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...