A Tale of Two Virgins – by Julie Blanda

A TALE OF TWO VIRGINS Umstead weekend finally arrived.  The anticipation of this race had been palpable for the last week.  It was my first…



Umstead weekend finally arrived.  The anticipation of this race had been palpable for the last week.  It was my first weekend away to do something fun in a while involving the good old outdoors! And, more importantly, it was my first 100 miler experience, and I was going to crew and pace for Clint, who was running his first race of this distance, and would be volunteering at an aid station on the course.  I had some expectation, but no experience to back that up with, but had read articles and blogs, and reached out to friends who had been involved in these types of races before to get advice and real world know-how.



The race, the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, was held in Raleigh, North Carolina at William B. Umstead State Park.  In its 21st year, this race had a fun history.  Back in 1994, Blake Norwood and Tom Newman were training for the Hardrock 100, and wanted to complete a 150 mile training run.  They reached out to Umstead State Park to see if they would be allowed to run loops and have a one man crew, Jerry Dudeck, support them for the two days they would be running.  Allowed to do so, thereafter they discussed the idea to host a 100 mile race there, and the Umstead 100 was born with its inaugural race in 1995.  Unfortunately, I was not able to meet Blake myself as he passed away suddenly in October 2014 after 20 years leading the helm as race director of Umstead.


So there we were, it was Friday morning and we were rolling down I-40 on our way for a long weekend of who knew what.  We hit up a brewery, Olde Hickory Tavern, for lunch and a brew or two because that’s what you’ve got to do in these situations.  They had Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout on draft, and a pour of that was exactly what I needed!  A yoga class had started my day, but I had not yet had a chance to run, and I wasn’t sure how my day was going to end, so a beer calmed me until my feet could hit the ground.

How Clint and I ended up traveling to Umstead together is a Dirtbag tale.  As I was making connections early in the year with other Dirtbag Runner Ambassadors, Ben Syzek and I became quick friends since we were in the same state, North Carolina, albeit several hours away.  He had told me about the Umstead 100 and encouraged me to come out to volunteer for the weekend.  Since I always enjoyed the whole race experience even if not running myself, it did not take much convincing.  I had recalled something about Clint running a 100 about the same time as the March 28th race, and shot a quick text, “what 100 are you running?” His response was “Umstead.” I told him I was going to be going out there volunteering; how fun would that be?!  Our conversation continued on that was he was going out there alone, and I asked if he was looking for race support.  Well, that also did not take much convincing, and I became his crew. So, now I really had a fun weekend in front of me!

A little background on Clint George, who for the next two days of this adventure would be “my runner.” Clint and I met last summer, August 2014, carpooling up to Spruce Pine for the Springmaid Splash 10K trail race (How I Came to Be a Trail Runner).  That race was the first trail race for both of us, me having just been trail running for six weeks or so in preparation for this particular race, and Clint since early May of that year.  He was hoping to do well at the Splash, and he did, finishing 3rd place in his age group!

We followed some of the same trail running groups and ended up at some of the same races, and as naturally happens in the running community, got to know one another at those races. Clint continued to move on to higher mileage races, and as 2015 began, he was registered for his first ultras: Harbison 50K, Frosty Foot 50K, Uwharrie 40, and the Mount Mitchell Challenge.  His longest distance was 40 miles (both Uwharrie and the Challenge) going into Umstead, and the qualifier for the 100, the Mitchell Challenge had been on February 28th; exactly one month out from the 100. His training had been sporadic at best, and he had only had one nighttime training run, in the fog and rain.

Since offering to crew for him, I started to think about what the hell I knew about race support. I had volunteered at some races, and as a runner of course, knew some, but how was I supposed to know what anyone would need for 100 miles?! Almost immediately after offering my crewing services, I started looking up some information on the subject, asking my fellow Dirtbags for advice, gathering whatever I could find out there.  One of the things I found along the way was “be who you wish you had.” Good advice.  I wanted to be prepared with whatever he might need.  It was really was the blind leading the blind since he didn’t know what he would need or when he would need it.  As much as I pestered him over the weeks for his gear list, I could never get a definitive response out of him.  I was sure his stubbornness would eventually come through and at the last minute he would decide to do the race on his own.

The course was a loop, 12.5 miles repeated eight times, with an aid station at Mile 6.85 and at the start/finish area.  His original plan was to just have the drop bag at the aid station.  Until we got to our cabin at Crabtree Campground in Camp Lapihio, I had no idea what was in the drop bag, or really what else he had.  He had only casually mentioned his gear list over the three or so hour trip from Asheville to the park.  He even made the comment that he thought I had been joking with my incessant inquiries as to his gear! WTF! Ugh!

