Thursday, April 7, 2016

Umstead 100 2016: Family and Friends who are Basically Family

With a few days to recover and reflect about last weekend’s Umstead 100, I’m still buzzing with joy about how the race went. It was a long road to the start line. The real work of running 100 miles happens in training. As Muhammad Ali once said,  “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

For me, the work began after Umstead last year as I dove headlong into committing to eating well and training with some intention. I’ve written about this before, so there’s not much to say here other than: Training pays off. The proof is in the result of hard work. But, the most important thing to remember is that no matter how hard you want to work, you can’t do it alone. Ginger, was steadfast in her support of my training and she is the best partner anyone could ask for (Thanks, darlin’!). Ginger, Jordan, Brett, Royce, Josh, Sean, Chris, and all of my other training partners were key in my arriving at the starting line ready to dance.

The Training is Done. Now is the time on Sprockets When We Dance!

Brett, Royce, Sean and I left BBurg on Friday morning and rolled down to Umstead to check in, get our bibs, and rest up before the race.

Sean was a huge help because we knew we could count on him to make sure Ginger, Lois (Team Mom of the Year), Michelle, Jill, Chris, Julia, Josh Starner, and the rest of our crazy crew would be able to get all set up in the morning. Friday night, I turned off my phone, climbed into my sleeping bag in the cabin, and drifted off for some quality sleep. I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, got dressed and ready to roll. Ginger was there to see me off and make sure I everything that I needed. 

My A Goal was just to finish no matter what the time. I had given myself some follow-on goals and created pace charts to give myself a plan to shoot for prior to the race. Secondary goals included a time PR, Sub 21, and Sub 20. 19:55 was my reasonable “stretch goal” for the race, and going sub 19 was a goal that I didn’t really share with anyone, but it would have represented the elusive “perfect race” that we all hope to have one day. 

I began the day shooting for the 19:55 pace splits and figured I could adjust from there. Taking longer would mean letting those splits pass without worry because the A goal was to finish. Going faster would basically just mean running hard on Laps 7 and 8. 

Here’s the story of the race with 19:55 pace splits to guide you.

Just before 6 am, Josh, Royce, Brett, and I went up to the lodge to pound some coffee before we to set off on the adventure. Josh and Royce would be going for for their first 100 mile finishes, and they both SMASHED it! So proud of these guys! 

Lap 1: Goal Time: 2:10
Brett and I worked our way up to the front of the field so we could move easily in the opening miles. We found ourselves running comfortably around a 9 minute pace and just enjoyed the first hour of running in the dark with a bunch of cool people. About halfway through the first lap, we were running in a pack of about 14 people a few minutes behind the leaders. It was so fun as we traded stories and chatted with Justin, Erin, and some other folks we hooked up with on the trail. At one point, Brett turned to me with a big smile to comment on how fun it was to be rolling into Aid 1 in a big pack. It was really a nice opening lap. We cruised though Aid 1, filled bottles and said a big thank you to the amazing volunteers who were there to help us. Thanks again, folks! The volunteers at Umstead are hands down THE BEST! 

We came into our crew spot at the Start/Finish to the sound of Sean blasting away on the Vuvuzela. I was happy to see Ginger and Lois, and they were like a NASCAR crew (as always) getting me what I needed for the next lap.

I was feeling strong and had the feeling that today was going to be a good day.

Actual Time: 1:58

Lap 2: Goal Time: 2:10
Lap 2 was really more of the same. Brett and I ran along together chatting and enjoying the day. The rain hadn’t started yet, but we knew we were going to get rained on at some point. I’m not really sure when the rain came, but I didn’t care. Rain doesn’t bother me while running. Brett likes it too, so we were happy. We did feel bad for the crew who would have to suffer through a rainy day. Sorry, guys. Thanks!! 

We cruised through Aid 1 and made our way back to the S/F to see our family at the crew spot. I could see a little concern on their faces as we came in ahead of where we had planned in terms of pace. But we were running easy and feeling strong. My friend Star (an incredible ultra runner and Badwater Finisher) had sent me a message the day before telling me to “make some magic happen today” and I felt like it was the perfect day to do just that. Thanks for the encouragement, Star! Lap 2 was another success. I was banking time without burning matches. The training was paying off.

Actual Time: 2:03

Lap 3: Goal Time: 2:15
Brett and I stayed together going out on Lap 3 after Ginger had gotten me set up with fluids and fuel on the way out. Somewhere on this lap, the rain started. I turned to Brett and said something about this being perfect “Cross Country Weather, which is what he calls cool, rainy days. It really was. The only downside was that it made the band aids come off my chest and that means only one thing: bloody nipples if you don’t shed your shirt. So, I did. That meant the world would be subjected to me running shirtless all day. Sorry about that. 

