Playing Catch-Up: Three Marathons and a Half Marathon to Close out 2016 and Begin the New Year

Ever since I began concentrating my races in the southeast part of the US, I have found that I am mostly repeating races I have already done. This is to be expected, since many of my favorites have been around for a long time and they survive because they are exceptionally good races. When I come across an inaugural race, I do try to sign up, but it seems that brand new marathons and half marathons (at least those with longer time limits) are the exception rather than the norm.

Unless something is drastically different from prior editions of a particular race, I hesitate to bore readers or myself with a rehash of what’s already been written by myself and others. Hence, what follows is a brief recap of some of my favorite races.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day has traditionally been the week for the Savage Seven, Chuck Savage’s offering of seven marathons in seven days in a beautiful park in Ocala, Florida. This year Chuck also offered a half marathon option each day for those who preferred the shorter distance. I signed up to volunteer for two days which netted me two free marathons plus I paid for one half marathon on the day we traveled home. Darcy and I spent the holiday week staying at the Hampton Inn off Interstate 75 in Ocala. This was a quiet decent hotel but since it was right off the highway, my husband was bothered by the traffic noise. I, on the other hand, did not mind the car and truck sounds but I was extremely sensitive to the detergents used to clean the rooms, towels, and bedsheets. We ended up purchasing some inexpensive towels at Target to deal with this problem, admittingly something only a neurotic person like myself with a highly-attuned sense of smell would be annoyed by).

The weather all week was dry, a real positive, since running 5 loops in the rain can be daunting. The first couple of days were pleasant but as the week progressed, a cold front moved in and I went from wearing shorts to long pants and a heavy jacket. I did marathons on Tuesday and Thursday, finishing in 6:35 and 6:32 respectively. My volunteer days were Wednesday and Friday and though I helped from dawn to the end of the races, I did manage to walk one lap each day with a friend or two, Mike on Wednesday and Loree and Frank on Friday. I must admit that standing all day working the aid station was harder than doing a marathon. My fellow volunteers were wonderful and made the time pass quickly.

On Saturday, I finished the half marathon (2 ½ loops) in 3:14 and then Darcy and I drove home, hoping to arrive in time to do some last-minute grocery shopping for black-eyed peas and ham hocks, stop at the post office for a week’s worth of mail (mostly bills), and pick up some books at the library for the long weekend.

We discovered a new to us brew pub in Ocala, Miller’s Ale House, and ate there three times. There was a great selection of draft beer available; my favorite was a sampling of local IPA’s. The food was good as well, typical pub choices with a few more elaborate meals for heartier appetites. We will no doubt visit again when in the area

After finishing the 50 mile Cremator race twice, I joked with Race Director Tim Waz that I needed to take up a more sedentary pursuit like knitting. We both laughed but truth is I really do like to sew, quilt, embroider, knit, and crochet. While in recent years I have concentrated almost entirely on quilting, I am now devoting much of my free time to knitting, everything from hats and scarfs to socks and shawls. I take classes at a wonderful yarn store up in Thomasville, GA, called Fuzzy Goat and find the camaraderie of other knitters and the challenge of learning new techniques a great way to balance my more athletic pursuits. So, in between races, I knit.

My first race of 2017 was another favorite, First Light in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve written about this race numerous times (I think I have finished the full at least 6 times). This race is usually a double for Maniacs and 50 Staters, with Mississippi Blues in Jackson, MS, on Saturday and First Light on Sunday. This year there was also a 50 State Reunion in Jackson; however, because of dangerous icy conditions, the MS Blues marathon was canceled. First Light, however, was still on. Weather in Mobile was freezing cold, 25 degrees at the start with a wind chill of 15, but with plenty of sun and only light winds.

I think the weather deterred many from running on such a cold morning. There were only 310 finishers in the full (down from 373 in 2016) and the popular half marathon had 571 finishers instead of 746 in 2016. I could tell that many people had stayed home because the number of back of the packers (my customary place) was greatly diminished. I usually have lots of company around me during the race because people who have ‘doubled’ tend to be slower on Sunday than Saturday, but this year I was alone for long stretches. I never had to worry about getting lost, though. There were bright arrows marked in flour at every turn as well as posted signs and, despite the cold, course marshals and police were out in abundance.

This year was memorable for several reasons, one marathon-related and the other not. I was chugging along, moving as well as I could under 6 layers of clothes plus a small backpack (I never use one during a race but it came in handy this time to load and unload mittens, hats, eyeglasses, and snacks without having to unzip my outer jacket. Just as I crossed Mobile Street onto Dauphin for the final 4 mile stretch to the finish line, I stumbled and couldn’t regain my balance. I fell hard onto the pavement, hitting my right knee and both outstretched hands. My sunglasses and cap fell off and in my stunned state and totally off-balance because of the backpack, layers of clothing, and my stunned surprise, I could only get up with the help of a kind policeman who came running to my aid. He wanted to call in medical help but I thanked him and said “no, I’m okay” and continued on my way, limping and sore. I had also bruised my diaphragm and sternum and had trouble catching my breath; for the next mile or so felt nauseated and had to stop and take a break. However, it was a straight shot to the finish line and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible so I ignored the aching of my body and crossed the timing mat in 6:19.

After getting my beans and rice and pasta salad with corn muffing, I stumbled back to my hotel room to shower, take stock of my wounds, and relax. I fell asleep at 5 pm, and fell into a sound slumber only to hear the jarring ring of the hotel room phone at 7:30. It turns out that my hotel, the Holiday Inn (my favorite place to stay in Mobile – it is right at the start line for the race and is a decent choice for this hotel brand), had a water main break and I had to move my car from one side of the parking lot to another side so it could be fixed. I quickly pulled on some clothes and shoes and went down to move my car. Then I went back to sleep, this time until morning.

Both the Savage Seven and the First Light races are highly recommended for walkers.

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