I may have been crazy or foolish or both when I signed up for this race, but after finishing two 12-hour and five 24-hour races, I felt I was now ready for a multi-day event. At the 24 hour Operation Endurance in Columbus, GA, last March, I had met Joyce and Ray from Virginia. Joyce had done the 48 hour event at UltraCentric last year and really enjoyed it. She planned to try her first 72 hour there this year. I was determined to give it a shot.
Because the 48 hour event began on Friday morning, my husband and I left early Thursday to fly to Dallas/Fort Worth so we could check out the race venue and get my chip and bib. We rented a car at DFW and – since it was lunchtime – we drove to the closest Taco Cabana for our fajita ‘fix’ – after all, we were in Texas (our 3rd time this year) and it is one of our traditions to eat Tex-Mex at least once per visit (and preferably more often).
After our meal, we drove to the attractive Dallas suburb of Grapevine. The race is held at Meadowmere Park in Grapevine, a 25 minute drive from Hyatt Place, our hotel. The course is a 2 mile ‘reverse keyhole’ course, with the start/finish at one point on the keyhole. Runners go around the short loop , along a straight but short path and then traverse a long out-and-back with a turnaround at the furthest point. On Friday, my husband and I walked the course so I could get used to the few twists and turns, but it was fairly easy to follow; even I would not be able to get lost here. The surface is asphalt, most of it broken up and scoured but aside from a couple of major holes it was eminently runnable/walkable without having to worry too much about falling. At night, portable lights were set up near the darkest sections, but I carried my headlamp and small flashlight and never had a problem.
A real plus here for me was the fact that this was not a traditional ‘loop’ course; we did not go around and around and around in a circle or oval. The latter usually makes me dizzy, especially at night, and I would have to stop and stand or sit until I regained my composure and balance. Here, the long out-and-back portion was easy to navigate and never made me dizzy. It also allowed for quite a bit of interaction between racers since we continually saw each other face-to-face as well as from behind.
At 4 pm on Thursday, packet pickup for the 48 hour people started and we were among the first in line. The timing device was a D-chip attached to a velcro ankle strap. My bib number was 401; those in the 72 hour race had numbers beginning with 500 while the 24 hour people had the 300 series. This made it easy to identify one’s competition (there was championship money at stake, so for faster runners this was indeed important). There was also a 12 hour and 6 hour category. The 3 shorter races all began on Saturday morning. No tee shirt this time; instead we were given a nicely-made fleece jacket, blue for women, magenta for men, with the UltraCentric logo on the left front.
There was one aid station that was set up about midway between each end of the course; that meant we would pass it twice during each loop. As a result, I did not plan to carry any water or food, except for a couple of energy bars. I was beginning to get excited the race and feeling more confident now that I had actually seen the course. We returned to the hotel and settled in for the night. I packed my drop bag with extra shoes, socks, warm clothes, vaseline, and everything else I thought I might need for the duration. Then I went to sleep, with my alarm set for 4:30 am. Naturally, I woke up earlier, excited and ready to go. After coffee and raisin bread, I dressed warmly and we headed out to the park, arriving around 7 am.
My plan of attack was to walk at a steady pace for as long as it would take me to get to 100 miles (50 laps). Once I reached that magic number of 100, I would take a break, perhaps sleep for a few hours back at the hotel or in the car, and then continue on for the rest of the hours that were left. Any mileage over 100 would be wonderful; it was that magic 100 that I wanted to reach. I took off with the rest of the 48 hour people at exactly 9 am on Friday morning. There were about 30 of us who started then, joining the 18 or so 72 hour people already on the course. The weather was brisk, in the low 40’s but the sun was trying desperately to come out. I soon took off my gloves and put on my sunglasses, grateful for the warmth. My friend Joyce had invited me to put my drop bag on her mat; she and Ray had their SUV and a canopied area right across from the aid station which made it very convenient.
That first day passed unevenfully. I was having a good time, feeling happy and not having any problems with legs, feet, or balance. My husband checked on me several times during the day and early evening and it was always good to see him and spend a few moments walking and chatting with him. Around 8 pm, as the sun went down and it began to get colder, I said goodbye to him for the last time that day. He planned to return around 8 the next morning. Soon after, the evening from Hell began; the weather turned FRIGID. I realized that I was going to be cold no matter how many clothes I put on. Still, I piled on my entire wardrobe – long-sleeved tee shirts, heavy fleece shirts, fleece vests, sweatshirt, jackets, warm hat, mittens with hand-warmers, and an additional jacket around my neck to serve as a scarf and balaclava. I was still cold. I kept moving because it was WAY too cold to stand still or sit. I took one break for about 15 minutes, when Joyce and Ray invited me to sit in their heated car so I could take some of the chill off me. Then I continued walking. That was how I spent my first night.
