Monday, April 14, 2014

Umstead 100

Looking back, the Umstead 100 seems like a dream.  An excellent dream, but a dream nonetheless.

Smiling is easy when you're having fun!
I went into this race with a lot of unknowns.  I'd not run a 100 on a loop course and my lead up to the race was not as I'd planned.  Five weeks before the race I had minor abdominal surgery to remove a cyst.  The cyst caused discomfort for about two weeks and the surgery and a ill-timed stomach bug had me miss an entire week of running.  I almost pulled the plug on the race.  Thanks to the best surgeon EVER (thanks Katie!) and my PT for talking sense into me, I decided to race.

As I prepared for the race, I reached out to several friends for course information and advice - and one friend even biked the course with a video camera! Thanks Gene! The repetition and challenge to remain focused were my main focus leading up to the race.  I looked forward to challenging myself on a new type of terrain and seeing how fast I could run on a course that has much less climbing and technical trail than I've run for 100's before.

Packet pick-up on Friday
I stayed with friends in Cary for the weekend and found myself incredibly distracted on Friday.  I couldn't seem to focus on anything. I got many texts from friends wishing me good luck - those always mean the world to me.  I anxiously awaited the arrival of my pacer, an incredible friend who was coming a long way to help me. He gave me advice about Pinhoti in November last year but we hadn't yet met.  He arrived about 13 hours before the start and I immediately knew I was in the best of hands.  Being an awesome runner himself, he needed no explanation about what I needed during the race.  Perfect.

Race morning went off without a hitch, I arrived in plenty of time and had some - but not too much - time to ready myself.  Willy was already taking care of everything I needed - including saying the right thing to keep my thoughts where they needed to be pre-race.  My race plan was pretty simple - I wanted to go out slow and keep the pace as long as possible. I hoped for a sub-18 day if I played my cards right. 

The race started at 6:00am and the temperature had me wondering if I needed arm warmers and how long I'd actually need my headlamp.  I set my iPod to "slow and low" by the Beastie Boys to remind me to keep the brakes on.  I used my Ambit2 and watched the average pace like a hawk.  It was tough to chill out and let everyone pass me.  I focused on just me, and going slow.  Reverting to my road racing days of watching the watch.  The first lap was easy - I learned the course - and finished the lap in 2:02.

At the start of each lap, Willy and I arranged to switch my packs out.  I used the Orange Mud single barrel pack and it worked great.  Switching the packs out gave me a few gels/chews and some water so I could avoid needing to stop at the aid stations.  I wanted to get into a rhythm on this course and not feel tempted to whittle away time at the aid stations.  At the end of lap 1 I began to see how helpful Willy was going to truly be.  He switched my pack, handed me some Nuun to drink, offered me food and did it all hiking beside me. 

I settled into my rhythm on Lap 2.  I ran with a few different people who made me want to speed up but I stuck to my pace.  The temperature started to inch up and I realized this could be a big factor for me who isn't used to the heat or humidity.  I finished Lap 2 in 2:00.  Another pit stop with Willy, where I shed my Buddha tech shirt to try and cool off, and I was off again.

The heat began to creep up on me during Lap 3.  The temperatures climbed to about 70 with a moderate level of humidity.  That might not seem like much but I was still wearing gloves and jackets training in Washington!  I made an effort to start drinking more liquid and used one of the self-serve aid stations to refill my bottle along this lap.  During this lap I also started to come up on some other runners still on Lap 2.  This proved to be one of the best aspects of this race - the fact that you keep seeing other runners and can exchange everything from smiles and high fives to glances and grunts.  Lap time: 2:01.  

I made a conscious decision to try and slow down on Lap 4.  The heat was really starting to be a factor for me and I didn't want to use too much energy the first half of the race.  Mentally the loop course was starting to rear its ugly head.  I already wished for fewer laps to go and being in the heat of the day didn't help my mental fortitude.  I muscled and smiled my way through Lap 4 in 2:11.  I was sweating a lot and trying to replace fluids as much as possible.

Around mile 45
After Lap 4 I started to dread more laps.  Mentally I was slipping and fought hard to stay positive.  I can't say that I won this battle - I was weaker mentally than I would like to admit.  I started whining and complained about the heat.  I do not like to be this kind of runner.  I asked Willy if he was going to run with me.  I knew he was going to at some point and I needed something to look forward to.  Being the champ that he is, he asked when I'd like him to even though I'm sure he knew the answer.  My response was something like "Now".  Maybe he knew there was no reasoning with me or maybe he is just that nice - but he told me he'd meet me along the airport out-and-back stretch at the beginning of the loop.  He also told me the clouds were rolling in and it would start to cool down now.  Two happy things for this lap!

