Misery and Camaraderie at the 72 Hour UltraCentric (November 21-24, 2013) – Grapevine, TX

This was to be my second time at the UltraCentric series of races. Last year I did the 48 hour and had such a great time that I vowed to return and try the longer event. I like the course a great deal; although the asphalt is broken in parts, it is much easier to walk on than a trail (no roots or rocks to trip over) and the unusual shape of the 2 mile course (kind of like a contorted lollypop) keeps boredom from setting in. The one aid station is set in the middle of the course and is passed twice on each lap. There are porta-potties but also two sets of real bathrooms right on the course.

All this encouraged me to sign up for the 2013 adventure. My husband and I left on Wednesday morning to fly into DFW. After picking up our rental car, we stopped at Rosa’s Café for a late lunch of fajitas and beer. The food here was excellent and we ate our fill. Then it was on to the Hyatt Place Hotel in Grapevine, our home for the next four nights. Ideally, it would be my home for just one or two of those nights because I hoped to stay on the course for at least one, and preferably two, evenings, in my quest to attain 150 miles. That was my major goal – 150 miles – although if I could manage to do even more, so much the better. I was fairly confident that I could at least complete more than the 137 miles I had achieved at the Across the Years 72 hours race because I liked this course better and I was not worried about pebbles getting in my shoes.

I packed my drop bag with a variety of clothes, shoes, socks, and handwarmers plus some energy bars, peanuts, Vaseline, Body Glide, etc. You get the idea – I included anything and everything I thought I might need. When we arrived at the race site on Thursday morning, I borrowed a folding chair to set my bag on. Temperatures were in the mid-50’s, cool but pleasant. Since we were the first to arrive, we tried to help RD Robert Tavieri and some of his volunteers, including his fiancé Shelley, arrange the aid station and other essentials. I picked up my bib number (#3) and cache of goodies – a blue fleece jacket (same as last year but with a yellow UltraCentric logo this time), black baseball cap, tote bag, and glass mug. The fleece jacket is excellent quality and fits perfectly. The cap, mug, and bag were a welcome surprise.

Other runners soon began to arrive and just before the race began we were given our ankle chips. The bib also had a chip attached to its reverse side and was used as a second timing device in case the ankle bracelet didn’t record a lap. Last year, there were some problems with the timing company so this year a different company was used. We were a small group this year, only 7 of us in the 72 hour segment.

Robert blew the foghorn at 9:04 am and we took off. The weather was great, the people friendly, and I felt positive about just about everything. For the first two laps, Marie and Jerry and I walked together and chatted. Then they took off running and I found myself segueing into a pleasant easy pace comfortable for me and one I felt I could keep up for hours. And so I did, stopping occasionally to eat or take a quick break.

Last year food was catered by an excellent Cordon Bleu cook; this year food was supplied and cooked by hard-working volunteers who provided excellent hearty sustenance throughout the 3 day period. We had a variety of the customary ultra snacks and drinks (Heed, soda, water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate) as well as hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and quesadillas.

Everything went fine until about 7:30 pm. The weather forecast had warned of impending storms and a cold front that was to pass through Thursday evening. It turned out that weather was THE critical element for me in this race. My original plan was to start on Thursday morning, walk all night, and continue on as long as possible on Friday. I would return to the hotel for a rest on Friday evening and then return on Saturday morning. If I could last another 24 hours on the course on Saturday, that would be great; if not, then I would spend another brief night in the hotel and return to finish the race Sunday morning. All those plans went awry when the bad weather hit.

Thunder, lightening, and rain pelted down on us for several hours Thursday evening and the temperature dropped precipitously. Suddenly it was 30 degrees and I found myself completely drenched and freezing. I called my husband to pick me up and take me back to the hotel as soon as he could get there. While I waited, I tried to stay sheltered from the lightening by hovering in the aid station tent. The wind had picked up as well; my drop bag blew off the chair I had set it on and the chair itself toppled over. When Darcy arrived, I jumped in the car, my teeth chattering, and my arms shaking. We drove back to the hotel and I quickly changed into dry warm clothes. We turned up the heat in the room and I tried to dry my soaked clothes and shoes on the air vents. It took about an hour before I stopped shivering. I felt pretty dejected at this point. I wasn’t even able to make it through the first 24 hours. Now I had to decide how to best reassess my goals. Misery had set in with a vengeance.

