24 The Hard Way (Oklahoma City, OK) – October 25, 2014

This was another bucket list race, one I had wanted to do for a while but never had the chance until this year. It’s a 24 hour race, with 1, 6 and 12 hour options, on a paved one-mile loop in Bluff Creek Park. The ‘hard’ refers to the asphalt nature of the course, to distinguish it from the 24 hour trail race that takes place at the same time on a 2 mile dirt trail that loops around the paved course. This latter race is called the Double Dirty Dozen and is narrow, rocky, and rooty. Both races share one timing mat as well as a huge aid station and medical tent. To my mind, the trail race is by far the more difficult of the two, but no race is easy and the paved course gave me plenty of punishment.

Darcy and I left in the wee hours of Friday morning for the 1 ½ hour drive to JAX. Our plane left right on time and we were lucky to be upgraded on that first leg of our trip as well as on the 2 hour flight to Oklahoma.   After getting our checked bags and rental car, our first stop was the race site. It was easy to find and we decided to check out the course and see what to expect. People were already setting up tables and tents and timing mats. We introduced ourselves to Chisholm Deupree, the RD, and as we viewed all these preparations, my excitement began to build.

Since packet pickup did not begin until four o’clock, we drove to our hotel, the Springhill Suites in Quail Springs, just a few miles away. The host hotel was a nearby Country Inn and Suites, but we chose Springhill instead because of our Marriott loyalty membership. We had a quiet room on the 6th and highest floor so it turned out to be a good choice.   It was now well past lunch time and we were famished so our next decision was to select a restaurant. We opted for Mimi’s Café, in large part to avoid many of the restaurants on OK that apparently still allow smoking. The food was excellent, kind of a blend between New Orleans and Paris.

After lunch, we drove back to Bluff Creek Park so I could get my bib, race bag with samples of Red Bull, energy bars, and tee shirt (brown short sleeve cotton). Our chip on an ankle strap would be ready for us to pick up before the race start. While we were there we met up with my friend Joyce and her husband Ray. Joyce had done the Double Dirty Dozen several times before and was doing it again this year, along with her sister Patsy and husband Andy. Wes, Joyce’s brother, was signed up for asphalt version, like me. I also saw several others that I knew, including Matt, from last year’s UltraCentric and Jennifer from the 8 Hour Run from the Ducks. There was a pasta dinner just starting as we were ready to leave, but Darcy and I were still stuffed from our late lunch, so we decided to return to the hotel and get some sleep.

Saturday morning was glorious – in the upper 60’s, mild breezes, clear skies. It eventually got hot and very sunny. I later learned that the temperature rose to 91 degrees. Even a sun worshipper like myself was bothered by the cumulative effect of so much heat. But at the start of the race, at 9 am, I was just so happy that it was not raining or cold. That heat sounded wonderful. I set up my drop bag on a chair under Joyce and Ray’s canopy and joined the rest of the throng of racers on the bridge for our on-time start.

We were off on our 24 hour journey. The 12 hour race had begun at 6 am so there were already a few tired bodies on the course but we were all fresh and raring to go. I could see by the timing board as I crossed the mat for the first couple of loops that I was doing 12 minute miles. That was a warning to me to slow down – I knew I couldn’t manage to keep up that pace for 24 hours. Eventually, I managed to work into a nice easy pace around 16 minutes per loop, taking a break every 5 laps or so to grab some food or drink at the amazingly well-stocked aid station or to peel off various pieces of clothing and put on sunscreen and sunglasses.

But the heat started to get to me and my stomach began to get a little queasy. I had the same experience this year at Cremator. I took S-caps, Endurolytes, and pickle juice and managed to keep leg cramps at bay, although the almost flat nature of the course took its toll on my shins. But overall, the only problem I had during the day was due to the extreme heat and intestinal discomfort. I was relieved when the sun finally set and there was a promise of some coolness and occasional breeze. By 6 pm, the 6 hour and 12 hour races were complete, and only the extreme ultramarathoners like myself remained. We were a cozy group, friendly and supportive. I was constantly amazed by the agility and speed of the runners who passed me like I was standing still. Some of them continued at a blazing pace for the entire 24 hours.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to feel really bad. I managed to get through the first hours of darkness, a time during races when I usually experience major fatigue because my body and my mind know that I should be getting ready for sleep. I began this race with only a few mileage goals in mind – first, to reach a 50k (important for the race to count in Maniac statistics), then 50 miles, then 100k/62 miles, and after that, to do the most I could do while still having fun and remaining alive. It took me 9 hours to get to that 50k mark – not bad but certainly not even close to my PR of 7:06. The next 18 miles were a struggle. I thought I might never make it to 100k – my legs began to feel like they were encased in cement. My shoes started to pinch me, my nylon shorts began to chafe my legs, and I was sleepy. I changed to a wider pair of shoes, and that helped, a little. My husband brought me my comfy familiar crops and I changed clothes. That helped a little more. I managed to make it to 58 miles.

