Sunday, November 29, 2009

Uwharrie incidental marathon

From right to left, Bubbles (aka Mickey Fongzales), me (in my embarrassingly short shorts brown corduroys), Steve (Shannon's dad), and Shannon (Skittles). We are all wearing red or orange, hoping not to be mistaken for deer during hunting season. Skittles, Bubbles, and I are training for our first ultra, the Uwharrie 40 mile race in February.

On Saturday we headed down to Uwharrie National Pile of Rocks for another training run on the trail, with these goals:
  • Practice eating solid food and drinking copious amounts of fluid while running
  • Get used to running on a pile of rocks
  • Learn the subtle differences between the white paint on the trees and the white blotches of lichen.
  • Run for 5 hours
Despite getting up very early we didn't make it to the park until 11am, partly due to some bad directions (an inadvertent google maps "drag the dot" led us to a dirt road and a bizarre church with gargoyles. Seriously) .
We parked at the 109 entrance, which is about the mid-way point of the Uwharrie trail. The plan was to do an out-and-back to the north and another to the south, 2 and half hours each.

Before running we first had to pose for 37 pictures. The timer on Shannon's camera was set to about 3 seconds so there were a lot of pictures of her back, after she hit the button and tried to run back for a group shot.
Next I tried to give a crash course to Skittles and Bubbles on using the "course" feature on their Garmin Forerunners. I had uploaded the Uwarrie trail into the watch, hoping it would prevent them from getting seriously lost. This would turn out to be ironic.

So it was almost noon when we finally headed out into the forest. It was an absolutely perfect day for running, about 55 degrees but felt much warmer in the sun.

Lesson #1: Double Blazes mean turn
Within a half mile I had already lost the trail. I back-tracked, and discovered that I had missed the "double blaze" mark on a tree which indicated a turn.
I continued on until it was time to turn around, and which point my watch said I had done 6.5 miles. This was about an 11 minute mile, which sounds slow for road running or any normal trail. But for Uwharrie, with all the rocks and leaves and getting lost, I was actually quite happy with it. As I headed back to the car I realized that if I continued at that pace for the full 5 hours I would run 26 miles. This seemed absolutely crazy, but I guess that's what ultra running is all about.

Lesson #2: It is hunting season until January
I got back to the car to refill and refuel for a few minutes. Bubbles and Shannon got back around the same time, and we all survived the first half unscathed. I then headed south on the trail, where I soon ran by a camouflaged tent. There was a guy in a ski mask peering out at me through a window. This seemed really weird until I realized it was a hunting blind, and guy in the mask was sitting in there waiting for something to come by so he could shoot at it.
This freaked me out a little. I knew there were hunters in the forest, but I didn't expect them to have their guns aimed directly at the main hiking trail.
I then saw his buddy up in tree. I feigned ignorance.
"Is it still hunting season?", I asked him.
"For another month and a half!", he sounded peeved that I was disrupting his ambush.
"Oh sorry. Good Luck.", I said to the man with the rifle in a tree.
"Well, I ain't going to get anything now!" Uh oh. I had pissed off the hunters.

Lesson #3: Double Blazes sometimes mean go straight
I continued south, keeping watch for the rocks under my feet, the white blazes on the trees and the white men with guns in the trees. Several times I came across the double white blaze, but found that the trail didn't turn but continued straight.
I then got to a muddy area, which was followed by wide shallow stream which I managed to cross by stepping on rocks. Soon after I crossed another narrow stream where the trail seemed to vanish. There was a double blaze on a tree, but I could not find any trail or blazes to the left right or even straight ahead. It was 3:30pm and time to turn around anyway so, I headed back.

Lesson #4: Forget technology. Trust your instincts
I reset the GPS course in my watch and headed back to the car. I crossed back over the narrow stream, and soon after the watch said I was "off course". This confused me until I got to the wide shallow stream I had crossed earlier, and then I knew the watch was wrong. For some reason it said I was heading due south, even though I was heading north back to the car. Every time I have tried the GPS course guidance, it has been less than worthless; in fact it actually got me lost in the Triple Lakes Trail Half.
"You piece of shit." I then got to the muddy area, which reassured me I was going the right way. "This thing is worthless"
About a mile later, though, things didn't look so familiar...

Lesson #5: My instincts are full of crap
It was starting to get dark and cold. I was completely out of water. Is this the way I came? Maybe that wasn't the same wide stream I had crossed earlier. I stopped and stared at the Forerunner. Was it correct? Did I set this thing up right? Is it malfunctioning?
Suddenly I realized the seriousness of my situation. If I was going south, I had no idea if I would get to a major road before dark. It was hard enough to follow the trail in the daylight, in the dark it would impossible. So I decided to trust the thing on my wrist and turned around again.

Lesson #6: Bring a light
"WHO WATCHES OVER YOU..." I knew I had to run past those hunters again, and now that it was getting dark I was worried they might mistake me for a deer. So I tried to make as much noise as I could. "...SAY I'M THE ONLY BEE IN YOUR BONNET..."
On the other hand, they may shoot me for singing They Might Be Giants. What would hunters approve of?
Hmmm. They wouldn't like botching the National Anthem.

Lesson #7: Trail love makes it complete
Finally I saw Bubbles and Shannon on the trail, who had come looking for me after I was a half hour late getting back. Bubbles gave me a bottle of water which I drained, and then kept on running. I finally made it back to car, just as the sun was setting. After 28 miles and 5 and half hours I was delirious, and happy.
We ate some food, and then got some beer out of the cooler and had a toast to great day.
Bubbles showed me the Trail Love she got. After running 5 hours she tripped and fell a few hundred yards from the car.

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