I entered the lottery for the 2021 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run in September 2020. Although I didn’t win the lottery, I was the next 25 on the waitlist. On 26JAN21, Rhonda, the Race Director, invited me to the race and would have until 30JAN21 to decide. I agonized every day whether I should sign up for this race or not, knowing that Beast of the East 100 will be two weeks after. On 30JAN21, after I get down from my long run at Shenandoah, I forget about my deadline to respond to Rhonda with my decision. The next day I remember and think, “Oh well, guess it’s not meant to be.” But Rhonda graciously sends me another e-mail: “Just in case you missed my e-mail, I am extending the deadline to 03FEB21”. Crap lol after a few more days of being indecisive, I accept my invitation on 03FEB21 and officially register for the race. I’ve witnessed Walter Handloser and Michael Ortiz set world records running back-to-back 100-miler races over the past couple of years so I knew it was humanly possible for me to finish both of my races.
I packed up my truck and drove down to NC with my dog on Friday. In Raleigh, I stopped at Umstead State Park to pick up my race packet and swag. I was impressed with the COVID-compliant drive-by protocol. I was even more thrilled when Lisa McFadden gives me a non-COVID compliant hug. After that, I stop at the Joint Chiropractor in Apex for a quick adjustment. When I realized that I forgot my Suunto charger, I called Laurie Matecki and she instantly starts calling all her peeps and declared, “WE WILL NOT REST UNTIL WE FIND YOU A CHARGER!” I had given up Facebook for Lent, so she helped connect me to our friend Tony who has the same watch as I do. He lives in Fayetteville, which I was avoiding a trip there because that would add 90 minutes to my long day of driving. I considered doing the race without my watch since this is also the first race without my (k)REW. I ended up going to Fayetteville anyway to borrow Tony’s charger because let’s be real, I am definitely one of those runners who has got to have my GPS watch on. Although I must say, I have not been happy with the accuracy and battery life of the Suunto 9 Baro at any of my big races (first world ultra runner problems). In Fay, I also go to Target to pick up a plastic bin with a cover for my stuff since there was rain in the weather forecast. I finally get back to Tricia’s house and crash on her couch around 2230.
Race Day 27MAR21
I woke up at 0230, left Tricia’s house at 0330, and arrived at Umstead at 0430. We had to wait for the park ranger to open the gate for us. During the drive, I ate the breakfast that Tricia prepared for me the night before (coffee and sweet potatoes with brown sugar+ nutmeg+ pumpkin pie spice +cinnamon and two boiled eggs from Tricia’s duck named murderface) I feel lucky to be assigned to the parking lot right behind the race HQ. I pick a spot for my bin, hoping it’s enough to keep the rain out. All the runners gather together and Rhonda lines up in a chute by bib numbers. A volunteer at the starting line signals when each racer can go, counting seconds in between to space us out.
Lap 1 – With a bib number of 37, I was in the second group of runners to line up and roll out. The temperature started out at 57 degrees, but with 100% humidity. I wore my RADrabbit crop top, rabbit mountain climber shorts, rabbit visor, XOskin toe socks, Altra Lone Peaks 4.5 (RSM) and my Petzl NAO+headlamp. I decide not to risk chafing on my back by ditching my usual Osprey hydration pack and carrying a Nathan 20-oz handheld instead. I brought a 48 oz bag of lemon Tailwind for the race, but had not taken the time to separate it so I decided to use whatever was provided at the race.
Lap 2 – I dropped off my headlamp before heading out for lap 2. Nothing else to report for this lap, except for some reason, I struggled really hard to keep my heart rate down as I battled to get “comfortable” with the humidity. These were definitely not the conditions that I had spent all winter training for.
Lap 3 – I started off this lap feeling super blah and very irritated. Jenn who was volunteering at Aid Station 2 would later report that I was not looking happy at all! On the way back to the HQ, I met Chris and confessed my plan to quit after lap 4 (50 miles). I figured I already got a buckle for this race and don’t need another one. He told me when I get to the aid station, make sure I grab a slice of pizza and get right back on the trail. I learned that I’d only get a buckle if I finished under 24 hours.
