Hotter than H_ _ _ !! General and the Mrs. Run for the Heroes at Omaha (Omaha, GA)

Heat doesn’t usually bother me a bit, and I certainly prefer warm weather to cold, but this weekend’s race nearly did me in. Pity the poor runners who signed up for the 72 hour race; some – like strongman Kevin – did amazingly well, with over 200 miles at last count, while others suffered in the oven-like heat. Even my friend Sally, who wins practically every race she enters and, as a fellow Floridian, is accustomed to hot weather, decided to call it a day after reaching the 100 mile point. I was glad, under these circumstances, that I only registered for the 12 hour race, but even 12 hours was too much for me.

The course is a .85 miles loop located behind Omaha Brewery, a wonderful oasis in western Georgia farm country near the Alabama border. Although the terrain is primarily dirt and dust, there are a couple of small roots sticking upright or looping across the track. Of course, I managed to stumble over them and had to watch my footing carefully, especially as the day wore on and I got more fatigued. While the 72 and 48 hour participants started at 2 pm on Thursday and Friday respectively, those doing the 12 hour with me began Saturday at 8 am. This gave me a good 4 hours before the sun reached its zenith and during those hours I was feeling strong.

However, by 1 pm the heat intensified, and the few steep inclines and descents began to feel like mountains. I could feel myself huffing and puffing as I chugged up and coasted down them. There is no shade on the course except for a few places under the surrounding trees. On my way around the loop, I realized I was stopping in every one of those little spots to catch my breath and remove myself from the sun’s direct glare. My hopes of achieving a 50k in under 10 hours quickly dissipated. I decided a marathon distance would be achievable without requiring a trip to the ER, so I reconsidered my goal.

By 4 pm I must have looked sickly and pale because RD Kena approached me and asked if I wanted to sit in her air-conditioned car for a bit. I took her up on her generous offer. She also encouraged me to drink some electrolyte solution and had me check in with Doctor Joe, the MD on call, to make sure I wasn’t suffering from heat exhaustion. I decided to do a couple more laps to make sure I had at least 26.2 miles and then decided to call it a day. I collected my medal (a useful bottle opener) and thanked Kena and her crew for a fun if dramatically overheated race. Darcy and I packed up my chairs and drop bag and repaired to the air-conditioned brewery where we absorbed some of the local color by eating delicious food from the two food trucks, drinking excellent beer, and listening to live music.

In the future the race will probably be moved to a cooler time of year and that would certainly be a blessing. Whether I do the General and the Mrs. again is uncertain but I will definitely visit Omaha Brewery whenever I’m in the area.

Other things to note:

  • The tee shirt is a comfortable short-sleeved cotton in a subtle yellow color
  • There is no hotel or large grocery store nearby. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbus, which made it a 45 minute drive to and from the race site
  • There is one aid station with all kinds of ultra goodies, plus grilled sandwiches, hot dogs, and hamburgers, water, soda (including ginger ale), electrolyte solutions. About halfway around the loop is a table set up with ice water and electrolyte drink and I made it a practice to stop there quite a few times
  • There were 2 portapotties on the course and 4 at the start/finish line. Despite my decision to only do races with real bathrooms, I made an exception in this case. I wanted to have something in-between Operation Endurance in March and Southern Discomfort in July and this seemed to fit
  • The race has 1, 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 hour options but only the 12 hour started in the morning. The other races began at 2 pm
  • If you are going to be racing during the evening hours, be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight. I was told it was extremely dark during the nighttime.
  • The races are a fundraiser for the Chattahoochee Valley Chapter of House of Heroes, so registration fees and monies raised by runners goes to a great cause

Results have not yet been posted but I was told I completed 27 miles. Despite my love of hot weather, I was not sufficiently acclimated to walking in 100 degree heat for an extended period of time. My usual training walks had purposely been in the early morning hours before sunup. This race experience made me realize that I need to do some serious heat training, especially if I want to do well at Southern Discomfort in late summer, another hot weather race.

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Operation Endurance 24 Hour Race – March 23, 2019 (Columbus, GA)

Some races are just a lot of fun and I enjoy returning to them repeatedly. That’s how it is with Operation Endurance. This was my third attempt at the 24 hour and would have been my fourth if not for the stress fractures that sidelined me last year. I’ve also done the 12 hour version and found that to be near perfect, but stubbornness keeps me signing up for the longer race.

