Going the distance

Life is like a long distance run. Most of the time you're looking forward, but occasionally you look back at what you've covered… You know there will be obstacles throughout the journey - but deep down, you know you can handle anything that comes your way. Most importantly... you keep putting one foot in front of the other and let 'NOTHING' stand in your way!!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Oh the people you meet. Part 2

This weekend after I finished my last pacing lap at Umstead 100 I saw a few friends from Charlotte hanging around the finish line. As I was telling them about my night and the people I had paced, one of them asked "You are here to pace complete strangers? Why? How do you do that? What do you talk to them about?" My canned answer was I just like to give back. But really it goes a bit deeper. 

As I was getting ready my notes and thoughts to write this I decided to read my daily devotional first. God always seems to know each day what I need to hear. Today was about Luke 10:25-37 The parable of the good Samaritan. Where Jesus teaches us not "Who is my neighbor?" but, "To whom can I be a neighbor?" 

Truth is I had 10-15 friends running the race this year and I could have offered to crew and pace for them. We could have pre planned their laps, paces, nutrition, coordinated what tho have ready after each lap. Jumped in and ran the last 50 miles with them. Gave them motivational speeches, chatted about common interest, etc... There is nothing wrong with this scenario.Dozens of runners have this crew set up and ready for them. 

However there are just as many who fly in from out of state, or don't have enough friends that can break away from their own family life and commitments. So Umstead 100 has a back up plan in place. A army of volunteer pacers who are willing to give up a few hours on a weekend and blindly and randomly take out a lonely runner who is exhausted, dehydrated, sore, blistered, chafed, etc... for a 12.5 mile lap around the park. Most of the laps covered will be in the dark with temperatures dropping, possible rain or windy conditions. A lap could be as fast as 2 hours our as slow as 6 hours. You could be walking or running. There are so many variable unknowns that can happen? 

Why do we do it? For some like me its a chance to give back to the race what someone did for me in 2013 when I ran my first 100 miles. For others its just a chance to help out at a fun event. To see someone complete the event of a lifetime. To be part of something so big many don't even know it's possible. 

So here is my 2016 Umstead 100 experience. 

Race Day: I'm packing up so I can make the 2.5 hour drive to the Umstead State Park . My phone rings and its Elizabeth the pace coordinator. She knows I'm willing to get there early and go out with a runner before 6 pm ( the official pacer start time)   I told her I would be there by 2 and she asked if I would be on the look out for Whitney who had made request for pacer help for lap 7 and 8   and was trying to be competitive. I let he know I would be ready 2:30 if needed. 

I made the 2.5 hour drive to Raleigh with the help of a Dunkin Donuts XL coffee and a turbo shot.  As I'm driving into camp Lapiho I see Amy Sureete volunteering and directing traffic. She directed me to where pacers were parking and then I headed to race headquarters and checked in with Rebecca Sitton who always has a smile even at 4 am after being awake for 30 some hours. (Must be something in her coffee cup) I make my round of hellos, hand shakes and hugs. Ben ( the pankake man) Tim Preeble, The massage lady Denise, Gene Mead, Amy Surrette,  Tom Patch and Steve Grace are there to Pace Jessica. Bill Weimer came through on his way to a 50 mile day. Joe Speed Demon came through on his way to a 50 mile day.  Mark Manz , Sarah Ferris and then Stephanie Carter. I sat down and eat get my pack ready keep looking and waiting, No Whitney? I text Elizabeth and she lets me know there may be a issue and she is out of the race. So i just hang out waiting for us to open the table to runners. Shaking hands and talking with more familiar faces Jonathan Savage who couldn't run this year drove up to do the second worst volunteer job there is BLISTERS. It takes a special person to work on feet of 100 mile runners. 

Finally  at about 4:30? Elizabeth says "yes I have someone for you!" Then tells me grab my pack and go catch her. 

