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Running your first 100 is …

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…long. And I don’t mean that in the most obvious sense, that it’s a 100-mile race. Instead, I mean it in the sense that it’s a long struggle of emotions, will, fatigue, crew support, drinking, eating, staying on course, not throwing up, not falling asleep … well you get the point. I ran my first 100-miler in a little over 23 hours, finishing about a week prior to this writing, in Raleigh at the 17th annual Umstead 100, “with 50-mile option.”

The race consisted of eight 12.5-mile laps totaling a 1,000 foot elevation gain and 1000 foot descent with each lap. Pacers could pace you only during the second 50 miles. Since I feel I have a lot I can share with runners contemplating the jump to their first ultra, I’ll make a multi-part series to share some thoughts for hikeclimbsurfrun.com

Part I: Good Crew = Good Race, Great Crew=Better Race

I finished the first 50 in around 9.5 hours, which was about 45 minutes faster then my 50 time of last year. Some might say that my second 50 time dwarfed my first 50 time too much, and I should have gone out slower. Maybe that is true, but I feel like mentally I put enough time in the bank so that finishing the 2nd half in sub-24 would be conquerable. Actually finishing the first 50 alone was tough, especially the fourth lap, but knowing I had an army of pacers and crew to take care of me during the second and much tougher remaining 50, helped get me through what would could easily be deemed one of the most challenging things I have ever done.

I could speak volumes about the impact of having friends and family at the conclusion of each 12.5-mile loop to assist me in gathering what I needed, tell me I looked strong, and make sure I wasn’t being unsafe in continuing. And that was just for the brief five to 15-minute breaks I took to eat and re-energize. It was extremely motivating to have them there for this experience and I am so thankful for that. Now, trying to put into words how grateful I am for the pacers I had is tough. Knowing that there is someone running next to you to make sure you finish, that wont leave your side until they get you through that lap, is the greatest asset in a 100; more than Gu, Gatorade, salt tablets, dry socks or hamburgers. Not to mention they dealt with late hours, cold weather and my tired body’s slow pace. Pacers are truly the unsung heroes of utlra marathons. They don’t get t-shirts, race medals or recognition for whatever distance they covered, just the knowledge that they helped someone achieve something huge.

I hit my worst rough patch at mile 73 on my 6th lap. I completely emptied my stomach contents on the side of the trail, accompanied with a sobering comment by a passing runner, “It’s part of the sport.” Getting back to the headquarters over the next two miles was tough but my pacers (two for that lap) got me there, forced me to eat as much as I could stand, and sent me back out for the next lap with my new pacer. When people are frantic in trying to get you to do things quitting becomes less of an option, and I truly believe they had my best interest at heart and knew I was not doing anything of harm to myself (although my sore legs will beg to differ this last week.)

Craig was my eighth (final lap) pacer, which is definitely the toughest job. We had about four hours to cover the last lap and finish within my sub-24 hour goal. That sounds like a lot of time, but when you have been running for 20 hours and it hurts to even put one foot in front of the other, that’s a huge task.

When we had made it to mile 99 and I only had a mile to go and over an hour to finish in 24, my spirits were as high as they had been all day and when Craig asked, “What comes after this race?” I finally felt like it was ok to answer what I’d been asked before. (Editor’s note: It is quite odd to witness a semi-coherent and far from polysyllabic individual so quickly regain mental and physical sobriety. Adrenaline is powerful stuff.)

Previously I had kept these thoughts to myself because deciding which race to do after your first 100-miler, before you have even run it, is the very definition of putting the cart before the horse. The answer, though, is the pinnacle of them all: The Western States 100-mile endurance run.

– Thanks for the write-up Ryan. Congrats again man, helluva feat. Glad to have helped.

– It should be noted that we chronicled Ryan’s only other Ultra, a 50 in California, a number of months back. To have only run one 50 and jump into a 100 is quite the feat.

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