Seems as if it was just last year that I got the crazy idea to drive down to Raleigh and run around in circles a buncha times to see if I could finally get to the finish line of a 100-mile race. Turns out that "last year" was really 1996. Yeah. 1996.
Although I had packed in some 30 ultra-distance finishes by then, I had tried and given up three years in a row at the Old Dominion 100-Miler. Good sense would dictate that 100 miles was probably not my distance. Me and good sense have never been pals. In this case, it seems to have worked out OK, I guess.
What do I remember of that first Umstead? I remember my finish time of 24:44:18. I remember hiking the final 25 miles with the legendary Aaron Goldman, who was 67 and had triple-digit ultra finishes but never a 100-miler until we made it around. I remember my friends Andy and Shelly Wunch passing us with one mile to go on Shelly's way to the overall female win.
Other Umstead memories: That time Doug Young and I split 9:25 for the first 50 on a blisteringly hot early-April day, then my stomach imploded and I somehow barfed/slept/walked/suffered my way to a 27:30 finish. That time Ben Clark and his Army Ranger buddy D.J. and I joined together and crushed the final 30 miles en route to a 21:57 finish. The "hurricane year" when I DNF'd at Mile 54 with early-stage hypothermia. Stuff happens when it rains sideways and the temp drops 37 degrees in an hour.
For me, Umstead is about each of the people I've had the pleasure of sharing the path with. Doom. Will Brown. Lee Cox. Mike Whalen. Clifton. Leo Lightner. Tom Green. Missy Heeb. Art Moore. Kevin Sayers. Bob Ring. Dennis Hamrick. Tom Sprouse. Pete Lefferts. The list goes on and on.
I've seen Umstead balloon from a field of 54 to a field that fills online in seven minutes ... when registration opens in September.
Umstead is the massive start with all of its crackling energy, and also the stunning quiet of an 2 a.m. lap when it feels as if you are the only person still awake on the whole planet. Umstead is aid every 2 miles or so, with no worries about going off course ... even when I'm so tired that I run headlong into a tree (see 2007!).
Umstead is RD Blake Norwood, assistant RD Joe Lugiano and a cast of thousands who give of themselves so we can come play and play and play. It's Myra Norwood, Blake's wife and a calming presence with one of the world's best, kindest smiles.
Umstead is a 12.5-mile loop that has a pie plate marking every one of its miles. Umstead is a worthy challenge. Umstead is sneaky hard. Go out too hard and you can pay dearly. Before you start, 100 miles doesn't really seem like 100 miles at Umstead. After three loops, it often still doesn't. After five ... a different story.
Umstead gets in your blood. If you fight it, it can bite you. Hard. If you embrace it and take what it gives you, it can be your friend.
Umstead is an indelible part of my story.