Umstead 100(sortakinda) race report
A few Saturdays ago, I had the pleasure of lacing up my shoes and once again toeing the line at the Umstead 100 mile endurance run. Having done this back in 2012 (to very happy results) and last year (to somewhat less happy but still pretty positive results), and with a good few months of training in my legs, I was optimistic that my experience and fitness would carry me to a PR and maybe more. Umstead holds a special place in my heart (both the park and the race) as it was basically the first thing I fell in love with when I moved here five years ago (well, that and Fullsteam). And having done so well at both the marathon and the 100 in 2012, the memories of both those races fuel many a run where I’m feeling less than my best. It’s also a bit of a gathering of ultrarunner friends both near and far that I may not have seen in a while, which this year was both an exciting and an annoying thing. Friday’s pasta dinner allowed me to catch up with one of the legends of this sport and race, and one of my personal heroes, Serge Arbona. The two of us and his son had spaghetti and meatballs and talked about training and life and that was nice. I also had to see my terrible, awful, no good, very bad ex-girlfriend but fortunately was able to avoid her.
I got a pretty good night’s sleep Friday night. Almost too good. The race starts at 6 am Saturday. I set a few alarms on my phone to go off between 4:37 and 4:48 (I’m weird with alarms, whatever). UNFORTUNATELY, I forgot that I had set them all to go off ONLY Monday through Friday. Whoops. Fortunately I awoke from some weird dream involving sand castles, Chargrill milkshakes, and Mario Kart at 4:40 on my own. Damn that blue shell! I am not very organized and of course didn’t bother to get everything together BEFORE I went to sleep so I set about groggily getting all my stuff together and getting out the door. I ate “breakfast” on my way over which consisted of some almonds and a honey stinger waffle. When I got there, with about twenty minutes to spare (early by my usual standards), I downed a black coffee and did my business. Melissa found me at my car and asked me how I was doing. “Well, I have about ten minutes before the race and I’m looking for something to pin my bib with,” was my kinda snarky answer. Sorry Melis, it was early! I DID manage to get all my crap somewhere closeish to the start area, and get my water bottle filled, shoes tied, number pinned, etc etc and get to the start line with about a minute to spare. Val, who selflessly offered to crew me for the race, met me around there and fortunately she said she’d move all my stuff somewhere closer to the course and have stuff ready for me after the loop. Cool. I said hi to Serge, saw Dan Lenz who gave me a big bro-hug, and basically we were off.
It wasn’t raining like the weather people had promised. Instead, it was actually kinda warmish and very humid. I was wishing it would just drizzle actually. The start is exactly like the marathon start, climbing up the gravel road out of Camp Lapihio. Two guys “blasted” off to the front… I use air quotes because unless you are a handful of people (none of whom were at this race) there is no real “blast mode” happening at the start of a 100 mile race. Serge and I settled in a few steps behind them. And that’s basically how it stayed for the first few miles. The beginning of a race of this length is always kinda weird. I was sorta tired but fighting off the adrenaline surge that comes with finally doing something I’ve been training for and thinking about for months. So I was very glad to have Serge’s company early on. We ran along the bridle trail at what felt like an easy jog and I could sense some runners maybe pacing off us as they were just a few steps behind us with seemingly no desire to go by. We slowed at the unmanned aid station and I grabbed a gel and the guys behind us absolutely slowed down too. It was kind of amusing to me, no one wanted to go by Serge because his reputation preceded him. At the first aid station, about 7 miles in, Serge ducked off to go to the bathroom and I was now on my own.
The Turkey Creek section was next and I was feeling spry so I actively had to hold back and not bound up the inclines. I had myself sorta powerhiking up them and then taking the downhills a little faster than otherwise. It felt great, I was nailing my plan. I came in from the first loop in about 1:51ish,in 3rd place, within striking distance of two guys I didn’t think were about to run sub-15, right as planned , feeling fine. I swapped out water bottles, grabbed some watermelon and two salt pills and was on my way. Unfortunately I shoved everything in my mouth at once and as I went to bite into the watermelon I chomped the salt pills and they ruptured and I instinctively spit them out. Whoops. Ugh. I had some coconut water so electrolytes weren’t too much of a concern. Oh but to think I was so full of confidence and excitement.
