Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wonderful And Awful - Uwharrie Mountain Run 20 Miler

"Uwharrie is wonderful. And awful." I wrote that a couple of weeks before the Uwharrie Mountain Run after previewing the "easier" middle portion of the trail. Now, after running the full course for the first time, I stand by that description.

Over the course of the past couple of years, I've stumbled across a few races which somehow lodged themselves into a special place in my mind. Umstead Marathon and Medoc Mountain Trail Marathon being my favorites. I can now add a third to round out my top three races. Uwharrie joins Umstead and Medoc, but it's difficult to order them in any real way. They are all very different races and experiences. So, I'll just try to describe how I feel about them in terms of family.

Medoc is like your grandpa. He's old, and firm, but gentle and doting as well. He challenges you with the big climb, and then gently encourages you with the smooth rolling trail along the river. The loop course gives you that sense of comfort that comes with familiarity. Others have said this, and I will agree - Medoc is the perfect first trail marathon.

Umstead is like your father. He's constant, and disciplined, but supportive as well. He pushes you as hard as you need to be pushed in order to grow as a runner. He can teach you lessons through both your successes and your failures. I continue to learn from him.

Uwharrie is different. He is like the older, harder, gristly uncle who thinks your father has been too soft on you. Uncle Uwharrie loves you, but thinks that pushing you to the limit will make you a stronger person. As you struggle through his challenges, even at your lowest points, he tells you in no uncertain terms to "Grow up!". And then when you've made it through, he slaps your back and gives you your first beer. He's the uncle you love and respect. And also fear.

Recreation? That should be remediation.


The start, with lots of green "Umstead Tick Mob" shirts.


Lessons from Uncle Uwharrie
Lesson 1 - Don't Give Too Much Too Early - The start of Uwharrie is hard. Very, very hard. You "run" straight up a rock strewn gully for what seems like miles. Unless you are stupid, or extremely gifted, expect to walk most of this section.

Straight up "The Ditch"

There are a couple of rocks in the first section.

Me, followed by Ryan McCarty and Andrew Beckert.
All Uwharrie newbies...
Only a few more miles to the top.. sheesh!


 After struggling up the first big hill, there are several miles of fun, runnable trail, but you must be careful not to bomb down the hills too fast, or to attack the up hills too hard, except if you are running the 8 miler, in which case feel free to run like you are being chased by Sasquatch himself.

Ryan rockin' the kilt.
Andrew rockin' his first 20 mile run, ever. And I thought I was nuts...
The only real bridge on the 20 mile trail.

Lesson 2 - Eat Well - The first 8 miles or so are all about cooking up the proper Uwharrie running recipe. Take a large portion of difficulty, toss in a good helping of fun, and spice with fear and exhaustion. Consume with abandon.

The Uwharrie aide stations are simply fantastic. I had filled my pockets full of granola and honey gels before the race. At the end of the race, my pockets were still full. Uncle Uwharrie whispered sternly into my ear at the first aide station "Gels are for hair, boy! Have a banana. And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And a chocolate chip cookie. And wash it down with some Coca Cola. That's a real man's race fuel."

And so, I did.

I can't tell you how stupid of me this was. I have a notoriously bad racing stomach, and fueling is something I've struggled with for over a year now. Trying an entirely new fueling "strategy" during a race is monumentally idiotic. Just the sort of thing I'm good at.

But somehow, all the aide station goodies actually worked. I looked forward to each station so I could have a coke and a cookie. I had noticeable surges after each station and never had any stomach discomfort. Uncle Uwharrie is a wise man. Next year, I'm trying the eggs and potatoes.

Lesson 3 - Embrace the Difficulty - I spent the first 10 miles or so trying to keep my feet dry, and for the most part I succeeded. But I paid a price in terms of time, energy and momentum. Eventually, Uncle Uwharrie got fed up with me and pushed me off a rock in the middle of a stream crossing. "Run through it, boy!" he ordered. After that, I splashed through every icy stream and clomped through all the squishy trail mud. And I loved it! I must have passed 20 people total at stream crossings.

You could spend 15 minutes looking for a way
around this crossing. Or 3 seconds splashing
through it.