The airport out-and-back is about 1.5 miles total and is done at the start of each lap.  Then there is a 10.5 mile "lollipop" for each lap.  The remainder of the distance is on the out-and-back to the start/finish line.  Willy used this airport out-and-back a few times to really help me during the race.  He would get me things I needed and bring them to me along this stretch so I didn't waste any time waiting around.  This was a stroke of genius to me while I raced and not only did it save me time, it gave me something to focus on these first few miles of each lap instead of the long loop ahead.

Lap 5 passed pretty quickly for me.  I think it's because I had Willy with me and it was our first time running together.  I really enjoyed it.  I told him right off that I run the tangents of the corners and he spent this lap dancing around to give me the right-of-way.  He didn't make me feel like I had to talk, which I loved.  Looking back, he seemed like a stronger version of myself beside me.  I drew strength from that.  Lap 5 time: 2:13.
Willy helping me at the start of a Lap
I ran Lap 6 alone.  I knew I needed Willy's strength for the last 2 laps and I thought I could power through the last full daylight lap.  I started to really suffer on this lap and found myself walking a lot of the rolling climbs.  I hadn't peed in several laps and I knew I needed to fuel up.  Problem was that food sounded horrible.  I focused on the other runners on the course and using them as distractions as we exchanged pleasantries.  There's something about suffering together that makes everyone the best of friends.  I had a lot of friends at Umstead.  I finished Lap 6 in 2:20 and felt relief knowing I'd have Willy the rest of the way.

My spirits were higher on Lap 7 than they'd been in a while.  Maybe it was the cooler temperatures near sundown, maybe it was Willy's company, maybe it was the pull of the finish approaching.  My body struggled and my mind struggled even more.  I was capable of running but chose to walk almost all the inclines.  I wish my mind had been stronger and pulled my body.  I had the pleasure of being lapped by Liza Howard, the woman's champion.  One tough and fast lady!  I finished Lap 7 in 2:30.

It's no surprise that Lap 8 was the toughest of the whole race.  Mentally I was cooked from the repetition of laps and my body was screaming to stop.  I told myself it was just one more lap.  I tried to push the pace but the mind seemed to have less gas than the body.  Willy reassured me that I could make it under 18 hours if I just kept my current pace.  My first watch died around mile 85 so I was relying on him for pacing.  About 4 miles into the lap I passed the 3rd place woman.  This gave me a good boost and I began to really feel the pull of the finish line.  I pushed the last few miles and tried to leave it all on the course.  I finished the 8th lap in 2:30. 

I finished in 17:47, 3rd place female and 9th overall.  I basically collapsed on Blake (the RD) at the finish line and tried to pass it off as a hug.  He presented me with my buckle and a smile and I've not been this happy to finish a race in a long time!  My friend Gene saw me staggering and helped me inside to a warm cot by the fire where he proceeded to get me any food or drink I wanted.  Talk about service!

My legs were pretty trashed after the race.  And they did not appreciate getting on a flight back to Seattle on Sunday.  But like all ultrarunners, my memory is short-term and I don't even remember it now.

This race brought out several themes to me.  One is Wisdom.  I went into this race with a lot of unknowns.  But I had confidence in my training and my fitness.  I knew how to fuel myself and how to listen to my body.  Running is what we ultrarunners do.  Have faith in the wisdom you've accumulated.  Two is compassion.  Mentally this course was tough on me.  I kept trying to power through and push in a war against myself.  A better bet is to give yourself a break.  Have compassion for yourself and the task at hand.  Have fun.  Smile.  We do this because we love this.  I lost sight of that for a few laps at Umstead.  Third is humility.  I knew this course would challenge me, would push me to a different kind of pain than I've experienced in races before.  What I didn't expect was the level of humility that came along with it.  I am always learning.  I am always open to new lessons.  Is it a coincidence I was wearing the Buddha shirt from Ink N Burn for this race?  Definitely not. 

Heartfelt thanks to all those who helped me before, during and after the race.  To all those who followed me during the race - I knew you'd be watching.  To friends and family who supported me - I lean on you more than you know.  To my PT and my surgeon - Your role is a big one.  To my hosts in Raleigh - I had a blast and can't wait to do it again.  To Gene - You are the best and I'm lucky to have you as a friend. 

Last but not least, this race wouldn't have been what it was without Willy.  His role cannot be understated and I feel grateful beyond words that he is in my life.  Everything he did for me for the race was perfect.  Having someone who is just like you who gives you what you need when you need it - with a smile - while never breaking stride is an amazing thing.  He is a jewel and I've never met anyone quite like him.  And I'm sure I never will again.

Thanks for all of your support - keep smiling.  


  1. Great race and report! Perfect training for Fat Dog; no loops there!

  2. JEN!!! I just cried. I love your running. I love that you share your journey in such raw form. Thank you for being vulnerable like that and reminding me of the really awesome and relentless ways that we run and we press on and we learn and we persevere. What a great pillar of strength you are in life and in motherhood and in ultrarunner-ville : ) xoxo Be well my friend!