Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking into Mordor - Uwharrie Mountain Run Preview

That's not an elevation profile. It's a
picture of the teeth that gnaw on your
legs as you run through Uwharrie.
One does not simply walk into Uwharrie. You crawl in. You scramble in on all fours like some demented trail-running version of Gollum, scrabbling breathlessly over the bones of broken mountains seemingly as old as the Earth itself. Only "my precious" isn't the One Ring - it's the ring with your car key. You cherish that ring and all the comfortable, warm, modern, pleather-seated goodness that it represents. Lose it and you lose any chance of a final escape.

Ok, I'm being slightly dramatic. But truthfully, only slightly. Uwharrie Mountain Trail is the toughest, hilliest, most gnarly stretch of boulders, rocks, roots, and streams that I've ever attempted to "run". I signed up for the 20 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run thinking it would be a great stepping stone race towards my ultimate goal of redeeming myself at the Umstead Marathon. What an idiot. After previewing the middle portion of the "trail" with a bunch of other local (and one traveling) lunatics, I can say that Uwharrie is nothing like Umstead. Twenty miles in Uwharrie is like thirty miles on Umstead single track trail, and that's not even considering the stream crossings. If Uwharrie is Mordor, then Umstead barely rates as the Shire. Unfortunately, I only resemble a hobbit because of my hairy feet and love of beer. I don't think I have the guts (or the legs) to bust into Mordor.

What's the difference you ask? Rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Uwharrie's single track trail never lets you relax. Each step is a potential ankle explosion. What looks likes easy, flat, leaf covered trail is really only leaf covered rocks, roots, and holes. What doesn't look like easy, flat, leaf covered trail is simply rocks, roots, and even more holes. If you have bad ankles, stay out of Uwharrie.

Scared yet? I know I am. But, I'm also super excited to actually run the race. Not because I want my ankles to explode (they probably will), or because I think it will catapult me to some astonishing Umstead finish (on the contrary, I think this race will almost certainly ruin my Umstead Marathon redemption attempt). Why then? Why bother risking all the training I've invested for my "A" race at Umstead, on a run at Uwharrie where I'll be lucky to finish uninjured.

It's difficult to say exactly, but after running through a good chunk of Uwharrie, I can see why people come back for the abuse over and over. Uwharrie is hauntingly beautiful!



There's a primitive, ancient quietness that draws you in, even as Uwharrie's stony trails beat your body senseless. The long, steep inclines that suck the life from your very bones, reward you with glimpses of distant, mysterious ridges once you reach the summits.


The icy streams that fill your shoes with wet, freezing grit, also gush through some of the most beautiful sections of the forest.

Where's the trail on the other side of the stream?
Damn if I can see it. Ryan McCarty (pictured here)
and I stuck together and *almost* managed
not to get lost.
There's a trail here. Somewhere...


Uwharrie is wonderful. And awful. And exciting. And scary. And I can't wait...



15 comments:

  1. Great post Scott. I'd give it a thumbs up, but I'm still too stiff. I can't wait to go back for my missing skin in 2 weeks. I am bringing a beer to pour into that finishers cup!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ryan. Don't forget the liquor as well. I'll need something stronger than beer after running this beast.

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  2. I love it! I still have bad memories from the 8-miler... Did you make a decision on footwear for the race?

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    Replies
    1. I'm struggling with the whole footwear thing, Andrew. On the one hand, I don't need the protection - my feet are very strong and the rocks didn't bother them. On the other hand, I would love to have some protection so I could run with less paranoia and bomb down some of the hills without constantly braking. But bombing down the hills is almost certainly going to result in a very bad fall, an exploded ankle, or both... Ugh...

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  3. Wonderful description of the Uwharrie! I had the same initial reaction to it that you did. I thought I was all hard core for running Company Mill Trail, but now that might as well be a moving walkway at the airport. I got to Uwharrie and thought "There is no trail here! It's just a long line of big rocks. People run on this?"
    Uwharrie stretches the definition of "Trail" and "Running" and "Miles"

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    Replies
    1. I'm not exactly happy to see this coming from you Anthony, given how frickin' good you are at trail running, but then again, it at least lets me know that I'm not some idiotic, delusional trail running pansy. Well, at least I'm not delusional...

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  4. Great write up and sums up why I have a love hate relationship with Uhwarrie... Why the Siren keeps calling, and while I keep answering. Only to get beat up and abused. Can't wait -- less than 2 weeks!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sean. The Siren has sung for me as well. I should have worn my ear plugs... See you in 2 weeks!

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  5. "the bones of broken mountains seemingly as old the the Earth itself."

    Perfect.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Josh. It would have been perfect if I hadn't fat fingered the sentence into a mangled mess of misplaced modifiers.

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  6. Well, you've certainly sold me on signing up for it next year. Just look at those rocks!
    (Seriously, though, I can't believe you people are running that race so close to Umstead. Crazy!)

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    Replies
    1. Dont' do it, Ash! If you value your Umstead performance, just walk away. Don't turn around. And plug your ears so the Uwharrie Siren doesn't lure you to your doom.

      But let me know if you sign up next year. I'll run it with you. ;-)

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  7. Running in the grass will help stabilize your ankles for these kinds of runs!! And don't worry, I am sure those leaves will all be gone;)

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    Replies
    1. Those weren't leaves Sean. They were dried chunks of skin ripped from the bodies of the runners who passed through before me.

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