Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 Uwharrie 100 mile trail race

As my blog has some huge gaps in time, I need to start this race report with a little background on how I got to the Uwharrie 100.  The start of this race is 45 minutes from my house.  When the inaugural race was announced for 2014, I jumped on it.  I prefer to support local and to not run the closest 100 mile race to my house would be foolish.  Right?  So I signed up for the 2014 race before I even ran my first 100 miler, Umstead 100, in April of 2014. Umstead went so well I took no time off and just kept running. Ran the Raleigh rock n roll half the next weekend with Scott and Charlie and then ran Oconee 50K three weeks later. After that I had some pains in my foot and took a few days off. Next run, more pain. Took more time off, ran, more pain. I continued this cycle until my first Uwharrie training run on July 26th, 2014. I barely made it the 20 miles because my foot hurt so bad. Finally went to the doctor and had a stress reaction in my cuboid bone. Sucks.
Dropped out of three fall races including Uwharrie 100. Scott and I did go volunteer at Crossroads aid station for most of the day on Saturday and had a blast.
Recovery was longer than expected and we moved which didn't help the foot. It was January or February before it felt good to run again. I made it to Uwharrie as much as I could which was 6 or 7 times to get ready for the 100. Knowing that course and learning to respect the old mountain was extremely helpful to me mentally.
Going into the race I was positive I could finish, but was very concerned about making cutoff. While Umstead in 23 hours was comfortable, this course is brutal and I am not comfortable with running over rocks with wild abandon. I tried to game plan for a 32 to 34 hours to give me a little padding to make 36 hours.
The night before the race I got a good 5 hours sleep. Woke up at 3 am on race day, topped of the drop bag with more stuff than I could possibly use and got my first round of water bottles ready. Drove the 45 minutes to the race, checked in and got ready to run.
Sarah, Scott, and Nicola were volunteering at Crossroads aid station and Sarah stayed there the whole race.  They loaded up drop bags in Scott's truck and headed out before the race start.

Lap 1
6 am, pitch dark, headlamp, stream of runners. This is nothing like any of my previous loops at Uwharrie. We stayed in a pretty steady stream with a little passing here and there to get everyone where they should be. I ended up a little fast on the first six miles to crossroads which is hard to avoid in a crowd on single track trails. Dropped off my headlamp, switched bottles, kissed Sarah and I was off. The aid station sort of spread us out a little which was nice. I ran a little by myself and climbed Sasquatch Summit. Ran some more and had people catching me on Soul Crusher. With all my training I wish I would have worked harder on climbing. I think regular stair work would be beneficial on this course. So after the first time up Soul Crusher, I was running some of the rocky descents and feeling good. About mile 9 I landed square on the side of my left foot. Twisted my ankle so bad I saw stars and got woozy. It took me a couple minutes to compose myself enough to see if I could even walk on it. It hurt. Bad. With about 3 miles to the next aid station there was really nothing to do but keep moving. Luckily I was using trekking poles so I could use them like crutches to reduce some weight on my foot. This gave me lots of prayer time as my only other option was tears. So I limped and prayed for three miles to Kelly's kitchen.
I made it there and was surprised to find the ankle was not swollen. I took off for the three miles back to Crossroads aid station. By this time I was flustered. There were already some hotspots on my feet and my ankle was sore. Sarah got me some tape and I got to work. Not only did I tape my ankle, I traded out a pair of lightweight Injinji socks for a pair of midweight, trail Injinji socks. I also took the insoles out of my Altra Olympus 1.5s and put in the insoles from my Olympus 1.0s. I could write a whole post on my shoe drama leading up to Uwharrie and my Altra insole issues.
It took me a little while to build up my confidence that I could run on my taped ankle, but I tested it on the 5.5 miles back to start/ finish. Upon arrival, I added some more tape to the ankle and felt better. Somehow I still did the first lap in just under 6 hours. Prayer does work.
First time up Sasquatch Summit

