Finally a race here in Florida! No more getting up at 3 am to catch several flights to other states. We could relax, have a leisurely breakfast, and then drive 6 or so hours down the interstate to the coastal town of Venice, where we spent the weekend so I could do a 24 hour trail race in Englewood Beach, about 30 minutes to the south. I was a bit apprehensive about doing a trail race, especially during the overnight hours, but Justin the race director assured me that there were very few impediments on the trail, perhaps a few errant pine cones, but no single-track and no major roots or rocks.
Justin was right. The 3.3 mile trail was mostly crushed shells and dirt covered with pine needles and it was very flat (no surprise here in south Florida). There were two wooden bridges that turned out to be my favorite part of the race because I didn’t have to watch my footing at all. Otherwise, I did keep my eyes peeled to the ground because there were a few – just a few – roots and an occasional rock and I wanted to memorize where they were during the daylight hours so I could avoid them at night.
We drove down on Friday morning, stopping only for a snack halfway, and checked into our hotel, a new Fairfield Inn in Venice. The host hotel was located much closer to the course and offered a good rate for runners but we wanted a name-brand hotel just in case there might be cable problems. Darcy planned to watch football, including the Florida-Georgia game, while I was racing and no cable would be a major disaster. After checking in, we drove to the race site at Ann Dever Park, just past the Humane Society. I tried to convince Darcy to let us look for a puppy to adopt after the race but he just grimaced and shook his head despairingly.
There were other race options than the 24 hour and for a while I toyed with the idea of dropping to the 12 hour day race so I could avoid the trail at night. But I remained stalwart and stuck with the 24 hour, figuring I could always just rest a little during the darkest part of the night. Racers who completed at least 6 laps in the 6 hour, 12 laps in the 12 hour, or 19 laps (100k) in the 24 hour would get a 34 ounce glass beer mug in addition to a medal. My quest was on to do at least 19 laps and maybe one more if I could manage it.
We started at 9 am but because we turned the clocks back on Sunday morning, we ended at 8 am (it was still 24 hours though!). The course winds around the huge parking lot, by a covered pavilion where the official aid station was set up, alongside indoor restrooms (yea!), around a small lake, and then onto the actual trail where we followed a counterclockwise loop or two, backtracking to the pavilion and out again. The race was chip timed with a verbal backup system and there was an additional self-service aid station at the halfway point on the course that had water, electrolytes, sunscreen, and Vaseline. People could set up tents or drop bags on the pavilion benches or by their cars in the parking lot. It was an excellent set-up for a race.
My friends Joyce and Ray were there and I got to do several laps with Joyce. I also met and walked with several other interesting runners, including Bill (Slow Twin), race walker Scott (who has an ultramarathon podcast), and Lynn, a Facebook friend. The other runners were friendly and welcoming. I am sure there were lots of animals hiding in the trees that lined the course but the only wildlife I actually saw were several huge turtles and a couple of black snakes.
The aid station had plenty of food, sweet and salty and filling, including burritos from Moe’s and candy corn (which I developed a definite hankering for). During the evening hours, Darcy brought me hot coffee and an egg McMuffin and I drank several bottles of seltzer, brought from home because I realized I have a decided hankering for carbonated beverages but can’t stomach soda, diet or otherwise.
The trail is pitch black at night so it is crucial to have a handheld light of some sort. I had brought two flashlights, extra batteries, and two headlamps so I was prepared. Even so, at one point I found myself startled to bang up against the retaining wall on one of the bridges. I must have fallen completely asleep for a few seconds (or longer) and sleepwalked into the side of the bridge. Now that had never happened to me before!
Another first for me, again due to the darkness, was completely missing the entry point to the trail not once but at least 4 times! The first time, Ray saw me wandering back into the parking lot and pavilion area and turned me around and set me back on track. I tried hard to pay attention every time after that but I still managed to miss the turn several times. I simply could not see the small orange flags planted in the ground that led the way to the trail and there was no arrow or light to point out the trailhead. But those were small concerns and easily fixed.
Fortunately I had brought several changes of trail shoes and socks because my feet did swell and ache quite a bit. By the time I had completed 15 laps I knew those final 4 would be a struggle. I had plenty of time to finish, but I was weary and wanting the race to be over. The good news – and what really kept me out there for 22 hours or so – was the fact that the weather was warm and pleasant and there were real bathrooms not portapotties. I had no reason to leave until I had completed that 100k. It took me until 6 am to reach that magic number, just about the time that Scott, also aiming for a 100k, also finished. Justin handed me my mug and medal and we posed for a photo which was then swiftly made into a colorful certificate with my name and mileage. I looked a complete disaster in the photo, sweaty and worn out, but it was certainly a neat memento to have.
One thing I would do differently is make sure I covered myself with bug spray. I was oblivious to getting bitten during the race but I discovered soon afterwards that dozens of gnats had attacked my arms and legs. I had itchy bites that drove me crazy until I got some strong hydrocortisone cream to smooth on the bites.
This race is definitely recommended for walkers, especially for those who are hesitant to do trails. I would suggest the 12 hour daytime race as a good option and one I am considering for next year (unless I change my mind and try the 24 hour again).