The Umstead 100.
I’ve volunteered at this race for (I think) the past 5 years, and it’s always been a moving experience. The first year, we worked at the pacing desk, and though our job there wasn’t that exciting, we ended up being an improvised support crew for a runner and her pacer, who were both struggling after finishing. The second year we spent 4 hrs from 2AM-6AM in the timing tent. This sounds like a terrible job, I know, and it is hard – it gets deceptively cold at that time of night when your job is to sit still and type numbers, but it’s also an amazing job because you get to see the runners finishing. It gets exceptionally exciting during those hours because, the winners long gone and in bed, these are the runners who set out to break that somewhat arbitrary, but universally understood and embraced 24-hour mark. Running 100 miles in one. Single. Day. At 2 AM, you see the people who surprised themselves and ran much faster than expected. At 4 AM, you see the people who thought it was possible if everything went right, and everything did. They are elated. At 5:30 AM, you see the people who executed a plan and finished right where they hoped. At 5:45, you see the people who spent that last lap battling demons, knowing they could do it, but trying to prepare mentally for missing the mark. And at 6:03AM, you see disappointment and frustration. These people will probably look back and realize they have accomplished something amazing, but they will also be back next year, with a bone to pick. You see other people during these times as well, of course. There are people finishing in 22 hrs, who thought they would finish faster, there are people who have finished several times previously and are just in it for another go – not terribly worried about where exactly their time fit. But the people with the 24 hour goal have always seemed special to me. Probably because I’ve always fancied that this is where I would fit. Even before I had any aspiration of running that far (because that would be stupid), I saw people I had run with in other races finishing in that range, and thought “yes. That’s where I should be in the lineup.”
Since that first night shift, we have spent three more night shifts at the park, and with each year, I became more and more intrigued by this spectacle, and felt increasingly close to the runners out there, circumnavigating the park no less than 8 times. You start to recognize people from previous years, and even though you’re not REALLY a part of their community, you feel like some small part of the greater Umstead community. For 2 years now, I’ve been aware of the day when registration opens and this past year, my hand hovered over the mouse on that fateful Wednesday at precisely noon. But again, I did not jump in. So this year was another volunteer year. Due to a conflict with another, much shorter ultra (isn’t that a fun statement?), we needed a day shift, so we spent all of Saturday afternoon holed up in a cabin entering data from Aid Station 1. We could see the runners out the window, and I managed to catch a few friends coming into the timing area, darting out the door of the cabin to encourage them, but I have to admit, I missed our night job in the trenches.
This year brought another set of emotions to the table as well, though. This year brought trepidation and inspiration…and I’ll admit…a little bit of jealousy. Because after wavering on Umstead signup day, and inspired by my husband’s 100-mile finish at The Bear last September, I took the plunge and clicked ‘submit’ on the Vermont 100 page. So as I watched my friends struggle through their journey, in the back of my head, I thought two things: “That’s going to be me in 3 months. I hope I’m as strong as they are.” And “Boy do I have a lot of long, hot North Carolina summer runs to do between now and then.” So I’m posting this as the official commencement to my Vermont training season. I finished a 50k yesterday and don’t feel terrible. I’m considering that a good jumping off point. Now I just need to channel Mark, Shannon, Jay, Ronnie, Joe, and all my other 100-mile friends and commit to spending some quality time in the NC summer heat, cultivating both the mental and physical toughness necessary to take on this next challenge. If you’ve made it this far in my weird cathartic ramble, I’ll ask you for just one more favor: if you see a Karen-shaped heap on the side of the trail this summer at Umstead, please just pick me up, water me, and send me on my way.
Thanks friends, and happy trails…