Friday, April 13, 2012

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. Raleigh, NC. March 31 - April 1 2012

This report is a little different as it is lengthy and I have several guest contributors - in italics.  Thank you to those who contributed to this report - Jeff, Gene, Ashby, Andy, Karen and Joey!

A little background to this race: Umstead is just a few miles down the road from me.  It is my ‘home turf’ and I run there most every Saturday.  I volunteered last year at U100 as a pacer.  I was out from 11pm - 7am and the temperatures were below freezing at night that year.  We got back to headquarters and my runner went back out for lap 8 with someone else.  I looked around and there was carnage all around.  One person that stands out in my mind was a woman who’s feet were severely blistered.  I watched her get taped up, she put her shoes back on, and limped out to complete her last lap.   My understanding is that she finished.  After seeing all of that I vowed that 100 miles was NOT something I would ever be interested in trying.  It looked far to painful.  Jump ahead 6 months and I am knocking on Blake’s door with my registration in hand at 8:00am…  So it goes…

Andy’s thoughts:
To say we saw Umstead 100 coming would be an understatement. Even though Amy had fits of denial last year when she paced the 100 and witnessed firsthand the carnage that the race could bring, I could tell that Umstead 100 was a twinkle in her heart she had to explore. I am pretty sure she slept with clothes on the night before registration opened so she could get up and be the first runner to hand in the documents to Blake that would seal her fate.

For several days leading up to this race I was nervous. Most of the races I have run recently were for fun so I had no expectations on making a speedy finish. This was different though. This is the run that I had been doing all the training for. It was hard to not get nervous about it. I did my best to stay distracted and not to get too excited too early on.

Andy’s thoughts:
Amy’s nerves started to creep in as the race approached as she balanced day to day chores with pre race preparedness. I offered to pace her several times, but she politely declined. Reality was that I injured my knee about 5 months ago. Even though I had continually offered, I was not sure that I could even keep pace with her for 12.5 miles. I had fallen off the exercise wagon through the winter and had an extra 10 lbs to prove it. Clearly she did not want me slowing her down or worse, have to deal with me injuring myself while pacing her. Going into the race I had resigned to a support/crew role to whatever duties that encompassed.

Thursday night I picked up my sister Karen from the airport. She was going to be there to be part of my crew and volunteer at the aid stations. She was just as excited about this weekend as I was. I told her early on that if something should happen during my race that made me have to DNF to not be disappointed. She assured me that she would be there for me, but if something were to happen she would help out wherever she could. She was there for the whole U100 experience.

We went to see The Hunger Games on Friday morning as a nice distraction, and to chill before the weekend began. After that it was non stop until Sunday morning.

We got home and packed the Jeep full. Did I say full? I mean stuffed! Ya never know what you might need, right? Listened to 3 kids fuss 5 miles to the park about how they did not like to have to sit right next to each other or have all the stuff on their laps. I basically told them the pity train derailed... You know the rest ;)

We arrived, cleaned, and set up our cabin. Karen took the kids down to the lake and I laid down for a bit to rest.

The rest did not last long as the pre-race briefing was at 5:00. I sat and listened to it and took it all in. As I looked around I wondered who would have a great race and who would have a tougher time. We all wanted to have a great day. The thing is, with this kind of race, it doesn't always happen. Many people get injured and DNF. There was a special #100 awarded each year to a first timer. It was not me, but Joey made the comment, “I was hoping it was going to be you…”  The 100+ first timers stood up and said their pledge "drink before you are thirsty, eat before you are hungry, and walk before you are tired".

After the briefing we enjoyed a delicious spaghetti dinner (I ate a lot of it as Karen noticed).  Andy arrived in time to eat with us and meet several folks.

We turned in early but I did not sleep that well. I heard it rain at some point in the night and was wide awake for the morning when I heard cars drive to the power line parking lot at 4:15.

I got dressed, grabbed some stuff for my drop bag and headed over to headquarters. The place was full of race day excitement! I found something to eat, got my shoes on and was ready for the start.

Joey gave me some last minute advice - walk the first rough section from the start to the bridle trail. It's dark, uphill, and it will give your body some time to warm up.

Andy hugged me and said “Girl on Fire” and sent me off in the dark with Joey and the other runners. 

Joey and I stayed together for 2 miles when I let him go. He was going for 21 hours - much faster than I was going for of 24.

