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.