Regardless, upon our arrival at the park midafternoon on March 27th, we had what we had, and there was a store nearby for anything we might be missing.  We made our way directly to packet pick-up and got Clint checked in for his weekend adventure, and we got our cabin assignment.  And when I say cabin, I mean a very primitive structure.  Four walls to shelter the rain and wind (it rained all the way from Asheville to Raleigh, and the drizzle continued on and off during the afternoon and early evening), but it had no electricity or luxury.  But, there were no complaints from this girl, as I was ready to bring my tent and camp proper, but they were forbidden at the campground.  Finally getting a look at Clint’s gear and supplies, he was organized and seemed to have everything I thought he might need.  But because I didn’t know what he had brought, I had my own first aid kit, extra food, and just a random assortment of “what if he needs this?” stuff.

Unloading the truck and getting our sleeping bags situated, Clint had just enough time to make it back over to headquarters for the runner’s meeting, and I still needed to get my miles in.  Today was not just a one and done mileage day, as I would have been predisposed to complete just to keep my streak alive; this afternoon I needed a minimum of 4.5 miles.  I had hired a coach to help me with my training.  You see, another ‘bond’ Clint and I shared was that we along with our friend, Rob Johnson, were heading out to Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, Colorado later in 2015.




I had met Rob through the Foot Rx Thirsty Monk Monday night pub runs.  He and Clint had been running together for some time, and both were registered for the RRR 100 in mid-September 2015.  Offering in jest to crew them, Clint had made the suggestion that I just register for the 50 miler. I laughed a good laugh; I was no ultrarunner and had only just signed up for my first 50K, the Sky to Summit, which wasn’t until November.  It was ridiculous to think that my first official ultra could be a 50 miler!  The persistent invitation to join them continued, and over beers one night, Clint continued to taunt with chants of “come to Colorado with us.”  Not 12 hours later while running trails with Rob, I was getting the same earful from him.  Good grief!

In the meantime, there was no place I felt more at peace and at home than on the trails, and I was pumped to have a slew of trail races on the calendar, and I was finding more folks to get out and run those trails with me, this group of dirtbags included.  So one thing led to another and there I sat at my desk one early March morning, unfathomably one click away from registering for a 50 MILE trail race, albeit six months away.

I had navigated Ultrasignup carefully. I opened the Run Rabbit Run webpage.  I clicked registration.  Ultrasignup opened.  I clicked register.  I also had Facebook open because on this particular morning I also happened to be introducing my good friend, Tim Bayless, to Clint and Rob.  Tim was ready to dive in to 100s (apparently it is a disease and is affecting trail runners all over Western North Carolina!!) and I thought that he should get to know these guys so that they could start training together.  That post and the comments (almost 70, really?) which followed did me in.  While all this was happening, I had also opened my Dirtbag Runners Ambassadors page, and told them what was happening.  Those comments were more of the same.  “Do it!” they cried!  So there it went, $155 and I was registered for Run Rabbit Run 50; thank you, Ultrasignup for keeping my credit card information on file!

So now here I was at Umstead.  My first serious ultra running event and I was there to learn as well as crew and pace for Clint.  I had only just agreed, no, more offered, to pace Clint a couple weeks before the race, and I was petrified.  I had only ran once with him in a group run, and we had never ran together otherwise, and I knew he was much faster than I could ever be.  I was worried I would win the ‘worst pacer ever’ award.  As noted above, I had hired a coach because though I am determined, I did not feel like I could, even with six months of running, adequately prepare myself for the jump from 15 miles (my longest distance) to 50 on my own. I had a training plan in place.  I had a lap with Clint on the books for Saturday, and eight miles to knock out Sunday.  I was completely unsure about how that would happen, but more on that later.


Clint off for his meeting, I threw on running clothes, tied my laces and set off to bag my miles.  Not sure where I was going, I headed out on a forest road opposite the way we had come into camp.  I wanted to have some time to myself, and heading away from headquarters and the hubaloo of the race was where I needed to be.  The road led out to power lines and an open area with some hills, so I tramped through mud and overgrown grass to the top of the hill and found a path along a little lake.  I followed the lake’s edge for all of a quarter mile until the trail seemed to end, and ran this a couple of times, ending back up at the original forest road.  Now in my groove and with plenty of time until traditional pre-race spaghetti dinner, I turned around, and headed back to the lake.  This time I spied a trail to my right.  I ran up it, literally, until it to seemed to just disappear into the forest.  It was .2 out and back.  I ran it again.  And again.  And again.  For the next 35 minutes I ran those .4 miles along the lake and up and down the forest trail. Close to 6 p.m. and dinner, I hit my mileage and made my way back to camp to get ready for the rest of the evening.

