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 http://gallery123uniques.com) 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.

Celebrating the 4th of July Weekend at Merrill’s Mile 24 Hour Race – July 2, 2016 (Dahlonega, GA)

Originally I had signed up for the 12-hour version of this race. However, I was concerned – and rightly so – that I might not be able to complete a 50k in 12 hours, not after two recent foot surgeries. My training race last weekend pointed that out clearly to me. When I emailed the race director about this problem, she was happy to transfer me up to the 24-hour race for just a small increase in the price. It was well worth it to me and made the difference between achieving my goal or being frustrated.

Darcy and I left for Georgia around 8 on Friday morning. Traffic was light until we reached the outskirts of Atlanta. Even the bypass routes, especially 285, were filled with lots of trucks and vacationers, but fortunately there were no tie ups or accidents. We kept moving, just slowly (kind of like me in ultras). It took us about 7 hours to reach our hotel, the Holiday Inn, on the outskirts of Dahlonega proper. We’ve stayed here before on two previous Merrill’s Mile races and the hotel is clean and convenient, with friendly accommodating staff.

We were hungry so we headed to the attractive downtown area which has street and free public parking lots and several appealing restaurants. As usual, Darcy had done his homework and chose several places for us to consider. We had an excellent lunch at Spirits Tavern, where I had a 4-cheese grilled sandwich, sweet Southern cole slaw, and a local brew, while Darcy had a burger with a fried egg on top and hard cider. The only real downside to this restaurant was the loud canned music; it was hard to have a conversation but the food was very good.

After we ate we walked to the North GA Running Company a couple of streets away and I picked up my bib and tee shirt (gray short-sleeve tech – I love the design on the back but can’t stand the slippery feel) plus some arm bands made of the same material. I will give the arm bands to a runner friend who also does ultras and doesn’t mind the tech fabric. The races are chip timed but we had to get the ankle chips on race morning.

Then we returned to the hotel to see if I could get some sleep. Amazingly enough, I fell asleep quickly and slept all the way until 4 in the morning. Since the races began at 9 on Saturday morning, there was no reason to get up too early. I had my coffee and then lounged around until Darcy woke. We wandered down to the lobby so he could get something to eat and then left at 7:30 for the race site at Camp Frank D. Merrill (an Army Ranger training camp). It took about 30 minutes driving time. We arrived around 8 and I set up my chair and drop bag inside the oval loop of the paved course in between several runner tents. Later I moved my stuff to a ‘free’ tent for runners who didn’t have their own so I could keep my things out of the sunshine.

Merrill’s Mile has a race for everyone. One can choose between 6, 12, 24, or 48-hour time limits, beginning on Saturday or Sunday in the morning or evening. Because the 0.9902 mile paved oval is not shaded at all, many wise participants opted to start the 6 or 12-hour race in the evening hours to avoid the very hot sun. Of course, that was not me. I wanted to begin at 9 in the morning so I could enjoy all that sunshine and humidity (and not all of that is meant to be sarcasm – I do prefer heat to cold and humidity to rain or snow, but it was hot even for me).

There is one aid station that has the usual ultra food choices plus watermelon and popsicles. I mostly relied on my own food, especially since I ate a filling dinner in the middle of the race, but I did enjoy the tortilla filled with sweet potatoes and black beans – yum! At the opposite end of the course is a table with just water, handy for filling up a water bottle without any crowding.

The fact that the ‘mile’ is not really a mile means that it takes several laps to achieve any reasonable distance so I figured I would have to do 34 laps to get in my 50k distance. That would give me 31 miles plus some extra for insurance. I had a plan. I wanted to stay on the course all morning and for part of the afternoon. Darcy would check on me around 4 pm and if I felt I needed a break (and I was sure that I would), he would drive me back to the hotel and I would rest for several hours or perhaps overnight and then return me to the course to finish up. There was no phone service at the Camp except for Verizon and since we had ATT, there was no way I give him a call at any hour to say ‘come pick me up now, please.’

I was doing fine until my 15th lap when my feet started to hurt and burn. I did another 8 laps, more slowly each go-around and thought seriously about changing shoes (I had 4 pairs of various sizes and widths) but it was so close to 4 o’clock at that point I decided to stick it out with what I was wearing (my very comfortable New Balance Boracay men’s size 10 D) until Darcy appeared. He showed up promptly at 4 and I was ready to head out with him. I left word with the RD and time keeper that I was taking an extended break and we drove to Dahlonega and the Bourbon Street Grille. I wasn’t very hungry but I knew Darcy was famished so he ate and I nibbled (the steak and guacamole salad was great but I saved most of it for breakfast after the race). Then we went back to the hotel where I showered, changed clothes, and elevated my legs on some pillows while icing my feet.

It made a difference. Four hours later my feet were still sore but not as wrecked as they were earlier. Although I seldom take any medicine while racing, I did take one Aleve just for extra insurance. I put on the same pair of NB (yes, they were that comfortable), packed my other 3 shoes just in case, and at 8:30 pm we headed back to the course.

I had completed 23 laps before we left at 4, so I had 11 more to reach that magic 50k number. I decided to just stay the night and arranged for Darcy to come get me at 4 am. I figured that the 7 hours from 9 pm to 4 am should give me plenty of time to do at least 11 laps, maybe more, and also allow me time to rest if need be. Night is not my favorite time to race but this experience would come in handy for the upcoming 24 hour races on my schedule.

