The early season challenges continued this past Saturday as I stood at the start line of the Uwharrie Mountain 40 mile trail race. I was more nervous about this race than I was about the Weymouth Woods 100k, mainly due to the terrain. I have run out in the Uwharrie before, and have been beaten up by the rocky landscape and undulating hills.
I knew that forty miles of the would grind my feet and legs to a pulp, and I was hoping not to get hurt or miss the time cut off or DNF'ing in some sort of dismal way.
I would be sharing the journey with my friend Maureen, who had similar concerns about this race as well. We had made plans to run the course together earlier in the week, with Mo advising me that if she was slowing me down at any point, to go on ahead...... Yeah, like that was going to happen!
The start of the 40 miler was kind of like being on the I-440 Beltline at 5pm. We took of down the road, and then came to a screeching halt as we funneled our way into the single track trail and proceeded to go uphill. And continued to go uphill, then uphill some more. We finally leveled off, just in time to get a good run going through the rocks. By the time we arrived at the aid station at mile 11, I was popping my first round of Alleve. My right foot was finding every large rock, and stepping directly on top of each one.
Maureen and I had started to settle into a rhythm, only after having to stop numerous times to let the fast 20 mile runners go by us. I felt good, as the Alleve was taking the edge off nicely. Maureen would update our progress in the form of fractions. At mile 5, we were one eighth of the way done. Mile 10, one quarter. We pushed ahead, still nimbly navigating the plentiful stream crossings. That would not last.......
Mile 20: This was the finish line for the 20 mile runners and the turn around point for us 40 milers. Arriving at the 20 mile point was sort of weird. The 20 mile folks were done, celebrating their accomplishment and relaxing with friends and family. We were there to get some dry clothes/socks out of our drop bag, go pee and grab some food and drink and head back out. Usually I struggle somewhat at the 20 mile mark of my ultras, but since this was the turn around point, I got some energy from the finisher's buzz of the 20 milers and we headed back down the trail. The faster 40 milers had already passed us well before the turn around, and it was good to see so many friends running strong.
We now were going past some of the 20 mile folks finishing up their run, and they looked at us with a mixture of awe and pity. Probably more pity than awe. At the 20 mile aid station I foolishly drank 4 cups of Mountain Dew, followed by several cups of Heed and a Cliff Bar. By mile 23 my "Check Engine" light came on and I advised Mo that I would be leaving the trail for a brief moment. With all the foliage gone off the trees, there were not many places to hide, and I hoped that if anyone came down the trail they would mistake my Lilly white ass for a large quartz rock.
We pressed on. The trail had become quite muddy in spots, thanks to the rain that had started falling well ahead of it's forecasted time. All attempts at navigating the mud and stream crossing gracefully were now abandoned.
Mile 30: Still felt good, thanks to a little more Alleve and a little less Mountain Dew. I liked the new fraction: 3/4! The run now seemed to be reduced to hill climb, stream crossing, downed tree hopping. Repeat. One more time, then once more, etc,etc,etc.
Upon arriving at the 35 mile aid station our spirits were lifted by the news that they had added and additional aid station at mile 38. Thank goodness they did! We made it to AS 38, our headlamps now on to cut through the dull dusk. Two miles left. Two miles that seemed to last forever! It was now officially DARK! Even with the headlamps on, the rocky terrain was difficult to navigate. We trudged uphill. This is when the mist and fog started. We finally summited and began the treacherous descent to the finish.
The descent was wretched. We staggered over the now wet rocks, through the mist, trying not to bust our asses. I was suffering from a bad case of Trail Runner's Tourette Syndrome, cussing, muttering, exhausted yet seething with anger. I could hear The Uwharrie taunting me. A sound byte of Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" kept playing in my head. "Don't you know I'm like a chain saw, I'll skin your ass raw" I could have sworn I saw Fred Durst sitting on a rock beside the trail.
Finally Mo said "Is that a light?" and before we knew it, we had made it. Thank God. We were not injured. We were not last!
On the shuttle ride back to the car Mo and I joked about whether this would be a "one and done" race. I have a feeling that come registration time on November 1st, I will be perched in front of my lap top, time softening the memory of those last two miles, signing up for another shot at the Uwharrie Mountain Trail. I have already downloaded "Break Stuff" on itunes..........