Blue Mountain Beach Half Marathon (Santa Rosa Beach, FL) – October 9, 2016

As Hurricane Matthew blew through the Caribbean and headed towards eastern Florida and up the southeast coast, bringing disastrous flooding and strong winds to many communities, there was a good chance this race would be canceled. Although the race site in Florida’s panhandle was spared from Matthew’s fury, the race organizers were from the low country of South Carolina, and that was indeed right along the hurricane’s path. Fortunately, the race director was able to travel successfully to western Florida and all races (a 5k and 10 miler on Saturday and a 10k and half marathon on Sunday) went on as planned.

We drove to the panhandle on Saturday afternoon, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon Central Time. Packet pickup began at 3 at Pandora’s, a local restaurant, so we spent half an hour exploring the surrounding area and walking to Grayton Beach along the sand dunes. One of the reasons I decided to sign up for this race was the low-cost option of a ‘retro’ registration. Participants who signed up for the retro version would get an official time but no tee shirt or medal. That was fine with me. I only wanted the official time and certainly didn’t need another medal and I didn’t want a tee shirt I would never wear. So for $45, I was in. That made packet pickup easy; I just got my bib (with chip on the back) and that was it.

Our hotel was about 25 minutes away, a very attractive and clean Marriott Courtyard. After checking in, we walked to the nearby Applebee’s and enjoyed an early dinner (although we usually prefer to eat in a locally recommended restaurant, sometimes convenience trumps taste – and Applebee’s has very good sweet potato fries, my favorite). We relaxed in our room while Darcy watched football and I knitted.

Sunday morning arrived and I woke a little before 3:30 am so I could have my breakfast and get dressed well before the 7 am start. Our plan was to leave around 6 so we could have plenty of time to check out the start. Only problem was that I had forgotten to change the time on my IPad to Central Time and so I woke an hour earlier than I needed to. That was okay; I just read until it was time to go.

Instead of my usual pre-race jitters I was fairly at ease. Funny how half marathons don’t stress me out the way longer races – or trail races – do. Still, I was a bit concerned about getting lost since this was a small race. I had no idea how very small the race was, in part because the 10k people were mixed in with the half marathoners and the bibs didn’t distinguish between races. We all started at 7 am and ran the first 6.2 miles together, across the timing mat at the 10k point, and the half marathoners continued along route 30A.

I hadn’t seen a map of the course although I had read the description on the website. But the street names meant nothing to me since I was unfamiliar with the area so I was surprised when we made a loop around the town of Grayton, headed down the highway for a couple of miles, and then made that same Grayton loop again. That brought us to 6 miles, with the timing tent just .2 down the road. From there we stayed on 30A until we took a left at mile 8 and went uphill towards a touristy residential beach area (though we couldn’t see the water at all because of all the 3 story houses) to the turnaround at mile 10. At that point, we retraced our steps back to the timing tent. There were only 92 runners in the half and I came in at #82, so I wasn’t at the very end but close. Still, I finished in 2:54:22, under my goal of 3 hours, so I was completely satisfied. Placing 2nd in my age group helped too.

Darcy met me at the finish line and we walked to the award ceremony and food and drink area at Pandora’s. There was fruit, granola bars, and little sub sandwiches (ham or beef) plus soda and water. As we got ready to leave, one of the volunteers asked me if I wanted a tee shirt. I explained that I was a retro runner but she replied that they had plenty of shirts and since the half marathon shirt was cotton and a pretty light blue, a gratefully accepted one.

Then it was back to our hotel so I could take a quick shower and take advantage of our requested late check out. As we drove home, Darcy asked me if I would do this race again (something he always asks me after a race) and I said ‘yes’ – I would definitely consider this race again. I think I was the only person who walked the entire way so it was definitely a little lonely along parts of the course, but now that I understand the course layout, I wouldn’t worry about getting lost. Most of the route is along a paved bike path and the rest is on paved streets. I was glad I wore gaiters because there was sand and some pebbles that could easily have penetrated my shoes so I’m sure they helped (though I didn’t see anyone else with gaiters on).

Recommended for walkers.

