Coming Home to Grapevine: the UltraCentric 72 Hour Race – November 19-22, 2015 (Grapevine, TX)

I’ve now had a chance to recharge and recuperate after one of the most powerful races of my life so far. Although I have done UltraCentric 3 times in the past, first the 48 hour and then two of the 72-hour races, this year’s race seemed the best yet, despite a last-minute change of venue.

One week before we were due to leave, we received an email from Robert Tavernini, the race director, stating that there had been a problem with the permit for Meadowmere Park in Grapevine. The park had been flooded earlier in the year but by early fall, everything seemed to be in order and the appropriate permit had been issued. However, due to an administrative snafu, permission was pulled at the last minute, putting the UC in doubt. Quick work by Robert allowed the UC to continue but in a different section of Grapevine. Instead of the usual two mile lollipop course, the race would be moved to Sunfish Drive at Silver Lake Marina. This new venue was paved, with restrooms, and open only to racers and their supporters but the course would now consist of a 0.51 mile loop.

In general, I make a habit of avoiding any race with a course loop less than 1 mile in length. I have completed 2 races, a marathon and an 8-hour, on a quarter mile track and thought I would go completely insane. Even courses that are just under 1 mile tend to drive me bonkers, so I was really not too happy about facing 72 hours on a half mile loop. But our plane tickets were purchased, hotel reservations made, and I had paid a lot of money to register. I was going to do my best, even if it meant I might need some intense therapy – physical and mental – when this was all over.

Darcy and I left Florida for Texas on Wednesday morning. Two brief flights later we arrived in Dallas-Fort Worth and after quickly picking up our luggage and rental car, we made a beeline to Rosa’s for fajitas. One of the reasons we visit Texas so often is to satisfy our fajita fix, but honestly, Texas has so many good races, both marathons and ultras, that it is hard to stay away even without the promise of great Tex-Mex food. I have made so many good friends at these races that returning to Texas is just like coming home. The UltraCentric is especially important to our family because of the gracious support we received last year from everyone after our youngest son Ben’s unexpected death. That helped us through a very difficult time.

After lunch, we stopped to check out the new race site. It was a flat oval shaped loop, with restrooms facing the lake, a timing tent at one end, a long stretch that paralleled a highway and had a slight camber along the right-hand side (and which became increasingly noticeable as time went on), and a miniscule downhill slant at the other end of the oval. I hugged the right side of the loop as much as I could during the early hours and days of the race but later moved to the center of the path on the side with the camber to avoid issues that began to plague me and other racers. In the future, if UC continues to be held here, it would probably be a good idea to change direction every 6-8 hours to give our legs and feet a break.

My goal was to reach 150 miles at this race. My PR for a previous 72 hour race was 137 miles at Across the Years. Last year I reached 126 miles here at UC. It seemed that something always intervened with my plans for reaching 150, either weather, fatigue, blisters, or leg pain. My strategy for this current attempt was to last through the first 24 hours and as long into the next day as I could manage. I would spend the 2nd night in a hotel and then try to last through the third night on the course.

So much for my plans. By 7 pm on Thursday I had painful aches in both my legs, mostly in my upper thighs. I wasn’t tired at all, especially after a cup of black coffee and an orange cream–filled Hostess cupcake (what I now call my ‘vitamin pill’) but I realized that if I kept pushing on through the night I would be exhausted by dawn. Then I would have another 12 hours or so before I could return to our hotel for a shower and some sleep. That idea did not appeal to me. I gave in to my desire for comfort and release from pain. At 10 pm, I called Darcy and asked him to drive me back to the hotel for the night. Sad to report that in all that time I only had completed about 48 miles.

At our room at Hyatt Place, I quickly showered, brushed my teeth, and went to sleep. I managed to wake just before my alarm, which was set for 3 am, and quickly dressed, drank some coffee, and ate my piece of bread. I woke my husband and he drove me back to the course, signed me in, and I took off. My willing and dedicated husband did this every morning for 3 mornings. Yes, that is correct. I spent EVERY night in our hotel room. The early pre-dawn hours, from 4 am to 7 am, turned out to be my favorite time each day. I felt rested, strong, and ready to move.

Friday was the day the 48 hour people began their race. I enjoyed talking with Larry, Matthew, and Kaye as well as constantly getting lapped by Roxy, an adorable Pomeranian. However, I only managed to last until 5 pm. My legs were completely shot and my calves were sore. My bunion was hurting as well, despite changing shoes several times. It was time to call it a day. Back to the hotel where I drank some chocolate milk and ate a light meal before collapsing into bed.

