Seashore Trail 50K Race in Virginia Beach, VA

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d get a chance to try out my new trail shoes (Brooks Cascadia) on a real trail race before an important ultramarathon coming up in 2011. I’d get a chance to complete 30 races in one year (including one half marathon, with all the rest full marathons or ultras), bringing my total of lifetime marathons/ultras to 75. So, I signed up for the Seashore Trail 50K and made plans to fly into Norfolk, VA, on Friday, do the race on Saturday, and fly home on Sunday.
But as time approached, weather reports warned of snow and ice along the Atlantic coast, especially in the DC and Virginia area. I was prepared for the worst, and even packed a bigger carryon suitcase with extra supplies and warm clothes, just in case I got stuck somewhere on the trip. The Race Director kept us forewarned with several emails of possible changes to the course because of icy conditions and even of the chance, however remote, of a cancellation of the entire run. So, as Friday dawned, I was ready.
Made it to Atlanta with no problem and caught my flight into Norfolk, flying 1st class (thanks again, DELTA – it sure makes a difference when you are a gold medallion member – and I fly so frequently to races that I really do appreciate the unexpected upgrades). Snow on the ground everywhere in Norfolk, not high banks of snow, but there were definitely several inches. And it was cold! But roads were clear and local weather station said no precip expected until tomorrow evening. The race was on!
After checking into the host hotel (Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center – very nice older hotel, accommodating staff, every room was a suite with a balcony overlooking beautiful Chesapeake Bay), I started organizing my race clothes and things I would need for the next day. At 4 pm, packet pickup at the hotel began and I got my bib number and a pullover windbreaker that was miles too big. RD said they sent the wrong size (Large) and to email him afterwards and he’d try to get correct sizes. All participants still had to arrive at the race start early to get our chips. Next question was – How to get to the race start at First Landing State Park, about 1 mile away on a highway with no sidewalk? Fortunately, the hotel had a shuttle and they were willing to drive me to the park early the next morning. That saved me a lot of worry.
Saturday dawned cold and crisp. No rain or snow, but it turns out that any water on the roads and driveways and trails had iced over. I dressed in 4 layers of clothes plus a lined windbreaker with hood, mittens, cap, and handwarmers. At the park, I picked up my chip, put it on my ankle, and carefully made my way to the starting line. A few portapotties were set up and I made use of them – no lines at this point, although about 20 minutes later, there were dozens of people waiting.
The race began promptly at 8 am and we were off! Of course, I was at the back and trying hard to keep the folks ahead of me in sight so I would not get lost. I did have with me a course map but I wanted to look at it only if necessary – I needed to keep my eyes on the trail so I wouldn’t trip on the snow, ice, and roots. I stayed close on the heels of 4 local racewalkers who had done the inaugural race last year and knew the way.
The course consisted of 2 loops of trails circling around several portions of the park, with long out and back sections for each loop –kind of difficult to explain but relatively easy to follow when looking at a map. Fortunately, for the first loop, I found the snow easy to walk on (trail shoes probably made a difference) . During the second loop, however, much of the snow had melted, leaving mud (that was okay) and exposed roots (not so great). I only tripped once, but it was a hard fall, and I bruised my nose, knee, and ribs – but my glasses did not break (my biggest fear – I would not want to navigate a race unable to see) and I continued on but more carefully, with an eye out for those treacherous roots.
The park was beautiful, very eerie and ghostly, especially with the snow, ice, and cloudy weather. There were two well-stocked aid stations that racers passed a total of 4 times each – supplies included just about everything, from 3 varieties of sandwiches (including my favorite – pb and j), salty snacks, cookies, and candy, as well as water, Gatoraide, and soda. The volunteers stayed at their posts for every turn despite the 30 degree temps (it never did warm up much beyond that) and all were cheerful to boot, even for us back-of-the-packers.
By mile 21 or so, I could feel some pain behind my right knee so I eased up on my pace a bit. I had made the only cutoff with 45 minutes to spare, so I knew I would finish, although my time would not be as good as the previous week’s result. I crossed the finish line in7:37 and received a plaque, medal, and cap. I must have looked a bit dazed because a volunteer asked me if I needed water or to sit down. I responded that all I needed at this point was a ride back to my hotel and one kind volunteer (Steve) did drive me back. I called my husband to fill him in on my experience and then was ready for a shower and a delicious seafood pasta meal at the hotel restaurant. That was all I needed before turning in for the night (I had an early flight the next morning).
Turned out to be a pretty good idea after all.

