I am a girl who loves mountains, changing seasons, running, true backpacking, strong coffee, and knitting with high quality yarn.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Umstead 200

My Quest Into the Unknown
By Olga Varlamova
On April 4 I finished my first 100 miler – the Umstead 100M in Raleigh, North Carolina. I hope that this will not be my last race at this distance, because I have finally found what I have been looking for!
I ran my first race three years ago – the Mother’s Day 5k in FDR Park. I almost didn’t run the race, as I had brought only enough money for the race registration and the park charged a five dollar entrance fee. Some kind soul gave me the five bucks. He never knew what he had unleashed! Hardly anything compares with the elated feeling I get when I run! Racing taught me to put my heart into running. Before my first race, I ran to lose weight and my body was getting the wrong message.
Since I don’t have leg speed, I wanted to find out how far I could go. In a short while, I was able to try out a variety of distances; in Central Park there are races of many different lengths. I finished my first half-marathon only 3 months after my first race. That planted the seed in my head to do a full marathon. As my training started to include longer runs, I realized that long distance is what I like. When I run long distance, all thought of anything else disappears and nothing matters but moving forward. Even before I had completed my first marathon, however, I knew that I wanted to try races of much greater distances. I just needed time and patience.
My ultimate objective is to run the Western State 100 that is run in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California starting at Lake Tahoe and finishing in Auburn. I qualified; I was accepted by lottery. Was it a relief or was it the scariest moment in my life? Anyway it was time to think about a solid plan for surviving my quest to complete the Western States 100.