Uncle Uwharrie Smiles, Sort Of
The final few miles are the toughest. There are many stream crossings, lots of sloppy trail mud, ledge trails I wouldn't let my favorite goat climb up, and a hill around mile 16 that seems to go on forever. And it started to rain (why I have so few pictures - my camera isn't water proof). But this was also my favorite part of the race. I started seeing lots of friends who were running back along the course in the 40 mile event and that really lifted my spirits. Congrats to everyone (Bart, Anthony, Heiko, Dan, Sean, Shannon, Karen and Brandy) I remember seeing on their second 20 miles of the 40 miler. You 40 milers are simply amazing!

Anthony flying down hill so fast, I couldn't
get him in focus.

Shannon, smiling her way down one of the
gnarliest sections of the trail.

Close to the finish, I started thinking about a time goal. Normally, I have all sorts of nonsense goals going into a race, but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to set any goals for Uwharrie, other than to finish the thing without injury. I think I actually feared Uwharrie. I said as much to my wonderful wife the week prior to the race. She sympathized (somewhat...) but asked why I even wanted to run Uwharrie if I was scared of being injured. I didn't have a real answer. I still don't. I'm not even sure there is an answer. But I accept that.

Around the 14 mile aide station, I realized I had a shot at coming in close to 4 hours if I kept the same pace. But I was feeling a bit down.  I had lost my running buddies, Ryan and Andrew and had slogged through a bunch of miles nearly alone on the trail. Somehow though, in the nastiest part of the course, I found my second wind, and I flew. I ran easy, light and relaxed. I crossed the line tired, but feeling good. Not that I could have turned around and ran another 20 miles, like you 40 miler maniacs, but I felt really good about my run. I think I finished in just a bit over 4 hours. Not bad considering I had a vague notion that the race would probably take me at least 4 hours 30 minutes.

Uncle Uwharrie slapped me on the back, and grunted "Not bad, nephew. Not bad."

That's right! I wore my bedroom slippers for the race.
Even Uncle Uwharrie was slightly impressed.

My calf is cramping in this picture.
You're welcome!







34 comments:

  1. Glad to see so many members of the Tick Mafia out there. And that you all survived. Everyone did survive, right?

    See you at Dad's reunion.

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    Replies
    1. I think everyone made it out alive, Josh. See you in a few short weeks...

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  2. GREAT, GREAT race report! You are soooo right about Uwharrie! Congratulations on your finish AND your time! WOW!

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    1. Thanks Frank. I still have no idea if 4 hours is a good time though. Felt good though...

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  3. Uncle Uwharrie beat me senseless and I have reported him to the authorities.
    Four hours is great time for Uwharrie. You are going to lose your license for calling yourself "slow"

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    Replies
    1. Uncle Uwharrie is a crotchety, mean, old coot. Handle with care...

      I'll give up the "slow" license if I ever win *anything* in my age group. In other words, never...

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    2. Scott, I am going to have to agree with Anthony on this one. Your slow license has been revoked.

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    3. But Shannon, what will I use as an excuse for all my stupidity-based, bonktacular performances?! Wait, I think I just answered that. Maybe I should change my blog subtitle to "A blog about running, stupidly" :-) If something crazy or stupid happens at Umstead (very likely), I'll think about a blog title update.

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  4. Wow, Scott, nice goin' out there! Four hours is exceedingly impressive from the looks of those hills and rocks. What an awesome trail, though! I can't wait to try that one some day.

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    1. Thanks, Ash! It is indeed an awesome trail. Next year.. carpool for the 20 miler!

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  5. Congratulations on a great run, Scott! I've yet to really leave my comfort zone of the roads (save for the first real trail run/race I did with y'all at Pilot Mtn). I can't imagine THAT times seven which is what you did!

    And excellent race report, too.

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    1. Thanks, Bob! If you can run up Pilot Mountain, especially the bottom portion, you will have no problems running trail races. I look forward to seeing you at some in the future... :-)

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  6. "Gels are for hair, boy! Have a banana. And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And a chocolate chip cookie. And wash it down with some Coca Cola. That's a real man's race fuel."

    Love it! Awesome report Scott!

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    1. I appreciate that, David! Thanks so much for reading.