The first chink in the armor came as I was going around the airport turnaround. I burped and all I tasted was the spaghetti sauce from last night’s dinner. Hmm. Ok, weird but whatever. My stomach felt a little sloshy but I didn’t think much of it. That is until we got to the first unmanned aid station, whereupon I ducked into a portapotty and proceeded to spend 5 minutes in there throwing up and… other stuff. I was kind of annoyed but also hopeful that that would be the end of it and I didn’t lose THAT much time, considering the race was still young. Ha! In the ensuing 2-3 miles to the far aid station I threw up another half dozen or so times. Yup. All of a sudden the act of running was causing an all out rebellion in my stomach. I got to the far aid station and didn’t really know what to do. I think I took a salt pill, I know I asked for some stomach stuff but all they had were Tums. I downed some knowing it wouldn’t do much if anything. It didn’t. Right before the big bad hill on Turkey Creek I lost it again. It seemed to be a pattern — I would run for about ten minutes and then my stomach gave up and emptied whatever was left (mostly the water and gatorade I had just put in it). It sucked. My legs were like ‘WTF dude let’s GOOOOOOO’ and I just… couldn’t. We’ve all been there I’m sure. But I had about 80 miles staring me in the face. I knew that I had ZERO desire to spend the next 80 miles following this pattern so when I came in at the end of my second loop, mentally I was done. At some point on this loop it started pouring so I was also soaked and my feet were sloshing in my Launches but that didn’t matter much to me. I got done with the loop and told Val that I would probably be a while up there. Mentally, I was already checked out. I went into the lodge and undressed, put on dry stuff, but I didn’t go back out. Instead I waited for my friends who were coming in about an hour. I waited for Serge to come in at the end of his 3rd lap. I was done.
And really, we can end this here. I ran two loops at Umstead, much MUCH slower than many two loops I’ve done in training. I threw up more than I have in any race ever. I quit and took a four hour break. Four hours (and like 6 hot dogs) later I decided I felt ok enough to get some more running in. I was planning on being there til my friends finished, I might as well get some miles in. So I set out on lap number 3, and the pressure of competing for the win off, I just enjoyed it. Said hi to most people. Toward the end of the loop, coming up Graylyn I came upon another friend of mine from Brooklyn, Mary, and ran/walked the rest of the way in with her. She was struggling so I decided to do my fourth loop with her and her pacer. It was much more entertaining than doing it by myself. And then, for good measure, I did a 5th loop with her. So I finished up my “failure” with 62.5 miles, the slowest 62.5 miles I’ve ever run, and lots of laughs.
Lots of people were like, “You have soooo much time to do your last three loops, get out there!” To which I chuckled and responded, “yeah, I’m good.” I dunno. I don’t have that suffer gene that most ultrarunners do I guess. The thought of spending another 6-7 hours “running”, in the dark and the cold overnight just to say I finished 100 miles held absolutely zero appeal to me. There were plenty of people who did just that and I applaud them, they are mentally tougher than I. And I am 100% ok with that. For me, having been there twice and knowing what it entailed, I had nothing to prove to anyone, myself in particular, and was perfectly content with my 100k training run. There will be more down the road. I don’t even know why I wrote this up, except that some people asked about it and now I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. I COULD talk about how it’s been an exceptionally stressful start to the year, how I while the running and lifting and whatever people qualify as “training” has gone well, my personal life has been kind of shambles (more than just partially self-inflicted mind you). I’ve been suffering really badly with anxiety and panic attacks, my mind racing when I lay down to go to sleep with thoughts about things I could have and should have done differently in certain situations, it all snowballing into more than a few sleepless nights and lots of tears. I’m a work in progress on all fronts. We all are. This is starting to sound A LOT like excuses, and it’s not. My personal, romantic, etc mistakes and sadnesses did not ruin my race at Umstead. Missing a particular person did not cause my stomach to repeatedly empty its contents two and a half hours into a race I otherwise felt really great at. Nope. Just a crappy day, literally and figuratively. As I have learned, in life and in running, there are days like this. And fortunately I have experience days that are diametrically opposite of these, filled with the sort of feelings you know even in that moment you want to lock away inside and never forget how it feels, both in running and in life. Life goes on, it’s just a race. If you read this drivel, I owe you a beer.
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