Umstead 100 (April 7, 2018)

“Sorry I’m moving so slowly,” I told the valet, as I rolled myself out of the driver’s seat of my rented Nissan Rogue, stopped in front of the luxury Umstead Hotel in Cary, North Carolina, shortly before 8am on Sunday morning. “I just ran 100 miles.”

“Oh!” The young man smiled. “You ran the Rock & Roll!”

I scowled as I opened the back door to retrieve my drop bags, my mind flashing to the radio ads I’d heard for Rock & Roll Raleigh, happening the same day thirty minutes away. “Um, no. Rock & Roll is a half marathon. Thirteen point one miles. I ran a hundred. A hundred miles.”

The valet was non-responsive. In his defense, I sort of snapped at him in a way that suggested I might have ended the sentence with, “you stupid idiot.” In his defense, most people can’t fathom it.

I’d run the Umstead in 2016, my only other 100 miler. I was back again, not to prove anything, but simply as an opportunity to test my fitness as I ramp to my main 2018 running goal, the Bigfoot 200 in August. In so doing, I’d hoped to better my 2016 time of 25:46 and, just maybe, break the 24 hour mark, a milestone at the 100 mile distance.

On Thursday, luggage and yoga mat in tow, I touched down in North Carolina to 60 degree temperatures and sunny skies. A cruel teaser, I knew, as the forecast for Saturday’s race had hardened into the undeniable: rain all day. Followed by rain.

Umstead 5 (April 7, 2018)

Runners ready themselves inside the cabin that served as Race Headquarters. The start line, just feet from the from door, would remain nearly empty until moments before the 6am start. This is the last time runners would be dry for hours.

(This forecast would also cause me to callously lose all sympathy for Boston Marathon runners who, just eight days later, would face the identical conditions. In a moment of selfish frustration, I may have posted on one friend’s Facebook page who was lamenting the weather: “If I can run in it for 24 hours, you can run in it for 3.” She “liked” my comment, but ultimately chose not to start.)

Umstead is a “loop course.” Twelve point five miles, run 8 times around. At the start/finish is Race Headquarters (above), with an accompanying outdoor aid station. A second aid station is located at the 7 mile mark on the course. While such repetitive running can be tedious, it is a logistically simple blessing for runners like myself, on our own without crew. Like most others, I set up an area for myself at the corner of one of the HQ tables, including a large duffel bag full of the clothes I would need for the duration, and a pilfered, plush bathrobe embroidered with “The Umstead Hotel” that I would use as a cover-up while changing clothes in this very public area later in the race. (I also remember wearing the bathrobe at 2:45am, over my dry clothes, standing in front of the fire while my volunteer pacer, Stacie, spooned potato soup into my mouth from a styrofoam cup. I had just 12.5 miles to go. I might be making up the bathrobe part; but I’m confident the rest of it happened).

Umstead 1 (April 7, 2018)

Racers at the start. It’s definitely raining.

I’d packed every last running and hiking jacket I owned; every pair of gloves and mittens; and had multiple shirts, pants, shoes and socks. Still, with a forecast that called for unrelenting rain from 6am until 2am, and temperatures that would peak in the high 50s midday, before dropping steadily to settle in the 30s overnight, my goal became quite simple: finish without hypothermia. Before I even set foot on the course, time no longer mattered.

Umstead 2 (April 7, 2018)

All smiles nearly Mile 7 of 100. This first lap would be the only one I tackled without mittens (though I am gripping hand warmers). In fact, by Mile 25 my hands would get so cold inside my mittens, I would lose the ability to use them for the remainder of the race.

I’d set out hoping I could make the first three laps, possibly four, without needing to enter Race HQ to change clothes. But by the time I’d finished my third lap, comfortably running at a 24-hour pace with a small buffer, the rain was coming down so hard I thought it better to get in front of any threat of hypothermia and change into a dry shirt and leggings, as well as a fully waterproof coat and pants.

Umstead 3 (April 7, 2018)

Mud puddles around the Race HQ aid station as night falls.

I would run in these clothes for the next 12 hours, while day turned to dusk turned to night, and the field got smaller and smaller. The challenge of cold rain is staying warm. For most, bundling up too much means sweating; and sweat turns frigid in a heartbeat. And therein lies one small benefit of being an incessantly cold person — despite being covered head to toe in waterproof hiking gear that doesn’t breathe, I would never once break a sweat.

