Location: Uwharrie National Forest
The Course: 5 x 20.5 miles, figure 8 loop, 100% single-track
Hills – “Sasquatch” Mile 7.4, “Soul Crusher” Mile 8.4, and “Hallucination Hill” – Mile 16
Total Elevation: Over 17,000′
Events: 100 Mile, 100k, and the inaugural Gold Rush 50k
07JUL18 – The first time I ran one of the monthly Uwharrie training runs, it crushed my soul and made me question calling myself an ultrarunner. Not only did I roll my right ankle five times during that run, I got lost and Dan considered calling his search and rescue team to find me. I felt so embarrassed!
06JUL19 – Fast forward a year later, I met Colin Barrows at another training run (meeting people is an excellent reason to go to these!). He finished Uwharrie 100 last year. After reading his race report and how he completed the course mostly on an injured ankle, I felt inspired and immediately registered for the race! He called me a brave soul. I had been advised by many veteran ultrarunners not to make Uwharrie my first 100-miler. Now that I’ve tackled my first 100 at Umstead back in April, I had a foundation for Uwharrie 100.
Over the year, I attended many of Uwharrie 100 training runs to overcome my fears and retrain my brain by telling myself, “Uwharrie challenges my soul!” rather than crushes my soul. I definitely felt more confident every time and even did a few runs by myself. Without Dan’s support, I had to carry a gallon of water for 6 miles or drink warm filtered creek water. His aid station is especially appreciated during the hot and humid NC summers!
Cross-training: I had been consistent with cross-training and going to the gym at least 2x a week up until September. What sense did it make that I would stop going to the gym the entire month before the big race? None whatsoever. When hubby returned from overseas earlier that month, I used it as an excuse to sacrifice my training to maximize time for our marriage, our new Ridgeback puppy Daisy, in addition to working full time. Truth is you really only need like 30 min twice a week to strengthen your core and prevent injuries. Not sure whether this contributed to how I went from running almost 1800 miles this year injury-free to rolling my ankles twice on the Appalachian Trails and then again at Umstead, two weeks out from the race. The swelling took a little longer than usual to go down, so if I had any fears about the race, there it was and entirely my fault.
I had to skip a bunch of runs to let my ankle heal and do ankle strengthening exercises. My last long run was 20 miles was on a Monday, followed by 8 hours standing at my Varidesk at work. I felt good and confident again! However, Thursday night, a week out from the race, I got really sick and woke up covered in sweat. Then I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. What else could go wrong??
17OCT19 – A perfect weather forecast took for a turn and we received an e-mail from Dan that Tropical Storm #16 was coming our way and to expect between a half-inch to two inches of rain Saturday night with winds in the mid 20 mph range and gusts up to mid-30s. Just what I needed while battling a cold! My immediate thought goes to, “How can I embrace the suck and suffer better?”
18OCT19 – My leadership at work granted me a 4-day pass for the weekend, so I spent Friday morning with the hubby figuring out what we needed to stay dry for the weekend. His kids ended up visiting us, so I’m happy AJ got to spend time with them before he deploys again. We left Fayetteville around 4:30 pm, dropped them off in Southern Pines, and headed to Lilly’s Bridge Marina to pick up my race packet. We missed the race briefing, but it’s not a big deal because Dan would give it again in the morning. I felt delighted to read on the back of my bib: a personal message from Dan and Amanda ^_^
We checked into Days Inn Hotel in the little town of Biscoe, 18 miles from the trail-head. Not fancy, but it had the basics and it’s dog-friendly. I usually stop in Biscoe before each training run to grab snacks at Walmart or use the bathroom at McDonald’s. With T-mobile, I don’t get service at Uwharrie, so this is also where I would typically stop to check-in with my loved ones before and after I disappear into the woods for hours.
Tricia was kind enough to drive an hour from her house to pick up my best friend Vy and my sister Carolyn at RDU and then another 1.5 hours to meet us in Biscoe. Vy and Carolyn flew in all the way from California for my race!! How lucky am I to have these girls??
