Adventures in Appalachia: Three Marathons plus a Half in Four Days (October 12-15, 2017)

Lest anyone think that completing 3 full marathons plus a half marathon in 4 days is a great achievement, the supreme accomplishment is racing all 9 – that’s correct, NINE – marathons or half marathons in 9 days for the entire series of Appalachian races. Mainly Marathons (MM) puts on these crazy races in every geographic area of the United States, including Hawaii and – soon – Alaska. For people attempting to do races in every state, running or walking in the MM series of races will help them succeed quickly and with a minimum of expense. It’s still expensive, but not so costly as planning a trip individually to all 50 states.

I did several races in the Appalachian series a few years ago, in North and South Carolina and Georgia. This year the organization decided to expand to Alabama and Florida, so I signed up for Lizella, GA, Eufalla, AL, and two in the Florida panhandle in the small towns of Cottondale and Marianna. Each race had its own flavor and distinctiveness. MM races are usually held in parks and trails in small to medium cities, with driving distances between venues anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles. This particular series began in Virginia and West Virginia, moving on to Bristol, TN, Fletcher, NC, and Seneca, SC. I joined the group in Georgia and stayed until the series ended on Sunday.

We drove to Macon, GA, on Wednesday and looked for the race venue in neighboring Lizella before checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Macon, just off I-475. It’s always a good idea when doing these races to find the next day’s location beforehand because the races begin so early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30 am, depending on whether one takes the early start). This race was in Arrowhead Park, an extensive rural area with campgrounds, trails, and lakes. The double-lollypop course was paved but extremely hilly and confusing. The day was hot and humid with no shade. After the requisite 12 loops for the marathon, I still found the course convoluted and had to keep watch for the signage and flags. There were bathrooms but the stalls had no doors! My finishing time – 7:15.

The next day’s race was in Eufalla, Alabama, on the Yoholo-Micco Trail. This day turned out to be my favorite because it was a scenic rails-to-trails course, all paved and relatively straight out-and-back, and even though it was hot, there was some shade. Only negative was the 3 portapotties (just 3 for all of us plus other visitors) but at least they had doors! My finishing time – 6:55.

After Alabama, we drove to Cottondale, Florida, for the first of two races in the panhandle. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Marianna for both races, since the two towns are only 10 miles apart. The Cottondale race was held in a park (called the Athletic Fields) and it was a paved circuitous course with just a small broken gravel section. There was some shade, which helped stave off the worst of the heat and humidity. This was my second favorite course, though it took me longer to finish – 7:30 (fatigue must have begun to take effect).

The final race was in Citizen’s Lodge Park in Marianna. This was supposed to be partly crushed gravel, partly paved, with some shade. Because most of us complained of the sunshine beating down on us in the earlier races, the organizers decided to change some of the course to include a couple of forested rocky and rooty trail sections. That tree cover certainly helped with the heat but the trail made the footing far more treacherous. The crushed gravel turned out to be chunks of gravel combined with occasional large rocks. I kept my head down for a good part of this race to make sure I didn’t fall. Somebody did, in fact, take a bad tumble, but he was able to continue with the race. Because of the precarious nature of the course, I wisely decided to drop to the half on this day. Positive aspect of this race – real bathrooms (yes, with doors). Finishing time, a PW for me – 4:30. Of course some of that time was spent chatting with friends along the way and well worth the extra minutes expended.

Here are some tips if you are considering some of the MM races:

  • Check out the race area for the next day as soon as you arrive. It will be dark on race morning and you don’t want to get lost looking for the race start
  • Because it is dark if you take the early start, bring a flashlight or headlamp. You will only need for the first hour
  • There is usually a mat and benches to put a drop bag. I don’t usually bring a drop bag for a race less than a 50k, and I didn’t here, but it would have been a good idea to have a bag to store my jacket and light
  • The aid station has a lot of food so there is no need to bring snacks unless you have a special item you need. I always carry an energy or granola bar just in case but I never had to eat it; instead I indulged in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, and candy
  • You can sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or 50k, and if you change your mind and want to drop to a lower distance during the race, you can
  • Timing system uses rubber bands/elastics. Every time you pass by the start/finish, just pick one up and wear or carry them
  • Most of the races are done on loop or out-and-back courses, but they can be confusing since some are rather convoluted. My tack is to follow the person in front of me if in doubt as to where I should go
  • Stretch before driving to the next location. If I skip this, my legs cramp up and it is not too pleasant standing by the highway stretching while traffic whizzes by
  • There is no hard time limit, although slower racers are strongly encouraged to take the early start. Check out the results on the MM page and you will find finishing times as long as 9 hours. After all, some of these people have been doing ALL the races in the series and they are understandably tired. This is great from my point of view because I am not alone at the end of the races
  • Organizers, volunteers, and racers are exceptionally friendly. It is easy to share the difficulties of each day’s race with other people who understand your angst and fatigue.
  • The medals are unique, with a basic medal for the series and individual state medals for each state you finish and they latch on to each other
  • There is one tee shirt for the series. It used to be cotton but this year it was tech. When I refused the tech shirt, I was offered a past year’s cotton tee, which I gladly accepted
  • There is one bib for each series so you just wear that same bib and number for all the races in that grouping. Makes things easy
  • Be prepared by reading the course description for each day’s race but don’t be surprised if there are changes
  • The race venues for each series often change every year, but if by chance there is a return to Eufala or Cottondale/Marianna, River City Grill in Eufala and Madison’s Warehouse Restaurant in Marianna are excellent places to eat
  • Maniacs, 50 Staters, and members of other running clubs are offered a $10 discount per race

