I stayed in Asheboro the night before, about a 1/2 hour away from the race shuttle site. You parked your car there and get shuttled to the start line. I was praying there would not be a delay of the start because it was quite a chilly morning!
After a brief shuttle ride we were deposited at the start area and immediately hovered around the campfire, trying to stay warm. It probably did not help matters any that I was wearing shorts.
We were reluctantly pulled away from the fire and assembled ourselves on the road for the start. We run about 2oo feet on the road and then make a right turn onto the trail where we quickly begin to ascend. Less than a mile in and my nose was already numb, liquid freely flowing from it. I had a make a tactical decision NOT to wear my Garmin, so as not to have all these numbers in my head. Kind of that "Free your mind and you ass will follow" approach. Even without the Garmin, I stayed true to my "go out too fast" routine. Old habits die hard. A few miles in, I warmed up nicely and felt comfortable. But at Uwharrie, comfort is fleeting.
Realizing my fast start, I pulled it back some and began getting passed by some folks. I'm not sure what mile it was, but my buddy Scott L. came up on my right and we ran a little bit together, a group of about 5 of us, all in line. It was at this slight downhill clay dirt section that I saw Scott slip and land on his ass. Just as I was about to ask Scott "Are you okay?" I did the same damn thing! Although it was not one of my classic face plants, it did knock me out of my rhythm for a bit. Thus began the slow spiral downward.
Scott and his group pulled away from me, and others started to pass me as well. I kept plugging away, but I was in a bad space mentally. Trying to maintain the intense focus needed to work my way through the rocks, limbs and holes was becoming more and more difficult. Reaching the aid station at mile 14, it felt like it would take an eternity to reach the turnaround at mile 20. At this point, the speedy 20 mile runners, who started an hour later, began passing me. Hearing "On your left" about 20 times in a row did nothing to improve my mood, and a evil little voice inside my head began to whisper "you can stop at 20 miles!"
In the meantime I was seeing all the people who had made the turnaround and were now already on their way back......Shit.
Then, in a moment of clarity it hit me. "Dude. Just get your ass in and out at the turnaround. Once you run back out of the Aid station at 20 miles, you're committed!" So that is just what I did. The only things I did was grab a pair of dry socks, get out of my Torins and into the Hokas, slam a Generation UCAN shake and grab my headlamp. Then I got the hell out of there! The combination of the new shoes and fuel, combined with the sound of the bagpipes playing alongside the trail really jump started me mentally. My mind was now free, and my ass soon to follow!
Now I got to see folks making their way TO the turnaround (40 miler) or finish line (20 milers). I shouted encouragement to all as I trotted down the trail. There is always that great look that the 20 mile folks give you as you pass them on the way out for your additional 20 miles. It is a mixture of awe, respect and pity.
At last years race, my friend Mo and I finished up in the dark. Even with our headlamps, the last mile of brutally technical descent was a nightmare to do after dark. I vowed this year to finish in the daylight, come hell or high water.
Hangin' on for dear life on the 1st half!
Photo by M. Long
I came through the aid station at mile 23 and was starting to build momentum. I was still walking all the hills, but now I was able to run the flats and downhills at a fairly good pace. I was with two other guys at this point, but around mile 25 they were slowing a bit, so I left them and continued running.
I did have the presence of mind back at the turnaround to ask someone what time it was. It was 12:09pm for me at the 20 mile mark. Even with the struggles in the first half, that wasn't too bad.
Now I came through the AS at mile 26 feeling good. I got a refill on my hand held and grabbed a couple of Hammer Gels just as a backup. My Generation UCAN was good for about 21/2 hours of fuel, so I would be counting on some gels to get me through the last few miles.I just kept working away at a steady pace, spurred on by the fact that I was counting DOWN the miles now. The next AS, at mile 29, I got a refill of the hand held and a small cup of Mountain Dew. The ascents of the hills were really starting to hurt now, and I could feel my calves and quads tightening with every climb.
At the summit of one of the many climbs!
Photo by M. Long
I was really locked in and focused now, and I had started to catch some people. Another emotional boost was coming through the AS at mile 32. I was in the single digits now. This is the AS where they make sure you have a headlamp if you get there by 4pm or after. There was no sign of the "Headlamp Police" when I got there, so I knew on was ahead of last year's schedule.
I remember from last year's race that it seemed to take forever to get to the next AS at mile 35. Last year I remember running ahead of Mo, cursing under my breath and waiting at every turn to see the AS at mile 5. It was already starting to get dark at this point for us last year. This year was no different, it took a while to get there. But this year it was daylight and I felt a helluva lot better than last year. 5 miles to go!
I had collected a few more people along the way, including my friend Mark L. who was battling a stomach issue. Mark is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, so we walked a chatted for a bit. Even if it meant having to finish up a minute or two in the dark, it was time well spent with a good friend. I finally told Mark I was gonna run a little bit, wished him well and headed down the trail. Mark finished up strong, and came into the finish not too long after me.
I had caught up to one more fellow as we came into the final AS at mile 38. I could see he was struggling a little bit, and he asked one of the volunteers if he would be able to finish in the daylight. The volunteer stated that we had 34 minutes of daylight left. I left out of the AS just in front of this guy, and started my run into the finish. I ran for a bit, then slowed to a walk. To my surprise, this guy was right on my heels! He surged past me, saying I inspired him, then he took off! He killed those last two miles and finished just ahead of me. It was awesome to see!
I was in the last mile now. The rock and boulder strewn descent that brutalized me and Mo in the dark last year was much more tenable with ambient light. I finally got clear of the rocks and came down a little friendlier section of single track. I could hear them celebrating the arrival of my rejuvenated buddy just in front of me. I made it. In the daylight. Holy shit.
Official time: 10:48:58. One hour and ten minutes faster than last year's time.
Photo by S. Johnstone
There were still friends gathered at the finish line, and it felt great to celebrate together. I changed out of my wet stuff, got some soup and waited for my buddy Mark to finish.
A happy Mark at the finish!
Photo by S. Johnstone
We hung out for a bit, then headed to the shuttle that took us back to our cars. Then began the two hour drive back home. I felt good, and was spurred on further by listening to "Back Porch Music" on NPR. It was a fitting soundtrack to a day spent on the Uwharrie Mountain Trail
Pro Compression Tee and Beanie
Nike Pro Base Layer Turtle neck
Brooks Rouge Shorts
Balega and Pro Compression Socks
Garneau Flex Zone Gloves
Altra Zero Drop Torin (First 20 miles)
Hoka One One Stinson ( Last 20 miles)
Ultimate Direction Hand Held
Hammer Montana Huckleberry Gels
Heed Sports Drink