The Endless (Endless!) Mile – Alabaster, AL (October 22, 2016)

Originally I had planned to do a 100 miler in Georgia this weekend but I became more and more nervous as the time drew closer. In part this was due to my concerns of trying to complete 100 miles at one go while still having foot problems. I had also learned that this race would be on open city streets and I was worried about traffic and getting lost (there were other distances offered and each race followed a different route – that meant I couldn’t just blindly follow the people in front of me because they might be running alternate races). This increased the potential for getting lost to a much higher level.

Then I heard from friends about the Endless Mile in Alabama. This was a new race series to be held on a one mile paved course in a park with real bathrooms. It sounded good to me, especially once I learned that my friends Joyce and Ray would be there. Joyce had signed up for the 48 hour while I (wimp that I am) registered for the 24 hour. Other friends were there as well: Patsy and Andy from California (Joyce’s sister and brother-in-law) and Phil were also signed up for the 48 hour. I think the major inducement was the 100-mile buckle, promised to everyone in any of the races who finished at least 100 miles. Looking back, I probably could have done 100 miles in 2 days – I’ve done it several times – but I preferred the 24-hour option, especially in a race I hadn’t done before. There was also a 12-hour option and my friends Cheryl and Judy had signed up for that. It was fun to have so many people I knew at this race.

Darcy and I left for Alabama early on Friday afternoon. After a 5-hour drive, we arrived in the small town of Alabaster, found our Hampton Inn in neighboring Calera, and checked in without a problem. Our room was small but immaculate. Because it was too early for packet pickup, we stopped at an Olive Garden for lunch.   Then it was on to Veterans Park, about a 20-minute drive from our hotel.

The 48-hour race had already begun, with racers toing the line at 9 on Friday morning. We found Joyce and Ray’s impressive new tent and canopy and a few minutes later I saw Joyce run across the timing mat. We walked a lap together, a good idea for me so I could familiarize myself with the circular course and for Joyce so she could take a much-needed walk break. I stopped at the aid station where I then collected my bib, timing strips, and a nice long-sleeved cotton-poly shirt. The timing technology used in this race was one I was unfamiliar with. It consisted of two small rectangular plastic strips that racers had to pin to each side of their outer garment at hip level. I thought it might be a problem with some of my clothes (the strips could not be covered) but it turned out to be a non-issue and during the race I usually forgot about them. Every time we went across the map we could hear an audible tone and then could see our name and lap number on the computer screen a few feet past the mat. It all worked seamlessly.

Since the 24-hour did not start until 9 on Saturday, I had a chance to sleep in a little. While I prefer an earlier start to races, I welcomed the extra shuteye. After a light breakfast, we drove to Veterans Park and I set up my chairs, drop bags, and ice chest under Joyce and Ray’s canopy. Nine am approached quickly and the RD used an air horn to signal the start of the 12 and 24 hour races. Off we went, following the partially shaded loop around the park. Turns were marked with signs and chalked arrows on the pavement. I never did get lost, a definite plus in my book. However, I did find it hard to cut the tangents on the rather circuitous course because of all the wiggly turns and the need to dodge pedestrians, dog walkers, and others just out for a stroll on a beautiful fall weekend. While that tended to slow racers down a bit, mileage wise, it was certainly enjoyable to dog and people watch as we went around and around.

It was a tough race for me, despite the nice paved course and heated restrooms. The weather was cool during the morning and probably reached the mid-seventies during the day. The night, however, was much colder than I had expected. For the past six months, I’d been racing in extremely hot weather so the cool weather in Alabama came as an unwelcome surprise. Luckily I had packed a couple of jackets, a hat and gloves, and hand warmers but these were most definitely not enough to carry me through the 37 degree nighttime temperatures. I was freezing! One kind runner loaned me a heavy coat and Joyce and Patsy fitted me out with a warm blanket to hug my waist and legs, but I was still cold to the bone

In addition to the weather, I had problems once again with blisters on the balls of my feet. Unlike previous races (when these blisters developed after 65 miles), these blisters began to trouble me early on. By the time I had reached the marathon distance, I began to feel the acorn sized tender bumps develop on both feet. I changed shoes and put on heavily padded socks instead of my thin Injinjis but nothing helped. At one point during the night, when it was very quiet and everyone seemed to be taking a break, I put in my earbuds and listened to songs on my Shuffle – that seemed to take my mind off the pain and the cold, at least for a few miles. But the cold persisted and so did the foot pain. By 5 am I had had enough. I entered the heated restroom and called Darcy to come get me. Then I huddled in Joyce and Ray’s tent under a mountain of blankets and waited for Darcy’s arrival. I had completed 56 miles. That was fine with me.

So what could I have done differently? Well, for one thing, I should have thought to bring a lot more warm clothes with me. Late October can be cold, even in the south. I think if I had had mittens instead of gloves, my warmest jacket instead of a lighter one, and some scarves and hoodies, I would have been able to last a little longer in the cold. As far as the blisters go, my podiatrist assures me that custom orthotics would resolve my gait problems by helping to cushion my forefoot. The orthotics are on order and haven’t arrived yet so that issue has yet to be resolved.

The timing system worked well and I didn’t have any problems with it. The one aid station cooked up a variety of different meals during the day. It also had water, Gatorade, and plenty of sweet and salty snacks plus peanut butter and jelly quarters and bean and cheese quesadillas. Around 10 pm Saturday night, Domino’s delivered some pizzas and they were a godsend to me. Yum! People were extremely friendly and welcoming and the volunteers excellent. Everyone who completed 100 miles received a special buckle (17 people, including Joyce, Patsy, Andy, and Phil achieved that accomplishment) and I think there were medals for the rest of us. Truth is, I left before getting my medal – I was so cold that I only wanted to get into a warm car and back to a warmer hotel room.

Endless Mile did seem endless to me, but overall it was an excellent race, despite the cold and blisters. Recommended for walkers of any speed.

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