Turns out its Whitney and shes back in it. We do a brief introduction on the fly and we are off and running. I find out she wants to keep pushing as long as she can stay hydrated. She thinks shes in second but not sure at this point. We discussed her finish goal time ( 17 hours but it's looking more like 18 after the breakdown)  I told her to yell at me if  pushed  the pace to hard. We talked about other races and what motivates us to run 100 miles. This was her second 100 her first was Long Haul 100 in FL 2013 We  talked about our families.  On the hills she would point out a tree and we would walk after reaching it, then pick up the pace after it leveled off. Down hills were wide open. Just before AS2 her mom was on the trail and ran with us for a bit. Then her husband was waiting for her at the top of the hill. I asked what she needed from the AS so I could run ahead and get it? I had her hand off her pack so I could run ahead and  get it filled with ice for her. We made a smooth pass through the AS with out losing any time. We started into the back side of the course. We were passing people and moving quick. We passed Jeff McGonnell a Ultra running legend in my book. He wanted to chat but saw I was pacing and understood I had to keep moving. I told Whitney how impressed I was that he had done the Mt Mitchell Challenge so many times ( My facts on elevation were a little off on  The Challenge is this: Begin at dawn in Black Mountain, the quaint "front porch of Western North Carolina", and follow trails to the "rooftop" of Western North Carolina, the 6,684' summit of Mount Mitchell - eastern America's highest point - then return to the start/finish area!  With a starting altitude of 2,360', the elevation gain for this 40-mile run will be 4,324' - in the first 20 miles!) but trying to remember that and keep pace wasn't working for me? As we passed others I shared tidbits about them as well Like Ray K and how long he has been running ultras Somewhere over 500 ultras? He once held the 48 hour record. . We passed "The MadMan" Ian Maddison who I had paced 3 years ago at age 72 and he was back again for another 100. This was his 3rd Umstead but he's been running 100s since the 80's. I was really impressed with his 10+ sub 24s at Western States. Before we knew it we were running past the gate and back to the race headquarters. I took her pack again and ran ahead to get her more ice and water let Elizabeth know we needed another pacer. I wished her good luck and she was off. I was wore out. doing the lap in just over 2 hours. Whitney ended up finishing in 17:13

I sat down and changed my shirt. I checked my lights and asked when my next shift was? Elizabeth said how about now? Introducing me to Erin's husband who explained that she was in 3rd place and wanted to get a sub 3 hour lap? I grabbed some water and a quick snack, a few pieces of candy and we were off and walking out. We chatted and walked to the gate. She said she wanted to run as much as possible but was sore. I couldn't tell her how sore I was from just coming in. So we discussed how we became crazy enough to run 100's.What inspired us to do this? She told me reading Ultra Marathon man had a big part. I admitted the book had inspired me as well.  She was already a Iron man finisher and knew this was possible. On the way to the airport turn we saw a lot of runners  I knew and gave the high 5's and you look greats, Way to GO! Keep It up! Hey Its Curious George! Not sure what she thought that i knew so many of the runners, If I had a back story on someone who was doing something big I would share it. DOOM Fred Dumar running his 10th Umstead going for his 1000 mile buckle, Mitchell Harra from Charlotte out running his first.  It was crazy how I knew so many people at this event. We continued to into the dark. The wind would cut through us on occasion but we stayed comfortable. After AS2 we started to power walk the big hills we were on track to do a 2:20 lap. Somewhere on the back side running was getting harder for her so we pushed a 14 min walk pace. I'm not sure but I think I was moving too far ahead of her when she informed me how anoyingly reflective my Altras were. So I made sure to keep along side of her as much as I could. At one point another group came up on us and we're passing I thought it was her with me until I looked over and realized I was with two runners. As we passed mile 10 I asked if I could get her something at the unmanned  AS  and when I stopped she started running again. I had to sprint to catch her. Coming up the final hill she was running again. We came up on Rachel Dubois and David Salomon ( The Ambassador) Who at that point I couldn't remember his name. Rachel rambled off a quote I had posted a few years ago and told me how often she repeated it it in her head to help finish races. "Its all about the 10 feet in front of you. If you can make it there you can go any distance" She said it was posted on her motivation board, and reminded me how what you  say can impact people. (Thanks for the reminder) They told Erin how great she was doing and we pushed past them.  We kind of joked about the obligatory Way to go and your almost there people throw out to motivate you. Before we knew it we were through the gate and on our way to the turn around for her to go out on lap 8. I handed her off to her husband and wished her good  luck and the obligatory "you can do it" We finished the lap in 2:44, a sub 3 hour like she wanted. 

Elizabeth thanked me and told me to eat and get some sleep. I had until 1 before she needed me. I grazed the buffet and drank about a gallon of ginger ale some chicken and soup. Then chatted with Mr Runners Anonymous Scott Lynch, then Mark Manz joined in. I'm still kicking myself for not getting a 3 stooges pic with these two?  I finally decided I better get some sleep or she would send me out again. I saw my friend Ian requesting someone to walk a lap with but I was way to wore out and would have been no good to him. I packed up my gear and went to the van for some sleep. 

I reported back in at 1 and they said I was good to go until 3. So I ate some more food and went back for more sleep. 

I reported back in at 3:15 and see Elizabeth has taken a runner who needs help. So I go inside and started getting my cold gear on. Big Mike? monitoring the results desk is laughing at me. You put on more stuff than my wife? Long sleeve shirt, wind jacket, Salomon Vest, long pants over my shorts, and a down jacket over everything. 

Waiting for a runner I talk with Finian Curran who made the drive up from Charlotte  to help pace. Then I see Jeff McGonnell in a chair and he asked me to set a 5 min timer so he can sleep. Just about time to be done they tell me I have my runner so  I let Jeff know its time to go.  Now they lost my runner and can't  find her? Finally the coordinator come out and says never mind, she may be done. Shes mad, needs blisters treated and wont be going for a while. Then just after 4 a volunteer comes up and says shes not a pacer but just walked a guy in from AS2 and he needs a lap 8 pacer. 