Bottom line – these races are great for walkers who are worried about time limits. Runners and walkers who want to quickly add to their statistics will also find MM races an easy way to accomplish this. On the other hand, I am glad I reached my 50-state goal by visiting major well-known cities and racing in marathons that took me around the most interesting sections of those cities. It took me almost 5 years to achieve that goal but it was time and money well spent. Now I can do MM races and other similar events for mileage accomplishments and race totals and enjoy the rural countryside and relaxed environment.

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Racing My Age at A Race for the Ages (ARFTA), August 31, 2017 (Manchester, TN)

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the entire state of Florida this weekend, I thought I’d better get my thoughts down quickly on this race before we lose power. In 2015, I did the inaugural running of this race and decided to try it once again. It was a perfect way to get in my goal of 70 miles without losing much sleep (literally).

Informally labeled as ‘the return of the graybeards,’ the race is a reunion of many famous ultrarunners who at the height of their speed and stamina broke numerous records and won innumerable races. Many of these wonder warriors are now in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Every year those who return are mindful that this might be the last time to visit with their pals – and for us younger racers, it might be our only opportunity to meet and talk with running legends. This year was indeed the final year for 86 year old Dan Baglione, who made it to the race but because of a recent fall could not participate in the actual running. He passed away several days later in a local hospital but not before he spent some time in the Ada Wright rec building where he chatted with many of his longtime pals.

The course is a one mile paved loop, mostly flat, with only one agonizing climb followed by a brief but steep downhill just before the timing mat. There are real bathrooms in two places on the course, a lot of places to set up one’s own tent and canopy, and space inside the rec building to put down a mat, chairs, drop bags, and loungers. The most unique aspect to this race is the way runners get to start: older runners begin first, depending on their age, so for me, at 70 years of age, I could start the race at 2 pm on Friday and I had 70 hours to do as many miles as I could accumulate. I decided to stay through the night and into Saturday so I could be sure to reach 70 miles. Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative; it rained all Friday afternoon and evening and into the wee hours of Saturday morning, causing my feet to blister and chafe. Still, I persisted. By 4 pm, 26 hours into the race for me and 72 miles, I had had enough. Darcy came and picked me up around 5 and I turned in my ankle chip to the timing tent so I could leave the course for a shower and nap. I was so tired that I fell asleep eating my slice of pizza. Had Darcy not taken a photo of me sitting up, pizza slice in hand, head nodding to the side and eyes closed, I would not have believed it. And no, I am not publishing that photo!

By four am on Sunday I was up and eager to get back to the race. My feet were painful, especially the blister on the sole of my left foot. It was enormous and very tender but I managed to put on some cushiony socks and my widest shoes and just decided to push on through. Fortunately, the rain had stopped and from that point until race end on Monday at noon we had pleasant weather. My next goal was to complete 100 miles; I was determined not to leave the course until I had reached that point. It took until about 2 pm to get to 103. The sun was out and it was beginning to get very hot and humid. I remembered from my previous experience at ARFTA that it was a good idea to rest during the hottest part of the day and continue on once the sun went down. I decided to take my own advice and returned to the hotel for a siesta. By six pm I was back on the course and ready to get in a few more miles until 9:30 pm. I spent another night at the hotel so I could get some real sleep. I always do better in the early morning hours, so I started up again on Monday morning and kept moving until 11 am, an hour before the race officially ended. At 136 miles, my blistered feet were extremely sore and I had developed a painful twist in my right knee, so I knew I had reached my limit.

