Monday, April 2, 2012

Unstoppable Forces and Immovable Objects - Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run

No, I didn't run the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. That's a feat which exists outside my running universe, no more accessible to me than running an Olympic marathon, or taking a walk on Mars. I volunteered to work at the Aid Station #1 (Sally's Asylum) for about 7 hours, starting just after sunset and stretching into the dark hours after midnight. This post is in honor of the runners and has nothing to do with my meager volunteer work of serving hot soup and burgers to the real heroes of the race.

I've been using the word "amazing" quite a bit since I witnessed the race firsthand. Pardon me if I simply continue to abuse that word. When I started my volunteer shift, the runners had already been running for over 12 hours. And yet, they were still in good spirits, even though it was apparent that a good portion of them were beginning to suffer heavily.

As the night progressed and a massive thunderstorm rolled through the park, drenching the runners in a chilly rain, their cheer and good spirits slowly faded away, replaced with weary looks of determination. The "thousand yard stare" made an appearance on many runner's faces as midnight approached. And yet they continued to run.

For some of the runners, their determined, purposeful transitions through the aid station slowly transformed to a more confused, wobbly, hazy, drift through the tent. Umstead 100 volunteers acted as shepherds and guides, steadying each runner with gentle questions, aid and encouragement. Pacers transformed into the protectors and champions of their runners, encouraging them to eat and drink, and quickly relaying urgent requests for assistance to the aid station workers. It was amazing. The most touching, human scene I have witnessed in years.

For other runners, the miles solidified their determination. Easy smiles transformed to firmly set jaws. Smiling and dancing eyes locked into solid, serious and penetrating stares. Fatigue masked by bravery.

And then there were those who continued to smile. Those who continued to joke and banter, even though the humor became darker and more self directed. To be 18 hours into a race and to still be able to laugh at their own misery, at the very absurdity of it all, was amazing.

Here's to you, Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Runners! You were unstoppable forces, and you moved the immovable object. Long may you run!