Clint returned to the cabin a few minutes after I did, and just a couple minutes of discussion led us to ditch the pre-race dinner, deciding instead to head out of the park for pizza and beer.  We found the nearest pizza place and got a couple of the best beers they had, Yuengling.  Clint was getting nervous, as could be expected, and I was just as ready for the race to start as he was….well, maybe not quite as much!  A quick trip to the grocery for a couple last minute items-coffee and beer, the essentials-and we got back to camp before the gates locked for the evening.  This was a state park and there were restrictions on access, so we were heavily warned prior to race day and again at check in that you needed to be in or out of the park by 8 p.m.  Hanging out on the porch, we chatted about this and that, and then it was time to sleep.  It would be an early start to a long weekend, and Clint needed all the sleep he could manage.  There were only a couple of other runners staying in our section of the campground, so it was a relatively quiet evening.  Alarms set, it was good night.


About 3 a.m. I heard Clint starting to toss and turn.  He was awake, and now I was, too.  It was race day.  Well technically speaking, Day 1 of race weekend!  Coffee was made and we grabbed some breakfast.  The race was supposed to start at 6 a.m. sharp, and we had plenty of time.  HQ was only a 1/2 mile up the road from camp, and there were assignments for parking, so no worries on that front.  The runners in the cabin across the way were packing up, and I met one in the bathhouse.  Nellie was running her first official 100, but had completed a Fat Ass 100.  Her and her entourage headed out a few minutes later, even though it was only 10 ’til 5.  Clint commented on why they would be heading out so early, and a few minutes later, we found out why.  The closed park gates opened at 5 a.m.  Anyone who wasn’t staying on site was now heading into the park. And those coveted parking spaces.  And so, we gathered Clint’s drop bag and his gear box, a cooler of food, and some of the stuff I would need throughout the day, and headed over to HQ.  We still got a good parking spot, and as we had discussed the evening before, grabbed a corner of a table inside the HQ lodge to set up a place for his gear.  I wasn’t too sure if I was hip to that idea, but deferred to his judgment; this was his race.

Runners were filing in, photos were being taken, hugs around, and nervous tension was everywhere.  I was looking for two folks who would be somewhere in this crowd of neon and headlamps-Cherie Yanek and Ben.  I was excited to meet Ben as we had communicated so frequently, and I was hoping he would bestow some last words of wisdom on Clint before the race started.  We found each other and shared a hug, and I introduced the guys to each other.  Cherie and I had texted the night before and she told me to be on the lookout for her in all pink.  Well, there was a lot of “all pink” in the room, but I recognized her bright smile right away and we shared a great big hug!  I was really excited to meet Cherie as she was RD of the Burning Man 50k and was recently published in Trail Runner magazine regarding her race.

Obligatory pre-race photos ensued, and before we knew it, it was 6.  Clint, along with 200+ runners, including the likes of Hal Koerner and 2012 Umstead winner Mark Manz, were off into the twilight of the morning, headlamps bobbing into the trees.  An optional crew meeting was scheduled for 6:15, and the race provided breakfast offerings and coffee for the volunteers and crews.  Hot coffee in hand, I settled in to seek my own words of wisdom.  The newly appointed race director, Rhonda Hampton, took the mic and began a wonderful telling of what job we as crew had.  It was inspiring and on point.  I felt like she was talking right to me.  I realized then what the fuck was happening! My friend had just gone off on his 100 mile journey.  His success would be linked to the small things that I could do for him.  Fill his water, dig in his bag for a potato, tell him he was doing great-and above all, to make sure he finished.  Rhonda said no less than three times that all of us were there for one reason-to make sure our runners finished.  It was a touching and profound moment for me.  Until that point, even with all the excitement and preparation, it really hit me what the hell Clint was doing out there.  I was determined to be able to do anything he needed me to do to get that buckle!  Armed with the knowledge acquired at this crew meeting, I left to enjoy the chill of morning and the sunrise. I had plenty of time to wait on Clint to make his first 12.5 miles around.



One of Clint’s goals was to sub-24 Umstead.  This required about a three hour lap average, or 14:15 pace.  Easy enough and a decent pace to maintain.  But, in true Clint George fashion, he was ahead of this pace.  I had signed up for text message alerts linked to the timing at miles 6.85 and at 12.5 for the duration of the race. One hour fourteen minutes into the race, I received my first text alert.  Clint had just passed AS2.  What the f-, Dude!? We talked about this!  No problem.  I’ll catch him at the end of his first lap, and tell him to slow down.

