‘Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug’ – I Grapple with my First DNS (Did Not Start)

broken arm 016I’m sitting here this afternoon trying to ignore the fact that I should be on my way to Tel Aviv so I could take part in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 1. Months of planning and saving and discussing have all gone by the wayside due to a nasty fall I took on the Delirium trail race several weeks back. Originally I thought the fall had resulted in simply a bad sprain but that was not the case. Instead, I ended up with my first broken arm (and my first broken bone since I was 9 years old and broke my leg). Not only was my arm broken but the angle of my distal radius was displaced enough to warrant surgery and placement of a titanium plate in my wrist.
Of course, right after I fell (but after I managed to complete the 24 hour race), I began the usual first aid routine of RICE (Rest, Ice, Elevation, and Compression) and continued that throughout the week after I returned home. Although my wrist and arm were still painful and had begun to turn all kinds of fascinating colors, I decided everything was still okay and went on to do the Gainesville Five Points of Life Marathon the following Sunday. That may have been a pretty dumb thing to do but I was still optimistic that my fall was like all my others – just a pesky irritant.
However, after the marathon, the pain continued and I began to get more concerned, especially with the upcoming trip to Israel only a couple of weeks away. On Monday, I called my doctor, had an x-ray, and was told the bone was indeed broken. The doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who saw me on Thursday and said I needed surgery to reset my wrist and have a plate inserted to hold it in place. The surgery was set for Friday morning. Everything went well and I spent the weekend recuperating and trying to be a very docile and compliant patient. After much discussion and soul-searching, my husband and I decided that trying to travel 3 days post-surgery and then do a race later in the week was not a good idea. The surgeon thought doing a race with a non-removable cast on my arm was a very bad idea because sweat and swelling inside the cast could be a problem. While I felt sure I could manage the race okay, I realized that the long flights involved would leave me uncomfortable and exhausted. Diana, a racer friend of mine, reminded me that DNS really means “Do Nothing Stupid” and I decided to heed those wise words of advice.
Still, as I sit here today with a cast and bandage over my sore but healing wrist and arm, I can’t help but wonder and daydream about visiting Israel and taking part in the marathon – it’s not in the cards this year but maybe next year in Jerusalem.

I Should Have Stayed in Bed: the Five Points of Life Marathon – February 17, 2013 (Gainesville, FL)

It was a bitter cold Sunday morning, 28 degrees according to the Weather Channel, and I really wanted to stay huddled and cozy under the warm quilts on my bed. My sore arm, injured in the Delirium 24 Hour race the week before, was still hurting quite a bit and I did not look forward to walking a marathon while in constant pain. Earlier that week my husband and friends all told me to stay home and forget about this race. But, heck, it was practically in my back yard, mile 6 goes right past my street, and the first half of the course is challenging but fun. The second half, however, is the proverbial bear, a real teeth-gritting experience; it takes a lot of mental forbearance and determination to face the long uphill winding roads in a headwind with no spectators and few fellow runners. In fact, for most of the last 10 miles, I was completely alone on the course.

Now, I knew all this in advance. I had walked the half marathon back in 2008 and had completed the full marathon in 2009 and 2010. The race has a 6 hour time limit but I felt confident that even if I got lost I would be able, eventually, to find my way to the finish line and back home; after all, I have lived in this town for almost 25 years. In 2009, race officials kept the finish line open well past the 6 hour limit and there was plenty of pizza, water, and bananas for late-comers. I even won my age group and was awarded a nice metal cup. In 2010, however, the timing clock was the only thing still standing at 6 hours, all the food had disappeared, and although I won my age group again, there was nobody around to give me my award. I was disappointed and vowed never to do this race again. And I kept my word – until this year. In 2011, I did the Myrtle Beach Marathon in SC and thought it was a great race, very well-done. In 2012, I did the Austin Marathon for the second time and enjoyed that race immensely. Recaps of both races appeared on this blog. There are a lot of races on this weekend in February so it seemed rather silly to sign up for one that was just so-so. The big attraction of Five Points was its proximity to my home.

So on that freezing cold Sunday I pulled myself out of bed, ate breakfast, dressed warmly, and woke up my husband and asked him to drive me as close to the starting line as possible; my arm and wrist were still hurting and I was concerned about driving. I had to walk a little over a mile to get to the Performing Arts Center on campus, site of the start. Half marathoners lined up on the left side of the road while the small group of full marathoners (126 of us) lined up on the right. The siren blew and we took off. Although we were told to stay on our respective sides until we reached Newberry Road, it didn’t take long before the half marathoners encroached upon the entire road, with the faster runners dominating the road and elbowing slower runners and walkers out of the way. It would have been smarter if people had lined up by pace but that is something that race officials here have yet to understand.