Lap 2
I was able to actually start running again which felt good. Walked up climbs and ran the rest just like I wanted to do. Quick pit stop at Crossroads to fill water bottles and I was off. Sasquatch and Soul Crusher felt longer in the heat of the afternoon and the rocky descents made me nervous. I took my time and made it safely to Kelly's kitchen. After this I got overly social. I definitely burnt some time walking and talking through a pretty run-able section.  I finally realized my mistake and took off running back to Crossroads.  Simple water bottle refill, two quarters of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I was off.  Made pretty decent time getting back to the start finish and completed lap 2 in 6 hours 41 minutes.
Leaving Crossroads Aid Station towards the start/ finish

The Power of Social Media
A month or so before the race I put a plea out on every running group that I am a part of and on my personal Facebook page for people to pace me.  I was surprised to get a message from Chad Huck saying he has a friend who might be interested.  A week or so went by and I reached out for more info.  He connected me with Nate Hearns who is preparing to run Pinhoti 100 in November.  He said he would love to run miles 40 to 80 with me.  WOW!  A complete stranger to me offering his time to help me complete my goal.  That is what the ultra running community is all about.  Nate and I talked on the phone one night for about 10 minutes but never met before the race.  So here I come out of lap 2 and Nate walks over to introduce himself.  Little did either of us know just how much time we would spend together, but it was getting dark and we needed to get moving.
Lap 3
We started on our way and had a great time chatting and getting to know each other.  Eventually had to give in and turn on our headlamps, and something went awry.  I felt dazed and confused.  I am not sure if it was tunnel vision or if I got behind on nutrition.  I guzzled some Tailwind and took it a little easy.  Downed a half bottle of Tailwind and rebounded fairly quickly.  Not sure what that was, but once we made it to Crossroads I had a little bit of soup, packed a jacket just in case, threw in a backup headlamp and off we went.  Sasquatch Summit was brutal in the dark and Soul Crusher was longer than I ever thought possible.  After those, I was beat.  I hit a real physical low.  I was dragging my trekking poles, stumbling a little, weaving some, going slightly cross-eyed, and moving real slow.  I downed some Tailwind but that didn't seem to snap me out of it like before.  I was really struggling to focus and keep moving.  I started thinking this may be the end.  If I walk into Kelly's kitchen like this, I may get pulled.  It took a long time to make it there to worry about it and I started feeling slightly better.  I sat down and had some amazing lentil soup.  This helped snap me out of the fog, but it did not do much for my speed.  When we were almost back to Crossroads I convinced Nate to let me lay down for 5 minutes.  Laying down, eyes closed, all muscles still, for just 5 minutes was very refreshing.  This course is so brutal that you can't ever stop thinking.  There is no option to zone out or you will go down.  So to just be still was awesome.  I was able to speed up after that but only a little.  The lap was taking so long Nate was going to hit his time limit.  Near the start/ finish he ran ahead to see if there was another pacer available.  Once I got there and had a little more soup, he said there was nobody else available and he would continue on.  This draining lap took 7 hours and 48 minutes.
Lap 4
It is roughly 2:30 am as we head out on lap 4.  The 6 miles to Crossroads was uneventful with little talking and not much running.  Passing through Crossroads was fairly quick and we set off for the back loop.  I don't remember much of this section.  It was still dark and climbing those rocks and the straight never ending climb up Soul Crusher took forever.  At some point before Kelly's kitchen the sun finally started to rise.  This was slightly rejuvenating.  Since it was daylight, Nate asked them about a ride back to start/ finish and they said it would be hours, so off we went together to Crossroads.  I know these laps were taking way longer than either of us expected and I hate that I pushed his time frame for his Sunday with his family, but I am thankful that he was able to be with me through all of the dark hours.  At this point we started discussing my strategy for the rest of the race.  The reality was setting in that time was going to be a huge concern.  He asked me point blank if I was going to finish the race and my answer, "Absolutely".  My reasoning: I have three little girls at home who know how hard I trained and how much I wanted to run this race.  I can't possible go home and tell them, "It was hard so Daddy just quit.  I didn't think I could do it, so I gave up."
Nate helped me break down the course and what I needed to do in order to beat cutoff.  We made it into Crossroads a few minutes later than our plan and took a few minutes longer in the aid station.  Nate stayed behind for a ride and I took off for start/ finish.  I needed to run the last 5.5 in two hours or less in order to meet my first goal.  I nailed that section and felt good.  Overall, lap 4 took forever at 8 hours and 13 minutes.
Lap 5
I started on lap 5 about 10:40 am which is 10 minutes later than Nate and I game planned.  Now is no time to think about how heavy my legs were after 82 miles or how tired I was after almost 29 hours. I had three time goals to hit a 7 hour and 20 minute lap.  Two hours to Crossroads.  3 hours and 20 minutes back to Crossroads.  2 hours to the finish.   It was time to move as quickly as possible.  I made it to Crossroads in just under 2 hours which was comforting.  I needed to get some minutes in the bank if at all possible.  While getting water bottles figured out and explaining my plan to Sarah, I found out she had been trying to recruit a pacer from Crossroads to run the back 9 mile loop with me.  Richard Abernathy is the RD for Bad Rock 720 which I ran in June.  He said he would run it and needed to get on shoes.  I headed down the trail and he caught up to me.  I told him no matter what, I needed to be back to Crossroads by 4 PM.  Other than running his race in June, we didn't know each other at all.  I really takes your mind off your pain when you can chat a little.  I was actually surprised that with almost 90 miles and 31 hours on my body, I was still able to carry on somewhat of a conversation.  I could at least ask questions to keep Richard talking.  I said good bye to Sasquatch Summit and Soul Crusher and we made it to Kelly's Kitchen in 2 hours flat.  They had already stripped down the aid station which was fine by me.  We did a quick gas and go.  The section back to Crossroads has some nice run-able sections so we made decent time and made it back to Crossroads in 3 hours which was sure comforting.  Richard agreed to run the rest with me which was awesome.  His wife Amy was going to drive Sarah back to the start finish.  I quickly topped off water bottles, kissed Sarah, and headed off to the finish.  We had some time in the bank and felt good.  Then I started worrying about what the official race clock says versus my cheap $5 digital watch.  I didn't want to cut it too close only to find out my watch was wrong.  We continued to push and ran what I could and walked what I had to.  The section from Hallucination Hill to the end seems so long.  It is windy with lots of small ups and downs.  After all the training runs and being on lap 5, I know it pretty well.  I have lots of landmarks but still seem to forget how spaced out they are.  My favorite landmark is the "Mile 1" sign nailed to the tree.  That tells me there is only one mile left.  Richard and I were very comfortable with the time and eased up from time to time but still ran when I could.  We crossed the wooden bridge which means we are almost there.  Once more small climb, a little running and the last rooty climb was in site.  I had to stop and gather my emotions for a minute before continuing.  Once we made it up that hill, we saw Sarah and some others coming down the trail.  Turns out they were worried about us making it on time.  It was kind of funny because in our mind we had plenty of time and had not been worried about the cutoff for the last couple miles.  So I completed lap 5 in 7 hours and 8 minutes which was 12 minutes faster than my best made plan. God is good.
Official race time: 35:47:07

