100 MILE RACE REPORT 03/28/15 – 03/29/15
My journey into extreme ultra marathoning began in April, 2014 during the awesome We Run Huntsville annual post-race picnic at the Oak Barrel Half Marathon. Because we are such a hard-core group, the luncheon conversation quickly turned to 100 mile races. I was vicariously enjoying the experiences of my fearless 100-mile finisher heroes David Holliday, Suzanne Erickson and Stacey Cantrell when two hardcore ultra runners, Marty and Carol Eaton spoke up and said, “We would like to crew someone at the Umstead 100 mile race next year.” Being the running idiot that I am, I raised my hand and said, “Ooh-ooh, I’ll do it!”
Training and Logistics
Official training for the Umstead 100 started in early October 2014, with a base of 40 miles per week. I followed the Ultra Ladies 100 Mile Event Training Schedule after getting good results in 2013 from the Ultra Ladies 50 Mile Event Training Schedule. I made some minor modifications, and included a marathon, three 50ks (Grand Slam) and a 50-mile race in the training plan. I gradually progressed from 40 miles per week to 80 miles per week. The toughest part mentally was during the 65 – 70 mile weeks when I was already tired and knew I still had to build mileage. When I got to 75 miles per week, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The camaraderie and support of the awesome Huntsville running community, the participation in the Grand Slam, and the support and encouragement from Marty and Carol and also from fellow Umstead registrant and super-fast ultra runner Benj Lance really helped the training seem less like work and more like an adventure. I even convinced several runners to a meet for a chilly overnight run! Thanks, Lindsey, Colleen, Michelle, Sonny, Sam, Megan, Emily, Olivia and Susan! And Gregg Gelmis shot some amazing photos of that run! Overnight runs and back-to-back long runs are an important part of 100 mile training that helps simulate race day. I also did several long runs at Wheeler Refuge to simulate the running surface as closely as possible.
I met with and emailed Marty and Carol throughout the training cycle to work out the logistics. By the time we left for North Carolina, we had a well-orchestrated plan, complete with spreadsheets taped to my supply bin predicting what I anticipated needing at each aid station. I felt prepared and ready to conquer 100 miles. My 50 mile race at Delano Park (3 weeks before Umstead) went really well and resulted in a 35-minute PR. The only challenges I faced were hip pain from the 50-mile race and pain on the bottom of both feet. During a chiropractic tune-up with Dr. Olson, we decided that the benefits of changing shoe model less than two weeks from race day outweighed the risks. The foot pain wasn’t getting any better and the Brooks Transcend shoe that had worked remarkably well in the past wasn’t working with this level of mileage. I bought a new pair of Hokas (Bondi) at Fleet Feet and feet immediately felt better. I did my best to break them in before race day.
The Umstead course is a 12.5 mile loop run 8 times, with a 30-hour time limit. There are fully stocked aid stations at the beginning and middle of each loop (Aid Stations #1 and #2), with water stations and food boxes in between the fully stocked stations. And fully stocked is an understatement! These stations had any kind of food, drink, medical help, and logistical help we could possibly need. They even had menus to announce which food items were available at any given time!
Prior to race day, I had attempted to calculate my estimated finish time, using an online ultra calculator. Problem is, I used my 50 mile finish time at Delano and selected the same terrain and elevation (rolling hills) for Umstead and Delano. Umstead turned out to be much hillier than expected and a much harder course than Delano. Based on the erroneous calculation, I thought I could finish Umstead in 24 hours. And it gets worse! Prior to race day, I emailed this nifty calculator to Benj so that he could estimate his finish time, too!
To finish close to goal time, I used the calculator on the Umstead site to determine split times for each loop, allowing the second half to be 1.3 times longer. I taped my goal split times to one of my supply bins. Marty and Carol studied the list of what I thought I would need at each aid station so that I could grab what I need and get right back out and not lose precious minutes. They were waiting for me at each aid station with what I needed in hand and ready to get any kind of food (grits and cheese worked really well) or drink I needed from the aid station. I carried pain and nausea meds with me, along with NUUN drops, S-Caps and Honey Stinger chews. For the first 3 loops (mile 1 – 37.5), we were like a well-oiled machine and I was several minutes ahead of my goal split times towards that 24-hour (actually 23 hour, 56 minute) finish.