This year our usual hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, was full so we stayed at the Hampton Inn near Fort Benning and that turned out to be a good choice. It was very close to the race site (which is on the base) and the room was quiet and clean. The only negative was the lack of close-by restaurants but since there were several good brew pubs downtown, that was not really a problem. In fact, one of the highlights of this trip was the opportunity to have dinner and drinks with my friend and race director Kena and her BFF Stephanie at Nonic’s. The draft beer list at Nonic’s was extensive and I had a very satisfying IPA flight as well as a huge pretzel with beer cheese and mustard. However, the next day – during the race – I realized that I probably did not consume enough protein and, as a result, I encountered some digestive queasiness that might have been prevented with a heartier meal. But it seems no matter how many races I do, I always learn something I might have done better or differently.

On Friday afternoon, we stopped at the visitor center to get our weekend passes. Without a pass, one cannot enter the base, and it is so much easier and less crowded to stop the day before the race than the morning of. The weather was supposed to be clear and cold (40’s) at night and mid-70’s during the day, so I had to bring a variety of clothes so I could add and subtract as needed. Fortunately, there was NO RAIN and that was a blessing. However, the early mornings and late evenings were much colder than usual for this date in Columbus, and I was dressed in my usual 6 layers until the sun was up.

The track at Stewart Watson Field is just shy of a mile so it is necessary to do more than one lap to achieve one mile. After doing track ultras (where a mile is almost 5 laps), at first the miles seemed to come quickly but that sensation did not last long. A mile is still a mile. The course is relatively easy on one’s feet because of the packed dirt. I wore my gaiters to keep out the occasional pebble or two but I had no real problem with my feet or legs.

I did have a problem with my back, however. For some reason that I still cannot understand, I woke up race day morning with pain in my lower back. The bed at the hotel was a typical comfortable Hampton Inn bed so I can’t attribute the pain to my sleeping arrangement. I didn’t pick up or move anything heavy the day before. I seldom have back pain and have no idea as to why this happened. It did not stop me from starting the race, however, and I found that the very flat course did not make the pain worse, so I was able to continue racing for a total of 16 hours, broken into two segments. Yes, I succumbed as I often do when I get wet or cold or hurt and decided to spend the night in the hotel. My friend Mellody was doing the 12 hour and she generously offered me a ride back to our hotel and I decided to go (at that point I had completed 41 laps). I showered, ate several slices of pizza, drank some chocolate milk, brushed my teeth, and retired to bed. After 4 hours of sleep, I was ready to go again. My back was still sore but at least I was clean and rested.

It was freezing cold at 4 am on Sunday morning when I returned to the course but I was able to move steadily and consistently. I did not stop at all until I had it the 50 mile mark. Then I slowed down just a little but kept moving. During the still dark hours of the morning, I saw about 30 animals cross the course from one side to the other – these animals looked to be the size of medium -sized dogs and I thought perhaps they were coyotes. Only a few other runners were on the course at that time and we were all spaced far apart. At first I thought I might be hallucinating but when I caught up with the racer ahead of me (I was moving fast because I was nervous being out there alone with what might be wild animals!), I asked him if he had seen the animals too. He had (good!) and I was both relieved and apprehensive. When finished that lap, I asked Kena what these strange critters could be and she thought they were feral pigs, evidently a common animal in these parts. It was a neat experience once I knew the answer.

Other important stuff – our shirt this year was a light green cotton-poly short-sleeved tee, nice to add to my collection of Operation Endurance shirts. The race has a 6 hour and relay option in addition to the 12 and 24. Best of all, Smith Gym is open from 9 to 5 on Saturday and we can use their real bathrooms. If it had been open during the entire 24 hour period, I probably would have hidden there during the coldest part of the evening. There are also 3 portapotties but I much prefer the real bathrooms and I don’t care if I must walk a little bit to get to them. The aid station has typical ultra food, including pizza in the early evening.

The final results are not yet posted so I don’t know how I ranked, but I did manage to complete 57 laps which should equal 56 miles.

