I know, I know – I swore I would never do another race that consisted of loops under a mile long but here I was signing up for this crazy .44 mile loop course for a race based solely on a once-in-a-blue-moon date. Believe it or not, so many people wanted to do this race that there was a lottery to select the lucky 84 winners (72 full marathoners and 12 half marathoners). Last year I entered and didn’t get in. This year I was one of the chosen. Last year’s race was held on 11-11-11. Next year the date is supposed to be 11-12-13. I will try for that as well. We’ll see.
This race is pure unadulterated fun. Most of the participants are 50 Staters and Marathon Maniacs, along with an assortment of first-time full and half marathoners thrown in for good measure. For the high-powered runners who want to win the race, it is a test of endurance. For the vast majority of us, however, it is low-key and relaxed, with no strict time limit (there is a generous 8-hour cutoff), no huge expo (in fact, no expo at all), and an easy-to-follow course around a park that – on race day – is limited to racers and their crew and families. The hard part? Doing 59 laps around the course! That’s five-nine, 59, fifty-nine – there is just no easy way to express the concept or to run that many loops without a lot of endurance and stamina and crazyness.
My husband and I drove down to Sarasota on an overcast Tuesday morning. It took us about 3 hours including a brief stop at Cracker Barrel for lunch. We spent the early afternoon touring the Ringling Circus Museum, Ca’d’Zan (the Venetian Gothic mansion owned by John and Mable Ringling), and the beautiful rose garden. I had long wanted to visit this complex and I only wished we had more time to explore but the afternoon sped by and it was soon time to go to packet pickup at Marina Jacks in downtown Sarasota. This was easy to find, located just down the street from our hotel, the Hyatt Regency. In fact, the hotel was close to both the marina and Whitaker-Gateway Park, the race site, so it turned out to be a good place to stay.
Packet pickup was fast and easy. I was given a white short-sleeve tech shirt, two bibs, and a ticket for the pasta dinner. As usual, I passed on the dinner, preferring to return to the hotel, eat my light meal of bread and peanut butter, and get everything ready for the race. I then turned in early with my alarm set for 4 am. But why two bibs?? The green bib with the race number on it was to be worn on the front of one’s outfit. This bib had a chip attached to it. The white bib had our names in LARGE UPPERCASE LETTERS and was to be worn on the back of one’s outer clothes. This bib had other information on it as well , including our home town and whether we were 50 Staters and/or Marathon Maniacs. For Maniacs, it included the number of stars (or for Half Fanatics, the number of moons). If we had finished the states, it included that information as well. Those who were running their first marathons or half marathons had that information on the bib as well. It sounds like quite a bit of stuff to go on a bib, but it all fit very nicely.
The big question all of us were facing was the weather. A rash of thunderstorms had been crossing Florida, with some coastal cities in the middle of the state getting huge downpours. The town of Jupiter had over 7 inches the evening before the race. The forecast for Sarasota on Tuesday night was strong thunderstorms and for Wednesday it was supposed to rain most of the day, with thunderstorms likely as well. I hate racing in the rain but at least it would be warm and not freezing cold. Still, the thought of getting wet for 59 laps was not appealing to me. Because we drove, I had filled the car with a wide variety of possible outfits but finally decided on my crops and a tech shirt with my Maniacs windbreaker (which was also – I hoped – somewhat water- resistant). I didn’t take my sunglasses because sun was never even mentioned in the forecast.
It was quiet all night. I never heard rain or thunder or saw any lightening through the hotel windows. When I awoke at 4 on Wednesday morning, the streets looked dry. Sure enough, it looked like the rain had moved to the south of us. Race day temps were in the mid-60’s and rose to the 80’s, with the humidity rising as well. This understandably was a challenge for the many racers who had traveled from northern and western states, but it was perfect weather for me.
The race was to begin at 7:12:12 (makes sense, right?) but we all gathered at the park much earlier to take an array of photos. A frenzy of excitement and exhilaration spread through the crowd as we nervously talked and laughed until Race Director Greg Goebel called us to the starting lines (which were different for the full and the half). I lined up behind the full marathon runners. The race began just before 7:30 and we were off! Signs directed walkers to stay to the left and runners to the right as we moved around the half mile path but I quickly noticed that many people did not pay attention to that dictum (except me – I was the only consistent walker and so I religiously stayed to the left except for my final few laps when all of the fast movers had already finished and there was plenty of room on the path so I could cut the tangents).
There was one aid station with water and Gatorade as well as bananas, pretzels, M & Ms, and GU. This was located halfway across the course from the start/finish line. There was electronic chip timing and results were shown on a board but with a long time delay, it was impossible to check on one’s status without losing precious minutes. People manning the timing booth would graciously read out our lap as we passed by if we asked and the DJ, Dave Flanary, would also periodically announce our lap as we strode by a second timing mat. The rest of the time, Dave played upbeat music which probably drove the people living in the nearby condos crazy but was great for us.
Signs with the names of runners and intriguing facts about them were placed strategically on the course. We were encouraged to take the sign with our name on it home with us – and I thought that was a grand idea and made for a welcome souvenir of the race.
Age groups were arranged in a funky way; there were never more than three people in any age category. Sometimes ages were duplicated across several categories. This was fine with me. It meant that everyone would place in an age group and get an award in addition to the finisher’s medal. There aren’t too many races that can make that claim.
While going around and around for so many loops was a bit dizzying, there were lots of positive things about this race:
• There were real bathrooms right in the center of the park and just a few steps off the course. This was wonderful!
• Although the short loop could have been very boring, it was made less so by the varied scenery in the park and beyond. My favorite section was the part along the bay where I could view the beautiful skyline and watch as pelicans and gulls jockeyed for food.
• Everybody knew each other’s name because of the back bib and so it became easy to recognize and give support to everyone. In this respect, it was more like an ultra or trail race than a road race
I saw a lot of fellow Maniacs and 50 staters, some I knew like Larry Macon, Dave Bell, and Carol Goslin, others I met officially for the first time, like Dave Mari (whom I knew only by his reputation as Maniac photographer). In addition, I met a lot of new people as well.
The only down side to this whole adventure was a negative experience with a few of the volunteers at the aid station. Two women were handing out water and Gatorade and were vocally adamant about the necessity of runners taking their small cups of water. I don’t usually drink early on during a race and I was becoming increasingly annoyed with their constant comments to me that I was going to get sick or even collapse because I wasn’t drinking enough. They continued harranguing me every time I passed the aid station and there was no avoiding them since I had to pass by 59 times. They even asked another runner to check on me to make sure I was drinking enough. I probably should have stopped and explained to them that this was my 126th marathon/ultra and I know how to monitor my fluid intake (as well as output) but I did not want to take the time away from the race. I train in the heat and humidity of Florida and probably don’t sweat quite so much as runners who train in colder climates. I hold most volunteers in very high esteem but these ladies were presumptious and annoying. The situation was alleviated when the women were replaced by several younger volunteers who minded their own business. Ironically, there was a medical tent with at least three health personnel who could have responded if necessary to any problems; none of the medical staff found it necessary to interfere.
But that was a minor problem. I enjoyed this race immensely and highly recommend it to walkers who can handle the multiple loops and want to have a relaxed racing experience..
My finishing time was not so great – results aren’t posted yet but I think I completed the race in 6:10 or so. It was good enough to get a second place age group award! Definitely a fun race.