Run Around the World 24 Hour Race – Lebanon, TN (September 24, 2016)

This was the perfect ultra for me – a timed race on a paved certified one-mile two loop course with a fully stocked aid-station, cold water and ice, and an air-conditioned building with real bathrooms and showers plus a large gymnasium with benches and a clean floor to lie on. There were friendly people everywhere, not just the other runners but also friends and members who cheered on all the racers. The terrific volunteers anticipated every need; one especially vigilant young man would run up to me as I approached the aid station, fill my water bottle with ice cold water, and then hand it to me as I was moving on through. ‘No need to slow down, just keep walking and I’ll hand the bottle to you,’ he would tell me, understanding completely my desire to maintain pace. Even the weather cooperated; although it was very hot and humid during the day, I could always wander into the air-conditioning to cool off and rest while the evening hours brought cooler temperatures down into the mid-sixties.

It was a relatively long drive to Lebanon, about 9 hours. We stopped several times for rest breaks and breakfast and arrived in Tennessee around 2 o’clock. Our room at the Hampton Inn was not ready yet so we had lunch at Chili’s and then drove to the race site to check it out. We were greeted by Greg, a runner and volunteer, who explained the course (a lop-sided figure 8 that wound around Winfree Bryant Middle School and the College Hills Church of Christ) and told us where we could set up our drop bags and chairs. Just to make sure I knew where everything was, I wandered into the school and found the gym and the bathrooms. Satisfied and excited, I was ready to return to the hotel and get my stuff together for the 6 am start the next morning. I like starting early because I find waiting for races insufferably difficult, and this also meant we could leave early the next morning for home.

This event has numerous race options besides the 24 hour: 6 hour, 12 hour, half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile, and 100k. Both the 12 and 24 hour races begin at 6 am while the others start an hour later, except for the 6 hour which begins at noon. This means that the course is busy with people during daylight hours but is much less crowded during the evening. As it turned out, the number of people was never a problem because there was plenty of room on the course. There was also excellent line of sight and cones marking the transition points so it was impossible to get lost, a big plus for me. Each tenth mile of the course was marked so it was easy to figure out where we were at every moment. The course is well-lit and open only to participants and their supporters so there are no worries about traffic. I brought my headlamp and flashlight just in case but never had to use them.

Packet pickup began at 5 am on Saturday. Chips were attached to the bibs of racers and so had to be fastened on the outside of our garments. We also got short-sleeved technical tee shirts. I promptly gave mine away; I can’t see the point of even bringing home something I will never wear.

My friends Joyce and Ray were here for this race (Joyce was doing it for the third time) and they kindly let me put my chairs and ice chest under their canopy. At 6 am on the dot, we took off and my long day and night began. Yes, it did get hot and humid, but there was no rain and an occasional pleasant breeze. I knew that once the sun went down the temperature would drop. Around 3 in the afternoon, the heat began affect me, my feet started to swell, my shoes felt tight, and my legs ached. Ray set me up in the gym with a thick mat to lie down on and so I spent 30 minutes in blessed air conditioned comfort, with my feet elevated on a bench. By 3:30 I felt refreshed and, though I struggled with leg cramps while trying to stand back up on my feet, I was ready to attack the course again.

I never really took another break, although when Darcy came around 6 to bring me coffee, I did sit for a few minutes to eat, drink, and change my shoes and socks. Volunteers brought pizza in the afternoon and chicken sandwiches from Zaxby’s later in the evening. I had plenty to eat and no stomach issues, a nice change from my previous races this summer.

Around 9 pm, I could definitely feel the weather cool off – there was a time and temperature reading on the church’s electronic marquee so I could watch the drop in temperature as I passed by – but it never got uncomfortably cold. The evening hours were serene and peaceful, the moon a beautiful crescent that resembled a slice of orange candy, with the silence broken only by loudspeakers that blared popular music throughout the race. In fact, my only complaint about this race was the loud music that played nonstop. It was fine during the day but once nighttime arrived the music began to grate on my nerves especially as I passed by the several speakers.

My primary goal in this race was to complete a 50k so I could count it for Maniac statistics, but I really wanted more than that; after all, in my last 24-hour race at Dahlonega I managed 42 miles, so I thought for sure that I might reach 100k. It was beyond my dreams to reach 70 miles, something I had attained 3 years ago but had not reached since. My personal best is 86 miles back in 2011 at Across the Years. Mileage like that is no doubt unreachable for me now but I was hopeful that I could still manage somewhere in the 60-65 mile range. That’s why I was amazed when I got to 74 miles at race end. I placed second in the women’s 24-hour race and that was extremely satisfying!

