This was the perfect ultra for me – a timed race on a paved certified one-mile two loop course with a fully stocked aid-station, cold water and ice, and an air-conditioned building with real bathrooms and showers plus a large gymnasium with benches and a clean floor to lie on. There were friendly people everywhere, not just the other runners but also friends and members who cheered on all the racers. The terrific volunteers anticipated every need; one especially vigilant young man would run up to me as I approached the aid station, fill my water bottle with ice cold water, and then hand it to me as I was moving on through. ‘No need to slow down, just keep walking and I’ll hand the bottle to you,’ he would tell me, understanding completely my desire to maintain pace. Even the weather cooperated; although it was very hot and humid during the day, I could always wander into the air-conditioning to cool off and rest while the evening hours brought cooler temperatures down into the mid-sixties.
It was a relatively long drive to Lebanon, about 9 hours. We stopped several times for rest breaks and breakfast and arrived in Tennessee around 2 o’clock. Our room at the Hampton Inn was not ready yet so we had lunch at Chili’s and then drove to the race site to check it out. We were greeted by Greg, a runner and volunteer, who explained the course (a lop-sided figure 8 that wound around Winfree Bryant Middle School and the College Hills Church of Christ) and told us where we could set up our drop bags and chairs. Just to make sure I knew where everything was, I wandered into the school and found the gym and the bathrooms. Satisfied and excited, I was ready to return to the hotel and get my stuff together for the 6 am start the next morning. I like starting early because I find waiting for races insufferably difficult, and this also meant we could leave early the next morning for home.
This event has numerous race options besides the 24 hour: 6 hour, 12 hour, half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile, and 100k. Both the 12 and 24 hour races begin at 6 am while the others start an hour later, except for the 6 hour which begins at noon. This means that the course is busy with people during daylight hours but is much less crowded during the evening. As it turned out, the number of people was never a problem because there was plenty of room on the course. There was also excellent line of sight and cones marking the transition points so it was impossible to get lost, a big plus for me. Each tenth mile of the course was marked so it was easy to figure out where we were at every moment. The course is well-lit and open only to participants and their supporters so there are no worries about traffic. I brought my headlamp and flashlight just in case but never had to use them.
Packet pickup began at 5 am on Saturday. Chips were attached to the bibs of racers and so had to be fastened on the outside of our garments. We also got short-sleeved technical tee shirts. I promptly gave mine away; I can’t see the point of even bringing home something I will never wear.
My friends Joyce and Ray were here for this race (Joyce was doing it for the third time) and they kindly let me put my chairs and ice chest under their canopy. At 6 am on the dot, we took off and my long day and night began. Yes, it did get hot and humid, but there was no rain and an occasional pleasant breeze. I knew that once the sun went down the temperature would drop. Around 3 in the afternoon, the heat began affect me, my feet started to swell, my shoes felt tight, and my legs ached. Ray set me up in the gym with a thick mat to lie down on and so I spent 30 minutes in blessed air conditioned comfort, with my feet elevated on a bench. By 3:30 I felt refreshed and, though I struggled with leg cramps while trying to stand back up on my feet, I was ready to attack the course again.
I never really took another break, although when Darcy came around 6 to bring me coffee, I did sit for a few minutes to eat, drink, and change my shoes and socks. Volunteers brought pizza in the afternoon and chicken sandwiches from Zaxby’s later in the evening. I had plenty to eat and no stomach issues, a nice change from my previous races this summer.
Around 9 pm, I could definitely feel the weather cool off – there was a time and temperature reading on the church’s electronic marquee so I could watch the drop in temperature as I passed by – but it never got uncomfortably cold. The evening hours were serene and peaceful, the moon a beautiful crescent that resembled a slice of orange candy, with the silence broken only by loudspeakers that blared popular music throughout the race. In fact, my only complaint about this race was the loud music that played nonstop. It was fine during the day but once nighttime arrived the music began to grate on my nerves especially as I passed by the several speakers.
My primary goal in this race was to complete a 50k so I could count it for Maniac statistics, but I really wanted more than that; after all, in my last 24-hour race at Dahlonega I managed 42 miles, so I thought for sure that I might reach 100k. It was beyond my dreams to reach 70 miles, something I had attained 3 years ago but had not reached since. My personal best is 86 miles back in 2011 at Across the Years. Mileage like that is no doubt unreachable for me now but I was hopeful that I could still manage somewhere in the 60-65 mile range. That’s why I was amazed when I got to 74 miles at race end. I placed second in the women’s 24-hour race and that was extremely satisfying!
Run Around the World is highly recommended for walkers – any distance would be a great experience. For walkers uncertain about whether they could finish a half or full marathon in 7 or 8 hours, they could take as long as 24 hours if necessary.