We kept cruising and enjoying the day. Brett and I talked a little about our pace and made sure that we were running smart. We walked the hills and just took what the course gave us, which meant that we came into the S/F ahead of our projected pace again. No problem. We were feeling good. Ginger, Lois, and the rest of the crew helped me with a lightening fast sock change to avoid blisters. Did I mention how awesome our crew was? Here's photographic evidence showing two of the most amazing women in the world hanging out all day supporting us. 

How can you not feel better after seeing those two smiling faces and the motivational sign?  

I had been feeling a hot spot develop and want to be pro-active. Jordan had reminded me before he went and crushed GDR that a successful long race was only possible if you took care of yourself early. So I did. After another quick sock change, we took off on Lap 4 still on pace for a magic day.
Actual Time: 2:07

Lap 4: Goal Time: 2:25
Lap 4 was where I started to ease off the throttle. I wanted to make sure I still had gas in the tank to be running after mile 50. But, I still wanted to make sure I did the first 50 in a good time. Brett and I ran together for most of the lap. About half way around the loop we saw Dan Lenz in the distance. Dan is a big dog. He’s also incredibly nice. He is someone I look up to because, much like Jordan, he is an elite ultra runner who always has a smile and a kind word for a fellow runner. When we saw Dan in the distance, Brett and I had a small moment of panic. I said, “Brett, Um. We might be messing up here. What are we doing catching Dan Lenz??!!” When we pulled up next to him, he was, true to form, smiling and encouraging us. He assured us that we were OK. He was out there to give himself a “gut check” and was basically running off the couch. We chatted with him for a minute, and then he said, “You’re doing great, brother. Go kill it!” If you happen to read this, Dan. Thank you. And know that it's really cool that you're willing to go give yourself a "gut check" at a race like this. Your humble, encouraging manner represents all that is right about ultra running. 

Anyway, Brett and I heeded Dan's advice, and got back to work throwing coal into the locomotive and driving the pain train toward the halfway point of the race. 

Actual Time: 2:27
50 Mile Split: 8:37- A 50 Mile PR

Lap 5: Goal Time: 2:30
The start of Lap 5 meant picking up a pacer. All day, I told myself: Just run a strong first 50, and then all you have to do is give 4 of your friends a tour of the course. It’ll be a party. That’s how I tried to treat the race. I was starting to feel the fatigue set in. My legs were beginning to ache a bit, but I knew I had plenty of gas in the tank. 

When I came back to the crew spot from the S/F, Ginger, Lois, and Jordan got me quickly covered in sun screen (the rain stopped and it was getting hot out), and then sent me out to start the second half of the race.

I picked up Chris Larson for Lap 5. Chris is such a talented runner and he really made all the difference in terms of pacing me to a good finish. Brett and I had set points along the course where we would begin walking a hill and where we would start running again. Brett had set these points two years ago when he ran the race for the first time. Brett’s plan was also pivotal in my successful day. Well, his plan and all of the fun I had running with him for the first 50 miles. Anyway, Chris did a perfect job of keeping me moving well. He pushed me just enough, but never let me go too hard. A few times he told me to dial it back when I was feeling good and running too fast. When, I got lazy, he pushed me too. 

I have to mention the AS volunteers again here. At both aid stations, they were so great at getting us food and keeping us moving. Big props to Karl Mundt, who was working the halfway AS. He was a huge help all day. When I came back into the S/F Ginger was there with a big smile and advice about what to eat and getting me moving. Lois had a huge smile that really lifted my spirits. Seeing Jordy, Kristin, Linda Vick, and Jill having fun and generously giving us their time and encouragement really makes running easy. I came through lap 5 feeling strong and happy to have a new 100 K PR in the books too (11:04). The crew was always there to pick up our spirits with all kinds of shenanigans.

Including some questionable distribution of Body Glide:

 And lots of Vuvuzela encouragement: 

Actual Time: 2:26- 100K PR (11:04)

Lap 6: Goal Time: 2:35
Ginger sent Chris out with me on Lap 6 again. He was such a great pacer that I felt a little greedy keeping him for a second lap. But, I was SO happy to have his advice and company along the way. I don’t remember a lot about this lap. Things are a little fuzzy. I know I was feeling good and still thinking about a strong finish. Chris did a great job of keeping me in the moment and keep me focused on the current mile.

Photo Credit: John Foote. Thanks for sharing John.  

He didn’t let me think about what might be: good or bad. He kept me in the present. Thank you, Chris. We came back into the S/F with an almost identical lap split!

