"100 miles provides the ability for me to push myself physically, mentally and emotionally. Everyone’s journey is different and even mine is every time I run it. Being able to experience this with others and everyone being so positive is why I keep coming back again and again." - Randall "Woody" Woods, a repeat finisher at Umstead100
"If you can plan for, train for, and finish a 100 miles; you get to see that no matter what life throws at you, it can be handled the same way you finished the 100, one step at a time." – Rhonda Hampton, Umstead100 Race Director
Starting at 6am on Saturday, April 6, 250 courageous runners will attempt to power their bodies through 100 miles of multi-use trail winding through the woods of William B. Umstead State Park in less than 30 hours. What will they get for this superhuman feat? A belt buckle. Who does it? Why do they do it? Can you do it? First, experience the Umstead 100 for yourself either by volunteering or by visiting the park during the run.
In order to better understand this race, let’s go back to the beginning twenty-five years ago. The late Blake Norwood conceived of and founded the race with three goals in mind: to “conduct a quality, runner oriented event; to encourage the growth of ultra running in North Carolina and the Triangle area in particular; and to produce a race that offered first time hundred milers a reasonable chance of success. These have remained the guiding philosophy of the Umstead 100 to this day.” Read more here. Current race director, Rhonda Hampton, says Blake Norwood would also want it known that the race "could not have made it off the ground without, his running buddies - Tom Newnam, Jerry Dudeck, Charlie Barnes, and Blake’s wife, Myra Norwood".
According to the race website, this ultra run is unique, because it provides an opportunity for new ultra runners to make the leap to long distance runs without “the difficult terrain, heat, and more challenging cut-off times of other endurance events.”
So you might be curious. Who is the typical Umstead 100 runner? That’s easy - there is no typical runner. Of the 250 runners, most are over the age of 40 with the oldest runner being 78 and the youngest runner 22 years of age this year. Thirty-three states are represented and 4 countries. Some participants are repeat offenders, having run it a number of times, while others are first timers (86 of the participants this year). There is no doubt that someone running this distance must be in excellent physical shape, but a lot of the required attributes are mental, including determination, attitude, willpower, and stamina.
Race director, Rhonda Hampton, says anyone can do this race. When I look at her skeptically, she says, “If you can run one mile, you can run two. If you can run 5 miles, you can run ten. If you can run a half marathon, you can run a full; and so on. It’s about time on your feet.”
Why do they do it? The buckle is nice, but I don’t think that’s the reason. Finisher Randall Woods puts it this way, “There’s a certain rush, some might say borderline craziness, to submit myself to such pain and suffering. There’s just something about being able to push through all of that and finishing 100 miles.” I must admit, when I first saw the participants on a cold and dreary Sunday morning in the park, I wondered what they were running from. It is true that running can provide relief from drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and traumatic life events, but ultra runners would likely say they are running towards something: towards their highest potential, peace of mind, a relationship with nature, health, and community.
Ken Bell, Umstead 100 finisher, puts it simply, “Training for ultras helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle - eating well, exercising, and managing sleep and stress. ” Race director Rhonda explains it this way, “It’s like rebooting a computer. If your mind or body is not running right, a hundred mile run will certainly reset it.”
Can you do it? After getting the green light from your doctor, Rhonda suggests simply increasing time on feet. You don’t have to be fast. She says you can finish the race in 24 hours by maintaining a 15-minute per mile pace (that includes rest breaks, etc.). She says the key to successful training is balance, moderation, core work, and listening to the body. You can find more useful tips on training for your first endurance run on the race website.
Not ready to run 50-100 miles? Volunteer or crew. The race prides itself on treating volunteers like gold. It is part of the mission. Volunteer opportunities include food prep, cleanup, traffic control, equipment moving, and pacing. You can register here. David G. describes the volunteer experience beautifully in his post here. In it he says, “It was such an honor to work alongside a great group of volunteers who were out there for one reason, to see runners succeed”.
If you choose to get right into the thick of things as a volunteer pacer, be prepared to do whatever the runner needs you to do. Your runner may suffer from mental and physical exhaustion, dehydration, and digestive problems as the miles pile up. Your job is to keep them going. Asked for tips for pacers, Ken Bell, ultra runner and Umstead 100 finisher says, “We all have different needs at different times during a race, so good communication is important. Always stay positive, don't take anything personally when your runner is tired and cranky, and lie liberally about how good your runner looks!”
If you are entertaining the idea of running the race yourself, get out there and start running. Your one mile might just turn into 100, and one day you might sport a fancy Umstead 100 belt buckle. Whether you are a runner, a devoted Umstead State Park visitor, or dedicated volunteer, come out to the park on April 6-7 to witness an incredible physical and mental feat.
Let’s end with a few words of encouragement from Cash Coyne (yes, his real name), the 2014 Umstead 100 runner who collided with a deer between miles one and two, got up, and still finished the 50-mile option: “If you can’t be first in a race, be memorable. When you get knocked back, you just have to keep moving forward.”
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