Umps Umps Umstead – My Story of an All-night Dance Party

 

 

It’s hot.  It’s humid.  I’m pissy.  I’m alone.  Some nice old guy is talking to me and all I want to do is listen to this random music on my new iPod that I didn’t bother to test before I headed out for a ONE HUNDRED mile run.  It’s half way through lap four of eight and I already know it’s over.  There would be no sub-24 hour buckle for me this time.  Just one week earlier, Gary Knipling made a passing comment that now was haunting me…screaming at me.  “Hey Gal!  That’s a lot of pressure.  Having all those people there just for you.  It’s way more pressure than wearing bib #1.”

 

What the hell was I doing out here?  Who did I think I was trying to make the impossible possible?  Why did I let all these people, SEVEN to be exact, change their schedules and drive five hours to watch me fail? But, I promised them an all night dance party, so that’s what I had to give them.  No one came all this way with lots of alcohol, tons of food, running gear and jazzhands to not run a loop or two, so while I dreamed of stopping, I knew I’d keep on running even though the 24 hours was out of sight.

 

3:50 a.m. and we’re already winners!

The day started just as it should, with an ungodly early wake-up call for Sara and I demanded by our fearless leader, Bob Gaylord…General Bob Gaylord. Sara was my hotel roommate for this adventure and the woman I would marry if I were a lesbian and she were a lesbian and I wasn’t already married.  We dressed, applied cheap, yet tasteful, rocker tattoos and met Bob in the lobby.  It was raining, but not hard.  Perfect running weather.  We left right on time and arrived first at the gate.  If you go anywhere with Bob, you will always, always be there first.  The gate opened fifteen minutes ahead of schedule and we were headed to the Perfect Parking Spot, which is worth the 3 a.m. wake-up.

 

I made my way to the bathroom and got right in.  This is one of the bonuses of being a female ultra runner, ultras have a much higher percentage of men, so it’s a really great role reversal and I’m tickled every time I see the dudes standing in line as I walk right in and take care of business.  A quick trip back to the car for some last minute items and then we were all off to the lodge for the start.  I was able to chat with the legendary Bill Gentry and James Moore and others we had befriended a day earlier at packet pick-up.  Friendly faces always make the start line jitters a little less jittery. 

 

A quick look down at the 8 bracelets my daughter, Cadence, made for me, one for each loop, and….“Go!”  We were off into the dark.  I quickly fell in with a group that was already in it for fun and immediately felt at ease.  Within a half mile I met up with a great gal, Danette.  We met the day before as she was leaving packet pick-up.  I was sure we scared her, but she was willing to hang out with me, so on we ran at a nice, conversational pace.  The time was passing quickly and soon we found ourselves with another gal, Kathy.  We ran along as a threesome for miles and miles.  Just three gals out for a run.  It was their first 100 miler, although Danette had run the 50 miler last year so she was familiar with the course.  Their virgin enthusiasm was infectious and I was happy to have fun, smart, cute gals by my side.  Imagine Bob’s joy when I pulled in with two adorable girls, one who was already in need for him to touch her feet for some blister care.  Just two and half hours in and I had made his whole day.

 

Awkward moments by Toni

Lap two was just as easy and fun as the first.  We continued to run a casual pace and walk all the uphills.  I made new friends along the way and cheered on old ones.  It really seemed like a moving party.  And man, did I love it.  The loop seemed complete when I had an awkward moment with the front runner, Mike Morton, who went on to set a blazing fast course record of 13:11.  It’s a running joke with my trail pals, Team Gaylord, that if there’s an elite ultrarunner anywhere near me, I’ll find a way to have an awkward moment with them.  I’ve racked up several, so far.  I can’t help but let my inner cheerleader come out during races, so of course, I was cheering for all the leaders, or anyone who we saw on the out-n-backs. 

 

My moment with Mike started innocently enough.  We were on the airport spur, an out-n-back that makes up the first three miles of the loop.  We were going out and he was quickly on his way back, running a sub 7 minute mile pace at that point (never going over an 8 minute mile during the entire 100 miles!).  I called his name “Yay! Mike Mort…Mortenson…Morton?  What’s your last name?”  I left it at a question, which would indicate I’d expected an answer.  Obviously, at a sub 7 pace, he just gave me a thumbs up and kept on motoring.  I just yelled “Yay Mike!” at subsequent meetings when he was lapping me.

 

The girls and I ran smoothly and easily through loop two, and rolled into the start/finish aid station after 2 hours 50 minutes.  Right on schedule.  Exactly what I needed to be doing right now in the race and it made me feel at ease.

 

Rammstein?  Okay.