I ran the first 3 laps by myself with no music. At times I found someone to run with but for the most part it was quite solitary. The first 2+ laps were in the rain. I stopped after lap 2 to change socks and shoes. Lap 3 and 4 were in the heat and sun. It was brutal. I made sure to eat well and stay hydrated. Weather like this can make or break a race if you are not careful.

I was keeping a good pace.  2:35 first lap, 2:50 second lap, 3:00 third lap.

I picked up my iPod at lap 4. I was starting to need something to keep me going. Music works for me!  Fourth lap was 3:05.

Finished 50 miles in 11:22.  Had to rethink the 24 hour time.  25 hours maybe? 

This is where it starts to get interesting. I came in at lap 4 knowing full well my feet were not faring well. I checked in and asked where John Savage was because I was hurting. Guido was there and took the first look and I could tell that he did not like what he saw. He got John there and they assessed things. I had fluid building up under the ball of both feet. I also had blisters starting on my heels. Guido looked at me and said something like "you have 50 miles in, are you going to call it a day or go for 100?". I looked him in the eye and said "I did not come here to run 50. I intend on finishing 100".

Andy’s thoughts:
Half way through when Amy started having foot issues I knew it was going to be a long night for her. After Guido and John bandaged her up and sent her out, I walked down the hill with her while Jeff gathered some items to bring on lap 5. She asked me if going out for another 50 was the right thing to do. I told her that was her decision to make at which she replied “I came to run 100, not 50 miles”. She smiled and sped off with Jeff.

With that he and John worked on my feet and sent me back out. I had the instructions to NOT to run the downhills as it would irritate my blisters more. I knew this was a serious game changer. The idea of finishing in under 25 was gone. Now I just wanted to finish within the 30 hour cutoff.

I went out with Jeff as my pacer for lap 5. It was still warm out there. My pace was slower as I was not running the steep downhills but I was keeping a good fast walk pace and was running the flats and smaller downhills. I started feeling bad at a couple points as the pain in my feet was getting worse.

Here are Jeff’s observations about lap 5, or maybe, just me in general,
The best I can say just now is. "It was like the most wonderful dream I could have. I awoke feeling renewed in both mind and spirit. But sadly I'm unable to articulate."

Amy I liked you the first day I saw you arriving at Hinson Lake with camper and brood in tow. You carried yourself calmly and self assured. Like a woman of the frontier scouting the way west. It took a brief glance at a 24 hour run, and your representation of the Cake family to see a kindness beyond this realm. I marveled at such a tight family unit. I met Andy really for the first time at Umstead. This sealed our fate, I would be honored to pace for you and your family if I could be of use. I wasn't disappointed, but amused and inspired. I came to Umstead for you. Your performance on lap five was that of a true champion that you are.

You and Andy truly blessed me.

Andy’s thoughts:
After Lap 5 She was lying on a cot while the farrier did his magic. That is when she asked me to pace the last lap with her and without hesitation I said yes. Regardless of any knee or fitness concerns I may have had, I could not be happier that she asked me to pace her. Besides, I thought she may have been slowing down to my speed.

I came back in and they checked on my feet again. They were getting worse, but I proceeded on. Gene was my pacer this lap. This was also about the time the sun was going down and the temp was starting to go down. Gene tied my coat around his waist for possible use later and we were off! I was still running the flat parts of the course. Gene kept me laughing. I needed it too. I was having more times this lap where I was suffering and he let me work through it. After a bit it would pass and it got better. And we were joking around again. We paused at one point to look at 4 deer in the woods (yeah, they were real).  At one point I thought I was hallucinating. I wasn't. It was indeed lightning. It wasn't long before we were running in a thunderstorm. Just like Gene’s shirt said “Do Epic Sh!t” - that is exactly what we were doing in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm! I was thankful that Guido told Gene to bring my jacket.... We made a quick stop at the aid station and kept going in the rain. (The aid station had LOTS of runners in it waiting out the storm).  It eventually subsided, but the wind had picked up and the temperature started to drop.

Here are Gene’s observations about lap 6:
I remember being relieved that we actually started lap six, after getting the work done on your feet. I recall telling myself. "just keep her moving". I felt encouraged because I knew I had some great new material to keep you laughing!

Just keep moving......... Hitting mile marker four, we got into a nice routine of running/walking and were making good progress. We talked about doing the things we wanted to do, not being trapped in a rut. Laughing about us sitting on the front porch of the nursing home, wearing all our race medals and reliving our greatest race moments to the chagrin of the other residents.

