Check out this race report from former GOPC Greenville staff, ultra endurance athlete, AT thru hiker, and NC MST west-to-east record holder Tara Dower. *spoiler alert* she WON! You can also follow Tara on instagram:

Thanks to Dennis Geiser, Katie Stanford and Umstead 100/Ben Dillon for the photos.

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run is held in Raleigh, NC the first weekend in April. Chris and Rhonda, co-race directors, have done an excellent job constructing an amazing community event. Oftentimes you can see Chris walking around at headquarters greeting crew in their tents or cheering on every single runner as they pass. Rhonda can be found on the course doing the same, riding her bike besides a runner asking how they are doing. With attention to detail and care from the co-directors, the race has taken shape into a premiere event in the ultramarathon scene. The race is known for its fast finishes as runners take on eight 12.5 mile loops on a wide, well-maintained multi-use trail. 

This weekend felt familiar to me for multiple reasons. I grew up right down the street in Wake Forest. Periodically my family and I would take trips out to the William B. Umstead State Park for hikes. I also saw some familiar faces from the main sponsor of the race, Great Outdoor Provision Co., with whom I used to work with a few years ago. While working there I learned more than folding clothes and running the register. I was surrounded by co-workers who educated me on outdoor ethics, backpacking gear and activities like thru hiking and climbing. I left that job in 2019 inspired to thru hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine earning the trail name Candy Mama in the process. Throughout those 5 months I was being supported and encouraged from afar by GOPC. The thru hike was truly the beginning of my career as a professional ultramarathon trail athlete all thanks to GOPC. You can understand my excitement when at the packet pickup our materials were contained in those familiar brown paper bags with Trusty the mule printed in forest green. 

I had run Umstead 100 in 2022 witnessing Devon Yanko’s incredible performance being the first woman to win outright and setting a course record in the process. I felt inspired by Devon’s gritty achievement but simultaneously was embarrassed by my personal performance that day. Umstead was my third 100 mile race and inexperienced as I was I went out too fast. My efforts were dwindling at the passing of every loop. Loop 6, slower. Loop 7, even slower. In loop 8 I was passed by the third place woman, Lindsey Dwyer, with 5 miles to go and I’ve been scarred by that experience ever since. To be fair, Dwyer ran an excellent race that day, running strong and steadily closing the gap between us. 

I was back this year for redemption and had simple goals. Pace well, finish strong, and cut an hour off of my previous time, which would bring me across the finish line around 15hrs 55min; a new personal best for me. I had all the right tools and training going into the race. I was working with my coach, Megan Roche, who was amping up my training and optimizing my fitness with every workout. I had been seeing a mindset coach who was helping me stay motivated, realistic and positive during races. 3 weeks prior I finished the Shamrock marathon with a PR time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. I knew I had the fitness, speed, and mental finesse necessary to achieve my simple goals. With all of this excitement the night before I sorted my gear for the next day making sure everything was accounted for. I’d run with my Altras tomorrow. A technical, lightweight, roomy, zero drop trail running shoe that I’ve trusted since I began working at Great Outdoor Provision Company. My manager, Lindsey, recommended I try a pair of Lone Peaks for my upcoming thru hike. I’d also use a waist belt, Coros Apex Pro 2 activity watch, high carb drink mix, 2 dozen nutrition gels, merino wool socks and a headlamp. 

The 2024 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run commenced at 6:30am with an eager Chris yelling “3..2..1..Go”. My motto for the first 25 miles of the race was responsible pacing since it is so easy to go out fast on this course. I would keep my pace between 8:30 min/mile and 9:00 min/mile. However, this first loop my watch incessantly alerted me to my high pace. I had many opposing thoughts during this time. “You need to slow down and be responsible” “trust your body” “trust your plan” “you never know if you can go faster if you don’t try”. I settled on a 8:50 min/mile pace and focused on keeping my effort easy and my breathing relaxed. At the first out and back at the airport spur I was able to see all the racers I’d be sharing the course with that day. It reminded me as I saw all of their smiles and warm welcomes that I needed to have fun and enjoy the day. Trying to relax a bit I chatted with some men out in the front, one being Jim Sweeney. A decorated runner and veteran of the Umstead 100 miler. 

As the race progressed through the second, third and forth loop I kept the effort easy but still was going way too fast. My pace and Jim’s were identical throughout the race. We oftentimes would catch up to each other and chat about how we felt. Together we easily passed racers who were in front of us. Every 12.5 miles together we would make our way back through the long corridor of tents and crews at headquarters. The crowds were excited and inevitably my pace would quicken through here as I eagerly made my way for the turn around at headquarters. My mom and husband would gear me up for the next loop with a couple more high calorie gels, my high carb drink mix, and encouragement. 

