What a day, what a race!
First I have to thank my wonderful support team of my classmates Janna and Dani, and Dani’s basset hound Tito. They were at miles 2, 5, 8, 11, and the finish to cheer for me and all the other runners and to take pictures (almost all the photo credits go to them!)
If I had to describe the Uwharrie course in one word? Unrelenting.
There were barely any flat portions where one could develop a strong rhythm and stride but if you somehow managed a rhythm, it was soon interrupted by a wicked downhill, brutal uphill, wide stream, or log to climb over. I stopped counting the number of logs I climbed over after I counted 24… in the first 45 minutes! There were at least six stream crossings where I just ran through them and submerged both feet, shoes, socks and calves into the icy feeling water.
I ended up with zero blisters, which I credit to my wonderful Balega socks, (I highly endorse Balega and it’s also a western North Carolina company!) I also never fell, thanks to my inov8 trail roc running shoes, and a kind man who steadied my back when I was about to fall backwards after a rock I was stepping on slipped while hiking up a steep section (yes, I almost fell backwards, it was that steep!) My only injuries, other than extreme soreness of every stabilizer muscle in my body, are some scrapes on my arms and lower legs from branches and brush, and some chafing on the inside of my calves where I would sort of kick myself when I got off balance or couldn’t feel my feet very well after a dip in the cold creeks.
Everything I had heard about the rocks, roots, and leaves of these ancient volcanic mountains were absolutely true. It was impossible to really know what was below the inches of leaves, but I generally assumed that there were rocks and roots. Keep reading below if you want a blow by blow account of the race, or just look at the awesome pictures!
Uwharrie Mountain 20 Mile race recap:
My friends and I, and Tito, stayed at the dog-friendly Comfort Inn in Asheboro, NC (about half an hour from the start) the night before the race. Janna was pulling double duty as a race volunteer and as my support, so she was manning packet pickup starting at 5am and I had to be there around around 7am so we figured a spot closer to the race than Chapel Hill was a good idea. I would love to say the night at this Comfort Inn was uneventful other than us catching the end of Grease and start of Pitch Perfect on the TV and watching Tito try to jump up on the bed, but alas, it wasn’t. Around 2am, we all wake up to a thumping sound from the bass of some music. It didn’t stop till 5:45am, and I know this because we all woke up with Janna at 4:15am before attempting to go back to sleep for another hour and a half. While I normally don’t sleep that well the night before a race, maybe I’ll be sure to bring ear plugs next time!
Once I woke up I made some tea and oatmeal in the room and ate/drank while getting dressed. We loaded up the car and checked out, wondering if any of the men we saw in the breakfast room was responsible for the obnoxious music. The drive to the check-in at Uwharrie Outpost was actually uneventful and we got a beautiful sunrise.
I checked in with my friend for the race (since she was manning packet pick up and athlete check in) and went into the gas station/general store to use the bathroom. As seems to be true with all longer trail runs I do, there was a huge line for the men’s restroom, and no line for the women’s restroom. I stayed in the warmth of the store till I saw my friend Dani banging on the window and pointing to the buses that take us to the start. I hurried outside, said goodbye to my friends, handed them some stuff, then hopped on a bus. The start was chilly but not terrible, probably 27 degrees. It was supposed to warm up to 57, so I de-layered with less than ten minutes till the start, and threw my drop bag on the tarp with my jacket and sweatpants in it. I also ate a date and a few almonds to top off my fueling.
We lined up on the road for the start, since we had maybe 50 yards of downhill road to run before a climb up the first steep part of the trail. All the 20 milers were ready to start moving and cheered when we were set off. A flurry of watches beeped as we crossed the threshold of the starting line!
The run/jog we started with didn’t last long, because soon we were hiking single-file up a steep incline. It took a good 10-15 minutes till the group was spread out enough to run for a while without getting slowed down by a funneling effect. It was about this time that I started counting the logs I had to step and climb over… and then stopped counting because the number got too high too quickly. Occasionally I got nervous when it sounded like someone was breathing down my neck and I was going at a comfortably fast speed already on the difficult terrain, but most people were really good about calling out passing and stepping off the trail if I was passing them.
