Sole Challenge 24 Hour Race – May 24-25, 2014 (Chambersburg, PA)


My last attempt at a 24 hour race was almost a year ago, at FANS in Minneapolis. That turned out to be a disappointment for me because the course had been changed to one that was mostly trail. Readers of this blog are familiar with my propensity to fall over rocks and roots so I cut short my 24 hour attempt to a 12 hour. That way I could face the trail only during daylight hours. My friend Joyce told me about Sole Challenge, a new timed race that was completely paved AND had real restrooms right along the course. That sold me. Joyce had done the race last year and had great things to say about it so I signed up for this year’s event. It turned out to be a very good race, well-organized, with lots of volunteer support, medical aid, and those nice convenient restrooms.

We chose to drive to Pennsylvania because the distance seemed fairly reasonable so we left on Wednesday morning, stopping the first night at the Dillard House in Dillard, GA, and the second night in Staunton, VA, at the Hampton Inn. The Dillard House has been a favorite resting place for us since our boys were small and their restaurant serves good Southern-food, family-style (not exactly to my Yankee tastes but I do enjoy their acorn squash soufflé). The Hampton Inn was similar to other Hampton properties but its location was good and the town of Staunton was a neat place to visit. By mid-day Friday we had arrived in Chambersburg and settled ourselves at a new Hampton Inn for the next three days.

Since it was still early afternoon – too early for packet pickup that was to begin at 5 – we had lunch at The Cottage (I had a delicious Portobello mushroom sandwich) and then took a tour of the Old Jail downtown. An informative docent gave us lots of neat historical facts about the jail and its denizens as we walked through the cells, down to the dungeon in the basement, and outside to the exercise yard where the occasional hanging would take place.

Around 4:30 pm, we drove to nearby Norlo Park, site of the race and where the pasta dinner and packet pickup were supposed to be located. This turned out to be the only part of the race that seemed disorganized. Several people were setting up tents along the course and several other runners had arrived and were waiting for Rick, the race director, to show up. We joined them and chatted for awhile, but when 5:30 arrived and the RD did not, we all began to get a little worried. No one had a phone number for the RD and there was nothing n the race’s Facebook page to alert us to any changes. It was not until Mike Melton, the timing guy, arrived and called Rick that we learned the venue for packet pickup and the dinner had been changed to the community center building ¼ mile away. Problem solved. We walked up to the center and I got my tee shirt (dark blue short-sleeve tech with logo on the front) but was unable to get my bib and chip until the next morning. That was okay – it was now getting close to 6:30 and I wanted to get back to the hotel to get some rest.

I spent a sleepless night, concerned mostly about the course itself. Yes, it was paved, and that was good, but there were a number of turns that were confusing and I could see myself easily going down the wrong path. Of course, I need not have worried so much; there were chalk marks and signs plus bright purple, green, and yellow paint (because of the two color runs that preceded our race) so after the first couple of loops I had memorized the course. Still, at midnight, it was hard to see signs and colors, so I did have to pay close attention.

Saturday morning Darcy and I drove to the park and met up with Joyce and Ray. It was cool but not cold, around 52 degrees. I was told wind could be a problem so I brought several layers of warm clothes plus a windbreaker. I was never really cold during the night, although I did put on and take off various clothes during the race. We set up my chair and drop bags under their canopy and watched the 5k color run entrants as they finished their races. At 10 am, Sole Challenge participants lined up behind the starting line and we took off. In addition to the 24 hour race, there were also 6 hour and 12 events. I was nervous about whether I could manage to stay awake and moving for 24 hours – it had been at least 1 ½ years since I had successfully accomplished this. My legs were still a bit tired and achy from the 3 marathons I had done the previous week in New England. As a result I never really achieved my best walking pace even at the start, but for the first laps of the 1.55 mile course I averaged 20-25 minutes. As the day wore into evening, I took progressively longer and a few of my laps lasted around 45 minutes (usually including several potty breaks and a change of shoes).

