Reflections of a 100 miler…

I DID IT! I DID IT! The English language has many words to describe how I feel after completing my dream and first ever 100 miler, such as ecstatic, elated, euphoric, overjoyed, rapturous, blissful; however, all I can really imagine doing is jumping up and down like a madwoman screaming “I DID IT!” Note the use of the word imagine because I am not going to be jumping for another couple of days or so. I physically cannot right now, but in my head I am doing handsprings and back flips of joy.  Completing a mega goal I dreamed up 6 years ago is such an amazing accomplishment, and I cannot be more thankful for the incredible opportunity the venue at the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Race provided, my effort, and the support throughout the race.  As I reflect on the entire race, it’s highs and lows, the pain, euphoria and the exhaustion, it still seems unbelievable.  To a coworker who asked how I felt, I compared my recent experience to that of a snow globe.  For the 19 hours and 43 minutes of my race in the park, I was inside a snow globe separated from reality in an environment with only a small number of other people.  As a group, to include support crew, pacers, spectators, family and volunteers, we were all inside the snow globe bubble with the same goal of reaching the finish line before time ran out.  Every once in a while the globe would shake and we would be running through the rain or dealing with rocky paths, stomach pains, or crying muscles, but we were all together in our “ultra world.”  After the race, it’s as if I’m viewing it from the outside of the snow globe and trying to recall all of the thoughts, emotions, and pains I felt while I was in the globe, but having it feel like a dream.

The Start: For me, the true start of the race began the night before the race after picking up my race packet.  To my surprise, my 50 mile “win” the previous year put me in with the elites with the #3.  No pressure, right?  This started my brain and nerves going in a million different directions.  Can I do this? Did I train enough? Are the true elites going to judge me? Do I deserve this really cool number?  As I was letting my head go through too many different scenarios, my mom, my first fan and strongest supporter, sent me a text message with a quote she found that made her think of me.  It goes as follows:

Tell me that I can’t do it.  Tell me that I shouldn’t even try. Tell me that it’s impossible.  Tell me the risk is too high, the challenge too much, or the feat too tough.  Tell me that I won’t do it AND I WILL.”

As always, mom for the win! She, as my mom, knows me better than most anyone, and knows how much I dislike limits and being told I cannot do something.  My favorite example of this was being told I would never get accepted into Princeton University.  Take that doubters! Not only did I but I excelled as a student and was a collegiate varsity athlete who exceeded expectations.  My dislike for the limits others place on me is probably the reason I love endurance sports, especially ultrarunning. What I may lack in talent, I make up for in spades of determination, heart, courage, and drive. The quote from my mom really settled me and helped  me focus on morning preparation and getting to sleep.

Race Day: My pre-race sleep was not the most restful as I had a couple of dreams where I either woke up late for the start, or got lost on the way and was frantic to make it on time.  Not the ideal start to my day, but when my alarm truly went off I was ready to get up and get ready.  In comparison with the nerves of the previous night and the race anxiety dreams, I was surprisingly calm, focused, and ready in the morning. I was all business and simply excited for this adventure to begin.  The morning weather was temperate, cool and dryer than expected (although we did get a lot of rain during laps 2 &3), and all the runners were pulsating with the same level of anticipation as me.

The race began at 0600 sharp, and in my opinion, all races should start at 0600 so we can start in the dark, see a stream of racers bobbling along the trail, and run into sunrise.  I love night time running but do not get to do it enough with my job and D.C. living, so any race that lets me experience run by headlamp is an excellent choice. The course started with a mile+ long spur and turn around onto the main course.  After that first turn around, the sight of all the runners on the road were like little beams of energy and hope.  250+ runners with the same desire…to finish the 100 miles before their time ran out.  I wish I had my camera to take a picture of the moment, but even without, I will always remember it.

8 Laps: On paper, 8 laps does not seem too bad. In truth, it is not yet simultaneously the worst thing in existence. Multiple loops allowed me to know the course and strategize how I would run my race.  On the flip side, in later loops, knowing the course either gave me something to dread, made sections seem longer, or had me remember how much easier it was earlier on.

