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.

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