It’s good to be back on track, racing on a regular basis. Although I had enjoyed my brief hiatus from racing (with only one marathon a month in April, May, and June), my training suffered. Babysitting and leisure strolling in picturesque England took their toll. Now, with the 3 mile Melon Run on the 4th of July followed two days later by Merrill’s Mile, a timed race in the mountains of north Georgia, I feel like I am once again honing my walking skills.
There is not much to be said about the Melon Run. I try to do it every year I’m in town and it’s a pleasant way to celebrate the 4th. About 300-500 people show up at a local park, some with dogs and others with baby carriages. Most are runners but there are some walkers as well. I finished the three mile circuit in about 36 minutes, an average of 12 minutes a mile. Since I walk before the race, and then walk to and from the park, as well as actually participating in the race, I get about 10 miles or so under my belt. The reward is all the watermelon I can eat, in addition to water, cookies, bananas, and other goodies. Nice and low-key.
I was really excited about Merrill’s Mile. Timed races are relatively stress-free, although I manage to place a lot of expectations on myself. For this race, I hoped to do a minimum of 31 miles (to count in Marathon Maniacs statistics, any race over 8 hours has to be at least the length of a 50K), but I really wanted to cover between 40-45 miles.
This race is put on by DUMASS Runners (Dahlonega Ultra Marathon Association). I gave the organization a French pronunciation (Doo Mahs) until my husband pointed out the picture of a jackass used as a symbol on the logo and tee shirt. Oh, ‘Dumb Ass’ – I finally get it and feel quite silly (but I still like my pronunciation better although I can appreciate the joke).
We left Florida at 6:30 am on Friday morning, stopping only for a quick bite for breakfast at McDonald’s and a couple of gas fill-ups and potty breaks. Our hotel was the Holiday Inn Express, just outside of downtown Dahlonega; we checked in around 1 pm and began unpacking our bags and getting stuff ready for the race. I couldn’t get my ankle chip and bib until 4 pm, so we tried to relax and unwind. Finally, around quarter to 4, we headed out to the Hiker Hostel, site of packet pickup. The word ‘hostel’ makes me think of something just a step above camping out so I was pleasantly surprised at the attractive cabins and headquarters of this hostel.
Along with my bib and chip, I received a neat cotton tee shirt, with the cute little mule/jackass picture on the back. Other early arrivals included several people who had run Delirium and Operation Endurance. Soon my friends Joyce and Ray showed up; Joyce was doing the 24 hour race. On the one hand, I wondered if I should change my plans and try the longer race, but since I had only packed for the shorter version, I decided to stick with my original plan. That turned out to be a wise choice.
We chatted awhile and then Darcy and I drove to downtown Dahlonega for dinner. We had a good meal at the Porter House, hamburgers, sweet potato fries, and local beer. There was so much food that I asked for a container for leftovers and planned on having them after the race on Saturday evening.
The race site was at Camp Frank D. Merrill, an active military base, and the course was a 12 foot wide 1 mile crushed granite and dirt oval loop. Well, it was not really one full mile but rather a .9902 mile loop, so every completed loop was just shy of one mile. I had done several ‘mile’ courses that were really not full miles so I was familiar with the frustration that comes with having to do a few extra loops to get the full expected mileage. I much prefer courses that are longer rather than shorter, but at least I knew what to expect.
Race options included a 12 hour day, 12 hour night, and 24 hour; the 12 hour day and 24 hour both started at 9 am Saturday morning while the 12 hour night began at 9 pm on Saturday evening. The course was an oval and it was impossible to get lost – even for me. Everyone ran or walked in a counter-clockwise direction. Only full laps were to be counted.
The start/finish had a fully-stocked aid station with the usual ultra goodies plus some special treats. Volunteers at the aid station were especially attentive to our needs; every time I paused to consider what to eat next, someone was offering me a delicacy. There was another aid station at the halfway point on the course that had just water and Gatorade. Four porta-potties were our rest rooms for the duration. They were clean and the number appeared to be sufficient for runners and family members. I never had to wait in line.
Although the race didn’t start until 9 am, Darcy and I left for the race site before 7. We wanted to help Joyce and Ray set up their tent at a good location on the course. I brought a chair as well as a drop bag so I could set my things on the chair and use it to change shoes and socks later in the race. We followed the website’s directions to Camp Merrill, on a twisting rural road in the beautiful north Georgia Appalachian foothills, about 25 minutes from Dahlonega. The morning held the promise of rain but in the early morning it was dry, the temperature was in the low 70’s, and cloudy. Predictions were for intermittent rain the entire weekend. The preceding week had seen a lot of rain already, and the track had lots of puddles. Because of past experience with pebbles and dirt courses, I wore my gaiters. I was very glad I did, since otherwise the tiny rocks would have worked their way inside my shoes and socks.
We queued up behind the starting line, me at the very back, and as everyone began moving forward, I tried my best to skirt the worst of the puddles (they seemed to be deepest near the start line). Soon I was able to get into a regular rhythm, averaging about 14 to 15 minutes per loop. It was a nice easy comfortable pace and I was able to maintain it for a fairly long length of time. The only really negative part of the entire day was the rain, which began sometime in the morning and continued throughout the day and night. Sometimes it was a light mist, other times a drizzle, occasionally a deluge. My clothes would dry out and then it would start to rain again. I don’t think it stopped for longer than 2 hours at most. The puddles deepened and began to cover most of the course. It was impossible to avoid getting my shoes and socks wet. Eventually I had to stop and change into my spare pair; my feet were starting to blister and hurt. If I had brought additional shoes and socks, I would have changed again, but since I had just the one spare pair of each, I had to manage as best I could.
The timing seemed to be spot on, so even though I kept track of my loop count, I could double-check each time I passed the timing clock. Eventually I worked out a method of stopping every 5 loops to drink or eat something or go to the porta-potty. Once I passed 35 circuits, I relaxed a bit. I had managed to get at least a 50K and it was only about 4 o’clock. Now I could work on adding to that total over the next five hours. Darcy showed up at 7 pm and that cheered me up a lot. Only 2 more hours to go, the rain had ceased for a bit, and I was feeling pretty good (except for my wet and blistered feet). I decided to try to do at least 44 loops, maybe 45. Then the rains began again, this time accompanied by thunder and lightning. I am cautious about lightning; I decided that #44 would be my final loop. I completed that loop at 8:39 pm, right before the rain turned into a heavy downpour. It was time to pack up, get my dog tag finisher’s medal, and head back to the hotel. Final result: 43.569 miles.
My friend Joyce was still in for the duration and I felt bad about leaving her and Ray – but I was definitely glad to call it a day. The decision to make this just a 12 hour race was a good decision for me, especially since I felt I was just getting back into the swing of racing again. Darcy and I drove back to the Holiday Inn, where I showered and ate my leftover dinner (still good the second day), and went to bed. It was good to sleep in on Sunday morning and take our time driving back home, stopping of course for peaches, onions, and other treats at the Nut House on I-75.
This is definitely a good race for walkers to consider. People are friendly, the area is beautiful, and the course is well-groomed. The puddles – well, they are just an obstacle to be dealt with – but if the weather is clear and rain is absent, the course would have been fine.