I slowed down significantly during the fourth loop (mile 37.5 – mile 50) and realized something wasn’t right. The hills seemed hillier, my back got sore, my feet got blistered and I really started to struggle. About halfway into that loop, I figured out my calculation mistake and realized that comparing Delano’s elevation to Umstead’s was like apples and oranges. I settled into a realistic pace and accepted that the sub-24 wasn’t realistic. During that loop, I saw Benj, who was running with his awesome pacer Megan Nobriga and told him what had happened. He said he had used the same erroneous calculation and I felt terrible when I realized he used that goofy calculator I had emailed him!
At the end of 4 loops (mile 50), Carol helped me change socks, treat blisters and also treat back pain with Biofreeze. I was tired and grumpy and needed food and coffee. Because the temperature was starting to drop and the forecast called for sub-freezing temperatures, Carol loaned me her windbreaker layer on top of my 2 base layers and a heavy layer. It really helped, initially. Carol retrieved part of a hamburger from the aid station and prepared the best cup of coffee ever! She also gave me a baggie with M&Ms and I was good to go! I saw Megan as I headed back out and she gave me a badly-needed pep talk.
The fifth loop was happier and less grumpy. As I was happily running on a downhill, another runner looked at me and said, “Well, look at you, all piss and vinegar!” All went well for nearly seven miles until the blisters became very painful and I realized I needed additional blister treatment. Marty and Carol met me at Aid Station #2 where we requested the help of one of the two awesome Umstead Blister Whisperers. She carefully treated my blisters, put padding on them and bandaged them, while Marty and Carol retrieved my handheld light from my drop bag, another pair of socks, and got soup and coffee for me. Although I was disappointed in the time that the blisters from new Hokas cost me, I was grateful for the cushioning they provided for the bottoms of my feet. I never could have finished the race without that cushioning. Turns out, the benefit outweighed the risks, blisters and all.
Umstead, We Have a Problem
When I met Marty and Carol at the beginning of loop 6 (mile 62.5) with much happier feet, the temperature had dropped even more. I added an extra heavy layer, and ate some warm soup. Marty and Carol had arranged a volunteer pacer for me for loop 6. My pacer, Suzanne and I headed out into the darkness with our lights. She was very nice and reassuring and ready to do whatever I needed – walk when I needed to, run when I could do so. After a couple of miles, I developed nausea that was not even responding to prescription nausea medication. Suzanne patiently slowed down to walk with me when the nausea made running too difficult. When we got to Aid Station #2, she encouraged me to try to eat something. I drank some ginger ale and managed to get some chicken broth down. The nausea calmed slightly and next two miles were a little better. Then I became disoriented, started staggering, felt lightheaded, had blurred vision and slurred speech, while shivering uncontrollably. We tried running to see if that would help us warm up. That made it worse, because the movement was creating a breeze. Suzanne got a mylar blanket out and put around me. She had to keep propping me up and began to get concerned. By mile 73, she asked if I wanted her to call for help. I knew it would be the end of the race, but I knew I could not continue with the symptoms I had at that time. I considered it, but realized we would need to ride back to Aid Station #1 in an open ATV, which would be even colder!
Suzanne propped me up while I hobbled through the rest of the loop. We passed Benj towards the end up the loop. He saw me shivering and said in a very fatigued voice, “Go get warmed up by the fire.” He was heading out for his last loop at that time and had also struggled with the cold temperature. I later found out he finished the race in 23:15:26. Way to go Benj!