There are several hotels within a mile or two of the race site. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and because it had a microwave and refrigerator, Darcy was able to keep me supplied with pizza and chocolate milk and other necessary goodies. There is no traditional aid station buffet and that takes some getting used to. Instead, the race director has the menu catered, this year by Cracker Barrel, but the meals are sit-down affairs, and I much prefer to eat while on the move. I also don’t care for meat loaf or fried catfish or cooked veggies, so I mostly abstained from the catered food and instead relied on bagels and pizza brought to me by Darcy.

By race end, I was eager to shower and change shoes so we didn’t stay for the awards ceremony. My reward for doing at least 100 miles was a neat buckle; in addition, all participants received a small plastic trophy (same as the one in 2015 but with the new date). The shirt is short-sleeved green cotton-poly, better (in my opinion) than the previous tech shirt. The entire experience at ARFTA was a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing familiar friends (Karen, Kay, Terrie, and Tom) and meeting lots of new ones (Mark, Barney, Pete, Dorothy, and more). This is a great timed ultra, especially for us seasoned runners and walkers.

A “Recovery” Race – Holston River 36 Hour, Bristol, TN (August 4, 2017)

This race was my fifth timed ultra in my attempt to reach my 70 miles/7 ultras goal for this year. Surely with 36 hours, I would be able to do at least 70 miles! However, I knew as soon as I viewed the course that it would be a hard event for me. I now prefer to think of Holston River as an opportunity to challenge myself, meet some friendly people, and recover from the previous week’s race.

Bristol, Tennessee, borders Bristol, Virginia, and is a very long drive from Florida. Because packet pickup was Friday afternoon from noon to 5 pm, with the race starting at 8 in the evening, Darcy and I left on Thursday morning and spent the night in Greenville, SC, at the Hilton Garden Inn. Greenville is a prosperous community with lots of shops and restaurants and is a good mid-point for a road trip. We had a filling repast at Red Robin (love those sweet potato fries), enjoyed a relaxing night’s sleep, and then left around 9 am for Bristol.

We arrived at the race site just before noon and toured the course before checking in. That’s when I realized that this would be a very difficult race for me. Although I knew beforehand that the terrain was a mix of crushed gravel, dirt, grass, and pavement, I hadn’t realized that some pieces of gravel were the size of good-sized chunks and extremely hard on the feet. The real deterrent though was a slippery incline and descent on the first out-and-back. I had to slow way down and step sideways to maintain my balance in that section, all the while trying hard to stay out of the way of faster runners. Since the race began at night, I would have to maneuver my way through the darkness on a course where I knew I would be unstable.

In addition to the first out-and-back, there was a circular dirt and grassy area, and another out-and-back that went alongside a riverbank. While that was my favorite section because it was brief, mostly packed dirt, and cool and shady, it would still be treacherous for me at night, since I would have to skirt the river to avoid falling in!   I thought seriously about dropping down to a shorter time (there were 12 and 24 options) but decided that I might need all 36 hours to just get in a 50k! The weather was cloudy before the race but rainstorms were predicted for Friday evening and there was no protected area where I could escape any torrents.

After mulling all this over at an excellent dinner at Aubrey’s, a local restaurant, I decided to do at least one or two laps (each lap was 1.5 miles) while it was still semi-daylight. That way I could tally a few miles and get a good feel for the course. If I thought it was too hazardous for me to remain through the evening, I would spend the night at our hotel (a Hampton Inn) and come back at first light to do the best I could. I cautiously managed to do two laps with few problems but by 9:15, darkness fell with a vengeance. My flashlight did little to help me see the trail and I realized my careful steps were holding up faster runners. I called it a night and returned early Saturday morning.

Daylight certainly makes a huge difference. Now that I was familiar with the course and its vagaries, I could make my way around each lap with more confidence. I kept going strong from about 5:45 am to 1 pm, when Darcy came to give me a break. I sat in the car with my feet up for about 20 minutes, ate some lunch, and changed shoes and socks. The gravel hurt my feet, especially on those blisters from last week’s race that still had not healed completely. I only needed a few more miles to get a 50k so I suggested that Darcy return to pick me up around 4. In those few hours, I managed to reach a total of 37.5 miles. I realized early on that 70 miles was out of my reach; as long as I could attain at least 32 miles, I could count it in my statistics. At 4 o’clock on the dot, with Darcy waiting nearby with the van, I handed in my ankle chip to the timekeeper and said my thanks and goodbyes to Netta the race director.

It was then back to the hotel for a shower and rest, then back to Aubrey’s for another good dinner. We left for home early Sunday morning, after a long 11 hour drive.

