After an unsuccessful trail attempt a couple of weeks ago, I am proud to say that this time I made it! I was very discouraged at 8 Hours of Hell because it took me 7 hours to complete only 21 miles, 5 miles short of a marathon. In fact, I was so concerned about not being able to do the distance at Wildcat that I dropped from the 100k to the 50k. That turned out to be a wise decision because 50k on a trail turned out to be sufficient challenge for me.
On Friday we left for Pensacola, leaving behind the fallout from Hurricane Hermine. We first made sure our house still had electricity and running water, we picked up tree limbs and other debris strewn around our yard, and then headed out on our westbound trek. The hurricane had left the western portion of the Florida panhandle unscathed so we were traveling in the right direction! We did not know until later in the day that our son’s apartment had lost electricity and it took 5 days before power was restored. How fortunate that he and his family lived only 20 minutes away from us; they stayed at our place until they got their power back on Tuesday.
We arrived in Pensacola around 3 pm and checked into a clean and pleasant Hampton Inn on Pine Forest Road, about 3 ½ miles from the race site. We then drove to the race venue at the Escambia County Equestrian Center to check it out and get an idea of how long it would take us to arrive in the morning (about 15 minutes). A quick dinner at Applebee’s and we were ready to return to the hotel and relax. Neither of us had slept well the night before because of the hurricane; we were exhausted.
Saturday morning we were up early and left for the race by 6:30 am. Wildcat has 3 race options. The 100 miler and 100k have a 40-hour cutoff while participants in the 50k have 20 hours to complete that option. Those are pretty generous cutoff times but the course was difficult (to me) and the weather was brutal, very hot and humid, with shade only in the wooded areas. It was possible to pick up race packets on Friday but we arrived too late in the day so we waited until Saturday morning just before the race. Included in the race packet was our bib, a gel and some vitamin samples, and a bright green buff with Wildcat Ultra printed on it. The buff was a nice surprise and a pleasant change from a tech tee shirt I would never wear.
The Equestrian Center has a large covered pavilion with benches and plenty of room for tents and personal aid stations. I met up with my friends Joyce and Ray and set up my chair, cooler, and drop bag under their canopy. Joyce was doing the 100 miler so they were expecting to stay until the end of the race at midnight on Monday morning. Me, I just wanted to finish before darkness set in on Saturday evening.
The course description sounds complex but it really was easy to follow, at least in daylight hours. I never got lost; there were plenty of runners in front of me to point out the way. The start and finish were in front of the covered pavilion and housed the timing table, the aid station, and real bathrooms. The first section crossed a large grassy area, a brief asphalt section, and a grassy loop around a large swamp. There was a ‘Warning – Snakes’ sign near the swamp so most people generally gave it a wide berth, though I never did see any reptiles. This section of grass had a definite camber to it and several times my ankle slipped and almost twisted on itself.
The next section took us through a shaded wood. The ground here was mostly sand and pine needles. I enjoyed this section because of the break from the sun and I liked the soft pliant surface. The trail in the wood led to a cleared sandy area under power lines, up a long hill that followed the power lines, and then into another wooded loop. Then it was back down the power line hill and into the third section of forest, past a grassy area and children’s playground, and then into a rooty section of woods. I slowed down considerably when I walked through this particular area but it was my favorite section because once we got through it, the timing table was straight ahead – another lap accomplished! The 50k required 12 full laps and a partial 13th lap that omitted the 2 loop sections.
My feet held up fairly well during the race. I had to change shoes and socks once because my feet had swollen. During the final laps I developed a blister on the ball of one foot and had to limp and change my gait to accommodate it. I managed to finish by 5:30 pm with a time of 9:29:15. That was a personal worst for me but I was simply pleased to finish! I was tired, sunburned, and salty, so we drove back to the hotel so I could shower and rest while Darcy got us takeout from the nearby Cracker Barrel.
The best part about this race was the people; everyone was encouraging and helpful. I saw several friends – Joyce and Ray, Drina and Michael, Cheryl, and Mellody, as well as several runners and volunteers I recognized from the Destin race in July. The timekeepers and volunteers were friendly and extremely attentive. The aid station had plenty of ice and fluids as well as an assortment of goodies plus meals at specific times of the day. Unfortunately, I was still plagued by digestive issues during this race and did not find anything appealing but there was plenty of food to choose from.
The worst part was the terrain. Most trail runners would think this course was a piece of cake; it is only from my admittedly jaundiced view of trails that it could be called difficult. So, any potential runners and walkers who are intrigued by this course, please don’t be put off by my hesitation. I just don’t enjoy trails. I am not signing up for any more trail races and this time I REALLY MEAN IT! But I am glad I did Wildcat for my final trail race.