There were 2 aid stations on the course. The main aid station was at the start/finish line and had a variety of sweet and salty foods, plus pb and j and grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, and hamburgers and hot dogs. There were lots of drink choices – hot coffee and sodas, including ginger ale (yea!). The second aid station had only water and was about halfway around the course.

Timing was done by Mike Melton and was perfect. We wore an ankle chip and crossed 3 mats plus called out our numbers to stalwart volunteers as a double check. As we passed the start/finish line, we could see how we stood, with our pace, lap number, miles, and kilometers completed. After a while all the lap counters knew us by name. They stayed outside, along with the other volunteers, despite the cooler night temperatures.

I never felt at my tip-top best during this race but I was very happy to make it to the wee morning hours with just a little bit of dizziness and fatigue. That was the good part. By 2 am, I was starting to feel pain on the top of my left foot and ankle; my gait changed just a little bit but it was enough to alter my stride. Joyce and I caught up with each other several times on the course and we helped each other get through the more difficult haunting night hours; she was experiencing fatigue, blisters, and boredom while for me it was pain and exhaustion. I usually get re-energized at daybreak but my foot was hurting too badly for me to enjoy the reappearance of the sun.

My original goal was to try to better my PR of 86 miles. That was going to be impossible now, but I was hoping to attain at least 100k. By lap 41, I had achieved that goal. After a couple more laps, I decided to take a short break and rest my foot. I sat down in a chair and chatted with Ray for a few moments but as soon as I sat down, my nausea returned with a vengeance. I stood up to walk to the restroom but felt dizzy. Immediately a lady came over to me and asked if I needed medical help. I guess I did because the next thing I remember is the arrival of 2 MDs who quickly placed me on the grass and elevated my legs onto a chair. The blood that had pooled around my ankles when I had sat down returned to my brain after a few minutes but I was still very shaky and hyperventilating. The docs asked if anything else bothered me and when I said my left foot/ankle, they took off my shoe and sock and began massaging that area with Bio-freeze. Ouch!! It hurt quite a bit but after they wrapped my foot and ankle in an ace bandage and gave me a Tylenol, the pain subsided a little. I heard one of them say ‘this lady is done – we are pulling her from the race’ – and I knew my race was over.

I have only good things to say about the care I received when I ‘collapsed.’ While I was recovering, the RD came over to check on me – his concern was reassuring. I’m not exactly sure why I had the foot problem. The docs said my ankle was fine but the ligaments that at the side and front of my ankle/foot area were inflamed and irritated. I am not sure what I could have done to prevent this from happening again – it is definitely something I need to resolve. Maybe more breaks, with my legs elevated? Maybe I should change my shoes and socks more frequently? I did have a problem with small pebbles getting into my shoes (yes, even on a paved course, those tiny rocks find me and work their way into my shoes) and in fact had to stop once to empty out my shoe. Maybe I need to wear gaiters during every race? Guess I will have to try each of these possible solutions.

One thing I have learned though – my PR days are probably behind me, so I need to forget mileage goals and concentrate more on enjoyment goals. As I learned from another ultrarunner, the only really worthwhile goals for an ultra is to *have fun* and *not die* – I think I will make those my mantras from now on.
Darcy took me back to the hotel and I showered, slept, napped, ate, and iced my foot. Our trip back home was mercifully uneventful. We stopped in Staunton for an enjoyable visit to the Woodrow Wilson birthplace and library. We spent the night in Roanoke at the Residence Inn, though Hyatt Place would have been a better (and less expensive) choice. Dinner was okay – a Chinese buffet at the Red Palace. The next night was once again at the Dillard House. Our meals on Tuesday and Wednesday were at McDonald’s and Cracker Barrels – we know our favorite dishes and can indulge in them. We arrived back home on Wednesday and I am now resting up for our next adventure.

My final accomplishment in Sole Challenge: 44 laps, 68.068 miles, in 21:50 hours. I was the oldest participant in the race.

