it should be shorter than it is. Because it tends to last longer than I expect it do, I get discouraged late at night as it takes forever to get to that station, and I don't like to leave it once I'm there. I remembered this about Umsteads in the past and with that in mind I ended up having - at mile 81 - one of the most disciplined aid station stops I've ever had. I spent less than 30 seconds there. Dropped off my pack, told them what I wanted, said "give it to Jack", and went on my way. Jack waited behind while I continued walking, and as soon as my pack was full and my food was ready, he ran up and caught up to me, just before that left turn into the Saw-tooth section.

Five weeks later, I think of that aid station stop as the best evidence of the amount of focus and mental energy I spent on this race. In the past, I have spent 30 minutes at that station, only to drop later when I fell behind the cutoffs. I was determined not to let that happen again, and despite the fatigue and the pain and all the other crap I was dealing with, I went through that aid station rejecting every instinct I had to stop and "just take 5." And so much self-denial, so continuously, really drained me. More on that later.

Lap 8 - Plan: 5:00 - Actual: 4:50
Taking that first step onto lap 8, still in the dark, with over 6 hours to go, I knew that, barring disaster, I was going to finish. After two tries at Umstead alone, and three attempts total, I was going to finish a 100-mile race. Now without a pacer, I knew what I had to do, and I broke it into the manageable portions. Airport loop. Second Sunrise. Olive Garden. Remote Aid Station. Saw-tooth  Power-line  Cemetery hill. Finish. With 12.5 miles to do, I could finish, even if I only could go 30 minutes per mile.

I was happy that Jack wanted to pace me just a little more. He said he could go do the Airport Spur before going home. That was great because it put the first two miles behind me, right away. I'd now only have to do ten miles on my own. And the timing was great because it was while we were finishing that spur that the sky started to lighten, and those of us left on the course were treated to our second sunrise, which for many runners has a rejuvenating affect that propels them right back into a ten-minute per mile pace for a while. I wish that happened to me! But despite not speeding up at all, the sun was regardless really nice because I did feel more awake and the alarming disorientation that happens to me at 3 AM when I'm that tired stops completely.

Really, there's not much more to say about this lap. I was moving slowly - death march slowly - but I was moving. A couple dozen people passed me. Notably, one of the people who passed me was my friend Juli Aistars, who identified herself as the woman who was curled up on the side of the trail when Jack and I went by. She heard me talking to her pacer and recognized my voice.

When I got to the remote aid station, they were breaking down but had coffee. Saw-tooth was saw-tooth  I just walked through it. I tried to run the downhills but it hurt too much inside my shoe. I couldn't even walk fast on the downhills. Uphills, while not easy at all, actually became easier than the downs. Sweet spots were the flats, but I wasn't exactly running there, either. Any running I did do lasted only a minute or two. I'd be shocked to find out that I even ran a half mile that whole lap total!

I was in communication, via text message, with my wife who had come from the hotel and was waiting at the finish line. A few other friends had come back out to see me finish as well, including Tony and his wife Ginette. It sounded to me like there were a lot of people excited that I was finally about to finish a 100-miler and they wanted to be there. Indeed, while I was ascending Cemetery Hill, with less than two miles to go, I saw someone running towards me- it was Grant my lap 6 pacer! He had returned to the finish line, heard that I was about to finish, and ran to bring me in! That was really awesome and I was very grateful for that. A minute later, Matt also came running up. So with two miles to go I was no longer alone. Just have to bring it in. When we made the turn and saw the sign that said a half-mile to go, there's mostly downhill from there. I would have liked to have run that whole section, but ironically, I couldn't run downhill. So I hobbled all the way to the permanent bathroom that's a couple hundred yards from the finish line and ran the rest of the way. I didn't even feel the hill at the very end. It was very exciting.

This part written in September 2012

The Finish
Finishing was quite satisfying, but it wasn't emotionally overwhelming. I think I had already had the experience of finishing over the previous 10 kilometers when I knew for sure I would finish, so crossing the line didn't hit me like I hit some people, I immediately sat down. Poor Joey tried to jump on me but I just pushed him away.. which I don't remember at all except for the video. I sat in a plastic chair for about 20 minutes, just talking to people, shaking hands, and watching people finish after me. I honestly was enjoying the experience. Felt like a rock star for a few minutes there. Then I went into the lodge and laid down on a cot.

A half hour later, I was ready to get up, go back to the hotel, and get cleaned up. As soon as I sat up, however, I couldn't put any weight on my ankle. My first thought was, "oh no, there goes my running streak." I had someone tape it up, and it took a tremendous amount of effort and assistance to get to the car. It did not improve, and the pain was tremendous. We were meeting Tony and Ginette for lunch, and I basically was immobile. I had Alex go into a Walgreen's and buy me a cane!!

This part written on April 1, 2013 exactly 1 year to the hour after finishing

Oddly, the more I walked on that ankle, the better it got. Early the next morning (Monday), at the airport, I began to realize that I no longer needed the cane, and later that day, at work, I just put it away. I did continue the running streak, jogging a mile at the local high school track that evening in about fifteen minutes.

Thoughts from a Year Later

Wow. A year. In case you don't realize (I didn't), finishing a 100-miler will alter your outlook on things.

I went through the rest of 2012 with the benefit and detriment of having had a multiple-year goal finally satisfied. An Umstead 100 finish was something that I worked towards for so many years, with several big failures along the way. When I finally finished, I actually fell into a bit of a funk, which lasted a couple of months. I had no desire to do another 100-mile race. In May I coasted through a 72-hour race and got a mere 132 miles without pushing myself at all. Even after the funk wore off, I found myself in a profoundly satisfied state. The focus for the rest of the year was on Triathlons and eventually an Ironman, but frankly, (once I learned how to swim), after the 100-mile race, an Ironman encore is kind of a let-down. I probably didn't give it the respect it deserves (I finished comfortably in the low 15 hours, but it wasn't exactly pain-free and if I had really focused and trained I probably could have taken 2-3 hours off that time.) It didn't seem like that big a deal, was more difficult logistically than physically, and for something that lasts only 1 day, super-expensive.

Anyway, after the funk wore off, with nothing but relatively easy goals ahead of me - and I hate to refer to an Ironman as "easy", but it honestly doesn't compare to Umstead - I fell into a very enjoyable very laid back unstructured "whatever" mode of training. When people asked me about my training plan for IM, my response was, "whatever my tri club friends are doing."

The fact is that, after finishing a 100-mile race, nothing intimidated me, except 100-mile races. It sounds corny and reeks of overused cliche, but once you run 100 miles, you really do feel like you can do anything - which is both good and bad. It's good for all the obvious reasons (I did after all confidently finish the IM), but it's bad because I took things for granted and didn't give them the respect they deserve. It's bad because I also know there's nothing special about me, so anyone can do anything - and I lose perspective of where people are at ("what do you mean you don't feel you're ready for an Ironman?") I've been biting my lip a lot lately.

Two weeks ago I felt - for the first time in a long time - intimidated by a race prospect. I was offered the opportunity to start something that I'm not sure I could finish.  It took me a weekend of thoughtful reflection to decide, "yes I'll do it", but in retrospect, of course I'd agree to do it. The race is called Run Rabbit Run - a 100-miler in Steamboat, Colorado in September. It has a 36-hour cutoff, is a Western States Qualifier, and is a step up from the gentle rolling dirt roads of Umstead to a real mountain trail 100-miler. And, most importantly, for the first time since Umstead, I have something ahead of me that scares me. It's exciting. Can't wait.