8 Hours of HELL – Englewood Beach, FL (August 20, 2016)

This race is honestly named. It truly IS 8 hours of hot, humid, punishing, grueling exercise on a 3.05-mile trail in Ann Dever State Park in Englewood Beach. Despite that, the race had a lot of things going for it. Heat doesn’t usually bother me (or at least, it did not until this summer) and even though it is a trail race, it is mostly packed shell and pebbles (although there are – at least to this pavement lover – a fair amount of stubborn rocks and roots). There are real bathrooms nearby. A covered pavilion has tables and benches with room to set up a personal aid area. My feet were in pretty good shape. More to the point, I had completed 62 miles at this same park last November at the Save the Daylight race. It was hard but I managed.

So, what happened to me here this Saturday? I could only manage to finish 21 miles, not even a marathon distance. That means it doesn’t count as a race for my Maniac statistics. It does, of course, have significance for teaching me some valuable lessons as well as learning to accept that not every event will be a happy one. I guess out of over 220 marathons and ultramarathons, having one or two that falls completely apart is to be expected.

My plan was to try and finish 9 laps with a total of 27.45 miles. Eight laps would only yield just over 24 miles, so it was 9 or nothing. The race began at 10 am and the weather was already 80 plus and humid. Even sitting under the pavilion was shirt-drenching. RD Justin gave us a few last minute instructions and about 30-35 of us took off. I was at the very end, naturally, so I was not surprised when everyone disappeared around the bend. I kept my eyes on the ground to watch for any rocks and roots determined to trip me and, aside from the debilitating heat, I felt pretty good. Over one short wooden bridge and then one longer one, past the half mile marker, then the one mile, the mile and a half, and the two-mile marker – all seemed to be good. Still following the arrows, I made another turn and then – whoops, there was the one-mile marker again! How did that happen? I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. I turned around to retrace my steps and began asking people who were running towards me how to get to mile 3. They pointed, I followed, and eventually found my way back to a recognizable place.

But getting lost cost me, not only in time and mileage but also mental courage. I had begun to panic when I realized I had somehow missed a turn. I lost at least 30 minutes by going in the wrong direction and having to retrace my steps. When I mentioned it at the aid station, I was told others had made the same error. After giving my bib number to the lap counters I set off again, this time determined not to get lost. After I hit mile 2, I looked carefully and saw that there was indeed an arrow pointing to the right but it was on the left side of the road and it looked as though we were supposed to make a quick brief right and then turn left (where 2 more arrows pointed up the road). I moved the first arrow to the left side of the road so I and others wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Later, someone moved it to the middle of the road, but that was okay and much more understandable than hidden on the left.

Bottom line – I think that people who are setting up directional signs for a race should walk the course with people who are NOT familiar with the course so any problems can be identified and signs appropriately placed.

Anyhow, my timing was completely off and I realized that I would not be able to get in 9 laps. As it got hotter (and yes, it did get even hotter) and as I got more and more tired, I had to watch the trail very carefully. My feet began to hurt. Initially I had put on a pair of Sketchers trail shoes, lightweight but probably too small, and after 3 hours on the course my feet started to swell. I switched to my Hokas, made a trip to the restroom, drank some seltzer water, and tried to eat something. But I didn’t find any food appealing. I tried a few potato chips and a peanut butter quarter. Nothing helped. I was glad I had brought along 3 small bottles of seltzer because that, along with water, was the only thing I seemed able to digest.

By 6 hours, I had had enough. I called Darcy to pick me up in an hour (our hotel, the Fairfield Inn, was about 45 minutes away) and was able to complete 7 laps before he arrived, bearing a serving of chocolate milk. I thanked the volunteers and RD and we left. We stopped at Publix to get some groceries (crackers, hummus, salad, cheddar cheese, and a little 4 pack of wine) and we had a picnic back at the hotel after my much-needed shower.

It was a day of discouragement, marked by several things I simply could not control. Getting lost, losing my appetite, wearing tight shoes, dealing with the hot sun and a pebbly course – it all seemed pretty overwhelming. I came across a huge tortoise along the trail that seemed to be moving faster than I was during that last lap.

Would I recommend this race for walkers? Yes, but with certain caveats – you must love the heat, enjoy trail races, and plan ahead (make sure to walk the course at least once before the race to make sure you understand the course). Me, I think I will skip this one next year.