I would definitely do this race again, but I would wear gaiters, plan more rest breaks, and change shoes more often if necessary. We also decided it was too long a drive so we instead would fly into Dulles and drive from there. I really liked the course, the people, and the real bathrooms. The volunteers and medical personnel were terrific.

Walkers are definitely encouraged to try one of these races.

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Three Marathons in New England – May 12, 13, & 14, 2014


I was supposed to be in Austin, Texas, this past weekend to do a 24 hour race but that event, like the Augusta Canal race last month, was canceled. That left me with two big holes in my racing calendar. It was too late to find a race to fill the April void, but I had several more choices for May. I decided to sign up for 3 of the New England Challenge races. Chuck Savage – the same person behind the Savage Seven Marathons held between Christmas and New Year’s Day every year- had put together a series of 5 races in 5 of the 6 New England states. Die-hard racers could even fit in the 6th state by doing the Shires of Vermont race on Sunday. Although I was tempted to try all 6, or at least 5, my racing schedule for the remainder of 2014 was pretty intense and demanding. I wanted to make sure I was well-rested and injury-free for those races already on my calendar, so I only signed up for the first 3 Challenge marathons.

A few quick notes about the Challenge races overall before I go into more detail about each one:
• The races meet all the requirements for the 50 States Club and for Marathon Maniacs but they are not certified courses
• Runners and walkers can choose between full and half marathon options
• Each race is held in a different state, usually about 100 miles apart
• They are relatively small races, with a cap of 100 participants for each full marathon and 25 for each half marathon
• Aid stations resemble ultra aid stations (rather than typical marathon aid) and offer lots of food and drink choices, including peanut butter and jelly quarters, pickles, pretzels, bananas, chocolate milk, and cookies and more
• Part of the Challenge (for me at least) was traveling 100 miles to the next state and then finding the new race location
• Because of the driving time, there was not much opportunity to sightsee or play tourist (unless you are a 3 hour marathoner) but it is a great and cost-effective way to check off 5 or 6 states in a single week
• Each race begins early, at 6 am, so there is enough time for everyone to finish and drive to the next location
• Packet pickup is at the first host hotel or every morning from 5 am to the race start
• Time limits are 7 hours for each race but these limits are flexible (within reason)
• The race website is full of information about each race, with suggested hotels and directions to the next race, plus maps
• If you are a Maniac or 50 Stater, the chances are excellent that you will see people you know at these races
• Even though these races consist of multiple laps around a course (usually in a park), there was no need for lap counters or chip timing. Instead, participants were given a rubber band to put on their wrist every time they completed a lap. It was an easy and practically foolproof way to keep track of laps (although the rubber bands felt kind of tight after a few laps)
• My only real criticism is the lack of porta-potties. Two just aren’t enough for 100+ people

Of course I wasn’t aware of all these things when I signed up. My only previous experience with races of this sort were the Savage Seven races in Pensacola (I only did one and it was around a track) and in Ocala where I did a triple, skipped a day, and then did a fourth. But the Ocala races were all held in the same park and the drive was a short one hour from my house. The New England Challenge required longer drives and the locations varied from day to day. It definitely turned out to be more of a true Challenge.

Now for a day-to-day recap of this racing adventure: On Mother’s Day, Darcy and I flew from Jacksonville to Portland, Maine. After getting our checked bags, we picked up our rental car from Hertz, and then drove right to the race site so we could make sure we knew where it was and how to get there. I also wanted to look at the terrain to see if I needed to wear gaiters (I did). We then drove to our hotel, a Marriott Courtyard at the airport. This was not one of the host hotels but it was fairly close to the race site and turned out to be very clean, with a microwave and refrigerator. For dinner, we ate at a nearby restaurant, the Sebago Brewing Company, which was decent but not impressive.

