Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Umstead 100! 19:45:27

As the certificate that I received a week or so ago says: "Having exhibited the courage to try, the will to persevere, and the heart to endure, Rob French has successfully completed the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run and is hereby granted entry into the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Hundred Milers"

I'm finally sitting down at a computer long enough to write my Umstead 100 Race Report. As I approached my first 100 miler, I had 3 goals. To finish 100 miles on foot, finish under 24 hours, and if all went well I thought I might have a chance to break 20 hours. So much uncharted territory, fear of the unknown, overwhelmed at the enormity of it all....

My training generally went pretty well. I began training for Umstead in earnest the first week in January. I spent 8 weeks averaging 85 miles per week. About as much volume as I can handle. I wish I had done more "long" long runs but with kids sports, family and work obligations it was tough to schedule everything perfectly and weeks when I couldn't run for 5+ hours on the weekend I just ran a little more volume during the week. I was able to run two 50k races, 3 runs of 4+ hours over Pilot Mtn., a 4 hour "night" run, and two runs at Salem Lake over 5 hours.

On Friday, April 1st, I worked a half day and headed over to Raleigh around noon. Checked into the Hampton Inn and went over to Umstead late afternoon. I got my packet, milled around a bit nervously then sat down for the pre race briefing. The race headquarters was in a nice lodge type structure built by the CCC back in the 30's. I sat with my friend Rick Gray from TN, his wife Tammy and a few of Rick's friends. Rick was full of his usual positive enthusiasm... complete with bear hug when he saw me. The info at the briefing was helpful, paticularly for first timers. All the newbies had to stand and repeat loudly: "drink before your thirsty, eat before your hungry and walk before your tired!" I discussed a little race strategy with Rick... do I wear a headlamp the first loop? (nah), we both planned for 12.5 mi loops of around 2:05-2:15 and complete the first 50 mi's in around 9 hours (giving us a 2 hour cushion for sub 20 hrs.) As a first time 100 mile attempt it was hard to plan too much... it was hard to fathom making it the whole way. I didn't really have a full time crew... my friend Tom was driving over and would meet me in the morning and be in and out throughout the day/night (he has a daughter living close by in Raleigh), my wife (Sara) and 2 kids (Kane and Patrick)would be over late afternoon, and possibly neighbor and running partner Chuck coming over late. Kane, Tom, and Chuck all hoped to run a loop with me but no real "plan" of who was running when. I felt pretty confident I could run 100k, but the final 37.5 miles was a complete unknown. The spaghetti dinner was tasty but I felt like I didn't eat enough so stopped at an Italian Resturaunt on the way back to the hotel and got another pasta bowl to go.

On Saturday morning I headed over to Umstead before 5 a.m. to be sure I was parked and situated for the 6 a.m. start. I drank coffee, ate some final carbs, laid my bag of gear (numerous clothing options, gels, Perpetuem, Heed, extra shoes, socks, hats, headlamps, Clif Shots, bananas)out in the lodge and visited with Tom, who was intrigued by the scene. Precisely at 6 we were off into the darkness.

Umstead is a loop course, 8 - 12.5 mile loops with 1,000 feet of vertical each loop. I carried one hand held bottle the first 6 loops and had running shorts with pockets for my gels. Plan was to ingest a gel every 20-25 minutes. The first loop was uneventful (it better have been right?) It was a bit more hilly then I expected. Maybe it felt that way since most of the major hills were in the last 5 miles of the loop. I ran much of the first two loops (off and on) with a young guy from SC and Michael Patton from Ohio. It was important, at least for me, to run with others and talk so I would keep my mind off how much of the race remained.

At mile 34 or so (3rd loop) with Michael not far behind

At the 10 mile mark I was at 1:34, so a little under 9:30 pace and the first loop was in 1:58. So a little faster then planned but everything felt fine. I attempted to slow some and go easy the 2nd loop but I actually ran a min or so faster then the first loop so I passed 25 miles in 3:56. Tom met me after the first loop and seemed more concerned then I was with being under 2 hours. He helped me grab gels and fill my bottles. I stripped off layers the first few loops. I didn't have the most efficient transitions with no real crew and having to run up into the building each loop to find my bags. I'll set up a little differently next time.

Temps were nearly perfect for me the entire 19+ hours. 41F at the start, 60's during the day and then down in the 30's Sat. night/Sun. morning. I slowed a bit on the 3rd loop but not much. I think it was the 4th loop, approaching halfway I ended up hooking up with two guys running together. One was Timothy from Long Island, NY and Jason from Georgia. They appeared to be running together and I asked if was cool if I went along with them. Timothy said it was more then cool if I joined them. It was a new person for them to talk to and keep their minds occupied (just as I wanted).... Without a huge amount of detail... having a guy from Long Island running along with you during a 100 mile event can be pretty entertaining. "F bombs" were dropped, crude descriptive language, entertaining stories, comments like quit "busting my chops" rob from north carolina. I lost contact with Timothy and Jason when I made a pit stop and hated to lose them to run along with AND keep me entertained!

