This is an exceptionally difficult blog post for me. This is strange because if you've ever talked to me, you know that I love this race. LOVE. If I could make big puffy heart letters here, I would. That being said, I generally do my best writing when I have some sort of dramatic inspiration (see examples A, B-1, B-2, and B-3). This year at Uwharrie was decidedly the opposite of dramatic. I had the vague goal of completing the mission in under 9:00 and not doing anything stupid (aside from signing up to run 40 miles in the forest in February). I had no idea if either of these things was possible (#2 seeming highly unlikely), but it's good to have goals. I also set the "totally attainable" goal of a PR (not counting last year's weather-shortened, flattened course PR, which was totally NOT attainable on the full course), and the "I'll be really annoyed with myself if I don't attain" goal of finishing (Dream Small).
Trying to learn from previous mistakes, the pathway to achieving goal #1 involved not going out too fast. Let's make that sub-goal A. So I walked up the big hill at the start and forbade myself to run anything with an incline greater than 1% until at least the turnaround. I also made myself run slowly between walking bouts just to be sure I would have plenty of energy left for the second half. SO I crested the first hill and began jogging down the hill when off to my left, a bush moved and, upon second glance, I realized it was one of the Army guys that race director Kim had mentioned might be wandering around the forest doing exercises. THEN I realized that there was a whole line of them off to my left. I chuckled at my inadvertent confirmation that camouflage REALLY DOES WORK and ran past, thanking them and realizing that I really meant thank you on two vastly different levels - thank you for moving off the trail as we passed by, and thank you for dedicating your life (or some sizeable portion thereof) to making sure I can do this safely year after year. I spent a minute waxing poetic about this, but my train of thought was quickly derailed shortly thereafter by giant mud puddle #1... which was followed closely by giant mud puddle #2. In the interest if brevity (ha!), I'll say that I was wildly successful with sub-goal A. So much so that I realized at mile 14 that I was on pace to hit the turnaround somewhere around 4:40.... if you do the math, that pretty well eliminates my contention for Goal #1 (negative splits are HIGHLY unlikely on this course as 1, it's uphill on the way back, and 2, as noted in a comment on another blog, the hills are WAY bigger and steeper on the way back). Soooo I started breaking the sub-goal A rules a little early and began to run some uphills beginning at mile 16 (no - I did not run THE uphill at mile 16), and pulled into the turnaround somewhere in the 4:35 range, feeling unnaturally good and still laughing from the most awesome trail encounter ever with my friend and eventual 40-mile female winner, Shannon.
I left the turnaround with two new goals: run as close to even splits as possible and keep my socks from drying out the whole rest of the race. I deemed both goals to be highly attainable (especially given the vague nature of the first goal) and happily splashed my way back to the start with two little coach angels on my shoulder: my buddy Jay, with whom I ran 34 of 40 miles last year, who was constantly reminding me to run a little faster than I wanted to on the downhills, and that weird coach voice from Des Moines, reminding me that I would never make anything close to even splits if I didn't run some more of the uphills. The awesome thing was the coach voice was much less belligerent this time, and even gave me a high five when I made it to the 38-mile aid station faster than expected (outwardly, I may have given myself a self-five, which may have looked crazy, but it was really just because the coach voice doesn't have arms).
Anyway, the last two miles were great - until I got to the top of the big hill and then remembered that I had a half mile of steep downhills through rock fields before the final descent. As I picked my way through what seemed to be giant pieces of broken glass accented by razor blades, I harkened back to something I had said 5 hours before about the ridge between 16 and 17 being my least favorite part of the race and amended my statement. I dislike the ridge between 16 and 17... I intensely dislike the rocks at mile 39. I even told them so. Yes, out loud. What? I self-fived myself 1.5 miles back - this should not be surprising. I also (silently) apologized to the ridge for misclassifying it.
Then I turned and ran down the last hill to finish feeling probably better than I had the previous 2 years and with a 10-minute PR on the full course. So yes - I achieved goals 2 and 3, and return goals 1 and 2 (my feet were soaked for 9 whole hours!), but I still have not conquered that sub-9 uwharrie, so it looks like I'll be back at it again next year...
So in the end, there was no real drama, no awesomely cynical compositions in my head - just a really pleasant day splashing through the forest and successful achievement of most of my goals for the day. How uninteresting!
That being said, it was a truly lovely day, and I have much appreciation for all the people who helped make it thus - Kim and Jason, all the fantastic volunteers, everyone I saw on the course, and Shannon "the multitasker" Johnstone.
Oh - and I made a mental note to remember the ridiculous songs that went through my head during the course of the run. I've forgotten many, but here's a small taste so you can see what I mean:
Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns and Roses
The Llama Song - youtube??
Raise Your Glass - Pink
Some nursery rhyme tune - I never did figure out what it was...