Umstead 4 (April 7, 2018)

Aid Station 2, Mile 7, luminous in the night.

But my hands. Two pairs of gloves, three pairs of mittens (one waterproof), handwarmers, zip lock bags… and I couldn’t prevent my hands from freezing into claws, making them completely useless to me. One might think, “What do you need your hands for? You’re running with your feet.” Yes, but… It would take me 2 hours over three laps to make basic clothing changes. At 3:00am, the rain and snow finally stopping for the night and time to make one last warm clothing change before the finish, it would take three people 45 minutes to change my pants, socks, shoes and bra, to zip up my various jackets, and to put on my final pair of mittens as I was incapable of moving any of my 10 fingers on my own. It was in this 45 minutes that I would abandon any hope of a sub-24 hour finish.

Umstead 7 (April 7, 2018)

Around 2am, the rain turned to snow, before finally stopping altogether around 3:00.

In fact, I would finish in 24:43:09, as part of an elite and hearty group. Despite a race known for being “beginner friendly,” only 43% of starters actually finished, the lowest finishing percentage in the race’s 24 year history. (Around Mile 70, I would step up to Aid Station 2 for some ginger snaps and, seeing bodies strewn about under the long, heated tent, think that this is what a refugee camp must look like). I was the 8th woman overall.

I have used words like, “awesome,” and “amazing” and “fantastic” to describe my race. Nonrunners have trouble grasping this, given the weather and the distance. Had I the option, I would have preferred 60 degrees and sunny. But then maybe I would not feel so entitled to the brags. There will be plenty of sunny races.

Umstead 6 (April 7, 2018)

I celebrated my first Umstead finish in 2016 with a tattoo of the race logo on the inside of my right elbow. Before the race this year, I contemplated whether I would get a second, assuming completion. I don’t think I will. This one just means more now.

10 Comments on “Umstead 100 (April 7, 2018)

  1. I stand in awe of you – your determination, self-reflection, perseverance and hard work are admirable qualities. I am constantly challenged and inspired by you and grateful for the journeys you take us on – some of which seem like dreams and others possible to-dos with the occasional “oh heck no!” thrown in. Keep running and growing and sharing.

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    • Thanks Taira! It’s been great to follow your journey as well. I hope we can get on the same course again this summer!

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  2. Jenna, you are truly amazing! I’m not sure I would have even started with the rain! So inspiring!!

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  3. Congratulations on an awesome finish (and not catching hypothermia)! Are the blue Altras in the photo above the Timp model? Did you wear them for the whole race? Bravo once again!

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    • Thanks Jocelyne! I’m wearing Superior 3.5s and, yes, I wore them for the first 87.5 Miles. When I changed, it was because my socks and shoes were soaked, and I put dry ones.

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  4. Jenna, I am wondering what type of course you consider to be your favorite type at this point in your career? Loop, out and back or point to point?All three have their advantages and disadvantages and it also depends upon the course but in general what would be your ideal choice?

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    • All of them! 🙂 Seriously – I’m probably an anomaly in that point to point is my least favorite for two reasons: First, I am typically on my own in races, without crew or supporters. I rely heavily on aid station volunteers and other crew members to lift my spirits with a simple “good job” or a smile. The ultra community is, of course, wonderful for this, but there is something nice about those faces being familiar. You get this in a loop course and, in an out and back, you also get the benefit of coming face to face with other runners cheering you on. I really love that. Secondanrily, point to point tends to be the most logistically challenging for a solo runner.

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  5. Congrats and always great to read your next adventure! 100 miles is crazy in that weather! You said your goal is 200 this year- How do you actually train for that? How many miles average per week or what is considered a long run in this case! Amazing you can do all this with busy job ! Congrats on being such a amazing role model fir so many! I wish you could go to schools and talk to young girls about what they can do! They need to hear your story!

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Nancy. As far as training for a 200, my approach is to get comfortable with a lot of back-to-backs, moving on very tired legs. I completed the 100 on the very low end of recommended mileage (~60 per week), opting for quality over quantity. I will do the same for the 200, which features 46,000 feet of gain. (No, I did not accidentally add an extra zero). 🙂 I likely won’t do too much more weekly mileage, still hovering around 60-70, but will do a lot more speed hiking. I also have 3 “long” runs planned between now and August — a 50 miler in May; a 150 miler in May (in which I will be focused solely on testing my sleeping strategy); and a 50 miler in July. It doesn’t count as “long” unless it’s over 50k. 🙂

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