Thursday, April 5, 2012

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

April 5, 2012 Troy Shellhamer

It was almost six AM. The rain cooled my skin and I didn’t mind it. It was warmer than usual, and I knew I should relish the cool drops while I had the chance. Later in the day the hot sun would bake that same moisture out of the course and form a sauna.  

The vibe in the air was one of anticipation; awaiting the unknown. For 100 mile veterans, and first-timers alike, running 100 miles is always a foray into the unknown, and starting in the dark adds to the ominous and epic early morning air.

Often times in the morning before an ultra, I find myself asking why these races can’t start around 10AM. It’s not that I’m not a morning person, it’s just that I am not used to waking SO early!  However, this race morning before the 19th running of the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, I found myself feeling well rested, fresh, and awake. I was ready to run 100 miles. I even awoke prior to the buzzing of the alarm clock.

In accordance with race director Blake Norwood’s affinity for punctuality, the gun went off promptly at 6am and we thundered down the gravel road, leaving the start finish banner which was lit by strands of red Christmas lights behind us, glowing like a red beacon behind as we raced into the darkness ahead with our headlamps cutting through the rain to light our path.

I was running in the lead pack, and was happy to have good company in the form of Jonathan Allen, a runner I met during the UROC 100K this past September. We passed the first half lap chatting about training and racing and I was glad to have the company. Sooner than expected we found ourselves coming into the second manned Aid Station, at mile 6.88 in 53 minutes.

The Umstead 100 course is a 12.5 mile loop format which is run a total of 8 times. From the Start/Finish line, there is a 3.5 mile out and back section, and the remaining 9 miles are a true loop. One of my favorite aspects of the race is the out and back section, as we get to pass one another and cheer each other on as racers. Sharing smiles and encouragement, fellow runners become friends by the end of the run, with a common bond of sharing an epic race together. The course is crushed granite, about 9 feet wide with some single-track trail mixed in. It is highly runable, and some runners even wear road shoes as opposed to trail running footwear.

Running with Jonathan Allen the first half lap, I was right on the cusp of the heart rate limit I had set for myself of 149. Prior to the race, I had analyzed my heart rate data from 3 of my last 100 mile ultras and also from the UROC 100K, and I determined that in my races over 63 miles, I had been going out too hard. I had never been able to hold my heart rate up towards the end of the race, and so my game plan this race was to set a heart rate limit for the race. In the past, my heart rate was in the 150’s the first 50 miles and then from miles 80-100 I would drop all the way down to the 120’s. This year, I determined I shouldn’t go above 149 the first 50 miles, with the end goal being more glycogen to run off of during the last half. Running at this lower pace should also allow more adequate fueling and digestion.

As soon as we left the Aid Station at mile 6.88 I decided to let Jon go ahead. I wanted to set my own pace and control the race. I felt this was a huge victory from the beginning in lieu of meeting my goals for this race. I wanted to run even splits also. Last year I ran the first 50 miles in 7 hours and the last 50 in a little over 9 hours.  This year I want to run the first 50 in around 7 hours 20 minutes, and keep the second 50 closer to 8 hours. Running more even splits should yield the fastest overall time.

I was in the zone and happy. I reached the start/finish line completing lap 1 in 1:43. This was faster than my goal pace, but it was the first lap. Upon the completion of my remaining laps, my pacer Jeremy Brown kept telling me I was like a metronome, finishing each lap in about the same split. I reached the end of my second lap in 3 hours 37 minutes total, (a lap time of 1:53), completing the first 25 miles and quarter of the race.

I kept hearing the alarm on my heart rate monitor telling me to slow down. I wanted to go faster but continuously backed off. I knew speed early would kill me later.

I passed the time by running with Michael Ambrose. It was his first 100 mile ultra and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him about the outdoor industry. He works for The North Face and I talked to him about my ties with the outdoor industry and we discussed his upcoming plans to travel and hike. He was running strong, and his youth inspired me, as he is 24 and I was 24 when I embarked upon my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. He spent several months in Patagonia working on the film, 180 South, and this summer he is heading to Colorado to hike and also out to the Pacific Crest Trail maybe.

Nearing the half way point, I was still running without my iPod. I was pleased with how I felt and I didn’t want distractions. It rained until about 11AM and I savored it.

A very fit looking female passed me on the third lap, and I wondered if it was Traci Falbo. I had yet to meet her at the commencement of the race, even though we live within close proximity of one another. She was even first female in my hometown ultra, Louisville Lovin’ the Hills 50K. Traci lives in Southern Indiana and has been tearing up the race seen lately; coming in first female in most of what she has entered lately. I noticed her race crew near a car with Indiana plates, so I figured it was her. I introduced myself and she said, “Crap! What am I doing running up here with you?!” We laughed about it and chatted about racing. I ran some of the fourth lap with Traci, but once again settled again into my own pace to not fall into the trap of running someone else’s race.  

My 50 mile split was 7 hours and 23 minutes. I grabbed some food from Rhonda Curry, the other member of my phenom race crew, and headed off without adieu. I had still yet to stop after 50 miles, and didn’t plan on it. We had devised a system that will continue into my future races. As I ran by the start finish line and grabbed a bottle of new fluids, Rhonda and Jeremy held a tray of my race nutrition and as I ran by I was able to grab what I wanted swiftly.

The heat near the races midway point began to swelter. I began to feel like I was overheating, and I began to increase my water intake. Keeping my heart rate below 149 was no longer a challenge and I just plugged away at exactly the same speed as I had been running all day. I felt my form still looked good. My stride was still the same and I planned on focusing on proper form throughout the duration.