My alarm went off at 4 am. I had a quick cup of coffee and leftover muffin and dressed warmly. Luckily, I had packed 2 sets of quick-dry long pants as well as a parka, rain jacket, and lots and lots of handwarmers plus 4 pairs of shoes. I dressed in about 6 layers plus my outer jacket and rain slicker. I also wore my LL Bean ski mask; it turned out to be worth its weight in gold because it kept the sharp wind and icy rain from excoriating my face. Darcy drove me back to the course and I took off once again, warm and dry, despite the sleet and rain that continued for most of the day. I was amused to see that one of the porta-potties had blown over during the night. I hope no one had been inside when that happened!

The 48 hour runners began their race at 9 am on Friday so we were soon joined by several dozen others on the course. My friend Kimberley and her mom Nancy were in this group and it was fun to see them both again. Last time I had seen them was at Run-de-Vous in California and before that at FANS.

On Thursday, I had been doing 30 minute laps, about 15 minutes per mile, but on Friday, my times got progressively slower. I lasted only until 4 pm. My legs were fine, my feet were doing okay, but the cold had reached deep into my bones and I was chilled and aching. I longed for that warm hotel room, a hot shower, and some dry clothes. By the end of the second day, I had achieved only 74 miles – pretty dismal. I decided to try and make the best of it and just do the best I could. I remembered a woman from Operation Endurance who said that she only had 2 major goals in a race – to have fun and not die. Those became my goals in this race.

Once again, I spent the night at the hotel, rising at 4 the next morning and getting dropped off at the course at 5 am. The weather was still cold and rainy on Saturday but there was not so much sleet or wind. A lot more people were on the course when the 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24 hour racers took their places on the course. Their fresh legs spurred me to try and move a little faster. I managed to continue moving until 4 pm – and then I just couldn’t take the cold any longer. Darcy picked me up and drove me back to the hotel and we made plans to return once again in the early morning to finish the race. Total number of miles: 110.

On Sunday, I started out at 5:30 am and I managed to get another 12 miles before the timing clock was stopped. This year there was no credit for partial laps, so I finished my 61st lap with 12 minutes to spare. My total mileage was 122 miles, only 2 miles more than I had completed last year in the 48 hour race. However, when I totaled up my actual hours on the course, I realized I had only been actually racing for 36.5 hours (11 hours each day for the first 3 days and 3.5 hours for Sunday). If only I had been able to spend another 12-15 hours on the course, I might have been able to reach my goal of 150 miles. Oh, well, maybe next year!

While the misery noted in the title of this report refers to the weather situation, the camaraderie most definitely captures the feeling of solidarity and support that surrounded our hearty band of 72 hour runners. It seems that all of us had to reassess our goals in this race because of the unpredictable cold and damp. I admired the stoicism, speed, and talent of Marie, Ben, Jerry, Matt, Terrie, and Kenny. All of them were enthusiastic and friendly and one could not have wished for better companions in such a challenging race environment.

We were treated to a delicious steak breakfast (my husband did a great job at the grill), along with pancakes, bacon, eggs, and fruit. I was hungry by the end of this race and eagerly consumed my share. The awards ceremony followed our meal. Despite my discouragement over not achieving my original goal, I was immensely pleased, flabbergasted really, to come in 5th overall and 2nd woman. I received a plaque for women’s 72 hour grand master champion and 7 silver coins as 2nd place female. That took away quite a bit of my original disappointment.

The storm that hit Dallas was given a name – Boreas – and it affected our return home. Our Monday flight to Atlanta was canceled although we were able to catch a later flight. We finally made it back to Florida several hours later than expected, but still in enough time to begin defrosting our Thanksgiving turkey.

The UltraCentric series of races is highly recommended for walkers, but be prepared for all kinds of weather, especially cold.

Miles for Maria: an Epic 6 Hour/12 Hour Run – November 9, 2013 (Kennesaw, GA)

The race director’s daughter Maria was diagnosed with epilepsy before she was 3 years old. In her honor, he decided to put on this endurance race and raise money for epilepsy research. I had an open weekend and decided to use the 12 hour option as training to increase my stamina for a couple of longer ultras on my upcoming schedule. This would be my 5th marathon/ultra in 6 weeks.

My husband and I left around 7 am for the 6 ½ hour drive to Kennesaw, a suburb northwest of Atlanta. We stayed at a relatively new Embassy Suites in a shopping center one exit away from the race site. The area had a variety of retail stores and restaurants. Our dining choice for both Friday and Saturday evenings was a sports pub called Taco Mac that was situated right in front of our hotel. I know the name sounds like it serves Tex-Mex food but in reality it was a casual grill that offered burgers, ribs, chicken, and fries (including sweet potato fries), plus a wide selection of draft micro beers. Food and service were excellent both days.

