Thursday, May 8, 2008

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run (Part 2)

The Race

Lap 1 (mile 0 to 12.5)

A surge of bunched-up runners headed uphill from the start into the otherwise peaceful, damp, pre-dawn air of these North Carolina woods. "What's the hurry?", I thought. I've got the whole day, and part of tomorrow, too. So, I took my time heading out, letting the crowds get ahead, power-walking until the first right turn of the course at the start of the course's "Airport Spur".

One thing I like about the Umstead course is the ease of breaking it up, mentally, into sections. I found these sections to be a convenient way to divide and conquer the course, reducing it to manageable pieces. The first 6/10 of a mile is the access road and trail for Camp Lapihio (side note: for the start of the race only, runners are routed out a slightly longer but wider gravel road). From there, the course does a fairly flat, 1.5-mile out-and-back "Airport Spur" near the park border with the Raleigh-Durham airport (ends is 2.1 mile mark). Returning from the airport spur, the runners pass the Camp Lapihio access road, continuing straight on a 1.3 mile stretch of the Reedy Creek Trail (to the 3.4 mile mark), which serves as a two-way connector to the main part of the course. And, the main part of the course is a pretty 7.2 mile, one-way loop, with a number of modest climbs and drops, including some steep little hills in the "Sawtooth 79 Section" (miles 7 to 9). After completing the loop (10.6 mile mark), the course connects back to the start by repeating the 1.3 miles of the Reedy Creek Trail, with the climb up Cemetery Hill being a highlight, rejoining (at the 11.9 mile mark) the 0.6-mile connector road and trail to Camp Lapihio (for 12.5 miles total).
The first pass on the Airport Spur was a really cool sight in the early morning darkness. As I jogged along, getting my running muscles warmed up, I was treated to a scene that looked like a procession of dancing fireflies flitting toward me in the hazy morning darkness, an illusion produced by the line of headlamps of runners on their way back from the spur turn-around. After passing the gate to the access road, the Reedy Creek Trail rolls a bit, then drops down a bit to the first water stop. I was running easy so far, with my pace between 10 and 11 minutes per mile, but made a point of stopping to force myself to keep my first-lap effort at an easy level.

After the water stop, the course makes a brief rise, and then becomes a l o o n n n g g g g g gradual downhill. The downhill was a pleasure to run, the road serpentining gently toward the creek below, as the hidden sunrise, masked by the gray, overcast sky, began to gradually light the morning. At the bottom, where a puddle-covered wooden bridge crosses Crabtree Creek, a sweet smell announced the presence of wisteria-gone-wild, with climbing bunches of purple-flower-covered vines festooning the trees in the creek valley. The nice, misty morning scenery continued as the road passed a small lake (Reedy Creek Lake) on the right, and then -- since what comes down must go up -- started up a mile-long, gradual but unrelenting climb. This was a walker, and would doubtlessly be one for the entire race.

At about the 5-mile point, the course splits off of the dirt road onto a narrower path, what I suppose could be called carriage trail. I stopped, again by design, at the water station and topped off my bottle, walking a short bit as I took a swig. Then, back to a jog as the trail bounced up and down and wound back and forth, much of it within ear-shot (but mostly out-of-sight) of a road (Ebenezer Church Road). Really, rather pleasant trail, with nice soft footing and enough bends to keep it interesting. After passing the 6-mile mark, the trail was mostly rolling downhill, with the descent ending at Aid Station #2.

Aid Station #2 was a welcome outpost of hospitality at quarter after seven in the morning. A row of aid tents were set up between the trail and a bridge along Ebenezer Church Road where cheerful race volunteers were recording runners times and offering wealth of hot food and snacks. I had determined ahead of time that I would take advantage of every aid station to ensure my calorie intake never became low, so I stopped to grab some food and let the nice volunteers refill my water bottle.

