So it deserves the longest, hardest blog post ever. My apologies in advance.
Here is a list of other, much shorter, better Uwarrie race reports:
Frank Lilley, Brad Smythe, Mohammed "Sultan" Idlibi, Tim Gautreau, Sean Butler
Pictures that Shannon and I both took are here. Feel free to use them as you like, and let us know if you would like any full resolution images.
Four weeks before
"You're doing Uwharrie? You doing the twenty?"
I was standing at the starting line of the Godiva Eno Equalizer, chatting with some guys there.
"No, I'm doing the forty", I said, thinking I would impress them.
"The forty! You're doing the forty?" Doug Hensel laughed and pointed at me, "He's doing the forty! AH HA HA HA!"
The other guys laughed and shook their heads in pity, like I had just given my bank account info to someone in Nigeria.
”AH HA HA HA! He signed up for the forty!"
Three Weeks before
Shannon and I go for our last long training run in Uwharrie. After 6 ½ hours of moving very slowly, we are defeated. We cannot imagine taking another step, let alone going for another 3 or 4 hours.
One week before
5 inches of snow fall, and sticks around all week. Shannon and I obsessively check the weather forecast.
Four days before
We receive an email from the race directors:
Inclement weather, including freezing rain and snow has been forecasted for Uwharrie this week. If the US Forest Service deems the road and trail conditions unsafe for runners and volunteers, we may be forced to cancel the race. If this happens, the decision will be made 24-hours before the race beginsWe go from worrying about running the race to worrying about not running it.
Three days before
My Red Shoes that I had done all my training in fall apart. In my frantic search to find new ones I end up at Bull City Running Co. in Durham. Coincidently, the owners of Bull City are also the race directors of the Uwharrie Mountain run. As Kim sold me my new pair of Red Shoes, she told me the race would not be canceled and would go ahead as planned.
The night before
Torrential rain hits central North Carolina, causing flooding.
We begin packing our bags for the next day, as if we were preparing to hike across Nepal and scale Mount Everest. Bubbles packs her car with everything she owns, including her diploma and rowing machine, and comes over to our house.
We each pack three sets of clothes, one to run in, one for the drop bag at the turn around, and warm dry clothes for afterward. We pack food, drinks, cameras, GPS watches, head lamps, etc., etc.
We don't know what to expect. Waist deep streams? Ankle deep mud? Will we be out there 9, 10, 12 hours?
Nervous, with nothing left to do, I go out to the garage and run my new Red Shoes across the table saw some more. Then I start packing the car. Our 85 pound dog Dudley knows we are going somewhere and sneaks into the garage, hoping to come with us.
2:35 am I can't sleep, so I get up to get dressed. Bubbles is already up. I eat large bowl of oatmeal, and then wake up Shannon. When Bubbles opens the door to the garage, Dudley, who was out in the garage all night, bursts through the door and runs her over, inverting her kneecap. "OW OW OW OW", she cries, crippled on the floor.
"Oh my god! I'm so sorry!", I say. Not to Bubbles, but to poor Dudley as who was locked in the garage all night.
4:00 am We manage to leave on time. It's about 35 degrees out, and the rain has finally stopped.
4:45 am Time for the requisite pre-race-jitters bathroom stop at a gas station
5:50 am We pull into the church parking lot, a few miles from the start. There is an nice, warm building open for people to wait for the shuttle. We each use the bath bathroom yet again to expel our churning nervousness. We grab our backpacks and catch the shuttle to the start with Ronnie and Karen.
6:05 am We step out of the shuttle van into a giant mud puddle that is the start area. The race had not even begun and our feet are already wet and muddy.
This is no road race with a nice warm gymnasium to pick up your packet. This is in the middle of the forest, and it is cold, wet and very dark.
They do have a fire going that every one huddles around trying to stay warm.
I get my bib and race supplied drop bag from the registration tent, and look for a dry place to put my pack down. I am lucky that I have a head lamp to see what I am doing as I load my drop bag and get ready. "I'm sorry, sorry," Shannon says as she is shivering so bad that I have to pin on her bib for her. I hang our backpacks from a tree to stay dry, pee one last time and head over to the start line.