During the wee hours of the morning, as I crossed the timing mat and entered the aid tent one more time, I heard someone call my name. It turned out to be my Walking Board friend Joey – he was here to volunteer and had recognized me. I was a mess, my hair plastered against my face, my eyes glazed, my skin salty, and I felt like I was 100 years old, but Joey insisted on having his photo taken with me. He managed to cheer me up immensely. He bolstered my ego and helped get me through the next several laps with his positive attitude. I made it to 62 miles, my 100k goal, but my stomach was still queasy. Ginger pills and Tums did not help. I thought I might feel better if I spent some time lying down in the medical tent and that is exactly what I did – for about 20 minutes. It did help some, but I began feeling guilty just lying there, so up I went, aiming to get at least one more lap under my belt. I moved very very slowly and it suddenly dawned on me that I was not holding true to my underlying goals of having fun and not dying. This was no longer fun and maybe, just maybe, I was causing more harm to my body than good. I had 2 ½ hours left in the race but I was suffering; at that point the race was over for me. I hated to give up but I still have a lot of races left to do this year. I turned in my chip and received my ring (yes, 24 hour racers are give an attractive ring, on a key chain, rather than a medal – nice touch).

This race has numerous positive aspects, making it exceptionally attractive for walkers:

  • The course (if you choose the ‘hard way’) is smooth asphalt, with very few ridges or cracks. I wore my gaiters to keep small leaves and branches out of my shoes but there are no rocks or pebbles
  • Timing is by ankle chip, so it is easy to change shoes and clothes, and the system works like a charm, better than a lot of timing systems. The mats are outside the aid tent while the electronic mileage board is set up inside the tent, so by the time participants enter the tent, their name has made it to the top of the board. There is no delay in seeing your lap count or mileage.
  • Food in the aid station is amazing. There is lots of variety, old favorites as well as some new treats, plus S-caps, Endurolytes, Tums, pickles, pickle juice, and water, electrolyte drinks, soda (including ginger ale), Red Bull, coffee, pot roast, chocolates, chicken soup, and more, plus everything is labeled so people can easily see exactly what they are getting. Of course, I had to ask for the one thing they didn’t have and that was watermelon. I was tired of drinking liquids during the heat of the day and watermelon would have tasted exquisite. But who in the world would have thought it would be 90 degrees in October?
  • The course is very well-marked and it is hard to make a mistake (but I must admit that I did overshoot one turn at 3 am – but it was totally my fault and I realized it quickly)
  • Instead of another medal, 24 hour participants are given an attractive ring that can be used as a ring, a key chain, or put on a chain to use as a necklace. Since I already have several hundred medals, a ring is a pleasant change
  • People- volunteers, racers, and supporters – are friendly, welcoming, and cheerful. It really makes me feel like I am part of an extended family

The cons: Heck, there always has to be something negative, so if I am pressed to find something I did not like about this race, it was this – there are only 4 porta-potties on the course for everyone to use. After 12 hours, they get to be fairly disgusting, especially when trying to use them at night and you have to rely on your headlamp. This would be the perfect race if there were heated and lit indoor restrooms for men and women.

As for my disappointing results in my last two 24 hour races (this one and Sole Challenge in May), I have given it quite a bit of thought. In looking at my calendar, I realized that just one week before both 24 hour races, I had completed difficult triple marathons. In May, it was three of the New England Challenge marathons; this month, it was three of the Appalachian series of marathons. It could be that doing three marathons right before attempting a timed ultramarathon is NOT a good idea. I definitely must rethink my schedule and allow for sufficient recovery time before trying to complete 24 hour or longer races.

