What? Uwharrie 100 Miler
When? October 20, 2018
How far? 102.5 miles
Where? outside Charlotte, NC
Video: 2017 race video
Finish time: 26h43m04s.
|A||Sub 28 hours||Yes|
|B||Sub 30 hours||Yes|
|C||Finish (Sub 36 hours)||Yes|
I apologize in advance for how absurdly long and rambling this report is, but 27 hours is a whole lot of time to think about what to write for y’all.
Uwharrie 100 is held on a 20.5 mile figure-8 shaped loop. It’s 100% single track with lots of little up and downs, and 3 big climbs for a total elevation gain of 3,839 feet every loop (Hundred milers run the loop 5 times, for a total of over 17k gain. There’s also a 3-loop 100k option). There are 3 aid stations — at the start/finish, at the top of the figure 8, and then an aid station at the center of the figure 8 that you hit twice every loop — which means you hit an aid station about every 5 miles. This is only the 5th year of the race, and has a small-race feel. Honestly, this race is super well-run and I hope it keeps growing in future years.
This was my second attempt at Uwharrie 100. I ran it two years ago in 2016. Around mile 65, I left the center aid station in the wrong direction. I didn’t realize my mistake until I had gone a mile, and saw a sign for a section of the course that I knew wasn’t right (Hallucination Hill). Once I retraced my steps, the exhaustion hit me hard and I called it quits. I think even if I hadn’t made the wrong turn, I would have found another excuse to throw in the towel. Frankly, I was under trained for the 2016 race.
The race directors, Dan and Amanda Paige, are the nicest people. The race is super well organized, the aid stations are amazing, and the course itself is a lot of fun. Once I recovered from my DNF, I knew that I wanted to go back out to Uwharrie and be able to say it was my first 100 miler.
This was the loosest training plan I have ever followed for a race. I used the “100 mile training plan on 70 miles a week” in Bryan Powell’s Relentless Forward Progress as a template. I only paid attention to the back-to-back long run distances listed in the plan, and used them as a guide to plan my own long runs. Then, I set a goal to peak at 80 miles a week in September, 70 in August, and 60 in July. Going by a weekly mileage goal instead of a daily mileage goal really helped with maintaining run-life balance. Most of my running was junk miles. I run-commute, so for most of my runs I only had the goal of getting home and did not pay attention to my pace at all.
I also started cross-training back in March, and I think this made a huge difference for me. I joined Madabolic, a fitness studio with interval-based workouts that has a gym location just a couple blocks from where I work. This is the first time in my life that I’ve picked up weights regularly. As someone who has trouble getting myself to do any other type of exercise besides running, it’s great to just show up to a class and have someone tell me what to do. At the peak of my training, I was working out 3 times a day, twice a week. I was running 3 easy miles in the morning, going to the gym during my lunch hour, then running another 5 easy miles home at night.
Most of my miles were on pavement, but I did try to get in more elevation gain than in the past on those runs. While I’m sure I could have found ways to have added more, my run commute home involved a 1.5 mile hill with 300 feet of elevation gain. It’s not a lot, but I hope my results show that just adding a little bit of hills to your runs can make a big difference.
Most of my long runs were with groups out on trails. I am incredibly lucky to have made so many friends that also have been bitten by the ultra bug, so it was rare to have a weekend without social running plans. The DC area has an awesome trail running community. Virginia Happy Trails and DC Capital Striders are fantastic clubs, and if you’re in DMV area you need to check them out.
If I had been more deliberate with my training and did more speed/interval/hill-work/tempo runs, I am positive I could have comparable or even better run times on less miles. But I honestly enjoy my zen, junk runs. They’re my meditation time, and I’m glad I have a system that works for me.
The pre-race briefing and dinner was held outdoors at a local marina. It was gorgeous weather, a gorgeous water view, and they even had live bluegrass bands playing. I made some final adjustments to my drop bags and handed them over to race organizers — it was great that they took them that night so I didn’t have to worry about it Saturday morning. It was my second time sitting through the pre-race brief so most of the information wasn’t new. I did notice that the RD reminded runners to be careful about which way they left the center aid station, and to not go out the wrong way. Dan said that two runners have made that mistake in the past — well, it’s good to know there’s someone else out there as directionally challenged as me!