Sara and Bob joined us for Loop 3, and it was great to have extra company. Unfortunately, I was feeling great while the other two gals weren’t fairing so well.  Kathy’s foot was bothering her and Danette’s stomach was giving her problems.  So, I eventually ran ahead while Sara and Bob tried to help the girls as much as they could.  When Bob and Sara eventually caught back up with me around mile 7 or 8, they assured me that I needed to run my own race and couldn’t hang ahead or behind with anyone else.  This is a hard thing for me.  I get attached and feel loyalty to the runners I meet along the way, but they were right.  I’d say the exact same thing to my runner.  By the time I was through loop three, I was alone with Bob and Sara.  I was still on target with a three hour loop.

 

Loop four started lonely and warm.  The rain had stopped and the sun was starting to peek out.  Bob and Sara decided to go the reverse way on the loop, so I wouldn’t see them until later.  I saw Danette as I headed out.  She was smiling and looked like she was feeling better. With a hug she sent me off with a “Go girl!  Get that sub-24.”  A quarter mile later I ran into Kathy, who had tears in her eyes and was obviously hurting. Her foot was much worse and she wasn’t sure she’d make it for the entire 100 but was determined to at least finish the 50.   I continued to the airport spur with a little sadness knowing Kathy probably wouldn’t finish. 

 

The sun came out, the air got stickier and my mood went south.  I was downright foul to be around.  I didn’t even want to be around me.  I paused right after the turn around to start my brand spankin’ new iPod nano, the one I didn’t bother to learn how to use before I began this 100 mile adventure.  Brilliant. One of the earphones was missing the plastic bud, so I was limited to just one.  I grew increasingly irritable with each minor mishap.  Eventually, I hit a button and music started flowing.  Hells to the yeah!  Neil Diamond’s America started jamming and I was grooving.  Which was fitting because at the last crew stop I made a full wardrobe change and put on my red, white and blue starred skirt.  “Everywhere around the world, they’re coming to America!  Today!”  Yes!  Freedom!  For three minutes, life was just fine.  And then some random, metal band came on and the flow was over.  I became consumed with getting a new song to play and refused to move at more than a walk pace, sometimes coming to a complete stop, while trying to figure it out. Eventually I just gave up and listened to whatever played. Rammstein started blaring in my ear and it was a little jarring, but it turned out to be a decent beat to run to, so I tried to unwind and just go with it.  This is also where I kissed my sub-24 good-bye.

 

After a couple of laps around the park, you begin to break it down into bite-sized pieces.  This section from the turn-off to aid station two was one of the runnable, bite-sized sections.  Although company is always nice, I bid goodbye to the sweet, story-telling old man who’d I’d been listening to for the past half mile and started shuffling. I found Sara and Bob after the aid station and it was exactly what I needed.  Bob tried motivating me by saying the most unmotivating things possible, like… “You think that sucked, it’s just gonna get worse up here.” But it’s Bob, so in a sick way, it was sorta motivating.  Fortunately, Sara was there to inject optimism with her cute curls and angelic smile.  She told me I was running a good pace (lie) and tempted me to get to the start/finish faster by not telling me who would be pacing me on the next loop. I love a good surprise.  Even with all the iPod nonsense and bad attitude, I still managed another 3 hour loop. 

 

Where’s Juanita?

I dropped my pack for refuel by the crew, and ran up to check-in at the start/finish.  By the time I came back, my ever-efficient crew had repacked gels and water and I was ready to go, but not without preventative toe taping, new socks and red solo cup of beer.  {gulp, gulp.  Ahaaa} I was shooed out of the chair, which was getting really comfortable, and lead away by Stan and White House Tom – two very good surprises.  These are the nicest of guys and didn’t deserve what they inherited.  They tried their best to get me moving and keep me entertained, but all I did for the first 6 miles with them was bitch about how tired I was, how hot I was, how cranky I was, how I wasn’t going to get to a sub-24 hour finish.  Blah, blah, blah.  Whine, whine, whine.  And these two just kept taking it and letting me rant.  At one point, I even made them go over to a bench so I could stretch, because apparently only a bench stretch would do.  Bless them.  They really drew the short straw by pacing the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde loop. Once the sun started to set, the air got cooler and I perked right up.  And I was ready to play the movie quote game.  They came up with quotes from obscure movies and before I knew it, the lap was over.  But not without lost time.  3 hours 17 minutes.  Nail in the sub-24 hour coffin.

