The First of the Savage Seven Marathons – December 26, 2011

While Marathon Maniacs like myself will go anywhere, anytime, for the chance to do a race, we especially love challenges – doubles, triples, ultras, the more the better.  But the Savage Seven is unique – it consists of 7 marathons in the 7 days between Christmas and New Year’s day.   The brainchild of Chuck Savage, former race director of the Ocala Marathon, the each race in the Savage Seven is run around a track: over 100 laps around a quarter mile track.  Around and around and around.  And around.  Last year the races were held in Ocala, Chuck’s stomping ground.  This year, Cheryl Murdock hosted the S 7 in Pensacola, FL and the track was on the soccer field of the University of West Florida.

While most people sign up for all 7 races, it is also possible to sign up for just one or two.  For those for whom 7 races in 7 days is not enough, there are also two additional races, not certified and unsupported, on Christmas eve and Christmas day.  These are carefully organized by Cheryl, complete with finisher awards and prizes.  Since I was planning to spend Christmas day in Tallahassee with my oldest son and his family, and since Pensacola is a short 3 hour drive from Tallahassee, I decided to try the first of the 7 official marathons.  After an entire morning devoted to opening presents  and a delicious Christmas dinner, I drove to Pensacola, my running gear packed in the trunk.

Most of the runners who were committed to all 7 marathons were staying at one of several extended stay hotels in the area.  I, on the other hand, opted to spend my one night in Pensacola at a new Holiday Inn just 4 miles from the track.  It was a good choice, clean and comfortable, and the cost was lower than originally quoted.  Once there, I relaxed.   These races are very low key and informal.  They are not chip timed and there is no expo or packet pickup.  I went to bed early, slept hard, and rose around 4 am to a drizzle with temps in the 50’s.

I checked out of the hotel around 6:15 am and made my way to the UNF track.  There were a number of people already there and Cheryl was waiting for someone from security to unlock the gates so we could set up our drop bags and she could give us our bibs and goody bags.  The goody bag turned out to be a good-sized tote bag with the Savage 7 insignia sewn on it and inside were an assortment of treats, including a mini-LED flashlight, a long sleeved tech tee with a cute cartoon about the race on the back and emblem on the front, and some samples and tourist information.  Each participant was loaned a small hand-held counter that we could wear around our neck or hold in our hand.  Every time we passed the start line, we had to press the counter to keep track of the 108 (yes, 108!) laps plus an additional 2/3 lap to get us to the finish line.

After some last minute instructions, we took off at 7:15.  The inside track was left open for Chuck Engle, who was trying to do all 7 marathons in sub-3 hours.  We cheered him on and admired his smooth running style.  I spent the first 3 hours of the race making sure I stayed in the outer lanes to keep out of the way of faster runners.  When Chuck finished (in under 3 hours), the rest of us spread out and I felt okay about occasionally walking in the inside lane; that certainly helped my time (which turned out to be a personal worst for me).

I knew I was in trouble from the very beginning.  My back and side muscles were still hurting from my cold and cough so I tried to start out slowly and carefully.  I had intended to take an OTC pain medication when I first woke up but in all the excitement I forgot.  After several hours I began to just ignore the pain and eventually it settled down (either that or endorphins finally kicked in and overrode the pain).   Another sign of trouble was more pressing.  Boredom set in quickly for me.  After only 8 laps around the track, I was feeling desperate – only 8 laps completed, 100 more to go, and already I was tired of looking at the same old stuff.  I did remember to bring my ipod but it was hard to listen to music when there was so much talking and laughing among the racers.  The spirited camaraderie was what really saved the race for me – all the runners and walkers were friendly and talkative and eventually I spoke to almost everyone, including Larry Macon, Roxanna from California, Mama Jean, and so many others.  I think without that repartee I would have gone completely crazy going round and round that short loop.

The light rain continued through most of the morning, with a tiny bit of sun peeking through occasionally.  It was great weather for a race, not too hot and not so cold and if we needed to change clothes we had our drop bags close by.  There were 3 porta potties slightly off the course and 3 bathrooms a farther distance away.  The one aid station (which we passed, ahh, 108 times) had lots of sweet and salty treats plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water, soda, and Gatorade.  It was more like an ultra buffet than a marathon in that respect.  Cheryl kept a close watch on everything and everybody and had enlisted several hardworking volunteers to help.

