The Uwharrie 100 mile trail run
It has been nearly two weeks since finishing the Uwharrie 100 mile trail run. Trying to remember all the details of 30.5 hours of ultra running uphoria will be next to impossible but I will do my best to write an accúrate account.
Saturday morning I arrived at the trail head around 5am feeling surprisingly well despite having only 4 hours of sleep due to every runners worst nightmare…”the day before race day chest cold”. It seems that no matter what precautions are taken I will get some sort of cold right before a race.
Shortly after arriving I made my way to the check in table and was really impressed by the buckle that was being offered. I guess it was the first time any of the runners had laid eyes on it and I have to say that it is my favorite buckle to date. I didn’t want to spend much time gazing at it though because I decided years ago that these events shouldn’t be about the buckle but about finishing what you started out to do. Although a really nice buckle does help! It’s complicated.
After pinning the number 11 bib to my shorts I was eager to get started. It was a chilly morning so I was happy to see the race start on time. I can’t remember if a gun fired or a horn blew but which ever it was go time! I had vowed to myself to run the smartest race I have ever run, to really pace myself and start off slow. So why was I the second one in the woods? Why did I quickly take the lead? Because I am not smart and am incapable of running a smart race, that’s why.
So here I am, 42 years old, running too fast in the dark on a narrow, rocky, rooty trail within the first hour of a 30 hour long race with two young guys in there 20’s pushing me . I offered for them to go around but each were content to follow. I joked with them that they were letting me catch all the spider webs. In not much over an hour we reached the first aid station at 6 miles where I grabbed a banana and filled my water bottle. Usually I wear my hydration pack but this time I decided to just carry a bottle since the aid stations were not too awfully far apart. With the exception of all the rocks and roots the first 6 miles of this course is considerably easy. The next 5 miles however is rather horrific. The rocks and roots get worse and the hills get steeper. First up was “Sasquatch Summit” which is a near vertical climb over rocks the size of small cars. The second huge challenge was the “Soul Crusher “ a hill that seemed to never end which truly did crush my soul all 5 times that I had to climb it. After this came Kellys Kitchen, the out and back aid station that seemed to add an extra mile to each lap. As if that wasn’t enough torture, somewhere between mile 15 and 18 was “ Hallucination Hill “, a long slippery slope of baseball size loose rocks to twist and turn ankles into oblivion. Even with all these challenges before us we somehow finished the first 20 mile figure eight in 4:06. That is too fast for a hundo but I felt good and I knew that I would slow it down considerably on the next lap.
I set out looking forward to lap two after I downed a few orange slices and refilled my water. At this point I was still leading the 100 hundred mile race but knew that this could and probably would change. I still felt strong however, and it wasn’t long before I reached the first aid station. This station was in the middle of the figure 8 and would serve the runners twice in each lap. This was one awesome aid station. The volunteers were experienced ultra runners just full of good advice. I was going to fly thru this station content with a banana but they talked me into eating a hamburger and it really hit the spot. I just can’t thank these guys enough for their support. With some good nutrition in me I continued my journey through the torturous terrain back to Kellys kitchen then back to the middle aid station and back to the start/finish, this time in about 5 hours. 40 miles complete! I went ahead and grabbed another burger and my headlight because I would not finish this lap before it turned dark again. I also spent about 10 minutes with family and friends that had come to see what ultra running is all about.
As I set out on lap three I knew that I was still leading, but I didn’t have a good understanding of how far ahead I was. I still felt strong although I was walking a little more. I had to keep telling myself to “ run all the runables, only walk the unrunables. Somewhere along this lap my wife, who had been at the start/finish along with my mom and daughter texted me that I had a near hour lead on 2nd place. In one way this is encouraging. It’s always fun to think about winning. In another way it can be discouraging because you have to find out if you have what it takes to hold that position for 50 more miles. It was also a little weird because 2nd and 3rd place were my brothers! Billy and Andy Gordon. I would rather run with my brothers than against them. I had gotten too far ahead to wait up, and we all know that running is an individual sport so all sentimental issues have to be put aside and just focus on the task at hand.
Within a couple hours of the third lap it started getting dark. Nighttime falls quickly under all those tall trees. I expected it to get cold as it darkened but surprisingly the forest stayed quite humid so I ended up running most of this lap topless, and although it took 6 hours to complete this lap it seemed to fly by. Before I knew it I was back to the start/finish. At this point I decided to do some foot maintenance. I only had a couple small blisters. I took care of those and changed my socks. My Brooks Glycerin still felt top notch so I decided to continue in those. I tried not to hang around long. If I remember correctly I had a cup of soup before I left out. The usual “ I just ran 60 miles way to hard stomach issues” were starting to set in, along with sleep deprivation symptoms.
