It was supposed to rain, but it didn’t. It was supposed to be overcast and cool but instead the day turned out partly sunny and warm. I was glad on both counts. Columbus is a small but intriguing little city on the western border of Georgia right across the Chattahoochee River from Phenix City, Alabama. I had been there three times, twice to do the Soldier Marathon in November and once to do the 24-hour version of Operation Endurance back in 2012. All three times I had traveled there by myself and was totally focused on the races rather than exploring the surrounding area. This time I was with my husband, which freed me from worrying about logistics and gave both of us time to look around.
Columbus is about 3 ½ hours from our home, so we left around 9 am on Friday for a leisurely drive through rural roads. Our first stop was the Visitor Center at Fort Benning so we could get our visitor passes without having to stand in line early on race morning. There are a number of hotels in and surrounding Columbus, and the race does not have a host hotel (most participants are local), so I chose a hotel a few exits off Interstate 185 just north of the city center in a quiet business park. Since our room was not ready yet, we drove to the downtown area for lunch. Darcy had done his restaurant homework as usual and selected the Cannon Brew Pub on Broadway, a quiet place with excellent food and a selection of craft beers. I filled up on onion rings, sliders, and ‘sunspots’ (sweet potato fries) with a Special Ops IPA while Darcy had the ‘Burger after Midnite’ (hamburger topped with a fried egg a la Red Robin) and City Mills Wheat draft.
Then it was back to the hotel where we checked in so I could begin to get things ready for the race. Since this was to be another 12-hour race very similar to last week’s race in Suwannee, packing was relatively easy. Most of the non-clothes items I simply kept in my drop bag, things like Body Glide, Vaseline, toothbrush, wipes, tissues, etc. I only had to wash and repack my clothes and socks and decide which shoes to wear.
Despite the threat of rain, on race morning it was clear and dry and it remained that way throughout the day and early evening. That was a genuine plus. Darcy and I left the hotel at 6:45 Saturday morning and it took us only 20 minutes to arrive at Fort Benning. Getting to the race site on base turned out to be more difficult; after first overshooting our destination and finding ourselves at a dead end, we turned around and finally found the elusive gym. Look for a sign for the Paul B. Smith Fitness Center (not Smith Gym). There is plenty of parking in front of the building and there were tents for the aid station and a tent with tables and chairs for runners who did not have their own tent to set up their belongings. I brought my chair to set my drop bag on and originally set it under this spare tent. However, my friend Mellody was also doing the 12 hour and she and her husband had brought their own tent. She invited me to use hers and I gladly took her up on her generous offer.
The race itself is held on the Stewart Field running track and is just under one mile in length. The surface is fine grained gravel so gaiters are useful. I remember not wearing gaiters my first time here and regretted it. This year I was prepared. In addition to the 12 hour race, there is also a 24 hour plus a relay. The field of racers this year was smaller than normal since the race is usually held the last weekend of March. In 2016, that meant the 24 hour race would end on Easter so the race was moved up one week.
The course is flat and there are no tripping hazards if one discounts the occasional pinecone and seed pod. There is one aid station with water, Gatorade, soda, and lots of sweet and salty foods, plus pb & j quarters, cheese sandwiches, and (yum!) pizza at 6 pm. Best of all, there are real bathrooms in the gym (a short walk off the course), which is open from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday, plus 4 portapotties close to the aid station. I strategically planned my excursions to the bathrooms, making sure that my last visit was just before the gym closed.
We took off on time, 8 on the dot, and worked our way counterclockwise around the track for 12 hours with no change in direction. That was fine with me; I have decided that I don’t enjoy changing directions. The second way always seems longer to me for some reason.
I was still a little tired from the 35 miles I did last weekend, but overall I felt pretty good. I decided that as long as the weather stayed dry I would try to stay the full 12 hours, and fortunately that is what transpired. The weather held and I remained strong despite some fatigue in my legs and swelling in my ankles and feet. I suppose I could have changed shoes but I was moving steadily and didn’t want to stop. My first goal was to reach 13 miles, then 26, and then 32. Once I hit that magic 50k mark, I would try to do as many more laps as I could manage. I know I slowed a bit at that point but still kept moving, with a final lap count of 43 (42.785 miles). During the race I had time to talk with several other people, including RD Vikena Yutz (who was women’s champion several times at Across the Years) and Mellody, my walker friend from the Walking Boards. This year the race was chip timed but unfortunately some of the chips were faulty, including mine, so I continually had to check my lap number with the very patient Perry and his cheerful timing volunteers.
The 12-year option here seems to work well for me; I like the course and the indoor bathrooms, the other racers are friendly and welcoming, and the race is well-organized. I left the race with plans to return next year. Highly recommended for walkers.