Run Around the World is highly recommended for walkers – any distance would be a great experience. For walkers uncertain about whether they could finish a half or full marathon in 7 or 8 hours, they could take as long as 24 hours if necessary.

You’re Not Alone 5K – September 10, 2016 (Gainesville, FL)

It’s rare that I bother to sign up for a 5k race. The distance is too short for me to enjoy since it usually takes me 3 miles just to warm up and by that time the race is over. However, this 5k was special. September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day and this 5k race was sponsored by the Friends of the Alachua County Crisis Center to help raise the awareness of suicide and suicide prevention and to support people who have suffered a suicide loss. I shall always be grateful to the volunteers at the Crisis Center who managed to convince the Gainesville police to open up our son Ben’s apartment when he had been missing for over a week. His suicide was the catalyst behind the many walks and races I’ve done since in Ben’s memory and in support of suicide prevention.

So I had a personal reason for traveling to Gainesville to do this race. It also gave me a chance to visit the Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden located in at the race venue, Cofrin Nature Park. In the words of the Crisis Center brochure that describes the garden “the Survivors of Suicide Garden offers a place of healing and solace for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide. The garden offers a natural landscape, sacred sanctuary and artistic symbols all meant to connect to those who are on the journey towards healing after losing someone to suicide.” It was very serene and peaceful.

The race itself was well done for an inaugural event. A concise but complete description of the course was given on the race website and included a map. I copied the directions on a small card that I kept with me just in case I got lost, but I never had to refer to it since signs with arrows were carefully positioned at all turns. There were two aid stations that offered water and both were manned by cheering volunteers. Additional volunteers were positioned at strategic places along the course – which, by the way, was all on city streets and sidewalks.

I arrived early, found a good parking spot at the church nearby (which offered its parking lot for the race), and walked to the park to get my bib and green cotton short-sleeve tee shirt. The race began on time and by 8 am we were all on our way. I can only estimate the number of participants since there were no official results; I would guess about 50-60 people took part. Most were runners but there were some walkers like myself. Despite the warm weather, I enjoyed the course and the occasion; it was great to do a race on asphalt again.

As I was waved back into the park at the 3.1 mark, I checked my watch and it was 8:40, so it took me approximately 40 minute to finish. We had been warned earlier in an apologetic email that there would be no medals (that was fine with me – I don’t need another medal) but there was plenty of food and drink, bananas and water and bagels.

Since this is supposed to become an annual event, I would respectfully offer a few constructive suggestions for future years:

  • Offer Gatorade in addition to water (September is still very hot and humid in Florida)
  • Use bibs that do not self-destruct when they get wet or sweaty
  • Have some kind of timing device – even just a few volunteers with stop watches – to capture finishing times for people as they cross the finish line (the Florida Track Club has a timing clock that it rents out but the club may be persuaded to donate its use for this organization)
  • Draw a chalk line on the ground for both start and finish lines
  • Set up mile markers to help racers pace themselves (these could be borrowed from the Florida Track Club as well)
  • Publish the results – names and times – on the web and on the Crisis Center’s Facebook page

This was an important race for me to do and I feel sure it will grow in popularity. It was definitely worth the 4 am drive to Gainesville. When I returned home and went through the good bag that held my shirt and bib, I discovered a thank you note addressed to me by name from the race coordinator thanking me for participating. That was a special touch!


Wildcat 50K (September 3, 2016) – Pensacola, Florida

After an unsuccessful trail attempt a couple of weeks ago, I am proud to say that this time I made it! I was very discouraged at 8 Hours of Hell because it took me 7 hours to complete only 21 miles, 5 miles short of a marathon. In fact, I was so concerned about not being able to do the distance at Wildcat that I dropped from the 100k to the 50k. That turned out to be a wise decision because 50k on a trail turned out to be sufficient challenge for me.

On Friday we left for Pensacola, leaving behind the fallout from Hurricane Hermine. We first made sure our house still had electricity and running water, we picked up tree limbs and other debris strewn around our yard, and then headed out on our westbound trek. The hurricane had left the western portion of the Florida panhandle unscathed so we were traveling in the right direction! We did not know until later in the day that our son’s apartment had lost electricity and it took 5 days before power was restored. How fortunate that he and his family lived only 20 minutes away from us; they stayed at our place until they got their power back on Tuesday.

