Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic – Third Time’s a Charm (December 8, 2012)

This was my very first ultra so I try to do it every year or two, if only for sentimental reasons. It is a great way to ease into the field of ultrarunning/ultrawalking for people who might want to get their feet wet in the ultradistance realm. Because the 50k is offered along with a 50 miler, slower racers have 10+ hours to complete the course; that eases the burden of trying to meet a strict time limit. The course consists of two out-and-backs plus a loop around a parking lot and Wakulla Springs Lodge. It is impossible to get lost. There are no hills or changes in elevation or roots or rocks to trip over. In short, it is a great introduction to the ultra world.

My weekend began with a drive to Tallahassee early on Friday afternoon. This gave me a chance to spend the evening with my son and his family. It was an early night, however, since I planned to get up at 4 am so I could arrive at Wakulla State Park around 6:15 or so. My son was kind enough to drive me to the park so I didn’t have to concern myself with finding my way in the dark or having to drive myself back after the race was over. The primary aid station is just past the start/finish line and adjacent to the indoor restrooms (YES, indoor restrooms!), very close to the lodge. We set up my folding chair and drop bag just past the aid station. I picked up my bib and pinned it to my capris and then stood around soaking up the pre-race atmosphere.

Just before the race began at 7 am, Race Director Gary Griffin called everyone together for pre-race announcements. This race is not chip-timed so we were reminded to be sure to let the timekeepers (who were stationed at 3 places on the course) know our numbers as we passed by so we would get credit for each portion of the course. People running the 50k had to complete 5 loops of the 6.2 mile course while 50 milers had to complete 8 loops. At the first and longer turnaround, there was a cone plus an aid station with food (sandwiches, candy, cookies, salty stuff) and drinks. The second turnaround was simply a cone and timekeeper. The main aid station had a full repast of food and drink. There was no reason to go hungry or thirsty here. Volunteers were patient, dedicated, and helpful, and I was exceedingly grateful to them. The other runners and walkers were very friendly and supportive. Because of the two long out-and-backs, we got to see a lot of each other. Friends and families of runners served as a great cheering section for all participants; I received a lot of positive comments as I passed through the parking lot and aid stations.

Weather was close to ideal for me – temps in the mid-fifties, overcast, slightly humid as the day wore on but never hot, never sunny, and thankfully never cold. The last two times I did this race I nearly froze at the beginning. Not this year, thank goodness – I quickly began shedding my jacket, long-sleeved cotton tee-shirt, and long-sleeved tech shirt, until I was down to a short-sleeve tech shirt and my mesh vest. It was easy to keep track of the loops (after all, there were only five of them), and I dedicated each loop to a favorite friend or loved one. My final loop was reserved for my pet dogs who have passed on – I like to think that Trinket, Cupcake, Chelsea, Nestle, and Texas were all walking with me once again.

I crossed the finish line in 7:12, one minute faster than 4 years ago but not as fast as my 2010 time (that year I had a PR of 7:06). The only sequelae I had as a result of this race (aside from the usual fatigue) was shin splints. Because the course was so flat, my calves suffered quite a bit and are still a little sore several days later. This year all finishers received a medal with a gator on it and the name and date of the race. In prior years I have received a manatee-decorated wood plaque and a sun catcher.

The Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic, 50 k option, is a great choice for walkers who want to try their first ultra.

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