An Appalachian Triple (NC, SC, and GA) – October 13, 14, 15, 2014

When I originally signed up for three marathons in the five marathon Appalachian series, I thought it would be the proverbial ‘piece of cake’ – all we had to do was drive up to North Carolina, then on to South Carolina, and then to Georgia on successive days. The only wrinkle in this plan was the late starting time for the Gator-LSU game. If my husband went to the game we would end up driving to North Carolina very late at night, arriving in the wee hours on Sunday. Our other option was to rise up early on Sunday and drive all the way to NC after only a few hours of sleep. Instead, Darcy decided to forego attending the game entirely; this meant we could leave on Saturday afternoon, spend a restful night in Savannah, and then leave refreshed for NC. I felt guilty that he missed the game but I certainly did appreciate the sacrifice. He probably figured wisely that keeping his Maniac wife happy and content was worth it.

The Appalachian Series of five races in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia is put on by Mainly Marathons, the brainchild of Clint and Hanne Burleson. They put on half and full marathons in various states all over the country. Last fall, I did one of the Day of the Dead series in New Mexico. The races usually range from 4 to 5 in number and cover neighboring states, so 50 Staters and Marathon Maniacs who want to knock out several states in a week or increase their mileage and race count can do so relatively easily. It’s a great idea as long as you don’t mind jumping in a car immediately after completing a race and driving to the next venue. Chuck Savage’s series of races in New England and Florida is very similar although not so wide-ranging.

We left early Saturday afternoon and had an uneventful drive to Savannah. Our hotel was the DoubleTree at the airport, a new hotel with all-suite rooms. It was very clean and attractive, all the more so because I was able to combine points and cash for a room that ended up costing us only $45, a real bargain. We had dinner at a nearby Olive Garden and then relaxed.

Early the next morning we took off for Morganton, NC, about a 6 hour drive from Savannah. We checked into the local Hampton Inn and set off to find the next day’s race site along the Catawba River Greenway. This course was a paved out-and-back with a few turns, a bridge that crossed the Catawba River, and a couple of small rolling hills. We had a late lunch at Judge’s Riverside Restaurant, adjoining the race course. Packet pickup was not until morning so we spent a relatively restful night (yes, even though this was the night before a race, I was fairly relaxed; these races tend to be fairly low-key with ‘no worries’).

Monday morning we set out for the Greenway about an hour before the 7:30 am race start. I picked up my bib, the same one I would use for all 3 races. In addition, I received a short-sleeve blue cotton tee shirt and a packet of information with a small poster and a large round medal with lanyard and a metal 2014 date that would hook onto the bottom of each state’s medal. Then, after every day’s race, I received a medal in the shape of that particular state. Each state hooked onto the previous one to make one long bell pull-like arrangement. Very unique. Races are not chip-timed; instead they use the rubber-band method – every time a participant completes a lap, he or she picks up a rubber band. It is a workable and low-cost way to keep track of laps.

The Southeast had been experiencing tornados and rain storms for several days. I felt fortunate that on Wednesday only a light drizzle was expected. Still, the preceding day’s storm had left a few large puddles on the course that we had to skirt. North Carolina’s race turned out to be the easiest and prettiest of the three races I finished in this series. Just a short period of light rain, a shaded course, 14 laps, and temps in the low 70’s – it all added up to a very good day. My finishing time was 6:40:19. After a few minutes spent stretching and the requisite cup of chocolate mile, we were off to Seneca, SC.

It took about 3 hours to get to Seneca on windy twisting back roads. We found our hotel, another Hampton Inn, and had a late lunch at JPeters Grill where I had a Caesar salad with grilled chicken and sweet potato fries. After checking out the soccer complex area where the next day’s race was to be held, it was time to go to bed.

I rose early on Tuesday and we headed out to the race site. The course was a hiking/cycling path around the soccer fields and, while not very scenic, it was paved and had only a couple of short steep inclines. The problem today was RAIN. It rained ALL day and came down very hard at times. There were amazingly deep puddles that completely covered the asphalt and soaked the grass along the path’s edges. It was impossible to skirt the puddles (I know, I tried) so my shoes and socks got wet and stayed wet. At least it was not freezing cold. Temperatures stayed in the 60’s; otherwise, I would have dropped to the half marathon distance. In fact, I did consider dropping when my clothes got completely soaked during the first 2 ½ hours and I was miserable. I called my husband to let him know what I was thinking but he didn’t answer his cell. When he arrived I told him my thoughts and he said ‘you’d better continue on or you will regret it later.’ He was probably right. I hung in there, finishing in an abysmal 7:01:01. Immediately after getting my South Carolina medal I went into the rest room to change into warm DRY clothes and felt 100% better.