 

White House Tom stopped at one loop to stay back and supervise Juanita with her warm tortillas. Juanita was introduced to the group last summer when I was particularly disgruntled during a trail run and started venting to her.  “Who are you talking to?”  “Toni, who is that?”  “Juanita, my imaginary running partner.”  The secret was out. They all loved her…more than they loved me.  Oddly, the Juanita they see wears see-through sun dresses and looks something like Selma Hayek.  My Juanita actually looks like someone out of a National Geographic documentary.  Either way, she makes warm tortillas on the run.  She’s fabulous.

 

Okay Jazzhands, let’s see what ya got.

After another NASCAR style crew stop, I was off for loop 6 with a new pacer–Jazzhands Rob.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been equal parts terrified and excited for this moment.  I’ve seen him transform from quiet, funny, thoughtful Rob to Jazzhands Rob with a mere sip of a 5 hour energy drink.  There’s really no other way to categorize it.  It’s amusing, until you find yourself on a dark trail with cranky, tired runners.  Even more scary if you’re the tired, cranky runner.  Help me.  Luckily, Stan the Calm hung around for one more loop and, as far as I could tell, Rob had not yet fully transformed.  The night was young. 

 

I don’t remember much about this loop except I was running more than the last loop, it was cooler, and my body was getting worn down.  By mile 70, everything sounds gross.  I was still managing to suck down gels {slurp, gulp, ewww} but I really could use something to change it up.  At the second aid station, Rob insisted I try some chicken and rice soup.  With Stan assuring me it was safe, I took a sip.  Hmmm, not half bad.  {Nom nom nom}  Yes!  It was magical!  Let’s get moving.  We steadily moved through the area called the sawtooth, which is up and down for 3 miles.  The plan stayed the same, run the downs and walk as fast as possible on the ups.  Earlier in the day I saw the front runners RUN the ups, but I’m positive the hills grew longer and steeper when the sun went down.  Instead of just listening to Stan and Rob, I managed to tell a story about the runner who was attacked last year right around this spot, which meant I was feeling a little less horrible, because 1) I was talking and 2) I could actually remember something.  One more stop at the porta potty and we were on our way to finishing loop six. 

 

Don’t call it a come back.

Two more loops, two bracelets left.  I can do this.  We picked Denise and Beth up for this loop.  Jazzhands Rob needed extra help to keep him in check.  He’s like a Gremlin…after dark, with the help of caffeine, he can get really Jazzy. Within the first couple miles, we were playing two truths and a lie.  I learned that Beth has grand theft auto to her name.  Impressive.  Next up, Would You Rather?  Rob can play the hell out of this game.  In the end, punching a baby in the face wins over playing naked twister with Dick Cheney.  Always.  I think Denise is the only one who hesitated before answering.  And that’s why she’s known as Sweet Denise.

 

We have these weird phrases and sayings in Team Gaylord.  They’re only relevant and funny to us, probably because they came about in a funny and organic way on the trail, which none of us can actually remember, except that they were funny then and they’re still funny.  Some of these are UmpsUmpsUmps, Li’l Neil Diamond, Juanita, Don’t call it a come back, and others that will continue to be funny to me, but everyone else reading this will most liekly think are really dumb.

 

It was somewhere on this loop that I broke out with “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been doing this loop SIX times.”  It was a continued theme for the next loops.

 

This threesome was really great for my morale.  Intended or not, I would overhear them say things like “She’s actually doing really well“  “her pace is great” and “Wow, she can really power walk.”  It did wonders.  It gave me hope, the hope I lost at mile 45.  Rob continued to dote on me.  It was sweet, especially because you wouldn’t normally picture Rob being a doter.  Jazzhander, totally.  Doter, um, no. He had this seventh sense, saying what I needed to hear or being where I needed him to be.  He would tell me when I was running strong or, when I needed a break, he’d let me take it but then quickly set me back on track.  He tracked my drinking, my Gu-ing, my eating, probably even my lubing.  It was right around mile 85 that I realized I was dangerously close to being back into sub-24 hour contention.  Inside I cursed and wished I was just a few more minutes off; that way I wouldn’t make it even if I pushed.  The story would be written and I could just suck it up and mosey along for the last loop.  Hell, maybe I’d finally get to witness this second-wind everyone talks about when the sunrise comes after running all night.  But that’s not where I was and Rob and the girls were gonna do everything in their power to get me closer to the sub-24 reality.  I do remember saying something to Rob, maybe near the end of this loop, to the effect of “Okay, let’s see what my mind will make my body do.”  And that became my mantra for the final loop.

 

Can you run the last loop with me?

Here it is, the last loop.  The last time I’ll have to run out of here.  Rob gave me strict instructions.  I’ll get the batteries changed in our headlamps and get the packs repacked.  You run up to the check-in, DON’T LINGER, get some food and run back down. At 3 in the morning, nothing is more comforting than someone telling you exactly what to do.  Even thinking on my own was taxing and tiring. 

