100 Miles

As I’ve mentioned before, my mother is a runner. She has completed over 70 marathons to date and last week she sent a link to a newpaper article that reminded me of a very special accomplishment of hers from a few years back. I have already written about her journey from running to lose weight to the attempt to run 100 miles in 30 hours. But I thought I’d recollect my memories from witnessing and supporting my mother in her attempt.

My mother had moved to North Carolina in the late 90’s and had become a member of the running community there. At that time she had completed somewhere around 40 marathons and, as mentioned in the article, was looking for that next goal. After having attempted a few ultra-marathons, she learned of and started participating in the Umstead ultra-marathons. She completed the shorter race (50 miles) three years in a row, but now looked to attempt the 100-miler. She told me of this and I decided to come down from Chicago and help her as much as possible. During her runnings of the Chicago Marathon, I would always join her for a few miles to keep her company. Though this was quite different than that type of race.

Mom Coming in after a Lap
Mom coming back from one of the first few laps.

The Umstead 100 miler took place in early April 2002 on the same weekend that the time changes. It takes place inside the Umstead Forest and is run along the trails. The run consists of doing 10 laps on the 10 mile course. Although it might sound monotonous to do laps, the advantage is that you return to the same spot every 10 miles. This allows you to do things like change clothes, meet with supporters, grab some things to eat, or whatever you’d like. At the base camp, they have a very well supplied food tent. They have an almost unimaginable variety. So many basic foods like hard boiled eggs, M&M’s, burgers, bananas, chips, energy drinks, and straight water. Items that may sound bizarre to be eating while running, but you are trying to replace energy, protein, salt, and potassium among other things. At the half-lap mark there is also a station to provide food, medical help, or get stuff out of a bag you may have had them take there.

The Food Tent
The Base Camp Food Tent

As for the run conditions, the nights were chilly (40F) and the days were warm (60F). The trails that it is run on are like others you’d find at state parks. It was wide enough for people to pass each other comfortably, but you had to be vigilant not to trip on projecting rocks or roots. Though some of the run is actually on paved or gravel roads. An ultra-marathon is different than a marathon. Your goal in a marathon is usually to run the whole thing. In a ultra, your goal is finishing, not necessarily speed. Though you do want to finish before their cutoff time. So your strategy is generally to only run when it is flat or downhill. You walk up the inclines and you likely more often as the miles pile up.

It was quite an experience for me. We woke up very early and drove the hour to get there for the prompt start at 6am. It’s out in the woods with sounds from the airport nearby. After the 250 runners take off, we ,the supporters, begin the rather long day of waiting. There is anticipation waiting to see if they come back on schedule, followed by increasing worry when they are not. When they do get back, you attend to them providing what they need, and gauging how they are doing. Then you send them off and return to the two to three hours of waiting between their returns.

The Base Camp
The Base Camp Recreation Hall

I remember those hours being quite long. Other than helping at the food station, there is really not much else you can do. I brought some things to pass the time, but it’s easy to get bored with 30 hours to fill. Plus in the middle of the night, time seems to pass even more slowly. Though I was both not prepared nor equipped for it. I think I had only brought a couple books and we did not have a laptop. The base camp recreation hall had a low level of constant activity with runners coming in to refresh themselves for the next lap. And the supporters were either passing the time, preparing for their runners, or trying to sleep. There were also some runners who had completed their run and where winding down. There was an older couple from Montreal who I tried conversing with during their stops. There was also an engaged woman in her twenties who flew from Arizona to participate. I was quite surprised her fiance was not there with her. Otherwise time passed incredibly slow in that rec hall.

On the other hand, accompanying my mother on one of her laps was an experience I will never forget. She had quite a few running friends who volunteered to join her for a lap and keep her company. So she had one or two people with her after the first few laps. I joined her for maybe her 6th lap, I think, and it was like 10 pm. For those of us who usually run in city parks or on city streets, running in the forest is quite a change of pace. But this was also running at night with a headlamp. A bit spooky to only be able to see as far as the light sufficiently luminates the path. Along with the silence the forest affords, it’s like you are rolling through the forest in a bubble of light. So it got a bit more surreal as you would encounter others on the course. Since it was later in the race and everyone had slowed down to a walk, you would come across these rather ghostly figures as they appeared from out of the forest. Many were experiencing some sort of pain in their stride and where adjusting (often by some sort of limping) in order to press on. Some were having gastonal problems but continued on. Sometimes you’d encounter the other runners face to face while other times it was across the road or seeing someone head off in an oblique direction that had no relation to your path. Kinda like everyone was randomly limping through the forest in the dark.

My mother started getting major blisters that we tried treating at the 80 mile mark. We wrapped her feet up with duct tape and she headed back out. It was about 4am and I was beat, so I tried to sleep in the very cold cabin they had rented near the base camp. I was awaken four hours later to find out that she had to stop at 90 miles because of the blisters and because she would not be able to finish at the cutoff time. She attempted it again a couple years later, but had to stop at 70 miles due to some joint pain I think. She says she has no desire to attempt it again, but I’d have to say that she has already accomplished so much.

I’m fiercely proud of her.


~ by Frank on May 8, 2008.

4 Responses to “100 Miles”

  1. I rememeber my surprise when you told me about your mother. A rather different woman than my mother. I can imagine that running those distances is actually very boring as well, but that’s from somebody who thinks running a couple of miles is already boring. I don’t understand why people want to push their limits so extremely, it’s certainly not part of my personality. Ultramarathons, ultra thriatlons, it just can’t be healthy for your body.
    I’m not running anymore with my knee, that’s for sure. I hope I can still do some hiking, because I love to be in the woods.

  2. Your mother is a marvelous woman, and running is just one of her many passions and talents!

  3. Props for your mom! Long may she run.

  4. mare: I find running to be a good time to let your mind wander and think about things. It can be quite theraputic. Pushing it to the extremes is usually just a natural progression of going to the next level. Personnally, I’m not sure if I will go back to running full time. Just because I’m concerned about the wear and tear on the joints.

    mrne: Yes, she is. Who I am today is largely due to her.

    Jack: I hope so.

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