Packet pickup was from 5-8 pm at Big Peach Running Company in Kennesaw or at 7 am on race morning. I opted to get my bib on Friday evening, since I wanted get everything ready that night. In addition to the bib, I received a white long sleeve tech tee shirt with an attractive purple design.

The course was a relatively easy non-technical trail around a pristine lake near an office park in Kennesaw. The trail was a bit wider than single-track, although it did get a little narrow in spots. The terrain was soft pine needles, grass, and dirt with – of course – a few major roots (i.e., tripping hazards for me) on about a third of the route. My favorite parts were the wooden footbridges that joined the trail sections; I moved swiftly along those flat surfaces. There was no elevation to speak of, although there was one tiny incline that seemed to grow much larger as the day wore on.

The distance for the loop measured along the tangents was .65 miles so 50 loops would equal 32.5 miles. One of the other runners, fellow Maniac and Darksider Malissa, was kind enough to make a laminated chart with all the laps and their mileage distances but I had already figured out the important ones I needed to know. My goal was to stay long enough to complete 50 laps so I could get at least a 50k before it got dark. I knew that it would be much harder to avoid tripping over roots after the sun went down, especially when fatigue set in, but just in case I had a headlamp and my knuckle lights with me.

The weather on race morning was perfect – in the mid-50’s to start, slightly overcast with a drizzle that continued most of the morning; it soon warmed up to the mid-60’s but with no sun.  There was quite a lot of shade on the trail and it was never too hot or cold. I wore 2 jackets, mittens, and a hat while waiting for the race to begin at 8 am but then quickly shed all my outer layers and was perfectly comfortable in long pants, turtleneck, and long sleeve tech tee. I never needed sunglasses or cap. I set up a chair with my drop bag but I never really needed it during the day. All my food and drink needs were met by the aid station and I never needed to change shoes or socks.  There were 2 porta potties that were up a hill about 10 feet off the trail.  It was a little slippery getting to and from the porta potties but nothing unmanageable.

Race Director Mark Vescio was on site all the time and exceedingly helpful. The volunteers were great and offered a lot of vocal support to racers, especially the aid station lady, Karen Kaye from the Big Peach Running Company. Food and drink were plentiful, erything from pizza to peanut butter sandwiches and cookies. There was upbeat music and positive patter from DJ Jarian Rich (aka MC Richie Rich); I especially enjoyed the oldies but goodies from the 60’s. There were several timekeepers, including Vikena Yutz (Across the Years 72 hour female champion) who did a masterful job of making sure that everyone received credit for each loop. Between Karen, Kena, and Jarian, I felt as if I had my own cheering section every time I completed a lap.

I managed not to do a face plant but I did slip and fall once as I reached over to throw a water cup into a trash barrel. I fell sideways, scratching my face, banging my knee, and throwing my glasses out of whack. This happened around lap 18 so for the rest of the race I had to keep readjusting my glasses so I could see. At least I did no damage to my wrist and there were no broken bones!

As I began my 48th lap, I called my husband back at the hotel to let him know I was almost done. He appeared at the lake just as I started my last lap. Although official results are not yet up, it looks like I finished 32.5 miles in approximately 8 hours 35 minutes. Instead of medals, finishers were given heavy glass tavern mugs with the Miles for Maria logo on them. Then it was back to the hotel to relax. There was no need to set an alarm for Sunday morning, so we had a good night’s rest, a hearty breakfast at the hotel when we awoke, and then a long drive home. Of course, we had to stop at the Nut House on I-75 for some pecan delicacies and to stock up on Thanksgiving goodies; a stop at Lenscrafters fixed my glasses. All in all, it was a fun trip.

It looks like this will be an annual event. It’s a good choice for walkers who want to try out a timed trail race that is fairly easy (just watch for those occasional roots) with lots of support.


