Monday, April 07, 2014

100 mile ultras 1989-2014. Rest in peace.

Slow, methodical, pace. Self-negotiating each loop, hill and finally every step. I finally found my way to another official finish at the 2014 version of the Umstead 100 mile, held this past Saturday at Umstead State Park near Raleigh, North Carolina.

Umstead 100 mile foot carnage. Game over, no more.
I crossed the line in 27:41 (unofficial) and went into the lodge for some pancakes.

It was a great year to make a comeback. I made a finish at this fine event in 2008, then came back for a DNF with 50 miles in 2012 and another DNF with 62 miles in 2013. This time around, I set my mind on survival as the primary goal. I jogged/walked to around half, then started the "ultra shuffle" the final four laps.

I have never been fast and now, at 57, I'm getting slow(er). The margin for success fades. Umstead is eight (8) 12.5 mile loops on a scenic, somewhat hilly, hard packed dirt path. The 30-hour cutoff hovers in the back of your mind all day.

A huge Umstead shout-out to the fine aid station volunteers, who offer a turnkey operation at two key points on the course. For example, I ran my Nathan hydration pack; all I had to do was hand it to a smiling volunteer and they'd give me a full fill, then help me get my arms through the support straps. This may seem trivial, but it's serious support assistance when your mind goes to mush late in the race.
Matt Christensen (left) was an expert
handler/pacer at the 2014 Umstead 100.
Matt was my guide on the final 12.5 mile loop.

And, the food was exceptional. I rolled out of the main station on two occasions with a fresh-grilled veggie burger; when exiting the second station I grabbed steaming cups of potato soup to keep my bones warm during the darkness hours.

Also most excellent is the Umstead pacer's program. The event assembles and organizes a long list of pacers, who will go out on the course and assist runners during the second half of the event. I came to the race alone and opted for a pacer on laps 6, 7 and 8. Eric supported me on lap 6. He's a top ultrarunner and is highly engaged and enthusiastic about the sport. On lap 7, Scott walked me around the loop. He's getting into the marathon scene and told me a lot about the Raleigh running community.

On my 8th and final lap, super dude Matt took me around the course. We had a great talk about life, business, family and religion. And after the race, Matt was helpful in getting my drop bags to the car...I was a bit weak at the knees.

There were other great moments on the course. For example, I ran with a former special-ops marine who had worked on a contingency planning team for potential nuclear strikes in major metro markets. Good conversation while the miles pass.

I guess committing this to writing is the best way to accept it. After a wonderful 25 years running 100 mile ultras, I'm going to let it rest in peace. My first 100 was the inaugural Vermont 100 in 1989. I went on to take six finishes at the Mohican 100 in Ohio. Then, my two Umstead triumphs. Best I can remember, that's my nine (9) ultra finishes and I also had four (4) less than 100 attempts...pulling the pin at 62, 62, 62 and 50.

For those of you who will be coming into the sport and carrying it to the next level, please know that 100 is epic. For me, it's not about strength or training or the best gear. It is a test of the will. The body and mind scream stop, but your forge ahead. For example, my first lap was a brisk 2:45; my last laps were four hours. You earn it step by step. A 100 finish is tremendously validating.

Sometimes I struggle when my faith ebbs and tides. But on a 100 day, it's easy to state "Thank you Lord!" for giving me this wonderful 25-year journey. For that, I will always remain grateful.


  1. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Congratulations Tom, what an awesome accomplishment! I have enjoyed reading about your journey over the last few years. I am sure you will find a "what's next?" to keep you busy.

  2. damnit, Master Man! I was in there too. I worked Aid Station #2 from about 5 pm to 8:30, where I found a runner at random and paced him through the last 31 miles of his race. He finished just over 22 hours and I was back home by 6:30 am. If I had known you were in the runner pool I would have certainly reached out a helping hand.

    Congrats on another 100 finish! I know "respect the distance" seems trite, but you're right. Epic barely begins to describe it.

  3. It was an honor to travel the last 12.5 miles with you. Good luck in your future Master Competitor endeavors and I look forward to reading your new book!

  4. Tom, it was great meeting you at U100. You were fascinating to talk to and definitely helped me get through some miles! Congrats on you finish. I hope to see you around Boone or a cycling event!

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  6. Dana yes great to meet you! We lost connection late in the race, noted you finished very near me. All good and I am happy you punched your 100 mile card. Think I'll come back next year as a pacer, will you do it again in 2015?