There is not much to see for the first 4 miles, mostly stores and neighborhoods, but soon runners reach the infamous ‘hills’ of 16th Avenue that Olympic star Frank Shorter trained on when he attended the University of Florida. Upon reaching 13th Street, runners head east towards the historic Duckpond area with its attractive older homes and the restaurants and theaters of downtown Gainesville. Then it’s back to 13th Street where racers go under the street at the School of Education via a graffiti-filled tunnel and out the other side on the campus proper. This is a fun section of the course and is highlighted by a run through the Florida Field concourse, by other University of Florida buildings, along Lake Alice, and then to the half-full split. The course for both races is identical until the 13 mile mark when half marathoners return to the starting line and full marathoners continue on, heading back downtown along a bike path and city streets that eventually intersect with Williston Road, a very long, very boring stretch of the course. The agony of Williston Road ends at mile 22 when runners face another very long, very boring couple of miles until finally back on campus and the final .2 to the finish line.

It was a real struggle to complete those final 13 miles, cold, mostly alone, and hurting. I crossed the finish line in 5:54 and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Someone handed me a medal and I had to ask about food. A table with some bananas, water bottles, and pizza was pointed out to me. Ten minutes later, the timing clock was taken down and everything was packed up. There was no party, no entertainment, and nobody around to ask about awards. Turns out I won my age group again but was sent an email telling me to go to LifeSouth, the Five Points race sponsor, to pick it up. No problem there, I stopped by on Tuesday, but I was very disappointed to see that the ‘award’ was a medal from a previous year’s event on a lanyard that simply said ‘1st place.’ No mention of age group, no personalization, just an old medal on a meaningless ribbon. I was also given a cooling towel. Both items went into my basket for Goodwill.

Enough griping. There was one outstanding aspect of this race – the police, medical staff, and volunteers. All of them were polite, supportive, and cheerful, despite having to withstand freezing cold weather. There were 8 medical tents and at every single one of them, medics would cheer and clap as runners and walkers passed by. The policemen and policewomen were terrific at stopping traffic at every intersection while giving us thumbs up and shouting encouraging words. This was extremely important to me and I am sure other racers appreciated it as well.

But still – I really should have known better and stayed under those covers. The Five Points of Life marathon is definitely not recommended for walkers. The half marathon is recommended for walkers only if you live close by or are a died-in-the-wool Gator fan.

Was I Delirious When I Signed Up for This? – The Delirium 24-Hour Race: February 9/10, 2013

Before race day

Before race day

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Delirium 007

Delirium 008

Delirium 009I MUST have been delirious – after all, it’s a trail race, 24 hours, headlamp REQUIRED because it is pitch black on the trail in the dark (and the dark lasts about 12 hours), and I do have a nasty habit of falling quite a bit on trails. However, this race in its inaugural year of 2012 had excellent reviews, including one from Cathy Troisi, a friend and trusted source. I thought I would try it.

South Carolina is just a couple of states away and so it made for a relatively easy drive. Bluffton is located near Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, in the southeastern corner of the state, making it very convenient for people from Georgia and Florida. My husband and I packed up our car and headed out around 7:30 in the morning. Even with a few stops, we arrived around noontime and had a chance to check out the trail itself as well as the packet pickup venue.

The race is held at on the Buckwalter Place Green Way Trail in Bluffton. The trail is well-maintained and covered in a thick layer of pine needles, essentially flat (the only uphill on the entire course is a wooden bridge at the 1.3 mile mark), with a .4 stretch of asphalt. When my husband and I walked the entire 1.7 mile loop on Friday afternoon, I felt relief that there were no apparent roots or hefty rocks to trip me. Little did I realize that after 160 or so runners constantly beating that layer of pine needles to shreds, there would appear a whole army of slender but treacherous roots lying in wait for a klutzy walker like myself to appear.

After reconnoitering the trail and being reassured that I might actually survive this race, we decided to check in to the host hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Bluffton. This was about 15 minutes away from the trail and smack dab in the middle of a wonderful shopping center (any place that has Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods is fine with me). Our room was ready and immaculate. Now we were hungry and decided to find a place for lunch. We opted for seafood (after all, we were close to the coast) and had a great meal (crabmeat bisque and crabmeat sandwich) at Captain Woody’s. We had to wait until 6 pm to get our packets, so we went back to our room to relax.

