Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Last Place Finisher: Uwharrie 100, October 20-21, 2018

I have never written up a true race report before. Not for public consumption, that is. I often will take notes after a race in order to keep track of lessons learned for use when preparing for other races or doing the same race again, but I haven't ever published those. Uwharrie 100, however, feels like it is worth writing about. I have a lot to say about this one. I should also warn up front that I may talk about some of the nitty-gritty details of my body and how it functions during a race that could be more than you care to read. You have been warned...

Course Description

The 20 mile, figure 8 loop
The course is a 20.5 mile, figure 8 loop, run 5 times, for a total of 102.5 miles. It is hilly with one long sustained climb named "Soul Crusher", one steep, bouldering sort of climb named "Sasquatch Summit", and another longer, but not as steep, climb called "Hallucination Hill". More details of the course can be found on the course website http://www.uwharrie100.com. The real difficulty in this course, however, is that there are few sections where you can zone out and just run. There are rocks, roots, and rutted out trail everywhere. There are also quite a lot of leaves which hide some of these pitfalls. All this means that you have to be alert and focused the entire time or else you go down.
Things to trip on


Pre-Race

One unique aspect of this race is the director hosts aided training runs. Once a month, starting in March, there is an organized run where he sets up an aid station at Crossroads with a good selection of fluids and fuel. I went to as many of these as I could. Probably 5 of them. Knowing the course is really helpful when on the steep hills because you have a pretty good idea where the top is.

Most of my training for this race, however, was done in Umstead. The company mill trail there is the best approximation of Uwharrie I have found close to home. I probably averaged two runs per week there since January. I have always had trouble with getting tripped up on trails, and the training I did out there helped a lot. I didn't have a single fall the entire Uwharrie 100.

I knew one thing that could possibly cause me trouble and derail me was sleep. I was determined to make sure and get as much sleep before the race as I could. Normally I would drive myself to the race on the morning of, but for this one I figured I could get a little more rest if I had someone drive me. This got me thinking... I asked my dad if this might be a good time for bit of a different visit with the family. I didn't expect it to work out, but threw it out there just in case. As it turned out, it worked. So my dad and step mom drove out from California and crewed me for my race. I can't say too many times how helpful this was. They helped me pack, drove me to the race, and assisted me each time I looped around the start/finish area. Thanks you two.


It is somewhat customary to give a small token of thanks when someone sacrifices their time to help you out on a race. I wanted to do something for my pacers and crew. I have been dabbling in woodworking recently and decided to make them some bowls. They are made from spalted ambrosia maple and I inlaid a Uwharrie logo in the bottom and set it with epoxy. They came out pretty good for a beginner, I think.

In the days leading up to the race, I was getting nervous. I read a facebook post about a guy from the local run club that was running the Tuna 200 solo. It was frustrating to know that I wasn't doing the hardest race that weekend, but somehow sadistically satisfying that there was someone out there who would be suffering more than I.

The fine touches: Dan and Amanda, the race directors, put hand-written notes of encouragement on the backs of each race number. I have never seen this before, but it just highlighted how much thought they put into putting on this event. There is a picture of it at the end of this post along with the buckle.

Loop 1: Saturday 6:00 AM

The forecast was for cooler temperatures starting in the low 60s and reaching the high 60s by the end of the day, with variable rain for about 4 hours in the middle of the day. This was pretty much how it panned out. Because of this, and because I tend to run warm, I opted to run with the following:
  • New Altra Olympus
  • Compression socks
  • Compression underwear
  • Patagonia shorts
  • Waist pack with two bottles
  • Shirtless
  • Headlamp
  • Baseball hat
  • Bag of pills I planned to take on each loop (6 salt pills, 2 tylenol, 2 tums, B12)
This proved to be a good configuration as I was never cold at any time during the race, and I was sweating a little, even without a shirt. The first hour and fifteen minutes or so was in the dark until the sun came up enough it could shine through the dense trees. This worked out just right to drop off my headlamp in my drop bag at the first aid station about 6 miles in. During this section, at mile 2, there is a nasty little climb that is really being short-changed as it is not named. It isn't terribly long, but it is steep and it gets your heart rate up. The rest of this section is on and off runnable. At crossroads, the first aid station, I grabbed a banana and several potato pieces, refilled the one depleted water bottle, dropped off my headlamp, and was off. This was my plan for aid stations most of the race. Come in, get what I need, and get out. Eat while I am walking. Then get back to running when it is possible.