Nearing the 6th lap, I realized my original goal of running the Umstead 100 in under 15 hours was not going to happen, but there were too many other victories at hand to not be happy. I felt I was honestly in the process of running my best 100 mile ultra to date. My nutrition was flawless and I was keeping my fuel intake like clockwork. My stomach still felt great. I was wise and went with tried and true footwear, in the form of the Montrail Rogue Racer, which has worked well for me in the past. I wasn’t slowing much and I still felt good, like I could maintain pace even through the effort required to do so grew with every mile. I also wore running shorts instead of compression shorts, and had no chafe issues thanks to copious amounts of body glide lube.

Starting the 6th lap, after running 62.5 miles, or (100K), in 9:18, I was relieved to break it up a bit by picking up my pacer, Jeremy. Rhonda ran with us for 45 minutes also. It feels like starting over, and it’s nice to hear stories from someone who has been able to observe the race from third person.

Even with Jeremy, my splits were still even, only a few minutes slower per lap. I ran just under 2 hours my 6th lap to mile 75. Jeremy sat out for lap 7 with plans to pick me up again for lap 8 to bring it on home.

I started my 7th lap at about 5:18pm and calculated I wouldn’t even need to grab a headlamp until my final lap! I was glad about that. My 7th lap was barely under  2 hours, but I still had fuel in the tank for an 8th lap that would hopefully yield a time of less than 15 hours 30minutes.

Completing my 7th lap, I passed Serge Arbona, a multiple winner of Umstead. I think a lot of strong competitors this race may have gone out too hard, with the rabbit to chase in the form of Mike Morton. I passed Serge who looked like he was about to fall over at any moment. He was getting sick on the course and he looked dizzy. Serge is an incredibly strong runner and one of the fastest 100 milers in the country, but today was not his day. The previous year’s winner, John Dennis, also dropped out. I think chasing Mike was too tempting, and they both paid for it at the end, but we’ll have to wait for their race reports to truly see… I was excited to pass Serge as that meant another place up for me. I was sad to see the mighty fall, but glad to move up in rank, admittedly. Umstead keeps the most detailed lap splits on its runners, and I was looking forward to seeing my results as my pacing was paying off, and I continually moved up in placement all day. Undoubtedly, this was the strongest field in the races history, and Mike Morton was on his way to running possibly the fastest 100 mile time in the country this year. Mike lapped me right before I started my 8th lap. Mike went on to win, and in turn ran the fastest 100 mile in the country this year, in 13:11.

Starting that final lap with Jeremy was uplifting, although my spirits were already high. On the out and back, with daylight still lingering, I exchanged smiles and encouragement with the other runners I had been cheering all day.

It was not a repeat of last year. My last lap went by quickly, and I put myself into the ground to gain as much time on Jon Allen as possible. Starting laps 6, 7, and 8, I knew I had closed a large gap back to Jon Allen and I was only minutes behind him. I could literally see him most of lap 7. Jeremy helped to push me, and I dug deep to gain his place. Jon must have recovered from his strong efforts early on though, because even with my increase in speed, he was faster, and another runner said the distance to him hadn’t grown at all even after the first 5 miles of the final lap. Regardless, I would rather continue to chase Jon, and hopefully at least put more ground on the runner behind in 6th. It’s always beneficial to be on the offensive rather than the defensive. With only 3.5 miles to go, I lit the after burners. I knew the opportunity to finish in under 15:30 was on the line so I gave it everything. I ran 7 minute miles the last 3.5, and flew home feeling exhilarated. My heart rate surged back up to 150, although at that effort it should have been much higher. My lack of glycogen prevented it from rising after running 98 miles. I crossed the line with Jeremy in 15 hour 27 minutes, 5th place overall. Success on so many fronts…

I was proud of the race. Hitting my time goal didn’t happen, but there were too many other victories to not be satisfied. This was my first hundred in which my nutrition was flawless. I kept my caloric intake like clockwork, and didn’t get sick like in previous races. Diarrhea and/or Vomiting can be common amongst 100 mile runners, and I had no GI issues. My feet felt good. So good, in fact, that I never once even took off my shoes or changed socks. I didn’t have bad blisters, even with the rain and wet conditions early on. I stuck to my game plan, and didn’t fall prey to chasing the early pace which no one else could manage other than the winner. I didn’t fade too badly at the end either. My first 50 miles were run in 7 hours 23, and my second 50 miles were run in 8 hours and 4 minutes; only 31 minutes slower. My 8th and final lap was even a minute faster than my 7th.

My high expenditure at the final miles left me a bit woozy at the end and it took almost a half hour to feel normal again. I congratulated Jon Allen, who finished 8 minutes ahead of me in 4th, and I tried to find some coffee to get my blood pressure back up. I thanked Blake Norwood for another incredible year with great people, and at that same time, I lost my hearing and vision mildly. I had to sit and get some food and caffeine in me, but soon felt better and human. We didn’t wait around too long, and we were back in posh accommodations at the race hotel by 10:15. To run 100 miles and be in bed by 10:30 is awesome!

Many thanks to the incredible people responsible for making the race happen, and most importantly Rhonda Curry and Jeremy Brown for driving down and crewing me. Selfless acts like crewing someone for an all day race always amaze and I am truly grateful.


  1. Troy- it was great seeing you again and running with you. I sure ran the last 2 laps scared you were going to catch me. Congrats on the great time and great race. Hope all goes well with everything this summer and fall.

  2. Crazy. All of your training is really paying off...seems like you have mastered every aspect of ultra running at this point! The drop in HR is interesting, I had the same thing happen on the second half of the marathon during Ironman last year. I couldn't get my HR above 130 despite an increased effort. I saw your previous post about this and meant to talk to you about it.