7:00 am As we line up, the race director Kim Page has last minute instructions:
- The last 5 miles of the trail was deemed too flooded for us to run through safely, so we will be diverted to a gravel road as a detour.
- There will be no official timing
- If the course is deemed too unsafe, then we will be stopped at the 20 mile turn around.
"GO!". And we are off.
After the steep first mile, it flattens out and we actually start running. The pack spreads out a bit. As the sun comes up, a light snow shower starts to fall, and it is beautiful morning. No wind, mid 30's. I am trying to take it slow and easy, because I know I have many hours to go. So I stop and fail to get pictures of the snow flakes.
Less than an hour into the run I develop a bout of voluminous gas. It might be the oatmeal, or all the dried fruit I ate the night before. It starts with a sharp abdominal pain, which is quickly relieved with a "Rrrrrrrrrp" out my backside. This repeats itself every few minutes.
I pass a women on the trail and we immediately hit a steep incline, climbing slowly. She is right behind me when the sharp pain comes, and then: "Rrrrrrrrp." oh no. I try to run faster to get some clearance, but it's a loud "Rrrp. Rrrp. Rrrp" with every step. In hindsight I should have stepped aside to let her go, but it just happened so fast. Besides, from what I have read about ultras, bodily malfunctions (yours and others) are a common hazard, so a few farts shouldn't bother anybody.
We hit the first of the stream crossings and they are not bad at all. We plow through them, the water about mid calf. The water is ice cold, but my feet dry quickly. I had been afraid of being very wet and cold, but instead I am getting hot so I take off 2 of the 3 shirts I have on.
"Where's the famous cookies?", I am at the mile 8 aid station which has a huge buffet of food, including several types of cookies.
"Uwharrie cookies over here". I grab two and go. The cookies are good, kind of jumble of everything, peanut butter, oatmeal, nut, chocolate chip, etc . but they are little too dry and takes me the next 2 miles to eat them.
I learned from our training runs that the Uwharrie hills are way too steep for me to run up. I wouldn't make it 4 miles, let alone 40. So my plan was this:
- Walk up all hills
- Jog the rare flat parts
- Let gravity take me fast on the downhills
- Try to average a 12:00 min/mile pace
John Ciccarello was one of these guys. I think I could write his race report for him:
"There was this asshole in this goofy tight shirt who kept passing me on the downhills, then would stop and walk on the uphills, and I would get stuck behind him. And man, he had some bad gas."9:00 AM
We get to about mile 10, where the trail follows a steam for a while, before it crosses over a log. The 5 of us choose to walk the log instead of going through the water. I stop to take a couple pictures.
After getting across the log, the trail is very narrow and tight, and I am following a little too close to the guy in front of me. He brushes by a low hanging branch and... WHACK! It snaps back and whips me right in the eye. "OW! Mother-!" Another hazard of trail running.
I inherited the gene for impatience from my father.
How impatient is he? He once got a ticket for tailgating.
When we asked him, "How did a cop see you tailgating somebody?"
He replied, irritated, "It was the cop. He wouldn't get out of my way." (True story)
My impatience is getting the better of me, and I am going too fast. I am at mile 13, and 16 minutes ahead of schedule. I will pay for it later.
Shannon is about a mile behind me, running with Sean Butler. She snaps some photos of him crossing a stream, and then she slips and falls on the rocks, landing hard on her hand and leg. She looses some skin off her hand, and the bruise on her thigh makes her limp slightly, but she keeps on running.
"Uh!", I am at the mile 15 aid station, and just had my first and last cup of HEED which is nasty.
The volunteers graciously fill my bottles with water and I have another PB&J, which I am starting to like.
This is where we are detoured onto a gravel road. Like everyone else, I naturally pick up the pace even more on the easy surface.
My legs start to hurt. Knees, hamstrings, and right hip. I am not even half way, and I am already falling apart. So I slow down, and start walking up even the slightest inclines on the gravel road. Several other 40 milers catch up and pass me, but it's OK. On the wide road I can go at my own pace and not get in anyones way. I start seeing the leaders coming back, Mark Lundblad, Ronnie Weed, Byron Backer, and Brad Smythe.
