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!

14 comments:

  1. You are too modest.
    You were out in the middle of the woods all night in the mud and rain. I think I saw you there at 4am. Only to help others.
    That soup you served was the difference between the the runners moving forward and being collapsed on the side of the trail. Many thanks to you and the other volunteers for letting Shannon spend all day running!

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    1. Thanks Anthony. I think maybe you had it the worst of anyone besides the runners. I know it had to be brutal to watch someone you love suffer so much, even in pursuit of a dream. Well done.

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  2. All the volunteers were amazing!!! I helped pace and everyone at the aid stations for so helpful, kind and encouraging. Well done.

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    1. Thanks Diana, but you and the other pacers are the true volunteer heroes. I consider you guys to be the front line support for the runners. You make the biggest difference when the running is toughest.

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  3. What ac said.

    The 100-miler is the peyote of races.

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    1. Thanks, Josh. Shannon is a lucky woman to have you and Iris as such good friends.

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  4. Thank you so much for being out there Scott. And I can't tell you how much I appreciated the soup. Especially in my dark hours, both literally and metaphorically.

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    1. I was happy to help in the only way I knew how - with a smile and some nice hot soup. You were amazing out there, and I'm so happy to have been even a tiny part in helping you achieve your dream.

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  5. thank you for volunteering, and for writing this! umstead 2012 was my first hundred miler and i'm sure you helped me at one time or another (or many times). please know that the positive spirit and physical helpfulness of great volunteers like you contribute immensely to a runner's will to keep moving forward.

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    1. Thanks yroc! And congratulations on your first 100 miler! You are amazing! It was my pleasure to help you achieve such an awesome milestone.

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  6. Excellent description Scott. These are the things I observed the past 2 years out there and fueled me to become one of those who would dare go out there to take on such a challenge. Running it was everything that I thought it would be... and the volunteers, crews, and pacers make it possible to endure to the end, if at all possible. Bob

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    1. Bob, I'm honored to have been even a small part of helping you achieve such an impressive feat! You 100 milers have inspired me in so many ways.

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  7. It was great to meet you in person at AS1. You and Ryan had to be the top soup fetchers out there! You captured it well, the runners are amazing. I'll see you out on the trails again soon.

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    1. Joanna it was a pleasure slinging soup by your side! See you on the trails!

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