The abundance of aid at Umstead makes food and fluid intake an easy part of the race equation. I run my ultras with a simple plan, which has worked reasonably well whenever I have followed it -- every hour, I figure I need to get around 300 calories, 25 ounces of fluid, and 360 milligrams of sodium into my body. I knew I could count on the aid stations to provide an easy fix of 100 to 200 calories, plus water refills, every hour-and-a-quarter to hour-and-a-half early in the race and maybe only every two hours or so later in the race. For the rest of my calories and sodium, I had packed a small zip-loc baggie for each lap with enough Clif Shot gels, Clif blocks, Powerbars, and S!Caps to take between each aid station.
Though Aid Station #2 was a friendly place, and it would have been easy to hang out a few minutes to munch, I knew I had to minimize wasted time so began walking as soon as my bottle was ready, eating the handfuls of pretzels I had grabbed from the aid tables as I headed toward the mile 7 sign. From seven to about nine-and-a-half miles, the course climbs a little over 200 feet -- really, a pretty modest gain of elevation. However, the way the course makes this climb is where the fun is -- it does it in nasty, steep little ascents. Hence, the name "Sawtooth 79" for this section. These steep little hills were kind of fun on this lap (foreshadowing: not as much fun on later laps), with steep short ups followed by steep but shorter downs. As the course was following a soft dirt carriage trail, footing was great, too. I stuck with plan and walked every one of the uphills.

After the last "Sawtooth" climb, the course bears left onto Graylyn Trail and a great section for stretching out the legs -- a long, gradual, joyously runnable downhill, where the dirt road drops down under a power line toward a creek valley, ultimately ending at a stone bridge of Sycamore Creek. It felt so good to be able to run this with some longer strides, but I held back quite a bit, telling myself I needed to save my quad strength for the later part of the race. The section after the stone bridge heads back uphill -- I ran the lower part of it, but walked the majority.

Graylyn Trail, and the hill, and ends at its intersection with Reedy Creek Trail. I turned right, quickly popped into the tent at the unmanned water station for a cup of gatorade, and then resumed jogging as I headed up the two-way stretch of this trail. The jog only lasted for a short while. The downhill that didn't seem all that significant on the way out definitely seemed significant as an uphill in this direction. I walked it. When I reached the top, I noticed a small cemetery to the right, nearly hidden back in the woods -- ah-hah, this is the infamous Cemetery Hill noted in the course description.

Running the last few rollers on the Reedy Creek Trail and hit the access trail to Camp Lapihio, I was feeling great. Hell, I should have, I only had knocked out the first 12.5 miles! As I approached Camp Lapihio on a fun, muddy downhill (where it is easy to look like you are running strong), I noticed that my "crew" had set up chairs and bags in a small clearing just before the camp steps. They spotted me and started cheering, yelling that I was right on schedule -- their spirit gave me a real adrenaline rush. I walked the steps up to the time checkpoint, where the nice folks recording times had encouraging words. And, I was extra psyched to see my TrailDawg buddy, and designated pacer, Scott, waiting in front of the lodge ringing a cowbell -- which prompted me to yell "I got a fever and the only prescription is... More Cowbell!" (a rallying cry among some of the Dawgs).

Lap 1 summary: 2:21 lap split vs. 2:20 target for 24 hour pace

Lap 2 (mile 12.5 to 25)

My stop in the lodge was quick. With my full bottle, and a cup of gatorade and a handful of snacks in hand, I headed out and made a quick stop to say hi to the kids. I gave them my headlamp and took my Lap 2 baggie of gels, blocks, and S!Caps from them. From the area of the lodge and cabins, the trail essentially is uphill, so I had a chance to give my running muscles a break and let my walking muscles do some work for a few minutes.

On the Airport Spur, I ran more than on the first lap. The out-and-back design of the spur provided a great chance to see who was ahead of me (when I was outbound) and who was behind me (when I was returning). I saw a number of runners who, because we were running comparable paces, would become familiar faces through the course of the race. The tall guy with the long stride and neck bandana... the really tall woman.. red-shirt-hat-and-long-hair guy... bandana lady (they changed colors during the race)... green-shirt-and-moustache guy.. but mostly faces without names.

The Reedy Creek Trail was enjoyable as I jogged all of the flats and downhills, and even some of the easier uphills. I had it in my mind that I wanted to maintain a good pace on the second lap so was pressing, but not too much. On the way down the long grade toward the wooden bridge with the fragrant wisterias, I chatted with one of the other runners about how lucky we were that the weather was holding up. The forecast, yesterday, was for a rainy race. However, though the air was damp and the sky gray, we hadn't been hit by any of the predicted showers. Because of this, the temperatures were reasonable and the running conditions great, if a bit sticky. The light mist hanging over still, silvery surface of Reedy Creek Lake made for a peaceful morning scene as I started up the long hill toward the five mile marker.