I was REALLY happy to finish this race and I was REALLY happy I was NOT doing the other 6 marathons.  If these races were on varied and interesting courses, I think it might be fun to try the series,  but to go around a track for 756 times is just too much for me to wrap my head around.  Next year the Savage 7 will be in Orlando, just a 3 hour drive from my home but I am pretty sure I will look for another challenge somewhere else!

Seashore Nature Trail 50 K, Virginia Beach, VA – December 17, 2011

Sick or not, I decided to go ahead with my plans to do this trail race.  It was my second time;  I did it last year because I wanted to try out a new pair of trail shoes before I did the Ghost Town 38.5 the following month.  The shoes worked out fine and I really enjoyed the race, so this year Iopted to do it again, simply for fun.  And it was fun, despite the continued presence of my very annoying cold.

The Seashore Nature Trail 50 K is held at First Landing State Park, just a mile or so from the host hotel (the Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center).  Packet pickup is at the hotel and this year the post-race party was also at the hotel (last year it was at a downtown restaurant so, since I was without transportation,  I chose to eat in the excellent hotel dining room).

Although the temperature race morning was in the low 40’s, it didn’t feel that cold, perhaps because of the absence of wind.  I dressed warmly but soon jettisoned my mittens and hand warmers.  Although I had picked up my bib the night before, the chips, on ankle straps, were handed out just before the race.   The race began promptly at 8 am and about 300 runners took off.  As expected, I was the caboose but since I had familiarity with the course, I was not too concerned about losing my way.  The course had pink streamers hung from branches to mark the way and yellow caution tape to mark wrong turns.  Earlier I had reviewed my map of the course from last year and I was really glad I did because, while the streamers were well-placed, there were fewer volunteers at the occasional turns so it was good to have a mental map  of the double loop course.  There were 2 main aid stations that we passed a number of times because of the setup of the out and backs.  It is a very scenic park, with lots of trees and wooden bridges.  But I  had forgotten how many roots and rocks were hidden in these trails;  I had to watch my step carefully.  Fortunately I managed to avoid falling.

I could definitely feel the effects of my illness on this race. I couldn’t move very fast without having a coughing fit.  My back and side muscles were sore from coughing so much and I found it difficult to walk very fast.  But I persisted and had a good time, regardless.  We had 8 ½ hours to complete the race and there was one cutoff point at the 27 mile mark.  My main concern was meeting that cutoff.  Turns out I was able to do it with at least 30 minutes to spare.  That gave me a much-needed boost and I managed to make the last 6 miles or so my fastest (or at least it felt that way) and even passed a few people.

You get a lot for your money at this race.  At packet pickup, I was given a nice fleece vest and a decal for my car plus a key chain from last year’s event.  After crossing the finish line, I received a cap, a paperweight, and a medal, all with the distinctive Seashore Nature Trail 50 K picture and logo on it. The post-race party included a selection of pizzas plus an open bar with beer and wine.  I stayed and ate and spoke with some Maniacs but the noise finally sent me back to the quiet of my room where I tried to sleep since I had a very early flight the next day.  Unfortunately, it was Saturday evening and there were lots of noisy revelers in rooms next to mine and traipsing back and forth along the hallway throughout the night, so I only slept in bits and pieces.  Still, the next morning I was up early, anxious to return to Florida.  Lucky for me, Delta gave me upgrades on both my flights so I had plenty of leg room and lots of water and snacks to keep me hydrated and fed.  Now, if I can only get rid of this cold!

An Unexpected Change of Events – the Holualoa Tucson HALF Marathon, December 11, 2011

My intentions were to do the full marathon here in Tucson, but circumstances unexpectedly changed. After a peaceful Thanksgiving with my family and a relaxing but very active Disney cruise with my oldest son and his lovely wife and beautiful 3 year old daughter, my husband and I returned to Florida with serious colds. I’ll spare my readers the lurid details, but suffice it to say that we were completely wiped out as a result of scratchy throat and the sneezing, coughing, and sleepless nights that accompanied the illness.

We were supposed to leave early Friday morning on the 9th. Only one of us made it to the plane. An hour before the flight, my husband decided that flying was out of the question for him. I, on the other hand, decided to head to Tucson despite my intent desire to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed. There were several reasons why this race was so important (aside from the practical matter of having already paid for the airline tickets). For one thing, our friends Karen and David had generously offered us accommodations at their Tucson timeshare, thus saving us the expense of a hotel room. Also, Karen and I had done the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage this past June; it was her 48th state and my 50th. During the autumn, Karen had completed her final two states, West Virginia and Maryland, and now we were both ready to receive our trophies at the 50 State Club reunion meeting the day before the race. I had hoped my husband would be there to see me receive my award but it looked like that would not be possible now.