I did some quick math, anticipating when he should swing by his gear (inside HQ, remember) and waited it out.  In the meantime, runners were coming around and running in and out of HQ, and I was beginning to think this was not the best place for us to have set up his stuff.  First, he had to come off the course and through some cones, climb two stairs and come inside; all the while runners were dodging spectators.  I wasn’t thrilled. I became even less thrilled when my text alert went off that Clint had JUST passed through his Lap 1! DUDE!  Where was he?  I ran outside.  No Clint.  AND his Lap 1 was 2:08:37!  He was 52 minutes ahead of where he needed to be to have a nice and easy sub-24.  No sign of him, and worried he had a case of going out way too fast, this time way too fast, I made the decision to meet him at AS2 and tell him myself to slow the fuck down.

I was none too anxious to drive as we had traveled in Clint’s massive truck, and I was used to my little Subaru.  Nonetheless, this was my vehicle for the weekend, and so off I went.  To head off my runner around mile 20.  I barely caught him after getting turned around on the way to the Aid station.  He grabbed his drop bag to get whatever it was he needed; I think it was new band aids.  I told him he was killing it and that he was already over 1:15 ahead of where he needed to be, and that he didn’t, shouldn’t, be banking that time.  His response was that he was feeling great, and then, as quick as he came in, he was off again.  I was so pissed at him!  I knew his tendency to go out way too fast, but he had never ran a 100 before-how long would “I feel great” last? The sun was out and though it was cool for me, I was sure Clint was already sweating a ton, and I was worried about dehydration early on.  There were so many variables I was unsure of.  How much was he drinking?  Was he eating?  How long would the adrenaline last?  I climbed the hill to the truck to get back to the start/finish before he got there.  With his quickened pace, I really had no idea how fast he would get around the 5 miles to finish Lap 2.  I was just able to get the truck parked and ran to the runners’ chute when he came up that pipeline.

He finished Lap 2 faster than his first.  I was scolding him as nicely as I could.  I knew that he was having the time of his life; the weather was perfect and the course was much different from the technical trails he had trained on-the course was gravel road-and the elevation gain was only 8,000 feet over the 100 miles.   Regardless, he was not going to be able to maintain that pace over six more laps.  He knew it and I knew it, but getting it to sink in was another story.  He continued on his way starting Lap 3, and I told him I would again see him at AS2, but this time because I would be volunteering there.

Early on in my planning for this race, I signed up for aid station shifts to give me something to do in between Clint’s laps.  A couple weeks before the race after talking to Ben, and Clint and I discussing me pacing a lap with him, I dropped an early Sunday AS1 shift, but kept my AS2 shift from Noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.  I gathered my thoughts to prepare to help out the runners-I was really upset with Clint about going out so fast.  He would be so pissed at himself if he ran a really fast 50, then lost his race in the second 50 because he couldn’t maintain any semblance of pace.  I made my way back to AS2 and just before pulling into a parking spot, my text alert went off for a fifth time.  I was up on a hill, and looked down and saw Clint pulling away from the AS, his neon green shirt streaking down the road.  WTF!?!  Almost two hours ahead of a sub 24 pace.  31.85 miles down.  The next time I would see him would be the farthest distance he had ever ran at 45 miles.

I settled into my AS shift, meeting Chris Squires, the leader of this tent-The Ptomaine Tavern.  Drop bags were organized; there were cots, first aid, and food.  Lots and lots of food.  One of the things that Umstead is known for is their aid station offerings.  I liken it to a college dorm buffet.  Almost anything you could want. Sodas, potatoes, fruit, cookies, m & m’s, hard boiled eggs.  I met everyone working, and greeted runners coming in.  Everyone seemed in great spirits.  It took a little bit of time to settle into a groove, but once I did, I was having the time of my life!

There is definitely something exciting being a race spectator in a volunteer tent.  You see runners at their best, but also at their worst.  Folks from all walks of life, men, women, old (some very old!), young, fast, slow.  All there with the same goal-finish.  Either 50 or 100; FINISH.

I spent my time cutting oranges and potatoes, serving soda, getting hot dogs.  Talking with runners.  “What do you want?”  Offering them all I had until something sounded good.  It was fun when you started to see the same runners coming by…that included mine.  Clint came running down the hill.  He had slowed down in the first 7 miles of Lap 4, total time of about 8:21 and almost 50 miles.  He was on pace for a sub-17 finish.  Like that was going to happen.  I grabbed his drop bag, and he started fishing around.  He was looking good, strong.  He said he was eating, but I couldn’t get him to take any aid station food.  His water bottle was full.  He was in and out in less than two minutes.  I told him I still had a good two hours at the AS, and I was not going to be able to pace him from 50-62.5 like we had talked about.  Originally, we had discussed us running together for the first lap of his second 50.  Close to 6 p.m.  Here it was 3.  And I would need to eat and change.  I had almost brought my clothes with me, but figured I would have plenty of time for all that back at the cabin.  Again, the failings of a lack of pre-race communications and us not having ran together.  It was all a learning process.