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  7. Congratulations Scott on your first Uwharrie finish. Uncle Uwharrie beat up my quads/calves, hamstrings and taught me a bunch of valuable lessons that I'll be sure to forget before next time. Great race report, glad to hear you made it through this event in good shape. Now don't tell anybody else about how special this trail race is, as you know the first rule of Fight Club^H^H^H^H^H^H Uwharrie is you don't talk about Uwharrie (as it fills up too quickly ;-). See you in Umstead soon.

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    1. Thanks, Heiko! Uncle Uwharrie is certainly a mean ole bastard, but he means well. I'll be sure to change the name to "Uncle YouHurry" next year and complain about how *easy* and boring the trail is... See you at Umstead!

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  8. Wow, hilarious race report and I'm with AC. I'm pretty sure you are the fastest guy to run Uwharrie in bedroom slippers, so that's winning something! If you're slow, I'm scared of what fast must look like. Wait, nevermind, I've seen fast. It's shirtless and wears under armor compression shorts. I was afraid Uncle Uwharrie was going to turn out to be the creepy one with the mustache who always wanted my sister to sit in his lap when my Mom wasn't around. Great job out there! How are your feet and hamstrings holding up? Are you in for the 40 next year ;-)

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    1. Good point, Andrew! I didn't think about the RunAmoc category. Good enough for me!

      You are thinking of Uncle Incestus. Uncle Uwharrie has threatened to shoot Uncle Incestus in the crotch if he hears any more complaints from the kids.

      Speaking of great jobs, your first 20 miler (ever!) was in Uwharrie and you ran 4:29! You are both insane and fast. I'm amazed.

      Hammies and quads seem to be recovering nicely, but there's no frickin' way I'm running the 40 next year. Of course, now that I've written that, it probably means I *will* be running the 40 next year. I'm just dumb enough to attempt it.

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    2. Thanks Scott! I guess the wife let out my little secret about never having run 20 miles before :) Glad your recovery is going well. Wish I could be there for Umstead with you guys.

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    3. Andrew, having done Uwharrie in 4:30 you could easily run Umstead. Of course, once done, it becomes one of those local tradition races that you want to go back for again and again. That's not a bad thing though. Sign up next year! It's the one race I plan to do until my legs fall off.

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  9. Hello, I stumbled across your blog from Running-Down. You passed me at one of the stream crossings... I remember your shoes!

    Sounds like you had an excellent race. Congrats! I had foolishly registered for the 40- miler, never running in Uwharrie before. I bailed at 20... would never have made the time cut-off. I'M SLOW!

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    1. Hi Amber! Thanks for stopping by and reading. My shoes are quite memorable, unlike my race stats. :-)

      The fact that you even signed up for the 40 miler tells me that you are probably a much better runner than me, but no shame in bailing out at 20 if you had never experienced Uwharrie before. The preview I did was *immensely* helpful both psychologically and logistically.

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  10. What? No signature Der Scott suffer-fest?? What a disappointment! (One little calf cramp at the end hardly counts...) Clearly you should have done the 40, if only for our entertainment.

    Congratulations. Nice race. ;)

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    1. LOL! Thanks, Tuck. Don't worry, there will be more dismal suffer-fests in my future I'm sure. Umstead Marathon is coming up fast. There's always a possibility of suffering in Umstead. That's why I love it so much. ;-)

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  11. Replies
    1. I'm punching you square in the mouth when I see you at Umstead!

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  12. I signed up for Uwharrie two years ago when there was an ice storm the night before. I was easily talked out of going by my wise wife. The weather was perfect for your run. Lucky you. Maybe someday I will try it but I am always afraid I will be the one who gets lost never to be found.

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    1. It's *very* easy to get lost out there, Chris. But worth the risk for the experience of running a truly hard trail race.

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  13. Great report Scott! I completed the 40 miler, so the mean Uncle would probably give me my first beer AND a stripper!

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    1. Thanks, Gene! Knowing Uncle Uwharrie, that stripper would probably be a cousin. ;-)

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  14. Awesome report, and congrats on the run! And I totally covet your bedroom slippers. :)

    (So much for saying 'Uncle' if you've had enough, huh?)

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    Replies
    1. Hey, thanks RwB! Those slippers can be yours as well, and in a vast array of color combinations.

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