At the Northern end of the course is an aid station called Kelly's Kitchen. My first pacer, Chris, camped overnight and was volunteering here. We had a short "hello", I grabbed what I needed, and I was off. The rain started somewhere on the tail end of this loop. It never became very strong or very cold, but eventually it did make a mess of the trails.

At the end of this loop I came in, refilled my water bottles, grabbed a banana, potatoes, and a new bag of pills, and was off. I may have spent two minutes there before leaving. No equipment changes at this time.

Loop 2: Saturday 11:10 AM

I ate the food I had gotten while I walked for a quarter mile or so. Then I picked up the pace and gently ran the easier sections where it made sense to run. I saw Chris again at Kelly's Kitchen and he remarked that I looked good and it looked like I was ahead of schedule. I was. I told him to be ready to go at the start/finish in 2 hours, but that it would likely be at least 2.5.

About three fourths of the way around this loop, somewhere after the second visit to the crossroads aid station, the area just above the top of my ankle on my shin began talking to me. I slowed down a bit so as to not aggravate it too much, but the pain didn't go away. I was thinking that it must be just the normal pains of running and that I would get used to it and it would sort of fade from my thoughts. It was mostly irritated when going down hills.

Getting ready for loop 3
At the end of this loop I had planned to do a full clothes change, put on a shirt, and switch my waist pack to a hydration backpack. I was still feeling very warm, however, and didn't want to put on a shirt. Without a shirt, I couldn't wear the hydration pack, as it would chafe. Therefore, I decided to change just my shoes and socks. I also took off my baseball hat and grabbed a headlamp, though it didn't get dark for a while. While changing socks, I noticed there was a bit of a lump forming at the painful area on my ankle/shin. I asked if there was anything they could do to aid it and they sprayed on some biofreeze, wrapped it with an ace bandage, and gave me some ibuprofen. I had had a goal of not using any ibuprofen since having a discussion with a friend who is a runner as well as a doctor (sorry Dr. B). However, since swelling was beginning to form, I needed to address it somehow. This was not just this year's "A" race. This was my toughest race ever, and I had taken the training pretty seriously. It was my biggest step up since I attempted my first 100 at Umstead in 2014. I had been drinking a lot, and peeing frequently, so I took one of the two ibuprofen that was handed to me. All of that helped, except maybe the biofreeze. That didn't seem to make much difference, so I didn't use it any more. I also picked up my trekking poles.

One bit of wisdom given before the race that resonated with me, I think it was in an email from Dan, went something like this:
Determine before the race the things for which you will throw in the towel. During the course of the race you will undergo trials. If they aren't on that list, you keep going.
For me, as long as I could keep walking, a hurt ankle wasn't on that list. 

Loop 3: Saturday ~5:00 PM

Chris and I heading out
Here is where I picked up Chris. It was great to have someone to run with and talk to now that the runners were pretty spaced out. It had been a while since we had chatted, so we did some catching up. At some point early on this loop, maybe right from the start, I basically threw away any thoughts of turning in a competitive time (by my standards) or anything else beside finishing. That meant I had to do everything to preserve my ankle. No more running until running became necessary in order to make the cutoff. I was 100% hiking the course. When we made our way around to the first pass of crossroads, I grabbed my usual banana and potatoes and a few other odds and ends and we headed out. I ate everything but the banana right away as the banana just didn't sound good at that time.

At that point I had tried to stick to simple, natural, foods--mostly starches and fruits. I had eaten 30-35 pieces of potato, 8 bananas, and a few miscellaneous other items. It was starting to get to me. I also had a LOT of gas (sorry Chris). I was going to have to figure out something else and maybe take a little more time at each aid station to make sure it made sense. I decided this was my last banana for a while and I began to eat it as we neared the top of "Soul Crusher". I had two bites left. I took the first and, ugh, it hit me. I was getting nauseous. I was already starting to plan how I might be able to throw up and then refuel without killing too much time. With my slow pace, I wasn't burning fuel at too great a rate, so it should be reasonably doable. Then another need hit and I let out a huge fart. Within seconds the nausea went away and I felt fine for the remainder of the race. Who knew? I had one bite of banana left, and not liking to waste food, I put it in my mouth and chewed it up. About to swallow it, I began to feel a little queasy again and spit it out. I didn't have any more bananas for the rest of the race. That may be the most detail about two bites of banana ever put into a race report.