I stayed at a Quality Inn a ten minute drive from race start. I watched a couple episodes of the Office, and fell asleep around 10. The next morning, I rolled out of bed and got to the race parking lot about 45 minutes before race start. That gave me plenty of time to get my shoes on, make a peanut butter sandwich, and find coffee. I sat with two other people by the fire pit right up until 1 minute to race start. I was about to spend the next 30 hours standing, I really didn’t feel the need to add any extra time to that. I like that this was a small enough race that I could pull off something like that. There were less than 150 people out there, which meant I didn’t need to spend time elbowing my way into a decent starting position.
Lap 1 (4h35m): Race start is 6 am, so you start the first lap in the dark. Since the race immediately starts out on single track, there is definitely a conga line getting started. I was perfectly happy with my place towards the back, and took my time passing people and settle into a speed that worked for me. However, I was surprised by how quickly I was running by myself – it only took about a mile before I found myself alone in the woods. I was by myself for most of the race. The sun was just coming up when I hit the first aid station. I refilled my water bladder, ate an orange slice, and kept going. The last half mile to the second aid station is an out and back. It’s a nice chance to see what runners are close to you and have a little social time waving hello’s. I finished the first loop 90 minutes ahead of schedule for my sub-30 hour finish goal, so I was surprised and a little worried by the split. I thought about forcing myself to slow down, but I felt really good and didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard, so I kept going at the same pace.
The Food: Real talk: I run ultras for the food. I vividly remember getting to the first aid station at my very first 50k, and was so absolutely excited about the huge spread of food and candy. It was 7:30 in the morning, and there was a big bowl of jelly beans out, screaming “hey, it’s totally acceptable to eat us for breakfast!” I was hooked. And the food at Uwharrie did not disappoint. The middle aid station you pass through twice is called Cross-Roads, and is captained by Vinny – ultra-running veteran and absolutely amazing chef. I met him briefly at MMT100 when I was pacing a friend, and was excited to see a familiar face there. In the morning, he had fresh made waffles, warm maple syrup in little crockpots, and perfectly cooked bacon. Hands down, the best breakfast of my life. Later in the day there was grilled cheese with granny smith apple and dijon mustard (which I also added bacon to). Steak kabobs. Three types of soup. Potato muffins. At the other aid stations I had pumpkin protein balls, breakfast sausage wrapped in pancake, home made chocolate chip cookies. I had a hot dog with bacon that was mind blowing. Seriously, move over chili dogs. Why aren’t hot dogs with bacon more of a thing?
Lap 2 (4h33m): I had Footloose stuck in my head for a very long time. It also rained some during this loop, but it was pretty warm so I welcomed the wet weather, and through the trees the rainfall was more of a drizzle. I spent some time wondering how I was doing place wise, and started to guess I was probably in the top 2 women. I otherwise remember very little of this loop.
Lap 3 (4h54m): I started yo-yo’ing a bit with another runner. We didn’t talk very much, but he was super friendly and positive. It was his second hundred, and first time out at Uwharrie. We compared time goals and we both had been aiming for 28 hours, and were way ahead of schedule. I felt confident at this point that I could finish in sub-28 hours, and wondered what new goal I should go for. I re-set my goal for 25 hours. Unfortunately this new goal fell apart a few hours later, but at least I still felt really strong, was having a good time, and was moving well during lap 3. When I finished my 3rd loop, I sulked a little thinking about how stupid it was that I was running 100 miles. If I had signed up for the 100k, I would be done right now. I tried to get out of the aid station quickly so I wouldn’t have time to dwell.
Lap 4 (5h55m).: Whoops, a lot of slow down. Some of this was from longer aid station breaks, and the fact that this was the first night loop, but it was mostly my pace slowing. After the first aid station of this loop, I stopped running any type of uphill. I sat down for the first time at the first aid station of this loop to change shoes. I should have done this sooner. My feet were super pruney and tender. I let them air for a minute while I ate some potato soup and coffee, then slathered them in vaseline and put on a pair of roomier road shoes. Two volunteers brought me everything and gave me an amazing pep talk. I thought they were super human for willingly hanging out near my gross feet and smelly shoes, and then packing away my stuff into my drop bag after I left. It’s moments like this that can totally change a race experience, and I appreciate that such amazing people gave up their time to help me and other runners out.
This was also the first loop where I started to lap people. It was mostly 100k’ers, who had the same cut-off time as the 100 milers. It was nice to see people and say hello for a second. I was jealous that they were on their last loop. They definitely had made the better life decision than me.