 

Area 13.1 Half Marathon – August 13, 2016 (Roswell, GA)

I was attracted to this half marathon because of the neat Martian medal in the shape of an EBE (extraterrestrial biological entity). My husband, a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and space exploration, was willing to go along with me. After all, I did the Extraterrestrial 51k race in Area 51 in Nevada and we both enjoyed that trip, so why not try this race?

Roswell is a bedroom suburb just north of Atlanta, so traffic on Friday was heavy but fortunately most people were leaving the city while we were heading around it. Our hotel was an expansive quiet Doubletree on Holcomb Bridge Road situated about 1 ½ miles from the race site at Riverside Park. Since the race is an evening race that begins at 7 pm on Saturday, we probably could have left early Saturday morning, but we wanted time to check out the course during the daylight hours, so we drove up on Friday.

Whenever we travel around the Atlanta area, we can usually find a Taco Mac for at least one meal. That was true this time as well. Our Friday afternoon dinner was guacamole and chips, burger for Darcy, flatbread pizza for me, and a selection of local draft beers. We relaxed at the hotel and watched the Olympics.

Both of us were tired and slept late on Saturday (late for me is 7 am, but it still counts). It was strange not having to rise early to get ready for a morning race but it was also a nice change. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Peachtree Diner just down the road. Darcy had corned beef hash and eggs with biscuits and gravy while I delighted in a bagel, cream cheese, and lox platter. After we ate our fill, we drove down to the race site to get an idea of where to park for the race.

There were hours for packet pickup on Thursday and Friday at several running stores in nearby Marietta and Alpharetta but it was much easier for us to get my bib, chip (D-ring for shoe), and short-sleeve red tee shirt (cotton blend with an EBE on the front) at the park on Saturday afternoon from 4:30-6:45 pm. The parking lot was crowded when we arrived at 4:20 and as time passed it became much harder for people to find a spot. There was additional parking at another lot and along the road as well as an overflow lot in Sandy Springs with shuttle service.  It should be noted that in addition to the half marathon, there is also a popular 5k that begins ten minutes after the half start.

I met up with my friend Cheryl who arrived about 5:30. She was planning to register for the race but hadn’t made up her made until the evening before. I was happy to see her for several reasons; she and I have a similar pace plus I wanted to hand over some quilt tops I had sewn but wanted her to machine quilt for me. Cheryl makes beautiful quilts from tee shirts (her business is called Run With It Quilts and her website is http://gallery123uniques.com) and she made a very large one for me from 15 of my national and international racing shirts. I love to make quilt tops but simply can’t find time to hand quilt everything I make and I find machine quilting a burden, so I gave Cheryl five tops to machine quilt for me.

After Cheryl registered for the race, Darcy drove us back to the Doubletree so we could rest for a while. That seemed a better idea than standing around in the heat and sunshine waiting for the race start. Around 6:20, we returned to the park and Darcy dropped us off and returned to the hotel. Cheryl and I joined the throngs of other racers at the starting line. Someone sang the National Anthem and we began to move at 7 pm. Weather was still hot and humid but I knew that once the sun went down some of the heat would dissipate.

The first few miles were on road but then we turned onto a trail that wound around a lake. This trail portion only lasted for a mile or so but it was treacherous for me, with several big roots that crossed the path and the occasional loose rock. Most people would find it easy and very runnable but since I tend to trip over the smallest pebble, I slowed to a cautious walk. Once we were back on a paved path that ran parallel to the road we originally ran on I was fine and could pick up my pace once again. I was glad it was still daylight for this section of the race.

We passed by the starting area and through the park on our way to the other long out-and-back. This section was notable primarily for the very long but gentle incline from miles 5 through 7. We finally turned around at approximately mile 8 and I was relieved that the entire race except for the brief trail portion was all pavement. It was dark but everyone was prepared with headlamps and there were enough people in front of me that I could follow the course back to the finish line. Aid stations were every 2 – 3 miles, with water, Gatorade, and gels.

I finished in 3:04, a little slower than my usual time, but I was extremely pleased. My feet did not hurt at all (except for the usual post-race pain) and I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace throughout the race. I realized that I do need to work quite a bit on my speed if I am to regain my customary finishing times, but I think I am finally past the after surgery complications.

The medal is a glow-in-the-dark EBE medal, a fine addition to my collection of half marathon medals. The race is a fun race for walkers as long as they can handle some trail, don’t mind the August heat, and enjoy night races. Me, I am a morning person, so just staying awake until the race began was a challenge, but a worthwhile one.

