Uhwarrie 40 mile mountain run

I’m not going to write a typical race report… I ran this same race last year so the course details are in the 2010 post.  Instead, I’ll just give a brief summary and then some random musings.

Summary: My goals were to #1 have fun, #2 finish, #3 break 9 hours.  I’ll cut to the chase and say up front that I met all of my goals.  Woohoo! However, it was a very strange race for me in that, even though I ran a little faster than I expected (8:50), I never felt good.  I really suffered.  But I survived.  As early as mile 2 or 3, I had heavy legs, labored breathing, and was struggling to find a rhythm.  I’m typically a slow starter, at least in terms of getting into a comfortable groove, so I kept thinking, hoping, praying, that that would happen again.  But it never did.  Sometime around mile 20 I gave up on that hope and knew it was going to be a sufferfest.

(I should add that I had a secret stretch goal of 8:30, and know that is entirely possible.  Especially if I ever start running more than 15-20 miles per week.  🙂  I hit the turn in 4:05 having felt dead and tired all the way there.  And while I slowed considerably on the way back, I was only passed twice, while I passed three other runners.  So everyone slows.  Maybe even a sub 8:00 would be possible.)

Here is a photo that Shannon took of me about mile 19… She was already coming out of the turn around, looking strong and fresh, about 3-4 minutes behind the lead female.  Shannon went on to win, so congrats to her!  What is amazing is that she did it all while taking nearly 200 photos on the day!  As a side note, I met her last year on this course, running together from mile 4 – 9 or so, when she had a hard fall on a stream crossing — about 10 seconds after taking this photo of me.  She told me to go on a few times, and I did reluctantly.  She came into the turn around and left before I did looking strong, but I did pass her around mile 34 or 35, as the hurt from the fall caught up with her.  When I saw her the morning of the 2011 race I told her I thought she was running much stronger and faster this year, after seeing her at Run at the Rock and Little River.  Guess I was right!

Ok, back to this year’s race.  How about some random musings:

1.  I saw Anton Krupika write the following about his run at the Rocky Racoon 100, the same day as Uhwarrie.  And while I didn’t run 100 miles, I know exactly what he is talking about.  I dealt with the hand I was given on Saturday, and can’t complain about how I performed.  I sure would have loved to have felt better, normal even, but there’s nothing to do about that except go with it and do what you can on that particular day.

Ultra racing is mostly about doing the best one can with whatever hand one is dealt, even if that hand doesn’t necessarily hew to pre-formed, arbitrary expectations.  Some days–Western States and White River last year come to mind–the act of running on trails is beautifully and absurdly easy.  Other days–like Miwok last year and Rocky Raccoon this past weekend–it is mundanely, decidedly average.  Ever since some time during the middle of the first lap on Saturday–well before Ian had disappeared into the distance–I knew I wasn’t 100% on top of my game, but the reason I can still recover with a sufficient measure of peace is because I am 100% sure that I ran as fast as I could on that day.  Most race days I am able to find a groove where things are generally effortless (at least for a time) and the performance just comes to me; that never happened for me on Saturday.

2.  Here is a link to my Garmin data.

3. Another quote, this time from the irunfar.com blog about Uhwarrie:

It rained heavily the night before the race. While the storm broke before the 20 milers toed the line, it was still a raw run on a relentless course. Mountain Cup regular Rachel Cieslewicz commented after the race, “it was the wettest, coldest, crazy technical 20 mile trail run I’ve raced.” Others reported “the trail conditions were pretty gnarly” and “a couple people ate it.” Having run the 40 miler, I can assure you that the course is quite technical and unforgiving.

4. The banjo player out on the trail at mile 19 (and 21), was a great touch.  It made me run faster (because I heard banjo music).

5.  The four stream crossings in less than 5 minutes at mile 16 and 24 was really tough.  The water was mid thigh high on me, but worse than that, it was icy cold.  On the return, it took at least 20 – 25 minutes for the numbness in my toes and forefoot to go away.  In fact, I took my shoes off a couple of times in that stretch, thinking my socks had bunched up.  I actually think this was colder than my recent polar plunge!

6.  That climb at mile 16 is brutally steep.  It was about half way up that the two front runners in the 20 miler came flying by me.  Yes, they were running.  Running hard.  Granted, if I didn’t have 24 more miles to go, but just 4, maybe I would have been running too.  (But probably not!)