FastTrack Revisited (Palatka, FL) – January 19, 2019

In some ways, this year’s FastTrack was a much better experience for me than my previous race here. The weather was terrible – hot and humid on Saturday, rainy and windy Saturday evening – and I had several bad blisters, but overall I had a much better time this year than in 2018.

The race offers 3 options – a 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24 hour – and I once again did the 24 hour. Although the track is rubberized, the footing is harsh and feels like rough pavement (probably the reason I developed blisters on the soles and sides of both feet) but I didn’t have to worry about falling on the flat surface and gaiters kept the occasional pebble and other debris out of my shoes.

Around 7 am Saturday we set up my chairs and drop bags, and while we waited for pre-race instructions, I had a chance to chat with other racers. One of the best things about the race this year was visiting with some of my ultra friends, including Drina and Mike, Kevin and Annie, Doyle, Jimmie, and his wife Debra. Later in the day, my friend Kay, the RD of Perpetual Motion, arrived to do the 12 hour and we did several laps together.

The race began promptly at 8 am and we headed counterclockwise around the 398 meter track. Every four hours, we changed direction to give our legs and feet, as well as our minds, a break. I’m now used to the exasperating notion of having to do 5 laps to get one mile, so I never bothered to keep track of my numbers, instead relying totally on Mike Melton’s excellent timing system. As usual, my initial goal was to get to a 50k. That took me almost 9.5 hours. My only breaks were to visit the rest room twice. The cloudy and cool morning quickly gave way to a sunny 80 degree day; there is no shade on the course and the heat and humidity affected most of us.

Around 5 pm, Darcy arrived with coffee, chocolate milk, and tostadas and that gave me the opportunity to take a brief rest break to eat and drink real food. The blisters on my feet were starting to really bother me so I used this time to change shoes. Fifteen minutes later and I was back on the track. In addition to the food and drink, Darcy brought me a bag with my rain gear. My initial plan was to stay the entire 24 hours moving forward and – if it did rain (there was a 90% chance predicted) – I would put on rain pants, change my shoes and socks, and just keep going. At least that was my plan.

However, by the time the rain began around 8:30, my blisters were causing me to change my gait. I kept pushing through regardless, ignoring the pain as best I could. By 10:30 I was soaked to the skin. I gave serious thought to changing into my rain pants and putting on dry shoes and socks, but I was concerned that once I took off the wet shoes and socks, I would not be able to put dry shoes and socks back onto my bruised and irritated feet. I texted Darcy to come get me and when he arrived 15 minutes later, I turned in my ankle chip to Mike at the timing tent, assuring him I would return in the early morning to finish the race. By the time I left I was up to 47 miles.

What a blessing to return to the hotel for a shower, dry clothes, and a few hours of sleep! I manage to puncture a huge blister on my left foot but the blisters on the sole of my right foot were far too deep. When I rose at 3:30 Sunday morning, I felt much better, still sore, but ready for a few more hours of racing. I was back on the course by 4:30, and by the 8 am race finish I had managed to complete almost 60 miles (59.8 to be exact) in a total of 18 hours on the course. It was a better result than last year’s FastTrack, when I only achieved 53 miles.

We once again stayed at the local Hampton Inn, which was quiet, clean, and convenient. Although there are several local restaurants, we ate our Friday evening meal at Chili’s, mostly so I could stay with a familiar food regimen. Overall, it was a good experience, inclement weather notwithstanding.

 

The Tallahassee UltraDistance Classic, Marathon Version – December 8, 2018 (Wakulla Springs State Park, FL)

I’ve lost track of how many TUDC 50ks I’ve done. It was my very first ultradistance race and it was where I had a personal best (7:03) several years ago. Every year I can count on seeing the same friendly faces of numerous running and walking friends (Mellody, Julie, Deb, Vicky, Gary, and others), along with several ultramarathoners new to TUDC who have heard about the race and want to try it for themselves (including Phil, Elena, and Kim). It’s just a 45 minute drive for me but for those who come from farther away, lodging is available right at the start/finish line.