THE Classic Athens Marathon – November 10, 2013 (Athens, Greece)

It wasn’t a hard decision to make. Marathoners who love the sport look upon the original marathon in Athens, Greece, as the iconic race to run, a major goal to achieve. I’ve had the good fortune to do the big marathons in Boston, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Anchorage, and numerous other cities but Athens was still in the ‘to-do/must-do’ category. Now I had my opportunity; I signed up with Marathon Tours to visit Greece and take part in the 31st running of the classic marathon route.
We left on Wednesday afternoon, flying first to Atlanta, then Paris, and finally Athens, arriving on Thursday at 2 pm. On the flight to Athens, we shared a row with Kyle, a young man from Madison, Wisconsin, who was doing Athens as his first marathon. His excitement was palpable and mirrored mine in a more minor key. After landing, we collected our baggage and proceeded to the meeting area for the motor coach ride to our hotel. On the way, the driver pointed out a huge statue of a marathon runner created completely out of flat planes of glass.
It took about an hour to drive to downtown Athens; there was a lot of traffic as well as a demonstration outside one of the public buildings. We checked into the Hotel Hera, an older property that was located in the heart of Athens near the Acropolis Museum, very convenient to shops and restaurants. Our non-smoking room was on the 5th floor and was tiny but immaculate. We took a few minutes to settle in and unpack (I looked longingly at the bed but knew it was best not to give in to sleepiness so early in the afternoon) and then walked to Tavern of the Gods, a nearby café, to have lunch. The food in Athens turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was not a fan of Greek cuisine until this visit. I found the food to be superb and I liked it all, everything from moussaka, spanakopita, and pastitsio, to Greek salad. Food was also relatively inexpensive. The local beers were also good – our favorite was Mythos. After lunch, we walked around the area for a while and then returned to our hotel. It was getting dark and we were exhausted. We gave up and went to bed.
The alarm woke us at 6 am. Breakfast was buffet-style, with a full repast. I especially enjoyed the pressed coffee and Greek pastries but my husband extolled the virtues of the eggs, sausage, and potatoes. We ate our fill and then repaired to our room to rest and get ready for the morning half-day sightseeing tour of the city sponsored by Marathon Tours. Our guide for the tour was an articulate and knowledgeable Athens native Maria who spoke perfect English. On our drive to the Acropolis, she explained the history and background of the site. We walked up the numerous rocky steps to the top of this natural fortress and were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of Athens and the Mediterranean seaport of Piraeus. The Acropolis contains the remains of several temples, including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike. I remember writing a term paper in high school on the Parthenon and its architect/sculptor Pheidias; now I was seeing my long-ago research truly come alive.
We drove by Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus, Parliament (where we watched the Changing of the Guard), and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Our final stop on the tour was the race expo. In previous years, the expo was held at the centrally located Zappeion exhibition hall, but this year it was changed to Tae-Kwon-Do Olympic Venue at Faliron, near the port. We were fortunate to have one of the tour buses drive us to the expo and back downtown.
The expo itself was medium-sized, with mostly local vendors selling shoes, supplies and clothes, various physical therapy and massage services, and fast-food offerings. Packet pickup was well-organized and it was simple and quick to get my race packet with bib and chip attached to the back, a large plastic drop bag, and race information booklets and maps. We had to walk through the booths of the expo in order to reach the tee shirt counter; this year’s shirt was a short-sleeve technical shirt, grey with blue and green logos. I was pleased to actually get the size I ordered, even if it was a bit too large. I could still wear it and planned to do so, especially on the trip home. Meanwhile, I had made up my mind to purchase whatever marathon-sponsored articles I could find because – as in Boston – this would probably be a one-time chance for me and I wanted to stock up on tangible memorabilia. Most ladies sizes in shirts and jackets were out-of-stock, but I did buy an attractive cotton tee shirt and a poster. (I was told that there would be additional items offered at a booth near the stadium at the end of the race and I did manage to get a cap and warm ladies jacket after I completed the race).
For lunch on Friday, Darcy and I sat at an outdoor table at the Yard Bar and Restaurant. Our chairs faced the pedestrian walkway and we had a good time people-watching as we ate our tasty entrees. In the early evening we attended a welcome cocktail reception at the other tour group hotel, the Royal Olympic. This hotel was more opulent than the Hera but not as conveniently located. We chatted with some of the other tour group members, listened to a course overview and last minute instructions from Thom and Anita, the leaders, and then walked back to our hotel.
Saturday was a free day and we planned to have a leisurely breakfast and then do some touring on our own. I had a list, a fairly long one, of things I wanted to see, and we planned to attack the list as best we could. Our first stop was the Acropolis Museum. We spent about 2 hours looking at a life-size representation of the Parthenon (which we saw in person yesterday) and a host of Athenian artifacts. We watched a film about the marathon and viewed the Breal Cup, the Marathon trophy for the first modern marathon to be held at the Olympic Games in 1896.