We arrived in Pensacola around 3 pm and checked into a clean and pleasant Hampton Inn on Pine Forest Road, about 3 ½ miles from the race site. We then drove to the race venue at the Escambia County Equestrian Center to check it out and get an idea of how long it would take us to arrive in the morning (about 15 minutes). A quick dinner at Applebee’s and we were ready to return to the hotel and relax. Neither of us had slept well the night before because of the hurricane; we were exhausted.

Saturday morning we were up early and left for the race by 6:30 am. Wildcat has 3 race options. The 100 miler and 100k have a 40-hour cutoff while participants in the 50k have 20 hours to complete that option. Those are pretty generous cutoff times but the course was difficult (to me) and the weather was brutal, very hot and humid, with shade only in the wooded areas. It was possible to pick up race packets on Friday but we arrived too late in the day so we waited until Saturday morning just before the race. Included in the race packet was our bib, a gel and some vitamin samples, and a bright green buff with Wildcat Ultra printed on it. The buff was a nice surprise and a pleasant change from a tech tee shirt I would never wear.

The Equestrian Center has a large covered pavilion with benches and plenty of room for tents and personal aid stations. I met up with my friends Joyce and Ray and set up my chair, cooler, and drop bag under their canopy. Joyce was doing the 100 miler so they were expecting to stay until the end of the race at midnight on Monday morning. Me, I just wanted to finish before darkness set in on Saturday evening.

The course description sounds complex but it really was easy to follow, at least in daylight hours. I never got lost; there were plenty of runners in front of me to point out the way. The start and finish were in front of the covered pavilion and housed the timing table, the aid station, and real bathrooms. The first section crossed a large grassy area, a brief asphalt section, and a grassy loop around a large swamp. There was a ‘Warning – Snakes’ sign near the swamp so most people generally gave it a wide berth, though I never did see any reptiles. This section of grass had a definite camber to it and several times my ankle slipped and almost twisted on itself.

The next section took us through a shaded wood. The ground here was mostly sand and pine needles. I enjoyed this section because of the break from the sun and I liked the soft pliant surface. The trail in the wood led to a cleared sandy area under power lines, up a long hill that followed the power lines, and then into another wooded loop. Then it was back down the power line hill and into the third section of forest, past a grassy area and children’s playground, and then into a rooty section of woods. I slowed down considerably when I walked through this particular area but it was my favorite section because once we got through it, the timing table was straight ahead – another lap accomplished! The 50k required 12 full laps and a partial 13th lap that omitted the 2 loop sections.

My feet held up fairly well during the race. I had to change shoes and socks once because my feet had swollen. During the final laps I developed a blister on the ball of one foot and had to limp and change my gait to accommodate it. I managed to finish by 5:30 pm with a time of 9:29:15. That was a personal worst for me but I was simply pleased to finish! I was tired, sunburned, and salty, so we drove back to the hotel so I could shower and rest while Darcy got us takeout from the nearby Cracker Barrel.

The best part about this race was the people; everyone was encouraging and helpful. I saw several friends – Joyce and Ray, Drina and Michael, Cheryl, and Mellody, as well as several runners and volunteers I recognized from the Destin race in July. The timekeepers and volunteers were friendly and extremely attentive. The aid station had plenty of ice and fluids as well as an assortment of goodies plus meals at specific times of the day. Unfortunately, I was still plagued by digestive issues during this race and did not find anything appealing but there was plenty of food to choose from.

The worst part was the terrain. Most trail runners would think this course was a piece of cake; it is only from my admittedly jaundiced view of trails that it could be called difficult. So, any potential runners and walkers who are intrigued by this course, please don’t be put off by my hesitation. I just don’t enjoy trails. I am not signing up for any more trail races and this time I REALLY MEAN IT! But I am glad I did Wildcat for my final trail race.

8 Hours of HELL – Englewood Beach, FL (August 20, 2016)

This race is honestly named. It truly IS 8 hours of hot, humid, punishing, grueling exercise on a 3.05-mile trail in Ann Dever State Park in Englewood Beach. Despite that, the race had a lot of things going for it. Heat doesn’t usually bother me (or at least, it did not until this summer) and even though it is a trail race, it is mostly packed shell and pebbles (although there are – at least to this pavement lover – a fair amount of stubborn rocks and roots). There are real bathrooms nearby. A covered pavilion has tables and benches with room to set up a personal aid area. My feet were in pretty good shape. More to the point, I had completed 62 miles at this same park last November at the Save the Daylight race. It was hard but I managed.

