umstead 100 mile endurance run



"The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for a water table.  That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing.  The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite."

pi patel








mother nature gives us a few freebies.  the heart flutters of a grade school crush.  the excitement of your first home run.  a first kiss.  wedding day.  your little baby napping on your chest.  

and then we got older. and we settle into routines.  and the routines can be kind of banal.  those special moments, the ones that happened once and again, amidst the endless magical discoveries of being a kid, become fewer and further between.  

can we still feel it?

it turns out that crossing the finish line after many hours and many miles on the trail can inspire a similar sense of overwhelming wonder, joy, and excitement.  it's actually not even crossing the finish line...  once you have that epic goal in mind, getting together at the starting line in the early hours before the sun comes up, being out there smiling at each other and cheering each other on at mile 42.3, or even just a normal day of training before the big day can all lead to moments of feeling really fucking good.

so, in short...  because my babies are too big to nap on my chest.

next: everything you wanted to know about ultrarunning and didn't want to ask because you don't actually want to know that much about ultrarunning.  there's a loop by loop recap of the effort, a general course review, gear list/review, nutrition recap, emotional ramblings, and a bit of french toast.

overall recap

laps 1 and 2 were great, zoning out to music and making friends on the course.  lap 3 was a living hell because i couldn't get the downhills right and it was really hurting some infrequently used muscles and tendons.  thoughts like "if this hurts this bad now i'm just not going to be able to function well enough to finish the whole thing" kept trying to make their way in.  after much focus, finally got the form right near the end of the loop, and started feeling good.  lap 4 was great.  50 miles in 10:30 or so.  brandi and fam were there, and my dad and karen and jen were there, it was great to see everyone.  at this point i knew for sure that i would finish.  lap 5 was also great, brought the gopro out, cruised.  ran most of the downhills without pain.  brandi joined me for lap 6 and we had a blast.  near the end of that lap i began to feel that i had consumed too much water and food.  it wasn't really like being nauseauted, it just didn't feel right and it was really hard to move well.  end of lap 6 led to lying on my back on the floor in the main room, staring at my eyelids, and trying to will myself back to feeling OK.  luckily this is when the night storm rolled in, so we we missed the lightning and heavy rain.  headed out for lap 7.   this is about the time when blisters and skin damage really caught up with me, leading to some unwanted slowdowns.  tom at AS#2 helped out with the feet issues, and the "not right" feeling faded, so there was some occassional running, though it was mostly slow going.  the final lap was rather relaxed.  it was hard to do much more than walk, and it was a beautiful morning, so we made the most of it. even though there were about 5 hours of really rough going, i maintained a mostly clear head and a kept positive attitude.  like: "so what if i don't feel right, of course it takes a lot of learning to really dial in the nutrition, so just enjoy being out here and it will pass."  and it did.  brandi ran the last 3 laps with me and was so helpful!  we had so much fun with each other and with the other runners.  i met so many great and inspiring peeps, and truly enjoyed every minute of the experience.


emotional ramblings


instant we

i call it "instant we" or "instant us."  you can skip the formalities and skip the small talk when you fall into stride with your fellow ultra runners, be it running a downhill or walking an uphill.  we are here.  we are life long best friends.  we help each other.  we push each other.  we pull each other.  we do it together.  we care.  we.


i saw more smiles from passing runners during those 27 hours than during the last 27 days or maybe the last 27 months of my life.  and we're in pain out there!  

great job!

imagine that for a day, everyone you pass in the hall at work says "great job today!" and they really mean it.  or that one day your kids continually remind you what a great parent you are.  or that all of your friends keep calling you up and telling you that you're a great friend and to keep it up.  that's what it is like out there with everyone encouraging each other, and it never seems to get old.  

be thankful

there was a girl with one leg running.  she looked fresh and happy and smiley every time i saw her.  she was going much faster than me.  every time i saw her i cried.

mike morton

i have a crush on mike morton.  he won, and he set the course record.  i had read and was deeply inspired by the article about him in the march issue of ultrarunning, and thought he sounded like a really great guy (set the western states course record, in '97, was injured in the navy and stopped running, and recently made a comeback).  suddenly, there he was on the same course as me!  about half way through, he passed me while i was walking up a hill.  he was running, and he looked like he was in a bit of pain.  he stopped for a second; he winced.  then, he bent this way once, bent that way once, and blasted back into stride and over the hill.  amazing.  later, he passed us at mile 96.  by the time we caught our breath, and looked down at our watches, we all knew he had a course record in sight.  fortunately we were at the top of a hill, so we could see him zig zag down hill, flowing, leaping, and bounding like a wild animal in it's natural habitat.  it was beautiful and inspiring.  