Me in the middle, Timothy on left, and Jason in the "Umstead Bitches" shirt
Come on now, how could you not want to run with these guys (by the way, they both kicked my ass)

After losing contact with my entertainment I ran the 5th loop entirely alone. But before that I hit 37.5 miles in 6:10 and 50 miles in 8:38. I was encouraged by setting a PR for 50 miles and feeling really good. Although the 5th loop alone was tough mentally, I actually ran the 5th loop slightly faster then loop 4. A very good sign. I got to the 100k mark in 11:06 and was now in new territory. I had at least run as far as I had ever run before. Another plus during those middle miles when you are thinking there is no way it would be possible to finish was seeing my sister Eileen and her husband Gregg at mile 34 or so and then again on the next loop (big thanks to Eileen for taking all the photos I'm using... she's a talented photographer. Check her stuff out at

Again, I really had no specific plan for pacers but when I finished loop 5, the family was there to meet me at the headquarters/start/finish. That was nice! I knew it would be close to dark when I finished loop 6 so I grabbed a long sleeve shirt and my 19 yr old son Kane and I headed out. I can't tell you how cool and inspiring it was to have my son running with me for 12.5 miles. At a point in the race when I didn't see how I could really finish, he kept me moving, made me run when I wanted to walk, encouraged me to eat, held my water bottle when I grew tired of it, and generally he just believed in me and knew I would make it. Kane and I finished our loop and I had now completed 75 miles. That sounded cool telling my wife "it's 75 miles now!" I really really slowed that loop and I think it was more from the intimidation of knowing I would still have 25 miles remaining then from exhaustion or pain. Don't get me wrong... I was tired, my legs hurt with every step but I could keep moving and so I did.

As I was grabbing gels, bottles, putting on more layers, grabbing a head lamp, my friend Tom came rushing in with his "gym bag" ready to do his pacing duties. Super! If Tom hadn't come storming in it would have been so easy to cozy up by the fireplace and be happy with 75 miles. Tom was ready to roll. There is a little out and back section at the beginning of the loop so Kane had the idea that he'd run that with us along with my younger son Patrick (Kane is 19 and Patrick 12).... what a great idea. So Tom, Kane, Patrick and the old, skinny guy shuffling along headed out once again for more.

On the way back from the out and back section along came Sara hoping to jog along with us some as well! That was a special moment. I'm in a bit of a blur on the 7th loop as I was becoming a little delirius. Tom helped enormously. It was hard at this point to just keep moving but he didn't push me too hard but was encouraging and kept it light. We talked about all sorts of things. The gels were getting hard to get down and I told him they were getting harder and harder to swallow but he kept reminding me to try another and sure enough I was able to. I don't know how many gels I did but probably close to 40. Tom assured me that Chuck was on his way from outside Charlotte (his super star running daughter had a track meet.)

The 6th and 7th loops were so darned slow but I completed them and then I knew I'd make it even if I just walked the final 12.5 miles. Chuck was there to greet me, strap on a head lamp, slip gels in his pockets and ready to pace me the last loop. The final loop was my slowest. I just tried to keep moving but we did some calculating and I knew I could get under 20 hours so I ran/jogged when I felt I was able, walked when I wanted and just kept moving. I know I was talking nonsense by this point. But when I walked I was walking fast.... any faster and we'd have to break into a jog. The last loop was the only time I allowed myself to look at the mile markers and think about how far I had gone and how much was left. It was one hell of a feeling to say in my head, 94 miles, 6 to go. What a shock when I got to the aid station at the 7 mile mark of the final loop and there was my sister and brother in law again at 12:30 a.m. We visited some, Gregg helped fill my bottle (now using a waist belt), and I was off once again for those final hills. Chuck and I jogged along the last mile or so and it was hard to hold my emotions inside. On a funny note we actually failed to bear left with a half mile to go and temporarily got off course (so officially I ran 100 miles plus 100 yards or so), but we got back on course and then after passing the 12 mile mark my knee began to hurt big time.... Chuck said well your knees can hold up for 99.5 miles but not 100 (99 1/2 won't do!) Chuck was pretty patient with me... all my repeating questions, making sure he was calculating right and I'd get under 20 hours, just general nonsense talk and slow going. I crossed the line in 19 hrs 45 min 27 sec. Sara and Kane were there to embrace me (Patrick had fallen asleep in the car) and Blake Norwood, the RD, presented me with my sub 24 hour belt buckle and I was done.

Filling up a bottle for the final time at the 94.5 mile mark

On a loop course and running my first 100, it was so important for me to have my pacers. I can't thank Tom, Chuck, Kane, Patrick and Sara enough for running with me. Sharing this with them was special. There were many inspirational moments over the Umstead weekend but none more then the woman who was setting up her gear beside me in the headquarters building. It was Betty Smith from MD, our paths would cross a few times. As we headed out at the start we wished each other luck and she said, I know I can't go 100 miles in the 30 hour time limit but I think I'll win my age group, I'm 70 years old (with a big smile.) Looking back at the results Betty had completed 25 miles when I was halfway. She was in good spirits. When I was finished my 100 miles, she was back in the headquarters putting on layers..... she had finished 50 miles and by this time it was after 2 a.m. and she said "I'm heading back out" One of the race volunteers was looking for a volunteer pacer to head out with Betty. It was really emotional the next day to look at the results and sure enough Ms. Betty Smith had completed "one more loop" and finished her day/night/day with 62.5 miles!

I'll do another post on how I felt after and my recovery. Since we keep track of such things, I got chicked by two and two 50 yr olds were ahead of me but no one my age or older in front of me (speaking of 50+ year olds, what an amazing run by Will Jorgensen!) I'm taking it pretty slow and not rushing the recovery at all. Below is a link to an article the local Greensboro paper did on my race.

Thanks again to all that helped me, encouraged me, to Rick and Tammy Gray who gave me some gels out on loop 4 when I forgot to grab them at my bag, and to the volunteers who did an amazing job assisting us for such a very long day/night/day. I think maybe I found a distance that suits me!