Next, we were off to Georgia. This drive was considerably shorter and more direct. We were staying in Helen, a small German-inspired town in the hills of the northern part of the state. Unfortunately, our hotel here was a disaster. There are very few brand-name hotels in Helen so, after checking Trip Advisor, I had selected one that had been given very high ratings. Those high ratings were completely misleading, a fact we discovered when the manager – after our stay – said that if we gave the hotel 5 stars on Trip Advisor, he would enter us in a drawing for a free night.   Not very ethical, we thought, but it probably explains the positive remarks we read on the site. The hotel was called Riverbend Motel – and back in the 1950’s it might have been a good place to stay (it may have been the only place) but for travelers in 2014 it barely rates one star. Our meal was somewhat better; we ate at a German restaurant, the Bodensee Restaurant, and we both enjoyed the imported beer.

We returned to our shabby accommodations and I spent a sleepless night. The room had a funky odor that was hard for me to ignore and I could hardly wait to dress and get to the race. I skipped my morning meal and coffee, opting to get something to eat at the aid station. Today’s race was in Unicoi State Park. No rain was predicted and that was mostly accurate. The sun disappeared late in the afternoon but only a few drops of rain actually fell. However, today’s course was the most difficult of all to complete. It was supposed to be gravel but because of the recent wet weather, Clint had to alter the course somewhat. It turned out to be much like a cross-country course, on rolling grass and meadow with uneven footing (easy for me to turn an ankle) with 2 short but very slippery bridges and lots of mud puddles, also slippery. I had to watch my footing on the course so I couldn’t really appreciate the scenery but I do know there were lots of tall trees, with leaves changing into a fall palette of yellows and reds. It took me a very long time to finish the race; the 16 required laps took me 7:45:19, a personal worst. Despite this, I enjoyed myself. I was especially pleased that I did not fall, not once, though I slipped a few times. I also had a good time talking with other runners and walkers who had also slowed down a lot.

After this third race, we left for Madison, GA, so we could get a head start on the drive home. We stayed at another Hampton Inn, and it seemed like a luxurious palace compared to Riverbend. My thoughts after completing these three marathons in three days is how amazingly good I feel. Of course, my legs are tired and achy, my feet are sore, and I am very tired, but otherwise I feel pretty good. I think that I could handle doing five marathons in five days – and someday I hope to try.

Like all races, there are pros and cons. The positive things about the Appalachian series and others like it include:

  • No time limits! Clint has a policy of ‘no runner (or walker) left behind’ so time-challenged racers can confidently sign up for these races without worrying about time. There is even a caboose award for the last runner
  • The courses are all loop or out-and-back so it is almost impossible to get lost. Even if you did, the chances are great that someone would find you fairly soon and bring you back on the right track. The laps vary from 1 to 2 miles in length, so marathoners might have to do 12 or more laps
  • Because of the nature of the course, it is easy to set up a drop bag or to use one of the many tents or benches to place belongings on
  • There is one aid station at the start/finish that has plenty of food and drink. In fact, the quantity and quality of the food provided is more representative of an ultra than a marathon. I especially enjoyed the thick raisin bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Monday and Tuesday. And I really liked having chocolate milk available after the race
  • People are friendly and supportive, even (and sometimes especially) the elite runners. There is no grumbling about walkers getting in the way. Almost everyone is either a Maniac or 50 Stater or a ‘wanna-be’ and so there is a strong feeling of camaraderie
  • The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. The courses are not certified so people don’t obsess about qualifying for Boston; although people always like to aim for a personal best or, for some, a finish in under 3 or 4 hours, the stress that usually accompanies these desires is absent (unless after the last race, there is a plane to catch)

In my opinion, the positive elements of these races far outweigh the negative ones. The only things that might be considered somewhat problematic include:

  • Because the courses are not certified, they sometimes seem a bit longer than marathon distance.   That might be one explanation why my results in loop courses are always somewhat disappointing.   While I can usually finish a marathon in around 6 hours plus or minus 15 minutes, these courses usually take me much longer
  • It is hard to know the exact nature of the course until the day of the race. If the course is supposed to be paved, it often is, but there are times when last minute changes must be made (as happened in day 5 of this series). Since I dislike trails of any sort, I might need to make adjustments in my expectations
  • Getting in a car and driving/riding for several hours immediately after completing a race is exhausting. By the time I arrive at the new destination, there is barely time to check out the next day’s location, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, and get some rest. It can be a daunting but worthwhile challenge

Overall, these are pretty small complaints. These races are highly recommended for walkers who want to cover a lot of ground in a short span of time.