Dawn broke around 6 am and the sky began to lighten. It still took a few hours before the sun rose but at least I could see without having to use my headlamp. The promise of warmth was near. I continued walking. My husband came by around breakfast time and we stopped at the aid station to have a breakfast taco (more about the food later). He said I looked frozen. I was. But the day warmed up, the sun came up, and I continued walking. I told my husband I wanted to keep moving until I reached 100 miles. I continued walking. Finally, 30 and a half hours into the race, I completed my 50th lap for 100 miles. I was exhausted but also exhilarated. My husband had arrived just before that point so I said, “Now I can take a short break.” I stretched out in the back of our rental car and tried to sleep. No luck, I was too wound up, but at least I was able to rest and put my feet and legs up for a while. While I was resting, my husband said he heard me mumbling to myself and at first he thought I was talking to him. I wasn’t. I have no recollection at all about this, but I must have been slightly delirious. Not surprising, I guess.
At any rate, after that brief respite, I rose and said I would try to keep walking until 10 that evening and then return to the hotel to take an extended nap, with plans to come back to the course early in the morning to complete the race. At least that was my intention. However, as the sun went down around 6 pm, I began to feel chilled again, and by 7 o’clock I was starting to lose it. I passed the finish line for mile 104 and just stopped. Other racers came by and asked if I was okay but I’m sure they could tell by looking at me that I was not. One kind lady suggested I call my husband and see if he could pick me up sooner. That sounded like a good idea to me. I called, he came, and I went back to the hotel, brushed my teeth, and went to bed – in a toasty warm room. My legs were throbbing, so I did something I never do during a race – I took an Advil. That one little pill helped immeasurably. I fell asleep within minutes (my husband said I was mumbling deliriously again but I don’t remember – I probably was).
My alarm went off at 3:30 in the morning. I rose, dressed (in long heavy cotton pants this time – yes, I know cotton is not good to wear in races but I wanted WARMTH) and multiple layers, drank a cup of coffee, and asked my patient husband to drive me back to the park so I could continue the race. He asked if I really wanted to do this, warning me that it would be very cold there still. But I felt SO much better after a few hours of rest in a warm environment that I was indeed ready to go. It was about 4:15 when he dropped me off at the starting line once again and I continued walking. With only a few more hours of darkness ahead and just 5 hours left before the race ended, I was pumped and eager to try to get some more mileage in. I crossed the finish line for my final lap just before the airhorn sounded the end of all the races, finishing with a grand total of 120 miles and winning the women’s Grand Master Champion category. I think if I had not been so cold I might have achieved that 100 mile distance in under 30 hours and perhaps would have been able to continue on with only a few rest periods. But weather is always unpredictable. I was thrilled with my achievement here at Grapevine and thankful for the opportunity to do this race.
Now for some random thoughts about the UltraCentric:
This was the first ultra I have done where food was a major highlight of the event. Lonnie Gray, a trained chef with a catering company, Composed Cuisine, created menus that would rival many restaurant offerings. We had sit-down meals for those who wanted to partake, although many of us grabbed a plate or napkin with our food and continued walking. However, in multi-day events, sitting down to share a meal with participants and crew (and support people as well as racers were invited to partake) is a good idea for rest and camaraderie.
Depending on the time of day, there were pancakes, breakfast tacos, grilled chicken sandwiches, several kinds of soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, fajitas, hamburgers, and hot dogs, as well as several kinds of homemade desserts.
The meals were served as specific times; dinner was from 7-9 pm, for example. This meant that if you were not hungry at those times or if you were resting and missed a meal, you had to depend on your own resources or on the snack table with bowls of peanuts, pretzels, store-bought cookies, raisins, and the like. This was okay with me except that – in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I was very hungry and the bowls were empty – and breakfast wouldn’t be served for several more hours. I was glad I had my energy bars.
Although we were told that there would be continually updated statistics for every runner, there was no way to tell how a runner was doing (aside from keeping track of one’s own laps) without asking the time keeper for a report.
The time keeper tent closed down for the evening, so from sundown to sun up there was no way to check on one’s status. I heard many complaints about this.
There was no electronic leader board, only a tiny printout of results, and this was usually several laps behind.
I managed to keep track of my laps by counting them in increments of five and 25. I tried to put a peanut in my pocket for each completed lap but when it was cold I couldn’t handle the peanuts with my mittens and soon gave up on that idea.
• Camping/Parking/Drop bags: There was plenty of parking and lots of room for tents. There was supposed to be a 30 x 30 foot tent for drop bags but I never found one. More importantly, there was no heated tent where one could go to warm up. This was a major disadvantage for me, since I did not have a tent or car and could have used a place where I could get warm.
• Medical Tent: There was none, so I am not sure what would have happened if I had had a major problem with blisters or worse.
• Volunteers: They were excellent, as usual. I appreciated every single one of them.
• Bathrooms: Two porta-potties were on the course, but there were also REAL bathrooms in two places. I made use of both of them many times. They were unheated but I was very grateful for them.
• Participants: Hands down, this was one of the friendliest and most supportive group of racers I have ever met.
The aftereffects: My body was pretty sore, especially my legs and feet. I was tired, too, although the few hours of sleep on Saturday night certainly rejuvenated me. Immediately post-race, I noticed that my eyesight was a little blurry when trying to read fine print and I had some heartburn and hand cramping. About 3 days post-race, my legs still throb occasionally and I am still fairly tired, although I can see improvement every day.
Final thoughts: This race was a lot of fun and I am already planning to attend next year. I’m not sure if I will try the 48 hour or the 72 hour but I do hope to try again, but this time I will build in several planned and extended rest breaks, especially if the weather is cold.