Battling mud, heat, humidity, thunder, lightning, rain and blisters, nearly 250 ultramarathon runners tackled the hilly trails March 31 in William B. Umstead State Park, testing their physical endurance and realizing longtime goals.
The 18th Annual Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run was one for the record books, according to race director Blake Norwood.
“This was an interesting year,” he said. “We had 150 runners finish 100 miles, the most ever.”
This year’s race also celebrated a new course record. Mike Morton, 40, of Lithia, Fla., ran the 100-mile course in 13 hours, 11 minutes and 40 seconds. The previous record, set in 2010 by Zach Gingerich of Naperville, Ill. was 13:23:02.
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The race also welcomed its youngest ultramarathoner ever. Ben Rothschild, 16, of Atlanta finished the 50-mile option in 10:28:01.
Runners travel a 12.5 mile loop through Umstead Park. Those who run the full 100-mile race circle the loop eight times. Those going for 50 miles take four loops.
“This year, we also experienced the most blisters ever,” Norwood estimated.
The sloppy conditions made runners miserable as they shuffled into aid stations where medics tended to their raw feet.
Suffering is just part of the sport, according to four ultramarathoners from Raleigh who ran farther than they have ever run before.
Jay Spadie smiled throughout most of his race but admitted the last 25 miles were rough.
“My body could not take any more food after the first 75 miles,” he said.
Spadie, 41, who lives near Umstead Park, decided to try the race after watching it in 2011. “I noticed all types of runners: skinny, chunky, old, young and a little crazy,” he said. “But they were all super athletic people.”
Spadie studied the sport like a scholar. “I read runners’ blogs and books on running. I learned about nutrition. I learned how to run on the balls of my feet,” he said.
He was miserable with nausea at the end, but he dug deep and finished in 21:10:35.
“It was torture at the end, but a good kind of torture,” he said, and laughed.
Spadie, a software developer and owner of a dance studio with his wife, Kirstie, isn’t ruling out future ultramarathons.
“I have crossed it off my bucket list, but it was so much fun, I just might do it again,” he said.
Before she tackled Umstead, Amy Surrette’s longest run was 83 miles. She wanted to prove she could run 100 miles, and she did, in 28:43:17.
In tears over painful blisters at the midway point, she refused to quit.
“I had come there to do 100 miles, and that’s what I was going to do,” she said. “When I signed up, I knew I would have to work for it. I knew it wouldn’t be fun.”
Surrette, 38, a preschool teacher and mother of three, was a runner in high school.
“Then life happened. I went to college, got married, had kids,” she said. “Four or five years ago, I decided to get into it again.”
At the 2011 Umstead race, she volunteered as a pacer. “After seeing the carnage last year, I vowed to never run it myself,” she said.
But six months later, she was the first in line to sign up.
“I learned that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was,” she said.
Jade Wei admits running 20 miles a week was not enough to train for an ultramarathon. Nevertheless, she completed 75 miles of the course in 14:12:51.
Wei, 40, has been running for four years.
Last year, she helped her husband, Jim Wei, tackle his first ultramarathon. She also volunteered as an aid station worker and a pacer.
“Umstead is such a friendly, fun place. I started learning about running from others, and just decided to do it,” she said.
Wei, who is in systems support at GSK, finished her race with blisters and swelling.
“One foot is swollen, and I gained seven pounds of water weight,” she said.
She enjoyed the first 50 miles, but a five-hour ordeal to complete her last 12.5-mile loop spelled the end of her journey.
Through it all she learned about how her body will adapt to stress. She is going back to the basics to get stronger. But she doesn’t rule out another ultramarathon.
“It would be awesome to do 100,” she said.
“Heck yeah, it was worth it,” said Lauren Wilkins, three days after finishing her first 100-mile ultramarathon. She completed nearly 70 miles last year.
“With a whole ’nother year to train, I gained more experience, and my body was better able to adapt ,” she said.
Wilkins, 31, crossed the finish line in 28:29:57.
“I decided before the race that I was going to do the full 100, and I was determined not to stop until I finished the entire run,” she said.
The race was hard, but there were good times too. She enjoyed the midnight thunderstorm. Chirping birds and the sunrise elevated her mood at the end.
Then there was the food.
“I ate five pancakes between laps six and seven,” she said. “I also had vanilla bean ice cream while I was having my blisters worked on. That was so awesome.”
Wilkins, who works at PPD, plans to participate in a 208-mile relay with five friends this month.
“I’m not sure about running 100 miles again, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” she said.