Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Umstead 100 2011:A Crew Member/Pacer's Perspective

Greetings...I'm Iman, guest blogger, and I have the pleasure of telling you about my experience at the Umstead 100...both from a first time experience as well as from a crew/pacer's perspective...and let me tell you, it was quite an experience!

I write a blog called "Fit At Fifty", inspired by Eric Gelber...the idea was to help me become accountable for a small goal, to be more fit at fifty in June of 2011...That was the pinnacle. The zenith. The ultimate goal? Perhaps, be able to drop a couple of pounds, run 3-4 miles, do a few sit ups, eat some yogurt, less meat and drink light beer. A simple click will lead you to the rest of THAT story....

Well, about a year ago, after Eric noticed I could run over a mile without heaving, he asked me to pace him in his final lap at the 2011 Umstead 100. Yeah, sure, he's crazy enough to run 100 miles...but 12.5 for me? That might as well be twelve HUNDRED miles....but always intrigued by challenges, I accepted.

I trained hard, learned and studied the sport of ultra running, checked out gear, worked on nutrition and even registered for the Marine Corp Marathon.

But even then, I was simply preparing for something I didn't know if I'd like or not. But during the second week of March, my family and I went down to New York to visit for Eric's birthday and surprise my visiting parents. I was also scheduled to run my longest run to date - 9 miles. That weekend, we ran at Rockefeller Park Preserve, where I met Tony Portera for the first time...and where I got hooked on trail running.

Well, three weeks later, travel day, April 1 rolls around. In typical Maine fashion, we experience a Nor'easter, dumping heavy, wet snow at a blizzard's 3 AM...and me having to drive over 40 miles to the airport.

But to make the long story short, we took off 1.5 hours later and barely caught the connecting flight (after a bit of "insistence" on my part)...I got to Raleigh basically on time, and ready to meet up with my good pal Dave Johnson. The Gelber's trip...a lot more eventful than mine. Dave and I got North Carolina BBQ...and boy was it ever good! Eventually, we connected with the Gelbers, as well as other runners and crew, had a few beers, and eventually got to bed around midnight.

Race morning, April 2. I was told to be the parking garage by 4:50 AM. I hate being late, so I made sure I was on P1 at 4:47 AM.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, Eric was having some potentially disappointing thoughts about me, as I wasn't at the car when I was supposed to be. Turns out, the car was on P2...DOH. No harm, no foul...we got to the park right when it opened, and even got a "primo" parking spot, as well as identifying a great crewing spot. I was lucky, I got to crew and hang out with Tony's wife Ginette...she was awesome...easy going, funny, and mellow about the whole process. We had to spend a lot of time together, so I'm glad we seemed to get along...she even made sure I had my "stuff" together so I was taking care of Eric right.

With a about 30 minutes before race time, we met up with a bunch of folks that Tony and Eric knew, and by extension, whom I met over social media. Great folks from Georgia...they even made up a t-shirt for me!

At 6 AM, fireworks flew, and the race begins...Eric posted some key facts in his preliminary re-cap, so I won't repeat it here. Essentially, to reach 100 miles, runners had to complete eight 12.5 mile loops, and they had to be done by or before 12 Noon on Sunday, April 3 - basically 30 hours.

And that's where the crewing comes in. The crew is in charge of making the runner's life during the race as comfortable as possible. You want to make sure that they're getting properly nourished, dressed right, good health, and perhaps most importantly, in good spirits. Because of how well-run and well-organized the Umstead 100 is, the crew's work is made far easier, as they provide 2 well-equipped and supplied aid stations on the course, and the start/finish turnaround is essentially the HQ and 3rd aid station. Ginette and I worked well together, figuring out when we should start putting our runner's nutrition packs together and making sure they were dressed right...not too hot, not too cold. That 5 minute spurt of action was tempered with over 2 hours of waiting, and as the day progressed the waiting periods grew even longer. We got a bit cold, and even bored sometimes, but that was a great time to walk around, chat up other crews, and relax a bit. Maybe, read a book even...

The coolest thing I noticed was that the runners at Umstead were all of varying shapes, sizes and colors. There wasn't a "typical" looking person you could identify with as an "ultra runner". I know the hard work these folks put in to train for something like this. They spend lots of time running, cross-training, checking out gear, planning nutrition and often, being away from family. Its a huge investment, but you can see it in their eyes and the smiles on their faces at the race...they love it!

Still, as the day progressed, and the runners completed one lap after the other, the feeling went from festive to focused. Everybody seemed to get into more of a survival mode, understandably so. Soon, it would be my turn to check out the course, time to help Eric finish the race and hopefully, help him finish strong enough to reach a personal record. He was on pace to do it, and I wasn't going to let him miss it. The week prior, my last long run before the race was scheduled for 10 miles, but I pushed it to 12 because I wanted to make sure I could actually cover the distance. I did, and it gave me a level of confidence I didn't have before. I knew that if my runner was on mile 87, I shouldn't have an complaint's about starting my mile 1 at 1 AM. Sure it was a long day, but certainly, not as long as all these runners' day!

Never having paced an ultrarunner before, I just wanted to make sure that Eric was safe, coherent, and strong enough to finish. If he wanted to walk, we'd walk. If he wanted to push, we'd push. Sometimes, we even pushed when I wanted to push, and he responded. At around mile 10 or so of the final loop, I mistakenly told Eric we were at a below 20 hour pace, and he bolted off like a mad man, for about a mile, I was chasing him hard...but almost at the same time, we realized I was wrong...I had pressed the "stop" button my watch and stopped it...that did take a lot of energy, and the twelfth mile took us 17:40...Here's the splits to Lap 8 the way I saw it "LAP 8".

There were a few other surges I can remember. Running to reach a reflector before we could walk again happened a lot. My favorite surge was when we noticed a light ahead that looked catchable. We pushed hard to catch up, greet the light source, and with a big push, pass them.

I recall the last 100 yards being some of the most challenging steps I took on the course. Early Sunday morning around 3 AM and very dark, we had to run up a narrow timbered stair case, where delirious crew members carried gear and taking up room on a "runner's only" path. I guess that's just part of the challenge...

At the finish, I just wanted to get Eric up to the timer's tent to yell his number out and have them stop his clock...if it was under 23, it would already be a personal record for him. He yelled his number and I gave him a huge know, the bro kind...Though he did sing the lyrics to "Tiny Dancer" on the trail. I hope he wasn't talking to me...

You'd think the story ends here. But it doesn't. Jason crushed the course in only his second 100 miler. Chuck got his "one day" buckle in his first outing. The post-race McDonald's run, the great stories shared with other crews, hanging with Ginette, and then hanging with Tony on Sunday, drinking beer, checking out iPhone and Macbook Aps...Dorkfest 2011...

Lots of people lots of stories. I've got a ton more, so stay tuned...I have a bunch of Umstead thoughts, but I really wanted to finish at least one post in under 1000 words. I mean, I'm not writng "Umstead Shrugged", right?

My sister Tani did tell me she thought I'd love the whole scene. As usual, she was right.

By the way, about Eric's time? Yeah, he finally finished the race in 20:18:03...I'll let you do the math.

I hope to see you on the trails. Cheers.


  1. Iman, You are the man. Thanks for all your help. You nailed it and your positive energy rubbed off on me and about half the other runners I think. Can't wait to pace you at Marine Corps. Peace E

  2. I second that Eric. Great perspective and thanks again for the positive vibes Iman.

  3. Really Iman, is there any female you do not get along with? Anyways, great job to both you and Eric! So does this mean you will be running the whole thing next year?

  4. Hey Chickie, I make it a habit to get along with women...the alternative is not so good :)


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