Apr 17, 2019

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run - 2019

Melissa and I shortly after Aid#2 on lap 3 (I think). Photograph by "Someone"
Two weekends ago we all once again headed down to Raleigh to run Umstead. I am a 5-time finisher. My friends Fred and Bill, both of whom I talk to every day, are both in the 1000 mile club (Bill has 15 finishes). And there are at least two dozen other people who I look forward to seeing every spring as we all return to my favorite race on the calendar - among them, Melissa, who has been my running buddy for hundreds of miles, including pacing each other at other 100s, and would be attempting the 100.

The buildup to the race in my case was characterized by my heavier-than-normal out-of-shapeness. Weight is something I've always struggled with, and it has been especially bad the last few years - one lesson I've learned over this period was it's exceedingly difficult to lose weight - or even maintain it - when other things are on my mind. But the vicissitudes of my anxieties are a topic of another time - the point is that I showed up at the starting line up above 310lbs - 15lbs heavier than I was in 2018 when I ran 28 and change - and at least 30lbs heavier than my sub-24 run at Umstead in 2015. On paper, I was doomed.

Melissa, also feeling undertrained, listened to my concerns and resolved to run with me the entire race. We might both die out there, but at least we'll die together. Moreover, she would generously share her crew with me, promising to have them attend to my needs as much as they'd attend to her. I insisted that I don't need anything except maybe a ride to the race in the morning, but appreciated the gesture, and sure- if someone wanted to give me a 5-hour-energy I'd take that. 

And that brought us to 5:59am - Fred, Melissa and I standing behind a pack of 250 runners in the dark, nervously anticipating the gun.

For those who don't know, Umstead consists of eight 12.5 mile loops on gently rolling crushed gravel.

Melissa might have saved my race. Without her I could have pushed myself to run in the 2:30's on lap 1. An easily-run sub-2:30 lap 1 would indicate a level of fitness I didn't possess, and left to my own devices I might have pushed myself just to achieve the number while sabotaging the next 7 laps. Melissa tempered that destructive mindset. As it turns out we ran about 2:50 - nervously long for me - even out of shape I should be well under 3 hours, and be running sub-3s for at least the first three laps, and I knew I'd slow down in lap 2. But Melissa was confident we were fine, and intellectually I knew it too. A fast start ensures against running out of time should I death march laps 7 and 8. A slow start reduces the odds of the death march. I've done enough of these to know better. But occupying my mind was the notion that, at my weight, is a death march unavoidable? "Better run fast, just in case."

Lap 2, with the light out but clouds keeping the sun away, was uneventful and we managed to stay under 3 hours here too - but not by much. I was nervous. Lap 3 was pretty bad - but lap 3 at Umstead is always a low point for me - I've come to expect it. It was over 3 hours. Lap 4 didn't improve, and Melissa was struggling. I suspected that she wanted to drop; take the 50. I wasn't going to let her. And we stuck together, until the hills of miles 7-9. I jogged down a stretch and looked over my shoulder and she was gone. And after walking - slowly - it was clear she wasn't catching up. She was going to drop. I knew it, she knew it. And sure enough, I got a message from her saying that she's giving her crew to me for pacing lap 5. This was unacceptable to me - I was not going to take her crew from her when she needed them the most. My own condition had not improved after my loop 3 malaise however I knew I could do lap 5 on my own and be fine. Afterwards I'll take a volunteer pacer if they had one, and keep going otherwise. 

However, the matter was settled. Melissa made it clear to her crew that she would be dropping and wanted to lie down - there was nothing they could do, and frankly she preferred to be alone. Bill, half her crew, who was also a reserve Navy medic and cross-fitter who had never run more than 8 miles in his life, was going out on lap 5 with me and there was nothing I could do about it. I accepted this. And Bill was great. We weren't running much at this point, and what I needed in the lap where the sun went down was a companion, someone to talk to. Bill was not an experienced pacer but he was good at conversation and had no issues hiking 12.5 miles. Lap 5 was when I started to recover.

When we came back, Melissa was ready to go back to the hotel and her crew would go with her (I obviously had no problem with this.) I asked at the pacer desk for a volunteer and .. someone came out. Someone ("Someone" shall be his name, for in my stupor had forgotten it, and I think I embarrassingly forgot it soon after we started and called him Bill the whole time. I don't think his name is bill. He never corrected me. Sincere apologies, Someone.) Someone was a more experienced pacer and Umstead vet (and photographer) and was good at keeping me moving at a good speed - lap 6 was well under 3:30 - faster than the previous laps. We had a great conversation and I was rallying. We had caught and passed Fred. We passed 15-finish-Bill too. We finished lap 6 ahead of all my friends and Someone joined me on lap 7 as well. We ran the entire airport spur at 2am (necessary for a running streak) and finished the lap in the neighborhood of 3:30, still ahead of all my friends, and shortly after 5am, ensuring that I would finish under the cutoff even in the case a disastrous lap 8. Thanks Someone, you rocked.

I sat down after lap 7 for 10-15 minutes to change shoes, shirt, and just get a little more comfortable in preparation for the final 12.5 miles. I was not concerned about my friends (who deserved to beat me anyway). There were no volunteer pacers available, so I said my goodbyes to Someone, grabbed headphones for the first time in the race, and hit the road. 

The first half of lap 8 was ok. I was moving pretty well, not running much but walking purposefully. In the last five miles, however, I was reduced to sub-22 minute miles. I put on some hardcore punk rock and made the best of it. With two miles to go, my 15-year-old son joined me and walked me in. I finished in 28 hours 17 minutes 14 seconds - faster than last year, when I was lighter and better trained.

So, what got me through it? I guess there's more to running than weight and training. Last year had crummy weather - but that crummy weather is ok with me. But having done a bunch of these - this is my sixth finish at Umstead alone - I suppose I have internalized the values of "just keep going" and don't waste time. Most of my stops at aid stations were minimal - less than 30 seconds. And there was never a notion at all of quitting. There was a desire to quit - I suppose that never goes away. But there was no serious thought given to quitting. No indulgence on heaven or earth would have gotten me to stop. It was work for sure, but I wasn't going to stop until the work was done. And that attitude didn't come to me naturally - I learned it over many years. So I would say experience got me through it. And I'm sure luck had a lot to do with it too.

I don't know how to finish race reports. Bye.

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