I held strong until the last section of the loop. I’ve read other race reports complaining about this section, and that it must be longer than the advertised 5.5 miles. I agree that it definitely feels much longer than 5.5. I think it’s because it starts out mostly downhill, and then turns into a super runnable straightaway, so you think you are banking quick miles. However, the downhill is pretty rocky and you cross over several streams on the straightaway, so you aren’t covering as much ground as you think. I was so incredibly tired and sleepy during the last couple miles of the loop that I started fantasizing about napping on the trail. I told myself if I slept on the trail, then another runner would come along, wake me up trying to step over me, and then I could keep going! Fool proof plan. I finally settled on a compromise and told myself I could nap for a few minutes at the next aid station.
I practically crawled into start/finish at 2am. I wasn’t at an emotional low, but I was completely drained, and was out of motivation to keep pushing. Luckily, this is where race director Dan was camped out, and he and other volunteers told me I was looking great. I’m sure I didn’t look great, but their compliments did wonders for me. I sat down in a chair and asked them to wake me up in 3 minutes. Which is a strange amount of time and much less than I had promised myself coming into the aid station, but in my head it seemed like exactly what I needed. When my snooze ended, I drank more coffee and Dan told me at this point that I stood good chance of setting a new female course record, which definitely perked me back up. I just had to run the next loop in less than 7 hours and 15 minutes. That’s 22 minute miles. I could make that happen. Maybe. And so I pushed out of the aid station.
Lap 5 (6h44m): I don’t remember much at all from the first half of this loop. I do remember the second big climb, “Soul Crusher”. It’s the toughest of the 3 climbs, and absolutely lived up to its name and crushed my soul on this final loop. My feet were killing me — a lot of dirt had gotten into my shoes and I could feel it rubbing my feet. I stopped at the top and shook them out and retied them. Then pressed onward.
At the second to last aid station, I took another nap, this one even more luxurious than the last. I plopped myself in a chair in front of a fire and gave myself a whole 4 minutes of snooze time. I then had more coffee, and cried for the first time. I did not want to run anymore, and threw myself a grand ole pity party. Someone close by gave me a terrified look, unsure what to do, and I realized I needed to get out of there. Back on the trail I went.
This section was supposed to be the easiest — net downhill, relatively runnable. I needed to get these 4.4 miles done in an hour to give myself enough cushion to get through the last aid station and finish the last 5.5 mile section in comfortable time. But then I ran off trail. I took a few steps into the woods, realized my mistake, and got back onto trail. Should have been no big deal. Except, once again at Uwharrie, I went the wrong direction. Guys, I am so directionally challenged, it’s embarrassing. I didn’t realize my mistake until I got to signs marking the out and back section to the aid station I had just been to. I was so tired that I stared at the signs for several moments, confused about where I was. It all looked so new. When I finally realized what had happened, I actually felt a flood of relief. I didn’t need to push anymore. I couldn’t make the course record anymore. I could take my time finishing. I started walking. Of course, I was in a sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts so I immediately got cold. I was shivering, and balled my hands into fists trying to warm my fingers. I resigned myself to the fact that the only way I could warm back up was to start running again. So I did, even a little bit on the uphills.
I ended up getting into the last aid station just a few minutes later than my goal, despite the wrong turn. Once again realizing I could still beat the course record, I worked on rallying. I switched into a long sleeve, warmed up for a minute by the fire, and then shed a few more tears. I really, really, really did not want to run anymore. But not finishing wasn’t an option, so I kicked myself out of the aid station.
I made it to the finish, and started crying again, so happy that I did not have to move any more. Despite my exhaustion all night, I suddenly felt super awake. I talked, I laughed, I put on dry socks, and then crashed hard in front of the fire. Sleep felt incredible.
This was a deceptively tough race. Since it’s a looped course, I think it’s really easy to talk yourself out of finishing once you cross the 100k mark. I ended up coming in as first female and 3rd overall, beating the female course record by 30 minutes. More runners DNF’d than finished. 21 runners completed the 100 miler (only 4 women finished), while 25 runners dropped.
While I don’t plan to tackle Uwharrie 100 again (I’ve now run over 9 loops of the course — that’s good enough for me), fast girls out there need to get on this race. There’s a cash prize for the first female to break 24 hours. It was $1500 this year, and it’ll go up again next year.