What worked:

  • Two extraordinary men who stepped up to pace me and help me achieve my goals.  I can't thank Nate and Richard enough.
  • Tailwind.  As always. Tailwind.  I had a total of a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 5 cups (10 oz Styrofoam cups) of soup plus a ton of Tailwind.  There were a few times I got behind and paid for it, but that is my fault not theirs.  After 36 hours with little real food, I was not starving after the race or even the next day.
  • Altra Olympus 1.5 with the insoles from my old 1.0s.
  • Injinji mid-weight trail socks
  • Brooks 2-1 running shorts
  • trekking poles were a life saver
  • kisses from my wife every time through Crossroad
What didn't work:

  • Not sure I have a good answer here.  I think the only way this could have improved would have been to not twist my ankle, stay up better on my Tailwind, and train harder.
Overall: Uwharrie 100 is a really brutal, unrelenting course.  This course is not for the weak.  The old mountain will chew you up and spit you out.  You have to take what she gives you and keep on moving.  The race is extremely well run by Dan and Amanda Paige.  Dan runs a lot of ultras and really pours his heart into this.  The two of them go above and beyond what you expect and every volunteer is there for one purpose, to help you succeed.  Train hard and run this race.  It is worth it.

At the finish line with Amanda Paige - RD
Dan Paige - RD


  1. Great write up Joel! Can't think of many more people who deserve that buckle than you, especially after having to sit out 2014. You showed a lot of determination, not just on race day but also in the year and a half leading up to the race with rehabbing and training. Very happy for you and your family!