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.