The trail encircles Buckwalter Place, a shopping area that includes a large Publix supermarket, an Exxon gas station, McDonald’s, Subway, and several other entities. Packet pickup was in a room at the Station 300 Bowling Alley, located at one end of the shopping center. We were among the first to arrive and the race director, Tim Waz, and several of his volunteers were ready for us. As we walked in, we saw Joyce and Ray, our friends from Virginia. Joyce was also doing the 24 hour race; the last time we had met up at a race was at UltraCentric in November. At that race, Joyce did great in her first 72 hour attempt while I managed to complete my first 48 hour. She excells at trail races; I dread them but keep signing up for them anyhow. Not sure what that says about me!

Anyhow, in addition to our bib, we received a high-quality hooded sweatshirt with the Delirium logo on the front and a Delirium hat. Now it was back to the hotel to pack my drop bags (I brought two of them) and get some sleep.

Delirium 031 Delirium 032

Since the race began at 10 am, I didn’t even set my alarm. I rose at 5:30 am (late for me) and had breakfast and got dressed. We left for the trail around 8:15 and arrived about 15 minutes later. It was still chilly but we were spared the 40 degree temperatures of the early morning. I found a spot for my drop bags on a table and then chatted with Joyce and Ray and the other runners, many of whom I recognized from other ultras. Delirium 022   To make this report more concise, I will resort to highlighting the good and not-so-good about this race:
• there were tables to put drop bags on (but no chairs to sit on) – I should have brought a chair from home (after all, we were driving not flying) and there were stores all around us, a Target within walking distance of the hotel – but I toughed it out. After all, how much sitting was I really going to do? Still, it would have been nice for a break.
• the course is relatively flat and well-maintained, with few impediments (at least until the group of racers beat down the soft pine needles and lay open the nest of roots to trap unwary runners and walkers)
• it had rained all day on Thursday before we arrived and by Friday there were still a couple of muddy sections on the trail. Because of the great weather on the weekend, a lot of this had dried up, although there was still one mud-sucking segment that required careful maneuvering
• road crossings – there were 3 of them, 2 along the .4 mile segment of asphalt and another that crossed a portion of the trail just past the bowling alley parking lot. I thought this would be a major problem, especially on Saturday when I expected a high volume of cars to enter and exit the shopping area. It turned out to be a nonissue, for me at least, because traffic was very light and the drivers were extremely gracious. They often waited for me to cross even when they had a green light, waving me on and smiling.
• there were real bathrooms in at least 3 indoor places (but they were only available during the hours that stores and restaurants were open – 6 am to 1 am – so in the wee hours of the morning we had to use the 3 beat-up porta-potties that were at the staging area). Only three !! porta-potties for all the runners, volunteers, and friends, families, and supporters. Seems like there should have been double or triple that number but thank goodness for those indoor bathrooms – they saved the day for me
• there was food – ultra staples like pb & j quarters, potato chips, and fun-size candy bars but nothing homemade or special – and I really dislike store bought hard-as-rock cookies, skittles [yeccch], and lukewarm broth. We were promised pizza but it wasn’t delivered until midnight (though it sure tasted good then). I ended up making a side trip to Publix to buy some string cheese that I ate with a bagel I had brought with me from the hotel’s breakfast bar. I mean, how many peanut butter sandwiches can you eat in 24 hours?
• the people were great –all of them – from the other racers to the volunteers to the lap counters (who deserve a special word of praise for being patient and helpful) to the locals in Bluffton.
• it was great to see Joyce and Ray again – we had a lot of fun together and I really enjoyed their company. Joyce and I managed to do a few laps together towards the end of the 24 hour period and I was really grateful she was with me when I fell.
• Yes, I fell – only once but it was a hard fall and I hurt my right arm and wrist when I put out my hands to try and catch myself. It could have been a lot worse. Nothing is broken; it’s just a VERY bad sprain, painful and swollen and now, 3 days later, turning all sorts of pretty colors. It happened about 5:30 am, when I was really tired, the roots were really exposed, and it was really really dark. And my new headlamp was dimming dangerously; it seems the batteries can only handle 8 hours and then they give up. I was relieved Joyce was with me when I fell since I was initially in a lot of pain and feeling a bit queasy. She helped me get up and then walked me to the shopping area. I decided to stay inside McDonald’s (which had just opened for the day), have some coffee and oatmeal, and – given the sad state of my headlamp – wait until daylight before I continued on the race. Note to self – don’t mess around with so-so lights. Get several heavy duty high powered lights and carry spare batteries
• it was cold at night, very cold and very frosty; maybe the thermometer said 45 degrees but it felt much colder. Fortunately, I had brought a LOT of clothes and wore almost everything I brought. For once I had enough clothes on, 7 layers, some of them quite thick, and my new balaclava. It was a good decision to wear my long pants because they kept my legs warm.
• every once in a while during the night I stood still, all by myself, and looked up at the tall pine trees and the panoply of stars shining through them. Breathtaking!
• it’s a beautiful area – I had never visited the low country of South Carolina and I was very impressed. It is a lovely part of the state and I enjoyed it immensely
• we ate at some good restaurants (Captain Woody’s for seafood and Montana’s) and stayed at the host hotel, a Holiday Inn, which was clean, accommodating, and inexpensive ($70 a night); there were other restaurants that were highly recommended but we didn’t have time to try those.
• the drive was easy and only took about 4 -5 hours
• the race attracted people from a variety of states, a nice balance of fast and slow runners and walkers; the trail never seemed overly crowded
• nice swag – heavy hoodie, hat, medal, souvenir glass
• for a race in only its 2nd year, everything seemed to go very smoothly. There were plenty of helpful volunteers – bless them

