Umstead 100 ultra volunteers go the distance (Part II)

Yesterday, our look at the volunteers who make possible every run, triathlon, road bike ride, mountain bike race, adventure race — whatever kind of amateur competition you can think of — left off with a bevy of helpers trying to help an ailing 42-year-old Richard McKnight of Arizona finish the last five miles of the Umstead 100 endurance race. Today, a look at more of the 300-plus volunteers who made the Umstead 100, held April 2 and 3, happen — and whether they could help get McKnight to the finish.

For a man who’s been up 24 hours — and may not get any sleep for another 10 — Joe Lugiano looks surprisingly fresh. Good thing, because he is to the runners of the Umstead 100 what Lady Liberty has been to millions of immigrants: the symbol of a long, arduous journey about to end.

Lugiano is the assistant race director of the Umstead 100, in which the majority of 251 runners will run eight laps on a hilly 12.5-mile loop course. Lugiano wears many hats as one of the race’s 300-plus volunteers — nearly a week earlier he helped begin setting up and he’ll be here into the coming week making sure no trace of the Umstead 100 remains in 5,579-acre Umstead State Park in Raleigh. Right now, with daylight just beginning to spread, he’s the friendly face that tells runners their quest is over. And the friendly face that will appear in many of their finish-line photos.

“This woman wants a belt buckle!” says Sally Squier, one of the race’s five captains and a fellow greeter as she escorts 37-year-old Kathy Wolf of Ohio to the scorer’s tent. Lugiano quickly disappears into the tent and reappears with a shiny bronze-colored belt buckle awarded to first-time finishers. He and Squier flank Wolf, who manages a smile despite having run for nearly 25 hours, 36 minutes and 8 seconds. Two minutes later there’s another finisher, 39-year-old Tammy Madison of Maryland, to welcome. They are the 80th and 81st finishers, respectively, that Lugiano has greeted; he won’t be done for another five hours, until 52-year-old Kim Sergeant of Texas crosses the line with just 6 minutes and 36 seconds to spare before the 30-hour noon cut-off.

Actually, not all of the runners at this point are finishing; some still have a lap to go. And in less than an hour, at 8 a.m., Lugiano will have to make some tough decisions. Eight is the cutoff for letting runners back on the course. With just four hours until the race is officially over and support on the course ends, it’s unlikely these runners won’t make the deadline. Sill, Lugiano reserves the right to some discretionary wiggle room.

“I’ll look at their splits,” says Lugiano, “and if the last couple are reasonable … sometimes they get rejuvenated with daylight. I’ll have them sign a liability waiver noting there won’t aid available on the course after noon.”

A tough assignment for anyone, let alone a volunteer for whom the Umstead 100 is pretty much a year-round job. For a week or two after this race ends there will be clean up and storage to deal with (the race’s tents and other gear are kept in  storage garages). Then, preparation will begin for next year’s race, picking up substantially after online registration opens in September. (This year’s race filled up in a matter of minutes.)

With no paid staff, it’s up to an army of more than 300-plus volunteers to make the Umstead 100 happen. They come from as far away as Philadelphia and Florida. Many are fellow runners, recruited through the local North Carolina Roadrunners and Carolina Godiva Track clubs. Sally Squier gets members of her motorcycle club to pitch in. All money raised for the race — most from the $150 registration fee, some from sponsorships — goes into the race. The Umstead 100’s food bill alone, says Race Director Blake Norwood, is $5,700 — and takes a team of 12 volunteer shoppers three hours to spend at a local Sam’s Club.

There are some perks to volunteering. First-year volunteer Rebecca Sitton shows me around the ample gift shop occupying a corner of the race’s lodge headquarters. It’s got every Umstead 100 souvenir a runner could want — from the traditional commemorative hats and T-shirts to blankets and flashlights. Only most of the goods aren’t sold to the runners: they’re given to volunteers as gifts.

“We take good care of our volunteers,” says Norwood. “We appreciate so much what they do.”

When Sitton isn’t helping with gift selections, she’s dispensing advice. Her big “plastics” tip? “If the runners would just get sick they’d feel so much better.”

A cap, even a blanket, is small reward for the amount of time the volunteers put in (most do a minimum 4- to 8-hour shift at the race). Not to mention the occasional indignity.

“Get some sleep last night?” Lugiano asks Squier as they await another finisher.
“No, we had a bat in the cabin.”
“A little bat?” Lugiano asks.
“Well,” Squier elaborates, “it peed on Jennifer.”