There are lots of excellent things about this race but I probably won’t do it again. It should be self-evident to me by now that I don’t like trails and I don’t like races that begin in the evening. Nighttime trail races are anathema to me. So why did I sign up for this one? I guess I thought that 36 hours would give me enough time and I didn’t realize how precarious the course would be for a timid trail animal like myself.

But now that it’s over, I am glad I did it. There are lots of terrific aspects to this race, so walkers who enjoy trails and are not deterred by nighttime racing might find Holston River a good choice:

  • The RD knows her stuff and puts on a great event. Everything and everyone works together seamlessly
  • Chip timing was accurate and a large computer screen made it easy to check one’s mileage each lap
  • There were lots of helpful volunteers
  • The one aid station had a variety of food choices and options for meals were written on a white chalk board that was easy to read. I think all large ultras should follow suit; it makes it easy to see what will be available and when
  • There was another aid station with just water before the first out-and-back
  • While there were plenty of porta potties along the course, there were also real bathrooms and showers. The bathroom stalls had shower curtains instead of doors but that worked fine. I am always so grateful for real restrooms and running water!
  • I brought both trail shoes and road shoes and wore both. Trail shoes aren’t a necessity but I knew they would help me master the dirt and gravel, especially if rain made the course slippery. But gaiters are a must to keep out those rocks!
  • On Saturday some people began using trekking poles and that seemed a good idea. Too bad I didn’t have mine with me
  • To keep registration costs low, there is an option to purchase a shirt (which I did not do) but it’s available
  • Runners were given a small cooler with a bandanna inside, good for filling with ice and putting under your cap or around your neck
  • The finisher award is a can opener; how fitting is that for a brewery race?
  • I also won a door prize – a pair of socks (yea, I can always use another pair of socks!)
  • The group of runners and walkers were about the friendliest I have ever experienced

Southern Discomfort 24 Hour Race (July 29, 2017) – Albany, GA

The discomfort in this race refers primarily to the weather; everything else is as close to perfection as possible in an inaugural event. Weather in southern Georgia is hot, very hot, and extremely humid. The area is also prone to sudden thunderstorms and drenching rain showers. I was aware of the precarious weather situation and I signed up for the race anyhow. What really bothers me is cold, and if I am cold and wet, I am miserable. Hot and wet – well, there is a chance my clothes and shoes will dry and I’ll survive.

Albany is just a short drive north from central Florida so Darcy and I left around noon on Friday. I had packed my usual two drop bags, one filled with an assortment of shoes and socks, the other with a change of clothes and various accoutrements like Vaseline, Body Glide, S-caps, and rain gear and stowed everything in our car along with two chairs and a cooler. No hand warmers this time. It took us about two hours to get to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. I had stayed here about 7 years earlier when I did the Snickers Marathon but hadn’t been back since. The hotel was still as decent as I remembered and our room up on the fifth floor faced away from the park and was very quiet. We had a filling lunch at Loco’s, where I had a tasty beef sandwich, sweet potato fries, and thirst-quenching IPA and Darcy a hamburger with a fried egg on top.

This race has several options, including a 12 hour and 6 hour, but since I was aiming for my 4th 70 miler this year, I knew I needed to register for the 24. All three races were set to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning. We were encouraged to get to the race site at Chehaw Park by 7 am to get our bib with chip on the back and various assorted goodies. Naturally we arrived early and by 6:45 I was scouting out a place to set up my chairs. There are many picnic tables and covered pavilions in the park but none are especially close to the start/finish line or the aid station, so I opted to set up out in the open air. Big mistake, as it turns out, because when it rained, it poured, right on my stuff, even though I had covered it with a plastic cover. When Darcy came to check on me later that afternoon, we moved my chairs and drop bags up to one of the covered pavilions; I wasn’t sure if the rain would start again (it did but not as hard) and I wanted a dry place to rest and change shoes during the evening hours,

The course is a paved gentle 1.1 mile loop around the park. We changed direction every 6 hours and that helped break the monotony and give our legs a chance to climb or descend the mild 20 feet incline on the loop. There are two sets of real bathrooms available, one was across from ‘my’ pavilion while the other was closer to a playground area. The latter has more toilets but no locks on the stall doors (probably to keep the kiddies from locking themselves in) so I tended to use the other. To get to either bathroom, or the pavilion, or any picnic tables, required stepping along some grassy, mulchy area, with a few roots, approximately 70’ in each direction. This was not a problem since I stepped carefully and used my flashlight to make sure I didn’t trip.