I leap-frogged some of the familiar faces over the rest of this lap, through the couple of longer hills on the "front end" of the main loop (about miles 3.5 to 5.5) and through the Sawtooth 79 section (miles 7 to 9) on the back end... some people I'd pass on the uphills, only to be overtaken by them on the next down... some would pass me on the uphills, but I might catch them on the flats... familiar faces becoming even more familiar as the race progressed. I was still feeling good, and a number of my mile splits on the easier sections were down around 10 minutes

Coming in from Lap 2, I was still feeling good and excited to be on-track with my optimistic time goal. The kids were waiting for me just before the lodge, cheering, as I again took advantage of the nice mushy downhill through the camp area to run in looking strong. Another nice greeting from the timing crew, a quick run into the lodge for pretzels, a few cubes of boiled potatoes with salt, and a cup of gatorade and I was quickly back out the door.

Lap 2 summary: 2:26 lap split vs. 2:30 target for 24 hour pace

Lap 3 (mile 25 to 37.5)

Well, almost a marathon down and doing fine, I thought. On the way out for Lap 3, I stopped to swap out supply bags with the crew. Had I been taking my electrolyte capsules, Megan (left) asked? How were my feet? Wow, I was impressed, these kids have really caught on to the crewing thing!

Up to the Airport Spur, back again past the access road gate and heading down Reedy Creek Trail, down Cemetery Hill, and a quick stop at the 3.4 mile water stop -- there were plenty of packets of Gu, so I grabbed one for the road, keeping in mind my constant need for calories.

On this lap, I began to feel the effort of the uphills a bit. My body felt like it usually would on a weekend long run, a little tired but still no problem in keeping a decent pace at a moderate effort level. My pace slowed to about what I expected, maybe slightly slower, with most of my mile times in the 12 to 13 minute range -- and, in a few cases where they were slower, like after uphill walks, I would try to speed up the next mile to make up some time. Amazingly, despite a few periods of slightly misty weather, the rain continued to hold off, with the clouds even thinning a bit at times.

Just before the Aid Station #2 was the marker for mile 31. I looked at my watch -- 6 hours and 15 minutes. This gave me a real surge of adrenaline. Not only had I knocked out 50K while still feeling good, but a 6:15 time for 50K was not much slower than I might run a rolling trail 50K if that was it for the day! I continued to trade places with some of the same people on this lap. For quite a while, I was running behind a fella in a blue Happy Trails shirt (from the VHTRC, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club), sometimes close, sometimes further away, closer, further, back and forth like the bellows on an accordion. In the Sawtooth 79 section, I eventually caught and passed him, but we continued to "accordion" back and forth for the rest of the lap, with me in front of him.

The climb up Cemetery Hill began to feel like more of a climb this lap, but the stretch of access road and path into Camp Lapihio put a little spring back in my step, between the downhill direction and the knowledge another lap was done. Another round of cheers from the kids was great, but an extra voice this time -- "wow, look how strong he's running" -- was even cooler. My sister Tery had arrived!

Lap 3 summary: 2:41 vs 2:35 target pace puts me at 7:29 total vs 7:30 target, still good

Lap 4 (mile 37.5 to 50)

After another quick stop in the lodge, I went out to make a visit with the crew. It was great to see Tery and get some extra encouragement and a hug. She had driven down from the DC area just to see her crazy brother run this race. Steve, my future pacer, was also clearly ready to run and champing at the bit to join me at the end of this lap, him doing Laps 5-7 with me, Scott doing maybe Laps 7 and 8. After a change of socks and a baggie exchange -- my Lap 4 Zip-loc for my nearly empty Lap 3 bag -- I was back off onto the trails.

On this lap, running began to seem more like work. My training long-run had been 38 miles, which was really tiring -- and, at 38 miles on this run, I was also definitely feeling tired. A nice surprise, and a real energy-lift, was running into fellow Dawg Scott about six miles into this lap. Scott and another friend-of-a-runner were walking a lap in reverse and greeting runners as they came by. As I was basically running the race alone, at my own pace, it was great to see a friend at this point.