19OCT19 – RACE DAY. I woke up to my alarm at 0330. Made coffee inside the hotel room and ate a Dave’s Killer Pumpkin Spice Bagel with almond butter for breakfast. I probably should’ve eaten more, but I was way too excited. We were about 20 minutes from the trail-head so AJ, Carolyn, and I left the hotel at 0445. Tricia, Vy, and Daisy got to snooze in their rooms a little bit longer.
Dan was directing traffic, so we didn’t have to feel too stressed out about parking. Vy and Tricia arrived later. Despite how dark it was, it didn’t take them long to find me because Dan recognized them crewing for me at Mattamuskeet Death March and told them exactly where we were! Little things like that made me feel like I was part of a family.
All the runners and their crew gathered around for the race brief at 0540. It’s a small race, but I was happy to see many friends that I’ve made over the past couple of years.
Lap 1 (4 hrs 55 min 37 sec)
The race started promptly at 6 am for 100M/100k racers. I usually start off in the back, but this time I stayed on the side and funneled my way towards the front. Not because I considered myself fast, but because I’ve run the course enough times to know when/where I was going to start walking. I chose to wear long sleeves because it was 40 degrees, which got warm quick but came in handy to blow my nose on during the entire lap (super classy, I know). I also wore XOSKIN 4.0 Pulse Compression Capri, XOSKIN 5.0 Toe Socks, rabbit x Buff, and brand new Altra Lone Peaks 4. I was excited to use my brand new Petzl Nao+ headlamp that AJ got me on Wednesday. I also used my Black Diamond Carbon Z trekking poles throughout the entire race. There were two other aid stations: Crossroads (Mile 6/15) and Kelly’s Kitchen (Mile 11.5). I barely stopped at either one, passing up on the unique aid station menus that the Uwharrie 100 is famous for. It was the fastest I have ever completed a loop at Uwharrie. Every time I passed the multi-colored flags, I’d see my nickname “Soft” Karen on the timing screen and chuckle (thanks Brandon!)
Lap 2 (05 hrs 49 min 40 sec)
At start/finish, I changed out of my long sleeves and into my RADrabbit tank top. The temperatures were perfect, sunny and 62 degrees by noon. I kept thinking that maybe I had started out too fast, but I really wanted to get in as many miles as I could before the storm arrives. Coming into Kelly’s Kitchen, I tripped and started cramping as I tried to get up (thanks Jessica for reminding me this is not how it works) I should have taken that as a warning to pay more attention to my nutrition. I refueled, felt better, and finished this lap feeling good. Actually, I did roll my right ankle at mile 28, but I shook it off and didn’t have any other issues with it.
LAP 3 (07 hrs 35 min 45 sec)
I’m not sure what was going through my mind during the first half of this loop to have forgotten entirely about taking in nutrition or drink any water. My crew would later report that it was after the first half of this loop that they discovered my pack was nearly full of water with all my gels/salt pills were still in the pockets. Consequently, I started the second half of this loop feeling weak.
At Kelly’s/half-way point of the race, I changed into a fresh pair of XOSKIN toe-socks and another brand new pair of Altra Lone Peaks 4 (Rain Snow Mud) that were supposedly waterproof. I ordered it on Amazon on Thursday with one-day delivery, but it wasn’t delivered until 2 hours we left the house on Friday. I had an extra pair of Altra Olympus in my gear box as back-up, but Tricia and Vy drove 2 hours back to my house to grab extra rain jackets and the RSM Lone Peaks – benefits of living close-ish to Uwharrie and having a crew that is hella down for you!!
AJ decided to go out with me because he could see that I was hurting. I felt bad because we were going too slow for AJ to generate warmth. He was consistent at reminding me to eat, but I completely lost my appetite. It started raining at around 10:15pm, so I threw on my Mountain Hardware ThunderShadow rain jacket. I had been the lead 100-miler female up until this point. Holly and a couple of other runners caught us right before Hallucination Hill and then I would never see her again (great job on finishing first Holly!)
