Leaves whipping past my face
Rocks and roots, water and mud
Climbing uphill, careening down
Woods blurring around me
While I see only the next 10 feet.
My breath comes now in ragged gasps
Air goes in, every thought pushes out
Every worry, every doubt, every fear–
Until all I can hear is one voice
Urging, “forward, forward, forward!”
Slowing now, heart pounding, gulping air
Exhausted from the effort
To get out of my head.
This is the gift
That running brings me.
Truth: there’s no way to make running 100 miles a cohesive story (I knew that while I was running it). You have been warned.
For my thoughts leading up to the race, check out this post and my Umstead marathon race report. I have more to say about what I learned, but that will have to wait until a later post (or rot in my head).
A family crisis the day after the Umstead marathon kept my mind off the 100 for the entire taper period. Andrew and I were making frequent trips to Charleston to tag-team with family members while also juggling work and family at home. I lost a few pounds in the three weeks before the race, in addition to recurring sleeplessness due to stress. Note: not recommended. I knew I would have to consciously put the stress aside so I could focus on getting through one hundred miles.
I wasn’t super-successful with sleeping or eating all week, but slept like a woman without care on Thursday night. Refreshed, I headed to Camp Lapiho to get my packet and attend the race meeting Friday afternoon, finding my Peep friends Megan and Juliet to sit with during the briefing.
Back in December, I saw race director Rhonda Hampton one Saturday in Umstead. I was surprised and honored when she asked if I was willing to wear bib #100 to represent the first-time hundred mile runners. One of my duties as #100 was to recite the 3 golden rules of ultrarunning at the pre-race meeting, as well as offer encouragement to those running. I spent many training miles thinking about what I might say.
I kept it short and simple, feeling self-conscious around the ultra-running giants in the room, many of whom had generously offered their wisdom during my training. It was up to each of us, I said, to run the 100 miles before us. But what makes Umstead special is the amazing community of support. So while each of us must cover every mile on our own feet, lean on that positive energy when the going gets tough. Everyone—the race organizers, volunteers, friends, families, and other runners—would be pulling for us to achieve our goals. I also asked each runner to offer encouragement to others on the course, because helping others reach goals they didn’t think were possible brings out the best in yourself. I tossed in a joke before I recited the three rules. “My running buddy said the first one is to pee before you wet your pants. But I didn’t see that anywhere on the website.”
The start. Oh boy! We’re finally running this. I sent a final text to my crew advising them I was turning off my phone, so they could feel free to start the trash talk. Megan and I ran to AS 2 together. We were both relieved to be running, after months of training. Training was hard, tapering was hard, but THIS we could do. We talked about the confidence our 2:00 am, 39 mile crazy run had given us. I felt excitement as I wondered about the day and night ahead, having put aside my family stress for a little while. “All I have to do this weekend is run? Bring it!”
We were greeted at AS 2 by my co-crew chiefs, Steve and Danny, who were volunteering (possibly to low-key AS captain Chris Squire’s chagrin), Ken, Jeff, and Cheryl. Jeff and Cheryl joined me for some miles on the back half of Lap 1. I wore my Suzie shirt, knowing that Suzie would have appreciated the level of the challenge, even as she would assuredly have grilled me about balance.
Lap 1 split: 2:33 (each lap is 12.5 miles). 8:33 am. 12.5 miles finished!
It was humid already, and I refilled my Nathan pack with ~1.5 L of water. Since I’m lousy tracking time, I had landmarks along each 12.5 mi loop: Stretch at the bridge at the bottom of the Corkscrew. Stretch on the stone bridge at the bottom of Graylin. Drink a 10 oz water with half a Nuun tablet every lap, twice that if it’s hot. Eat at every aid station, especially the two main aid stations. These tips came from Danny and Jon, both U100 finishers, and they worked great. There was an unmanned aid station at miles 4 and 10, but it was mostly stocked with sweets that didn’t appeal.
Jeff continued with me awhile, and it poured rain. We saw some Peep friends out training for Boston—Sarah, Gray and Kerry, as well as Anne and Jeff.
I enjoyed the back half of lap 2 with some other U100 runners, and spent some time admiring the creamy yellow buckeye that was in full flower all over the park, but especially Turkey Creek.
Lap 2 split: 2:38. 11:13 am. 25 miles finished!
I was over my wet shorts, and reasoned that even if it rained again, I had extra pairs to change into. A Trailhead friend Galoot happened to be in the lodge and he and another volunteer refilled my water pack and helped me get another bottle of Nuun ready to go while I changed. I wanted dry shoes, but word at Lapiho was that we had one remaining cell with rain, so I compromised by drying off my feet, recoating them generously with Vaseline, putting on dry socks and stepping back into my wet shoes. Worth it! I’m off!