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Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic (TUDC) – Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two years ago I challenged myself to go for a distance longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon and the 50k at TUDC was the race I chose to be my first ultra. There are two options in this Gulf Winds Track Club sponsored race – 50 miles or 50 k (about 31 miles). Since the course is only open for 10 hours, I felt the 50 k would be enough of a challenge. On that day I surprised myself by finishing in 7:13 hours.
This year I decided to do the 50 k again. Both races are held in Wakulla State Forest, about 30 minutes south of Tallahassee. There is a Lodge convenient to the start and finish and there are real bathrooms, a warm clubhouse meeting area, and a big parking space, all close by. Participants are encouraged to set up their own little aid stations anywhere along the course, so I brought a folding chair and a duffle bag filled with food, extra shoes and socks, sunglasses, and other important stuff. I set up my aid station just past the finish line, out of the way of the lap counters and official #1 aid station. There is another aid station with food and water about 3 miles away at one of the turn-arounds. The course is a loop course with two out-and- back extensions, very easy to follow and impossible to get lost (even for me!).
The course is on asphalt on roads closed to traffic for the duration of the run. It’s peaceful and tranquil and scenic. While the 5 loops for the 50 k and 8 loops for the 50 milers can get a bit monotonous, just resting my eyes on the trees and sky made up for the unchanging scenery. I occasionally moved to the pine covered paths next to the road to give my feet and legs a break from pounding pavement. One of the best things about this course is being able to greet and encourage other racers coming and going. And ultrarunners tend to be a friendly welcoming group of folks. Many marathoners who run tend to look down at walkers but ultrarunners realize that long distances often require walking and they are kind to those of us who walk.
The morning of the race dawned chilly but clear. I wore 4 layers of clothes under my hoodie, as well as 2 pairs of gloves and a scarf. After a brief pre-race briefing by Gary Griffin, the race director, we set off at 7 am. No chip timing here – but lap counters kept careful track of our bib numbers as we passed through each of the three checkpoints. As the weather warmed and the sun came out, I shed various layers of clothing, stuffing them in my duffle as I passed my little aid station. Four loops went by and I was feeling great, just a bit tired and sore, and by the final loop I caught up with a runner who had been just ahead of me the entire race. As I did so, he groaned and said “I can’t believe you are walking faster than I am running,” and I turned and replied that I hear that a lot from folks, especially at the end of races when I seem to get a second wind. We ended up keeping pace with each other for the last 4 miles and crossed the finish line in 7:06, better than my previous time 2 years ago, and a PR for me in a 50 K! What a rush that was! Finishers had a choice of a handmade sun catcher or a hand-painted plaque of manatees. I chose the sun catcher.
I highly recommend this race for first timers who want to challenge themselves with an ultra.

A Doubles Weekend – my first!

“Doubles” in racing parlance refer to two races that can be accomplished in one weekend. Lots of Marathon Maniacs and Fifty State Club members like doubles because they can fit two races in on one weekend and thus save on travel costs. Although I have done plenty of “back-to-back” races (on separate but consecutive weekends), I had not done a double until this past November.

On Saturday, November 13, I drove to Columbus, GA, and did the inaugural Soldier Marathon. This turned out to be an excellent new race, with a varied course that took participants through Ft. Benning, along the Chattahoochee River on the Riverwalk (even crossing to the Alabama side for a bit before heading back to Georgia), through downtown Columbus, and then finishing at the National Infantry Museum. The race began at the Museum as well, and one of the best things about this race is that we were allowed to stay inside the Museum on race morning to keep warm and use the restrooms. That was a real blessing. There were plenty of wonderful volunteers who stayed for the entire 7 hours at their posts directing runners and walkers and manning the aid stations. On the paths surrounded by woods on the army base during the first 5 miles or so, I had a deer cross right in front of me, and when I looked to my left, another fawn stood quietly, just staring at me. A wondrous sight! Nice medal, on a dogtag chain, and refreshments at the finish line. My time was 5:49:22, and I placed second in my age group. A few weeks after the race, I received an attractive placque recognizing my finish. I plan to do this race next year as well – it’s a real keeper.