LAP 4 (8 hrs 43 min 06 seconds)
At start/finish, I changed out of my wet shirt and ate some ramen. Tricia made me a protein shake with coffee. I saw Colin and told him, “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” Before AJ and I took off, he said, “Have fun with Loop 4! I am going to take a nap.” I wanted to strangle him… just kidding Colin 😀 I actually felt good during this lap, but we were going slow because of the rain. It came pouring down on us around 1 am. All we could see was 3 ft in front of us and the light bouncing off the rain made it even more difficult. I kept focusing on my breath and silently repeating with each step, “RELENTLESS FORWARD MOTION!!”
I am so thankful that AJ was with me, mainly because I was not expecting him to pace me at all. He didn’t complain one bit and just complimented me on how hardcore I was the whole way (even though I am afraid of the dark). It’s great to have someone you can feel completely comfortable around to do the less glamorous things of trail-running like passing gas or pooping in the woods. If I ever doubted his love for me, this is definitely the moment I will use to remind me how much he loves me!! I think it’s so crazy that he has now completed the entire Uwharrie loop and still has no idea how any of it looks like. Hope your toe feels better soon babe <3
When we got back to Kelly’s Kitchen, my Mountain Hardware rain jacket was soaked entirely (supposed to be waterproof *shrug*). I changed out of the long sleeve shirt and put on a waffle top and my sister’s North Face Stinson Rain Jacket. These are what saved me by keeping me warm and dry for the remainder of the loop. Vy switched out with AJ for pacing; she’d been itching to get out on the course with me. Being the extrovert that she is, I’m glad my best friend still has tons of energy after crewing/harassing people with “truth/dare” all day. Whether you like it or not, she will be the one who makes every effort to spice up your day.
I departed from Kelly’s feeling somewhat blah again. At least I had my BFF to suffer in the rain with for the next couple of hours. I’m glad both Vy and AJ experienced Hallucination Hill first, then Sasquatch, and Soul Crusher last. The rain finally stopped around 7:35 am. I saw the sunrise again. At Crossroads, Vy forced me to eat a Granny Smith Dijon Grilled Cheese sandwich and tons of pickles. I willingly had a hot cup of shrimp and grits that Vinny had just cooked. I thought surely after this is when I’d pick up my speed again. Wrong, all I did was continue to focus on the pain. I started worrying about whether I’d make the cut off to begin Lap 5. Vy, who has been my life-long therapist, talked me through all my anxieties and paranoia. “You’re future-worrying again,” she would say and that’s when I try to bring my focus back to the present moment by listing things I felt grateful for.
Lap 5 (8hrs 09 min 15 secs)
When I walked into start/finish, I felt relieved when Dan said I had 9 hours left and to “Go get that buckle!!”
I sat down, took off the rain jacket, ate some food, and downed another protein shake. Carolyn removed my wet shoes and socks. I had not wanted to change my shoes because the trails were muddy anyway, but I was too tired to object. I put on a dry pair of Injinji toe socks and the Lone Peaks that I started off the race with. Vy said she would continue pacing me until Kelly’s Kitchen so I could finish the last half of the loop by myself.
My Suunto 9 died after 27 hours. I thought I set it to ultra mode to make the battery last up to 120 hours. I didn’t know where the charger and my other watch was so I always asked Vy whether we were good on time. Then I remember Colin’s story and his ankle and appreciate that mine was fine(ish). It was still a rough lap for sure…climbing the hills was not even the worst part. It was the descents that I absolutely hated. My coughs were terrible during this loop, hacking up phlegm every time. On top of that, my stupid right Injinji sock kept slipping half-way down my foot. I WILL NEVER FORSAKE MY XOSKIN TOE SOCKS AGAIN!!!