This first race, the Pine Tree Marathon, was held at Back Cove Park in South Portland. We had to do seven laps (plus a short out-and-back) of a 3.62 mile course that encircled the cove and was connected to each arm of the cove by a cement bridge. Most of the course was hard-packed dirt with small pebbles. There were no major tripping hazards, but lots and lots of small rocks that could easily find their way into shoes. For me gaiters were a must. Several racers told me they had to stop several times to empty rocks out of their shoes.
We arrived at the race site early so I could get my race bib (we had the same bib and same number for the entire series) and tee shirt (light blue short-sleeve cotton). The weather on Monday morning was cold at the start, about 48 degrees, but it soon warmed up to 72 with sunny skies. It was easy to figure out the circular route and there was a fairly decent line of sight so we could see almost completely around the course. There was no real shade on the course so at times it felt quite hot and humid (but that was fine with me). The one aid station was at the start/finish line, along with two porta-potties. I was able to keep a relatively steady pace for the entire 26.2 miles, although I did have to make several pit stops. After the 7th lap, Chuck presented me with a medal with the name of the race and the shape of the state of Maine and a runner on it on a blue lanyard. Each day we received a similar medal with the name and shape of the day’s state on a different color lanyard.

I finished this race in 6:19, typical for me in a loop course of this kind. I had a couple of glasses of chocolate milk and then we took off for New Hampshire. Perhaps we left too quickly because after only twenty minutes on the road, both my legs began to cramp. Darcy wanted to wait until we reached a rest area but I was in such severe pain that we had to pull over in the breakdown lane; I immediately jumped out of the car so I could stand up and stretch. I must have looked a sight, leaning against the car hot and sweaty in my Maniacs shirt and cap, but stretching seemed to do the trick. My cramps subsided and I was able to make the rest of the trip without incident.

We arrived in Nashua, NH, around 4 pm and made our way to the Granite State race venue at Mine Falls Park. This park was much harder to find and we did get lost for a few minutes. Even after we found the park, we were not sure exactly what this course would be like because the primary aid station (there are two in this race) and the start/finish line were in a parking lot and it wasn’t clear where the actual race would be held. That was probably a good thing, because if I had known what this race would be like, I might have changed my mind about doing it!

After figuring out the location of the park, we drove to our hotel, a nearby Hampton Inn, dined at Bertucci’s, a local Italian restaurant that had excellent antipasto, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and then settled in for the night. Tuesday morning was cool, 52 degrees but it felt much colder, and it never warmed up beyond 62 degrees. We arrived at the park around 5:40 am and Chuck explained the course design which loosely resembled a figure-8 and encompassed a short segment of tank trail but was mostly dirt with good-sized rocks and roots. The only paved section was at the turn-around in a downtown section of Nashua. The second aid station was located here. I memorized the route on the first go-round, but several people did take some wrong turns; it was very easy to miss the correct route.

We did a quick .8 mile on pavement at the very beginning and then had to do five laps of 5.08 miles on the actual trail. As soon as I started up the tank trail, I knew it would be a tough time for me. And sure enough, as I headed back to the start/finish on the first lap, I tripped and fell hard, hurting my left hand, tearing my pants, and skinning my knee. At least the hand I hurt was my left one and not my previously broken right hand. A thoughtful runner, Eileen, saw me fall and helped me up, making sure I was okay. Hey, this was not my idea of fun! When I got to the aid station, a volunteer was kind enough to fill a rubber glove with some ice so I could ice my swollen hand while I made my way around on the second lap. That helped keep the swelling and pain to a manageable level. On the way up to the second aid station, there were a couple of large puddles that I had to wade through (some people could jump over to the other side but not me), resulting in wet socks and shoes. My gaiters came in handy on this race, too.

My eyes were glued to the trail for the remaining laps and I slowed down considerably to make sure I did not trip again. I was so glad to finish the final loop. This marathon took me 7 ½ hours to complete, perhaps a personal worst. I had no inkling beforehand that the terrain would be so precarious (for me) or I might have spent the day sightseeing instead!