somewehere around lap 6 or so i saw a guy i ran with earlier seeming like a nearly incoherent, stumbling zombie.  a few hours later, he blasted past us going uphill.  it was amazing to see the absolute contrast in his form and demeanor.  for me, the ups and downs seemed to come in waves of gradually increasing frequency.  first it was hours of good, hours of bad, then back to good.  as the night progressed it would seem like "ok let's run for a bit" only to feel like i could never run again 15 seconds later.    

the course

the course is beautiful and quite runnable.  much of the grade is not super steep, so unlike some uphills on other courses where there is no option but to walk, you can jog up some of the hills without losing too much efficiency.  there are a few out and back sections connected to the loop, allowing you to see other runners for 5+ miles of the course.  this is great for getting to know who is out there with you, seeing where people are at, high fives, smiles, etc.  and in the middle of the night, when you've been alone on an isolated section for an hour or two, it's relieving and encouraging see the other runners and remember that we're out there together.


umstead and similar ultras are as low as $1.50 per mile, and you get all the food you can eat!  oh, and guess how much the event photos cost?

aid stations

the aid station volunteers could not have been any more helpful!  and there were so many of them...  i was never waiting for other people to clear out or a volunteer to free up.  they take and fill your water bottles, help you get your food picked out / put it in a bag if you wish, smile, joke, banter, etc.  also someone runs to grab your drop bag for you out of the storage area if you need it, gets your stuff out, does stuff with your stuff, puts it back, etc.  






lap by lap

lap 1: miles 0 - 12.5, 6:00AM-8:21AM: here goes everything

we all migrate outside. the clock ticks down.  blake fires the starting gun.  and we're off.  contrasted with a road race where everyone shoots out of the gate, it is a very peaceful start.  we adjust our packs, fine tune our headlamps, greet each other, wish each other well, at an easy jogging pace.  we move forward, the crowd thins, and we're off into the woods.

the woods are quiet. some birds chirp.  ahead of you, and behind you, there is a quiet and steady stream of headlamps and reflective gear.  slowly, trees become outlined in blue.  

time for some music.  somehow, the mp3 player decided to play this on repeat, and it was already playing as i put the headphones on.  with a bit of creative abstraction, it was quite an appropriate song to listen to and soak in the opening miles of a first hundred-miler

no time?  no time but the present.  no time like now. 

here's what the stream of headlamps looks like when captured on film.  in person it is one of the most beautiful things i've ever seen.



lap 2: miles 12.5 - 25, 8:21AM-10:46AM: steady start and good conversation

met up with some dude named jeff early on in lap two.  instant we.  he has been deployed to iraq, afghanistan, and africa multiple times.  he is still enlisted, and in his free time he goes on wilderness expeditions to help soldiers expand their survival skills.  we cruised this lap, probably just a bit too fast because it was early and we were feelin great and having a great time talking with each other.  it's kind of sad when you get back to the aid station because it's time to go your separate ways, even though you want to stay together the whole time.  at least you know you'll see each other out there again.  jeff, even though you'll never read this because you are too busy doing epic shit to spend time on a computer, thank you for your service, and thanks for hanging.



lap 3: miles 25 - 37.5, 10:46AM-1:27PM: i might not be able to finish this

this lap sucked.  chicago is mostly flat and i'm not used to running on a 10% decline for a mile+ at a time.  this began to take it's toll and i realized i really needed to focus on form and to find a way to get down the hills that was not slow and that did not hurt a lot.  by the end of the lap the form came together, only after a couple of hours of wondering if it was going to be possible

the downhill of a few hundred feet goes on for a mile+.  to me, this was harder than the uphills.

coming in from lap 3.  determined to keep form and feel better during lap 4



lap 4: miles 37.5 - 50, 1:27PM-4:19PM: feelin good!

good times.  just cruised, feelin good.  probably a bit slower than 1 and 2 but no issues and feelin good the whole way.  

during this lap and a few others i ran into eric and leah, who are also from IL.  it sure was nice to see familiar faces out there!  

ran into this kid.  he is 16 and was on the final lap of his first 50-miler!  