Some of the same faces that had become familiar the last few laps were still in the neighborhood, leap-frogging, one of whom was the blue-Happy-Trails-shirt guy. By Aid Station #2, we were about even, and so fell in together for a while and talked. He introduced himself as Bill (Turrentine, I later learned). He's a nice guy and experienced ultra runner, so we had an enjoyable chat, running much of the rest of the lap at the same pace. Not only was he attempting the 100 miler here at Umstead, but his wife was attempting to do the 50 miler, for the most part walking.

It was good to have company, because I was really beginning to get tired in the later part of this lap. Despite doing pretty well with my food intake, I was dragging a little. I was falling off my 24 hours a pace a bit more, with my mile splits now averaging somewhere around 14 minutes, more than a half-minute slower than my target. My stomach was slightly off, sloshy, but I corrected it quickly by taking another S!Cap. Above all, my feet were getting really tired toward the end of the lap. As I ran into Camp Lapihio at the end of the lap along the the rocky, muddy, downhill path, I was choosing my steps more carefully to be sure I did not make a dumb mistake and take a fall.

Despite falling a little off my target pace, I was pretty satisfied with my running at the end of this lap. My first 50 mile race, the 2006 JFK, took me 10:23, and the 2007 JFK took me 10:11. Remembering that, I felt great that I had completed the first 50 miles of this 100 mile race in 10:26 and still knew I could do another 50 miles -- a real measure of progress!

Lap 4 summary: 2:55 vs. 2:45 target gives me a 10:26 split time at 50 miles vs 10:10 target (but well ahead of secondary target of 12 hours)

Lap 5 (mile 50 to 62.5)

I made a quick stop at the aid tables in the HQ lodge and then went back out to meet the crew and get my light bag (headlamp and extra batteries) and baggie of gels. I was tired -- not doubting I could finish, but tired like I expected I'd be after 50 miles. And, to be honest, I was feeling a little grumpy. I apologized for it, but the kids swore I wasn't acting grumpy to them.

This was the point of the race where I could pick up a pacer and Steve was ready to roll. Now, as I alluded to before, Steve is an energetic (even hyper), positive, and talkative guy. But, I was not in a talkative mood. I was envisioning running along, grumpily, with him talking non-stop to try to encourage me --- and me snapping and telling him to zip it. Well, I think the guy must be a mind-reader (or was prepped well by my kids), because he was about as perfect a running partner as I could have asked for. He was quiet unless I wanted to talk. He jogged along with me calmly at my speed, even though he had the energy to push harder. Eventually, my grumpy mood passed, and we fell into some good conversations.

Early in Lap 5, Steve and I started running with Jim Sullivan of Florida. Jim is a very experienced 100 miler and knoew several of the other TrailDawgs who do ultras. He and Steve hit it off because Steve had just run a trail marathon practically in Jim's backyard. Lots of discussion of the race, the trails, and the (controversial?) race director ensued.

By the time the three of us hit Aid Station #2, my body was feeling like it was dinner time. So, instead of my usual routine of pretzels and potatoes, I had a hamburger. Wow, that was good! Unfortunately, the weather was beginning to turn as the evening came on. It had been surprisingly pleasant so far, with no significant rain and comfortable temperatures, neither hot nor chilly. But, the clouds darkened a bit and began to drop a light mist, then a few brief showers. At the same time, the temperatures gradually began to drop. I had an emergency poncho in my pocket as my rainwear -- compact, lightweight, and surprisingly effective -- so put it on as the weather got less agreeable.

Coming in from Lap 5, I was feeling pretty wiped. I was a 1/2 hour off my 24 hour pace target and, though my timetable included a 30 minute buffer, I had a hard time envisioning myself holding my 24-hour target pace for the rest of the run. I think the crew knew I was pooped, too, so they pulled out the heavy artillery -- an inspirational poster made by my very cool ten-year-old nephew -- thanks, Bobby! A couple of slices of pizza in the lodge were a big help, too.

Lap 5 summary: 3:11 vs. 3:00 target puts me at 13:38 vs 13:10 target (falling off 24 hour pace - I had given myself 30 minutes of slop in schedule and it was about used up.