So I get Jay, He hasn't been able to eat anything and cant drink. Hes mumbling some of his words, but hes determined  enough to finish this. So we stop at his car and get him a dry shirt and a wind jacket, and we head off into the darkness. The dark is always fun everyone's headlamps make them look like monsters, then you get three together and with some of the new lights its like a flood light. Jay tries to run but at this point his jog is equaling my fast walk. We talk of other races and and the park, Turns out hes a local from Wake forest. We just keep pushing into the 10 feet in front of our head lamps. Just before our first long hill stop to pee he keeps going. When I turn back to the trail hes gone?! What The... I LOST MY RUNNER?!?!?  He had been walking on the side of the trail. Did he fall over and roll down the hill? I start shinning my light up the trail on the side into the woods. Then I find him he is hugging a tree so he didn't fall over while he peed . Whew!   How was I going to explain that one?  

We started moving again I tried to get him some candy or something with calories. Each time he would sip water it made him start to gag and heave. We were at mile 5 of 12.5 he kept trying to jog but just the motion of it would make him sick again. I tried to keep his mind off the pain and get him talking. If we could just keep pushing forward, I knew he could finish. He knew he could finish, it was just gunna hurt to do it.  We started passing others who were having similar issues. Soon we made it to AS2 the clock read 00:00:05 so we were right at 6 am  I asked if he needed or wanted anything? He just wanted to keep moving and roll through. I stopped and put together  a bag with some bagels and chips a handful of honey stingers, a banana for me. At his pace it didn't take long to catch up.   

As we slogged up the hills on the back half the he began to get a little energy to jog. We were still passing others. Once in a while someone would pass us. We passed Elizabeht who had taken on a runner. They were walking backwards down the hill because his legs hurt so bad.  The sun began to rise and it gave him more energy and hope. We made it to the unmanned aid at mile 10 and made the turn for home. It was easier to talk now and I had him talking about his kids and their accomplishments, How he likes to play speed golf.  This gave him more energy but not enough to run. Seeing people heading out on lap 8 was heartbreaking knowing they would be pushing the clock to finish before noon. 

We made the gate and he asked me to put his headlamp and water bottle in his car when we passed it. He wanted me to grab his finish bag he had ready as well. I ran a bit ahead, made the swap and we made the final push up the steps. Murray,Jay finished in 25:40. Our lap took 3:40. I checked into the desk and let them know I was willing to take one more if someone needed help. Unfortunately we were 15 min away from the 8 am cut off. 

Since I didn't pick up another runner, I changed into some warm clothing and had some breakfast. And hung out at the finish line watching and cheering  as finishes made their way in. 

Jeff McGonnell in 26:00 

Jessica Willey in 26:19 who had brought a amazing crew of Tom Patch and Tin Ha with her. She had doubts about the distance and was ready to call it at 50. But her crew wouldn't have it. 

Fred Dummar 26:54 finishing his 10th Umstead 100 and earning his 1000 mile buckle. 

Some others friends I was unable to stick around for: 

Steph Jeffries in 27:14
Ian Maddison in 27:30
George Wannop in 28:48
Mitchell Harrah in 29:08
Rachel DuBois in 29:30

I had thought about going out to push or pull in some other runners. But as I was packing up I received a text from work and If I could make it back I was needed to work. So I packed up, said my goodbyes and headed home. Another weekend at U-100 done for me. 

In closing I am inspired and encouraged each year by the will of every runner to cross that finish line. From Jason Tischer this years male winner at 15:30 and the first female Leigh Jackson at 15:41 all the way to the last determined finisher Cynthia Wong-Klinek at 29:46 

They all had the courage to start and the determination to finish. 

To the dedicated army of volunteers that put this event on each year under the direction of Rhonda Hampton you are what makes this race such a world class event. I am humbled to be asked each year to be a part of it. Thank you to Elizabeth Werner for organizing a great group of pacers to help these runners accomplish this tremendous goal of running 100 miles. 

Side notes.

So you picked out your own crew and pacers? Did you fully vet them? Do they know what it takes to run 100 miles? Is it your half marathon buddy that says I can get you through 12.5 miles? Will they get in your way and use the event to make new friends? How well do they know you? You know them? Are  they family that will play to your suffering and recommend you quit when you only need new socks 15 min of sleep and a red bull? 

The reason I ask is I've seen and heard horror stories about pacers and crews. 

So I'm not saying go to a race and fully expect them to have a support crew for you. However if you come to Umstead 100 there will be a group dedicated to taking care of the runners who wish to have some assistance. We will do anything but carry you across the finish line. We will mule your gear, monitor your wellness, get you water and food, talk with you motivate you, shut up if you want us to. We are there for you, All we hope is you keep putting one foot in front of the other and make it back to the start finish line.


  1. Pretty awesome story! Great example of sacrificing for others...over and over again! Thanks for sharing!