We were fortunate this year because the weather was cloudy and in the upper-40’s to start and the mid-60’s at the end, with no rain and minimal sun. The course is entirely paved and consists of a 10k loops on roads closed to traffic. There is plenty of space to set up drop bags or use your car as a personal aid station. This year, a marathon distance was added and, to make it easier on myself, I signed up for the shorter distance. Those doing the 50 miler have to do 8 laps, those running the 50k must do 5 laps, but marathoners only have to do 4 laps with a brief one-time additional loop at the very beginning. That worked out fine for me. I enjoy seeing my friends and the park is a wonderful example of old-time Florida. But the course includes 2 out-and-backs and the longer one seems to go on forever. After 26.2 miles, I was happy to finish.

The volunteers are wonderful, the race is chip-timed, and there is plenty of food and drink at the three aid stations. There are also real restrooms at the start/finish. There is a 10-hour time limit for all races. The race directors try to find something different for a premium instead of the usual race tee shirt. Last year we received a wonderful warm hoodie. This year’s gift was a long-sleeved hooded tee shirt with the Creature from the Black Lagoon on the front (movie aficionados will recall that the underwater scenes in the 1954 movie of the same name was filmed in Wakulla Springs). Marathon finishers received a ceramic medal with the Creature and date on it.

Fortunately, I had no major foot problems, although my left big toe (the broken one) gave me some painful moments. When I do timed ultras, I purposely try to keep my pace comfortably easy and consistent because I want to last the requisite 24 hours or so. However, when I do a half or a full marathon, I push myself harder and walk faster – I know I can’t dawdle or I won’t make the time limit. Of course, at TUDC, I knew I could manage a marathon in under 10 hours but since I hadn’t done a marathon since January 3 of this year (when I completed the last of the Lucky 13 Ocala marathon string) I felt rusty. I wanted to try and finish in under 7 hours, just to see if I could. I was pleasantly surprised to cross the finish line in 6:39.

Next year, who knows? I may return to the 50k or stick with the marathon distance. In either case, the TUMC is definitely a race to do again and again

A Long and Short Combo – The Stinger 24 Hour in Hampton, GA, and a 5k Turkey Trot in Tallahassee, FL

After a relatively good showing at Endless Mile 24 hour last month, I was cautiously optimistic about my second Stinger. It’s hard to believe that the Stinger is only in its second year because everything is so meticulously done, from an improved timing system this year to a well-stocked aid station, replete with pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, soup, potatoes, pickles, and bacon, plus chocolate cookies and candies, and just about anything else a racer could want. Best of all, there are lots of clean heated bathrooms as well as two porta-potties adjacent to the far side of the track.

The race takes place on a high school track that measures just under 400 meters so it takes 5 laps to constitute a mile plus. Packet pickup is at 7 the morning of the race and this year runners received a long- sleeve shirt (cotton-poly blend) and a fleece blanket. Nighttime temperatures are notoriously frigid in northern Georgia in late November so a blanket was welcome and I saw several runners with the blanket ensconced around their shoulders as they trudged through the early morning cold. I was familiar enough with the weather that I had no need for a blanket – this year I packed plenty of warm clothes. I simply added and deleted clothes as needed; at the coldest point, I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, long-sleeve turtle neck, fleece shirt, light jacket, heavier jacket, really heavy jacket, and my heaviest jacket with fleece hood. In addition, I had mittens, hand warmers, hat, and scarf. Fortunately, it did not rain at all this year, though everything had a thick coating of frost by the time the race concluded.

The only thing I find difficult about this race is the abbreviated distance – it seems like it takes forever to complete a mile – but that is all in my mental attitude. We change direction every 3 hours, which helps a lot to keep us balanced (and to keep me from feeling dizzy!). Runners can set up their tents and chairs on the grassy interior of the track. Because there was no rain this year, I was fine with my usual setup of 3 chairs and a small cooler for my peanuts and club soda.

My goals – aside from my usual ‘have fun, don’t die’ – were to do a minimum of 32 miles so I could count it for my stats. I would then aim for 50 miles. Anything beyond that would be wonderful. My ultimate goal was 100k (62 miles) but I wasn’t sure if my feet could manage that. Last year at the Stinger I did 58 miles, good enough for 2nd place female. This year there were twice the number of runners in all categories (6, 12, and 24 hour races) so the competition was fierce.