While the temperature rose to about 85 degrees and the humidity increased even more, it didn’t seem so hot, primarily because it was overcast or rainy the entire day; the course is partially shaded as well. The one aid station has water and electrolyte drinks but we were encouraged to bring our own water bottles. I brought my small hand-held as well as my larger one and both came in handy. Food was plentiful – cookies, salty snacks, pickles, and for dinner there was tasty pizza. Volunteers were terrific and frequently offered to make me soup or grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever I required. However, I was simply not hungry most of the time, and I found it difficult to consume anything. I took a slice of pizza and ate just half. Darcy brought me a bagel egg sandwich and Dunkin Donuts coffee and I ate about half the sandwich, all the coffee, and that was it.

When the light rain began at around 10 in the morning, it was almost a relief but when the drizzle turned into a harder downpour, I began to get soaked. A blister began to develop on the side of my right heel but I was hesitant to change shoes and socks at that point because all my things were damp, including my chairs. Darcy checked on me around 5:30 pm and I used that opportunity to take a break, rest my legs, and most importantly to change clothes, socks, and shoes in the car. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to pack a bag with dry clothes and leave it in the car. That accomplished, I felt ready to last another 12 – 14 hours.

To get to 70 miles, I had to complete 64 laps (I love courses that are just over 1 mile) and I checked at each go-around to make sure I was on track to make that number. Not all the bib-chips worked all the time but the race directors, John and Kelli, were also the timekeepers and they kept a written record to double-check the laps. I can’t say enough good things about John and Kelli; for a first-time race, everything worked superbly. I’m sure it was a ton of hard work but the RDs made it look so easy.

I was tired as day retreated into night and the sky darkened. The rain ceased but the humidity rose so it felt hotter than it probably was. Around 4 am, it cooled off a little and I could feel a slight breeze but by that time, I had developed more blisters, including a troublesome one on the sole of my left foot. I reached 63 laps by about 5 am and managed to drag myself around the course one last time to finish around 6 in the morning. Yes, it took me nearly an hour to do that final mile, after a restroom stop and occasional stretching my calves and quads. As I passed through the timing mat on that last lap, John and Kelli and the stalwart volunteers who were still there in those wee morning hours cheered me on. John walked me back to my chairs under the pavilion and offered to get me some food and my awards. I deferred and gratefully told him I just wanted to rest until Darcy came to get me around 7.

What a relief to change my shoes once again and put my feet up! Darcy arrived just at 7 and we stopped at the aid station to say our goodbyes. Sally, a runner from south Florida whom I had met at Save the Daylight and 8 Hours of Hell, was just finishing her 100 miles as we left. Amazing, especially under those conditions.

My prizes included a finisher beer glass (to get one of these, runners in the 6 hour had to complete a 50k, in the 12 hour 50 miles, and in the 24 hour a 100k) and, for an age group award, a painting done by Dubya, the Black Rhino, and an ostrich egg and display stand. Now, that was a first for me – a painting by a rhino plus an ostrich egg! Chehaw Park has a zoo and the paintings were done by the zoo animals. Nice touch and so very different. All racers also received an attractive blue cotton/poly shirt and a hat. Quite a lot of swag for a 24 hour race!

Things to note about this event:

  • There is a $3 per person entry fee to get into the park but one admission lasts all day. One can pay using cash or credit card.
  • The course has no sharp turns and it is difficult to get lost, even in the dark
  • There is some lighting but a flashlight or headlamp is still necessary at night
  • Bring lots of bug spray and plan to use it generously. The gnats or midges are very hungry and I am still itching.
  • Results were posted the same day the race ended – Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever had ultra results posted that fast before!

The hardest part of this race for me was dealing with the wet weather. The day after the race, my leg muscles were sore and I am still hobbling from the blisters on my feet. Next year, I plan to do the 24 hour again but I will set my stuff under a pavilion so I can change shoes, socks, and clothes as needed. But next year, maybe the weather will be perfect!

 

Hot, Muggy, Rainy – Just Another Merrill’s Mile in Dahlonega, GA (July 1-3, 2017)

Our drive to Dahlonega on the 4th of July holiday weekend was thankfully uneventful. Traffic queued up around Atlanta but we kept moving, albeit slowly. We arrived at our hotel (the Holiday Inn, a decent comfortable place to stay in this area) around 2 pm, checked in, and then drove downtown so we could have a filling lunch at our favorite restaurant here, the Bourbon Grille. My menu choice is usually the steak and guacamole salad with an Orpheus IPA; both never fail to please. After finishing our meal, we walked over to Dahlonega Mountain Sports where I picked up my bib, shirt (a poly/cotton blend this year with a patriotic design – I’ve already worn it twice), and cap (24/48 hour participants usually get something extra – this year it was a cap, last year it was arm warmers). We had to wait until race day to get our chips (and this year, the timing people forgot to send the ankle straps so I pinned my chip to my shorts with safety pins).