Lap 6 (mile 62.5 to 75)

The balls of my feet were becoming increasingly tender and I knew I at least had hot spots, maybe blisters. Similar foot issues were misery for me at Laurel Highlands, so I resolved to deal with them promptly before heading off on Lap 6. I took off my shoes and -- too late -- I had the start of a blister on my left foot. I cleaned the surface, covered it with gauze, and then secured the gauze with duct tape ("the handyman's helper"). For the hot spot on my right foot -- slap a strip of duct tape on it. One toenail was also bugging me, as the swelling of my feet in my shoes kept it pressed against the top of the toe box. So, I changed shoes to a pair I knew fit slightly larger.

Between the fresh shoes and socks and the tape on the tender spots, my feet felt much better as Steve and I started into the lap. The weather continued to deteriorate, with the rain more frequent, harder, and patches of fog developing as the temperatures continued their gradual slide. Running with a headlamp through fog is a bit disorienting, the beam of light reflecting off the fog in a way that made it look like chasing a tunnel of light with gauze over my eyes. It was really heard to see in places.

Between the fatigue, weather, and darkness, my pace was beginning to seriously slow on this lap. However, others were also suffering, and many were dropping out. Around Aid Station #2, Steve and I hooked up with Alex Taylor, a great guy from Minnesota. Alex had done several 100 milers previously and seemed to be proceeding at about our pace. He was positive, encouraging, and funny -- it really helped me rolling through the suffering. But, my pace was still awfully slow, the second half of Lap 6 taking 30 minutes longer than on the previous lap.

However, there were two high points on this lap. When we passed the 7 mile sign just after the aid (the signs all findable by a glow stick draped on each), we knew we had passed a helpful psychological milestone -- "only a 50K left!" Steve was pretty amused that I could have the frame of mind that 50K seemed to be a minor task -- I suppose it was a kind of delusional thought, but it helped. Soon after, we passed the 8 mile sign, which staked out new territory for me -- the farthest I had ever gone on foot. I took a a little hop past the sign, another minor (and, again, delusional) cause for celebration.

When we came into the Headquarters aid station, we knew to expect that the girls and Tery had moved inside the lodge. Here it was, after 11:30 at night, and the lodge was bustling with energy. My crew was ready for me. The aid workers were cheery and got us taken care of quickly. As I lost my taste for my gels and blocks, but wasn't much in the mood for a lot of solid food, one of their offerings looked really appealing -- the potato soup. Wow! It was hot, had plenty of carbs and salt, and a little fat for taste. A couple of cups of that were just what I needed.

Lap 6 summary: 3:56 vs. 3:15 target, so total of 17:35 vs. 16:25 target, first lap significantly off target

Lap 7 (mile 75 to 87.5)

Steve and I headed back off into the darkness with Alex. Gawd, the weather was nasty -- cold, rainy, foggy. But, we were able to carry on a good conversation -- I think Steve (right), especially, enjoyed having a couple of guys to talk to. We encouraged ourselves by celebrating there was less than a marathon left. And, Steve was excited that this lap would take him past the marathon mark, the longest he has ever run.

As we moved along, struggling to see through the the thick gauze of fog with our headlamps, Alex made a great suggestion -- turning the lights out! With a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the dark, visibility suddenly became much better. The main hassle was along two-way sections, where we had to battle the headlamps of other runners flashing into our dilated pupils. It finally struck me why, earlier in the evening, other runners moving with their lamps off looked so annoyed when we greeted them on the two-way sections -- we were blinding them.

Alex was fun to run with. On the way down Cemetery Hill, we passed a trio of ladies who were a lap behind us at this point -- Monica Nop, Debbie Daughtry, and (I think) a friend who was pacing them. Alex struck up a conversation by declaring that they were the "most beautiful women on the trail tonight." We had a good time joking around when we leap-frogged each others' groups, the irony of cold, wet, smelly (at least us guys) runners calling each other being beautiful or handsome in the middle of a woods at 1 am after 19 hours on our feet!