On Saturday morning, I rose early once again and woke Darcy for a ride back to the lake. I felt exhilarated and buoyant as I power walked during those morning hours. I managed to reach 100 miles by noon and then considered every lap after that to be another step towards a PR. Slowly the half miles began to mount up and passing my previous PR seemed a distinct possibility. As 9 am approached, the last set of 24, 12, and 6 hour racers began their journey and I was happy to see my centurion racewalker friend Rob attempt (and ultimately succeed) at another 100 mile distance. As the day wore on, my legs began to throb, and when Darcy stopped by to check on me mid-afternoon, I took the opportunity to lie down in the rental car and put my feet up for a 20 minute break. On Saturday I lasted until 7 pm but since I had reached 125 miles, I felt justified in resting until the next morning. The wind had been gusty all day but quieted down by evening. That night was supposed to reach the low 30’s and I knew the cold would make staying out past dark unpleasant for me.

When Sunday morning came, I was once again ready at 4 am to zoom around the course, rested and upbeat. The cold doesn’t seem to bother me as much when I am dressed warmly and have had the benefit of a good night’s sleep. I stayed on the course until the last few minutes and managed to PR with a total of 148.5 miles, just slightly short of my desired 150 goal, and good enough for 2nd place female. Darcy figured out that I was actually on the course a total of 46 hours. I spent 26 hours in my hotel or traveling to and from the course. Not bad, 148 miles in 46 hours. My friend Joyce won 1st place female with 154.7 miles, and her niece Kristen, in her first timed race, managed to get 103 miles.

In my previous posts, I have written a good deal about the UltraCentric so I will only note the remarkable features of this year’s race:

  • This race attracts wonderful friendly people and I enjoyed seeing my regular pals (Joyce – and her husband and support staff Ray – Angela, Kevin, Trent, Larry, Matthew, Kay) and meeting some great new ones (Spenser from London, England, Annabel from Sydney, Australia, and Roxy (and her human parent Harold). I missed seeing Terrie and Karen and Marie
  • Do I like the new course? Not really. I prefer at least a one mile loop. The main advantage of this venue is the proximity to hotels. It only took about 10 minutes to drive back to the course. The former course was at least a 25 minute drive, longer in traffic
  • The new course is noisier than the other one because it is directly on the DFW flight path. Jets flew overhead all the time and were more noticeable during the evening hours when traffic died down
  • The weather was great – in past iterations of this race, we have had everything from thunder and lightning to freezing cold, but this year the most challenging weather was a strong wind on Saturday. It was cold but never too cold, at least not during the hours I was on the course.
  • After a day or two, I began to lean towards my right side. This was not noticeable to me but Spenser (a running coach as well as a participant) mentioned it to me and I began to become acutely aware of it. That night in the hotel, I found myself listing to the right while brushing my teeth and sitting in bed, so I tried to make a concerted effort to stretch and stand straight. The rest of my time on the course I made a point of staying in the middle of the road to avoid leaning into the center of the loop. Other people complained of pain in one leg or foot as a result of the slanted pavement, so I was not alone in my concerns about this issue.
  • The race director and his support staff, notably Shelly and Celia but also a host of volunteers (including my husband) are exceptional. They do everything possible for runners and walkers to make the experience pleasant and notable. Steve the timing guy is another exceptional member of the team. He is always helpful and ready to cheer us on. I look forward to seeing all of them every year
  • UC has the best food at any ultra I’ve attended. All the meals were portable so I could eat while walking although there was plenty of room in the heated tent for us to sit and dine if we desired. Menu items included fajitas, waffle/egg/bacon sandwiches, hamburgers, potato soup, tortillas, scrambled eggs, chili and rice, pasta and sauce, pumpkin pie, brownies – and that is just what I personally ate. There was also the usual array of snacks, peanuts, pretzels, m & m’s, pickles, plus water, soda, and Gatorade etc. For me, the best way to avoid nausea and dizziness at an ultra over 12 hours in length is to eat genuine food on a regular basis. I now realize that this also helps me to maintain homeostasis and electrolyte balance and thus avoid nasty and painful hand cramping
  • I’m a city girl who enjoys her creature comforts. I don’t camp and find it difficult to sleep in a car (hence the problems I had at Race for the Ages). I like being clean and warm. I do much better racing in the wee hours of the morning than during the nighttime. Any future multiday race I do will find me staying in a hotel every night and resting up so I can do my best the next day. It’s fine for me to stay through the night for a 24 hour race but anything longer and I will be taking it easy!

 

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