Soldier Marathon (11/12/11) and Peachtree City 50K (11/13/11)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I originally had the inaugural Rock ‘n roll Savannah marathon on my calendar for the first weekend in November, but family responsibilities and U of F Homecoming took precedence. As a result, I had a brief respite from racing for a bit – and then spent the second weekend in November in Georgia doing the same double I had accomplished last year.

So, on Friday, November 11, I drove to Columbus, GA, checked into my hotel (the Holiday Inn on Victory Drive and just a short drive from Ft. Benning, where all the action takes place) and drove to the National Infantry Museum to pick up my packet for the Soldier Marathon. This year, because it was Veterans Day and a holiday, I was able to arrive in Columbus early enough to spend several productive hours touring the Museum (there was a lot to see – manyf intriguing displays of weaponry and military history (not my area of interest but worthwhile to view nonetheless). I found the Vietnam jungle room fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I think it helped me to better understand the Vietnam veterans I work with every day.

I wrote about my experiences at Soldier and the 2nd race for this weekend, the Peachtree City 50 K, last year on this blog (see “A Doubles Weekend – My First!” posted on December 10, 2010), so I will only highlight the most relevant points for this entry. The course for Soldier was changed a little because of some flooding so we no longer crossed the bridges over the Chattahoochee River into Alabama and back again into Georgia. That was a highlight of the course last year for me so it was a little disappointing to miss out on that. Because of the holiday, a parade was marching on one of the bridges and that may have been another reason for the alteration in course. But I did get to view a tank crossing over the bridge while I was walking below – certainly not something I see every day!

This year also saw the initiation of the Fallen Hero program. A table was set up at the Expo with the names of soldiers who had died in the line of duty. We could select a bib with our hero’s name and photo and information to pin on our race clothes the next day. This was in addition to the regular race bib with our number on it. My hero was Marine Corporal William J. Woitowicz from Middlesex, MA , who was only 23 when he died on June 7, 2011, in Operation Enduring Freedom. I was proud to wear his name on the back of my mesh vest. This program was a really neat idea.

Plenty of people participated in this race but there were not so many back-of-the-packers as last year. I found it to be pretty lonely during the second half of the race. For a number of miles I was completely by myself; this made the race seemed almost like a training run rather than a race. Since the course was very well-marked and had volunteers at every turn, being alone was not a problem. The day was cold but sunny and I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, the numerous trees were dressed in a medley of autumn colors, and many miles of the course were set along the lovely river along the border between the two states. At the start of the race, I saw Mellody and Vicki along with Scott, all friends from the Walking Boards. I had met up with Scott the day before at the museum. He was doing his first full marathon and we leapfrogged over each other early on until he took a major lead; then I didn’t see him again until the turnaround in downtown Columbus.

As usual, I began to feel a surge of energy around mile 20 and caught up with Scott soon after. We essentially finished the race together, passing or catching up with other runners who had slowed down for those final few miles. I crossed the finish line in 5:54 chip time, a little slower than last year. We received a medal similar to the 2011 version, a dog tag on a chain, plus this year we also were given a souvenir coin. Not too much food was available at the finish line, but I had a bagel and bottle of water to carry me through on my 2-hour ride to Peachtree City.

This race is remarkably well-organized for a race only 2 years old. The course is nicely laid-out, well-marked, plenty of aid stations, beautiful scenery, and just hilly enough to keep things interesting. I enjoyed the sections on Ft. Benning and the start and finish is exceptionally convenient (and it helps to be able to keep warm inside the museum and use real restrooms before and after the race). I think my favorite part is meeting all those good-looking and polite young soldiers, men and women, who cheered us on the entire way. Just an all-over great experience.

On to Peachtree City, GA. Originally I had planned to spend 2 nights in Columbus and then drive over to PTC early Sunday morning. As a result, I did not sign up for the early start this year. However, the logistics of trying to find my way in the dark in the wee pre-dawn hours made me rethink this. I ended up driving to PTC immediately after Soldier and spent Saturday evening at my favorite hotel in PTC, the Hampton Inn. After showering and eating a late lunch at nearby Carrabas, I set out my racing clothes for the next day and slept. I rose early, had my bread and coffee, and made my way to the race site at Luther Glass Park and the nearby shopping center where we could park. This year our surprise gift was a Darksider tech short sleeve shirt (last year it was a neat duffle bag). I reminded Scott Ludwig, Darkside founder and race director (and ardent Gator fan) that this would be my 100th marathon/ultramarathon! He was kind enough to announce that fact at our pre-race meeting. It was good it was still dark outside, since I turned red as a beet (and not from the cold).

This 50 k consists of 6 five-mile + loops (plus 6 half-mile out-and-back stretches) in a park closed to traffic but open to bikes, golf carts, and pedestrians. In addition to the 50 k there is also a 25 k (3 loops). Last year I took the early start and finished in 7:39; this year I took the regular start and finished dead last in 7:31. Yes, this race was remarkable because – not only was it my 100th race – but it was also the first time I ended up in last place (although 2nd in my age group!). Truth is, there was no place I would rather celebrate both achievements (and I suppose coming in last can be called an achievement) than at a Darkside event.

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