The Uwharrie 100 is a trail race taking place in the old mountains in rural NC a bit east of Charlotte. The race was in its second year in 2015.
I chose Uwharrie because it seemed like a step up in difficultly for me and I’m toying with the idea of Cruel Jewel in 2016. After Keys this year I’m trying to get more into trails.
And, to be honest, the buckle is awesome looking, which means I have to have it. Just sayin’.
The race is 5 loops of a 20.5 mile figure-8 with about 17k ft of elevation gain/loss. The race is billed as ‘simply unrelenting’ – meaning that the terrain is consistently challenging and runners can’t go on autopilot. This billing is pretty true. While there are no huge climbs, there are lots of constant ups and downs and very little of the single track is flat and blindly runnable.
That said, the three big hills – Sasquatch Summit, Soul Crusher and Hallucination Hill – provide a good challenge. Sasquatch Summit is steep but short lived. Soul Crusher, to me, was the hardest. By the last couple of laps I was hiking up in increments while taking breathers. Hallucination Hill is more of an annoyance but again, by the end you know its there and it sucks.
The race is EXTREMELY well-run. Daniel and Amanda Paige are the RD’s and are themselves seasoned ultra folks, and it shows. The care for the runners in all facets of the race is awesome. And, the aid stations / volunteers were of the highest level I’ve ever seen in ultras. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many positive people aggressively trying to help me at aid stations before. I really give credit and thanks to everyone involved in putting this event on.
So to recap – tough course that needs to be respected BUT excellent support to help you succeed.
To prepare for Uwharrie I spent the better part of the summer on hills. They key part of my training was the weekend 10-15 miler in the Chattahoochie river trail system, focusing on gnarly washed-out trails. Most of the time I did repeats in order to get about 2-3k of elevation change per 10-mile run. As it turns out, this training simulated the actual course very closely.
Logistically, I made the drive from Atlanta in about 4 hours on Friday and got to Abermarle in enough time to check out the trail and get my drop bags ready. The race hotel was a Best Western which was actually quite nice. The race briefing by Dan was very thorough and the spaghetti dinner was awesome. Again, he takes care of his runners.
Instead of a long play-by-play, here is a quick recap of my race…
My Lap by Lap Recap:
Lap 1, 5:07 Woo Hoo this is fun!
Lap 2, 6:01 These hills seem a little longer than last time…
Lap 3, 6:50 Alright, night time! Time to cool down and kick things…*zzzzzzzz
Lap 4, 7:32 *zzzzzzzzzzzz*
Lap 5, 6:41 F-CK YOU HILLS
Like most races on single track, Uwharrie started as a conga line with a lost of socialization opportunities. I met several runners, and about half were doing their first 100 miler or 100k. Uwharrie is definitely a tough course for that.
By the second lap, however, runners were thinned out and attrition began to take its toll. By the last two laps, it was rare to see other runners outside of the aid stations, even on a loop course.
Overall I finished in about 32 hours, in 10th place (!) out of about 40 starters. This is my best result in a 100 and its really a testament to the course – its a grinder and equalizes pure speed. This suits my ultra style a lot more since on flat terrain I’m not as fast…but I can certainly grind. There were also a fair amount of DNFs.
While I can think fondly about my placing, the race was quite hard. The constant small challenges do add up, making it a tough mental exercise. For example, there are probably 50 small creek crossings. While they are very easy, I got really sick of them breaking up my rhythm.
This race was the first time I’ve fallen asleep while running…in the third loop I began to nod off and I’d wake myself up by running off the trail and hearing the thick crunching of fresh leaves under my feet. That happened several times until I solved it with some Mountain Dew. I’m really lucky to have not injured myself by stepping wrong on rocks while dozing off.
I did not see a sasquatch.
Things I thought during the race than in hindsight are obviously not true:
1. Why am I here? I don’t even really like trail racing.
2. I have no interest in doing Cruel Jewel; this is enough for me.
3. Maybe I should just do 10ks or something.
There are a few things about the course that I’ll pass on to other runners…
S/F to Crossroads – this section has longer runnable parts so take advantage of that.
Crossroads to Kelly’s Kitchen – Starts runnable so take advantage. After Soul Crusher there is a steep downhill that is a little challenging. After that, there is another runnable flat section by a stream.
Kelly’s Kitchen back to Crossroads – Not as challenging, but short.
Crossroads back to S/F – I found this to be pretty mentally challenging because it seems to last forever. Billed as 6 miles but felt longer, which some surprise steep climbs towards the end.
The trail itself was beautiful with the fall colors in full effect. Leaves were vibrantly red, yellow and green. There were lots of campers out including boy scout troops who showed the runners tons of encouragement and respect.
My favorite moment of the race happened on mile 90. I passed a boy scout group packing up their camp from the night before. One of them shouted ‘runner!’. They all stopped what they were doing, stood up and gave me a standing ovation as I ran past their camp. That show of support was emotionally overwhelming. I think I may have gotten a little misty even. Sometimes I completely underestimate the positivity in others, and its both humbling and gratifying to experience a showing of love like that.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Uwharrie. The organization and support is excellent. The race seems best for trail runners looking for a challenge but with some easier logistics. It would be a tough first 100, but do-able for runners who respect the course and train appropriately. Just remember, its a grinder and will wear out your mind if you let it.
And now for some trail pics…