Without the hot sun, it was surprisingly pleasant on the course. The humidity was still present but there was also a cool refreshing breeze. Fireflies and other bugs were plentiful and we could hear frogs in the nearby creeks. The RD warned us about the possibility of poisonous snakes crossing the road in the darkness but I never saw any (and, believe me, I was watching for them!). I managed to do those 11 laps before midnight and then just kept on going. I did change shoes once or twice, mostly for a chance to sit down and rest a bit. Final tally: 43 laps=42.795 miles in 14 hours on the course (broken up into two 7 hour segments). I usually do 40 to 45 miles in a 12-hour race but I was very grateful to have the full 24 hours to get this number.

At 4 am Darcy was waiting for me to finish my final lap. I turned in my chip, received my dog tag medal, and we took off for the hotel where I promptly fell into a sound slumber. A couple of hours later we were on the road headed for home. It turned out to be a great 4th of July weekend!

Getting Back to Racing by Run(ing) Down the Aisle for (almost) 8 Hours : Suwanee, GA (June 25, 2016)

It was time! I felt extremely eager to get out there to restart my racing ‘career’ despite my concerns. I was approximately 5 weeks (left foot) and 9 weeks (right foot) post-surgeries and still experiencing intermittent pain, swelling, and soreness. Once the pins had been removed from my left foot, I had begun walking – slowly – but I had not done more than 5 miles a day. And when I say I was moving slowly, I mean VERY slowly. I began by doing 30 minute miles and managed to get that down to 25 minutes. I would go out early in the morning before sunrise to get 3 miles done while the Florida heat and humidity were still reasonable and then aim for another couple of miles during the heat of the day so I could acclimate to warmer temperatures.

Did I feel ready for Run Down the Aisle? Not at all! But at least this was a timed race so just getting out there would save me from the dreaded DNF and I could experience a racing environment without worrying about how many miles I had to do.

Darcy and I drove up to Suwanee, GA, on Friday morning. We stayed at a local Fairfield Inn and had some excellent meals and draft beer at a nearby Taco Mac.

This was a unique race in many respects. Heather and Patrick, the race directors, had met at a race and decided it would be a wonderful idea to get married at one. They chose lovely George Pierce Park in Suwannee, Georgia, for their venue and invited their family and friends as well as any runner who wanted to join them in a timed 8-hour race in 100 degree Georgia heat. Heather wore a white running outfit with a short veil while Patrick donned a tee shirt (at least for part of the race) and shorts and exchanged vows in front of a lake while about 30 runners and a number of guests and family looked on. There was sparkling (non-alcoholic) cider, a wedding cake, and the usual array of ultra snacks, plus pizza at noon.

The course was a paved .55-mile loop around a lake; about 4 hours into the race everyone changed direction so we had a chance to experience the few minor ‘hills’ in a different way. The race began about 7:05 in the morning and ended at 3 pm. Friendly volunteers kept track of our laps and occasionally would pace us on a loop or two (thanks, Kevin). There was a big covered pavilion where we could set up our own chair and belongings. And – joy of joy – there were real bathrooms!

I did have a few goals for this race but I kept them flexible. I figured as long as I got out there and did 6 miles it would be more than I had done since my last race, a half marathon, back in April. If I could do 6 miles, I would try to get in a half marathon distance, and if I were successful then I would aim for 15 miles. To count the race for Maniac statistics, I would need to complete 48 laps. Normally, that would not be a problem. I can finish a marathon distance in under 8 hours without a hitch. Normally. But this was a very different situation and I realized going in that I would not be able to complete 26.2 miles even if I still had the stamina to do so. My feet just wouldn’t go that far without considerable pain. And that might not be wise in any case.

How did I do? Surprisingly well, considering. When I began the race, I had some pain and discomfort in both feet but after a few laps my left foot felt pretty good. My right foot, on the other hand, was very sore and gave me trouble the entire race, though the pain changed from a 5 to a 9. I thought that was kind of strange because my right foot was 9 weeks past surgery and should have been in better shape. Of course, removing the bunion from that foot involved bone reduction and was probably more traumatic than the soft tissue excisions on my left foot.

I managed to do 13.1 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes and was extremely pleased. That was only about 20-25 minutes longer than my usual half marathon time. I did a few more loops and began to think positively about maybe getting that elusive 26.2 miles in. If I could do another half marathon in another 3:15, I would even finish with time to spare. Well, that was not to be. After reaching 15 miles, the wheels came off and I began to experience a lot of pain in both feet. Heat played a factor as well, since the temperature rose to 100 degrees; several runners cut their race short because it was just too darn hot. I don’t usually mind hot weather but added to my foot difficulties, it became just an additional nuisance.

I changed shoes, thinking that might help. I have been wearing D-width New Balance shoes and my wide toe box Altras because they are the only shoes that can accommodate my swollen feet. My toes are still so tender that I cannot wear my Injinji socks so I have to wear larger softer fluffier socks. But blisters were the least of my problems. After 2 additional shoe and sock changes, I realized that I had reached my limit. At 19.2 miles and 6 hours and 15 minutes, I called it a day.

Yes, I could have stayed a couple more hours and trudged around for a few more loops but my scars looked red and angry and they hurt. I was apprehensive about doing damage that would keep me from sticking to the rest of my racing schedule. I called Darcy and asked him to come get me. While I waited for him, I rested on one of the picnic benches (right next to the cake, of course) and chatted with the volunteers and other racers. Although it was Heather and Patrick’s celebration, every runner got some presents. Our medal was an attractive one, with pink and red conjoined hearts, but we also received a key chain and ring box and a champagne glass; all these had Heather and Patrick’s name and the date on them. Plus, we were also given small bottles of bubbles to blow we could blow as well as sweet smelling rose petal soaps.

If Heather and Patrick decide to celebrate their anniversary every year by throwing another 8-hour race here, I will definitely sign up. And maybe next year I can reach that marathon distance (or better).