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Umstead 100

Ian Saunders
May 7th, 2018 · 9 min read

Race information

  • What? Umstead 100
  • When? Saturday 7th April, 2018
  • How far? 100 miles
  • Where? Raleigh. NC
  • Website: Umstead 100
  • Strava activity (Pt1): Strava - Pt1
  • Strava activity (Pt2): Strava - Pt2
  • Finish time: 20:36:50


A< 19 hours and/or finish in the top 10No
B< 21 hours (Spartathlon Qualifying Time)Yes
C< 24 hours (Who wants to run for more than a day?)Yes


Umstead 100 was the first of my A-races for 2018. My training strategy was split into 2 phases. The first phase focused on improving running efficiency under duress. During this period I set a new 5k PB (17:31) and a half marathon PB (1:20). Some of the crucial workouts in this phase consisted of track running and typical marathon long runs, finishing each training run at just quicker than marathon pace (MP). I kept up my general endurance with long hilly cycling. Typical running mileage was around 50 km a week.

Around 6 weeks before the race I refocused on endurance. My view for these races are that they are 80% mind game, so tried to get in a variety of runs at different points of the day: Late at night, with my sister in snowy and boggy weather up and down the Yorkshire Dales, after eating a kebab late at night etc etc. Most of these runs were 5 to 10 km. I also got in 1 notable long run of 50 km, with the first 40 km deliberately slow to get a bunch of time on the feet and the last 10 km at MP. It’s also worth noting that most of this training cycle was in the UK and the English weather had been horrendous, so I got to enjoy lots of rainy, windy and snowy runs. At the time, this seemed like a curse…

As an aside: I’m not certain of the impact, but after seeing some of my dubious technique on the club videos from the Big Half, I got a professional coach. Unsurprisingly, we worked on tweaking form to improve efficiency. The long term goal is a sub-17 5k, but still work to do on that front!

Right! Enough of the boring technical training junk and onto…


My first and only 100 miler had been the North Down Way 100 (NDW100). On that trip, I met an awesome ultra runner from North Carolina, Karl. The Monday after NDW100 we shared some beers and he invited me out to run the historic Umstead 100 race in his back yard. After we both managed to secure spots it was going to be a re-run of NDW, but under beautiful sunny North Carolina weather.

I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina on the Wednesday night before the race. Had a good snooze and spent the next 2 days chilling with Karl and his family. We got to checkout Raleigh; if you haven’t been, it’s a must. Beautiful running area, tasty food and an amazing micro brewery scene.

At Thursday lunch time, we met up with one of the three pacers Karl had graciously organised for the back 50 for me. Greg was a very interesting gentleman and a pretty hard core runner having just come off a gutsy run at the Yeti 100 miler! He certainly had the energy to keep us pushing on the last 2 laps, regardless of what state I would be in!

The weather report was now showing rainy conditions for parts of Saturday. I foolishly forgot to pack rain gear, so we popped to the shops to grab a pair of trousers and a rain jacket.

Finally, we checked out the local running shop with an attached beer store (Runologie - and yes, really). The big gossip of the night was about Gordy Ainsleigh and Tom Green running the race, and how it was an honour to get on the course with such ultra running legends.

Friday night. Free pasta party, check-in and the opportunity to say hello to Gordy. My feet felt Umsteady and ready to get running.


Umstead is structured as 8 identical 12.5 mile loops. It’s billed as a great first 100 miler as there is an extensive aid station system with access to water/snacks approximately every 2.5 miles. There are also only two time cut-offs. The course is by no means flat; the hills are pretty rolling, most being dangerously runnable apart from 2 steep stinkers.

We arrived at race HQ to a very wet and muddy start. The weather had changed from sunny, to somewhat rainy, to rainy all day with the chance of snow during the night.

Laps 1 to 3

The race started!

The initial part of loop 1 was a soft incline we immediately broke the fourth rule of ultra running - walk the hills. I had lost Karl at the start of the race but a few minutes after starting we stumbled into each other in the dark. We had similar pace goals for the first few loops so teamed up, as we ran he gave guidance for later on the race with regards to what hills should be run and not! This proved very useful. I pulled away a couple times, as I stretched my legs on the downhills, but Karl’s superior hill climbing technique caught me up quickly on the hills. An interesting conversation was had with a local runner named Star who had run WSER, and a friend of hers who had just attempted Barkley. We finished loop 1 a few seconds apart and after I had a tactical loo break Karl pulled away on loop 2.

This leap frogging continued for the next few aid stations. We both were hitting our A time goals and C-R-U-S-H-I-N-G.

Though the rain had been constant through laps 1 & 2 it somewhat abated on lap 3. The weather was feeling pretty decent, and I was just running in my shorts and shirt now.

Unlike some ultra races, Umstead doesn’t have an extensive mandatory kit list, so I opted to lose a few pounds and drop off my rain jacket, trousers and warm clothes.

Lap 4

The first half of lap 4 was pretty glorious running. I was pushing hard but really enjoying the race. I ran past Gordy who was wearing only a pair of bright pink/green running shorts and saw Tom Green pushing along steady and strong.

Though the course is a loop, there is an out and back section which forms a T junction. This allowed a rare opportunity to see the race leaders up close and personal. I got to enjoy some extremely focused and powerful running from Olivier Leblond, Jim Sweeney and Matthew Urbanski. Matthew had the biggest smile on his face and always said hey as we passed, a true gentleman!

As I hit 75 km (with 5k to go on that loop) the temperature decided to mix it up and drop the F. I don’t know the exact change, but I went from being comfortably wet to borderline hypothermic. My hands started turning a little blue and I upped the pace and ran hills to keep warm. I pulled up to the HQ and this time went into the main cabin to get some TLC.