Lap 4 – Back at the HQ, I take Chris’s advice and asked for a hamburger topped with mustard & relish. I grabbed my phone so I can treat myself to some music since I don’t typically listen to music during big races. I texted my (k)REW to let them know how mad I was at myself for signing up for this race. I also asked Laurie, who would be pacing me later, to bring me more hand towels so I can wipe myself dry since mine were all soaked. By the time I got to Aid Station 2, I felt a whole lot better and made sure I grabbed another burger or sausage every time. Genno reminded me, “Make sure you eat! A little birdy told me you did not eat the last lap.” It feels really good to have friends looking out for me!!!! I feel relieved when Tricia reminded me that I hottest part of the day was over, but now I can hear the storm was coming in. I hoped that I’d make it back to HQ before the rain so I can drop off my phone. Unfortunately, I was still 2 miles out when it starts pouring hail and rain. Oddly enough, my heart rate finally calms down as I find myself once again racing in a storm.
Lap 5 – The rain stops for a little bit. Laurie arrived and helps me move my bin under Lisa’s canopy. She fulfills my request and hooked me up with a stack of hand towels from the dollar store. I’m still on my own for this lap. I take my raincoat, but it was 65 degrees and still 100% humid out so I left it somewhere Laurie could bring it back. It is now dark and we’ve all got our headlamps on. I see Chris and his pacer Will and thank him for telling me not to quit.
Lap 6 – I did not want a repeat of how badly my feet blistered at Yeti right before Beast of the East, so I changed into a fresh pair of XOskin toe socks and put on a dry pair of Altra Lone Peaks. I took Laurie’s advice to slather Desitin on the bottom of my feet before putting my socks on. When you have friends who have successfully run 300-mile races, you take their advice on foot care!! Laurie paces me for this lap and we have fun catching up with each other. Laurie’s energy is definitely what you need when you’re struggling in the middle of the night! Before signing up for the race, it was Laurie who gave me the boost of confidence when I asked her, “Do you think I can do two 100-milers two weekends apart?” in which she replied, “OF COURSE YOU CAN BECAUSE YOU’RE KAREN!!!”
28MAR21 – Lap 7 Laurie leaves me to start her volunteer pace shift. She helps me find another pacer as I refuel for the next lap. I felt frustrated rummaging through my bin, unable to find my Run Gum for caffeine. I really need to learn how to organize my stuff better! I drink the coffee Tricia made instead and bring regular gum to help with dry mouth. I spend this lap getting to know my pacer, Martin Wileman. He’s from the UK and listening to his accent reminds me of all the Skype sessions I had with Coach Ian. We try sticking to a timed run/walk strategy, but we pretty much walk up the hills and run the flats/downhill as much as possible. The light from our headlamps bounces off the mist and sorta blinds us. We see other runners deep in their pain-cave. On the positive side, we get a break from the rain and finished this lap at 0242.
Lap 8 – Martin agrees to come out with me for another lap. I feel super exhausted at this point, I was pretty much sleep-walking during the first half of this lap. He urged me to take Honey Stinger chews when I didn’t want to. I also force myself to take down Honey Stinger gels with the caffeine. It worked! I came back to life! I left Aid Station 2 feeling chipper. Of course, it started raining again, but I don’t care because it’s a sensation I could focus on aside from my aching feet. When we were down to the last 2.5 miles, Martin helped me realize that I had enough time to finish sub-24, my adrenaline starts flowing and we start flying!!! My friends see me running and they yell, “WOOOH HOOOO KAREN!! SUB-24!!!!!!” I sprint into the finish line at 23:34:12, rain still pouring down my face and over my giant smile. No buckle was presented, only a printout of my lap split times which disintegrates in the rain. This doesn’t upset me at all, I’m just happy that I’ve finished and I shaved off 3 hrs 38 minutes from my first time at Umstead in 2019 (27:12:47)
I gave Martin a hug and he admitted that had I kept my sleep-walking pace from the first half of this loop, he did not think we would finish under 24 hours. Thank you Martin, I would not have accomplished my goal without you!! I hobbled to my truck. Thank God for being small and having a truck with a super crew cabin. I took off my wet and smelly clothes and put on something dry. Not too bad with the chafing and *hooray* no blisters!! I laid there, listening to the rain and watching it fall onto the sunroof and instantly fall asleep. I woke up to have breakfast made by the cooks, got a massage from the massage lady, and watched Lisa finish her 1000th mile at Umstead!!
Thank you Race Directors and the 246 Volunteers who made this race happen!! I am always amazed by the support of the North Carolina Ultrarunning Community. You all make me feel like I’m coming home whenever I race there and I love bragging about you! Another shout out to Laurie and Martin for being excellent pacers!! Thanks to all those who prayed for me and texted me throughout the race, it was very much appreciated to read after. Thank you Tricia for giving me a place to stay, watching my dog, making me sweet potatoes, air fried pork chop, salad, coffee, and mac and gruyère cheese and giving me my bi-annual haircut 🙂