Clint off for more miles, I was so upset that he might be doing great now, but he still had 50 miles to bag.  Was he really eating enough?  I texted our friend, Clay.  An amazing local elite ultrarunner who was at the start/finish, maybe he could evaluate Clint’s performance.  I told Clay I needed him, an expert on all things long distance running, to check on Clint, to see if Clint would to talk to him and find out what was going on in his head, and if his body really was holding up.  Clint would listen to Clay…maybe.  Anyway, it was my best shot at possibly getting him to slow down on his own, and for Clay to assess his physical state.  Clay would give me a straight update.  Again all this worry spoke to my inexperience at this level of ultrarunning.

Clint went through his first 50 miles in 9:41:11.  Impressive.  I was stoked; it was a great time! But as my AS volunteers could attest, the only thing on my mind was that I was so worried he would be spent.  That he would not finish.  I was encouraged, though, by my fellow volunteers.  Dan was RD of the Uwharrie 100.  He knew 100 mile runners, new and seasoned.  What their limits were, what they were capable of.  Others had ran 100s.  They had been there.  They were as discouraged as me with how fast Clint was running, this being his first race of this distance, with all the unknowns, but they encouraged me to keep his spirits up and to make sure he was eating and drinking when the pacing did begin.

In the meantime, there was nothing I could do for my runner, so I concerned myself with those runners coming down the hill and into the aid station.  I talked with so many different people.  They picked at the food, grabbed a drink, asked for their drop bags. Some knew exactly what they wanted.  You could look at their bib numbers and tell that they were the elites.  Hal Koerner ran by me twice.  There was an awesome runner from Australia killing it-he came through three times in my five hour shift! WOW!  I saw Cherie-she was always five minutes ahead of Clint-and she was having a great run!  At the start she couldn’t decide if she wanted to do the 50 or 100.  How crazy!  I saw Nellie, and she was having a great race, pacing herself to a fun run!

As the day went on, the runners started to come in in waves, five or six at a time, then a little lull, then a few more.  Everyone looked really good, people were eating, hydrating, talking.  A few would come in and say “I want a PB&J, m & m’s, and a coke, and bring it to the table outside the porta potty.” Yes, ma’am.  There was a man in his 70s who tripped on a shoelace which was untied and he fell into the table sending food flying.  He busted his knee open and hit his face.  We held him steady while his shoe was tied, but he insisted on getting on.  He was only 32 miles into his race.  I never got his bib number so I could follow his progress, though.  A few people dropped out of the race at the AS, but not many.  One man who dropped just stayed for an hour and ate and ate and ate.  I guess he was getting his money’s worth since he was not getting a finisher’s buckle.

Time was running short for me at the Tavern.  I had to start thinking about my own needs, too.  I had started to notice I was becoming dehydrated, so was trying to drink as much water as I could.  I was also very hungry.  After catching Clint after his first 20, I had made my way back to HQ, and set up a spread for lunch.  I had brought a ton of food because I was not sure what I would want to eat.  I also thought I might end up sharing food, so had a little bit of this and that in my cooler.  In the back of the pick-up truck I set up my camping stove and had a gourmet grilled cheese with chocolate milk.  It was delicious, but that was at 10:30.  It was now 5:00 p.m. and I was starving and looking at a 12.5 mile run with speedy.  What if I crashed?  There was some leftover pizza from dinner, so I started munching on that making my way back to Umstead Park.

I was beginning to feel a little bit of nerves looking at heading out for my lap with Clint. It would be almost a half marathon, into the darkness. I was not too sure I liked my headlamp, or that it would even work for the time I would need it for-my only night experience with it was on a 6.5 mile leg of the Blue Ridge Relay and it was so heavy that I had ended up just carrying it for most of that run.

I made my way back to camp, changed into my running attire, ate another slice of pizza, and was drinking water like crazy!  I made it back to HQ, met up with Clay who filled me in on how Clint looked at the last pass through, and stood ready for Clint to come in for Lap 6.  I prepped stuff he might need-got his headlamp ready and put an extra one in my bag.  I grabbed his hat, and some of his food stores.  He came in and had no interest in changing shirts despite the fact he was wearing the same shirt he started in, and I was concerned about cooling temperatures after the sun had set, but he said he was fine, so there it was.