Also chuckling about how we used to be "out" on Saturday nights at this time, and how you were now hobbling through the woods at night, in the rain, with a man in a kilt!

I remember you freaking out slightly when we saw the possum, then being relieved that it was actually real, and that you were not hallucinating!

The thunder, lightning and rain. Our brief stop at AS #2, feeling slightly claustrophobic, and us both saying "let's go".

The miles ticking off.......gaining momentum!

You veering slightly to the left at the start of your mini bonk, and us doing that "European walk" so you didn't wander off on me!

I'll never forget the feeling of us coming up the stairs to HQ to complete the lap. That's when I knew you were gonna make it. After seeing you come in after lap 5 and the dark place you were in, this was akin to Lazarus rising. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Epic Awesomeness indeed!

We made it back to headquarters and I changed into warmer pants and Guido and Jonathan had me change my shoes. I told Andy at that point that I needed him to be ready for lap 8. Ashby picked me up for lap 7. He was another amazing pacer. He completed U100 last year with difficulties and knew exactly what I was going through. He let me work through several hard miles and there was comfort knowing that he knew how hard I was trying and how tough of a place I was in. I ran much less this lap. Ashby was patient and encouraging.

Here are Ashby’s observations about lap 7:
It took you a lot longer to complete lap 6 than anticipated so I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult lap for you. I could tell you were really hurting, even though you kept your complaints to a minimum. Your walking pace was generally pretty brisk. I could tell when your blood sugar was running low because you began to slow down and struggle more. Hence the force feeding of the GUs. I will always remember the universal sound of disgust you made after your first bite of each GU. It was sort of a quiet, "ughhhhh". It was particularly humorous in the dark when all I could hear was that sound. We've all done it. You did it both times I made you eat one.

I remember when you sat down and the Ptomaine Tavern and I ran off to find some food. When I got back you were openly weeping, but still determined. I let you sit for about 5 minutes to eat and then got you moving again.

You caught a few people and that seemed to motivate you some, which was nice. When we got back to Reedy Creek I knew we were close, but I could tell you were at a low spot. I was desperate to take your mind off your suffering. The only thing I could come up with was a knock knock joke. Knock, knock. Who's there? interrupting cow. interrupting cow -- MOOOOOOO!  It actually made you laugh, so I knew you were in bad shape.

You also kept thinking there were animals on the trail and in the woods. There weren't. It was just exhaustion.

Overall, I knew it was a really tough lap for you. I had been in a very similar place last year. I felt for you, but I knew you could do it. You just seemed very determined to keep moving forward, which is exactly what it takes.

Toward the end, you seemed to be worried about missing the cut off and began to run as much as you could. I think that was exhaustion again, but that fear is a great motivator.

I'm impressed with what you were able to accomplish considering I know how much you hurt.

I was happy to play a small role in your adventure

Lap 8 Andy picked me up.  I was in more pain than I had ever been in my entire life.  I ran some of the airport spur going out and back, but the rest of the lap was completed walking.  I had no energy to run, or rather, the endurance to fight through the pain which came with every step of running.  The pain was intense with every step.  I had major blisters and my toenails had blisters under them and were in great pain as well.  Andy did great helping me through.  I had tears that I could not control this entire lap.  I was frustrated at my lack of control of my emotions and that I could no longer run.  I had the desire to run, but physically was not able to do so.  I was physically and mentally exhausted because I had quit eating and drinking at some point.  I was trying to keep a sense of humor so I was joking and trying to find a happy place.  Anywhere other than where I was at:  stepping on Legos, stubbing my toe, getting a shot, sitting in the dentists chair, even labor.  With labor the contractions are intense, but short.  I would have been much happier in labor than where I was at.  A few weeks ago I was in the dentist’s chair and was trying to think of a happy place and I put myself on Turkey Creek…  Now I was on Turkey Creek and was putting myself in the dentist chair!!  I had miles to go and had to focus on one step at a time. 

Coming down powerline I heard Lauren and Gene, who was pacing her this lap, catching up with me.  I wanted so badly to run in with them but I was not there…  They saw I was working for each step.  Lauren teared up. They stopped and walked with me for a bit then continued on. 