It took us a really long time to get to Kelly’s Kitchen. In a way, I wished it was still raining so that I had a different sensation to focus on or a good excuse for my slowdown (as if 80 miles weren’t a good enough reason already). I remember telling Vy on the Soul Crusher that I actually felt crushed. I think it was after this that Thomas and his pacer passed us. I saw them leaving Kelly’s as we were heading in. There, I changed out my socks again, thankfully into another pair of Injinjis that did not slip. But then I thought maybe I should change out of my nasty clothes to feel fresh for the remainder of the loop. Plus, I had frequently been stopping to pee, so I figured it’ll be much easier to do so with my favorite rabbit Mountain Climber shorts on. True. However, the compression capris helped keep me feeling like I was in one piece. Once they came off, whatever pain I had contained released throughout my legs. My feet felt EVERY.SINGLE.ROCK. There are a lot of freakin’ rocks and roots on this beastly course!!!
At my final Crossroads stop, I grabbed some waffles before starting on the last 5.5 that really felt like 8 miles of the loop. In the corner of my eye, I saw Emily approaching the aid station and sorta choked on the waffle I was chewing on. Suddenly, my adrenaline kicked in, I stuffed the uneaten half of waffle in my hydration pack and started sprinting down the trail to put distance between her and me. It was amazing how I suddenly I was able to fly over the rocks without feeling them!!
I thought I was safe until I heard her pacer call out to me, “Do you need anything?” I hollered back, “No, thank you!” polite AF, but quickly realized that she was purposely trying to slow me down, so I sprinted off in an “OH HELL NO!!!” fashion. Filled with adrenaline, I started flying downhill as if I were on Lap 1 again. More adrenaline pumped as I zoomed past Thomas and his pacer. I don’t know how fast I was actually going, but it sure felt that way!!
20OCT19 – FINISH
I crossed the finish line, completing a total of 102.5 miles in 35 hours 13 min and 25 seconds (it’s not all on Strava, did it really happen?!) I had a giant smile on my face as Dan handed me my beautiful buckle and award for 2nd place female. My crew brought me all types of drinks and food. I just wanted to sit by the fire as Dan’s daughter was burning up cardboard. I started to feel sad that the race weekend to coming to an end. I usually don’t get to stay after a race like I want to because I am either rushing one of my crew back to the airport or getting ready to drive between 7 hours home. This time I got to stay and cheer for the last handful of runners coming through, including my good friend Tony. Only 19 out of 46 100 Mile runners went home with a buckle. Many dropped out when the storm came, but I still think they are all pretty impressive for braving this course!! It definitely lives up to its characteristics as SIMPLY UNRELENTING.
First, I must give God the glory for my racing and training, I don’t do it enough. Thank You for being with me through all the storms of life. For showing me LOVE through Your creations and all the people who love and care for me. For consistently teaching me patience, humility, and discipline and showing me that I can push the limit.
My (k)REW <3 AJ, Vy, Tricia, & Carolyn
You could’ve been doing anything else with your time, but you chose to spend your weekend waiting on me and helping me accomplish my dreams. I’m glad to hear that everyone worked well together and actually had fun. My race and recovery time( aka watching you all bond as you make fun of me) would have not been the same without your love. (Kasey, thank you for letting me steal your wife again) You guys rock!!!
Dan and Amanda Paige- Thank you for setting the standard as Race Directors with your generosity!! Uwharrie100 is truly an amazing, well-organized race. I feel proud to have been a part of it, storm and all. I hope your race continues to be a success and look forward to spending more time on Uwharrie with you.
The NC Running Community – Volunteers, thank you so much for your time, enthusiasm, and hospitality!! Yall are the trail angels and deserve all the love in the world!! Friends/FRC, thank you for words of encouragement, praying for me, and sharing miles with me!
My Coach Ann Trason
Thank you for believing in me and helping me exceed my goals!! Never would’ve thought that I would be able to complete two 100-milers in one year. I have made a lot of progress and become a stronger athlete because of you.
Uwharrie you will always have a special place in my heart!