hills are my friend?  i'm not convinced

came in after 50 miles at 10 hours and 14 minutes, beating my previous 50 miler by a good 30+ minutes.  also, brandi and her family were there, so when i rolled in the enitire crowd was calling out my name and cheering loudly.  this feels reaaaaalllyy good!  



lap 5: miles 50 - 62.5, 4:19PM-7:33PM: into the great unknown...

when the farthest you've gone is 50 miles, everything after that is new and exciting.  what will happen?!  what is mile 60 gonna be like?  70?  80?  90?  

fueling up at AS#1, Sally's Asylum, before heading out.  I recommend the 1/2 potato 1/2 lentil soup mix, and the veggie chili was delicious too!


headed out with the gopro on lap 5.  it was a lot like lap 4.  just felt really solid and cruised along.  

met up with michael, the (self proclaimed) asshole from boston.  we had a great time chatting for at least half the loop, lamenting of repressed childhood memories.  he had started two previous hundred milers (beast of burden NY, summer and winter versions).  both times he DNF'd at mile 82, and we were both feeling solid as we wrapped up lap 5. 

us laughing about who knows what

AS#2: Tom & Jerry's Ptomaine Tavern

here's the results of wearing the gopro for a lap.  seems that my headphone cord was constantly touching it which led to a lot of clicking sounds instead of any audio.  the video is mostly sped up 20x except for stops at the aid stations, mike morton cruising past, and some old timers taking some pictures together on the course (it's probably best to play at 720p in a new window)



lap 6: miles 62.5 - 75, 7:33PM-11:42PM: a range of emotions, high to low

before heading out for this lap (i think, maybe it was the prior lap) i needed to change out of my damp clothes, and didn't feel like walking all the way to the bathroom.  what to do?  make a changing room out of a couple towels and change right there, of course!  karen and jen held up a couple of towels, and luckily i didn't fall over!

the first half of the lap was great.  brandi was there and we were having a blast.  we were saying and doing ridiculous shit with/to everyone we met.  the guy who was doing umstead just to train for badwater?  field day!  the abanoned pacer.  the guy i said had beautiful eyes?  we should probably tell him and all runners behind him to run faster because the guy in front of them has beautiful eyes.   people having fun and laughing and talking: "hey, why are you laughing, don't you know this is a hundred miler and you're supposed to be suffering"!

eventually the fun wore off because i was sufferring.  we finished up the lap.


i think it was later on in this lap that we saw michael again, and he looked like shit.  like a zombie stumbling around.  i was concerned.


the scene in the main room around lap 6 or 7

this guy was trying to sneak a peak at our nips.  the conversations that unfold after 75 miles, in the middle of the night, even while suffering, can be quite hilarious!  brandi put him to work filling up my water bottle.



lap 7: miles 75 - 87.5, 11:42PM-4:38AM: a range of emotions, low to high

thus begins lap 7.  luckily, i was down for the count, awake and waiting for the overwhelming bad feeling to go away, and outside a storm rolled in.  it was raining for some time after this. 

while sort of coming to and then chilling around getting ready to get moving, some guy came in who had finished, and he made it to the table next to us and collapsed, right next to us.  it was weird to watch.  even though the medical staff was extremely attentive and quickly took care of him, he was laid out for at least 15 minutes before starting to show signs of being ok.  

we headed out.  the first half of the loop continued to suck.  

i wanted to fall asleep.

we made it to AS#2

hanging out with tom at mile ~82.  this guy helped fix up my feet a couple of laps in a row.  why is this awesome guy staying up all night and helping fix people's feet when he could be in bed?!

this guy said we were gonna have to start paying rent if we kept hanging around as#2

somewhere after this i lost my pacer!  had my headphones on in the bathroom, and couldn't hear her looking for me.  luckily both our phones were on and had enough juice left at the time!

by the end of the loop i was finally feeling really good again!  also, michael came zooming past and was also back in action!



lap 8: miles 87.5 - 100, 4:38AM-9:49AM: let's enjoy the scenery

chilled in the room at AS#1 for a bit.  michael was there and we saw him as he was heading out.  i happily called out as he was leaving "michael... you made it past mile 82!"   he had that confident look in his eyes and we both knew he was going to make it.