By the time we reached Kelly's Kitchen, just over the halfway point of the race, my ankle was really bothering me. The downhills were particularly difficult and the trekking poles were a lifesaver for them. I developed a strategy of side-stepping down the hills because, when I pointed my right toe downhill, it extended the tendon beyond the hot spot. I should be running down these hills; instead I am gingerly tip-toeing down them. I sat down there by the fire at the aid station for a bit while Kelly worked on the ankle. She was great. She did a bit of physical therapy stuff that went something like this:

Ankle getting re-wrapped
She puts some light pressure on my big toe to push my ankle down and asks, "Does that hurt?"

"Ooh, yeah. Ouch.", I respond.

She puts more pressure, "How about now?"

"WaAAhHH, YeaHHH!"

We went through several iterations of this sort and finally she put on some aspercream, re-did the bandage, and gave me some more ibuprofen (after checking that I was sufficiently hydrated). Off we went.

I don't remember a lot about the remainder of this loop except that it was so much slower than the previous two. At the end, I thanked Chris, and picked up CH to pace me for loop 4. It was getting cooler at this point so I took off my waist pack, changed my shorts, shoes, and socks, and put on a shirt and my hydration pack. I also got my ankle re-wrapped and some more aspercream put on it.

Loop 4: Sunday ~1:00 AM

After explaining the situation to CH, he did some calculations and got some rough targets we had to hit in order to get to the end of this loop with enough time to finish the last one. He was very reassuring that these were very reasonable and achievable. He has a race two weekends from Uwharrie and I just so happen to be going to the same area, so I will pace him for some miles. We spent some time planning that out. He had paced me at Umstead several years ago and I had the pleasure of pacing him at Western States last year. He also introduced me to ultra marathons, so we have some history in this.

I was really starting to get sleepy and CH convinced me that I needed to have some caffeine, something I am very careful about, as I have an odd condition where caffeine can throw off my vision and create large "halos" in the center of my sight. Anyway. I had half a cup of coffee at the first pass through crossroads, and it really helped pick me up. I was feeling much more alert.

Somewhere around dawn I started having hallucinations. Coincidentally, it wasn't far from "Hallucination Hill". Nothing scary or anything. Usually I would see runners only to discover it was a stump or some leaves. I have never hallucinated before. It is kind of like dreaming while you are awake. It was almost like my body was deciding that it had the need to make stuff up (as it would in a dream), and if I wasn't going to close my eyes and let it do that, it would just do it while I was awake. It never became a problem, but it happened quite frequently.

At the end of this loop I got my bandage re-wrapped and some more aspercream. I didn't change any clothes.

Loop 5: Sunday ~10:00 AM

Gabel, Jan, and Morgan
This was a special time. My son drove from Clemson out to Uwharrie so he and his girlfriend could spend some time with my dad and then he could pace me on my final loop. It was one of those father-son times that will always mean a lot to me. I guess CH had shared with him about the hallucinations because he asked me about it and was pretty intrigued. He asked me to tell him whenever I saw something. One of the times, I didn't even realize it was a hallucination. I thought I saw a snake curled up under a root on the trail. I stopped to look at it and kind of nudged it with my trekking pole, but it didn't move. My son asked me what I was doing and I showed him the snake, but there was nothing there. That one was probably the most vivid hallucination I had.

Considering he has never paced anyone before, and he has never run an ultra, I didn't expect that he would really know what to do as a pacer. I was mistaken. He instinctively knew to keep the conversation going so I was mentally engaged. He knew to make sure I was taking in calories at the aid stations. He was keeping track of the time to make sure we were on pace to finish before the cutoff. He did a great job.

I wasn't as worried about nailing the nutrition on this loop. I also wasn't as worried about babying the ankle. I sort of decided in my head that I would hike around to Kelly's Kitchen and then assess my time. I also took a few more liberties at the aid stations with "risky" foods than I might usually. I enjoyed some waffles dipped in bourbon butter and maple syrup. I had several pieces of bacon. I had shrimp and grits. I had bean and sausage soup.

At Kelly's Kitchen I determined that we were cutting it close and needed to pick it up on some of the runnable sections between Kelly's and Crossroads. We did that and made good time back to Crossroads. We continued to run here and there, but we were in good shape time-wise.