He grabbed some water at the AS, and there we went, off my for my 12.5 mile run in the woods, and miles 62.5 to 75 for Clint.  About 20 yards from our start, Clint mentioned he was having incredible chafing.  Not just chafing, but CHAFING.  Good lord! Apparently body glide was not on his mind at all, at any time, during his previous miles.  He was now paying the price, and had borrowed some lube from a fellow runner on his way into HQ.  So there I was now, holding his water bottle while Clint had his hand busy applying lube to his delicate bits.  Welcome to ultrarunning, Julie.  Shame goes out the door.  Friends that once shared beers now share much more. Oh, the stories.  This was going to be interesting.  He also shared with me that he hadn’t peed but twice.  Really?  I immediately fell into mommy-mode and felt like it was now time for me to do my job-what I came to do-get his ass across the finish line.


The course was nice. I hadn’t really looked at the elevation profile, but knew it wasn’t too bad.  We headed down an out and back for two miles, and at about 2.5 hit an unaided water station with some goodies and porta potties.  I had been drinking a ton and had to pee. At this point, Clint had slowed down.  Way down.  He got a little ahead, but I was easily able to jog back to him. Within these first three miles I knew there would be no problem with my keeping pace with him.  He was not going to be moving fast.  We passed the lake I had run along the evening before, and the sun was setting.  It was very pretty and peaceful.  There were a few runners in front and behind us, but no one in close proximity, so it was like we had the entire woods as our own.

We chatted about some randomness.  I was concerned about his water and food intake and every five minutes asked him if he was drinking and did he have to pee yet.  We kept a slow pace, even for me, but I couldn’t tell you how slow it was.  After mile three I turned my Garmin off.  There was no point, and I thought the beeping at the mile markers would annoy Clint- I was already doing a good job of that.  We continued on, and came to a place on the road where for no explicable reason there were placed two orange cones side by side.  As we approached, Clint told me they had been like that all day and at every pass he had ran between them, with his arms raised all touchdown Jesus-style, and that it was his good luck.  What, dude?  Was this him going off the deep end? But, I was just along for the ride; he was leading this show, so there we went hands up through the cones.

The moon was starting to peak through the trees and Clint now had his headlamp on.  I wasn’t quite ready for the light of a headlamp as the road was pretty clear of any dangers, and I was enjoying the view.  We bantered back and forth about nothing in particular.  I talked about my aid station shift and the folks I had met, and I continued to pester him about his water intake and lack of output.  He complained of the chafing.  Oh, the chafing.  He was jogging lightly, but there was definitely something not quite right about his gait.  It was just not normal.  I had to laugh at him, but pitied him at the same time.  There was nothing I could do for him, and really nothing he could do for himself at this point.  The miles drifted by and before I knew it we turned and hit an uphill that would lead us to the aid station.  I was familiar with the downhill coming into AS2 and was looking forward to heading in there to say hi to the volunteers who were working so hard for the night runners.

It was then that I also began in earnest trying to fill Clint’s head with thoughts of the yummy offerings at the aid station. Mmm, potatoes and salt, cookies, fruit. He was having none of it, until I got to the soup.  “Yeah, soup sounds good.”  I ran slightly ahead of Clint, calling for his drop bag while he got his water bottle filled.  He grabbed some soup and a little of this and that.  I was slightly hungry as well, and trying to use this lap as a little training for myself, grabbed a cookie and an orange slice.  I learned a very valuable lesson on this night, too.  I love Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies on long runs.  A lot.  I topped off my water bottle as well, and we were off for what would be a horrible slow climb the five miles back to HQ.

Now when I say horrible slow climb, I can only imagine how much Clint and the other runners hated this stretch of the course, and I speak to how they may have felt this section of the laps.  From my perspective, with relative fresh legs still and having known the trails of Western North Carolina, this was a walk in the park (ha, really just about)!  The climb was not so bad, but it was there.  Clint was still jogging quite a bit and not walking so much, and he was pretty engaged mentally.  It was on the first mile out of the aid station that I decided that I would continue on for Lap 7 with Clint.  It was far too dark and lonely out on the course for him to be alone after Lap 6 for 25 more miles.  This was why I was here. I also had my own motives…..

I had this 50 mile race in six months that “my runner” had talked me into, and I saw this whole Umstead experience as a kind of training weekend.  Other than sitting in the truck driving back and forth, I hadn’t sat all day. I had been running here and there, talking with folks, and just generally being active throughout the day.  Now here I was 9ish miles into pacing and I was feeling the adrenaline.  It was also so nice to just be outside in nature, and the moonlight through the trees was perfect.  I still hadn’t had to use my headlamp, and I wouldn’t at all for the duration of my pacing.  The temperature was dropping a little bit, but we were moving quick enough to keep everything warm.