I wanted to last the entire 24 hours, but fatigue and the cold (despite my all warm clothes) finally got to me around 5 am and I put in a call to Darcy to come get me. Until he arrived, I kept moving (it was too cold to stop or even slow down) and I managed to complete 66 miles, finishing as 4th place female.

My feet suffered the usual swelling and soreness but I don’t think I did any major damage to my feet and my recurrent stress fractures. Now, one week later, the only pain I have is in my left big toe (the one I broke) and that pain is not debilitating. Maybe doing one major race a month helps with recovery and healing (funny how it took me a decade to learn this).

Since Hampton is a very small town, we stayed 10 minutes away in McDonough at the Hilton Garden Inn. It was a decent hotel with a host of eating places nearby. We dined at Taco Mac but there is a Culver’s within walking distance and many more restaurants across the highway at the mall.

A few days of rest and I was ready to attempt a local turkey trot with my son and daughter-in-law (DIL). There is a 10k and 15k but the three of us did the 5k, along with about 3500 other runners, walkers, and strollers. It was a relaxed easy race through residential streets, only slight inclines, and lots of music and good spirits. My son took off at a 9-10 minute pace and well finished ahead of us, but this was my daughter-in-law’s first race so we kept to a 13-14 minute walking pace and finished together in 41 minutes. My DIL is not a runner (though she certainly could be – she is a dancer and very athletic) but for a first race, she did admirably. I finished 2nd in my age group out of 31 participants – that was a welcome surprise. After the race, I headed home to roast a turkey and fix the rest of thanksgiving dinner. After completing a total of 69 miles this week, I certainly enjoyed preparing and consuming a hearty meal!

Endless Mile 24 Hour – October 20, 2018 (Alabaster, AL)

This turned out to be my real comeback race. After the debacle at Southern Discomfort in July, where I was fearful of pushing too hard because of my continuing battle with stress fractures, I was uncertain whether I could handle even a marathon distance. I was determined to try for a 50k, even if it took me all 24 hours.

Weather in central Alabama is unpredictable. Two years ago I had expected mild autumn temperatures and was blindsided by freezing cold. Last year – when I did the 48 hour – I came prepared for the cold but instead enjoyed mild summer like temps during the day and cool clear but not frigid nights. On both occasions I was plagued by blisters on the balls of my feet. Between weather and foot problems, I never stayed on the course the entire time and left early before the race officially ended.

Well, I had the same experience this year. The weather on Saturday morning was rainy and overcast and then warmed up to 65 under cloudy skies. Since persistent rain was predicted for the entire morning, I felt relieved when the wet weather failed to show up. Instead we had just brief intermittent showers until early afternoon. By 6 pm, however, the wind picked up and the cold began in earnest. This time I was ready and began layering on my jackets (6 of them), scarf, cowl, hat, and mittens. For most of Saturday evening and the early hours on Sunday I was fine.

However, while I didn’t suffer from blisters this year, I did feel pain in my feet. Ever fearful of the threat of stress fractures recurring, I wanted to take frequent rest breaks, but I held off on my first chance to sit down until I had reached 24 miles. Around 4 pm Darcy brought me some coffee (at my request – I needed the caffeine to keep me going all night long) and that gave me a chance to change into long pants for the evening and rest my aching legs and feet.

I can’t remember exactly what time it was when I got to 32 laps but once I reached that goal, I was relieved. At that point, my plan was to push on until I just couldn’t go any further. I wasn’t sleepy at all and knew I could make it to the end of the race at 9 am on Sunday if everything continued as it was. However, that was not to be. Soon, my feet began to hurt and I very much wanted the chance to put my legs up and rest. The only problem was that the music from the aid station was extremely loud and I found it impossible to lie still with the pounding from the constant noise. At one point, I found a pavilion at the opposite end of the course where it was relatively quiet and I lay down on the extremely narrow bench, with my legs on the picnic table. Uncomfortable? Definitely! But it did give me a chance to rest a little in peace.

I also experienced some digestive problems, probably due to a lack of real food. There was no pizza for the 6, 12, and 24 hour options and that was a disappointment. I tried some soup, grilled cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches, but nothing seemed to help. Next time, I will ask Darcy to provide me a burger or egg sandwich from McDonald’s or Dunkin.