Flipped buckles
There is a brutal tradition at this race of displaying the 100 mile buckles at the start/finish area for everyone to admire. There is one for each runner entered. Throughout the race, as runners drop out, or drop down to the 100 Km distance, Dan flips over that runner's buckle to show that they dropped. I determined from the start, that no matter what, I would protect my buckle from that fate.

A couple miles after the second trip to Crossroads, another runner passed us. He seemed to be struggling a bit, but was still moving better than I was. My son suggested keeping him in sight. I didn't care about what position I finished in, as long as it was before 6:00 PM, the cutoff. So on we went for the remainder of the course. The last two miles were particularly mentally difficult. I should be done, it felt like, but I still had some ground to cover. I really wanted it to be over. I was sleepy, I was fatigued, I ached all over, and my ankle was killing me. Since I had a few minutes to spare, I had all kinds of ridiculous ideas going through my head. I thought it would be a good idea to install zip lines on all of the hills so you only had to hike up. I thought it would be fun to sneak up on the finish line and then jump out from behind a tree at the last second. Stupid. As it was, about a third of a mile from the finish, I heard cowbells and air horns and people yelling. I guessed that maybe they had a camera set up in the woods so they knew when people were approaching. In retrospect, I think they just knew there was only about 15 minutes left and were hoping I was close. Then I heard Dan (the race director) shouting, "Let's go Colin. You're almost there. Run it in."

Dan presenting me with my
buckle and Sasquatch field guide
"Dan, you don't understand how much I DON'T want to run", I thought, but I obliged. I got to the end and there was a mob of people shouting and rattling noise makers and taking pictures. Many of them were my people. Dan handed me my beautiful buckle. It really is high quality. He also handed me a Sasquatch Field Guide for finishing last. I think the logic there is that I was out on the course longer than anyone else, so I had the greatest likelihood of spotting one. Particularly with the hallucinations, I suppose. I have not yet seen one, however, though maybe next time I am out there in Uwharrie I will better know what to look for.
With my dad: part hug and
part keeping me from falling over 
Buckle and bib

Sasquatch field guide

The End

Caroline rolling out my hamstrings
They offered me food, which I accepted-a hamburger. What I really wanted, was to lie down and have someone hit my hamstrings with the muscle roller. I had brought a blanket for just that purpose, and my daughter was kind enough to take care of it. Thanks Caroline.

My wife has never been interested in my racing endeavors, but she came out for the end of this one. It was nice to see her at the finish. I nearly had the whole family there.

Going into the race, after being humbled at the training runs over the Summer, I was only focused on getting a finish. I wasn't concerned about how long it took. I was concerned about being able to stay up that long, so actually thought running faster could assist there. I don't know. As the race played out, the cooler weather caused me to feel pretty good up front and I came out of the gun too fast-way too fast. I should have targeted six hours (minimum) for each of my first two loops. That would have had me walking a lot more sections and may have prevented my ankle injury. Start slow. I know this, but it can be really hard to do when you are feeling good. Uwharrie is deceptive. It will beat you down like no other place I have run.

I weighed myself Saturday morning before leaving the house and again on Sunday night when I got home. I lost 2 pounds. If you are looking for a way to lose 2 pounds in 36 hours, I have a fool-proof formula. Of course that was water, and a pretty small amount, which ultimately means I hydrated well.

In the end, I believe I could run that course reasonably faster than I did. I am very happy, however, to have finished even though I was injured for 65 miles. It was confidence-boosting to find that I was able overcome the desire to quit with the will to finish.

A short slide show Jan put together of pictures and video she had from the race:

5 comments:

  1. Great race report, thank you very much for sharing! It was so awesome to see you cross that finish line, especially knowing all the hard work you put in over the summer��

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  2. My ankle hurts just reading this! Not something I could do, well done. Cheers!

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  3. Great race report! Uwharrie 100 (100k in 2016 and 100mi in 2017) was my first and I experienced many of the same as you described. I laughed at 'tip-toeing' down hills; I thought I might be the only one having done this. I did see a copperhead snake (for real) but also witnessed a steam locomotive (a large downed tree) and a nice log cabin (rock outcrop) on my journey. My older son met me on loop 5 at the 1 Mile wooden marker. I was not expecting him to be there and nearly cried when I saw him standing there; until her turned around and yelled 'come on Dad let's go' and started running up the hill. Needless to say I couldn't keep up with him. At the finish (35:35:36) I told Dan, the experience had changed my life!

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  4. Excellent report. Thanks for sharing!

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