We maintained a reasonable pace in the first half of the lap, forcing ourselves to jog the downhills and flat sections (at this point, perhaps 50-50 jog-walk). However, my feet were becoming progressively more tender and it was clear that the duct tape on my tender spots had slid off. In addition, the lower parts of my calves, down into the junction with the achilles tendons, were becoming increasingly tired and, on my left leg, sore (I think because I altered my foot-strike to ease pressure on the left-foot blister). We reached Aid Station #2 at 1:44 am and I told the guys I needed to stop to fix my feet. Knowing it might take ten or more minutes, I told Alex I'd understand if he wanted to keep going -- happily, he decided to wait. One of the aid station workers led me to a chair in the back of the aid tent, and I gently eased myself down, stiffly pulled my feet up to where I could see them, took off my shoes and socks, and went to work. First, clean up the sore areas with rubbing alcohol. Then, pop the fluid-filled blister on my left foot. Once it was drained, another alcohol wipe-down. Next, a gauze pad, cut to the size of the blister. Then, to better secure it this time, I wrapped the duct tape entirely across the ball of each foot and up onto the top side of the foot.

As I was fixing my feet, I noticed a guy zonked out on a cot in the far back part of the tent. He looked absolutely trashed. I remembered him as a chatty guy from the start area who ran hard and fast, not far behind the leaders, early in the race. A couple aid station workers were trying to decide when he had told them he wanted to be woken -- and when they asked him, he groggily grumbled back, rolled away in his cot, and went back to sleep. Wow, what a crash he must have had. Steve and I commented how bad we felt for him as I refueled with soup and pretzels, preparing to head back out for the second part of the lap.

The Sawtooth 79 section had changed a lot in character through the day. By this point, 20 hours and more than 80 miles into the run, the little hills seemed as daunting as mountains. My left achilles tendon was getting worse quickly -- I was beginning to distinctly limp. The soreness, especially on climbs, was bad enough that I took to walking up the steepest hills in a zig-zag pattern, back-and-forth across the road. Steve was a patient pacer and hung with me, but Alex understandably had to keep moving, gradually getting further and further ahead and, by the top of the last Sawtooth hill, was out of sight. I knew that 24 hours was now well out of reach, but also knew (barring a really dumb mistake) there was no way I would not finish.

We arrived back at the headquarters lodge just before 4 am. I was exhausted, soaked, cold, and hurting. The kids had my stuff ready for Lap 8 and did their "crew thing" like a well-oiled machine, recognizing that I have run myself stupid by this point -- how are my feet? do I need new socks? am I eating enough? am I taking my electrolytes? John Straub greeted me -- he was already finished with the race and snagged 10th place. Scott Hodukavich was standing by, ready to pace me for the last lap (after already doing 2 laps). A very kind volunteer, Rhonda Hampton, and a nurse or medic checked up on me, seeing that I was pretty wiped out, and point me to a chair. I sat down to have something to eat and drink.

Lap 7 summary: 4:17 vs. 3:25 target, 21:53 vs. 20:35 target

Lap 8 (mile 87.5 to 100)

As sat eating, drinking, and trying to rest my hurting feet and achilles, my heart rate wouldn't come down. Instead, it began to flutter and stayed high. Crap, I realized, I'm having an episode of atrial fibrillation (a-fib). A-fib is an irregular heart beat that is stressful but not dangerous -- it's not uncommon for me to have very brief occurrences (a couple beats) every few days, but have only had extended episodes (more than a minute) twice before. Well, make that three times -- it kept up for five minutes. I got up to see if I could walk it off. The nurse commented I was looking kind of pale. Then, I began to shiver uncontrollably: hypothermia. Holy cats, what else can go wrong?

Across the room there was a roaring fire in a huge stone fireplace. Megan and Katie, looking kind of nervous, and Tery, trying to look comforting, got me a blanket and led me across the room to a bench in front of the fire. I continued shivering for five, maybe ten, more minutes in front of the fire, getting close enough that I was afraid I might catch fire myself. Finally, the shivers subsided. However, my racing, fluttery hear rate did not. I was getting depressed by the minute. How long am I going to have to wait this out, I wonder?

I did quick math in my head... OK, even if I have to walk the entire last lap and it takes me five hours, I still have time, I think. The cut-off time for finishing is noon. That means I could leave as late as 7 am and still finish. Given that it was only 4:30, I knew I could rest a couple more hours if I need it...

