Saltines, Ginger Ale, & an Indomitable Will (Umstead 100 Mile Ultra Marathon)

Saltines, Ginger Ale, & an Indomitable Will
(Finishing the 2011 Umstead 100 Mile Ultra Marathon)

Barely moving my legs, I think about my breathing and how labored it is. At times, I’m preoccupied with inhaling and exhaling. It’s so loud and disturbed sounding. I wonder why I’m breathing like this and whether or not it’s helpful. I’m also curious as to what my pacer Kelley, is thinking. For about two seconds, I’m slightly embarrassed by my noisiness. By the third second, I could care less what she thinks or what anyone else thinks.

I ask myself, “Do I really need to be breathing this heavily?” So, I stop breathing heavily and settle down by focusing on each step. I’m amazed by how ponderous each step feels and how variable my rhythm is at this point. I know I’ve become slow, but the reality is it’s so slow that I’d rather not know my pace. Deliberately focusing on my steps causes my feet to hurt even more, so I decide that it might help if I resume the heavy breathing again.

When walking uphill, I’m taken aback by the strong pull in my neck and upper shoulders. I’m recalling that only a mere 10 miles ago, my neck wasn’t even bothering me at all. The pain is not unbearable but it forces me to stop and self-message on several occasions. At one point, I’m wishing that I didn’t have so many layers of clothing on so that I could really penetrate into the muscles to loosen them up. My mind wanders back to the car ride to Raleigh when I remember thinking that I really hope that this tight neck won’t be a problem in my event tomorrow. Being the overly confident and optimistic person that I can be at times, I shrugged it off, so to speak. I tell myself that by the morning, the neck will be fine. The neck will be fine.

At the final aid station before the finish, I’m wondering how in the world I’m going to get up the next climb. Even early on in the race, this hill is difficult to walk. I’m depleted and need to do something to feel better. I ask my pacer, Kelley, if she could please get me some crackers and ginger ale at this aid station. I’m really thinking that a couple of crackers will help me get up that next climb. I sit in the chair and Kelley hands me Mountain Dew and some saltine crackers. I’m finding it very challenging to place the crackers in my mouth. They are sticking to my lips and mouth so I decide that it’s critical to swallow Mountain Dew and eat the cracker simultaneously. This sort of works.

I remember the aid station volunteer chatting me up about KEYS100. He’s an ultra runner and was graciously volunteering the night shift at this aid station. I wanted to chat with him. I wanted to smile and be friendly. But swallowing crackers and getting up that hill were the only things on my mind. I had to let him know in a courteous and desperate sort of way, that talking to him was not an option at this point. I’m on mile 94.5. I have 5.5 miles left.

Every single bit of every part of me is going to be used up to get through the next 5.5 miles. I know that I can do this. I don’t question as to whether or not I can finish. My brain and body have to go beyond what they want to do. I have no choice but to finish and I ask God for him to continue to keep me strong. Not finishing the event was never an option in my mind. I had everything I needed: My pacer who has taken care of me from 50 miles on, two crackers and some Mountain Dew in my stomach, and just 5.5 miles left. 5.5 miles to the finish line of the Umstead 100 Endurance Run.

Getting up from that chair was not that difficult. I knew that the longer that I sit in the chair, the longer I’m out in the cold dark and the farther away I am from the finish line. On any other day of my life, even when I’m having a really bad running day, 5.5 miles would be fairly effortless. On this day, 5.5 miles is an infliction of pain on my body and I’m not looking forward to it.

Getting up the series of climbs that I was so concerned about was arduous, to say the least. My neck and shoulders were throbbing and plodding uphill felt like my quads were being crushed with every step. Even though I looked forward to the downhill because I could actually run, I needed to tiptoe and blurt out with every step, “Ouch, Ouch, Ouch…”. My feet were sore and tired. If they could talk, they would be telling me to sit my butt down and enough already.

Even though the temperature was around forty degrees, if felt like below zero. I already had on a tank top in addition to three long sleeve layers at this point, however, I was shivering uncontrollably. Kelley had a green hooded coat and generously gave it to me. I zipped it all the way up and pulled the hood over my head. Running with a heavy headlamp and hood was confining but getting my body warmer was a higher priority. Moreover, I discovered that picking up the pace would help warm the body so I forced to do this at times when we were on flatter sections of the course.

With just a few miles left, I kept asking Kelley if were getting closer. Even though this was my eighth time running this loop, I still could not recall how much longer we had until the finish line. Knowing that we were getting closer, I attempted to run rather than walk. If I only walk, it will take longer to get there. I needed to make myself run.

Everyone seeks some form of comfort upon finishing an extreme endurance effort such as this-perhaps gatorade, food, a bathroom, or a clothing change. I asked Kelley if she could please send me straight to the lodge by the fire upon finishing. I need to get warm. She reassured me that she would take care of me and not to worry. Her presence at this point put my mind to ease and the notion of being out on the course alone was a daunting one.

Running on the half mile rocky section to the finish was painful yet exhilerating. I kept asking Kelley, “Am I really finishing?, Are we really there?” Kelley responded with a resounding, “Yes! I’m so proud of you!”. On this final stretch, she screamed “Woohoo!!” to volunteers, crews, and other runners, letting everyone know that I am finishing 100 miles. As I crossed the finish line, I was filled with a variety of emotions. I looked at my watch and noticed that I finished in twenty hours and thirty-eight minutes. I felt overjoyed, wipped out, accomplished, thankful for Kelley, borderline hypothermic, and a a little delirious. I was overwhelmed yet quite calm and in need of warmth. I achieved what I set out to do and never gave up. I finished my second 100 mile foot race.

-Beth McCurdy
Umstead 100 Mile Ultra Marathon (2011)

2011 Umstead 100 Mile Ultra Marathon Race Results

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- who has written 7 posts on Run It Fast®.

Beth has run over 70 marathons and ultras including three 100 milers. She blogs about cooking and recipes for runners at Beth Eats 2 Run

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