As I came down the Corkscrew, I saw my friend Diane, who accompanied me to AS 2. Throughout the race, my #100 bib is getting me many grins, thumbs-up, high-fives, and cheers. I’m excited by all the positive energy and this time, I’m part of it as a bona fide Umstead 100 runner.
I caught back up with Megan at AS2, and she and I headed back to Camp Lapiho with Karla and Danny. Brandy and some other friends met us on Graylin for a bit. Megan was having some trouble with blisters, but she was super-efficient at the aid stations and Camp Lapiho. She posted rock-solid, consistent sub-3 hour splits all day, eventually finishing in 23 hours and change for her first! 100! Woo hooo! What a run she had.
Lap 3 split: 2:49. 2:02 pm. 37.5 miles finished!
My big treat to start this lap is a dry sports bra, tank top, and dry, brand-new shoes and socks. It’s the little things!
I’ve run more miles with my friend Danny than anyone else, and he’s seen me at my best and worst on many runs and races. He tells me that it is past lunchtime and I should eat something substantial. Wait, what? Lunchtime already? I balk. He talks me into some grilled chicken. Eating is one of my few strengths, so I’m a little puzzled why nothing at the huge smorgasbord seems very appealing. Umstead aid stations are legendary and besides chicken, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers, plus any snack you could want. Karla and Danny head out with me after another refill of my pack. The rain has dropped the humidity and washed some of the pollen and dust out of the air, which is excellent, especially now that I’m wearing dry shoes. We see Vanita and she joins me for a few miles of her afternoon run.
I get to Trinity Road and Andrew and Simon are there to surprise me! Andrew drops Simon off to run, then meets us at AS2. Simon runs by my side and checks to make sure I’m walking the hills—very serious about his pacing duties. Ann and Audrey are at AS 2 with big cheers. My other crew leader and great friend Steve jumps in for the back half of lap 3 with a long and entertaining story about nearly poisoning himself with an unknown fruit while on vacation (manchineel tree) and taking some silly photos. The sun is out and it’s hot.
Lap 4 split: 3:09. 5:13 pm. 50 miles done!
I was expecting to feel like I did when I finished Old Glory at 50 miles. That is, cooked. But my race has barely started and I’m excited to see my first official pacers and start gearing up for nighttime running. Luckily, I seem to be able to focus on the end goal, and I don’t think about my aches and pains because I’m not finished yet. My friends Kellie and Gordy are waiting, and Danny picks Steve up to grab dinner and go get his car. I try to get in too but they lock the doors. Guess I’ll run another 50 miles instead.
Gordy asked for Lap 5 because he is filling the role of paparazzi. He’s the official videographer for the 12 Things of Christmas, our Blue Ridge Relay team, and he wants to take some photos and videos while it’s still light. He does. Many. And then he gets everyone else’s photos and puts together this great video. I am especially happy about the video because there is actual proof that I was running. I remember walking a lot.
My friend Kim appears on Reedy Creek Road and joins us for a few miles! As we turn onto Turkey Creek and roll past the Butt Tree, I start asking myself what I want to eat. We come down the hill into AS2. “I can’t think of anything I want to eat…hey, PIZZA!” I head out with 3 small pieces. We pick up my son Stephen and I am so excited and proud that he’ll run a full lap with me. He’d come out with me for a run in the dark one Friday night and we had a great time. The flow of running and conversation works on teenagers and their parents, too, and I really love that. Steve and Danny are there again! but they won’t share their coffee.
Lap 5 split: 3:20. 8:34 pm. 62.5 miles done!
I arrive back at Camp Lapiho and it’s now truly dark. My best friend Ann and my buddy Ken are here to pace lap 6! Whatever misgivings they may have had about keeping up were surely quelled; I’m not moving fast. I changed into my bigger shoes, re-lubing my feet. One of my toes is numb and I’m convinced there’s a blister on it. Danny tells me it’s fine and there’s no blister and I head back out with Ann, Ken, and Stephen. We’re barely out of camp when we run into Gordy who is wandering around in the dark looking for his car. He didn’t make the 9:00 gate!
As we’re descending toward AS2 I can hear people whooping it up. It’s pitch dark and I have absolutely NO idea what time it is, but am mildly surprised that AS2 volunteers have this much energy at whatever-time-it-is. I look up and realize it’s a huge crowd of my friends—out to cheer me on. I was actually speechless for a minute. Andrew is there, Jeff and the girls, Will and Margaret, Jean and Bill. I can’t believe it! And my friend Kelly is there to surprise me and jump in for pacing.
Stephen is arguing that he should be allowed to continue on with his pacing. He wants to run back to HQ and hang out with Steve and Danny. He’s been in rare form all evening, talking non-stop in the way that only a 15 year old boy can, but he’s also checking on me continually and making sure I’m walking the hills. He’s been great, but he’s running his first half marathon the following weekend and doesn’t need to be out running 18+ miles, no matter how slow. He’s also asking me about putting in for the Western States lobby, which is not a topic I want to discuss at the moment!
