In past years, this race was held in a public park in Cumming, GA, called Central Park and the race was titled appropriately enough A Stroll in Central Park. Alas, the venue was changed this year so the name of the race was changed as well. Now it’s simply A Stroll in the Park. A lot of other things changed as well. Instead of a paved 1.03 mile loop with real restrooms, the new course is now a 1 mile crushed gravel loop in Chattahoochee Point Park in Suwanee. At least I was initially told that the loop was all crushed gravel. When I arrived at the park on Saturday morning to get my race bib, Race Director Lia apologized to me for misrepresenting the course. She had to add a quarter mile section of – oh, no! – trail. While most trail runners would not even blink at the rocks and roots on this section, for a pavement lover like myself, it was a little disheartening.
Still, I decided to give it my best shot. I only had to get 32 laps for a 50k to count the race for Maniac statistics and that should be eminently doable over a 12-hour time period. After a good dinner at Taco Mac and a semi-restless night’s sleep at the Hilton Garden Inn at Johns Creek, Darcy and I arrived at the park around 6 am. Packet pickup was due to begin at 6:15 and the race at 7 am.
In my packet was my bib, a red cotton (halleluiah!) short-sleeve tee, and a plaque with the name of the race, the date, and my name on it. A few weeks after the race, Lia mails out our race results on a sticky gold label that fits perfectly on the plaque. I have two so far and was looking forward to adding a third. Everyone was given a plastic cup that we could write our name on and use throughout the race. For me, trying to find my cup with my name always takes up more time than I am willing to spend, so I usually carry my hanteen and just fill it up whenever I need to.
The weather was 60 degrees at the start but was expected to rise to 80 with no rain. Perfect weather for me! I wore shorts and a short-sleeve quick dry cotton tee with a nylon long-sleeve shirt and a light jacket at the start but quickly took off the jacket and long-sleeves. I was perfectly comfortable the entire day and could change items quickly if necessary since my chair and drop bag were close by.
This is a low-key race – no chip timing – but some absolutely wonderful lap counters. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves to our lap counters before the race and to shout out our numbers after each lap. Since there were only about 50 racers, it didn’t take long for lap counters to become very familiar with all of us. My lap counter was Wyly and she turned out to be my biggest cheering section.
We began right on the dot of 7 am heading counter clockwise around the park. When we reached the end of each lap we had to make a right turn and head down a rocky rooty trail to a bridge, turn around, and head back to the start. The trail portion was only about ¼ mile but I began to dread it. I would get a good pace going on the dirt and gravel portion only to have to slow down and carefully watch my feet so I could maneuver around the more treacherous sections.
In the two previous years I have done this race, I stayed for the entire 12 hours and managed to complete between 43 and 44 miles. This year, however, I knew that I would be content with simply managing to achieve a 50k. Anything over 32 miles would be great. I realized that the trail portion would become ever more difficult for me as I began to fatigue. I tend to lift my feet less when I’m tired and did not want to take a chance on falling and breaking something.
We changed direction after 6 hours and that gave a different perspective on the course, although I always tend to prefer the original direction (even on the old course). There is one aid station with the usual sweet and salty ultra choices. For some reason, I didn’t see any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the promised noon pizza didn’t arrive until after 4, just as I was ready to leave, but I managed to snack on a cheese sandwich and Easter peeps. I did see a little girl eating a popsicle and asked where she got it. She said one of the adults had given it to her so I asked at the aid station and was told they didn’t have any popsicles. After a couple more laps, one of the aid station volunteers asked me what flavor popsicle I wanted – it turns out that someone had gone to the store and bought a box of popsicles just because I wanted one. Now that is (much appreciated) service!
There was another difference between this new venue and the previous one – in this new park, there are two ‘restrooms’ that are really just a step above portapotties. Central Park had real bathrooms for men and women, with running water and towels and such. The older I get, the more important such practical luxuries are to me.
When Darcy came to check on me around 1 pm, I had just made the marathon distance. I reiterated my decision to stop after 32 laps and asked that he return in a couple of hours. Around 4 pm he showed up with a chocolate milk, ready to take me back to the hotel, but at that point Wyly encouraged me to do another lap so I could finish 35 miles. Darcy patiently waited until I finished that last lap and then we said our goodbyes and left. I was more in the mood for a shower and nap than a meal so we opted for a grocery run for subs and junk food before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Although I probably won’t do this race again, I would highly recommend it for walkers who are not intimidated by trails. It is well-organized, the race director and her volunteers are terrific, and the other racers are very friendly and welcoming. Even the short trail section is really not that bad, but for a wimp like myself, it is daunting. If the race ever returns to Central Park, I will be sure to follow.