Then we walked to the ancient Agora or meeting place, with the Temple of Hephaistos, the Agora Museum, the Corinthian Capital, statue of Hadrian, and Panathenaic Way. We continued on to the remains of Hadrian’s Library and the Roman forum and agora. Finally, we walked to the Plaka, the most tourist-oriented part of Athens, with narrow streets and myriad souvenir shops. Of course, I had to buy some gifts here, worry-beads, Greek delicacies and spices, and tee shirts. And naturally we had to try the gelato (delicious). We brought our treasures back to the hotel and then had a late lunch at the Tavern of the Gods. We skipped the pasta dinner so I could get ready for the race on Sunday and try to get some sleep.
Ha! Sleep?? Maybe I had an hour or two, but mostly Saturday night was spent tossing and turning and trying to count sheep. I always get nervous before a race, and it doesn’t matter that this would be my 147th marathon/ultra; those pre-race butterflies still make me a nervous wreck. I had set my alarm for 3 am even though our bus to the starting line at the town of Marathon was not due to leave until 6:30. I woke before the alarm went off, heated up my coffee and ate a granola bar, packed some last minute items, finished dressing, and woke my husband so he could walk me to the bus. Marathon Tours (and other tour groups) had arranged for a special bus to take us to Marathon. Free transport was provided for all racers but they had to meet at one of the special locations throughout the city. Darcy and I arrived at the bus early and when it arrived, I eagerly took a seat up front, ready to get started. As we drove through the city to the outskirts, we could see the permanent kilometer markers set up along the route.
It seemed like it took forever to get arrive, probably because of the large number of buses and cars heading to the start. Finally we were there. My first stop was to one of the hundreds of porta-potties in a field next to the start line corrals. The weather on race day was fine, one of those beautiful days with little wind, temps in the upper fifties (perfect), and no rain in the forecast. I wore a short-sleeve tech tee shirt under a green hoodie and had some throw-away gloves on my hands. There were 7 corrals and I was in #7. The start was divided into 7 waves, with approximately one to four minutes between each wave start. Wave number one began – on time – at 9 am sharp and was preceded by a display of fireworks and balloons. I later learned from a racer in corral 3 that there was also a minute of silence in memory of Boston, but my corral was too far away to be aware of this recognition.
As everyone pressed into my corral just before we took off, I began to get a little dizzy and claustrophobic, but once we started to move, people spread out along the wide streets and gave me plenty of room to maneuver. It was impossible to get lost on this course. There is a permanent blue line that marks the route from Marathon to Athens. It’s a bit faded in parts but is otherwise easy to follow. It also follows the tangents of the course, so I tried to stay on the line itself to save myself extra steps.
Every kilometer is marked, with permanent signs and with large flags. Timing mats were set up at 5 kilometer intervals, and aid stations were plentiful, beginning at the 5k mark and then every 2 ½ k after that. There were sports drink, water, bananas, energy bars and gels, and sponges (although the sponges were mostly on the ground by the time I passed by). The only negative about the aid stations was the lack of water in cups. Instead we were handed plastic bottles of water, cumbersome to hold (larger in circumference than those in Dublin), and I ended up drinking just a little bit from each bottle and then tossing the almost full bottles. I disliked wasting so much good water and would have preferred to drink just a few ounces from a cup as I passed by, but there was not much I could do about it.
The day warmed up considerably and I was grateful I had dressed for the heat. There was very little shade on the course but a cool breeze helped keep the heat to a minimum. Medical personnel were plentiful and frequently appeared on bikes and in cars as well as at aid stations; I did see a sag wagon with people who had dropped out from injury or exhaustion and several people were treated by the roadside.
There were more spectators than I thought – lots of people of all ages lined the streets, children and adults of all ages. We heard ‘bravo, bravo’ frequently and lots of people gave me a ‘thumbs up’s sign. Children high-fived us and handed out olive branches; I took one proffered by a little boy and managed to carry it all the way to the finish line. A Greek runner asked me in English if carrying the olive branch gave me energy and I said ‘yes, indeed, and it was also good luck.’
The course ends in Panathinaikon Stadium and runners and walkers complete the final 170 meters within the stadium itself. I finished in 5:59:31 (under my 6 hour goal!) and later learned that in my age group I was 4th out of 11 participants and the first American. The medal is heavy and beautiful and one I will always treasure. My husband met me at the finish line, we walked back to the hotel, and after the obligatory shower and nap, we celebrated with a quiet meal at our favorite café.
We had to wake at 3 am for an early flight to Paris, followed by an extremely long 10+ hour flight to Atlanta and a much shorter flight home. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the race was truly a momentous event, to be following in the footsteps of Pheidippides along the original route, and I enjoyed every moment.
This race is highly recommended for everyone, especially walkers. The generous 8 hour time limit, the full support for back-of-the packers, and the enthusiasm of the Greek people make this a race not to be missed.