By 3 am, the wind picked up and began to chill me, right through my multiple layers. Specks of something (dirt? grass?) were blowing into my eyes, despite my glasses. I waited until 4:30 before I gave up and decided to call Darcy to come get me. Once again, I just couldn’t last at Endless Mile, but at least this time I did 57 miles, one more than my other 24 hour venture here. Just being able to do that 50k was a major accomplishment so I was pleased.

My previous posts about this race give detailed information about the course and the race choices so I won’t repeat that stuff here. Suffice it to say that the course is paved, easy to follow, partially shaded, and has only 2 inclines. The timing system was a little different this year and – for the most part – worked well. We stayed at a new Holiday Inn right in Alabaster (in previous years, we had stayed at a so-so Hampton Inn in neighboring Calera). The Holiday Inn was clean, quiet, and closer to the race site. It was also surrounded by restaurants like Olive Garden, convenience stores like Target and Walmart, and groceries like Publix.

My advice to walkers who want to try this race would be to come prepared for all kinds of weather, bring any essential food and drink, set up your personal aid station far away from the timing mat/aid station (if loud music is not your thing), and enjoy the people and the atmosphere.

Walking and Knitting – My Latest Pursuit

I know there are people out there who walk and read. That never interested me because I would inevitably walk into a wall or utility pole or car while immersed in my book. Of course, with my proclivity to fall even when I pay close attention to my surroundings, I could easily envision breaking several bones as well. I never took seriously the challenge of walking while reading.

However, in a recent class given by physical therapist and knitter Carson Demers, I learned about the extensive history of knitters who walked while doing chores, minding children, or working on farms. According to Demers, it was only since the Industrial Revolution that people had the leisure and luxury to sit and just knit. This piqued my interest, since I seldom look down at my handwork unless I am following a difficult pattern or concentrating on a new technique. I can crochet and knit while watching television – in fact, I have a problem sitting and watching a program without something in my hands to occupy me. When I was younger, I often read while I knitted; unfortunately, my eyesight doesn’t allow me to do that anymore. But walking and knitting? Why not?

In researching knitting and walking, I also learned about relay races that involve teams of knitters who walk an established course, often on dirt or grass, use double-pointed needles to knit (harder to do, in my estimation, than using circular needles), and who hand off their knitting to the next team member as they complete their turn. These races are mostly in European countries and that may be why here in America we have not adopted this practice. Maybe there just isn’t enough interest here either. But the whole concept intrigued me.

I began my experiment by carefully reviewing the common-sense tips offered by Demers for knitters who wanted to try knitting and walking. He suggests paying careful attention to the environment (practice in your home first and don’t try crossing streets while knitting), use blunt tipped needles, inexpensive yarn, and an easy pattern, wear comfortable shoes, and waist pack or cross-body bag to carry the yarn.

I took these suggestions to heart and began thinking about how I could try out this new challenge. At first, I thought that an old fanny pack or apron with pockets would work well to put my yarn in. However, I found that a small lightweight keyhole bag with a comfortably wide cotton strap was perfect. I had made three of these when I was in a recent sewing mood but had not used any of them. They were too small to use as purses, but each one can easily hold a ball of cotton yarn and lightweight plastic Denise circular needles. The plastic needles are essential; if I fell with them, they wouldn’t break or puncture my skin.

Next, I had to decide on a pattern. I wanted something easy so I chose a plain garter stitch dishcloth. I usually make these following charted designs or elaborate patterns, but for walking, simple seemed best, so I cast on about 35 stitches, did a few rows while walking around my house to test it out, and then hit the streets in my neighborhood. Wonder of wonders, I found that walking while knitting was a piece of cake. Even wearing my distance glasses, I had no trouble watching the road, only occasionally glancing down at my fingers to check my work. Of course, I chose a time during the middle of the day when traffic was light. My neighborhood does not have sidewalks so I have to use the road, but this is a good thing since there are not uneven pavements or tree roots interfering with cement walkways.

So far, the only really difficult thing about knitting and walking is enduring the strange stares from my neighbors and the delivery persons as they watch me, a somewhat eccentric older woman, who walks around knitting.  I’m not yet ready to enter a relay race but maybe after practicing a bit more – who knows?