as we headed out a few minutes later, one of the guys who i know came in to the room, so i was (loudly) cheering him on... his pacer gave us the "stfu, he is dropping" sign, and it was an emotional experience to try to move past this.  brandi and i felt like we could help, wanted to help, would do whatever we could, and yet i had my own thing to deal with.  also, we were cuckoo in the middle of the night and didn't realized that he was a lap behind us, so taking him out with us, even to walk the whole time, wouldn't have helped anyone much.  between watching some really fit guy collapse the lap before, and seeing a friend just about to drop, it was interesting to experience a whole other range of emotions that can come along with the ultramarathon experience.

once we were out there, i kept wanting to try to go faster (which isn't saying much, i think trying to run was slower than walking by this time).

in response to me even talking about, much less trying, going faster, brandi kept pointing out (something like) that we were in a place that we should be, at a time that we should be, and that we should just enjoy it.  even though i agreed and tried to soak it in at the time, 24 hours later while strolling in to work it really hit me: that was a special time in my life.

at one point i stopped to fix a blister (really, a blister can make you want to stop, when you're only barely walking?!), of course all passers-by checked in to see if i was ok or needed anything, just like we did when we saw people stopped or slowed earlier.

here's dan pieroni, the oldest finisher 3 years in a row.  this was his 40th ultra.  he is insane.  you can really meet some neat people out there.  how is he insane?  won a racquetball tournament on a broken ankle.  helped his brothers up a mountain in a lightning storm on a different broken ankle (making a cast of duct tape and a hiking boot).  he gets dropped of in the yukon territory for "violent" cylcing training comprising himself, a gun, a bike, whatever gear he can carry, and a button to call a helicopter in case of emergency.  three months later, someone picks him up.  3 years ago he beat prostate cancer.  he's been married 49 years and only has sex with his wife.  

it's an unwritten rule that you have to run up the hill for the last lap, so dan and i did this together.

now this is about the only time during an ultra when you feel "almost there."  to you, it may seem like when your runner is at mile 85 of 100, that they are getting close and probably think that they are are almost there, and that just isn't the case.  15 miles can be really hard.  even 5 or 3 or 1?!



the good and the bad

what went well

  • almost everything!  there's not anything that i wish i would have done to make this a better experience.  even when i felt terrible physically, in my mind i was very happy to be out there, very optimistic that i would finish, and remained hopeful that the bad feelings would pass.

what did not go well

  • dowhnills
    • i knew going in that i was not properly train to run downhills
    • onlookers would call out "don't worry you're almost to the downwhill"
  • foot issues
    • blisters
      • i thought i had this dialed in from lots of previous runs at 50, 30, and 20 miles.  24+hours in light rain and humidity changes the game.  should be easy enough to make some minor tweaks to prevent this in the future.
    • callus thing
        • there was about a 3/4 diamater inch callus thing near the front mid of both of my feet.  when the rest of your foot is moist and skin is pulling apart/etc, having this big chunk of a thing was quite a detriment.  will spend a bit more time with the ped-egg before subsequent 50+ milers
      • shoe tieing / foot sliding
        • i usually leave my shoes rather loosely tied (because i don't like the feeling when laces push against top of the foot tendons or veins).  when running steeper downhills, this leads to your foot cramming forward into the front of your shoe with every step, which lead to some mild discomfort at the time, and a toenail or two that will probably fall off within the next few weeks.  this was only an issue in the 110s, the toe box of the montrails has a bit of a different build so it's good that these shoes were there for a backup option
      • gaiters
        • somehow i didn't hit submit on my gaiter order, so i picked up whatever rei had in stock on thursday night: a pair of gaiters held on by a shoe string across the bottom of your shoe.  this doesn't work to well when your shoe is flat.  the shoe string wore out within the first lap
        • lots of tiny rocks continued to get into my shoes after this, causing hot spots and discomfort, and leading to lost time due to dumping out my shoes at each aid station and sometimes along the way
        • having good gaiters would have saved at least 30 minutes and prevented lots of unneccessary pain!
    • nutrition
      • the mile 70 wall / shutdown was terrible. i think i had just too much water and food, probably 10-20% too much.  it's hard to describe. i wasn't nauseated.  it was just... too much.  
    • accidentally applying lotion to my melted inner thighs instead of aquaphor at mile 80something.  at least this woke me up.  and set some perspective to know that the other pain could be worse.