After getting my well-deserved medal and a cup of chocolate milk, I stretched a little (hoping to stave off those cramps) and then Darcy and I left for our next destination, Warwick, Rhode Island, near Providence. The drive took about 1 ½ hours, stopping once at Dunkin Donuts to get something light to eat and a bagel for tomorrow’s pre-race breakfast. Once again, we drove to the race site, Warwick City Park. This park was easy to find and I remembered that several years ago I had finished a 6 hour race in this same park to count for the state of Rhode Island when I was pursuing the 50 states. Our hotel this evening was the Radisson at the airport, an older hotel but still quite decent. I had stayed here previously; the big draw here for me was the hotel restaurant, Libations, but on Tuesday evening, we dined at Legal Seafood next door. I felt I deserved a big meal after such a punishing trail race. The clam chowder and baked scrod were scrumptious. Even my husband, a confirmed fish-hater, raved about his shrimp dish.

The weather on Wednesday was supposed to be cool and cloudy, so I dressed warmly, perhaps too warmly. But I had been cold all day on Tuesday so I wanted to be prepared. Just in case, I did bring my sunglasses and that was a good idea, because by 8 am the sun was out and it did warm up. This race, the Red Island Marathon, consisted of one 1.9 mile out-and-back and then 9 laps of a 2.7 mile paved (hooray) loop. There was a short dirt section but there were no rocks or roots to speak of. The solitary aid station was in a dirt parking area with some pebbles. This was the one race I did not wear gaiters and they really weren’t necessary; even so, by the end of the race I did manage to get some irritants, including a tiny piece of bark, inside my shoes.

The Red Island race was my favorite of the three Challenge races. Even though there were several rolling hills which seemed very steep by the 5th loop, I just loved the paved course. The course was mostly shaded and I enjoyed being able to look at the trees, the water of Narragansett Bay, the birds, and other people without worrying about falling. My finishing time was not great, 6:30, but I attribute that to overall general fatigue. When this race was over, we drove back to the Radisson and I took a shower and a nap. It was good not to have to drive 100 miles to Connecticut, but there were many Challengers who did exactly that and then went on to complete the series in Massachusetts on Friday (and even some who plan to do the Shires of Vermont Marathon on Sunday). I was just happy to survive the three races and then relax with a delicious dinner at Libations, indulging in homemade French fries, lobster chowder, and lobster sliders. We headed home on Thursday. Maybe someday I will attempt more than three marathons in a row but I’ll make sure there isn’t a trail involved.

The Darkside 8 Hour Ultra – May 3, 2014 (Moreland, GA)

 

It was a beautiful day for a race. Although the pre-dawn temperature was a chilly 48, as soon as the sun rose, so did the temperature, and by noontime it was a pleasant 72 degrees. When I first did the Darkside 8 Hour Ultra it was in May of 2010, and back then it was held on the Riley Field track in Peachtree City, Georgia. Twenty of us went around and around the quarter mile track, a mind-blowing dizzying event. Even today, knowing how much I dislike courses under a mile in length, I wonder how I managed to stay out on the track for the full 8 hours. I remember being sick to my stomach at the end of the race and decided not to try anything like it again.

Now – four years later – I decided to give it another try, primarily because the venue was changed to a 1.02 mile loop at pristine and beautiful Bear Creek Farm in the small town of Moreland, Georgia, just south of Peachtree City. Darcy and I made the 5 ½ hour trip up north on Friday morning and checked into one of my favorite hotels, the Hampton Inn in Peachtree City. After a filling lunch of burgers and sweet potato fries at Taco Mac, we decided to drive to the farm and check out the course. We wanted to make sure we knew exactly how to get there for the early start on Saturday.

It’s good we did a trial run because as we headed south on Highway 54, we reached a ‘road closed’ sign. The road really was closed; there were trucks and bulldozers digging up the asphalt and we couldn’t get through. Darcy made a U-turn and we headed back to the next cutoff to figure out what to do next. After several attempts we found ourselves in front of a small fire station and Darcy went inside to ask for directions. Between those instructions and my husband’s intuitive sense of direction, we were able to find a work-around and get to the farm.