The last miles were intense.  I was walking as fast as I could with Andy holding my hand.  There was a 71 year old man who was running, leaning to his left, and he caught up and passed me.  In my mind I wanted to run with him, but couldn’t keep up. 

Here are Andy’s observations about lap 8:
We did lap 8, I think she was in pain. I could tell she was well hydrated due to the tears. She did good.

LOL! no really, here is his real report: 

Miles 87.5-100 brought the sunrise with it. I could tell she wanted to run, or at least jog but the pain in her feet kept her from doing so for any length of time. After a few miles I had collected data points on our pace. I took our ground speed, factored in wind, falling trees, out of control mountain bikers and convinced her that a brisk walk would get her in between 10:30 and 11:00.

We watched an older gentleman with a slight tilt as his wife went to the ditches and brought him rocks which he unceremoniously tossed back in the woods. At first we thought it was a game to keep his mind active and sane, but I decided it was something else as the fact that he was on the last 10 of a 100 mile race demonstrated he was cracked to begin with. As it turns out, he had lost his equilibrium and needed the right size rock to straighten him out. I guess any ultra runner can go 100 miles, but do 100 miles while carrying a rock? Now that’s impressive. We passed the tilting man and continued on our brisk Sunday morning walk in the park.

Amy frequently runs Umstead with Joey and Jen on Saturday mornings, so she pointed out various items along the route that she had told me about and I had not yet seen. The wooden bridge with a distinct smell, the butt tree, they even had “special” names for some of the more challenging hills. As she struggled with the last miles we chatted about our kids, camping, foot amputations etc… to pass the time. We even played a game called find your happy place. Apparently when you are going 100 miles such things as going to the dentist, stubbing your toe, getting kicked in your stomach are all happy places. I had to remind Amy a day later when she stubbed her toe and shrieked in pain that she unveiled one of her happy places.

Guido came by on a bike looping in the opposite direction. I believe he was looking for lost runners bumping into trees like a steel ball in a pinball machine, but he took time to say a few words of encouragement as we pressed on. I could tell Amy just wanted to finish the race.

On the last stretch she could hear the crowd cheering, bells ringing and the brisk walk quickly turned into a steady trot for a strong finish up that last hill. Gripping my hand with goliath like strength up that hill I could tell the currency she used to finish the race was strong mental fortitude and a will to succeed.

Coming in the last little bit, Gene met back up with us.  He had finished with Lauren, then doubled back to help bring me in.  He is amazing like that.  I heard everyone cheering at the top of the hill at the finish, and somehow that gave me the energy to run those last steps - hand in hand with Andy. 

What an emotional finish.  It was not at all how I envisioned it.  I was exhausted.  I saw familiar faces smiling at me when I finished each with tears in their eyes, sharing joy and feeling my pain.  Joey was there waiting for me as well as many, many other NCRC friends I have run with over the years.  Hugs all around.  The one that stands out the most is when Charles was standing towards the back with tears in his eyes, memories of his own 100 finish fresh in his mind, I told him to ‘come here’ and we hugged and cried. 

Someone gave me a chair to sit in and Joe presented me with my finishers pendant.  Blake came over and congratulated me.  I clutched my pendant tightly as I weakly hobbled into headquarters.  Inside Guido was in there and screams “AMY” at the top of his voice and gives me a HUGE hug!! 

I sit down and take off my shoes and he surveys the damage…  its not good…  He gets something to soak my feet in.  Meanwhile I start shaking uncontrollably and start to feel nauseous.  I look around desperately for something to, well, you know, throw up into, but the only thing I see is a trash can across the room.  I ask someone to bring it over and proceed to have dry heaves into it.  At that point, I really didn’t care.  What I didn’t realize is that most everyone who finished ahead of me had puke containers.  I was not lucky enough to get one and had to use the trash…  I also did not fully realize that the shaking and nausea was going to be so bad afterwards.  Joey didn’t tell me these things when he assured me “yes, you can run 100 miles!”  I had to go lay down with a wool blanket on top of me to get the shaking and nausea to pass. 

Here are Joey’s thoughts on completing U100:
There were a huge range of emotions I was feeling as I stood watching Amy come running up that last hill to the finish line hand in hand with Andy. On one hand my heart was bursting with pride at her amazing tenacity and fortitude shown in accomplishing this , her first 100 miler. On the other hand my heart was breaking a bit knowing the pain and long hours she suffered out there to do it because, well I guess I do bear a bit of the responsibility for her being out there in the first place. No, I didn’t push her into it. I learned early in our friendship that you don’t have to push Amy to do anything. It was more like when the good kid starts hanging around with the wrong crowd on the smoking porch at school and eventually the kid gives in and takes that first puff. 