At Aid Station #1, I asked Suzanne to help me into the lodge and over to the fire. I knew I could not continue the race, unless the situation dramatically turned around. When we got to the back of the lodge near the fire, the Red Cross volunteers helped me onto a cot and put warm blankets over me. I was still shivering, weak, lightheaded, etc. Marty and Carol brought me potato soup and looked at each other helplessly. Suzanne congratulated me on finishing 75 miles before she headed back out to pace another runner. We both thought that was the end of my race. One of Red Cross volunteers insisted that I change into dry layers. Marty and Carol started rounding up any dry layer that we had between the three of us. They brought over the layers, including a hat and heavier gloves, and encouraged me to sit up and get out from under the blanket. I thought, “They actually think I’m going back out there?!” I changed into dry layers, but continued to stay under the blanket and shiver. Marty and Carol continued to look at each other helplessly while engaging in a sidebar conversation, trying to figure out what to do next. Marty came over, smiled sympathetically and said, “You are 3 hours ahead of where I was at this race at mile 75, two years ago. You can finish this.” I said, “I want to finish this, but I don’t know if my body will allow it.” I continued to shiver under the blanket. Then Carol came over and said, “If you don’t at least try to finish, I’m concerned that you will look back with regret.” She advised me to at least try the next loop, and said, “You can always stop, if you can’t do it.” I told them I couldn’t go back out by myself. That’s when they gave me the plan for loop 7: We would shoot for a 4-hour loop, walking all of it. Marty would walk the first half with me and Carol would walk the second half. I agreed and they advised me to gradually get outside, in stages. First, I sat up. Then we moved to the middle of the room, then near the door and then outside.
Once Marty and I started walking, I realized I felt much better! We walked and talked and he reminded me to drink from my water bottle every mile and gave me a Fig Newton if I complied:) Carol met us at Aid Station #2 with more soup and she and I walked the rest of the loop, finishing just under 4 hours. The shivering, disorientation, slurred speech, staggering – all of it had stopped. I had 5 layers on at this point.
At the beginning of the final loop (87.5 miles), Marty introduced me to Dan, my pacer for the final loop. He was also very nice and paced me for a fast walk for the first half of the loop. Despite the sunrise, I started shivering, staggering, getting disoriented, etc. again at mile 93. Dan patiently slowed and stopped when needed and propped me up when necessary. I told him, “I know what to do about this!” We got to the aid station less than two miles later, where I met Marty and Carol, ate more soup, sat in front of a heater for a few minutes, and went back out, feeling much better after warming up. I told Dan I would like to run as many of the downhills as possible on the way back. I wanted that finisher buckle! During that last loop, after the sun came up, we saw fellow runners, some of them propped up by pacers. We all cheered each other on and congratulated each other. We also saw local runners who realized we were finishing the Umstead 100. They could not have been nicer or more encouraging! At mile 97, one runner said, “You’re still running! How?” Another said, “Congratulations! Nobody can ever take this away from you!”
Carol met us and ran with Dan and me for the last ¼ mile. It felt great to be able to run down that final hill and run/walk the final uphill. I crossed the finish line in 28 hours, 26 minutes and 27 seconds, and was thrilled! It was slower than my original, miscalculated goal finish time, but for a first 100 mile race at the age of 53 with 5 ½ years of running experience, I’ll take it!
A 100 mile race is very different from a marathon, 50k or 50-mile race. Rather than an individual effort, it is more of a team effort. I could not have made through this race without the amazing support of Marty and Carol who anticipated my needs even before I did. But most importantly, they encouraged me to finish the race at mile 75 when I didn’t even think it was possible. They had more faith in me than I had in myself. Months earlier, I had given them permission to do whatever necessary to make sure I cross the finish line: Yell at me, kick my butt, drag me kicking and screaming:) But they knew just what to say and how to say it during the most crucial time of the race. Marty and Carol have my eternal gratitude for helping me complete a 100-mile race that would have ended at mile 75 without their encouragement.
At the finish line with Dan, Carol and Marty
I had heard great things about the runner support provided by the Umstead team, but their support far surpassed my wildest expectations. I would not have physically or emotionally survived the 6th and 8th loops without my wonderful Umstead pacers Suzanne and Dan. I would not have even made it to loop 6 without the Blister Whisperer! And there is no way I could have survived the drop in body temperature without the Red Cross volunteers at mile 75. As an Organizational Development Specialist, I study and work with high-performance teams. I have seen some amazing teamwork and performance on the job, but I am absolutely in awe of the Umstead team! 2015 was the first year for the race after beloved long-time Race Director Blake Norwood passed away last year. Rhonda Hampton took the helm as the new Race Director, and once again, everything flowed beautifully before, during and after the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, a powerful tribute to Blake Norwood’s legacy. Every detail was carefully planned and covered, from the food and hydration available at the aid stations to the ample supply of porta potties to the pacers and medical personnel. I can’t imagine and more well-executed event conducted by a nicer and more supportive group of people. Thank you for helping me realize my dream of completing a 100 mile race. Great job, Team Umstead!