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Umstead Ultra runners face pollen fog, rolling hills in classic east coast competition

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The Umstead Ultra 100 has been traipsing over the trails at Raleigh’s Umstead State Park for 17 years. It is one of the oldest and finally, most respected 100-mile running competitions in the country. It may not have the flair or terrain of the Western States 100 or other western big runs, but it’s a damn fine race that sold out in eight minutes and started long before ultras became the endurance milestones they are today.

Most contestants will joke that it’s one of the only runs of this sort after which you will weigh more than you did when the gun sounded at 6:00 a.m. Credit goes to an unreal amount of home-cooked grub at two well-served aid stations. There is plenty of the stuff that comes packaged and in plastic but the real difference is the buffet of home-made soups, right-off-the-grill burgers, oven-baked mac & cheese, banana pudding (this is the South after all) and plenty of other secret recipe sweets.

This time of year, Carolina’s loblolly pines disperse with their stuff in epic fashion, coating cars, homes, patios, streets and ultra runners with a dense blanket of reproductive yellow powder. Come sundown, headlamps will bounce down the trails firing yellow beams throughout the forest. But hey, ultras are often about coping with nature and it’s rarely reason enough to not be involved.

The race started this morning, 4/2/11, at 6:00 a.m. For the third year, I’m heading out as a pacer this evening to run alongside my buddy Ryan (and occasional hcsr contributor) on his last 12.5 mile loop. At 23, he and two others are the youngest runners in the event. This is his first 100 miler; he plans on finishing before midnight. I hope I can help him get there.

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