I 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.
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. 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.
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.