After this race, I drove several hours to PeachTree City, GA, so I could do the Darkside Running Club’s 50 K the next morning. After a shower, meal, and good night’s rest, I was up early on Sunday to drive to nearby Luther Glass Park. This 50 K is one of the Darkside’s big events (they have several) and is very well-attended. The 50 K consists of 6 loops (plus a short out and back with each loop) that runs through the park, through 6 “tunnels” that go under the roads surrounding the park, and is very scenic and pleasant. I was familiar with the course because I had walked the Labor Day marathon held here back in September. Since I took the early start, it was dark but knowing the course details beforehand sure helped.

Truth was, I wasn’t sure how I would do on an ultra after just having completed a marathon the day before. My shins were hurting, probably from pounding 26.2 miles on pavement, but I finished the first loop without a problem. I was walking with 2 other walkers, including Vicki, a fast racewalker with great form, and was having to really work at keeping up with both of them. By the 2nd and 3rd loops, I decided to let them go on ahead, and I would just try to finish within the allotted time (9 ½ hours for early starters). Slowing down a little seemed to help. However, by loop 5, I began to feel better, and knowing I had just 2 loops to go spurred me on. I finished in 7:37 and was very pleased. I drove to a nearby shopping center, found a restroom, changed my clothes, and drove home. It was that 6+ hour drive that nearly did me in!

Dallas Rocks

Dallas Rocks! That’s the theme of the Dallas White Rock Marathon, held on Sunday, December 5, and it holds true. With just one mind-boggling exception (see below), this was a well-organized and enjoyable race. My husband decided to come with me on this trip since he is originally from Texas and he enjoys Tex-Mex food. One of the big draws of Dallas was, I am a bit embarrassed to admit, the idea of REAL fajitas (as opposed to the pale imitations found outside of Texas).

We left early on Saturday to catch a flight to Dallas via Atlanta. On the way to our local airport I realized I had forgotten to put on my watch (I rely heavily on it for my time during a race), decided against going back to get it, and just made up my mind to forget time and pace, and concentrate on enjoying the race experience. The temp on race day was supposed to be in the mid-thirties, cold for me, and I could not find my orange fleece gloves when I was packing, so I had to take some tired old holey gloves instead, with a pair of disposables to wear over them. We arrived in Atlanta about 7:30, walked to our next gate, on the way saw a co-worker who had been stranded in Salt Lake City for a day and night because of snow and was now trying to get back home, and upon boarding our flight discovered we had been upgraded to first-class (thanks, Delta). That was a treat!

Arrived in Dallas around noontime and took Super Shuttle to the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency (very nice hotel, about 1 mile from downtown and several good restaurants). There were shuttles from the Hyatt to the Expo held at Fair Park (where the State of TX fair is held every year) as well as to the start and finish (also at Fair Park) on race day. Our room at the Hyatt was ready so we checked in, deposited our suitcases, and headed to the Expo. Packet pick-up was easy, with bib and D-chip and goody bag at one end and tee shirt (long-sleeved cotton, which I like) at the other. It was very crowded and far too many booths were pushed together in a small area, lots of people and baby carriages, so rather than walk by every booth and explore, we just got my packet and shirt and left. We were hungry, so we shuttled back to the hotel, brought the goodies up to the room, and headed off searching for lunch. We ate our full at the Iron Cactus, beef fajitas for two and tecate beer, wonderful, and then back to the room so I could prepare for the race tomorrow.

Race day dawned chilly but clear, 31 degrees, so I dressed warmly, with 4 layers of clothing, my throwaway scarf (a dish towel pinned around my neck), lots of tissues, my energy bars and salty foods, and headed for the first shuttle. Race began at 8 am, shuttles started at 6, I was there at 5:45 and there was already a bus almost packed with runners. I joined them.