  • Lap 1: Amazing and filled with energy, I met some of the most incredible people.  Whitney (the #2 female), Rick (a veteran ultrarunner who does approximately 15 ultras a year), Trevor and Brett from Blacksburg, VA, and Zach from Georgia, whom I saw frequently on the course. Despite sticking to my race plan (9-10 min/mile), the first lap of 12.5 flew by.
  • Lap 2: Let the rain fall. What started as a drizzle finished in a downpour causing a sock change, some powdering of the shoes, and blister protection measures at the headquarters aid station at Camp Lapihio.
  • Laps 3-4: The rain trickled to a drizzle and then stopped entirely taking away the humidity of the early morning.  The temperature was still fantastic and I kept plugging along in my North Face running skirt and top.  Laps 2-4 I stuck with my iPod and running mix to keep focused and motivated. Once again, my girlfriends came through with some awesome song choices that I often put on repeat getting me through miles (e.g. Can I get A, Could Have Been Me, Kick Start my Heart, Rise Up, Save the World).
  • Laps 5-6: COMPANY!!!!!!!! Seriously after 50 miles of running, I can finally have a pacer accompany me and I needed it mentally. I love running to music sometimes, but I really needed someone by my side to help me stay on track, motivated and distracted. I knew that everything after this point would have me running further than ever before.  First up was Michael, my best friend’s husband, and a great marathoner.  We had a great lap and I can say that I need to run with him more often, as I truly enjoyed the run and conversation despite starting to have trouble consuming calories. By the end of lap 5, Michael was with me as I finished my first ever 100k!!!   Next up was Austin, my crew chief, my #1 fan, supporter, accomplished triathlete, and husband. We were able to maintain a really great pace and pushed it keeping me on track for my goal time (sub 24 hours, but really wanted sub 20). He reminded me that every step forward took me further than I had ever previously run. By the time we finished lap 6 I knew I need more calories as I got a bit light headed during the loop.  At the HQ turnaround, I was able to drink an Ensure and made sure I had a bottle of Hammergel’s Perpetuem in my Orangemud HydraQuiver for the additional calories.
  • Lap 7: I picked up a veteran volunteer pacer named Brian aka Hojo.  He was a great runner, energized and knew every one of the other pacers on the course, plus a large number of the other runners.  Amazingly, he was planning on pacing at least 3 x loops through the course of the night and I was his second runner.  Yes, if you do the math he was planning to pace runners for 37.5 miles that night just to help other racers meet their goals. This was also, sadly, my most difficult lap, physically and mentally.  I was going through significant G.I. distress and any calories or liquids I took in just aggravated it more after the first 6 miles, and I was in a lot of  pain. I had to hike and speed walk the second 6.5 miles to get to the final lap.  This was difficult mentally because my legs were still ready to go but running at any pace really jolted my stomach.  Never the less, I finished 87.5 miles and had ONE LAP TO GO!
  • Lap 8: No matter what, at this point I knew I was finishing the 100 miles in the time allotted which was a major mental release, although having to walk put my sub-20 hour goal at risk. As I sat in the camp chair to consume more calories (Ensure is my savior) and a bit of Red Bull (PLEASE GIVE ME WINGS), Austin said he was going to run lap 8 with me to “get this thing done.” I could have cried in joy.  As much as I enjoyed running with a volunteer pacer, I knew that Austin would be able to get me to my ultimate goal of sub-20 hours.  He knew to the minute what pace I needed to keep in order to stay below the 20 hour mark.  He asked me to trust him and follow his lead, and I choose to do so.  It was not easy but I knew it was what needed to happen, and he was there with me every step of the way. With his encouragement, and a bathroom pit stop that relieved most of the pain in my stomach, I was able to shuffle, walk and jog my way to a 100 mile finish in 19 hours and 43 minutes!!!! (Note the picture below of my GPS…it actually says 101.1 miles). I will not lie, after 5 days, I still do not think I have truly internalized the realization of a dream 6 years in the making.
  • IMG_4467 [25207]
Umstead100 Team: There is nothing I love in a race more than the spectators and volunteers that keep a runner fueled and motivated, and the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run is AMAZING. The spectators I did not know still cheered me on, and my friends and crew were incredible.  Austin, Val, Victoria, Michael, Theo and Henry were the best pit crew in the world.  Seriously, imagine a Nascar pit crew but for an ultrarunner.  Two people on the shoelaces, one handing me food, another lancing and taking care of blisters, and another ensuring my hydration pack was filled, all the while taking care of two adorable boys under the age of 3.
The Umstead volunteers and race crew were fantastic.  Rhonda Hampton, the Race Director, is an incredible and humble lady who takes after her mentor and race founder, Blake Norwood.  She was every where on the course and always had time to speak with you and learn about you as a runner. Through rain and shine, she was on the course, as were all the other race volunteers who cheered for me, fed me sandwiches, soup and ginger chews.  Their energy from mile 1 to 100 was inspirational and motivating.
Without a doubt, running 100 miles was the hardest thing I have ever done but I loved it and could end up doing more. These long races teach me to truly live in the moment.  Each breath, each step, each mile is a gift.  No one has a “used by” date when they are born, and these races with their grit and determination move me to go after dreams with intensity.

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