50 Miles in NC’s Uwharrie Mountains

Today I’m writing about a 50-mile run I did the other day in North Carolina’s Uwharrie Mountains. It was an awesome day in an amazing area – and the last of my five runs that I’ve been doing to raise money for World Central Kitchen’s work to feed people in Ukraine (that is, my “5X5X5” project  …. running 5 iconic trails over 5 months to raise $5k for World Central Kitchen … see https://gofund.me/1ce72b8e). So I’m excited to share a little bit about it here!

First, as always, how was this run like starting a Made in the USA apparel brand!? I thought a lot about that, and what occurred to me was that this session was focused on keeping it close to home (since the Uwharries are close to where I grew up in NC) – just like, with Mill & Mountain, I’m focused on keeping everything close to home with fabrics, production, etc.

ALSO …. Keeping with the “close to home” concept … “home” was a big reason why I launched my 5X5X5 project in the first place. That’s because I was seeing the scenes of devastation of people’s homes in the Ukraine, and inspired by the stories about World Central Kitchen feeding people in Ukraine, which made me really motivated to do something. Anyway, I really appreciate everyone’s support for this project to raise money to feed people.

OK, now more about the run. The Uwharries are an incredibly old mountain range in Central North Carolina. I read on the Internet (so, as always, it must be true) that the Uwarries are something like 500 million years old and used to be 20,000 feet tall! Old mountains are often kinda short today, and that’s definitely the case for the Uwharries – where the high point of the trail is just over 1,000 feet above sea level. Even though they’re not that tall, they have quite a bit of up and down … I think I probably climbed 6,000-7,000 vertical feet over the course of the day. And there are some relatively steep sections too.

The Plan. Get going early and make good time throughout the day! It was a good thought, but reality intervened a bit. I hadn’t really thought about the amount of daylight available in the day, and daylight turned out to be a bit of a factor … I got started at about 6:45 AM but it stayed dark for about the first hour. It also got dark at the end of the day pretty fast. So both ends of this run were in the dark. The trail was pretty rocky and there were lots of roots too … all of which were covered by leaves (after all, it’s fall) – which slowed me down quite a bit as well since I was trying to be sure of my footing.

If you’re interested in getting out in the Uwharries, the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail is what I was on all day – and it’s a great trail that is pretty well marked. Logistics: I parked at the “Highway 109 trailhead” (google that to find the exact spot), and then went north to the trailhead off Pisgah Covered Bridge Road (no parking there that I saw), and then back south towards the Highway 24 trailhead (parking available there). Alltrails has a good trail map although there are a few places that it isn’t quite right.

Anyway, my thinking was that I’d park in the middle and run both north and south so that if anything happened I’d never be more than 15 miles from the car and in any case I wouldn’t need to work out any end-of-day transportation logistics. This worked out pretty well.

I made it to the north turnaround spot (about 15+ miles out) in about 3 and a bit hours, and felt pretty good. Headed back I did have a pretty good spill and face plant coming off one of the higher areas and ended up whacking my knee and my head pretty hard … but fortunately nothing but flesh wounds so I kept moving, albeit a little more gingerly.

I was back at the car after about 30 miles by early to midafternoon and still feeling good. Headed south from there I had a VERY close encounter with a timber rattlesnake …. I missed stepping on his head by about 4-6 inches … in one of the creek bottom areas that had tons of leaves on the ground. (He looked more confused than angry I think … tho obviously I don’t know, since it’s really hard to read the expression on a snake’s face.)

It’s interesting with the topography on this run … up on the ridges there were pine trees and more hardwood type forest … and the trails were a bit easier to see, whereas down in the bottom areas where the creeks were there were so many leaves that you had to watch your footing more. I looked up timber rattlesnakes the next day and (1) totally confirmed that the snake was a timber rattlesnake, and (2) read that they are common in the lower areas of the Uwharries near the creeks. Anyway, I lucked out in avoiding a bite – since they are very venomous and this fella was big. Turns out you have about 4 hours after a bite to get medical help, so I think I probably would have been ok in any case – but glad I didn’t have to go through that anyway.

Needless to say this freaked me out a bit and from then on every root and leaf pile looked like a snake – so my pace slowed down quite a bit. I had planned to finish the trail in the dark, but after my close encounter I said f*&^ that and turned around before I got to the spot I had planned to reach. I ended up having to do laps in the parking lot to get to 50 miles (yeah, that’s crazy, I know) but it was worth it to avoid seeing my friend-not-friend the snake again.

All in all, a great run and a great day!

Gear. Scarpa Spin Ultras on my feet - brand new trail runners. This is a great shoe, but better for 30 miles than 50 miles, I think … my feet kinda hurt at the end. Scarpas tend to be pretty stiff, and these definitely are. Poles were helpful. Wore my Mill & Mountain stuff, which did great.

Food. Gels, bars, fig bars. I was not dialed in as to how much water I needed for this run. I had hydrated a ton before I started, and only had about 2 L to get me through the first 30 miles. That ended up not being enough. I also didn’t have any hydration mixes with me, and I was definitely feeling that by the time I hit 30. A little more water and a few hydration sachets along the way would have helped.

Other Factors. The weather was great, but the season was actually not that great for doing a long run. The leaves were a huge factor, and the fact that I had not that much daylight was also a factor. I would definitely wear gators on my next run in the worries, to make sure that if I did have an encounter with a snake they at least have to bite through something before they got to my leg.

Can you run 50 miles in the Uwharries? Of course you can!

(I will say … somebody sent me a link to the new Macarthur genius grant recipients, and when I told him that I ran 50 miles earlier he said that wasn’t anything that a genius would ever do. Yeah, he’s right ...)