We made a gradual climb for about two miles and finally passed the unaided water station that heralded the turn up the road that would take us back to HQ, where there were friends and hot food.  As we came into the parking area, I heard a familiar voice to my left, and Clay jogged up and joined us for a short while.  He asked how Clint was doing, and Clint told him about the chafing.  It was apparently brutal and I heard descriptions of body parts that were just plain wrong.  No man (or woman) should have to deal what was happening, had happened, in Clint’s shorts.  Clay had some Butt Paste in his gear, and on our way back through, he would share his tube.  Clay also asked how I was doing.  It would do no one any good if I wasn’t feeling good. I let him know I felt really strong, and was going to head out for 12.5 more, Miles 75-87.5. We went up the runners’ chute, having completed Lap 6 in just over 3:24.

Gosh, Clint was getting there! I can’t imagine getting to the place where you have “just less than a marathon” to go in a 100 Mile race.  Clint was looking good and overall was doing really well.  His mind was sharp, and he was drinking plenty of water.  He still hadn’t peed, but I was monitoring his intake.  While I was inside grabbing Clint’s phone and headphones, per his request (but forgetting his yogurt, my crew failure), I snagged the race M.D., and told him about Clint’s urinary issues, or lack thereof.  He came over and checked Clint out, and gave the okay for Clint to continue on.  I was hoping Clint would not be upset with me; I was there to make sure he finished those 100 miles, and if I had to make sure that all systems were go, that was what I intended to do.  Especially with the cold really settling in, I wanted to make sure he was healthy.  He came in from the aid station to grab some extra clothes after heading out and immediately starting to shiver.  Again, I was glad that he was making these decisions on his own.  I’m not sure how he would have felt if someone had to make an important decision for him.

I grabbed a quick coffee and small slice of pizza as well as a goodie bag of snacks to go at the aid station, and off we went down the runner’s chute.  Clay was waiting as promised with the tube of Butt Paste.  Again, I held the water bottle while Clint did his application, and I mentioned that my gloves were not tainted!  Oh well!  The night was definitely cool, and we were not moving very fast.  In fact, I was walking at a decent clip, while Clint was doing this odd 100 mile run/walk of shame.  He was beginning to get a little down.  As I was already aware, there was not too much to the course, and it was easy enough to identify where you were on the course and what was ahead.  The miles were coming a little slower, but we passed the cones again around mile 4, again going between them hands up-good luck, right?

As we made our way, Clint was listening to his newest Wailers’ album and I chatted about whatever I wanted to.  I talked about my tattoos, my dogs, shit that Clint could have cared less about- I was just keeping him company.  One foot in front of the other.  We approached the ascent that would lead to AS2, and this time did not fill Clint’s head with the idea of food or what was waiting for him.  Lap 7 was more about relentless forward progress.  Keep him moving, and let him know he was rocking it!  He would eat what he wanted, and any pressure from me would have just frustrated him.  That was not what I wanted to do.  He had less than 20 miles; he was going to do this!!!

He grabbed handfuls of food, and we both got our water bottles filled.  I was really cold, and though I had hand warmers in my bag, barely had the ability to get the packages opened.  A volunteer helped me, and I got them in my gloves.  Clint was still moving, but I easily caught up to him.

On this lap, I was allowing him to get a quarter mile or more in front of me while I filled his water bottle or took a piss.  I was doing anything I could to stay warm.  I had an extra pair of pants in my bag, put my legs weren’t cold-my upper body was.  Letting him ahead of me, I was hoping to warm running to catch up, but it was never quite enough.  Coming out of AS2, I was getting pretty tired, too, and I was ready to be done.  The next four miles seemed to take forever, and we were pretty much out there alone.

We were getting lapped, though, and there were folks passing us who were running to their finish.  It was exciting, but Clint was starting to get discouraged, and was talking about quitting.  When he said this, I just changed the subject or talked about how he was so close to being done.  That he was making good time and that was just being a beast of the race!

The final turn into HQ, I knew what I needed to do.  I was spent and could not go out for any more miles, and I was freezing.  My time was done.  We came up the runners’ chute, me heading to the pacer lane to the left, and made it into the lodge about 30 seconds ahead of Clint. At his gear box sat Clay and Ben.  Our pub run friend, Beth, was there too, crewing for a friend.  I walked in, said “he wants to quit, he’s all yours” or some such thing, and made my way directly to the massive fireplace to warm up.

Here, Clay and Ben took over.  I had done my woman’s work of keeping him moving, but what he needed now was the words of those who had been there.  Those who had felt defeated, but persevered.  I warmed up a little, and Beth offered me her sleeping bag to bundle up, and listened as the guys talked to Clint.  Ben left for a minute and came back with a shining light, a fresh, experienced pacer, David Galloway.  David had been waiting around for over an hour waiting to pace someone, but had no luck finding a runner.  Well, here was his runner.  Clint got some layers on, ate some food, and received his pep talk.  The doc also came back over and gave Clint a continued clean bill of health. Just before 4:00 a.m. Clint was off for 12.5 more miles!!! I saw him out the lodge door, and started to care for myself.

