Umstead 100 Miler, April 6-7, 2002
By Jaret Seiberg
Serge Arbona of Maryland prevailed at the eighth annual Umstead 100 Miler in 14:42.20, beating his closest competitor by more than 1 hour and 10 minutes and me by 11 hours and two minutes.
Needless to say I did not place any pressure on Serge, who was always friendly as he passed me though he did depress when he told me only three more miles to Mile 50 when in fact I needed to go 13 more miles.
The top female was Connie Gardner of Ohio in 17:21. VHTRC member Monica Schultz was second.
The Umstead 100 Miler was my first 100 miler and I thought I knew what to expect. I trained, ran at night with other ultra runners, got some great advice from Michele Burr and Ed Schultz, and bought new batteries for the walkman in case I needed it.
What I did not prepare for was 22-degree nighttime weather.
As a result, what at mile 60 looked like it would be a 21-hour finish turned into a much longer race. Thanks to the help of Kerry Owens, my pacer for the last 20 milers, I finished in 25:44.
I decided to run Umstead primarily because my wife and I are attending the Bat Mitzvah next weekend of our neighbor's daughter. That meant that I could not run the Bull Run Run. (Though I will be at the Centerville Aid Station if any one needs those special carbo-loaded drinks that James Moore and Amy Bloom prefer so much during their runs. But I digress.)
I thought there would be a bunch of Happy Trailers there. Jeff Reed told me over the winter that he was going to attempt the 100 miler there. Also John Haywood said he was going to run 50 of it as a trainer for Western States.
Of course they did not show.
But there were a few Happy Trailers there. James Moore was a friendly face every time we passed on the spur sections of the trail. I believe James did 70 miles of this race. He told me that he got hurt early on, but then was back out on trail and was moving pretty well. There is some dispute over what happened to him. Kerry said race management pulled him at the start/finish aid station because he missed a cut off, but I though the only cut off was at 27 hours. He did get credit for a 50 mile time of 13:59.
So James, what happened?
Being somewhat new to VHTRC, I don't know everyone yet. But I did see some familiar faces in the crowd. Kevin Sayers, race director of Catoctin 50K, was there. I ran briefly with him. He told me that he has never run the full Catoctin 50K course because it is too damn hard. Just shows he is smarter than the rest of us. Kevin finished in 19:47.
I only found the name of one other VHTRC member who finished. Keith Moore whom I believe ran with Kevin and finished also in 19:47
The race is 10 loops around Umstead state park, which is next to Raleigh-Durham airport. The course includes two spurs, one of which is 1.9 miles long. So you get to see fellow runners. It is run on dirt roads that contain way too many rocks. Many warned me not to park my car near the course so I would not be tempted to drop out. Anstr even has a warning about the loops in his description of the race on the calendar page.
This worried me before the race, but the loops were not an issue. The loops were long enough that they did not become repetitive and the familiarity with the terrain as the race wore on actually made things easier.
The race began promptly at 6 a.m. with race director Blake Norwood firing the starter's pistol. We then all walked because the race starts at a lake. To got to the course you need to climb a 75-yard hill that is extremely steep.
The first three miles are very runable. The course has some gentle rolling hills as it heads east away from the start-finish line. This includes a great one-mile down hill to a river crossing - on a bridge - at mile 3. You pay for this downhill twice. Not only is it on the spur so you get to climb the hill on the return, but as you continue on trail you begin a one-mile up hill to the aid station at mile 4.1.
After finishing the spur - which ends at a porta-potty - the trail takes a hard right and begins its next long downhill, long uphill portion. After climbing the hill, the trails is a gradual uphill through mile 7, when the course turns left for a downhill though a bunch of pine needles - which felt great after all those rocks on the other sections of the course - before rejoining another dirt road.
That road consists of rolling hills before a gentle downhill at mile 8 that takes you to the main park road used by cars to get to the race HQ. Given that almost anyone on this road was supporting someone in the race or had just run the race, you would think they would all be considerate and drive slow so as to not kick up a dust storm. I give credit to half of the drivers - I can't imagine what the other 50% were thinking as they zoomed down, blinded us with high beams, and put so much dust in the air that you had to breath through your shirt.
Mile 9 to 9.8 was straight up hill for the last short jaunt to the HQ aid station. For anyone who runs this race in the future, this short spur goes right past the bathrooms for a group of cabins. Nothing notes this as a bathroom and it actually looks like it could be a cabin. But they have real flush toilets.
That aid stations were great and the volunteers fantastic. At the end of lap one I ran through the aid station to do a short out-and-back to the lake that is required at the start of each loop. When I returned a few minutes later at the aid station and begin filling my CamelBack, a woman told me to leave it with her on the next lap before I go to the lake. She would fill it before I returned. Worked great every time after that.
A majority of racers either dropped or only did this as a 50 miler because by 6 p.m. the number of runners on the course seemed to drop dramatically. Too bad. They missed some of the best food, including a rice soup that hit the spot. Though not for me, grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza were available all night. I stuck with the soup, PB&J, fruit, peanuts, and potatoes, which were made fresh every hour or so because they were always warm.
