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Umstead 100 mile: Tips from a veteran racer

I ran the Umstead 100 - 38 = 62 mile run on April 6. The race is held in Umstead State Park near Raleigh, NC.  Eight, 12.5 my loops comprise the challenge on the day. Jim Sweeney (35, from NY) was the winner in 15:21. Second place went to Nathan Leehman (39, from NC) in 15:45 and an amazing third place performance was posted by Michelle Gosselin (27, from CT) who went 16:08 and was also first female.

Michelle Gosselin powers out of the aid station.
She delivered relentless forward motion to take third overall and first female with a 16:08.
Bottom line, I ran an exceptional race but my feet once again turned into hamburger. I logged 12:30 to 50 miles and was strong going out on my 5th lap; however, my feet went south and deteriorated. I finished Umstead in 2007 and the price of that buckle was that I was crippled, needed medical attention, and could not walk for 10 days. I cannot shirk my work responsibilities so opted for the drop at 62.

I have come to realize that most blogs are me me me bla bla bla. I apologize for boring many of you in the past. On this occasion, I'd like to take my race day experience and morph it into practical information for ultradistance runners.

Hydration: I take a minimalist approach. Since the course offered fluids every three miles, I went with a Nathan hand-held. However, there were quite a few others who went with a max load model.  New racing packs from UltraAspire and Ultimate Direction are game changers - the new Ultimate vests mount dual water bottles at the chest, rather than around the waist.

Feet and blisters: Some of you will be able to wear $2.99 cotton socks and go to 100 no issues. Many cross the line, giggle, and throw on some flip flops. I'm not that person. Of my eight (8) 100 mile finishes I only made it through once without blasted, destroyed feet. It's a terrible thing and I strive to find a solution. I'm convinced that regarding blisters, you only get one shot.  You choose a shoe/sock/tape/lube/powder set up and go with it. If hot spots and then blisters emerge, you have to live with it or stop. I have never achieved improvement by messing with my feet during a race.  I doctored mine from the second lap forward at Umstead and it was a progression of pain. For my next 100, I'm going with Wrightsock, which offers a double layer that is purported to diminish friction, and GlacierGel Blister dressing, a hydropel skin-like patch that I will apply prior to the event. If you'd like to dig deep into foot management, Google John Vonhof and his book "Fixing Your Feet."

Associate or Disassociate:  Here's where you decide what to do with your mind for the next 15-30 hours. I used to be a big disassociate dude, running my Zune with podcasts and digital books. But for some reason, I went for association this event.  I started to enjoy the silence and my footstrike and deep thoughts about life. There is a new option in the age of social media; one female was outwalking me on the straights, while texting on her iPhone. Others were using their smart phones to check the real-time streaming results from the event. Yet others walked and jogged in packs, talking about life, divorce, kids, spouses, etc.

Smile:  I painted a big one on my face and kept it there.  There were two out and back spurs on the course, which allowed interaction with oncoming traffic. My smile bred friendship. I noted that as the laps went by, more folks started engaging me immediately.  Also, a smile bleeds into your soul. After 40 or 50 miles, you need some sunshine running in your blood.

Light, fit or healthy, pick two: There is no perfect world in ultrarunning.  Starting a race with all the stars lined up most often does not happen. So for this race, I was off a bit on light (chubbed up to 173) and fit (two 10 mile runs in the past couple of months).  However, I was healthy. I have a bad disc and my back has been bad/good for awhile. My former 70 mile weeks just exacerbated it. So I've been in the gym every day and threw in a bit of mountain biking. When you're 56 and trying to stay in the ultra game, it's not going to be a perfect. I took what I had and went with it.

I could unpack a few more things, but that's more than enough for today.  Thanks for reading.  I hope the ultra bug bites you and that you're toeing the line for a 100 very soon. It's the ultimate challenge, the ultimate sport. It's so big. Some may love the couch and basketball, football or NASCAR, but I'd suggest you go "all in" and embrace the journey only 100 miles can provide.


  1. Nice work, Tom! Great advice too. Much appreciated by young Jedis everywhere, especially in Boone!

  2. Tom,

    Thanks for the perspective. I often carry a phone when training, but never un a race. Can not imagine posting things in the middle of all that....
    I too have had bad foot problems. Have you tried the Drymax max protection? Best socks I have found yet. Umstead tore me feet up a few years ago. I started wearing gators after that, which also seams to help me.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I had to go out of town this year and couldn't make it out to Umstead that weekend, but I love getting out there in the pacer pool for a few laps. It is such a well organized race, and only a few miles from my house so I run through umstead all the time. I hate that I missed seeing you out there!

  4. Nice post Tom! That blistering feet thing, though, is a problem, eh? I've never had to many problems in that regard, but I've never gone more than a marathon, either. 60 some miles on limited training. Wow.


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