What would you nominate for the best old school trail race and why?
If you pull a trail runner aside and ask, “what is the best old school trail race” the answer that may immediately jump from their lips is Western States Endurance Run or the Dipsea Race. The Dipsea race began in 1905 and the WSER in 1974, long before I was born, never mind when I began trail running. Having only run trail races for the past 2 years (since 2012), I would respond very differently. My answer would be the Uwharrie Mountain Run.
In the summer of 2012 I began running with a trail group, the TrailHeads. I immediately fell in love with the woods and the way that something as simple as trail running brought together all types of people, people whose paths may have never crossed otherwise. After hearing their stories of “ultra” races I became very curious to try one out myself. After much discussion it turned out that there was one race that almost every TrailHead seemed to have run, The Uwharrie Mountain Run, or Uwharrie, as it is commonly referenced.
According to our unofficial TrailHead sage, Squonk, this race was started in 1999 by Bob Boeder. He began it as a way to both fend off addiction and as a way to get others excited about ultra races and trail running. Squonk remembers his first experience running the 8 mile race. When I finished the 8 the first time, I was ecstatic at the end and told Bob that was more fun than I can remember ever having. He looked at me and said, “That’s great…if you want more, you can run back the way you came.”
Subsequently the following year Squonk, and another TrailHead Booda, signed up for the 40 mile in 2000 (to celebrate a 40th birthday). However, the race was postponed that year due to a snowstorm. Uwharrie is held at the beginning of February, and runners have seen everything from feet of snow, to 60 degree weather. Squonk remembers that “back then you mailed in your race check”. Bob had to send everyone a letter explaining the situation and also held onto the race entries so everyone could run in 2001. Ever since then the TrailHeads have been running and sometimes podium-ing at Uwharrie.
Now, Uwharrie isn’t just a small locals-only race. Runners like Sophie Speidel, Mike Morton, David Horton, and Annette Bednoski have all run. David Horton came back a second time, as did Annette who has run Uwharrie multiple times.
I ran the race in 2012; 15 TrailHeads ran the 40, 8 ran the 20 mile, and others ran the 8. That is one of the best things about Uwharrie, there is a wide variety of distances so that spouses who may not want to run the 40 can choose shorter races. The following year I talked my (non-trailrunning) husband into running the 8.
Another great thing about this race is the volunteers – they are fantastic! They are excited for each runner and ready to help in any way. Its such a boost to come over a hill and hear people cheering for you at the aid stations.
Additionally, there are veteran ultra runners who instead of racing at Uwharrie may man an aid station. Their knowledge is priceless out there on the trail and has launched many a newbie trail runner into the world of ultra running has and kept many others coming back for more.
Uwharrie has knit together a tight group of funny, sarcastic, spirited, coffee drinking, trail runners who come back together again and again. Not only to race, but to help with trail work, aid station set up, and race day coordination – making it one of the best trail races around!