So, what happened to me here this Saturday? I could only manage to finish 21 miles, not even a marathon distance. That means it doesn’t count as a race for my Maniac statistics. It does, of course, have significance for teaching me some valuable lessons as well as learning to accept that not every event will be a happy one. I guess out of over 220 marathons and ultramarathons, having one or two that falls completely apart is to be expected.

My plan was to try and finish 9 laps with a total of 27.45 miles. Eight laps would only yield just over 24 miles, so it was 9 or nothing. The race began at 10 am and the weather was already 80 plus and humid. Even sitting under the pavilion was shirt-drenching. RD Justin gave us a few last minute instructions and about 30-35 of us took off. I was at the very end, naturally, so I was not surprised when everyone disappeared around the bend. I kept my eyes on the ground to watch for any rocks and roots determined to trip me and, aside from the debilitating heat, I felt pretty good. Over one short wooden bridge and then one longer one, past the half mile marker, then the one mile, the mile and a half, and the two-mile marker – all seemed to be good. Still following the arrows, I made another turn and then – whoops, there was the one-mile marker again! How did that happen? I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. I turned around to retrace my steps and began asking people who were running towards me how to get to mile 3. They pointed, I followed, and eventually found my way back to a recognizable place.

But getting lost cost me, not only in time and mileage but also mental courage. I had begun to panic when I realized I had somehow missed a turn. I lost at least 30 minutes by going in the wrong direction and having to retrace my steps. When I mentioned it at the aid station, I was told others had made the same error. After giving my bib number to the lap counters I set off again, this time determined not to get lost. After I hit mile 2, I looked carefully and saw that there was indeed an arrow pointing to the right but it was on the left side of the road and it looked as though we were supposed to make a quick brief right and then turn left (where 2 more arrows pointed up the road). I moved the first arrow to the left side of the road so I and others wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Later, someone moved it to the middle of the road, but that was okay and much more understandable than hidden on the left.

Bottom line – I think that people who are setting up directional signs for a race should walk the course with people who are NOT familiar with the course so any problems can be identified and signs appropriately placed.

Anyhow, my timing was completely off and I realized that I would not be able to get in 9 laps. As it got hotter (and yes, it did get even hotter) and as I got more and more tired, I had to watch the trail very carefully. My feet began to hurt. Initially I had put on a pair of Sketchers trail shoes, lightweight but probably too small, and after 3 hours on the course my feet started to swell. I switched to my Hokas, made a trip to the restroom, drank some seltzer water, and tried to eat something. But I didn’t find any food appealing. I tried a few potato chips and a peanut butter quarter. Nothing helped. I was glad I had brought along 3 small bottles of seltzer because that, along with water, was the only thing I seemed able to digest.

By 6 hours, I had had enough. I called Darcy to pick me up in an hour (our hotel, the Fairfield Inn, was about 45 minutes away) and was able to complete 7 laps before he arrived, bearing a serving of chocolate milk. I thanked the volunteers and RD and we left. We stopped at Publix to get some groceries (crackers, hummus, salad, cheddar cheese, and a little 4 pack of wine) and we had a picnic back at the hotel after my much-needed shower.

It was a day of discouragement, marked by several things I simply could not control. Getting lost, losing my appetite, wearing tight shoes, dealing with the hot sun and a pebbly course – it all seemed pretty overwhelming. I came across a huge tortoise along the trail that seemed to be moving faster than I was during that last lap.

Would I recommend this race for walkers? Yes, but with certain caveats – you must love the heat, enjoy trail races, and plan ahead (make sure to walk the course at least once before the race to make sure you understand the course). Me, I think I will skip this one next year.


Area 13.1 Half Marathon – August 13, 2016 (Roswell, GA)

I was attracted to this half marathon because of the neat Martian medal in the shape of an EBE (extraterrestrial biological entity). My husband, a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and space exploration, was willing to go along with me. After all, I did the Extraterrestrial 51k race in Area 51 in Nevada and we both enjoyed that trip, so why not try this race?

