Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 Umstead Endurance Run (50 miler)

I Lost
It’s over.
My perfect 76-0 unbeaten streak has been broken. Before Saturday, I had run 76 races with Shannon, and I have beaten her in every one.
Though I have the advantage of being a guy, keeping the streak alive was not easy. In the Frosty 50k, it took every fiber in my being but I managed to squeak out a 1 second victory. Even in New York, when we crossed the finish line together, I was 3 places ahead of her in the results due to the spelling of my last name.
But now it is all over. Last weekend Shannon and I ran the ‘50 mile option’ of the 2010 Umstead 100 mile endurance run, and Shannon finished 2 seconds ahead of me. Oh well, 76-1.

Race Madness
The Umstead 50 was the 3rd installment of our race madness series, which is 2 marathons and 2 ultras in 3 months:
Why are doing this to ourselves? Because there are so many good races we want to do, and we are so very bad at planning things.
Anyway, Uwharrie and the Umstead Marathon had left us pretty beat up and worn down, and now we faced 50 miles, the longest run of our lives. So our goals were modest.

Our goals for the race, in order:
  1. Don't get hurt, or lose any body parts
  2. Stay together
  3. Have fun
  4. Finish in around 10 hours
There would be no racing this one, just finishing would be hard enough. So we decided to run it together.

Four time winner Serge Arbona,
during the briefing
Pre-race briefing
Though 50 miles would be a great challenge to us, it was nothing compared to epic undertaking that the 100 mile runners faced. We were merely spectators to this incredible world of the 100 mile race, and what a strange place it is.
For example, these questions rarely come up in a 5K or even a marathon:
  • Can my crew set up a tent in the finish area?
  • How much illumination will the moon provide at night?
  • What food is available at the aid stations... for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
  • And what's for breakfast the next day?
These questions and others were answered at the pre-race briefing and pasta dinner on Friday night. Only 250 people were running the race, but with "crew members" and volunteers, the place was packed with many more.

Always bring a head lamp
In the morning we were right on our usual schedule, which means late. At 5:30 it was pitch black, and it was hard to find a parking spot among the trees and cabins.
We didn't bring headlamps because we were told we wouldn't really need them at the start of the race.
However, we did need them to get to the start of the race.
We stumbled down a path in the dark, until we found some other smarter people with headlamps and followed them to the start area.

We entered the lodge which was packed with runners being prepared by their crew. They had clipboards and checklists, and were cross checking the various equipment and supplies. It was quite a production.
We put our duffel bag on a table and got ready. I still had to make my second pre-race morning 'deposit' so I left to go searching through the dark to find a porta potty.
I could not find one so I decided to just hold it.
So I went back into the lodge, to clean out the rocks and sand that had somehow gotten into my shoes.

I was in the lodge changing my socks, when I heard a huge cheer go up from the crowd.
The race had started! In a marathon this would be a nightmare, but with an entire day of running ahead of me, I felt pretty relaxed. A few minutes late start was no big deal.
However, when I went outside, I could not find Shannon. She had adorned herself with several glow-sticks, around her ankles and in her hair, so she should have been easy to spot in the dark.
So I assumed she had already left. I then spent a few minutes waiting in vain for my Garmin Forerunner to find a satellite signal.
I finally gave up, feeling pretty stupid for being a slave to my watch. I ran down the gravel road searching for Shannon, passing many of the 100 mile runners who started out walking.
I found her after about a mile. She was trying to take pictures in the dark.
I refused to wait for her, because if I did, she would just take pictures and we wouldn't get anywhere. So she would stop for a minute to take pictures, and then sprint to catch up to me.

Loop 1: Practice
The race was comprised of 12.5 mile loops around Umstead park, with each loop starting/stopping at the lodge. The 100 milers would complete 8 loops, but we only were doing 4. To help mentally break up the huge distance, I gave each loop a purpose:
Loop 1: Practice
Loop 2: Warm-up
Loop 3: The race
Loop 4: Victory lap

At mile 4, there were porta potties where I finally made my morning deposit. Shannon walked slowly so I could catch up to her, and at that point we were almost an hour into the race and we had only gone 4 miles. Not a great start to the day.