Day of the Dead Marathon #4 – November 3, 2013 (Las Cruces, NM)

Cap Reef - Las Cruces 10-13 261

This race was really a placeholder of sorts for me, sandwiched as it was between two international races. It turned out to be a lot of fun in its own right, though both the weather and course provided several challenges. The Day of the Dead series consists of 4 marathons (along with companion half marathons) held on 4 consecutive days; the first two are set in El Paso, TX, and Willcox, AZ, respectively, while the last two take place in Las Cruces, NM. Race Director Clint Burleson is the mastermind behind the “Mainly Marathons” series and Maniacs and 50 State Club members love them because races in 4 or 5 neighboring states can be checked off in the same number of days. The Dust Bowl series encompasses Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, while the Appalachian series includes West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia (and there are more – check out the MainlyMarathons.com website for a complete listing). If you don’t mind driving several hours between races, accomplishing these races is a good way to rapidly accumulate states and statistics.

Well, I’m not in need of states and I’d rather take a nap after completing a marathon instead of driving to another state for another race, but several friends were planning on showing up for this 4th race in New Mexico, so I thought it would make for an enjoyable weekend. That certainly proved to be the case.

We had only 2 days to prepare for this trip after our return from Ireland but I managed to unpack, wash clothes, pay bills, and repack without too much angst. On Saturday, we flew into El Paso, rented a car, and drove to Las Cruces, then checked into Springhill Suites, very close to packet pickup at the nearby La Quinta. At these low-key races, there is usually no expo, just a corps of dedicated volunteers who hand out bibs and tee shirts and supportive words. That was the case here. After getting my bib and shirt plus a small colorful race poster, Darcy and I stopped at the Pecan Grill where we had a relaxing early dinner. I had one of my favorite meals, a Portobello mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries. Then it was back to the room to get things ready for the next morning. We had been warned to set our clocks back an hour because of Daylight Savings Time so enjoyed an extra hour of sleep.

The desert in Las Cruces is cold at night and in the early morning hours but then heats up during the day. I dressed in layers and was grateful for my mittens and handwarmers. Temps were in the mid-forties at the start and I was shivering, but after the sun came up, it was warm. I soon was able to shed my jacket and mitts though I still felt overdressed with a short sleeve and long-sleeve shirt.

The nature of this laid-back race is very casual. The race venue was a school football stadium with plenty of parking. Runners and walkers lined up at the impromptu start line beneath a banner and after a few words from the RD and others, we set off at 7:05 am. The course is a 6.5 mile double out-and-back on dirt, pebbles, and paved bike path through La Llarona Park. Although there were several turns along the route, they were marked with orange cones. There were also a few road crossings but traffic was very light and volunteers assisted racers when necessary. The extremely flat nature of the course gave my shins a workout, but it was not really a problem. A bigger issue was the tiny rocks that kept creeping into my shoes and made me wish I had worn my gaiters. There were few spectators (remember, this is a small race, with about 50 people doing the full and perhaps 130 doing the half) and no shade at all. No mile markers either, so it was hard to tell exactly where I was at any given time. Several aid stations were strategically placed along the route, with plenty of food and drink options. A few porta-potties sprinkled the course as well as one real bathroom at about the 3.5 mile point (and we passed it 4 times).

Since I’m not a fan of double-loop courses, I was only too glad to see the finish line at the end of my second go-round. I had a choice of medals, all decorated with Day of the Dead symbols. The one I selected was blue and yellow with a colorful lanyard. Food at the finish was pizza and snacks but I opted for some cold chocolate milk. I didn’t meet my time goal of under 6 hours, but I was grateful for the 6:08:45 finish. Stopping to empty my shoes of rocks and to take a bathroom break no doubt added those extra minutes but finishing times did not really matter in this race. In fact, there is no time limit in any of the Mainly Marathon races. For walkers and slower runners, this is a good deal. There are even special awards to those who come in last.

We left Las Cruces immediately after the race because our plan was to leave El Paso early the next morning. Along the way, we picked up fajitas at Taco Cabana and had our post-race meal while relaxing at the Marriott Courtyard at the airport where we spent the night. Our flight left at 6 am on Monday and we arrived home around 3 pm, tired but content. We had just a day to prepare for our next trip.