This post originally appeared on my running blog, “The Distance and the Pain“.
Last year Uwharrie defeated me. I had a terrible finish, so, of course, I wanted to go back and do it again. This time, I signed up for the series (three races hosted by Bull City Running) along with several of my friends. Uwharrie is the second race in the series.
The Uwharrie Mountain Run takes place on the Uwharrie National Trail, a 20-mile point-to-point hiking trail that runs north to south in the Uwharrie National Forest. The race has three distances you can choose from: an 8-miler, a 20-miler or a 40-miler. I was doing the 40-miler.
One of my favorite parts of this trip is getting to go camping with my friends Ben and Terry. On Friday afternoon, we drove out to Uwharrie to find a place to camp. We found a nice spot at the West Morris Mountain Campground and set up as the last rays of sunlight died. Ben made burgers over the fire and we kicked back to recount stories while enjoying our beer. Then it was off to bed (later than I would have liked) because we had to be up at 4:30 am to tear down camp.
It was around 20-degrees outside when I awoke to my alarm. I quickly changed into my running gear, layered up and crawled out of the tent to make a quick breakfast of ramen noodles and instant coffee. As I poured water into my pot I watched it freeze into slush. I put it on my stove and started heating it. Once Ben and Terry were up, we started tearing down the camp and tossing it into the back of my truck. It was time to head to El Dorado Outpost to check in.
The First Half
The race starts on a steep climb that goes up to a ridgeline. By the first ¾ of a mile, your legs are already screaming. The nice part is you hit the top of the ridge just in time to see the beautiful sunrise. Then you follow along the ridgeline and start descending down again.
Terry and I were pacing up together until we hit the steep technical descents, then I would slow. I had foolishly decided to change my inserts before the race and had yet to get my shoes dialed back in. So where I previously would be dancing down the steep, technical descents while chortling with glee I was instead cautiously picking my way down the hills. This I did not like.
Another change I was trying to make was to avoid the siren song of the aid stations. They typically are staffed by the best people lauding you with praise and offering all sorts of foods. Unintentionally, they become like the mermaids of lore beckoning the weak willed to disaster. My challenge was to keep hustling through the aid stations as fast as possible.
I did a great job of that through the first half with my longest stop being to refill my water bladder. I also found myself in a competition to beat my friend Terry. Terry is a strong runner who drops me with ease on most training runs, but for some reason I somehow best him on race day. The friendly competitiveness between us became a theme on the trip out to Uwharrie and during the race.
Finally, after the first 20-miles, we made it to the turnaround, and that is where everything changed…
The Second Half
Terry bested me out of the turnaround. The entire first half while I lead he was never far behind me, haunting me like a ghost. Ben, who was acting as our crew, was trying to go between the two of us at the turnaround. A nice volunteer stepped forward to get me soup and HEED (sports drink) as I struggled to change my socks, shoes, and shirt then re-lube for the return trip.
Terry was gone and when I realized it, I think I yelled some profanity in front of children.
I took off catching glimpses of Terry’s Ultimate Direction race vest ahead but never closing the distance. During this time, I saw several runners I knew coming in. First was Scott, who was pacing himself through the 40-miler. Next were several runners from my running group, the Raleigh Trail Runners. I saw Pete, then Carla, Alana, Jeff and Kelly. We passed each other shouting quick greetings and encouragement.
Then I started to fall apart…
At the turn around I switched to a more minimalist shoe, the Columbia Conspiracy Razors. I went from poorly dialed but well-padded shoes, to shoes that could feel the entire trail. This had its positives and negatives. On the positive side the smaller shoes improved my agility as exhaustion made my footwork sloppy, but on the negative side my feet hurt like hell.
I plodded along in a walk/run style until Scott finally caught up to me. The year before it was I who picked up Scott who was really struggling and ultimately dropped out of the race. This year Scott returned the favor and buoyed me through till the final 8-miles.
Coming into the 32-mile aid station, I was struck with the immediate need to make a BM. After I hustled across the highway, I was met not only by Ben, but also by all the 20-miler runners who had come to cheer us on. I felt awkward as they greeted me and encouraged me to keep running but I dropped my pack, grabbed some baby wipes and darted for the port-a-john.
With my business concluded and a cup of soup downed, Ben and the others sent me off to complete the final 8-miles of the race. Through this section, I internally recreated the scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” where Luke fights himself. The punk song by Hear the Sirens “Reason to Run” began playing in my head. I was alone, evaluating what I was doing and why. I will not say that I discovered the meaning of life or answered my own question, but at least I have a few ideas that I can attempt to flesh out in later blog posts.
I finally finished the race in 9 hours, 27 minutes and 26 seconds. I did beat my previous time, but not as well as I would have liked. Currently I have no plans to return to this race because it is time to move on and find the next challenge.
All I want to say is that I recommend this race. It is one of the toughest races I have run, it will test you physically and mentally, but for all your suffering you will be rewarded with a well-organized race and amazing volunteers. So get out there and run!