Crooked Road 24 Hour Ultra – November 19, 2016 (Rocky Mount, VA)

Usually on the weekend before Thanksgiving we travel to Texas so I can do one of the UltraCentric races in Grapevine, TX. This was the first year that our plans changed and we decided to stay local. It turns out that ‘local’ has many definitions. Virginia is several states away from Florida and too far to drive in one day so we ended up spending one night on the road both going and returning. Despite the distance, it was a good alternative to UltraCentric, especially when I learned that UC was canceled because the RD was ill.

We left on Thursday morning and drove as far as Greenville, SC. Our hotel was a pristine Holiday Garden Inn and we both had a good night’s sleep after having lunch, with a birthday burger for Darcy, at Red Robin. We made it to Roanoke, VA, by afternoon the next day. The race itself was at Waid park in Rocky Mount, VA, but we decided to stay in Roanoke at another Hilton Garden Inn, about a 45 minute drive away. There were closer hotels but not any that matched my loyalty programs. That turned out to be a wise decision because those other hotels had a ladybug problem that would have definitely caused me problems (not so much the ladybugs, but the possibility of perhaps other less friendly bugs).

We drove to packet pickup at the park on Friday afternoon and met up with friends Joyce and Ray. Joyce had done this race before and was very familiar with it so she walked the course with me to help allay my fears of getting lost. It is a 1.1815 mile course, and I usually like courses that are at least 1 mile in length so it’s easy to keep track of the miles. The shirt was long sleeve tech, so I promptly gifted it to Joyce. I had other friends doing this race as well – Judy from GA was there as were Don and Marion from Montreal, Canada. Later, when the results were published, I would find out that both Joyce and Marion set age-group records. What is even more amazing is that Joyce has completed over 100 miles in two 48 hour events within the last month and has another 24 hour on Thanksgiving weekend. Her stamina and persistence is astounding.

Me, I was not so lucky. I had a major problem as we stood waiting for the race to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning. Suddenly I felt a painful spasm in my lower back that caused me to turn to Darcy, who was standing by my side, and exclaim to him that my back just seized up. I am not sure if it was anxiety, the cold weather, or a combination of both, but my back continued to bother me throughout the day and into the evening. As the wind picked up and the temperature fell, I began to feel miserable. Because of the 45 minute drive to and from the race site, I had told Darcy to pick me up by 10 pm. I knew I would never be able to tolerate the early morning freezing cold that was predicted. However, by 7:30 that night, my back was worse and I decided to call it a day. My minimum goal was a 50k so I could count it in my Maniac statistics; I managed to do just over 36 miles, pretty pitiful for what was supposed to be a 24 hour event, but it still counts.

We headed back the next day, spending the night at a pleasant Fairfield Inn in Commerce, GA. We left early the next morning and arrived back in Florida by early afternoon. It was a long trip and my back is still sore, though I somehow managed to plod through the local Turkey Trot 5k with a personal worst on Thanksgiving morning. Today my back is better, thanks to my trusty old heating pad; evidently heat is helping to alleviate the spasm and relieve the pain.

Crooked Road is a good race on an easy-to-remember two-loop course. It’s mostly flat cinder-covered dirt so gaiters are a must. There is one fully-stocked aid station that offered hamburgers at lunch time and pizza at dinner and lots of goodies throughout. The RD and volunteers are welcoming and extremely helpful. The price is very reasonable; if you sign up early, it only costs about $40 plus processing fees. And it is a good idea to sign up as soon as the decision to do the race is made because it fills up fast. The only problem is the cold weather. The wind chill during the wee hours of Sunday morning reached was 22 degrees. That is way too cold for this Florida transplant! As long as walkers can tolerate freezing weather, this race is a fine choice.

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Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon – November 12, 2016 (Fort Oglethorpe, GA)

This was a fun race. At one time, I had considered signing up for the full marathon here but I had reservations because of the 6-hour time limit. Even in those years when I could easily finish a marathon in under six, I was hesitant because so many things can interfere with doing well in a race.

So, to make things a lot less stressful for me, I signed up for the half marathon and built in some time to explore the historic park after the race. We drove up on Friday morning, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon. I had already checked in to the Hampton Inn at Fort Ringold, GA, so we were able to settle in until time for packet pickup between 4 and 8 pm at Fort Oglethorpe Baptist Church, about 7 ½ miles from the hotel and a short walk from the race start and finish.

There weren’t too many unique restaurants in the area so we decided to have an early supper at a nearby Applebee’s. After eating, it was time to unwind and relax in our hotel room. Both half and full races were set to begin at 7:30 Saturday morning (followed by a 5k at 8 am) so I set my alarm for 4 am. That would give me plenty of time to digest breakfast and make our way to the start, about 8 miles away.