 

 

Dane’s Nearly Free Run – Destin, Florida (July 30, 2016)

The premise is a neat one – just finish the specified number of miles within your chosen race’s time frame and you will be refunded your entire race registration in cash. For example, if you select the 6 hour race, you would need to complete 24 miles within 6 hours in order to get your $24 registration fee back. The 8 hour race required 32 miles to get a refund of $32 and the 12 hour race required 48 miles to get back $48. Those are pretty cheap registration fees to begin with, even without the potential to get one’s money back. If you don’t complete the required mileage, the money is donated to the Air Force Special Operations Combat Control Association. I decided to register for the 8 hour race and hoped to do at least 26.2 miles. Even if I were able to finish 32 miles, my plan was to donate my refund back to the Combat Control Association. It’s pretty hard to find ultra races in the southeast in the deep heat of summer, so I was happy to sign up for an inexpensive race.

At this point in my recovery from foot surgery (just over 3 months), I wasn’t sure I could even get in a marathon distance but I was game to try. If I succeeded – great! If not, it would be a relatively inexpensive training race. Since the 8 hour race began at 11 am, we left early Saturday morning for the 3 hour drive to the popular beach resort town of Destin, arriving about an hour ahead of time thanks to entering into the Central Time Zone. We found the race site at the Morgan Sports Complex without a problem. I set up several chairs alongside the course, with my drop bag on one, a cooler with ice and snacks on another, and one just to sit on. After checking in with the race officials and getting my bibs (one for the front, one for the back), I just sat and waited. My friend Cheryl soon arrived and we kibitzed until the prerace briefing at 5 minutes to 11.

While this is an extremely low-key race, with only 23 entrants in all 3 races, there were a number of rules that had to be followed in order to avoid disqualification. For instance, racers could not:

  • set up any kind of shade for themselves – no umbrella or tent (although their supporters were free to do so)
  • leave the course to go into their (air-conditioned) car
  • receive aid outside of the official aid area

We were also promised to be yelled at, jeered, and encouraged to quit early (obviously so we would relinquish our registration fees) and every so often, race officials would walk the .83 mile course clockwise (as we ran or walked counter-clockwise) yelling at us to give up and ring the little bell to announce we were throwing in the towel. I think I was more worried about being scolded for walking than I was about the high heat and humidity.

And yes, it was indeed hot and humid. Someone said the temperature reached 110 degrees and that was probably accurate. A few trees along the paved course gave us a thin sliver of shade in certain areas and occasionally there was a warm breeze. The only real relief from the sun and heat came during the early afternoon when some cloud cover gave us a brief respite. Otherwise it was pretty miserable even for a heat lover like myself.

To reach the marathon distance, I had to complete 32 laps. My plan was to finish 16 laps in 4 hours and repeat. Although I had some distinct soreness in my right foot, I was able to move at a 14 minute per lap pace for the first couple of hours. As I walked, I was able to forget about the pain in my foot and instead concentrated my discomfort totally on the burdensome heat. I had brought energy bars, cheese sticks, candied ginger, and crackers, but I only wanted seltzer water (3 bottles) and S-caps. I tried to eat but had no appetite and couldn’t even finish a small granola bar. The aid station provided ice and water but no food or other drink. I was so glad I brought my seltzer because it helped settle my stomach somewhat. I was glad I was only doing the 8 hour race.

During the brief period of cloud cover, I felt slightly energized but that didn’t last. I was happy to finish lap 30 after 7 hours on the course. Two more and I was done, with a total 26.88 miles, good enough for 1st place finish for women in the 8 hour. I was content. Okay, so there was no medal, no tee shirt, no beer mug – just satisfaction for having finished a fun race in August heat.

Darcy met me at the finish line and helped me pack up the chairs and other stuff. We stopped at a McDonald’s for some chocolate milk, then Subway for sandwiches and beverages, and finally our hotel, an attractive and quiet Hampton Inn in Niceville, a short distance away. I was tired, cramping, and covered in salt and sweat but a cool shower and a good night’s sleep helped immensely.

I definitely need to ramp up my speed and rebuild my endurance and stamina but I’m sure that will come in time. Meanwhile, this race is highly recommended for walkers who want an inexpensive chance to get in some training miles. There are bathrooms right on the course (hooray!) and the entire course is asphalt except for a small section on grass. There are also places to sit but I like having my own chairs. Be sure to bring your own food and drink and anything else you think you might need. I’m not sure if this will become an annual event but if it does, I may try it again.