What a great place for a race! Bear Creek Farm is private property but the owner graciously gave the Darkside Running Club permission to use it for this event. The loop course is all paved (although there were still a few errant pebbles that somehow managed to find a home inside my shoes) and had several small ups and downs to keep it interesting. Lovely horses and well-behaved dogs played in the fields beside us and the occasional Canadian goose flew overhead.

This year about 44 runners and walkers signed up for the race. We met Saturday morning just past 6:40 to get our bibs and hear last minute instructions. This is a low-key race, very inexpensive (only $35, a real bargain), and most of the participants are Darkside Running Club members (for information on this unique club, visit www.darksiderunningclub.com – I’ve been a member for over 4 years and highly recommend it), although the race is open to all. Scott Ludwig is president and co-founder of the club and this year Eric Stanley was integral in helping to pull together the 8 hour race. I recognized a lot of people I knew – Jess, Malissa, Drina, Deb, Dave Holmen – and had fun chatting with them and meeting new people. Plenty of Marathon Maniacs were in attendance and of course we took lots of photos.

Around 6:50, Scott called us to attention and gave us some crucial information: we would only get credit for full laps, after four hours we would change direction, and we had to make sure we called out our number to the volunteer lap counters as we passed the start/finish line. There were two porta-potties and one aid station which had plenty of water, Gatorade, and foodstuffs. To keep the registration cost down, racers are encouraged to bring goodies which are shared communally. As a result, there was a ton of food, cookies, candy, pretzels, crackers, chips, and beer. We lined up behind a mark on the pavement and I positioned myself at the rear. At 7:07 am, we took off, and I began walking at a somewhat casual pace until I could figure out exactly what the course was like. Of course, I was worried about getting lost, but I was told to make only right turns as we moved around clockwise for the first four hours and then only left turns after we changed direction. That helped a lot and I never did get lost.

My minimum goal was to do at least 27 loops; that would get me over the marathon distance and into ultra territory. If I felt strong and had no major physical or mental problems, I would then aim for 32 loops which would give me a bit more than a 50k. Aside from those tiny little rocks that found their way into my shoes (but which did not bother me enough to change shoes or put on my gaiters) and 3 essential trips to the porta-potty, I was feeling really good and had no major difficulties in sticking to my plan.   I had decided early on that I would ‘earn’ a short break after I completed every 7 or 8 loops but it turned out that I really didn’t need those time-outs. I did stop to fill my hand-held water bottle a couple of times and to grab some salty snacks, but otherwise I kept moving.

For the first half of the race, as we moved clockwise, there were several easy downhills and I ran those. It felt good and the ischial tendonitis in my left leg that I had been struggling with for the past couple of months didn’t bother me at all. When we changed direction, those downhills became somewhat steep uphills and I plodded slowly up them. Fatigue was a factor, especially going uphill, but I managed to complete 32 laps successfully. The lap counters were especially terrific; at every lap, they gave us our count. That is so appreciated, especially when exhaustion sets in and I can barely remember my name.  My final (unofficial) mileage was 32.6 miles.

Darcy and I stayed long enough for the award ceremony. We had something to eat and Scott gave all participants a pint glass with Darkside 8 Hour Run imprinted on it. I felt a little queasy by this time, probably because of the heat and the fact that I hadn’t eaten very much during the race, so I was glad to get back to the hotel to shower and take a nap. Later we had a tasty dinner at Carrabba’s (lasagna and a Chianti flight for me). We drove home on Sunday morning, taking our time and arriving around 2 pm.

This race is highly recommended for walkers of all capabilities. I would, however, recommend using plenty of sunscreen because the course has absolutely no shade. I didn’t realize how strong the sun was until I took a shower and saw my reddened arms. Next time I’ll know.