I’d always intended to take a 10 minute or so break at the half way stage, but ended up taking 25 mins changing shoes, clothes, eating and warming up. At this point, a runner who had been on-off running with me decided to call it a day. There is also a 50 mile finish at Umstead and he had allegedly set the second best time for a 60+ year old, kudos. My aid station crew were fantastic and helped me get ready to go face the back half. Which looked like it was going to be a doozy!

Lap 5 & 6

You are allowed to pick up a pacer at mile 50 but due to illness my first 2 pacers were out. Umstead runs a volunteer pacer program, sadly no one was free so early in the day for the start of lap 5, so I jogged out on my own. Karl had also taught me a new trick of filling a little plastic bag with tasty aid station snacks. Bananas, orange slice, PB&J sandwiches, my own little picnic in the park. Thanks aid station crew, you all rocked.

It took a little while for my body to warm up on lap 5, hence the slow-paced start. The cold had also messed with my running watch and the battery was low. I swapped to a lower power mode and decided to just run to feel and not bother with time watching. As the lap progressed the weather improved slightly. Perhaps we would have a better last few laps?

I had an interesting conversation with a few random runners, names were mostly lost in the deluge, but it certainly helped pass the time. Pulling into HQ, I decided to switch back to my road running shoes as the increased weight of the trail shoes was annoying me. Amazingly my support crew had managed to arrange a replacement pacer via the volunteers for lap 6. Colin turned out to be a little bit of a pacing pro. He was originally down to pace one of the elite females but for various reasons he was a free agent. I mentioned my A goal but looking back on it, he must have thought I was a bit mad as my A time was realistically long gone due to the long aid station stop and the slow loop 5. But we went for it anyway!

Colin did an amazing job, he also helped me with a little geeking out as we pulled up to Gordy and grabbed a photo! Turns out Colin had a very respectable 22 hour finish at Umstead and subscribed to a very similar training strategy as me. He taught me a few useful running techniques for the hills and brought my loop time back to around 2:30. Only 8 park runs to go, that’s what, 3 hours? Hahahahahahaha.

Time for a little ultra shuffling.

Lap 7 & 8

Dropping off Colin I met up with Greg who was going to be pacing me on the final two loops. I was a little dazed and in the midst of a low point so just wanted to get this thing done.

I had 4 hours and 40 minutes to hit that A goal. The race was on. Greg and I hit the trail with much gusto and pushed from the very start of the lap. About 5 minutes later the grind began. As mentioned earlier the first part of the course is a somewhat soul-destroying out-and-back. It’s also quite deceptive as it has a soft gradient up and down. Judging when to run and walk proved challenging and played mind games. Greg was full of enthusiasm and bountiful hilarious stories to keep my mind off the pain. He kept me moving along and running even when I didn’t want to. A quarter way through the loop he said that unless we got moving we wouldn’t hit the splits needed for the A goals. F¥$€! I started running behind Greg and we upped the pace pushing up every hill and running down every hill. The blisters that had developed under the balls of my feet were decidedly painful and I was struggling to find that next gear. At the mid point aid station I was feeling a little maxed out, I decided to check out my watch and saw we had 3 hours to get sub 19. As much as I would love to say that a miracle happened, I realised that today was not going to be that day. In my mind I reset to the B goal with brownie points for anything lower.

We completed the 7th and penultimate lap in just under 3 hours. As we pulled into the HQ, we crossed paths with Karl and his pacer Mark going out for their 7th lap.

Having reset our goals, the final lap was quite enjoyable and I enjoyed chatting with Greg as we shuffled our way through the slowest lap of the day. The whole final lap was very distorted as I felt we were much quicker than lap 7, even though we were 22mins slower :face_with_hand_over_mouth:. We enjoyed some lovely snow and hail. And listened to the Umstead frogs! Greg is not only a fantastic runner, but did an amazing job on the graveyard shift. I can’t wait to see how he does on his next race!

It was with a sense of jubilation that I pulled up to the finish and crossed the line with a time of 20:36 (16th oa, 15th male).


I was mildly in shock from the cold and exertion so grabbed some food, put more clothes on and sat in front of the fire. Had a few conversations with other runners. It had been a pretty brutal day and claimed a large number of DNFs; there were more than a few stories of shivering cold runners.

A short while later, we packed up and headed home for a well deserved rest.

I was expecting the 2 days of post-race debilitation that had followed the NDW100, but was pleasantly surprised to be up and walking without much issue the next day. Less time on the feet, softer surfaces and better shoe management (don’t over tighten laces!) paid off. I am very happy with the result and feel I put it all out there on race day. The weather certainly played havoc on the second half of the race. Could I have gone faster? Perhaps, but not much quicker on that day in those conditions. A few more longer training runs may have helped with some of the later stage fatigue. Just over a 3 hour PB at this distance is something I am very proud of, and will wear my buckle with pride.

What’s next?

My second A race which will be the Edinburgh Marathon in late May. It will be my 2nd attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon. There are a few other plans in the works, but TBC!

Question: does anyone know who was leading the race for the first few laps? He was rocking an artc singlet, but seemed to have disappeared later in the race! I didn’t catch a bib number :)




Dry Base Camp!! Dry Base Camp!!

Before the pain Before the pain

Karl checking his shoe Karl checking his shoe

Wet drive to the start Wet drive to the start

Running into the aid station Running into the aid station

Hanging out with Gordy Hanging out with Gordy

Shiny New Buckle! Shiny New Buckle!

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March 4th, 2018 · 4 min read

Brecons Ultra

If it hadn't been for my fair-chunk of slippery trail running, and this being the 4th time I ran this section, I would have had to walk it all.

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