It should be noted here that the race organizers had arranged for shuttle buses to stop at participating hotels at 6 and 6:30. Although the Hampton Inn was one of those hotels, it turned out that the 6:30 bus completely missed our hotel and left some runners stranded. Since I often take shuttles when they are offered, that would have left me in the lurch but because of the expected cold weather I had asked Darcy to drive me so I could stay in our nice warm car until I absolutely had to get out. As we made our way out the door of the hotel, my friend Mellody called out to me and explained the situation. We were happy to have her join us for the ride.

The weather was perfect – a cool 48 degrees at start, around 65 at the finish – but I was still glad to have the warmth of the car since that is chilly weather for me. Finally both Mellody and I had to find the portapotty line. Then, right on time, a cannon heralded the start of the races and we took off. The course, which winds through the historic battlefield with numerous monuments to fallen soldiers, is mostly paved and shaded – there is only a brief foray across grass and dirt for the first and last mile.

Aid stations were set up every couple of miles, with bananas, orange slices, gels, water, and Gatorade, offered by cheerful volunteers, many of them youngsters. The racers as well as the volunteers were friendly and enthusiastic. For first 8 miles or so I kept pace with Deborah who helped make the miles fly by as we chatted. She was fast, though, and after the halfway point she took off, finishing about 15 minutes ahead of me. Mellody was doing the full and trying hard to make the 6-hour cutoff time. We saw each other around mile 7 and then she too took off, whizzing past me. I was sure I could finish in about 3 hours but I was relaxed about it – half marathoners had the full 6 hours to complete the race, so stress was minimal.

In fact, I have nothing at all to complain about and can honestly write that I enjoyed the course immensely. Full marathoners had to repeat the loop again, with a few extra sections, but I was relieved and thankful I had signed up for the half. It was a relief to not have the burden of a strict time limit. My mind and legs were very grateful. Even though I tried my best and left everything I had out on the course, I was happy I only had to follow that loop once.

I crossed the finish line in 2:56 (I am nothing if not consistent!) and was given a medal which – this year – commemorated the state of Florida and its soldiers. There was hot soup and pizza and fruit at the finish. We also received a neat souvenir blanket, much nicer than the usual foil sheet. I felt so good that Darcy and I decided to stop at the Visitor’s Center and watch a movie about the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. We then had a satisfying lunch at O’Charley’s to celebrate. All in all, a very good day.

This half marathon is definitely recommended for walkers, and if you are fast, you might enjoy the full as well.

Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon (November 5, 2016) – Gainesville, Florida

This was my very first race, way back in October of 2005. I realize it is somewhat unusual to do a half marathon for an initial race but I didn’t know any better, so I trained assiduously for several months by power walking around a 3 ½ mile loop in a nearby neighborhood. When I could complete this loop four times in under 3 hours, a total of 14 miles, I felt reasonably confident that a half marathon was within my reach. In 2005, the race course was held in the historic town of Micanopy, about 10 miles south of Gainesville.

A few years later, the race was moved from the streets and roads of Micanopy to Boulware Springs Park, along the paved Gainesville-Hawthorne bike trail that crosses Paynes Prairie. The newer course is a pleasant, partially shaded, out-and-back that is used primarily by cyclists.

I returned to Gainesville to do this race because I had other reasons to visit the city. In addition to a doctor’s appointment, Darcy and I visited the Serenity Garden at Cofrin Nature Park to have a brick placed in the garden in memory of our son Ben’s passing 2 years ago. That was on Friday.

The race was Saturday morning, with packet pickup beginning at 7. It was chilly and I overdressed to keep warm as I waited for the 8 am start. Mosquitos were active and biting despite the cold and I spent a good portion of the morning trying to brush them off my legs. Both the 5k (with 51 people) and the half marathon began at the same time. During this year’s race, I saw no pedestrians or dog walkers, only runners and bike riders. This made it very lonely for back-of-the packers like myself. Most of the 237 participants were fairly fast runners, although there was an official run-walk 3-hour pacer; she finished just ahead of me, in 2:56, leaving me to cross the finish line in 2:57, officially the last person (known affectionately in racing parlance as DFL).

While this remains a significant race to me for purely sentimental reasons, I doubt I will do it again. The timing clock was stopped at 3 hours but there was no mention of a time limit on the race web site. I knew that there was one young woman who was behind me when I made it to the 6 ½ mile cone at the turnaround but she was not listed as finishing. That would have been a major disappointment to me. At the time, I had no idea that the clock was stopped just after I crossed the finish line. It was only when I scanned the results that I realized what had happened. For that reason I would not recommend this half marathon for walkers; it would be necessary to maintain a pace consistently under 13 minutes to meet the time limit and it is very lonely for long stretches, especially the last 8 miles or so.