After my fall and my brief stay at McDonald’s, I managed to complete several more loops before the 24 hours was up, finishing with a grand total of 70.23 miles. Certainly not a PR but respectable given the circumstances. Finishers received a psychedlic medal and a glass with the Delirium logo.

The arm - 4 days later -such pretty colors

The arm – 4 days later -such pretty colors

Now for the $64000 question: would I do this race again? Well, not the 24 hour version. For me, it was too dark for too long on a trail, even a groomed trail. But I am already thinking about the 12 hour race next year. That would be close to perfect – I would have access to indoor bathrooms the entire 10 am to 10 pm length of the race, I could experience the beauty of the trail at night without having to become exhausted and ice cold, and I could probably manage at least 40 miles. Things I would do differently: bring a chair, an ice chest (and buy food supplies at Publix the morning of the race), and two powerful handlamps and extra batteries. I am already looking forward to it. For walkers looking to do their first trail race, either the 6 or 12 hour version would be ideal.

Replay: the Tallahassee Half Marathon – February 3, 2013

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last blogged about my race experiences. My husband and I have been involved in some home improvement projects and I have had several writing and editing assignments that seem to have captured all of my free time. As a result, this report is a bit belated.

Although I enjoy half marathons, I usually prefer longer races, so it is rare for me to sign up for a half if there is a full available. However, every year the Tallahassee Half Marathon calls to me because I know my oldest son will come out and do it with me. I enjoy his company before, during, and after the race, even though he manages to finish well ahead of me, especially this year when he had a PR of 2:28. I can only dream of a finishing time that fast.

This year was similar to past years. My husband and I drove toTallahassee on Saturday afternoon and spent an enjoyable afternoon and evening with our son and his family. We stopped at the DoubleTree Hotel downtown to get our race packets. I chose the no-tee-shirt option since I already have so many tech shirts that I don’t wear. It is too bad the shirts weren’t cotton because I really liked this year’s design of the cute groundhog on a blue background. There is a tiny expo with a few local vendors and no samples of food to try so we picked up our bibs and last-minute instructions and headed for home. It was an early night because the race began at 7:30 on Sunday morning.

The race starts and ends on the Florida State University track and there is plenty of free parking, a warm building to wait inside (with indoor bathrooms in addition to the outside porta-potties), and a chance to warm up and ‘relax’ until given the word to head outside. Lots of my friends do this race so I had a chance to enjoy some conversation with Deb, Mellody, Phil, Bettie, and Lois while waiting for the countdown. We took off and my son decided to take it slow and easy for the first couple of miles. So slow and easy that I was striding well ahead of him and getting a little concerned that he was having trouble with his knees or back. I kept stopping and turning around to check on him and make sure he was still moving forward. He was. However, all the constant turning around to see how he was doing was causing me to break my stride and slow me down. I finally decided he was just biding his time until he felt ready to run and I began to move forward in earnest.

Sure enough, around mile 4 David passed me running and I never saw him again until he passed me after he hit the turn around and began heading to the finish line. For me, the race was an easy training run. It’s a flat course so I experienced some shin splints early on but nothing unbearable. I know the course practically by heart so it was kind of fun to just take it easy and enjoy the cool spring weather and the camaraderie of other participants. There is nothing especially noteworthy or scenic on the course; because it is so flat and fast, many runners choose to do this race to try and qualify for Boston.

I finished in 2:46, about usual for me. The medal was especially attractive this year.  It had the same cute little groundhog as on the tee shirt, with half marathoners getting exactly half the medal as the full marathoners. This year I placed second in my age group and would have liked to stay for my award (they are hand crafted ceramics and not mailed) but with my family waiting impatiently for brunch at Azu’s, a favorite Asian restaurant, I decided to forgo the award and keep everyone happy instead. It was another enjoyable half in Tallahassee.