Actual Time: 2:26

Lap 7: Goal Time: 2:55
Before I left on lap 7, I wanted to put on some fresh compression shorts, socks, and a shirt because I knew the temp was going to drop. Also, I wanted to clean the salt off of me again to avoid chaffing. Our crew did an incredible job of getting me changed and moving quickly. Then, Ginger took me out for Lap 7. If you’ve never had your spouse or partner pace you in the late stages of an ultra, you gotta do it. There’s something really special about being out there testing your limits knowing that your best friend in the world is there to get your back and lift your spirits. I was really starting to tire out on this lap, but Ginger kept my spirits high, and kept telling that I was doing what needed to be done. We talked about all kinds of things, and I loved every second of it.  We saw my friend Nelson working the halfway AS, and seeing him lifted my sprits greatly. He is an amazing runner, and an incredibly nice person. Linda Vick was there working too, and she was such a huge help. 

The lap with Ginger really was a blast. She’s such a talented runner, an incredible crew chief, and I highly recommend her as a pacer. She’s also the best partner in the world, but too bad for all of you: She’s mine J  Thanks for everything, Ginger! Remember it was Lap 7 of Umstead last year when we talked about what might be possible if I took things a little more seriously, so this race is as much yours as it is mine. I couldn’t do it without you!

Actual Time: 2:43

Lap 8: Goal Time 2:55:
Lap 8. What to say about lap 8? Looking at the numbers, you’d think I’d want to say bad things about it. Lap 8 is where the dream of the “perfect race” really died. Coming into the S/F at the end of Lap 7, I knew I was dealing with an almost empty gas tank. I tried to get myself pumped up and ignore the reality that I was running out of coal to throw in the hopper. I still felt very good about my day. I knew I had run a smart race and measured my effort enough to make sub 20 and a huge PR happen. But, I also knew that running much on this lap was not likely. In an effort to pump myself up I passed through the crew spot and told Sean (my awesome Lap 8 pacer) to “pack his coffin because we were gonna burn the ship” but that was not to be. Well, Ok, we did actually burn the ship and empty the tank. But, it was more like starting a fire in the Smoky mountains in April than burning a Christmas tree. Lap 8 was a smoldering slog that saw us walk way more than run. I was fighting some serious nausea and spent the whole lap trying not to puke. Sean told me stories, pushed me, cajoled me, and tried to get me to run. 

But, I knew the smart thing was to hike  and make sure I finished this thing as strongly as possible. I was content. I knew I was going to finish sub 20. I knew I was solidly in the top 20, which is something that up until that day had only ever been a dream. Really! Me, finishing in the top 20 at a classic 100 is a dream I never thought I’d accomplish. But, I had done the work. I was out there in the dark, in the snow, in the bad weather when no one was watching all winter preparing to dance under the lights in April. And, Ali is right. The fight is won or lost in training. I had won my own battle with the clock on the day that mattered most to me. 

Through all of the Lap 8 walking, I promised myself I would run the last 3/4 of a mile strong. I promised myself to save enough to finish strong and then soak in the finish line. And, that I did.

When I saw Ginger at the finish, it was amazing. Easily in the top 10 happy moments of my life.

Actual Time: 3:31

Actual Finish: 19:44:52  13th overall!!

Actual Avg Pace: 11:50

I was wasted when I crossed the line. Jordan was there to capture the moment  when I was happier to see Brett than I've ever been. 

And when I flopped on the ground to stretch. Notice the "barf bucket" that just happened to be next to me. I didn't need it. 

The tank was bone dry. I did what I set out to do. I ran hard, and I ran smart. I measured my effort enough to be able to empty the tank completely and still make it to the finish. Finishing 13th overall was such an amazing topper to a great day.

I was also able to finish in time to see Brett still up and awake. 
Brett finished in 18:26, which was a new PR for him. Michele paced him for a blistering fast lap 8 and 9th Place Overall!!!

Great job, buddy!! Thanks for everything.

Royce was rock steady all day and finished his first 100 in 21:16!!! Amazing. So proud of him!!

Josh also had an amazing race. He ran steady all day and finished in 22:35 for his first 100 mile finish! 

Great job, brother. Proud of you. 

Final Thoughts:
I managed to keep my aid station time to less than 30 minutes, which is pretty efficient for a 100 miler where you see your crew 7 times and pass through 15 manned aid stations. I'm quite pleased with that. I owe the volunteers and my crew a huge thank you! 

Thanks again to Rhonda, the amazing RD of Umstead and all of the volunteers who generously helped us all reach our goals on Saturday. 

I want to say a big thank you to my family and friends who supported me on race day and in the lead up to the race. I couldn’t have done it without you all.

The next big adventure is Grindstone 100 in October. There will be lots of adventures along the way though, so if you like Bad Ideas, stay tuned. There are lots of stories to come. 

Photo Credits: Jordan Chang, Kristen Chang, Lois Kelly, and the nice guy who took the group photo for us.