Now the only thing I DID NOT LIKE about this course was the wave start. I was in corral N and there were 2 corrals behind me. The course was supposed to be open for 6.5 hours, with the roads opening at 2:30 pm. That meant that if there were to be truly a wave start with each corral leaving every 2-3 minutes, people in the back corrals (like myself) would have to really hustle so we would not be pushed to the sidewalks towards the end of the race. And, indeed, each corral was held for about 3-4 minutes – my corral did not even get to the start line for 43 minutes. I could only imagine how long it took corrals O and P to get there. Remember, the temps were in the 30’s and it was cold just standing there.

Finally, we took off. It was 2 miles into the race before my muscles warmed up and I could feel my legs. From that point on, I enjoyed myself immensely. The half marathoners split off just before mile 8, but there were still plenty of full marathoners around, even at the back of the pack, so I was not concerned about getting lost. The course was varied enough to keep me from becoming bored; we toured several up-scale neighborhoods decorated for the holidays, but the highlight for me was the long section around White Rock Lake, very scenic and colorful. There were more bands than I expected (very nice), lots of enthusiastic volunteers and helpful police, a fair amount of spectators (about how I like it since big noisy crowds are not for me). I’m not sure how the race organizers did this, but it seemed like there were a lot of downhills and very few hills to climb up so that was pleasant. The last few miles to the finish line were all downhill and racers then were directed into a building where we received our medal (nice heavy metal on a brightly colored lanyard), finisher’s shirt (long-sleeved tech), yogurt, oranges, and cups of water.

Met my husband outside and we shuttled back to the hotel, where I changed and then we took off for lunch, this time at Sol Irlande’s grill (more fajitas and tecate). Slept well, flew home early Monday, back to work on Tuesday. My time (had to wait until Monday to check) was 5:44, exactly where it usually is.

10 gifts for your favorite walker

Trying to think of some neat presents to get for the walkers you know (or perhaps for yourself)?
Here are some ideas:
1. pedometer – there are many good ones available for $10 to $50. The one I use is made by Omron and has a 7 day memory feature and keeps track of steps, calories, and miles.
2. Leslie Sansone walking videos or dvds. There are many to choose from and they are available in stores like Target as well as online from Amazon and Collage.com. Leslie uses 4 basic easy steps to ‘walk’ you through 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 mile workouts. Her latest ones even include a bit of light jogging.
3. Hand warmers – these are available in stores or online (LL Bean has 10 pairs for $10) and they really do help keep your hands warm as you walk. Even in warmer climates, the temps in winter can get pretty cold. There are also foot warmers, but I have not tried those.
4. Wrist wallet – this is a neat fleece stretchy ‘envelope’ that fits on your wrist. It has a zippered pocket so you can fit an ID card, cash, credit card, whatever and not have to worry about how to carry stuff on your walk. It sells for about $15, although I’ve seen some made of nylon for less.
5. An assortment of socks for walkers – made of breathable quickdry fabric. There are many different kinds and types so either buy the kind your walker prefers or give 2-5 pairs of different styles and let your walker decide.
6. A box of favorite energy bars or gels. If you aren’t sure which kind to get, an assortment is a great gift. I prefer the Snickers Marathon bars (probably because they taste like candy!).
7. Good books about walking. How about Susan Reynold’s inspiring “Walking Outside the Box” or Dave McGovern’s “The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking”? I plan to develop a longer list of essential books for walkers and will post soon.
8. A gift certificate to a running store so the walker can purchase good shoes or other essentials.
9. A duffle bag to carry stuff (clothes, phone, shoes, etc.) to and from the gym or races. At some of the races I’ve done, it’s possible to set up a small personal aid station and a duffle bag with things I may need during a race is the ideal thing to have.
10. A reflective mesh vest with a pocket. I wear my vest in every race I do. The race bib can be pinned to the outside of the vest and the vest worn over whatever shirt or jacket I decide to wear. Because it has reflective bars across the front and back, I can be seen in the dark by cars and other people. And it is washable (delicate cycle, cold water). I bought mine at a local running shop for about $25.
There you have it – some ideas for you and the other walkers in your life.