Around 7 am, the sun came up, but it was still pretty cold, about 35 deg and Shannon was shivering uncontrollably. The plan was to walk up all the hills and run down them, averaging a 12 min/mile and a 10 hour finish. But Shannon was going to freeze to death walking. So we ran a lot of the first lap to warm her up, and finished the first loop slightly ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, even at this relatively slow pace early in the race, my hamstrings started to hurt, and my left calf started grumbling.

Loop 2: Warm-up
On this loop things went much better, and we ran into many of our Godiva friends out for their morning run. Our good friend Heiko Rath paced us a good way through the hilly North Turkey Creek, took a bunch of pictures which are here.
He also went back later that night to pace one of the 100 milers through 2 laps.
We also ran into our neighbor and friend Guy, who had come out on his bike to cheer us on, and also take pictures of the race. His pictures are here.

At the end of this loop it was 11 am, and the sun was getting very warm. Shannon changed her whole outfit to shorts and a t-shirt and changed my socks which were filling with the fine grit from the path.

Jill Perry on her way to breaking her own course
record, makes time to goof around with Shannon
Loop 3: The race
On this loop, we got lapped by elite ultra runner Jill Perry who slowed down to talk and pose for pictures with Shannon.

The aid stations started offering their lunch menu, which include turkey sandwiches. Speaking of food, here is my food list for the entire race:
6 ounces of my homemade gel (yuck)
2 hardboiled eggs + salt
2 potato wedges + salt
5 quarters of pb&j sandwiches
½ turkey sandwich (no mayo)
2 bottles of Ensure (generic)

This was probably too much, but my stomach felt fine. I also drank way too much water, because I must have stopped to pee about 12 times.

It felt almost hot out, in the low 60's and intense sunshine. It was a gorgeous spring day I was really enjoying this long run in the park.

Loop 4: Victory lap
Here things started getting difficult. We had been out there 6 hours, and 37.5 miles and we had one more lap to go.
There is a short out & back section at the start of the loop that flat and easy to run on.
But Shannon could not run. I told her that it would be OK to drop out if she was hurting, because she really wanted to run Boston in 3 weeks. But it turned out she was just mentally exhausted. Once we got out to the main loop, she started running again. She even picked up the pace, and started running up the hills.

My left calf was none too happy about this. It had abandoned me in this same park just 3 weeks prior during the Umstead Marathon, and that was just after 23 miles. Now I was 40 miles into this race and it was twitching again. Luckily, I was wearing my calf sleeves to prevent it from escaping.
As we went, Shannon kept pushing the pace faster, hoping to get under 10 hours. We walked up the Cemetery hill then ran the last mile to the finish in a blazing 8 min, there we ran into Bubbles who had come out to cheer us on. I got caught up in a crowd of people, and Shannon raced by me to the finish line in 9:50:58. 2 seconds ahead of my 9:51:00, dropping my record to 76-1.

It's the Umstead 100
“Hi. We are done. We did the fifty,” I told a volunteer sitting in the timing tent at the finish line.
“You are dropping out?” he asked, grabbing a pencil and searching for my number on his clipboard.
“No! No! We did the 50 miler. We finished. We are done.”
He looked up from the paper at me.
“Right,” he said nodding, “You’re dropping out.”
The euphoria of finishing escaped me like air from a deflating balloon, leaving behind my aching and utterly spent body.
“Yeah,” I said dejected, “We are dropping out.”
Running 50 miles was the hardest thing I had ever done, but here it was simply considered as failure to run 100.

When we got home, I got the mail, and in it were 2 envelopes with medals from a recent 5K we had done. For a 5K we get a medal.
For 50 miles, there is no medal, no certificate, but you do get an awesome "run in the park", which is all that I wanted.

When I woke up the next day, completely battered and worn out, I realized that some of the 100 milers were still out there, doing their last loop. They are truly amazing athletes. Although I got to see the first half of the race up close, I am still in awe of them.

Shannon, Heiko and I running lap 2 with blazing speed.
Picture by Guy De Burg