I had registered for the 48 hour race to ensure that I would achieve my goal of at least 70 miles. It sounds pretty easy – just 35 miles a day and I’d be done. But though the .9902 mile course is a flat, paved, oval with excellent line of sight, the weather always makes it an enormous challenge. There is NO shade at all on the course so racers must endure the usually hot blazing sun and 100% humidity with no relief. This year the bugs – gnats, bees, mosquitos, flies – seemed especially bothersome, but that may have been due to my sporadic use of bug spray, especially on the last two days. I was concentrating so hard on accumulating laps that I neglected to use sunscreen and bug deterrent during the latter days of the race and soon paid the price with lots of itchy bites.

The race has numerous categories; one can choose to run or walk for 6, 12, 24 or 48 hours and then can select from day or night options. As I have posted in previous blog reviews of Merrill’s Mile, I think the wisest plan for 12 hour participants is to do the nighttime race because the weather is cooler and breezier. Rain can be expected at any time and, since there is no place to shelter from a rainstorm, it is best to have a tent or car to escape to if there are thunderstorms and lightening. Fortunately, this year we had only one perilous period of heavy rain around 5:30 pm on the first day; it caught me off guard and I got thoroughly soaked, giving me a good excuse to call it a day as soon as Darcy arrived to check on me.

The race for most of us began at nine on Saturday morning. Despite the heat, I managed 33 laps, about 32 miles and approximately a 50k, below my goal of 35 miles. I had hoped to stay until 7 pm or so, but the torrential downpour soaked my clothes and I was thinking only of getting something dry and then eating real food. There are two aid stations here, one at the halfway point with a water jug, and one at the start/finish line that has all kinds of sweet and salty snacks. Unfortunately, nothing appealed to me, not even the watermelon and ice pops (though I ate both) and I was really hankering for pizza. Darcy arrived about 6 pm and took me back to the hotel, stopping at a Little Caesar’s to get some takeout. After showering, changing clothes, and crawling into bed, I devoured several slices of cheese pizza and crazy bread and fell asleep.

I awoke early Sunday morning, had my coffee and got dressed, and woke up Darcy for the drive back to the base. It must have been about 5 am when I started on my first loop of the day. The only change in the weather was the absence of any wind at all (at least on Saturday, some sporadic breezes helped to cool us off) and it continued to be blistering hot. At least for a few hours before sunrise I took advantage of the relative coolness and did my fastest laps of the day. I left at 3pm Sunday, ready for a meal and shower. Total number of laps for Sunday: 35, more than on Saturday and in less time. We once again ate at Bourbon Street Grille and then it was back to the hotel for the evening. I needed at least 72 laps to achieve my goal of 70 miles, and by the end of the 2nd day of racing I had 68 laps. All I needed was 4 more so my plan was to get out to the base very early and finish up on Monday morning.

That’s exactly what I did. On Monday, I began at 4:30 am and managed to get to 72 laps very quickly. Darcy was to come get me between 8:30 am and 9, when the race officially ended. That made for some enjoyable hours when I could take my time and gather more miles without worrying about my goal. I had the opportunity to do several laps with Kena, my race director friend from Columbus, and waved and chatted with several others. Only a few of us diehards were left on the course, since many had completed their races or met their goals and left. The two or three dozen tents that had been set up along the course had disappeared and only a few remained. Around 8:40 am, I finished my last lap (a total of 82.1 miles) received my dogtag medal, and said my goodbyes.

Aside from the heat, humidity, bugs, and rain – this was once again a great race. I enjoyed the chance to see some of my racing friends (Bettie, Kena, Roxanna, David, Joe and Kelly Fejes) and meet new ones. And I am one step closer to my 7/70/2017 ultra goal.

For walkers, this is a great opportunity to test how well you do in extremes of heat and humidity. I would suggest choosing the night 12 hour option to avoid the worst of the high temperatures. Also note that the only cell phone company with service here is Verizon, so ATT customers like me are out of luck. I wore gaiters even though the course is paved and relatively debris-free. When I omitted them once after changing shoes and socks, I immediately got an errant twig in my shoe. Bring a water bottle to use; no need to carry it all the time (I usually left mine on a chair) but it is more convenient than having to find a plastic cup with your name on it at the aid station table.

A Few More Things about Sole Challenge, 2017 version

I knew as soon as I published my blog post on this race that I would probably remember several other items that should be mentioned. First, a headlamp or flashlight is critical. There are few lights on the course and several sections are completely dark. I did see some runners without lights but they must have had perfect night vision; for me, it was difficult to see the signs to turn at the curves and a flashlight helped. I always bring extra batteries, too, just in case.