7.  Army rangers in full combat gear carrying assault rifles can be amazingly quiet and still.  We had been told they were out there and we may see them.  But it wasn’t until I was passing them on the trail, with a large group of them within 3′ of us, that I noticed them!

8.  I became a heel striker, at least for part of the run.  The super steep downhills on technical terrain almost necessitate it.  You need the braking power of the heel.  Additionally, having a numb ball of foot due to icy water also necessitates using the heel — at least if there is still feeling there!  Having some ground feel over none is well worth a little heel striking, in my opinion.  🙂

9.  The 1st mile or so has quite a steep climb on very technical terrain.  I was right behind Shannon and mentioned in passing that I ran all of this down last year, because I was really close to breaking 8:00 (shortened course), which I did.  When I came to it this year,  I was actually surprised I was able to run it last year.  It’s pretty tough!

10.  I was in a group behind Alicia Parr up until about mile 5.  I really had no business being with a group that was going to be in the neighborhood of 8:00, but I had already tried a few paces to see if anything was comfortable; but alas, no pace felt good.  However, it was about that time that I figured I better just slow down anyway.

11.  Around mile 10 I saw my lowest pace of the event:  11:53.  But over the next 30 miles, that dropped to something like a 13:18.  :-/  (The garmin data shoes two laps — I had no satellite sync for the 1st few minutes so I waited for that to hit the lap button.

12.  A scary thing happened on Monday morning.  I found myself googling “North Face Endurance 50 mile run.”  Normally it takes a few weeks to  start thinking about another long run….  At least that one is 8 months out.

13.  Kudos to the race directors!  They run an amazingly well organized event considering there are 8, 20, and 40 mile races, you have to shuttle runners in from remote parking areas to the start, shuttle back runners from the 8 and 20 mile finishes, drop bags to the 20 mile turn around and return those drop bags to the finish…  And probably 100 other things.  They do an excellent job and are always friendly and polite.

14.  While I may not be back next year — I really hope to get in to the Mount Mitchell Challenge someday, another 40 mile run in NC the same month as Uhwarrie — I do hope to go back and run it again.

15.  As always, the friendly conversations you have in an ultra are cherished.  I ran with Matt from mile 5 to 8 or so.  As we were talking, we discovered we both graduated from NC State.  He in 2009, me in 1993!  :-/  He ended up dropping before the turn around due to ITB issues.  He’s the one that was telling me how gorgeous the NF50 in GA is.  (Not sure if that is good or bad!)  I also ran with Allan for a bit through those 4 icy streams and at the start of the killer climb at 16.  Allan wears a Sport Kilt and was fun to chat with.  I saw Will Jorgensen as I was running into the turn around.  I’d never met him face to face, and have only seen one or two photos of him online.  He provided SCAR reconnaissance for me last year, as he ran the full 72 the week before I did “Half SCAR Plus.”  I yelled out “Are you Will” as we passed and he yelled “yes,” so I yelled “I’m Sean Butler” and that was it.  I thought there was a slight chance I might catch him on the return, but that was not to be.

16.  At the same time, an ultra like Uhwarrie can be a lonely run.  Once I hit the turn at 20, and passed all the 40 milers heading that way and the 20 milers heading to the finish, there were literally hours of time spent alone.  If not for the aid stations of 3 miles, I may have not seen more than 3 or 4 people for big chunk of time.  Even before the turn around, I spent long stretches all by myself.  I don’t have a problem with that, I’m just letting others know what you might expect.

Ok, I suppose that’s enough for now.  I’ll update this with results when they are posted.  I’m secretly hoping I was top 20, but I really lost count of the return runners as I was heading to the turn around, so it’s tough to say.


Official results posted:  30/88 in the 40 miler in 8:50:22

9 thoughts on “Uhwarrie 40 mile mountain run

  1. Well done Sean! It was a pleasure to run with you for a bit. I am so impressed with your ability with running on just 15–20 miles per week!! That is really amazing. Great post! Looking forward to seeing you again soon!!

  2. Shannon, congrats again, I’m so excited for you. What a performance! And when you say “for a bit,” it was definitely a bit. I distinctly recall you taking off when we crested the top of that 2nd hill around mile 2.

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