 

I did exactly as instructed. I came back down from the aid station and kept on going.  Beth was there to give me a headlamp.  Not mine, but it worked so what did I care?  Denise appeared with my pack, helped me put it on and they continued to walk with me as I ate my soup and waited for my pacers.  The schedule called for Sara and Bob for the final loop. I was ready for them, looking forward to them.  After all, they brought me in last year in the wee hours of the morning, crying and cranky and eventually elated.  Yes, bring ‘em on.   But I also needed continuity. So, a couple of miles before the last loop, I asked Rob in a sad, pathetic voice “Will you run the last lap with me?”  Without hesitation “Sure.”  I could cry just thinking of it now.  I am usually pretty conscious of others and try to be thoughtful. But this was me at my worst and I didn’t give a damn about anyone else, so without thought for Rob and what was good for him, I asked, knowing what the answer would be.  This guy had just done some tough races…a fast road marathon and a fast, muddy trail 50k.  He also had a not-to-be-messed-with-or-underestimated 50-miler just two weeks after this.  He didn’t sign up for 38 miles.  Heaven knows his legs didn’t need the extra miles, but there he was at 3 in the morning taking me back out on a 12.5 mile loop and hoping to make me do it faster than I did the last loop and the one before that.  He has balls.  Hopeful as he reads this, he will know my gratitude.

 

About a quarter of a mile out of the aid station here comes Rob.  Pissed off, Jazzhands Rob.  Apparently, there was lot of stuff happening at the crew station, a “cluster fuck” as he called it.  He spent time trying to find batteries, find people and track me down after he headed the wrong way.  But, here we were.  Out on the final loop. 

 

Know what this race needs?  More Lube.

He made sure to let me know from the get-go that this sub-24 was do-able.  But I’d have to work for it.  I’d have to push and I’d have to dig.  Two things I don’t make a habit of doing. We chatted about what I needed from him during this loop and how Bob tried to motivate me earlier in the race.  I made him promise that if Bob came out with us that he wouldn’t let him tell me how much worse it was going to get.  Hearing that might just break me.  And like it was on cue;  “I feel good!  Nana  nana nana Na.”  We looked at each other and said “Oh, gawd.”  Last year, Bob tried to sing to me at almost exactly the same point, to which I said “Please don’t” and I haven’t lived it down since. To his credit, he didn’t do it again, and this year, I didn’t have to say anything.  That was the last time Bob sang. 

 

Bob is amazing.  He’s our village elder.  He has 25+ years on most of us, and can still run circles around all of us.  It was as if he hadn’t been up for over 24 hours taking care of me, my new found friends, and any other random runners or their loser crew members who got stuck in the mud.  He came out there and was exactly what I needed him to be.  He sensed my vulnerability, my fatigue and only pushed gently, but mostly just said words of encouragement.  “You look great.”  “That was a really good push.” “You’re rolling in a lot of people.” Between he and Rob, I was in the very best hands.  After running the same section from the main road turn off to the second aid station, I had earned a potty break.  No, I didn’t really need to pee that much, but, as I explained to my pacers when they questioned me, I needed to lube.  The chafe was getting uncomfortable, and the only answer was more SportShield. 

 

With more magical chicken rice soup, which became less magical with each loop, we were off to the sawtooth section.  This was rough for my pacers.  Rob constantly looking at his watch.  Bob, always looking back.  I was trying.  They knew I was trying.  That was all any of us could do.  Rob would challenge me to pass each new headlamp we saw, saying things like “Toni, you steal a little part of their soul every time we pass someone, and then you take their manna to help fuel you.”  Okay, he may have said ‘energy’ instead of ‘manna’ but I’m pretty sure if he would’ve thought to say ‘manna’ and thought I even knew what he was talking about if he said ‘manna’ he would’ve most certainly said ‘manna.’  This wasn’t motivating to me. It must be a guy thing.  But it was entertaining and fun to watch my pacers get a little more enthused with each runner we passed. 