This year I didn’t need medical assistance during the race, as I did in 2014, so I’m not sure if any was available. Usually there is at least one medic or EMT at a race, either as a volunteer or fellow runner, and that may indeed have been the case this year. However, had I needed emergency first aid I am not sure how I would have known how to get it or who to ask, especially during the evening hours. I was reassured by my friends Joyce and Ray who would have helped me out.

Today is Friday and healing is progressing. The blister on my right sole is still sensitive to touch but I can put weight on my foot without pain. My left ankle is more problematic; it is still swollen and sore and I cannot walk without altering my gait. I am anxious to resume my morning walks but I know it is best to be patient. I am glad there are no races on my calendar this month so I can recuperate fully.

Sole Challenge 48 Hour Race (Chambersburg, PA) – May 26, 2017

This race was aptly named since it was indeed a challenge for me. Although I have previously completed several 48 and 72 hour races with only an occasional problem or injury, some timed endurance courses hold more stumbling blocks than others. Sole Challenge is a good example of one of the more problematic races for me, and I think it is largely due to the nature of the course.

When I did the 24-hour version of this race back in 2014, after 22 hours I was pulled from the course because I was wandering around disoriented and nauseous. Volunteers quickly placed me on the ground and elevated my legs on a chair, the correct solution to get blood moving from my feet to my head and thus alleviating my dizziness. I also had swelling and tenderness in a tendon on my left ankle that was so painful I could barely tolerate the slightest touch or pressure. My total mileage for the 22 hours spent on my feet was a respectable 68 miles, so while I was disappointed to not reach a higher total, I was still satisfied.

This year was the first time for the 48 hour race. My friend Joyce, who knew I was searching for decent timed races so I could reach my goal of 7 ultras with at least 70 miles in 2017, encouraged me to register. The race had a lot of positive things going for it: a paved course, real bathrooms, rural peaceful countryside, and nearby hotels and restaurants. And so I registered.

Pennsylvania is a long way from Florida, especially when you are used to staying close to home. Our only major trip this year was to San Antonio; all our other jaunts have been within 500 miles of home. This is partly because of the expense of traveling but also because my husband finds driving long distances to be exhausting mentally and physically. The cost of flying is ‘sky-high’ for two people and is no longer enjoyable. There are plenty of races in the southeast to keep me busy but timed road races are still relatively rare, so I cajoled and wheedled Darcy into agreeing to make the PA trip.

We left early on Wednesday morning. After an uneventful drive to Greenville, SC, a prosperous bustling town, we spent the night at a pleasant Hilton Garden Inn. On Thursday morning we left very early for the 10 hour drive to Chambersburg. Our hotel there was a clean and attractive Hampton Inn, about 15 minutes from the race site at Norlo Park.

One of the major complaints I had about this race was the lack of communication between the RD and participants. I had no information other than what was mentioned on the race website and Facebook page and neither had been updated for weeks. I emailed the RD about packet pickup and never received a response. Only when I messaged him via FB did I finally get an answer. I later learned that the RD had sent out two ‘final instructions’ emails but I never received either one. It would certainly have made life easier if he had responded to my email and made sure I was on his mailing list.

Darcy and I had a late lunch at Applebee’s and then I packed my two drop bags (one with 4 extra pairs of shoes and socks) and a cooler stuffed with seltzer and snacks, laid out my clothes for the morning, and tried to work out a plan for the next couple of days. Unlike those brave souls (like my friend Joyce) who plan to stay on the course for the entire 48 hours, sleeping in tents or in their cars, I like to shower, change clothes, and sleep in a real bed in a heated or air conditioned hotel room. I knew I could manage at least one 24 hour period awake and moving but beyond that I would need to recharge and get actual rest. The weather prediction called for thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon and evening and showers on Sunday morning so I decided to tough it out on Friday, the first night, and then when the storms moved in on Saturday I would return to the hotel and sleep. On Sunday morning I would return to the course and finish the final 6 hours or so in the rain if I had to.