I had seen her several times throughout the day and knew things were beginning to go badly for her and I spent a lot of time thinking and praying for her out there but I knew by now after all the time we’ve spent training that there was no quit in her. After the race was over and she went into the lodge to rest I was feeling so proud but a bit concerned. Also kind of hoping she wouldn’t hate me for getting her into this mess. Well as she lay down on a cot to rest for a few minutes and I was sitting there watching over her , she reached out and took my hand and simply said “thanks for being my friend”. Thank You and Thank God because I am the one that has been Blessed by having such a special Angel in my life.

In the meantime, Karen and Andy were packing up the Jeep.  All I had to do was limp with assistance from headquarters to the Jeep.  They took care of all the stuff and the kids.  I got home, showered, and laid down for a while, though sleep did not come easily. 

My sister was amazing.  She loaded up the Jeep, unloaded it when we got home, she started the very smelly pile of laundry, ran the dishwasher, folded clothes and watched the kids.  Talk about an amazing crew member.  She made it so much easier for me the next day to get back into the regular routine with all the stuff done.  I enjoyed the time I spent with her and was so glad she was here to be part of it. 

Here are Karen’s thoughts on the race:
Watching Amy come through after lap 1 was so great!! She looked awesome and I could tell she was having fun! Every 3 hours or so I was looking for her to come up the hill. After lap 4, I saw something a little different on her face and as soon as she said she needed someone to look at her feet. I knew the next 4 laps was not going to be as smooth. For a very brief moment I thought she could quit at 50 miles and be VERY proud of that. Then I realized I was talking about Amy. There was no way she was going to let a couple "little" blisters stop her. And she didn't.

It was awesome to see 4 amazing people take Amy out for those last 4 laps. Later she said that each lap was exactly the person she needed at that time. Not taking away from Mike's awesome record breaking run, but some of the best moments of those 2 days was watching people come through the finish line after pushing boundaries I never knew existed. I saw someone cross the finish 4 minutes under 24 hours, I saw a mom carry her daughter over the finish line, I saw someone who at one time was morbidly obese do the "impossible" and I watched someone with a prosthetic leg complete 100 miles!! Every time I was crying. The best part was watching my sister come up that hill with Andy. There was no way I could hold it together and I came unglued watching her complete her goal. Being able to be there for her and watch that was the most inspiring thing in my life to date. She has proven to me that the limits are made to be pushed and the rules are meant to be broken.

Would I do this again?  Well, I would not rule it out.  If I got to the half way mark with issues that would make the last 50 miserable, I would stop.  If I attempt 100 again, I would hope that it would be a much different experience.  One that is less painful towards the end. 

What I find amazing is the woman last year who I saw limping out to complete her last lap with tore up feet was me this year.  The person who was in such pain, that I could not grasp how or why she would want to continue on.  I get it now.  Took me a year to figure it out.  It is passion and determination that keeps you going despite the pain and suffering.  

You will find me at U100 next year as a volunteer.  I will be at the aid station and pacing, helping someone else make their first 100 mile mark.  Anyone need a pacer for 2013?  Let me know!

Until then, I will wear my pendant.  It has been nearly 2 weeks since the race, and I have not taken it off.  Part of me is saying “wow, did I really complete 100 miles?”  and the other part is saying “you bet you did, don’t ever doubt it! You earned every step of it!”

I thank God every day for the strength he has given me to run, the good friends he has surrounded me with, and the ability to encourage others in their life journey.   I have been blessed. 

So what were my injuries?  Blisters on both heels as well as the ball of both feet.  I lost 4 toenails.  Heat rash on both feet that itched like crazy for days, then peeled a week later.  Heat rash / chafing where my heart rate monitor was.  My face was sun/wind-burned and dry.  My muscles were tired, but no injuries to be spoken of.

Just so you know, it is a rockin fashion statement to wear injinjis with flip flops for 2 weeks post race.  ;)

Thank you to all who helped make this race possible for me.  It was one Epic experience!

Here is a link to the article that was in the news and observer:
News and Observer

here is a link to a video of the finish:  Amy finish