At mile 2 we crossed a road and right in front of me were Dani and Tito! Already feeling pretty warm I tossed my warm hat at them and put on my cap that was in the back pocket of my vest. I was now wearing a lot of clothing representing a lot of incredible people and organizations – with my Girls on the Run t-shirt, a long-sleeved Run Happy t-shirt that my “solemate” Cecilia gave me, and my Tufts Marathon Team cap! With a boost from seeing my friend and her pup, I was most likely beaming when I crossed the road back into the woods. I ran and talked with a couple of women from Asheville/ Western North Carolina for a few miles. They were really cool ladies and I wish I got their names!
Our first aid station was at mile 5, and while I tried to tell myself to drink water, I had barely made a dent in my handheld bottle when I got there. I can’t remember exactly but I think I saw my whole cheering squad (including Janna) before I hit the aid station. I know I saw them at aid stations 8 and 11, they were adding up some major spectator mileage! Other spectators and runners were recognizing Tito and apparently a couple of runners stopped to take pictures with him!
I got off course once, between mile 8 and 11, when I started to follow two runners and thought I saw a white blaze on a tree above us. (We were following white blazes the whole way.) Luckily some other runners called us down and put us on the right path – learned my lesson on not following other runners! Soon after that I fell in with a group that included a woman, either Diane or Leslie, who had trained on the course and remembered that there was a tricky part coming up where the trail was hard to follow. Our group stayed close to her! Sure enough we got to a creek crossing that wasn’t actually a creek crossing… We were to stay along the creek and cross later (I don’t think I would have seen it without her!) A group of runners had crossed so we called them down and they got on the correct trail with us.
Speaking of creek crossings, I think I trained pretty well for them and knew the feeling of cold water soaking my socks and shoes. But while the temperature did warm up, my feet didn’t dry out very much because of the frequency of the crossings. I made no hesitation running through most of them, except for occasions when I didn’t see a white blaze on the trees across the creek. The real problem with these crossings was that very often you descended quite abruptly to them, and then had a steep hike back up the other side of them. It made for some slick muddy hikes.
After aid station 11, I knew I wouldn’t see my friends till the mile 20 finish so I lingered at the aid station a little longer, talking with them and grabbing an extra handful of potato chips. Then I was back onto the trail. I was pretty much running on my own by then, just passing some people occasionally on the steeper sections and very occasionally getting passed on the downhills by very long legged men (often it was the same person I was trading places with.) Not gonna lie, this is around when I started hurting a little. My lower back and legs started hurting when I was hiking, but not when I was running, so I tried to run a little more, even when it was really steep!
Close to the mile 14 aid station I saw the first place 40 miler making his way back on the course, just a minute or two later I saw the second place guy. Man, were they flying down the descents! I got to the 14 mile aid station without seeing the 3rd place guy but I knew I’d start crossing paths with more and more of the 40 miler runners. The added fuel (a quarter of a pb&j, potato chips and orange slice) and the sight of the first 40 milers gave me a much needed boost. Additionally, I had been warned about another tricky part of the course around mile 17, but I also knew there was an aid station around then with no idea of which came first. This was a good mind hack for me because I didn’t know exactly when the next hard part was actually coming up, so it ended up being easier than I had made it out to be!
16 plus miles in, my back stopped hurting (or I blocked it out) and I saw more 40 mile runners, including the first two women, one of whom was the friend of one of the Asheville women I had talked to earlier! The day was really warming up and I had delayered, with my long sleeved shirt stuffed into the now bulging back pocket of my vest. This meant I was finally drinking a good amount of water, but also that my water was running low. The mile 17 aid station was soon upon me, and just in time as I gulped down the rest of my water. I didn’t linger very long, I was almost finished!
The last 3 miles weren’t that terrible at all: lots of friendly waves and words of encouragement from people doing the 40 miler, I passed a couple more people, and the day was just absolutely beautiful! A couple of runners who I crossed paths with told me I was almost there (of course I had no idea what that really meant in distance or in time) but took it as a good sign! Then I heard the familiar sound of cars on a road. Soon after that, I heard the sounds of cheers. The path widened a little but also was slightly uphill, and I ran it out until the finish!
My time was exactly as I predicted: 30 minutes slower than my average road marathon time. For a 20 mile race you would think that is super slow, but that course was much harder than an additional 6.2 miles would be! I feel like I totally deserved my finishers pottery bowl, and my cup full of cookies!
I don’t think this race could ever be the same year after year so I really hope to get into this race again next year, (maybe even the 40 miler?!)