Volunteering at Umstead 100 Mile Ultra Marathon


Not every runner has a blog, but I believe every runner has something to share.  When a friend of mine volunteered at a local 100 mile race, and told me about his experience I knew he had seen the race from a side few get to see it.  A couple hundred run the race every year, but only 20, 30 or 50 who take time out of their lives to put on the race get to view it from a different perspective.  Here is Umstead 2015 from Dave’s side of the len.

My name is David G.  I am a 36 year old police officer, husband, and father of two wonderful children.  Running has been a passion of mine since 2007.  In 2014, I became interested in running longer distances.  I have completed several half marathons, three marathons and two 50k’s all within the last year.  As those distances have increased I feel like I am treading in unchartered waters.  A new benchmark for me is a 50 mile race. I’m presently training for the JFK 50 in November. While talking strategies for JFK, a buddy told me a great way to gain knowledge about running ultra-distances is to volunteer at an ultra. Taking his advice to heart, I decided to volunteer at the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run. 

davidg(Author and volunteer, David G.)

I worked at Aid Station 1, which is at the race headquarters, Camp Lapihio.  My shift started at 2:30 am.  My wife asked who in the world wants to start a shift at 2:30 in the morning.  Quite excitedly, I said “me.”  Of course I was so excited I arrived at William B. Umstead State Park, Raleigh, NC about 10:30 pm Saturday night.  Arriving on site the atmosphere was electric.  I walked into camp and was amazed.  The place was packed with runners who had already completed the race.  They were eating, chatting and telling stories of how “their race” had unfolded.  I was in awe. 

Reporting to my assignment I was partnered with a cool 13 year old kid named Alex. Together, we poured water, Gatorade, soda, and handed drinks to runners as they came through.  The runners were so generous and very appreciative.  This race does a great job with the amount of support for runners. 

umstead finish

Volunteering, I was given the unique opportunity of helping runners when they needed help the most.  As a runner, I cannot express how appreciative I am for volunteers.  At certain points in races a banana, a GU or a Gatorade can make or break our day.  I never realized how fulfilling it could be to be there for someone else.  Umstead is a long race.  with 1,000 feet of elevation gain per loop (8,000 feet total).  Runners have to complete eight, 12.5 mile loops.  There are two Aid Stations and two “water only” stops.  When runners got to our location, they needed support.  We did whatever we could to make them comfortable for their brief stay before they headed back on the trail. 

During the time I worked, I saw some runners at their worst, both mentally and physically.  Running 100 miles is a grueling feat.  I saw runners who were at their worst one moment make a decision; a decision that they had trained to hard and had come too far to give up.  I witnessed that same runner go back to battle the course.  They battled fatigue, adversity, ups and downs but in the end, the look on their faces when they crossed the finish line was priceless.  Upon finishing, most fell into the arms of loved one.  I witnessed one girl collapsed at the finish line.  She did not collapse out of pain.  She was weeping from joy.  I was so proud of a complete stranger that I could hardly control my own emotions.  Countless times I saw men and women finish who were then greeted by proud loved ones with a well-earned “you did it” or an “I’m so proud of you.” 

Likewise, there were others who walked up slowly and reported that they were withdrawing.  For those who could not complete the race, the pain and despair in their eyes made me sad for them.  They had given it their all, fought the good fight, but in the end just did not have it that day.  I was disappointed for them but equally as proud for the effort that they had shown throughout the day. 

A typical loop at Umstead takes most runners about 3 hours to complete.  In the later stages of the race, some take longer.  I observed one older man come into our station and tell us that the last loop had taken five hours.  He thought he had fallen asleep and sleep walked most of the loop.  One volunteer told me about a runner she had encountered on the way into the park.  She saw a runner standing alone on a desolate trail looking confused.  She stopped and asked the gentleman if he needed help.  Delirious he told her he was thinking about taking a nap in a ditch but could not decide what ditch he wanted to sleep in.  Luckily, the volunteer sought aid for him.  Then there was another guy who staggered into our station and I don’t think he even knew where he was.  He was at mile 87.  We made him go into headquarters and sit by the fire for a little bit.  He got himself together and later I saw that he had totally recuperated and managed a sub 24 hour finish. 

To me this race is obviously physically hard.  The mental toughness I observed was something I’ve never seen.  People were battling themselves and winning. 

Grace Lichtenstein states, “Your opponent, in the end, is never really the player on the other side of the net, or the swimmer in the next lane, or the team on the other side of the field, or even the bar you must high-jump. Your opponent is yourself, your negative internal voices, your level of determination.” 

paul umstead(Paul, ran 100 miles in one day, then took a nap, well done!)

It was such an honor to work alongside a great group of volunteers who were out there for one reason, to see runners succeed.  Overall, volunteering at Umstead taught me something invaluable; next year I want to be one of them.  I want to experience the feeling of crossing the finish line and being met by my loved ones.  I want to feel proud the way they felt.  I want to be embraced the way they were embraced.  What an awesome day it was.  I will always remember volunteering at Umstead.


  • John Flynn

    Outstanding! I worked aide station #2 last year and paced another runner, then this year just paced but still spent 10 pm – 2 am at the lapihio headquarters waiting for my next runner. I know David’s help was much appricatiated. I’m sure I saw him out there.

    • Brian Burk

      Thanks for reading and thanks for helping out at Umstead.

      Brian