Visiting the City of Roses – Portland Marathon (Portland, OR): October 5, 2014

Two years ago I did the Portland Marathon and was duly impressed. Because of the hype surrounding this race, both good (very walker-friendly, lots of good swag, generous time limit) and bad (too expensive, too crowded, not very scenic), I had hesitated about signing up. However, since the Gators were playing a home game that weekend, my husband would not be traveling with me and I was looking for a race that was convenient and easy to manage on my own. Portland was the answer. I wouldn’t have to rent a car, the expo is right in the host hotel, and the race start and finish are close to the hotel.

It turned out to be a good race and an overall excellent experience. My only regret was that I did not have time to visit Powell’s, Portland’s superstar bookstore, but that gave me a wonderful excuse (as if I needed one!) to return to Portland once again. This time Darcy came with me (the Gators were playing at Tennessee). We drove to Jacksonville in the wee hours of Friday morning so we could make our flight to Atlanta at 5:45 am. Ironically, the weather in Atlanta was rainy with lightening so our plane was delayed at takeoff. Portland weather turned out to be sunny and dry the entire weekend. So much for the rainy Northwest.

After arriving at PDX, we took a taxi to the Hilton Executive Tower, across the street from the Hilton Portland, site of the expo and packet pickup. Just like 2 years ago, there were dozens of volunteers who directed people to the right place for information, bibs, timing tag, maps, posters, and stuff to buy. It is a good-sized expo but not a spectacularly large one but there were lots of tasty samples and giveaways. We tried not to stuff ourselves too much at the expo because we wanted to have lunch at Rock Bottom Brewery (it was happy hour so I ordered a flight of 6 local beers plus 2 huge pretzels and dip). Tired and full, we walked back to the hotel for an early night.

Saturday was our pilgrimage day to Powell’s Bookstore. We had a hearty breakfast at The Original Dinerant where I feasted on a mushroom/Tillamook cheddar omelet and Darcy had a Denver omelet. Book selection is hard work and we wanted to be prepared. Darcy had done his homework and came prepared with a long list of titles he was hoping to find. I was more dependent on serendipity – my interests are eclectic and I was sure I would find at least a few things to purchase. We spent several glorious hours roaming around the block-long bookstore, losing ourselves in the gold, purple, and pink rooms, until we could not carry any more. It would be much too embarrassing to state in print exactly how much we spent, but suffice it to say that we managed to completely fill the extra suitcases we brought to house our purchases.

Back at the hotel, Darcy watched some football on television while I wandered down to the expo once again to visit the vendor booths and listen to some lectures. One of the changes I noticed from two years ago was the slim schedule of talks this year. There were only two on Saturday; one was on walking the half and full marathons and the other was on running tips. Both were very good but it surprised me that there were no headliners or famous names on the ticket this year. Another very minor change involved the awards for age groups; two years ago, the awards went 15 deep while this year they only went 6 deep. I remember this because I came in #14 in my age group and still got an award!

After the talks, I returned to the room so Darcy and I could seek out a place to eat dinner. We ended up at Kenny and Zuke’s deli where I had a bagel dog (like a corn dog but wrapped in a bagel) and noodle kugel while Darcy had a Reuben sandwich. It was to be another early night, but unlike most pre-race evenings, I was not really nervous about this race. I knew what to expect and I knew that with over 9000 marathoners, I would probably not be last and I certainly would not get lost. I actually got some sleep before waking up around 4 am to get ready.

It was a bit chilly (57 degrees) before dawn but not so cold that I needed hand warmers. I was glad I had dressed in short-sleeves because the day turned out to be sunny with a slight breeze. Everyone lined up in one of 8 corrals; I was in the last of them but managed to work my way to the front so I would not have to work my way through the more leisurely walkers. Full and half marathoners all start together at the same time and follow the same course until just before mile 11. There is a tradition at this race that everyone sings the Star Spangled Banner, and that is fun and a nice touch. It takes about 20 minutes for my corral to cross the starting line. Despite the large numbers of people, the course is not overly crowded, although I did get a bit pushed and pummeled until the road widened after several miles and people were more evenly distributed.

