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Jill Hudgins Friday, 18 November 2011 09:09 TWEET COMMENTS 0

The Uwharrie Experience - Page 2

Now in its 20th year, the Uwharrie Mountain Run is no longer a local secret. Getting into the race is almost as tough as finishing. This year's eight- and 20-mile races filled up in about 10 minutes, the 40-mile in under 30. But saying "I do" to Uwharrie this year was the easy part. The real commitment came on race day, when rain turned the already tenuous footing into a leafy, muddy game of slip-and-slide.

Uwharrie's elevation chart warns runners, Don't expect any flat ground here, with jagged spikes resembling the EKG of a palpitating heart—2350 feet of elevation gain in the 20-mile and 4500 feet of elevation gain in the 40-mile. Racers set out on 100 yards of pavement that quickly changed to singletrack bedlam: hidden roots, rocks, mud, creeks and hills. Parr describes the downhill miles as treacherous: "To prevent myself from falling, I had to grab onto saplings as I traversed a steep mud-slicked, rock-strewn pitch."

In the 20-mile, Ryan Woods of Boone, North Carolina, won by just one minute over Jared Scott from Grand Canyon, Arizona. Praising the aggressive lugs on his lightweight trail racers, says Woods, "I made up a lot of ground on the curvy downhills, because I was confident in my footing in the soft mud." Woods reeled in the early leader, Tom Clifford of Wilmington, North Carolina, who in his first trail race ever, opted for track spikes. Clifford paid the price for this mistake, rolling his ankle almost every mile, but managed to hang on for third.

The Uwharrie 20-mile also served as the first of 10 trail races in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. Racers in the series tally points from their top five races in pursuit of a share of the $25,000 prize purse. Woods was last year's La Sportiva Mountain Cup winner and says Uwharrie is one of the more technical races in the series. "The terrain is never flat," says Woods. "Add in this year's heavy leaf coverage, rain and brisk temperatures, it became one of the more challenging La Sportiva Mountain Cup courses ever."

In the 40-mile event, Shannon Johnstone of Cary, North Carolina, managed to point, shoot and run, snapping photos of the course and her competitors as she claimed victory in the women's 40-mile. Her pre-race ambitions were admittedly modest. "My one and only goal was not to cry," says Johnstone. In 2010's race, she slipped in a stream crossing and at an aid station five miles from the end, sat down and almost called it a day. She dragged herself to the finish, crying, and swore to her husband, fellow trail runner Anthony Corriveau, that she would never return. "Then a few days passed," says Johnstone. "And I thought maybe it would be fun to try it again." Uwharrie is the Medusa of trail races, luring runners into its clutches despite the dangers.

Johnstone also earned entry into The "Organ Donors" Club, a special and— believe it or not—highly sought after Uwharrie honor (40 miles in under eight hours for women, seven hours for men). Six other runners from this year's race joined Johnstone as Organ Donors though no one qualified as "Brain Dead" (40 miles in under six hours for men, seven hours for women).

"Every runner needs to put Uwharrie on their bucket list," suggests Brendan Howell, second-place finisher in the eight mile. If not for the course or the camaraderie, then perhaps for the strange company out on the Uwharrie trail: Bigfoot trackers, camouflaged soldiers and Goofus the banjo player singing to weary runners.


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