Monday, February 11, 2013

Hidden Beauty - Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 Miler - Part 2

[Part 1 is here.]

Miles 20 through 32 - Turn, Burn, and Churn
Coming into the 20 mile turnaround, I was feeling a bit tired, but overall not too bad. I had really tried hard to take it easy the first 20 miles. I had stopped at every aid station and made sure to eat and drink, even if I didn't feel like I needed anything. I had even eaten several cookies at the 11 and 14 mile aid stations (this becomes important later, I promise).

I probably spent too much time at the 20 mile turnaround. I peeled off a couple layers of shirts and sat on the ground trying to decide if I should change shoes. Both my feet were wet, due to the stream crossings, but otherwise they felt fine. Sitting there, staring at my shoes, I finally heard the first rumblings from Uncle Uwharrie.

"Don't sit there like a blame fool!" yelled Uncle Uwharrie. "Eat some soup and start the damned race!"

Uncle Uwharrie was right, of course. I had made it to the "first" start of the 40 miler. Most people I had asked about the 40 mile race said there are two real starts in the race. The first real start is at the 20 mile turn around, where there is lots of good, warm food, plenty of mingling 20 mile race finishers, and a couple of warm shuttle vans waiting to drive you away from the misery of a second 20 miles of Uwharrie trail. And then there's the second real start of the race at the 32 mile aid station, where lots of runners are at their lowest, both physically and mentally. I would worry about that one later.

"OK, time to start the race" I thought. I got up, sipped some soup and headed back down the trail, trying to imagine that I really was just starting the race, and telling my tired legs to stop lying to me.

I had made it no further than 100 feet down the trail before I realized that I had forgotten to grab my headlamp from my drop bag. I stopped cold on the trail, other runners passing by in both directions. I was on pace to easily make the 4PM cut off for runners without headlamps at the 32 mile aid station, but fear froze my legs.

"You won't need it, boy" growled Uncle Uwharrie. "Go!"

"What if something goes wrong and I miss the cutoff?!" I thought, panic stricken.

"Didn't I tell you before, you gotta have a mind of steel out here. Doubt will kill you. Run!" said Uncle Uwharrie, practically shoving me down the trail.

But I did have doubts, lots of them. And fear. So, I turned around and went back for the headlamp. I could feel Uncle Uwharrie's disapproving glare as I started the race, again, this time with a headlamp bouncing in my left pocket as I ran down the trail.

Making my way to the aid station at mile 23, I could feel my legs tightening up. I had been eating well enough, or at least I thought I had, and this didn't feel like a bonk. More like the beginnings of cramping. So, when I trotted into the 23 mile aid station, I scanned the table for anything with salt. I ate a few corn chips and then noticed a tray of mini pickles that hadn't been there on my first pass through. I tried one, and the salty, vinegar rush over my tongue felt almost as good as a hit of morphine through an IV drip (I've you've been in the hospital and had this, you'll know...). I gobbled down almost a dozen pickles and trotted off down the trail feeling pretty damned good.

I could hear Uncle Uwharrie screaming something in the back of my mind. Something about potatoes. "Pfffffttt!" I thought. "Who needs potatoes when I can have the sweet sodium hit of crunchy little pickles!"

Aside from passing the random straggling 20 milers, I was essentially alone on the trail. I felt alright and tried to stay positive, but I could feel my mood souring. I had been running for nearly 6 hours, and I was running low on positive attitude.

Luckily, I finally ran across my old running, racing, and training partner Ryan a couple of miles later. We both stopped and spent a few minutes just shooting the bull and recharging our mental batteries. Funny how something as simple as seeing a friend in a down moment, can totally change your attitude. I parted ways with Ryan feeling much more upbeat about my race.

Unfortunately, I needed something more than good feelings to power my legs. For some reason, a mile or so later, my legs seemed to totally shutdown. I could run, but it was really only slightly faster than simply walking. What the hell!? I had been fueling properly and taking it easy all day. Why were my legs suddenly dead?

"You are dumber than a box of rocks, boy!" chided Uncle Uwharrie. "I told you to eat them taters!"

And then, trudging along on dead legs, it hit me. Pickles! Pickles are essentially a calorie free food. I had filled my belly with a whooping 40 calories of salty, crunchy, delicious WATER. I painfully trudged up the trail, towards the 26 mile aid station where I refueled, this time with taters.

With a bit of luck, my mini-bonk lasted less than a mile, and shortly after the 26 mile aid station, I was feeling good enough to run again. I cruised through the 29 mile aid station, making sure to get a few potatoes and some nice hot chicken noodle soup broth into my increasingly grumpy stomach. Something had began to stir deep within my digestive system, and I didn't like the feel of it, at all.

Around mile 31, Uncle Uwharrie kicked me in the guts. Hard! I could still run, and my legs felt alright, but something had tied my intestines in a rapidly constricting knot. I remembered all the cookies I had eaten at the 11 and 14 mile aid stations, and realized I had screwed up.

"You'll learn to mind me, boy" growled Uncle Uwharrie. "I told you to eat the taters!"

Last year when I ran the 20 mile race, I was able to  eat cookies without any issues, at least during the race. I paid the price for my gluten intolerance several hours after finishing the 20 miles race. Sometimes a deal with the devil, or Uncle Uwharrie, is better than no deal at all.

Stupidly, I had eaten cookies again, assuming I would pay the price a few hours later, after the race. Unfortunately, a few hours later wasn't quite long enough to finish the 40 mile race. Not even close really.

I trudged into the 32 mile aid station, and went directly to the port-o-potty confessional, where I spent some quality time confessing my cookie eating sins to Father Cerulean. The last 8 miles were going to be ugly.

Final chapter of the race report - Hidden Beauty