We continue along in the dark. I love being out at Umstead at night—what a rare treat. I started feeling pretty tired, and got quiet, chugging along and listening to the conversation. I made a poor decision that since it wasn’t hot anymore, I didn’t really need to drink much Nuun, which was not appealing anymore. Kelly had brought me some Fritos, my favorite running treat (salt!!!) and I nibbled a small bag of those between AS2 and Camp Lapiho. Ann and Kelly slowed to encourage a solo runner on Graylin while Ken and I kept trucking. Ann helped me change and get ready for lap 7 and Jon and Carolyn were there and ready to roll for lap 7, along with Kelly. I added another layer and was ready to go.
Lap 6 split: 3:53. 12:28 am. 75 miles done!
Heard outside the porta-potty at Graylin/Reedy Creek at 1:30 am:
“POLO! GEEZ! Go away Jon!”
“OK, she’s alive!”
I remember very little of lap 7. I was told that I demonstrated my owl calls—I know two, barred owl and great horned owl, and can render them with startling volume, especially in a dark forest. I probably needed some coffee. I remember feeling baffled when we got to AS2 and I looked at the huge buffet but couldn’t see anything that looked good. Jon filled a bag with random salty snacks and then coerced me into eating some. Carolyn and Jon told me later that I was still pretty chipper, but definitely loopy. Apparently I cheered on other runners, spectators, volunteers, a few trees and even some cars when we got back toward camp. At least I didn’t forget my own advice!
Lap 7 split: 4:31. 4:59 am. 82.5 miles done!
I am so happy to see my lap 8 crew of Jeff, Steve, and Danny, my runner brothers from other mothers. This is it! Although I never thought about dropping, I know now that I’m getting close to the finish. I’ve run 87.5 miles and have just 12.5 to go. And I know that these friends will get me to the finish. Camp Lapiho is bright after being in the dark woods and I’m squinting. Actually my eyes, and actually my whole face, are swollen, but I didn’t realize that. My legs still feel good, but my chest is tight and it feels like everything I try to swallow gets stuck in my throat. I’m also cold, and I’m wearing a long sleeved shirt, a wool pullover, and I’m trying to pull on a jacket, look for my gloves and hat, and think about what I can eat, not noticing worried looks from my crew.
I hold my hands up and say, “Whooaaa, look how swollen my hands are!” in a voice that probably suggested that I was drunk rather than awake for 24 hours and 87.5 miles into a run. Danny starts taking off my watch. “Hey…whatcha doing?” “Your watch is going to bust off if we don’t loosen it.” “I still think I have a blister.” “You don’t have a blister. Your feet are fine. Leave your pack here and let’s get moving.”
While I’m watching Danny fiddling with my watch, I look up and see Rhonda and two medical staff. Uh-oh. They’re all looking at me—I better get out of here fast. One medical guy says to Steve and Jeff, “She’ll be fine, but she needs salt and no more water.” Is he kidding me? It will take me hours to run the last 12.5 and I don’t get any water? Apparently I have hyponatremia. I started feeling a little sorry for myself.
There was some commotion as Rhonda tried to figure out who was actually in charge in my crew and doled out salt tablets with strict instructions that I should have one every 45 minutes. In the end, Jeff got the salt, Steve set the timer, and Danny had Gatorade to wash it down. It takes a flock!
I’d given up on eating. I was feeling lousy but I knew I could make it. After we reached Reedy Creek, I tried to run but felt like I was gasping for breath just walking. I could hear snippets from my crew talking about me in the third person—THIS IS NEVER GOOD—and I could tell I wasn’t walking straight despite trying to seem normal—later, I found out they were debating whether to take me back to HQ if my breathing did not improve. I was also really, really tired.
“Maybe I needed some caffeine.” I swallowed half a coffee-flavored gel and immediately threw up on the side of the trail. Everything that came out besides a tablespoon of Gu was water. No food. I threw up again and was suddenly irritated with myself for getting here. I knew I’d somehow screwed up my food intake and all I had in my stomach was water. Totally preventable and here I was, retching, at mile 89. I was pissed. I handed half a Gu to Steve and tried to make a joke. “Well, I think I’ve had about enough of this.”
I straightened back up and suddenly, I felt monumentally better. I could breathe and the chest tightness was gone. But I was still frustrated. “OK. It’s time to run.” The four of us set off down Reedy Creek. Dawn broke slowly as it does in the woods, sunlight filtering through the still-bare trees, black sky lightening to blue in the east.