Another runner crosses the finish and after congratulating him Squier gently takes him by the shoulders and points him toward the lodge. “You need to get inside and get warmed up and get some breakfast.”

Inside, the runner will be taken care of by Ben Dillon and crew. Dillon’s official race title appears to be “The Pancake Man.” He got up at 2 a.m. to start mixing 15 pounds of batter, which his crew began serving — along with scrambled eggs, omelets and the other breakfast staples — a couple hours later. The main perk to Dillon’s job: On a night when the temperature has dipped below freezing, it’s the one warm spot in the Umstead 100.

Dillon, who is 60 and has been running for 25 years, says the kitchen will remain open until noon, until the end.

“We’ll be here for the last runner,” he says. “They’ve been out there for 30 hours. We owe them that.”

After the race, Lugiano will stick around and help with initial clean-up and to get the race results up on the Web site asap. (“People have become fairly demanding with the Internet,” Norwood says.) Lugiano doesn’t expect to get any sleep until after 6 p.m., at the earliest — that’s 36 hours after the race started at 6 a.m. Saturday, more than 38 hours after he reported for work. For now, there are more finishers to greet.

The finish at the Umstead 100 is a rather cruel climb of about 40 yards. Still, even after running 99.99 miles, most of the runners attack it with gusto. One of the more surprisingly strong finishes comes just before 8 a.m.

Three hours earlier, 42-year-old Richard McKnight of Arizona wobbled into Aid Station II. Ninety-five miles of running had begun taking its toll: he was cold, exhausted, disoriented. A triage team of volunteers spent 45 minutes reviving McKnight to the point where he was willing to at least attempt the last five miles. With Heiko Rath, a volunteer pacer by his side, he pushed off from the aid station tent into the predawn cold. Now, at the finish, he looks more like someone who’s finished a 5K than a 100-mile run.

“If it wasn’t for him,” McKnight says looking to Rath, “I wouldn’t have finished this last lap.”

Thanks to Rath and some 300 other Umstead 100 volunteers, McKnight has a shiny new belt buckle and a lifetime of bragging rights.

9 thoughts on “Umstead 100 ultra volunteers go the distance (Part II)”

  1. Joe, great article, well written. I think you’ve captured the essence of what the volunteers mean to the runners. One little misprint on your line about the Race Director Blake Edwards. You corrected it later as Blake Norwood.

    Thanks for your continued interest in the Umstead 100. When are we going to see you tackle the 50?


    1. “Blake Edwards” — Hokey smoke, I’ve been watching too many Pink Panther movies, apparently. Got it fixed; thanks for the heads-up.

      Maybe by September the looks on the faces of the runners will have faded from memory and I’ll sign up.

  2. Joe, just a followup. As you mentioned about the cleanup and repacking everything into a rented storage shed and Blake’s house. The race activities effectively culminate after all the pictures are printed (approx. 1500), sorted by runner number and mailed with the official results, individual runners split times and Official 100 Miler Certificates to all 100 Mile Finishers. This has been another nice touch that many runners have appreciated as well. Then, of course, getting those results and a selection of pictures into Ultrarunning magazine for their next issue.

    Preparation for the 18th edition then begins as the Ad is sent to Ultrarunning letting runners know about the September opening date for registration and the official race date. And it goes on. Review of lessons learned, things that we want to change for next year, additional banners ordered, new set up for the finish line, etc., etc.

    1. Being at the race, you know it doesn’t come together overnight. Just how not-overnight it is, though, is amazing.

  3. Pingback: Go The Distance
  4. As one of the Umstead 100 participants that wasn’t able to complete the full 100 miles, I couldn’t agree more with these articles. The magic of Umstead (and trust me . . . in the ultra running world Umstead is indeed magical!) is indeed the volunteers. And at every race the runners acknowledge the incredible value of the volunteers. But no race that I have ever attended (60+ marathons and 15+ ultras) even comes close to Umstead. The articles brought real tears to me . . . I so understand what Richard McKnight was going through and what Heiko and all the other volunteers meant to him. Oh . . . and just so you know . . . Heiko came Saturday afternoon and ran maybe 3-4 miles with me! Trust me . . . he helped me at ton then too!!! But I quit at 62.5 miles.

    1. Nobody says it better than someone who benefits from the volunteers. Thanks, Frank. (And I’m not sure I would use the word “quit” in the context of having just run 62.5 miles.)

  5. Joe, thanks for such a great article. It’s been my pleasure to be associated with the race over the years as pacing coordinator, and it is testament to the organizers that they have the following they do from both participants and volunteers. So glad you had the chance to get out there and spend some time at the race.

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