There are plenty of aid stations with water and Ultima and several have gummi bears and pretzels. One neighbor lady was handing out candy corn, my first Halloween candy of the season. There are some spectators scattered here and there but volunteers are the most vocal and supportive cheerleaders. The course is all road, with not many pebbles to get into my shoes (no gaiters for me here), but there are lots of light rail tracks so I had to be careful to watch my step around those.

The course itself is not especially pretty. It winds through city streets and along industrial areas, with not much to see for the first 16 miles. An exception is at the very beginning of the race when we go through Chinatown – there the music, dragons, and architecture are very distinctive and elaborate. But that is around mile 1 and there is a lot more distance to cover. My favorite section is from mile 16 to 18 as participants cross over the St. Johns Bridge. The scenery here is fantastic and on a clear day you can see the Mount St. Helens volcano. It is very impressive! Then the course follows Willamette Boulevard around the University of Portland and all the way to the Broadway Bridge and back to downtown and the finish line. At mile 26, there is a huge figure of a ‘fat lady’ singing an aria – a vivid reminder that, yes, the race is almost over. I crossed the finish line in 6:13:56, and I probably could have made it in less had I not stopped twice for porta-potty relief. The best news for me: my piriformis muscle gave me no trouble at all. I felt great the entire race. When my husband looked at the photos taken during the race, he noticed I was smiling in all of them, instead of grimacing from pain. I hope that my recent troubles with this injury are behind me; the physical therapy and stretching exercises must be working.

A volunteer handed me a beautiful medal and a rose. After getting some food, I stopped at various tables to get my finisher shirt, Tyvek jacket, little velvet pouches with a charm and coin, and a pine seedling. My husband met me outside the finisher chute and helped me carry my stuff back to the hotel. Our celebratory dinner was at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. It was a bit of a disappointment, especially considering the high cost, but we had plenty to eat and drink.

There are far more pros than cons to this race. The good stuff:

  • This is a very walker-friendly race, with a generous 8 hour cutoff (and the finish line stays open until the last person crosses); walkers are not second-class citizens here
  • Despite the large numbers of participants, the corrals move quickly and the roads are generally wide enough to accommodate everyone
  • Everything is contained in a small section of the city, so if you stay at the host hotel or one close by, you can manage packet pickup and getting to the start and finish with ease
  • The race is IPod friendly; this is not important to me since I prefer not to use music during a race (except for multiday races) but it matters to many and I saw lots of people taking advantage of this
  • You get a LOT for your money in addition to the race – a poster, a gender specific long-sleeve tech finisher’s shirt (this year, in a soft shade of blue), a Tyvek jacket, a beautiful medal, a coin and a charm in individual velvet pouches, a rose, and a pine tree seedling.
  • Powell’s Bookstore

The just-okay stuff:

  • There are parts of Portland that are attractive but this course does not emphasize them.  Chinatown is wonderful and so is the St. Johns Bridge area.  The rest is so-so.  Enough said.
  • I guess there are never enough porta-potties, ever, but there were not enough at the start and they had very long lines (too long for me to chance getting into one which is probably why I had to stop twice during the race itself)
  • The food at the finish line leaves a lot to be desired – there is some yogurt, but the chocolate milk was all gone by the time I arrived.  There is fruit and small bagels and chips and cookies but nothing substantial.  This is not so important to me because I am not very hungry after a marathon, but I do wish they had had enough chocolate milk

I planted my little seedling in a pot and placed it next to its big brother, now about 2 feet tall. I never thought these trees from Oregon would make it in Florida but so far so good. I’m already thinking about doing this race again, maybe not next year but soon.

Replay: Run From the Ducks 8 Hour Race – Weatherford, TX (September 27, 2014)

P1010940 P1010942 P1010943P1010956 P1010959I enjoyed this race so much last year that – despite the variety of tantalizing races available in September – I decided to sign up for it again. This race is most definitely a hidden gem, especially for runners and walkers who enjoy timed races. The venue could not be more perfect; Clark Gardens Botanical Park in the prosperous town of Weatherford is beautiful at this time of year and the autumn decorations, both natural and manmade, are delightful. The course consists of varied terrain (grass, gravel, dirt, stone) and is flat and mostly easy on the feet and legs.