A jangling alarm goes off. “Time for salt!” “I think I’m good. I feel much better.” “Nope. Rhonda’s orders.” This builds into a comical routine every 45 minutes, with my feeble attempts to refuse it and the guys telling me I have to take it, somewhat gleefully. Later Stephen said “when I heard an alarm, I didn’t know what it was for, but everybody got really excited and started laughing. Except you, Mom, you looked so miserable that I kind of felt sorry for you.”
I was asleep on my feet and kept wandering off to the right until my crew took turns filling the space on my right and steering me back to the road. I’m not sure how much I ran. I expected to feel excitement on this final lap and was disappointed that I wasn’t in any shape to join the banter. I do remember giving Chris a hug at AS2 and thanking him and Hope for being there for all the runners. He smiled, shook his head and said, “Steph, you have quite a crew.” I think my friend Audrey was there too (again! What a pal) to send me to the finish with some good energy.
I honestly don’t remember seeing any other runners on that lap, though I was told there were many others out there. If you know my three crew members, you know that they kept me entertained, even if you were as tired as I was. There was Little Red Riding Hood, Bob Dylan and flubbed Robert Frost. After AS 2, I was feeling much better. The salt, plus some sips of Gatorade and a little bit of coffee, was helping. I knew where I was headed.
About 2 miles from the finish, I see Andrew and Stephen. I was so excited to have them run me in! Simon is waiting at the finish with Ann and Ken, which means they’ve stayed all night to see me finish. I am finally turning onto Camp Lapiho Road for the last time. I teared up just a little but I was so thrilled to cross that line and get a hug and my finisher’s pendant from Rhonda. Hugs all around! I could not have reached the finish without my awesome crew. I went inside the lodge and had a made-to-order cheese omelet from my friend Keri, which was the best food I’ve ever eaten. I hugged and said goodbye to my tired crew, and tottered to the car with Andrew and the boys, where I instantly fell asleep.
Lap 8 split: 4:15. 100 miles, DONE! Finish time 9:15 am, 27 hours and 14 minutes.
I learned so much but that will have to wait for another post. Here’s what I posted on Facebook the day after the race:
To all, I can’t thank you enough for all the support I had last weekend for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. The race organizers, particularly Rhonda Hampton, put their hearts and souls into the event. Volunteer captains like Ben Dillon, Rebecca Sitton, Jennifer Ennis, John William, Jeannie Armagost, Joe Lugiano and Dana Mathew spend days on their feet before, during, and after the race, taking care of runners’ every need. Other friends (too many to list!) pulled a volunteer shift or three working aid stations, taking photographs, setting up, cleaning up, cooking, timing, etc.
So many friends came out to run a few miles with me during the day or to cheer me at night. Many more of you, near and far, sent words of encouragement via Facebook, email, and text message. And my fun and crazy crew of Andrew Jeffries, Kellie Davis, Gordy Blackwell, Stephen Jeffries, Ann Camden, Ken Taylor, Kelly Cook, Carolyn and Jon Armstrong, Jeff Cobb, Danny Jessup, and Steve Fallaize pulled me through the night and to the finish. Andrew Jeffries brought the boys out to pace me, took care of me before and after the race, got my car home, and did a million other small things to help me achieve my goal.
I was proud to wear the symbolic #100 race bib as a first-time 100 mile finisher. Big congrats to many friends who ran, esp. fellow Peeps Megan Sullivan and Juliet Brundige. Thanks to ALL for making my experience so joyful and memorable. Life is rich!
Dust of Snow, by Robert Frost
The way a crow
[Shook] down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Reflections from my run/hike on the Sycamore Trail at Umstead State Park. It’s been a long day of missing a dear friend.
Why do I run? Some days I run to remember.
Do you know what I mean?
Those glimpses of clarity, moments stored away,
Hidden as they often are in the mundanity of everyday living.
Minutes swirl by each day:
Looking for keys, packing lunches, homework, what I ate for breakfast yesterday,
Or was it Tuesday? Life goes full speed, and the seconds blend into hours, days and months.
Life is good. But busy.
Out on the trail, time slows (especially when there’s pain)
But the focus on each footstep satiates my soul.
Dark branches against sky, the white foam and dark, clear water by Company Mill,
A story shared with a friend, the drum of woodpeckers and crunch of fresh-fallen leaves,
Even the sharp ankle turn that blurs my vision momentarily—all give me crystalline focus.
I savor these snapshots, and store them away for the hectic days ahead.
When the days are long, every hour is filled, and I can’t see the sky,
I steal a few seconds to visit these moments in time.
In my mind’s eye I can see the white boles of sycamore trees, standing along the creek that bears their name.
It’s this temporary departure from the clutter of life–good clutter, and necessary–but easy to get lost in.
I savor these moments now for those busy days ahead,
So I can return to when I’m out on the trail, miles passing
One step at a time beneath my feet.