The Uwharrie Journey

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

As an unwritten tradition from the Runner's Book of Common Practice, runners like to run the mileage equivalent to their age to celebrate their birthday. But as one ages, or his/her ability to run significant miles limits by injuries or other reasons, s/he has to find a loophole to such practice. As a true Canadian as I am, I have decided to run my age in kilometers instead of miles. Still, that’s 19.26 miles to be run. Coincidentally, I have scheduled a group run at Uwharrie to run the point-to-point 20 mile course this past Saturday without realizing that it could be my "birthday run." At least these would be hard-earned kilometers, right?

Saturday morning we arrived at the Wood Run Trail head in dense fog. The six of us (Brandon, Hannah, Richard, Amy, Sharon, and I) then shuttle first to the 8-miler finish to drop off aids and Hannah’s car, then onto the Jumping Off Rock Trailhead (official start of race) to start our run. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. We started our GPS devices and off we went. Not even a minute into the run, I lost sight of Brandon Thrower, who’s training for a sub-7 finish in a couple weeks, then Hannah following tightly after. Up and up we went on the rocky trail for the first mile. Amy, as usual, hung back and enjoyed her time in the woods. Richard, Sharon, and I hung together for the most part. After the first ascent, the trail flattens out to constant but runnable rolling hills.  The first eight miles were very enjoyable, with our energy and spirit both high. 1:37 later, we reached the eight-miler finish. Hannah was already there. We refilled our bottles and set off with Hannah again. She decided to do another mile of out-and-back to finish out the day.

The temperature was rising and the sun cleared the fog away as we ran. It turned out to be a beautiful day. As I revisited the trail and these creek-crossings, I remembered how difficult it was for me a year ago, when I had my first DNF. This time, it was a lot more fun and I appreciated the trail and its beauty a lot more. Perhaps it was because I was in a different mindset, too. A year ago it was a race (and I wasn’t much of a racer, and still am not), but this time, it was a journey, like the Hobbits! At this thought, my steps lightened up and continued on with my wide, wide feet (Altra).

About 13 miles into the run, Jonathan came running from the opposite direction! He overslept but came anyway to run an out-and-back from Jumping Off Rocks TH. See, an unexpected journey. At this point, Sharon and I were ahead of Richard and Jonathan kept on running the opposite direction till he caught Richard. He then turned around, caught up with us, and we ran together for the rest of the way.  Soon after he caught back up with us, we found ourselves at a tricky turn and we were so glad that he who was familiar with the trail was there. Otherwise, we probably would end up spending another couple minutes wandering around trying to find our ways like we did a couple times.

If there were a low point of the run, it would be at around 15-18. However, I think it was all psychological. I couldn’t take my mind off thinking about finishing, but yet five miles on trails were neither quick nor easy. My water was also getting low. Who would have thought I would sweat this much in January? Thankfully, Jonathan was there and our dispersed conversations drew me back to enjoying the company, running, the trail, and the journey itself. When we ran pass the 1-mile wooden plaque, I felt a hint of sadness that the run is almost over!

All in all, I’m happy with this run and it’s one that I’d remember. Here’s to more great mountains to be seen, pine-trees and waterfalls to be heard, and more woods to be explored.

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