Uwharrie 100/100k, 2014
On October 18-19, I ran the Uwharrie 100 k or should I say, I ran and walked a spooky 100k in one of the oldest mountain ranges on the East coast.
I am not a fast runner and I consider myself new to ultra running. Why I picked Uwharrie 100 as my first 100k, well let us just say it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Not knowing the Uwharrie trails, I took advantage of the group runs Dan Paige organized twice a month. I learned the figure eight trail and gained strength. The first time I ran the course, I was a sweaty, tired mess. The last time I ran the course, I was a sweaty, strong mess. I was ready for the race.
It was a 6 am start and I stood next to Rosie. She casually mentioned she had Michael Jackson's "thriller" running through her head. Was she trying to handicap me? Thriller is not only a song you can't get out of our head but it has zombies in the video. Before I could counter with. "Well, I have " Happy" by Will Pharrell in my head ", the race started.
The first lap and most of the second lap were uneventful. Rocks, roots, up and down, tip toe and jump over and through the streams. Watch out for hikers, Boy Scouts, dogs, snakes and bow hunters. Remember to eat, drink and enjoy the beautiful weather as I moved through the 20 plus mile loops chatting with two fellow runners.
The last two miles of my second lap were in the dark. I had my flashlight with me and the shadows revealed the darker side of Uwharrie, that is when my spidey senses started to tingle. I had crossed the last bridge when I heard click, click, click. My mind went into overdrive. I was by myself, could it be....no, it had to be Amanda taking pictures but there wasn't a flash. I called out "Amanda, is that youuuuu", suddenly, a large 5'8 furry thing stepped out from behind a tree, its arms reaching as it stepped towards me. All I could do was stop and squeak, "Dan, you got me". Sasquatch had made his appearance and was ready to chase the kids around the aid station.
The third loop started in the company of my pacer Jeanne. I can't say enough about Jeanne and how special it was to share the last lap with this amazing person. She was so happy to run in the woods, at night, for over 20 miles. I wondered how long her enthusiasm would last. The temperature was dropping, a wind was beginning to kick up and the night was starting. I thought back to the last time I ran Uwharrie at night. It was a training run in early September with Vinny and Rhonda. I vividly remember Rhonda saying "boy, this is a great place for some hallucinations".
While Jeanne and I were knocking off the miles, I wondered if I would have any hallucinations. We made it to Vinny's aid station, ate some of his fantastic potato soup and headed off to Sasquatch summit. I kept my eyes out for what Rosie called "troll hands". They were those little stumps from cut sapling that grew up in the middle of the trail. It was their mission to grab your toes and trip you. As we moved past bushes and ferns, my feet were starting to feel sore and achy. I noticed I was moving even slower. The frogs and insects were singing and I tried to stay in the moment. Time wasn't important to me, finishing was the priority. This was the part of my journey where every step was farther than I have ever been and every minute was the longest I had ever stayed awake.
We scrambled up and over the rocks on Sasquatch summit and headed for the soul crusher. In between, was another hill. I found it more difficult because of the loose gravel and steep decent on the right hand side of the trail. We were cocooned in darkness and our steps echoed and swirled around our bodies, creating a presence behind us. This is when I noticed a shift in my perception.
As we were heading down, picking our way through the loose gravel and acorns, I found it difficult to step over and down a fallen log. My feet were tender and I didn't want to fall. I blurted out "Jeanne, Grandma needs some help!". Without saying a word, Jeanne, walked back and gave me her shoulder to hold while I stepped over and past the log. Grandma was relieved. We continued towards the soul crusher. The wind was running through the tops of the trees, our head lamps illuminated gray ghostly sentries and white shimmery spider webs. Branches and acorns were crashing onto the forest floor while the frogs and insects chirped. We were alone.
A sign told us we had reached the soul crusher. I believe if anyone had stopped to look, they would have seen two women trudging up the hill with one of them leaning forward, bent at the waist, almost to a 90 degree angle. From this point on, I felt like I was leaning. While going up, I leaned forward 90 degrees, when the trail had a steep decent to the right, I leaned left, when I perceived a steep drop on the left, I lean right. I had become a bobble head. It wasn't until we were driving home that I asked Jeanne if she saw me "leaning". She said no, I looked straight and strong. Was this the beginning of my hallucinations?
We happily passed through Kelly's kitchen and headed towards Vinny's aid station. I swear, one of those troll hands popped out from the ground and tried to grab me. At one point we passed sleeping campers, I could hear one snoring peacefully. At the aid station, I was really enjoying the fire, company and soup when my pacer mentioned it was time to move, five miles to go! Not much had changed while we were at Vinny's. A strong wind was tickling the top of the trees, the frogs squeaked out their mating calls and branches and acorns dropped from the trees, landing with a crash on the ground.
We were half way up Hallucination Hill when Jeanne mentioned the shadows from the plants looked like little mice running around. Hmmmmm, she might be right. I mentioned the root balls from the fallen oaks looked like giant spider webs. Yes, she could see my point. What really struck me as weird was why Dan and Amanda would hang green will-o-of the wisp lights from the trees. Didn't they know the will-o-of the wisps lured travelers off the road to their doom. Soon, we were three miles from the finish. I was getting excited yet a little sad thinking my adventure was almost over. Suddenly, I realized, I heard absolutely nothing. The wind had stopped, the frogs were quiet - the woods were absolutely silent. I straightened my self from leaning to the right and asked Jeanne if she heard anything. She said no and started to pick up the pace. I didn't want to look to my left or to my right because I knew Dan had better things to do at 5 am than jump out in a sasquatch suit. Why were the small creatures suddenly quiet, who or what were they hiding from? Could Sasquatch really be out there? Jeanne and I scooted along and reached the last camping site before the finish. I took a deep breath and smiled. Grandma was a sleep, the troll hands had receded into the earth, the will - o- of the wisps were gone and I was standing straight. One last short climb and we were done.
Thank you so much Dan, Amanda and the wonderful volunteers. You made my first 100k very special.