Roswell is a bedroom suburb just north of Atlanta, so traffic on Friday was heavy but fortunately most people were leaving the city while we were heading around it. Our hotel was an expansive quiet Doubletree on Holcomb Bridge Road situated about 1 ½ miles from the race site at Riverside Park. Since the race is an evening race that begins at 7 pm on Saturday, we probably could have left early Saturday morning, but we wanted time to check out the course during the daylight hours, so we drove up on Friday.

Whenever we travel around the Atlanta area, we can usually find a Taco Mac for at least one meal. That was true this time as well. Our Friday afternoon dinner was guacamole and chips, burger for Darcy, flatbread pizza for me, and a selection of local draft beers. We relaxed at the hotel and watched the Olympics.

Both of us were tired and slept late on Saturday (late for me is 7 am, but it still counts). It was strange not having to rise early to get ready for a morning race but it was also a nice change. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Peachtree Diner just down the road. Darcy had corned beef hash and eggs with biscuits and gravy while I delighted in a bagel, cream cheese, and lox platter. After we ate our fill, we drove down to the race site to get an idea of where to park for the race.

There were hours for packet pickup on Thursday and Friday at several running stores in nearby Marietta and Alpharetta but it was much easier for us to get my bib, chip (D-ring for shoe), and short-sleeve red tee shirt (cotton blend with an EBE on the front) at the park on Saturday afternoon from 4:30-6:45 pm. The parking lot was crowded when we arrived at 4:20 and as time passed it became much harder for people to find a spot. There was additional parking at another lot and along the road as well as an overflow lot in Sandy Springs with shuttle service.  It should be noted that in addition to the half marathon, there is also a popular 5k that begins ten minutes after the half start.

I met up with my friend Cheryl who arrived about 5:30. She was planning to register for the race but hadn’t made up her made until the evening before. I was happy to see her for several reasons; she and I have a similar pace plus I wanted to hand over some quilt tops I had sewn but wanted her to machine quilt for me. Cheryl makes beautiful quilts from tee shirts (her business is called Run With It Quilts and her website is and she made a very large one for me from 15 of my national and international racing shirts. I love to make quilt tops but simply can’t find time to hand quilt everything I make and I find machine quilting a burden, so I gave Cheryl five tops to machine quilt for me.

After Cheryl registered for the race, Darcy drove us back to the Doubletree so we could rest for a while. That seemed a better idea than standing around in the heat and sunshine waiting for the race start. Around 6:20, we returned to the park and Darcy dropped us off and returned to the hotel. Cheryl and I joined the throngs of other racers at the starting line. Someone sang the National Anthem and we began to move at 7 pm. Weather was still hot and humid but I knew that once the sun went down some of the heat would dissipate.

The first few miles were on road but then we turned onto a trail that wound around a lake. This trail portion only lasted for a mile or so but it was treacherous for me, with several big roots that crossed the path and the occasional loose rock. Most people would find it easy and very runnable but since I tend to trip over the smallest pebble, I slowed to a cautious walk. Once we were back on a paved path that ran parallel to the road we originally ran on I was fine and could pick up my pace once again. I was glad it was still daylight for this section of the race.

We passed by the starting area and through the park on our way to the other long out-and-back. This section was notable primarily for the very long but gentle incline from miles 5 through 7. We finally turned around at approximately mile 8 and I was relieved that the entire race except for the brief trail portion was all pavement. It was dark but everyone was prepared with headlamps and there were enough people in front of me that I could follow the course back to the finish line. Aid stations were every 2 – 3 miles, with water, Gatorade, and gels.

I finished in 3:04, a little slower than my usual time, but I was extremely pleased. My feet did not hurt at all (except for the usual post-race pain) and I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace throughout the race. I realized that I do need to work quite a bit on my speed if I am to regain my customary finishing times, but I think I am finally past the after surgery complications.

The medal is a glow-in-the-dark EBE medal, a fine addition to my collection of half marathon medals. The race is a fun race for walkers as long as they can handle some trail, don’t mind the August heat, and enjoy night races. Me, I am a morning person, so just staying awake until the race began was a challenge, but a worthwhile one.



