The Uwharrie National Forest is an All-You-Can-Run Buffet of the rockiest, most technical trails in the Piedmont of NC. Bob Boeder started a trail race here 17 years ago and used this area as his training ground for The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and Hardrock 100. For my long run this week I ran the 40 mile course Bob laid out along the Uwharrie Trail.
But, this was more than a training run for me. This was a chance to even the score with the course where I DNFd last month for the first time. This run would be more of a hard core empty arena, cage match than my usual tranquil weekend long runs.
I set out with the same goal I had on race day last month: Sub 7hrs, organ donor's club. Only this time there would be no aid stations. No cheering fans along the way. No family and friends waiting at the finish. No other human competitors. No taper. And no official results.
I drove out to the Uwharrie National Forest Friday afternoon and stashed water at the 8mi, 11mi, and the 20 mi turnaround, then met my family at the Asheboro Hampton Inn for a night of bouncing on the beds, eating pizza, and playing in the hotel pool. Sat am I drove out to the Flint Hill Trailhead where the 40 mile course begins, getting there just in time for my target 7:00 am start (same as race day). It was a beautiful sunny day with temps starting in the upper 30s and topping out in the mid 60s.
The Trailhead was quiet as I laced up my NB 790s (arguably an insane shoe choice for this run), strapped on my Nathan pack, and hit the start button on my Garmin. I had no idea what the day would bring, and with the lack of cell phone service in the area I was a little apprehensive the first mile. Bella Fleck came up on the iPod and with the sun hitting me just as I crested the first hill everything seemed to be falling into place.
My strategy was to divide the run up into 5 x 8 mi sections. If I could average 1:24s for these I'd be right on the 7 hr mark.
After taking the first hill quite a bit slower than race day, I came through the 8 mile point about 1 minute faster feeling really good: 1:17. This was the confidence boost I was looking for and I was able to keep it going through the next 8 miles, dropping my time on that section to 1:16 despite taking a short break at mile 8 and 11 to refill my water. It was in this 2nd 8 mi section that I began to have ITB pain on race day and started walking the downhills. No problems today. I felt strong through the half way point, coming through at 3:14. The 3rd 8 mile section was a little slower, 1:26, but not bad considering the time I took at the halfway point refilling my Nathan pack and getting some food. The 4th 8 mile segment (mi 24-32) was hard. With each hill my average pace came up a few seconds and I wasn't making it up on the steep, technical downhills. The sun was beating down on me now and I was short on fluids. I slipped to a 1:30 for this section leaving myself exactly 1:30 again on the last 8 mi segment in order to break 7 hrs. I started getting nervous that I might really bonk with dehydration. Lost in my thoughts and wondering if Uwharrie might get the better of me again I failed to notice a tree that jumped in front of me. Ouch. The Uwharrie Trail wasn't going to let me win easily. Bloodied, bruised, and a little shaken I plodded along through the uphills and was finally relieved to find a few downhill sections that were not too steep to run.
Before I knew it I was making the turn back down to the Flint Hill Rd Trailhead parking lot. I cruised across the "finish "to an empty parking lot in 6:55:32 to tie up the score: Uwharrie 1, Marmot 1.
"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense."
- David Blaikie
- David Blaikie