Our trip began the Thursday before the race. My husband and I flew to Austin so I could pick up the age group award that I had won last February at the Austin Marathon. The award had been mailed but since it was extremely fragile, it arrived in Florida in a hundred or so pieces. Gina from the Austin Marathon was wonderful when I explained the situation and she graciously had another award made up for me. This time I would not trust the mails but would stop by the marathon office and hand carry my prize home myself. That explains why we flew in and out of Austin rather than DFW, which would have been much closer to the race site.

We took advantage of our time in Austin to visit with Ernest, Darcy’s best friend from college, and his attractive girlfriend Ana, as well as two of Ernest’s charming sisters, Eva and Elma. They treated us to a delicious Tex-Mex lunch at Serrano’s (fajitas for me, of course) and we spent the afternoon chatting and reminiscing. The next day we were off to Weatherford for the race.

Since I was familiar with the Gardens and the course, we waited until Saturday morning to visit the race site. Packet pickup began at 5:30 and all participants were given a bib, ankle chip, a little rubber ducky, and 2 short-sleeve tee shirts, one tech and one cotton. This year the design on both gray shirts was very bold and bright (ducks, natch). Dirty Girl Gaiters also donated several pairs of their colorful red, white, and blue gaiters and I volunteered to wear a pair (Dirty Girls are my very best favorite gaiters; I already have several pair but since I wear them all the time, even in road races, I was thrilled to get another set).

Race Director Randy and his five daughters plus a group of veteran volunteers masterminded the entire race, from cheering us on every time we passed the start/finish line of the 1.02 mile loop to handing out drinks and food and anything else we needed at the 2 aid stations. I missed my friend Karen who usually helps out at this race. She was hiking the Santiago de Compostela in Europe this year. A major plus is the existence of real restrooms across from the second aid station. This year the weather was much hotter than in 2013 – and since much of the course is unshaded, I could definitely feel the sun beating down during much of the day. Sunscreen is a must and I was glad I had slathered some on (often I forget).

But heat aside, the race was close to ideal. There was one snafu that could have been a disaster but was not allowed to. About 5 hours into the race, word had spread around the course that the race would be halted at 1 o’clock because the EMT had left the area. For safety’s sake, Randy had to collect our bibs and ‘officially’ the race was stopped. However, we were allowed to continue on our own if we wanted to, and we still wore our chips (the timing person was not due to return until the race was supposed to end at 3 pm). Randy would still give us an official time. At that point, I still had 6 or so laps to go to complete a marathon distance, so I really wanted to continue. By 7 ½ hours, I had completed 27.54 miles and called it a day.

Last year, I was able to complete a 50k during the 8 hours of the race, but this year that dang piriformis injury began bothering me right from the start – I knew I would be happy to finish 26.2 miles, so anything over that was terrific. I also had a huge blister that had developed on my bunion. I really should have popped that blister and changed my shoes but I didn’t want to waste time. As a result, at the end of my 27th lap, I realized the race was over for me and I gladly plopped into a chair to await the arrival of my husband to take me back to the hotel.

We spent Saturday night in Weatherford. I showered and rested while my husband went to a nearby Rosa’s Tortilla Factory to bring us back fajitas for two (which I ate while resting in bed with my legs propped up!). The next morning, we took off for San Angelo to visit my husband’s brother Dana and his wife Kathy. On the way, we stopped at the tiny town of Bangs to visit the graves of my in-laws. When we arrived in San Angelo, we were surprised and pleased to see that Darcy’s oldest brother, Carey Lee, had driven down from Brownfield, TX, to join the reunion. We all had lunch at a local Outback and then returned to Dana and Kathy’s house for lots of laughter, memories, and tall tales. It was a good visit!

On Monday morning we left San Angelo to return to Austin. Our trip was punctuated by a stop in Castell to visit some more gravesites and then another stop at the Llano County clerk’s office to look up some genealogy records. We had lunch at Cooper’s BBQ in Llano and then drove back to Austin, where we began our trip. Another night at the Hampton Inn at the airport (we stayed at Hampton Inns throughout this trip) and by Tuesday we were ready to come home. I managed to carry my Austin Marathon award unscathed during this whole trip.