Of course, this did not work out at all as planned. The rain, mostly a light drizzle, began on Friday and continued off and on throughout the weekend. I made my way around the 1.5 mile loop course feeling strong and determined for the first 12 hours. I was extremely glad I remembered to wear gaiters because – despite the asphalt course – there were tiny pebbles that would have caused me to stop every so often to empty my shoes. By noon, I was getting hungry but the small aid station had only water, sports drink, soda, and fruit, cookies, and pretzels. I ate some of the snacks I had brought from home but knew that real food would soon be a necessity if I were to stave off stomach problems. By 2:30 pm I was becoming desperate. I saw a runner on the course eating what looked like grilled cheese but as I passed the aid station there was still only tired bananas and cookies. It turned out that one group of participants had a grill and was cooking for their runners. I thought about begging some food from them, offering to pay with cash, but knew they would probably offer me some and I didn’t want to cut into their supply. I started to text Darcy about bringing me an egg and cheese bagel from Dunkin Donuts. Around 3 pm, I noticed several pizza boxes had been deposited on the aid station table. There was no person there, just the pizza, but I figured it was for all of us racers and took one slice to eat now and one to save for later just in case no more food showed up.

A paucity of food was one of my other major complaints about this race. Yes, eventually there were hot dogs and hamburgers but I would not have known about these options if Ray, Joyce’s husband, who was there for the duration of the race volunteering his services, had not kept me informed. In fact, Ray kept me hydrated and fed throughout the race. The lack of other volunteers was noticeable. There was nobody to let us know about things to eat and drink. On Saturday when I caught someone walking to the aid station with two boxes of pizza, I intercepted them, opened the top box, and took out a slice before he could put the boxes on the aid table. It’s not like me to be so bold, but I was hungry! After the race there was no breakfast food at all. Or maybe there was but nobody told me. As I said, communication was sparse.

As Friday evening wore on, I began to get sleepy but I knew I could last the night as long as it didn’t get too cold or wet. Whether I could hang in there until later in the day on Saturday was another matter. I did take a break of about 40 minutes, sleeping while sitting in a chair. The overall fatigue I expected; what was more problematic was the beginning of a deep blister on the sole of my right foot and the twinges of pain I felt in the tendon on my left ankle. That tendon pain was familiar; it was the same pain I had felt the last time I did this race. I did change shoes and socks at least three times during those first 23 hours. It got cold enough for me to put on a warmer jacket and exchange my shorts for long pants. By 7 am on Saturday, I had had enough. I called Darcy to come get me. I needed at least 48 laps to get 70 miles but had only managed to finish about 42 laps before I left to go back to the hotel for a shower and nap. I was back by 3 in the afternoon and stayed until 7 Saturday night. Despite some rain showers and the ever-increasing pain in my ankle, I completed 86 miles before calling it a night. At least I had reached my primary goal of 70 miles, so anything over that number I considered a major victory. We ordered takeout from a nearby Cracker Barrel and I indulged in eggs and French toast and chocolate milk.

On Sunday morning I woke from a deep sleep feeling refreshed. Darcy drove me back to the park at 5 am and I breezed around the course, limping a little and wincing from twinges of pain, but feeling much better than the night before. By 8 am at the close of the race, I had 98.431 miles in approximately 32 hours spent on the course. The RD handed me a medal and we said our goodbyes to Ray and Joyce and returned to the hotel for one more shower and breakfast.

Our trip home took two days since Darcy wanted to break up the long days of driving. We stayed at a Hampton Inn at the Roanoke Airport (with an excellent dinner at Carrabba’s) and then a Fairfield Inn in Commerce, GA. It was good to finally reach Florida!

My thoughts on this race are mixed. I really like the heated bathrooms and the course is set in a beautiful park in farm country. The race is chip timed with an ankle chip as well as one on our bib and the timing results as far as I could tell were accurate.  There was no easy way to see our results after each lap, so that was frustrating.  As far as the course itself, I think that there is something with the particular nature of this course that bothers my feet. There are several sharp turns that cause my feet to rotate slightly off-balance and may be the reason for the tendonitis in my ankle. The hard surface and long uphill grades as well as the relentless pounding on asphalt also caused problems for me. Communication from the RD was minimal (or non-existent in my case) and he lacked a corps of volunteers to help him with the essential things that make a race function optimally. In addition to the 48 hour option, there were also 6, 12, and 24 hour choices, as well as a certified marathon distance. That’s a lot to handle for what is basically a one-person show. Another problem was an apparent lack of financial backing for the race series. Although the registration fees are hefty ($200 for the 48-hour) and all the timed races were well-attended, there must have been other costs that ate into the fees. According to the race website, people who finished 100 miles in the 24 and everyone who lasted for the full 48 were supposed to get buckles but I saw nary a one.

I’m glad I did this race since it helped push me closer towards my 7 ultra/70 mile goal, but I doubt I will pursue it again. For those walkers who want to give it a try, it is worthwhile. If I lived closer, I would probably enter the 12 hour and aim for a 50k, thus alleviating any negative toll on my mind and body.