By mile 50 we were #2 and #3 behind Brian Marshburn. I was surprised at my consistent pace after every loop but I was sure my legs would soon feel the exhaustion and I’d inevitably slow down. I just focused on the present and kept telling myself “this is easy” “take advantage of how you feel RIGHT now”. Joe Sutton, from Greenville NC, would begin pacing me at mile 50. He had jumped at the last minute to help pace here in 2022. Loop 6 would be paced by Hanna Berghout, a friend I met through social media. Hanna knew the race well as she had done it in 2023. My husband Jonathan would join me for loop 7. Joe, Hanna, and Jonathan kept the mood light, kept the pace consistent and quick, and checked up on me often which are all indicators of expert pacers. Something I am extremely thankful for. Somewhere in loop 5 Jim and I had passed Marshburn. I realized we would have to race each other at some point but wondered when that would be. Our paces were still identical and we were in each other’s view for pretty much the entire day. I began to ponder during loop 7 ways I could expose a gap between us. I knew he would stop with his crew for a couple minutes after the far turn around at mile 8 so I made it a goal to increase my pace after that point. With less than 17 miles to go it was time to race. 

I descended on the headquarters in first place but Jim wasn’t far behind. By this point in loop 7 there were dozens of familiar faces at headquarters and of racers on the course. There was the army of TUFF (Trail+Ultra Fun Fam) running group, a man who yelled “ GOOOOOO candy mama!”, the lady who couldn’t get enough cowbell, and the runner who enthusiastically yelled “TD LEGEND” every time I passed. As I came through headquarters with only 12.5 miles to go, spectators were hyping me up and giving me encouragement. Joe tagged Jonathan out to help finish out the race for loop 8. I knew it was go time, I was feeling strong and ready to push the pace. It was time to leave everything out there. 

According to Joe I had around a 7 minute lead on Jim but I knew he could finish well and he was no rookie in racing. Joe reminded me of my motto for the end of the race “Courage and grit” after climbing one of the larger hills in the loop. When my legs felt like slowing down I’d push myself repeating “grit” in my head. Joe would occasionally check up on me and I would murmur a “yup” confirming I was good and still focused. It was dark and together we chased the light from my bright headlamp weaving quickly around racers on the wide course. Before hitting the far turnaround at mile 8 I was worried Jim would pop up behind me as he had familiarly done all day. Suddenly, flashbacks from two years ago rushed my mind where Lyndsey Dwyer passed me in the last 5 miles. Like I’ve already mentioned her performance that year has stuck with me for better and for worse. I did not want a repeat of 2022. My mom said something earlier in the day that brought me back to reality. “You don’t want to wake up tomorrow and say I could have given it more.” Seeing Jim after the final turnaround the gap had widened to 15 minutes. I had sizably extended my lead on Jim but my confidence was still lacking. Afterall the race isn’t over until it is over. On the last long downhill portion Joe yelled out “looking good, running good, and smelling good.” This made me chuckle. I would slightly slow down on the last long uphill portion, the feeling of fatigue building in my legs. I had been waiting for this feeling all day where my legs felt heavy and unable to go much further. I leaned into the feeling, knowing this is why I came and lined up. I wanted to test the limits and see if I could keep the effort at maximum even when I was completely used up. After getting up the final long hill I knew it was a couple rolling hills until the gate and then half a mile until the finish. During that entire time I kept hallucinating lights coming from the woods thinking the gate was imminent. That entire last loop I had passed all my fellow racers. They cheered me on saying “Go candy mama” “good work bib 6” “Yes Tara” “TD LEGEND!”. I wanted to make them proud. I pressed more and more, feeling I was close to my limit and then the gate came into view. Only a half mile more until the finish. I pushed my exhausted legs even further but couldn’t feel pain anymore as I ran excitedly through the headquarters. Tents filled with all my new friends who’d cheered me on the entire day screamed and hollered. Excitement followed me as I neared the finish line running at a 6:00 min/mile pace. I then heard the familiar voice of my mother yelling above all the other voices “come on Tara lets go!”! One final push now!

I crossed the finish line in 14:58:21. I hugged the race directors, Chris and Rhonda, as they presented me with my champion belt buckle. Thanked Joe, Hanna and Jonathan for pacing me and my mom and Jonathan for crewing me all day. I felt 2024 Umstead was a perfectly executed race. Great pacing all day, attentive and quick crew, good family showing up to support, expert pacers, supportive community, dedicated race directors, positive volunteers, perfect weather, sub par but adequate nutrition, and a fun day with an awesome result to show. I had come in first achieving all the goals I set in front of myself for the day. I improved my 100 mile PR by 2 hours, smiled the entire day, and finished strong! There’s not much more I can ask for.