I’ve read plenty of stories about runners who strode through thick mud puddles and wet swampy trails during races. I’ve heard about the slurp-producing suck of the mud as it ate the shoes of those who couldn’t make it across the wide pools of sloppy mud fast enough. Although I have experienced firsthand some amazingly wet drenching downpours in both cold and hot temperatures, I had managed to avoid MUD. That all changed in my latest race experience. It was a mud bath of truly noteworthy proportions.
The Delirium trio of races offers participants a choice of 6, 12, or 24 hour options. Last year, when the race was held in Bluffton, SC, I chose the 24 hour option. Readers of this blog will remember that in the wee hours of Sunday morning, about 20 hours into the race, I took a hard fall and ended up with a broken wrist (although I didn’t realize it at the time and not only completed Delirium but also did a marathon the following Sunday). Still, I enjoyed the race immensely and decided that the 12 hour option would be ideal. I signed up for the 2014 version as soon as registration opened.
This year the race was moved to a different venue. The new course has no road crossings (last year there were several) and there is plenty of room for participants to set up tents or tables and chairs. Although I missed the convenience and privacy of the indoor restrooms at the previous location (Publix, McDonald’s, and a bowling alley were right near the course), there were 5 portapotties set up at the start/finish line and these were thankfully ‘refreshed’ around 4 pm on Saturday. The start/finish line is in a grassy area, with a timing table and fully stocked aid station to one side and a fire pit on the other. There is a brief section of asphalt (naturally, that was my favorite part), and the rest of the 1.695 loop is all tree-lined trail – wide and mostly flat. It was not at all technical, although with my proclivity to fall, I still had to be mindful of the occasional rocks and limbs strewn across the path.
Weather reports called for rain on Saturday so I packed rain pants for both heat and cold. Since the morning and evening were expected to be chilly, I also made sure I included several jackets of different weights and a variety of hats and mittens. I needed them all. I also packed a pair of old Cascadia trail shoes plus a brand new pair of colorful Nike Zoom Wildhorse trail shoes. Uncertain about the quality of this new trail, I also threw in a pair of regular running shoes. I forgot my gaiters, but the rain pants were long enough so I managed fine without them.
I woke on Wednesday with a sore throat. That was ominous. Thursday evening I couldn’t sleep because I was coughing and sneezing; I spent most of the night sitting upright because of nasal congestion. That was not a good sign. My husband was experiencing the same symptoms. On Friday morning, the day we were set to leave, he asked me if I still wanted to go. I said ‘YES’ – after all, this was a timed race so I could go slow and take it easy (my plan all along, since it was trail) and I would probably feel much better afterwards. Besides, my friends Joyce and Ray were planning to be at this race and I wanted to visit with them. Joyce was doing the 24 hour (she is far more adept at running trails than I am) and we hadn’t seen each other since Run-de-Vous last August, so I was looking forward to visiting with her.
We left home Friday morning and drove the short distance to South Carolina. Our hotel was in Hardeesville, right off I-95, so we checked in around 1 pm and had lunch at a local restaurant, the Okatie Ale House. My veggie sandwich was delicious (Portobello mushrooms with cheese and onions) but my husband’s meatloaf was so-so. The rest of our meals this weekend were unremarkable – we ate at McDonald’s and Subway because they were convenient.
Packet pickup was at the race site and began at 3 pm. We were there early and met up with Joyce and Ray as well as several other familiar faces. Race Director Tim Waz and his volunteers were on site to give us our swag – a lightweight comfy hoody with zipper (Low Country Ultra insignia on the front and a huge Delirium symbol on the back) and a warm cap, plus our bib. I love the hoody and have been wearing it nonstop ever since I returned from the trip. I discovered that I now have a reputation of sorts (a good one) with Low Country Ultras – Tim and several of his wonderful volunteers remembered me from Cremator last July; I wasn’t fast but I was pretty steady and I managed to finish within the time limit.
Joyce and I walked the course and discovered it was very doable. Little orange flags marked every possible turn but we also found ourselves studying the ground so carefully that we did manage to go astray at one point. All of a sudden I realized there were no more orange flags so we retraced our steps back to the course. I mentioned this to Tim and – low and behold – the next day there was a log across the errant turn and orange flags pointing the correct way. Now that’s paying attention to the needs of your runners!
It was starting to get dusk as we headed back to the hotel. Darcy and I turned in early so I could be up as usual at 4 am to get ready. The rain had held off and I was optimistic that it might turn out to be a sunny day. That was not to be. We arrived at the race site around 6:30 to help Ray and Joyce set up their canopy and table. Tim gave us some last minute instructions and handed out awards to notable Low Country Ultra volunteers; after a young woman gave a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, we began the race at 8 am sharp. I positioned myself at the rear and began a slow but steady walk.
It started to drizzle. The rain never became a downpour but remained a steady mist throughout the morning. However, it was enough to turn the dirt in many sections of the trail to amazing mud wallows. About two-thirds of the trail was in pretty good shape but that final third was amazingly difficult to navigate. Thick shoe-sucking mud was everywhere and there was no way to avoid it. I just plowed on through, trying to make sure my shoes stayed on my feet and not in the mud. I had decided to wear my new trail shoes and I’m glad I did, even though the bright colors are no more. They provided more traction than the older trail shoes and were much lighter to wear. Some runners took off their shoes and ran barefoot – a good idea but my feet would not have tolerated the cold. During the day, the mud (and the trail in general) was easy to see but as soon as it got dark, around 6 pm, I slowed down considerably because I had trouble seeing the deeper mud traps. I was overjoyed to complete 40.6 miles at the end of 12 hours. My usual mileage for 12 hour road races is 45 miles, so this was not bad at all. I was glad to say that I finally had the chance to really do a mud race!
Delirium has lots of great things going for it:
• Tim Waz and Low Country Ultras really know how to put on a race. Just about everything is high quality, from the hoody and cap to the corps of dedicated volunteers
• The aid station has lots of good food, although somehow I managed to miss out on the homemade cookies this year. I liked having fruit – bananas, kiwis, and grapes – and chocolate M and M candies as well as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
• While the course is trail (except for that neat little bit of asphalt), it’s not too difficult (unless of course it’s rainy and muddy . . . . . and then it’s another story!)
• People are friendly and welcoming – both runners and supporters. People were cheering for me just because I was out there – and that helped a lot when I was tired (and even when I wasn’t)
• This area of South Carolina is an attractive and fun place to visit
Be warned, however, that the rules state that you cannot leave the race area until you are finished. That means – unlike other timed ultras – you can’t go back to your hotel for a nap or shower and then return to continue your laps. If you want to get the medal for your race, you must stay on the course the entire time (of course, you can take breaks as you need them, but you have to stay in the general race area). It’s also critical to bring a headlamp or flashlight (with backup) because the course is not lit and you will definitely need personal lighting. With those caveats, this race is highly recommended. It’s a great race for walkers who want to try a timed trail race.