    • lucky trippy race shirt
    • 2 x smartwool ultralight 150 NTS
    • 1 x smart wool mid weight 200 crew
    • salomon minim shell / rain jacket
    • 1 x icebreaker distance shorts, 150
    • 1 x icebreaker distance shorts, 200
    • CEP compression sleeves
    • 2 x injiji perforamce toe socks
    • 2 x smarwool toe socks
    • 1 x smart wool PhD sort of compression sock
    • ipod nano
    • duracell charger thing (for garmin and for iphone)
    • iphone
    • lifeproof iphone case (waterproof/awesome)
    • salomon hat (for cool looking rain in eyes prevention and sweat routing)
    • rei hat  (for normal looking rain in eyes prevention and sweat routing)
    • neck cooling ice pack thing (stupid)
    • neck cooling tie thing (stupid)
    • salomon xt one water pack
    • 8x 2oz rei plastic bottles (for storing pre-mixed nutrtion at AS#2 for easy mixing into water bottle)
    • size 10.5 new balance mt110
    • size 11 new balance mt110 (for foot swell/later)
    • size 11 montrail rogue fly (for later if more cushion and 10mm drop (instead of 4 on the mt's) seems necessary)
    • 2x etymotic er-4 headphones.  good thing there were two!  rain clogged up the first pair before lap 3?!
    • gopro w chest strap





    • for the stuff i brought, each lap (12.5 miles / 2.5-5 hours) i had:
      • 2x 2oz power carb (200 calories) + 1/4 serving life's basic plant protein.  the power carb is a highly refined carb that supposedly has a low insulin spike and slow(er) absorption.  they claim you can take up to 1000 calories per hour with no digestive issues.  the incremental servings of protein was from a recommendation to have some protein in "a step beyond"
      • 12x now foods organic chlorella (for vitA+C)
      • 2x satlstick 
      • 2x vega vegan DHA (from aglae)
      • 2x vega vegan vitamin E
      • a few gu roctane
      • a few gu blackberry
    • from the aid stations, it was mostly
      • 2x 1/4 size pb+j squares
      • some chips.  lays wavy (probaby bad oils?)
      • orange slice
      • banana half or quarter
      • grapes
      • melons
      • mini snickers
      • occasional gatorade
    • and special aid station treats:
      • vegetarian chili (i think mile 50?)
      • 1/2 potato, 1/2 lentil soup (i think mile 62.5?)
      • pizza (mile 88)

    garmin data

    elevation data.  the race organizers publish 8,000ft up, 8,000ft down

    weather data:


    upcoming races

    earth day 50k in CL.  this will be a fun training run/race and i want to try to go fast!

    ice age trail 50 in WI in May.

    angeles crest 100.  if i was gonna do a "shit ultrarunners say" quote then it would be that umstead was just training for ac100.  i know i can go the distance now, but ac100 is going to be a different animal.  it has more elevation change than western states, at 2x+ the up and 3x+ the down when contrasted with umstead.


    everyone who sent me a message during the run.  i feel like this borders on being "too connected" and that people might say i should be out there and experiencing the purity of the run on my own.  for me, it feels good (that's an understatement) to know that my family and friends are thinking of me.  also thanks to karen and jen for being out there to pace for others and occassionally help me out.  if karen wasn't there i think i would have headed out for every lap with only one shoe tied!

    special thanks

    ann.  i try to run at times that are convenient for the fam.  early mornings, lunch time during work, late nights.  regardless, it must be tough sometimes. "i'm going for a run, be back in ___." and who knows how long ___ might be.  running shit all over multiple rooms of the house?  usually.  talking about running?  probably too much.  

    dad.  thanks for being there and for helping me haul me and my stuff around and keep it organized.  it was such a relief to know that you that you were a phone call away and to know that you'd be there whenever i needed you and at the finish line.  

    brandi.  would i have finished this race if you weren't there?  i don't know.  would i have missed a cutoff because i had taken a nap in the rain on the side of the trail, if you weren't keeping me awake?  probably.  would it have been an absolute blast and a party to run through the night after running all day?  no way.  thanks for being there and for cheering and talking and listening and helping.

    wrapping it up

    finishing an ultramarathon of any distance feels great.  i mean, even though it might actually feel like sheer self-torture at the time, or for part of the time, feeling the happiness of knowing that you did it far outlasts the pain or suffering that can happen along the way.  and unlike the 5k, half, or big city marathon you might be eyeing as a future goal, an ultramarathon includes a very special deep sense of community.  for all but a select few, this is not a race to see who is fastest, it is a race just to see if we can do it.  together.

    maybe brandi said it best...

    "Insert your body in this picture. You will be forever changed."