 

OkayOkayOkay

Final 3 mile stretch. Rob’s looking at his watch.  Bob’s looking back.  They’re saying things like “If you keep running strong like that, you’re gonna get it.”  “We need to keep that pace.”  “Can you do that for the next two miles?”  I didn’t think I could.  I didn’t want to think about it.  So, I stopped thinking and I just watched Bob’s headlamp and the MMT (Massanutten Mountain Trail 100-miler) tattoo on Rob’s calf and followed.  I knew if I just hung on to these gentlemen, they’d get me where I needed to be when I needed to be there.  They kept talking to me, but all I could say was “okay.”  I must’ve said it a thousand times in that last three miles.  I muttered an occasional “Thank you” when Rob or Bob would pay me a compliment. I clearly remember saying “Thank you” to Rob after his hundreth “Looking good” and he laughed saying “You are unfailingly polite, you know that?”  “Okay.” I muttered. Pretty soon, every exhale became “Okay.”  And then it became my mantra.  Okay, you can do this.  Okay, you’re strong.  It’s Okay to dig.  You’re Okay.  Dig, dig, dig deep, it’s Okay.  Okay, you’re gonna DO THIS!  Okay, you’ve GOT THIS!

 

We turned into the final half mile.  I stumbled on some rocks and paused.  I could tell Rob and Bob were a little worried.  Is she really going to start walking now and blow all this time we built up?  Really?  Nope.  No, I’m not.  A few steps of walking and then I was off.  I was running.  Running like I’ve never run before.  I found the gear that a few miles earlier Rob told me he knew I had, but I didn’t believe him. I didn’t dare believe him because I didn’t want to find or use that gear because it would be hard.  It would hurt.  I kept running, following the headlamp.  Following the tattoo.  I looked down at my one remaining bracelet.  And then I looked at my watch.  23 hours 54 minutes.  It hit me.  I was going to make it.  I had this.  Just as quickly as I wrote off the sub-24 hour, it was back.  And I started to cry.  Sob.  Weep. It was hard.  It hurt. It was magical.  I yelled out to nobody and everybody “I’m DOING IT!”  “I’m going to make it!”  My pacers replying “Run, Toni!”  “Don’t stop.  Run to the finish!”

 

“Sixty!”  “Six Zero!” I screamed as I approached the finish.  I’m not sure anyone could understand me through my crying, but damnit, I wanted them to know my bib number before the clock struck 24:00. 

 

I crossed the finish line with tons of people cheering for me.  My wonderful, smiling and deliriously tired crew, Team Gaylord.  Other volunteers, runners and crew members who had been there for over 24 hours.  Most of them didn’t know me, but they shared in my joy.  I grabbed Sara and let out a primal, guttural cry.  It was hard.  It hurt.  It was absolutely magical. 

 

“That was the hardest thing I’ve done, and I’ve pushed babies out of my vagina!”

 

I sat in the camp chair and just soaked in the joy, and the pain, and the accomplishment.  I came with this lofty goal and I did it!  I dug deep.  Really, really deep, and I made it. 

  
Somewhere near the finish we ran upon the great Bill Gentry.  Bob told him I was finishing up my final loop and heading to a sub-24. Bill followed me in and even shed a few tears.  We hugged and kissed.  Fred “Doom” Dummar, who had to bow out this year due to a total knee reconstruction a few weeks before the race, was there, up on his crutches ready to give me a hug and kiss.  He had been out there for over 18 hours to cheer on his favorite runner, the lovely Mrs. Doom, who also ran a PR.  But he was also such a great morale boost to the rest of us.  He’s one of the Umstead regulars like Bill Gentry so if you’ve been once, you’ll be fortunate enough to know Doom and Bill.  Sally, one kick-ass female ultrarunner and famous for Sally’s Asylum, the main aid station, hugged and kissed me.  None of these tired, beautiful people even slightly hesitated to hug me despite my terrible Mexican Juice stench.  I love this race.  I love this crazy, amazing, weird trail running community. 

 

I hope there are no GUs in Heaven

The remaining hours are a blur.  Pictures.  Congratulations. More crying.  More hugging.  A presentation of a buckle (yes, please) or pendant by the wonderful Joe Lugiano.  Sitting in a car.  Lost car keys.  Vomiting.  Found car keys.  Driving.  Vomiting.  Showering.  Beth dressing me in very tight compression gear.  Resting. Vomiting. Rob snoring.  Hugging.  Driving.  Vomiting.  Welcome home posters. (Thanks, Devlins) Pain. Really bad pain.  Lobster pot pie. Texting.  Phone calls. Vomiting. Pain.  And at the end of that, one very pretty, very shiny, brand new belt buckle. 

 

There’s no “I” in Team Gaylord or Dance Party

If you got anything from this race report, essay really, it’s that none of this was possible, not one bit, without my crew, Team Gaylord.  They all deserve their own belt buckle, but I’m not sharing, so I’ll let them touch it on the special occasions when I wear it.  I love them.  I adore them.  They are my family.  And I can’t wait to return the favor and help them to any finish line of their choosing.

 

23 hours 57 minutes and 17 seconds.  Umps Umps Umpstead is in the books.

 

 

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