I left for Arizona feeling sad and ill; I was especially unhappy that my husband – who has been my right-hand man through all my racing adventures and my #1 advocate and champion – would miss seeing me get my trophy. At some point during my two flights, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have to get my award at this reunion. There are four reunions every year and the next one would be at the Georgia Marathon in March and I was already signed up for that race. I decided right then that I would go to Tucson to support my friend Karen at her 50th state finisher celebration and would simply postpone mine until the spring.

My friends met me at the airport and I relayed the news about our illness sidelining my husband and bringing just me, hoarse and coughing, to visit. They were wonderful hosts, gracious and understanding, and as a result I had the best time possible under difficult circumstances. It was Karen who suggested dropping down to the half marathon from the full so I wouldn’t have to stress my body more than necessary. She was nursing shin splints and said she would not mind doing the half herself. Do a half instead of a full? Unthinkable and normally not something I would ever do, even feeling miserable. However, I did have a 50k the following weekend, so changing to the half seemed prudent . We drove to the expo at the El Conquistador Hilton Resort and the change was easily made. We got new bibs, our goody bag, a short sleeved gray tech shirt, and a pair of socks. The expo was a fairly decent sized event and we wandered around the booths for an hour or so. Karen bought some shirts and a pair of shorts while I just browsed. The highlight for me was visiting with Marshall Ulrich who was standing by a table with a stack of his book, Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America. We had recently added this book to our library’s collection and I had just finished reading it – and here was my chance to purchase my own copy and get it autographed by one of the world’s most noted ultrarunners. Unfortunately, I had completely lost my voice and could only squeak out a few words of praise to Mr. Ulrich but at least I had enough presence of mind to ask David to snap a photo of us together. Back to the time share to rest and meet up Karen’s sister and husband.

The reunion was set for 4 pm, so we all drove back to the hotel later in the day. We met more of Karen’s family and enjoyed the meeting itself, with Steve and Paula Boone and the other board members giving the latest statistics on members, updating us on merchandise and future reunions, overseas marathons and such. We went around the room so all of the members could stand up and introduce themselves and then the serious business of awarding the trophies took place. Lots of photos and laughter and stories and then, the meeting was over.

The next morning David drove Karen and I to the spot where the half marathoners were to be bused to the start. We managed to get on the earliest bus and at a few minutes past 5 am we were off. It took about 45 minutes to arrive at the starting line; full marathoners were bused 13 miles farther north and then completed their final 13 miles over the same route we were to take. It was freezing cold but there were heaters set up for people to gather around; unfortunately if you were not right NEXT to the heaters, you were just out of luck, but Karen and I managed to work our way close enough to stay reasonably warm. There were plenty of portapotties (locked at first until someone managed to pry the locks open) but I only made one pit stop as soon as we arrived. I did not want to give up my spot at the heater!

And so we waited for 2 hours, until the start of the race at 7 am, and then everyone sprinted off on a mostly downhill course. Desert scenery was all around us, with dawn lighting up the sky in those early morning hours. I have to admit that a half marathon is just about the perfect distance for a race. It’s long enough so one can feel it is a real accomplishment but not so long that one gets tired or sore or hurt. Even though I coughed and sneezed the entire time, I enjoyed being outside and moving. Just about mile 26, I heard someone call my name and there was Karen cheering me on. I managed to dig a bit deeper to hasten my way to the finish line, with a time of 2:44. David took a photo of the two of us at the finish line and we made our way to the car. Colorful medal and lanyard but not much food for finishers (and this was only 3 hours into the race); however the lack of food was not a problem for me since I wasn’t really hungry. I just wanted a shower and a nap! We did stop at a local bakery on the way to get some fresh bread; in our goody bags we had received a coupon for a free loaf so we bought some yummy pastries and turned in our coupons for some delicious bread.

A restful night and I was ready for my trip home early the next morning. Arizona is a long way from Florida, and the 2 time zone changes nearly did me in this time, but I managed to get home around 5 pm and went straight to bed. I had to go to work early the next day and, with a 50 k set for the following week, I needed to put this illness behind me quickly!