From everything that I had read and heard about this grandfather of a trail 100 miler (including Firdaus’s experience running the race), I knew it was not a course to be taken lightly (not that any of ultras are). Running the Western States 100M as my first 100 mile run would have been a bad idea and a sure path to failure. I really wanted to finish that race. That was my dream and I’m entitled to a dream, right? So I had to find another 100M run that would avoid the difficulties of the Western States 100M-- heat, elevation, dust, temperature drops, rugged trails, huge mountains, getting lost – to develop the mental confidence that comes from making it through the distance. The Umstead 100M, in Umstead Park near Raleigh, North Carolina was exactly what I needed.
And after discussing it with quite a few people who had experience doing this kind of thing, my entry form went out. I had to remember that it was going to be a training run and that is how I went into it. Of course I trained for it. I did my share of long runs, back-to-back long weekends, night runs, long races, hill workouts, and weight training. I studied the course. I read reports on the race. I sampled the food I would eat and picked the best shoes and clothes (women know how important it is to have a sports bra that doesn’t turn your skin into raw meat).
The Friday before the race I drove for 12 hours to Raleigh, North Carolina with my whole family including my father-in-law who was visiting from Russia. To keep myself from getting overexcited and to make the most of a long trip, we stopped for some sightseeing in Washington, DC. Of course this meant that we missed the registration night and the pasta dinner. Luckily the race organizers allowed me to pick up my number in the morning. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, but finding the park was easy. My number – 65 – was the number of the high school I went to in Moscow and I decided that a good omen.
When I started to get into racing I read in a book by Bob Glover that one should have three goals in the race: a goal that was easy to achieve, one that you hoped for, and your dream goal. My “easy” goal was to finish the race. My hope was to break 24 hours (which, according to my long race results, should have been possible as long as I wasn’t injured and didn’t do anything wrong). The dream was to finish the race in 22:30.
The Umstead 100M is mostly run on carriage roads very much like the roads in the Rockefeller preserve. It consists of ten 10-mile loops with two spurs and two aid stations at each turn-around. There are five main hills in each loop: two are 1/2 mile long and three are 3/4 mile long. The downhill distance is equal to the uphill distance with some rolling-to-flat section between the hills. The total elevation gain and loss is 16,000 feet. I’m pretty slow on flats so my plan was to power-walk uphill, charge downhill, and run the rest at relaxed pace. I figured that if I were to average 2 hrs per loop for the first 50 miles and slow down after that, I would be fine. I went into this race with two injuries (I had shin splints on both sides and plantar fasciitis on one foot) and that really made me stick to my plan in the first loop. In addition, I had eaten a Boston Market dinner the night before and that turned out to be a bad idea; it led to quite a few extra stops in first 40 milesJ. Anyway, I warmed up slowly and talked to people.
This race is conducted as primarily a 100M event, but you can decide to run a 50M option ahead of time or after the fifth loop. If you drop out at any point after that, your time at 50 miles will be recorded as your finish time. The registration was closed at 200 starters.
The first loop gave me the feeling for what was ahead. I completed it in 1:43 and was 47th overall. Kind of fast but it felt right, so I kept going. After the second loop my family came for support – and what a great support they were! They always had a camelback filled with water and a bottle of Ensure ready for me as I was going through the time check point. Seeing them gave me something to look forward to on every loop. The volunteers were totally amazing and the aid stations superb. On the spurs I could check my position relative to the other runners.
I kept running a pace of 1:50 per loop and started to pass people. By the midpoint of the race, I was 13th overall and when two well-known women runners (one was Bethany Hunter) stopped at 50M, I found myself in the lead. This was scary. I knew that one woman was only two minutes behind and another right after her, so I couldn’t even begin to think about winning. I even stopped to take a picture with my family before they left to go back to the motel for the night. Twenty miles later, my husband Oleg was to join me as my pacer, but in the meantime, I would have to endure the race on my own. Surprisingly I felt great. I ran two more loops in the same time and pulled into a 5 minute lead. After 70 miles I still wasn’t hurting anywhere that I hadn’t hurt before, so I didn’t stop to change shoes or to rest. Oleg joined me and together we went for loop number 8. That is where the race really started. I felt strong and was still passing people during my funny uphill walks. In fact some of the guys called me “the Energizer Bunny” and copied my style for a laugh. I could still run on the downhills and jog on the flats.
Loop 8 took just under 2 hours. The walks uphill were taking a bit longer, but even if I walked the rest of the course, I could still break 20 hours! This thought gave me such a boost (it was far ahead of my dream goal) that I kept up the pace for the next loop and completed it in 2:05. That was it. I could crawl the rest for all I cared. Woman Number 2 was 20 minutes behind me now and I lapped Woman Number 3. But my hubby wouldn’t let me give up! I had to keep running. And running. How happy I was when I saw the uphill portions so I could stop going so “fast”! At this point my left hip joint was crying out loud and had to be shut up by Excedrin. Now I kept going because I wanted to finish so badly. Funny, is it how the more tired we get, the faster we want to run.
I found something else to push me. Since the race was run in a state park, the gates were closed at night and were opened only on the hour (at 1am, 2am and so on). I figured that if I finished under 19 hours I could go straight back to motel and get an extra hour of sleep. Otherwise I would have to wait another hour until I could leave the park.
I crossed the finish line in 18 hours 46 minutes, first female and third overall, exceeding all my goals and feeling quite well and alive. It didn’t take long to receive my buckle and say thanks to all of the officials and volunteers. We rushed off to get to the gates before they closed. Not that it mattered – I didn’t sleep all night anywayJ. Ninety-eight people finished the 100M race and almost the same number finished the 50M.

That’s it. I had done it -- my first 100 miler. I ran smart. I felt strong. It was a feeling I could only compare to the feeling after having a baby. In fact both of my kids were delivered after 18 hours of labor – talk about coincidences! The 12-hour drive back the next day crippled in a car felt close to exhaustion and happiness in delivery room. It was nice to know that I can be patient and get my mind in control of my body. No matter how much it hurts, I still love it!
Of course it’s not over. I hope there will be many more 100-milers. It is time for the next big game, the one and only, Western States 100. Doing well at one ultra doesn’t mean you’ll be OK in another, but it taught me what this kind of distance feels like and gave me confidence and something to look forward to. I can’t wait. Wish me well. Finishing the Great Western States 100 is my dream.

Now I am off to do about 100 miles in Utah’s canyons with my greatest crew and pacer ever, my hubby Oleg. This time we’ll do our this distance as a backpacking trip along the Escalante River trip in Glen canyon, where there is no competition, no goals, and no times -- only sky, sun and rocks. Is it going to be much easier to do this 100 miles in 6 days, carrying full packs? We’ll see.

Web Editor's note: Olga ran the Boston marathon two weeks later. We are still awaiting her report on that race!
edited by Naomi Marcus

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