Still, these calculations didn't calm me. I was feeling simultaneously anxious and depressed, which wasn't helping the a-fib calm down. Someone suggested I try laying down, and the kids helped clear a place near the fire (next to the napping John Straub) and brought my stuff over. I napped for a few minutes (5? 10? 15? I'm not sure) but my heart was still fluttering when I awake. A medic came over, tooks my blood pressure and pulse, and asked me a few questions about my history with a-fib to be sure I'm OK. I have to get out of here, I think. I need to finish this. But, I worry, is it a good idea to try to run while the a-fib is acting up? Megan tried to calm me down. And, she managed to get an encouraging tone that sets me back on the right path. Why don't you get dressed warmly and just start walking, she suggests. If you feel too lousy, you can come back and rest some more. Just give it a try, go easy.

So, I got up, put on two additional layers of dry clothes, snapped my water bottle belt back on, put my Lap 8 baggie in my pocket, and threw my rain poncho back on (do I still look a little pale?). Rhonda, the nice race volunteer, gave me some words of encouragement. Scott was ready to go and pace me through the last lap. Steve (after a brief nap of his own) has decided he was up for the last lap, as well. [sidebar: Youth is a crazy thing. With no training beyond basic road marathon preparation, this 21 year old kid can knock out 50 miles and be no worse the wear for it]. Now, with the clock somewhere around 5 am, after almost an hours-and-a-half in the lodge, we were off into the darkness for the last lap, walking uphill from Camp Lapihio.

It was still dark, wet, and chilly. My heart rate calmed down slightly as I walked, more toward 150 rather than above 160. I decided to jog a little on a flat part to see how I do and, strangely, my heart rate dropped a little more and got less fluttery. Damn, I thought, I can handle this. But my feet, and especially my left achilles, were killing me.

We completed the Airport Spur and head toward Cemetery Hill. At the base of the hill, we could make out three other runners, lights-out in the dark, approaching us from the other direction. One of them was Carl Camp, who Scott had ridden with to North Carolina. After greetings were exchanged (it may have included a TrailDawg howl), Carl's pacer mentioned that he had to leave at the end of this lap. Carl seemed to be talking with a bit of a slur, and I wondered if he was hypothermic (like I was). A discussion ensued and Scott asked me if I wouldn't mind if he switched off to pace Carl for his last lap. I though it was a really smart, and nice, idea, so assured him I'd be fine with Steve for the rest of the lap.

We moved along at a slow but steady pace as a hint of light appeared in the sky. We tried to jog the flat sections and gentle downhills to make as good time as possible. I was hobbling, hurting, but knew it was in the bag. At around 7:30 am, as I hobbled into Aid Station #2, a shirtless runner blasted past us. Holy smokes, it was the guy who only a few hours earlier was half-dead on the cot at this same aid station! We yelled and cheered for him as we headed for the food table. [as it turns out, this "Lazarus" runner was Ray Krolewicz, an ultrarunning legend known for his naps]

The last pass through the Sawtooth 79 section was brutal, given the condition of my achilles, as was the long downhill on the Powerline section that followed. Steve and I got through it by setting goals for our jogs (or "yogs," as we took to calling them, channeling Sven from the AT&T wireless ads), picking out a spot a quarter-mile ahead, yogging to it, taking a walk break, picking another spot, and yogging to it. I was determined to try to jog half of this lap if I could -- focusing on little, achievable goals made the miles pass more quickly and easily.

I dragged myself up Cemetery Hill, another tough one. Soon after we were passed by a guy who seemed to be hobbling as badly as me, but was moving faster (yeah, passed on the home stretch, but I didn't care). As we turned onto the camp access road, it began to hit me -- I was just about there, I was about to finish 100 miles! Steve and I cheered on the runners heading the opposite direction, outbound on their last lap, as I gingerly worked my way through the last rocky downhill. As I ran up the final short stretch of steps to the finish, a stretch I had walked on every other lap, I was overcome by a wave of emotion and [in a serious violation of the Hardcore Manifesto] and began to get a bit choked up. Half a year of dedicated training, 27+ hours working as hard as I ever have in my life, and it was done! Other than at my wedding and the births of my kids, I don't know I've ever been so elated.