I get to the half-way turn around station after 18.75 miles, and I am both disappointed and relieved that the course will be less than 40. A volunteer takes my camera and gets a few shots for me. Another volunteer runs and gets my drop bag.
From my bag I get a fresh bottle of Gu, and fill my other bottle with Ensure.
I pop some pills: caffeine, acetaminophen, and electrolytes. Mmmmm. I love pills.
My Cascadia trail shoes are in the drop bag, but my Red Shoes that I'm wearing are doing great, no slipping or sliding. And there's no reason to put on dry socks or shoes because they will just get wet again. So I turn in my bag in, and start heading back to the finish. The whole stop only takes 2 minutes.
On the way back I see Wayne Crews coming in, leading the 20 milers.
"How much farther?", he asks
"You're almost there!", and as soon as the words leave my mouth, I cringe. I hate when people say that.
"Whooooohoo!", next I see Shannon, who is having way too much fun. "I'm feeling great!", she says, and I worry that she may be going too fast. We take pictures of each other, then I give her a kiss and a hug. A guy running by says, "No kissing and hugging in an ultra!"
Thinking he feels left out, I offer him a hug and kiss, with my arms stretched out "You're next!", but he declines.
I am off the road and back onto the single track. Suddenly I feel good again. The trail feels easier on my legs, but it probably is just the Tylenol and caffeine kicking in. There are a lot 20 milers still coming through, but they are very gracious and make way for me.
John Ciccarello and I are still swapping places. After 26 miles he is still maintaining a steady pace up and down the hills and I can't shake him. While trying to navigate past some 20 milers, he slips and falls, hurting his pride pretty bad. He gets back up before I can get my camera out.
We cross back over the log, 10 miles from the finish. Suddenly, my digestive system starts to complain with a vengeance, so I stop and let John go ahead. This seems to always happen to me after 5 hours of running, and I know if I just ignore it, it will go away. So I just take a leak and keep running.
I hear the cheering of the volunteers at the 8 mile aid station, and I get huge lift. I cross the road into the station, and see John just leaving.
"He told us to tie your shoelaces together", a volunteer says as he fills my bottles.
I fail to think of something witty, and instead just shake my fist in the air, "Why, I'll catch him yet!", and take off after John.
I cannot believe how good I feel. Knowing that the finish is just 2 miles away, I stop conserving and start running hard. I pass John, and see some runners ahead and try to catch them.
With only a mile to go I pass "Sultan" Idlibi, Willow, and Bryon Backer.
I am winding down the last rocky switchbacks when Bryon comes flying down the hill, and I let him by. I can hear the finish area below and all my pain and exhaustion disappears, and I sprint down the hill to the finish line. I am done running in 6:33:45.
Sultan is 5 seconds behind me.
I eat a cup of the Vegetable soup and it is the most wonderful thing I have ever tasted. I ask for 3 more cups of it. I take off my shoes expecting the worst after 37.5 miles and 7 hours of mud and ice cold water. Huge holes bigger than a silver dollar have been worn into both socks. But amazingly, no blisters or black toenails. Body glide on the feet works wonders.
I talk a while with Heiko, Jim, and Caroline who ran the 20 and were so nice to stick around to see us 40 milers finish.
I take a peek at the results clip board, "Holy crap! 6th place?" I could not believe it.
I guy standing next me says, "Well, try harder next time." Wise-ass.
We check the runner tracking chart, which shows that Shannon had past the mile 5 aid station, but not yet arrived at the mile 2 station.
Actually she is sitting in a chair at the mile 5 station, warming herself by the fire, eating soup and drinking hot chocolate.
Shannon comes down the hill to the finish.
Bubbles comes down the hill. Despite being sick and not running for much of January she meets both her goals of finishing and not getting injured.
After the long drive back to Cary, we stop to eat at the Korean Garden for dinner. We limp in and sit down, and the waiter asks, "What happened to you guys? You get into a fight out in the parking lot?" He brings Shannon some Band-aids and anti-biotic creme for her hand.
9:00 pm We finally make it home after a long, long day.
We would like to thank all the volunteers for braving the torrential rain on Friday, and the cold and wet conditions on Saturday for an amazing experience.
The finishers mugs are awesome. They were made by Michael Mahan. Check out the video of the making of them here.