My daughter Kayla set out with me on the 4th lap as my pacer. I had a terrible mile 60 to 66. I was so sleepy and couldn’t run due to nausea. Thanks to my daughter for coming up with good conversation to keep me awake. Somewhere along this section I received word that my brother Billy stopped at the 100k mark and received his medal. I hated to hear it but at the same time that put me that much farther ahead. It took almost 2 hours to make the first aid station where they advised me to take a 12 minute nap. I have always been scared to take naps for fear of locking up but this time I took their advice and had a 15 minute nap. I went right to sleep. They woke me up at 15 min and I felt great! I couldn’t believe it! I was wide awake, nausea gone and able to run. This new found energy lasted until Kellys Kitchen where I was once again beaten down to a mere shadow of a man, crushed soul and all. Here I sat and had another 10 minute nap where in true tortoise and hare fashion I was confident that I was still leading the 100 miler by leaps and bounds. My wife and mother had driven to this aid station to bring extra batteries and pick up Kayla. Thanks to her for running that 11 miles. This was the closest in the whole race that I came to quitting but somehow I managed to find the stubborness to stumble back into the cold dark woods. As I limped and hobbled back onto the connector trail I noticed another runner coming up out of the darkness toward the aid station. I looked at his bib as he looked at mine and I realized that this was the 2nd place 100 mile runner. All the walking and the 2 naps that I had taken had allowed him to catch up to me. This struck fear into my heart! I had held the lead all day and didn’t want to give it up. So somehow I was able to pick up the pace again. “Run the runables , only walk the unrunables, no exceptions” . I was sure that this guy would catch me and I had decided that if he did I would wish him well on his journey and just focus on finishing. I finished lap four without seeing him again even though it took me over 8 hours to complete.
On lap five I picked up my good friend Edual who would pace me the last 20 miles. I had another cup of soup and then off for the last lap!! Oh boy, 5 started off as a repeat of 4. I was battling sleep depravation and nausea again. I could only walk, and even my fast walk was driving me to the edge of barfing. When we finally reached the first aid I was dead set on taking another nap. I couldn’t eat anything and I usually don’t drink Gatorade but at this point it was all I could stomach. As I sat down to take a nap the 2nd place 100 miler came into the aid station. He had caught up to me. This woke me right up. I told Edual we had to go, so off we went, almost in a panic, again sure that he would catch me. I noticed too that my nausea was gone. We really turned the heat on all the way to Kellys Kitchen where my nausea was just starting to come back. I had 2 more small glasses of Gatorade and almost instantly my stomach issues cleared. At this point we didn’t know how far behind 2nd place was so Edual and I actually discussed how we should appear if we should meet him on the out and back. Should we run strong and try to crush his spirit or should we look weak so he doesn’t feel the need to hurry? We decided to look strong, and when we crossed his path that’s exactly what we did. We perked up straight and ran hard hoping to maybe discourage him from trying to catch us. From this point there was only around 8 miles left in my race. We blazed through the middle aid station stopping only long enough to fill our water and get some of that miracle Gatorade. With only 5 miles left we still didn’t know how far back 2nd place was but we had worked too hard to give it up so we kept that heat turned up. I ran the last 5 miles harder than the first 5 miles. Finally we made it to the last climb up to the finish line. I could hear the cars out on the main road. I could see the aid station through the trees. I could hear the cowbell as someone realized the winner was here! As I ran the last few steps of this ultra journey with my friend by my side and family waiting at the finish line I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. I received the buckle, along with a first place finishers plaque and a free pair of Montrail shoes. I tried to wait around long enough to congratulate 2nd place but the fatigue was too overwhelming. It was time to go home.
I have never in my life been a very competitive person. I have never really been involved in any sports besides running. I didn’t start running until I was 30. I have never won an event like this and probably never will again. I had no idea that I would win this race. I only came with intentions of finishing. I did however enjoy winning the race but could not have accomplished this without my family and my good friend who was willing to brave 20 miles of this rugged terrain with me. Also the directors and volunteers of this event were the best I have ever seen, especially for a first year. I would also like to congratulate all those who finished. I am sorry that we didn’t have time to chat. I am hoping to run it again next year so I hope to see some you again.
People still ask” why would you run that far “? I have said it once and I’ll say it again…I run to inspire as well as be inspired .