Dane’s Nearly Free Run – Destin, Florida (July 30, 2016)

The premise is a neat one – just finish the specified number of miles within your chosen race’s time frame and you will be refunded your entire race registration in cash. For example, if you select the 6 hour race, you would need to complete 24 miles within 6 hours in order to get your $24 registration fee back. The 8 hour race required 32 miles to get a refund of $32 and the 12 hour race required 48 miles to get back $48. Those are pretty cheap registration fees to begin with, even without the potential to get one’s money back. If you don’t complete the required mileage, the money is donated to the Air Force Special Operations Combat Control Association. I decided to register for the 8 hour race and hoped to do at least 26.2 miles. Even if I were able to finish 32 miles, my plan was to donate my refund back to the Combat Control Association. It’s pretty hard to find ultra races in the southeast in the deep heat of summer, so I was happy to sign up for an inexpensive race.

At this point in my recovery from foot surgery (just over 3 months), I wasn’t sure I could even get in a marathon distance but I was game to try. If I succeeded – great! If not, it would be a relatively inexpensive training race. Since the 8 hour race began at 11 am, we left early Saturday morning for the 3 hour drive to the popular beach resort town of Destin, arriving about an hour ahead of time thanks to entering into the Central Time Zone. We found the race site at the Morgan Sports Complex without a problem. I set up several chairs alongside the course, with my drop bag on one, a cooler with ice and snacks on another, and one just to sit on. After checking in with the race officials and getting my bibs (one for the front, one for the back), I just sat and waited. My friend Cheryl soon arrived and we kibitzed until the prerace briefing at 5 minutes to 11.

While this is an extremely low-key race, with only 23 entrants in all 3 races, there were a number of rules that had to be followed in order to avoid disqualification. For instance, racers could not:

  • set up any kind of shade for themselves – no umbrella or tent (although their supporters were free to do so)
  • leave the course to go into their (air-conditioned) car
  • receive aid outside of the official aid area

We were also promised to be yelled at, jeered, and encouraged to quit early (obviously so we would relinquish our registration fees) and every so often, race officials would walk the .83 mile course clockwise (as we ran or walked counter-clockwise) yelling at us to give up and ring the little bell to announce we were throwing in the towel. I think I was more worried about being scolded for walking than I was about the high heat and humidity.

And yes, it was indeed hot and humid. Someone said the temperature reached 110 degrees and that was probably accurate. A few trees along the paved course gave us a thin sliver of shade in certain areas and occasionally there was a warm breeze. The only real relief from the sun and heat came during the early afternoon when some cloud cover gave us a brief respite. Otherwise it was pretty miserable even for a heat lover like myself.

To reach the marathon distance, I had to complete 32 laps. My plan was to finish 16 laps in 4 hours and repeat. Although I had some distinct soreness in my right foot, I was able to move at a 14 minute per lap pace for the first couple of hours. As I walked, I was able to forget about the pain in my foot and instead concentrated my discomfort totally on the burdensome heat. I had brought energy bars, cheese sticks, candied ginger, and crackers, but I only wanted seltzer water (3 bottles) and S-caps. I tried to eat but had no appetite and couldn’t even finish a small granola bar. The aid station provided ice and water but no food or other drink. I was so glad I brought my seltzer because it helped settle my stomach somewhat. I was glad I was only doing the 8 hour race.

During the brief period of cloud cover, I felt slightly energized but that didn’t last. I was happy to finish lap 30 after 7 hours on the course. Two more and I was done, with a total 26.88 miles, good enough for 1st place finish for women in the 8 hour. I was content. Okay, so there was no medal, no tee shirt, no beer mug – just satisfaction for having finished a fun race in August heat.

Darcy met me at the finish line and helped me pack up the chairs and other stuff. We stopped at a McDonald’s for some chocolate milk, then Subway for sandwiches and beverages, and finally our hotel, an attractive and quiet Hampton Inn in Niceville, a short distance away. I was tired, cramping, and covered in salt and sweat but a cool shower and a good night’s sleep helped immensely.

I definitely need to ramp up my speed and rebuild my endurance and stamina but I’m sure that will come in time. Meanwhile, this race is highly recommended for walkers who want an inexpensive chance to get in some training miles. There are bathrooms right on the course (hooray!) and the entire course is asphalt except for a small section on grass. There are also places to sit but I like having my own chairs. Be sure to bring your own food and drink and anything else you think you might need. I’m not sure if this will become an annual event but if it does, I may try it again.