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.

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