I thought I had developed a blister, and I was freezing!  I kept myself moving, and eventually grabbed some coffee and a cheese quesadilla and french toast-have I told you how much I love ultra race foods?!  I finally made my way out to the truck and clean, dry clothes.  I grabbed a blanket from the car and it became my best friend for the rest of the early morning hours.  The bathhouse was slightly warm, and I went to go hang out in there for a while.  Runners were in there changing who had completed their races, and I chatted with them.  My goal for the next few hours was to stay awake and stay warm.  Talking was the easiest way to accomplish that.

After 45 minutes or so, I finally decided to make my way back to the lodge, and it was on that path that I ran into Rhonda, the RD.  I told her how great the race and experience was, that I was so impressed with everyone, and I told her about my runner.  She asked about my day, and when I filled her in, she was thrilled for me!  A huge perk of this race is also the volunteer gear, and though I had already scored an awesome runner’s duffle, Rhonda told me to grab a couple of other volunteer items.  After seeing what they had earlier in the day, it did not take much convincing and I ended up with a Kelty pack complete with hydration system and with an Umstead shirt!

Taking everything back to the truck, I sat out there for a little while with the heat and radio cranked.  I wanted a little bit of alone time.  The long hours were wearing on me, and I wanted to try to catch some sleep as I was going to be called upon to get our asses back to Asheville.

My text alert went off at 5:17, and I made my way back to the lodge to begin my vigil over the runners’ chute.  I grabbed some coffee, and watched runners in all states filing in and out, but mostly in.  Some runners were being carried.  Some were very pale.  Some were injured.  A lot of folks were experiencing hypothermia. I would later learn the temperatures got down to 24 degrees that night.  As the first rays of sunlight came peeking through the trees, I watched runner after runner collecting their buckles.  A father and son finished together.  Husbands watched for their wives.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the emotion of everyone else, maybe it was a little bit of everything, but as I thought about Clint coming across his first 100 mile finish line, I began to cry.  It was overwhelming.  The distance.  The endurance.  The training.  The finish.

Clearing my eyes and my head, I found a tree stump about 15 yards from the finish line, and sat down, bundled in my blanket and sipping my coffee while the sun rose.  I cheered for finishers and for those heading out for more miles.  I had a good view of the approach and was confident I would recognize my runner!  Talking to others who had either already finished or volunteers who had been out all night, I spoke of the experience I was aware that Clint had been having.  Several folks laughed at the fact they knew who Clint was based solely on my description of his chafed gait!

And then, there he was!  Slow, but smiling!  He climbed the chute for the eighth and last time!  I dropped my blanket and ran around to the finish line!  Ben and Clay were there waiting as well.  In his red and white jacket and a pair of soccer pants, Clint crossed the finish in an unofficial time of 25:17:46.  I made my way around to catch the presentation of his buckle.  Clint looked great!  He had good color and a huge grin!  He was barely walking, but he was done!!!!! Official time: 25:17:42!!!

We made our way in, and after congratulatory hugs, I again began worrying about what Clint needed.  His race may have been over, but he still needed his crew!  We got him close to the fire to warm up.  David had done an amazing job of pacing Lap 8, keeping Clint moving fast, running so that Clint had to catch up.  Throughout those miles, they had talked about their race history, and upcoming adventures.

Clint got some food, but wasn’t too interested in it.  He had a pretty swollen right ankle, and his compression socks had made it worse.  Stripped of those, his legs were pretty swollen.  A doctor brought him an ice pack, and we sat around the fire.  After a while, we decided enough time had passed and the thought of some sleep before our trip back entered our minds.  We said our good byes to our friends.  People we had only just met.  The familiar lodge.  We made our way back to our cabin, Clint laid out in the back of his pick-up.  A few minutes down the road, we decided to just pack everything up and head home.

I loaded the truck, cleaning out the cabin while Clint moved like Frankenstein.  Everything good to go, I had to get a milk crate out of the back of Clint’s truck so he could step up into the cab.  I wish I had taken a photo to remember that moment!  He was chafed to the end of time, and since he was done with those 100 miles, I was free to laugh at him! We headed out of Umstead for the last time that weekend, and as I turned to tell him something, he was already fast asleep.

And so, there was Clint’s first 100 mile race.  Done.  And mine.  Wow!

And so now we wait…for Run Rabbit Run……..



Julie Blanda

Dirtbag Runner Ambassador


Asheville, North Carolina, USA



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