This is a great race for a beginner because you can make mistakes and still manage to finish. Trust me. I made several big errors in this run.
The first 50 miles went down in about 8:56. I was walking the big up hills and letting gravity pull me down the other side. I had dreams of finishing in 20 hours.
Of course, this was too good to continue.
For no reason at all I was running up a short hill less than 10 feet from the HQ aid station while trying to remove my CamelBack. This would mark mile 50. My left leg slipped off a wood railroad tie used as a step. I tried to keep my balance using my right foot. Both calf muscles suffered and I suddenly had trouble walking.
I knew I would have to slow down to have any hope of finishing given my tender calf muscles. At this point I grabbed my walkman. After running two laps with a group, we split up about 30 miles ago and I had been running basically alone for 25 miles. Figured I would listen to ESPN radio.
Grabbing that walkman was the best thing I did because not more than five minutes after I turned it on I met Mike from Morrisville, NC, and a runner from Rockville. I can't recall his name and no one is signed up from Rockville. I joined them for the next lap and a half. (Yes, I did turn off the walkman as we talked.)
At the start of lap 7 I made my second error. I did not bring my flashlight, believing I would be done before dark. Making that error in the mountains would have been costly. At Umstead, the trail is wide enough and after 60 miles familiar enough that this was not catastrophic.
Another Michael joined us around mile 62. This Michael - who is in the Navy and from Norfolk - was part of the group that I had run with earlier. We stuck together through mile 65, when Michael and I separated from the group to pick up our pace.
I lost Michael at the mile 70 aid station. We were both going to change into our warn clothes and grab flashlights. But after a short stop in the aforementioned bath house with flush toilets, I could not find him anywhere. After changing, I waited another 10 minutes and still no Michael anywhere. Michael - if you are out there, what happened to you?
I left the aid station and by mile 62 I realize I made error number 3. This was a very serious error that could prevent me from finishing. I thought I was dressed warm, but I started shivering uncontrollably. I did not bring with me my HAT hat or a similar winter hat. I also was getting very tired. It was only 11 p.m., but I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I made it to the mile 64.1 aid station and plopped down into a folding chair next to the heater. A drank a cup of hot coffee, ate some food, and accepted one of those tin-foil emergency blankets.
Realizing I had to get back to the HQ aid station, I reluctantly left this nirvana for the trail. The emergency blanket did not help. The aid station worker - who was very helpful - suggested I wear it like a poncho. But it did not keep me warm. I don't know what made me think of this but by mile 65 I had turn the emergency blanket into a hat with ear muffs by draping it over my head and tying the ends under my chin. I then put my running cap on top to keep it in place. I had to look ridiculous, but I immediately started feeling warmer and knew I could make to the HQ aid station and my warm jacket.
I was getting ready to run again when I met Anita - I think that was your name -- from Colorado Springs.
Anita was in worse shape than I was. I ripped off part of the blanket for her to make a hat - she already had one of the headband-ear warmer contraptions on. Anita could not see straight nor walk straight. She should not have been on trail. If we had seen a park ranger or race officials, I would have had them bring her to the aid station because I really feared she would become hypothermic and I knew after 75 miles that I could not carry her in.
With Anita in tow, running was out of the question. Even fast walking was out of the question. But we did finish the lap. It took four hours - about an hour and 20 minutes longer than any of my previous laps and an hour longer than it took me to do each of the last two laps.
We saw a ranger 3/10 of a mile before the HQ aid station. Being so close, Anita wanted to get to the aid station so she could rest in a warm spot and then decide whether to continue. She had 30 miles left at that point. About 20 yards before the aid station, she found her husband. So I gave her a hug and headed off. I don't know what ended up happening to her. An Anita is listed as finishing in under 27 hours, but she is from the wrong city.
As I yelled out my number as I approached the aid station, I got a response that my pacer was in the HQ building sitting next to the fire. I had never been so happy to see Kerry. I got rid of my emergency blanket hat and replaced it with a very warm running jacket that has a hood.
Off we went for the last 20. Breaking 24 hours was longer a reality. I spent so much time doing 70 to 80 that Kerry said the race officials were getting nervous as to what happened to me. All that walking with Anita in the 22 degree temperature also made it hard to get my legs running again. It was so cold that everything was cramped.
But we stumbled through the final 20 in a very slow pace. Kerry was an enormous help and put up with two slow laps.
As I crossed the finish line, I got applause from the race officials and others gathered at the aid station. After thanking everyone for volunteering I went straight into that HQ building to sit in front of that roaring fire that Kerry had told me about for the last six hours. It was even better than she described.
Umstead is a great first-time 100 miler because it permits the beginner to recover from his mistakes. If I was on Short Mountain or elsewhere without a flashlight or warm enough clothes because of a sudden change in the forecast, I would have had to drop out.
When I do my next 100 miler (Note to wife: Don't worry, it won't be too soon.) I will know much more what to expect. So I say: Next year MMT!