Lap 8 summary: 5:47 vs. 3:40 target, 27:41 total, number 69 of 104 finishers


The glow from finishing Umstead hung with me for days. It was almost immediately clear, though, that this accomplishment came with a price. My lower legs took a beating I did not expect. My calves swelling like big ol' fat, shiny sausages in the hours after the finish, with the left leg hurting the most. By the time I got home Sunday night, I knew that I had seriously offended the achilles tendon on my left leg and that it was an injury, not just soreness. Good thing I had the foresight to take the Monday after as a vacation day -- I could hardly walk. By Monday, my left ankle was becoming Red, Hot, and Puffy (hey, that could be a rap group!). I was able to get in to see a physical therapist I know through running and our kids' soccer team, Steve Rombach (Christiana Care Physical Therapy Plus), for a quick assessment. He was worried the problem could be as bad as a partial tear. Tuesday, still walking like an escapee from a geriatric home, I got into my doctor and she was a bit more optimistic (swelling was down a little), thinking I likely had a nasty case of achilles tendinitis and prescribing PT. However, she was also worried about the red, hot, and puffy ankle, thinking it could be an infection (cellulitis) starting, so she prescribed antibiotics and and ordered x-rays to rule out other issues.

As it turned out, the achilles tendon became less of an acute problem, day-by-day, little-by-little. After a week of lots of rest, ice, and PT, I was walking with only a minor wobble, good enough to help out with an aid station at the Bull Run Run 50 miler. Another week and I was walking normally, though not yet running. Steve's PT treatments helped a lot -- spinning on a stationary bike to warm up the muscles, massage to loosen adhesions and push out swelling, and cold whirlpool baths to further reduce swelling. The funky ankle swelling, I soon figured out, was an attack of gout (acute arthritis), which I have had before. Picture little needle-like crystals in a joint -- and then picture your immune system attacking them. Feels like getting a hot ice-pick jabbed into the joint. I wonder if other runners get this after ultras. Good thing I figured it out -- two days out gout medicine (colchicine) and and a gallon of cherry juice later, it was gone. Other than the disaster of my achilles tendons, the good news? Nothing else really felt all that bad after the race. My quads, hamstrings, and glutes were all fine. No crushing exhaustion, either -- I only needed 8 hours of sleep each night, only slightly more than normal. Just the calves were a bit sore.

I didn't run a step for almost three weeks after finishing Umstead and now, more than four weeks later, I have gently jog/walked maybe a total of 15 miles. It's been frustrating -- not being able to run sucks when running is a habit. It left me rather morose on some days. I tried to be patient in the weeks afterward, holding off resuming my addiction/habit to let the injury fully recover. I have managed to get in some OK cardio work by doing 45 minute sessions on a stationary bike at the gym on top of the sessions at PT, but, frankly, spinning on a stationary bike ranks somewhere on the Thrill-O-Meter just (barely) above tedious activities like sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office, weeding the front garden, or listening to people whine about their running injuries (ha!).

I also find my changing frame of mind interesting. In the days after the race, I was hurting but on a high. At first I was not sure if I wanted to do another 100, but by a couple days later had decided that I would run Umstead again next year and break the 24 hour mark. Now, I wonder about the wisdom of that... it has become clear to me, really, that the race broke me down physically. Is it worth losing more than a month of my enjoyable, five-day-a-week running routine to recovery from a 100 miler? We'll see, with time, what I decide. In the meantime, I'm trying to convince myself to enjoy an "off-season" and looking forward to easing myself back into a running routine.

All of that aside, though, it's been worth it -- training for and running Umstead is one of the best experiences I have had in my life.


I owe a lot of people a truckload of thanks for being able to complete this race. First and foremost, my family for their support and encouragement -- I am a lucky man. Second, my pacers -- that crazy (and fun) college student, Steve, for having the fortitude to pace me for 50 miles and the positive attitude to make it enjoyable (this guy is a future ultra racer) -- and fellow Dawg Scott for being there and ready to help. Third, my running pals in the TrailDawgs -- training with them was half the fun. And, finally, race director Blake Norwood, assistant RD Joe Lugiano, and all of the awesome people who volunteered at the race, especially Rhonda (who, as it turns out, had completed the 50 miler before spending the night in working at HQ) -- you folks make the race a great experience.

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