A Peaceful Day at Bear Creek Farm: the 8 Hour Darkside Race, Moreland, GA (May 13, 2017)

The morning was overcast with a distinct promise of rain. The forecast had called for scattered showers and thunderstorms but we were lucky. There was a gentle rain for a few hours in the very early stages of this timed race, but the weather soon cleared and remained cloudy and overcast despite rising humidity in the afternoon.

Back when the Darkside 8 Hour was held on a track, I had sworn never to do the race again. Walking around and around on a quarter mile track nearly drove me bonkers. Then the race was moved to its present location at Bear Creek Farm and everything changed. Moreland is a quiet hamlet near Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, a serene and bucolic location. The course is a paved 1.02 mile loop that circles some residences, horse stables, dog kennels, and utility buildings. There are a few challenging but relatively minor hills. Racers move clockwise for the first four hours and run down those hills; once we change direction, however, those uphills are daunting, especially to my tired legs. Still, it was wonderful to be able to lift my eyes to look at the scenery and not have to concentrate watching my feet.

On Friday we drove to Peachtree City and then on to the farm to make sure we remembered the way. The last time I had done this race was several years ago and there had been a road detour. This time everything was clear. It took us about 20 minutes to return to Peachtree City where we checked in to a local Hampton Inn. We had a late lunch at Carrabba’s, a short walk from the hotel, and then retired to try and get some rest.

The race was to begin at 7 am and we were supposed to be on site by 6:30 to get our bibs. Because we like to there in plenty of time, we left the hotel at quarter to six and arrived at the ranch 15 minutes later. That allowed us lots of opportunity to greet new arrivals including Mellody, Scott, Deb, and Ron. This race is inexpensive, in part because all the munchies are provided by the registrants. Our contribution was two packages of peanut butter filled pretzels; others brought cookies, chips, trail mix, and pickles. With the water and Gatorade provided by the RD, we were ready. There was plenty to eat, far more than at a marathon or 50k.

The aid station is set up under a large covered pavilion with lots of tables and benches. There is really no need for a chair or tent but I brought a chair just in case and set that and my drop bag under the pavilion. We met our lap counters and lined up at the timing clock for an on-time start. I probably went out too fast because my first lap was at a 13+ minute pace and I knew I couldn’t maintain that speed for 8 hours. I was feeling good, however, after that difficult trail race last week so I just relaxed and enjoyed the day. After a few hours, the rain ceased and I slowed but overall it was a great day.
Since we were leaving for home after the race, Darcy checked out of the hotel by 11 and spent the rest of the day sitting under the pavilion and watching us go around lap after lap. I knew by noon that it would be hard if not impossible for me to achieve a 50k so I decided to do 27 laps and call it a day. At least it would count as an ultra and we could leave an hour before the race officially ended to make the 5 hour drive back.

There are many good things about this race:
• Low registration fee (only $40 plus munchies)
• Peaceful setting
• Friendly participants
• Low-key atmosphere
There is really nothing negative to say, although some would be disappointed that there are no shirts or medals. This was my 233 marathon/ultra and I have too many medals and shirts, so that was not a problem for me. My lap counter was not very supportive (in her defense, she also was tending to a baby) and I had to constantly get her attention as I passed by the timing clock. I am used to lap counters shouting out my name, cheering me on, and telling me my current lap so I was relieved when she handed her board of runners over to another more enthusiastic volunteer. But that was a minor complaint. Overall this is a very walker-friendly race and one I will undoubtedly do again.

Tails & Trails Half Marathon, Tallahassee, Florida (May 6, 2017)

I decided to not do my scheduled race for this weekend, the Strolling Jim Marathon in Wartrace, TN. Fortunately, there was a half marathon right here in Tallahassee on Saturday so I registered for it without giving too much thought to the consequences. That was not such a good idea, as I found out on race day.

But first let me explain about Strolling Jim. My main reason to avoid this race was a last-minute email from the RD that stated there would be zero portapotties on the course. Otherwise the race was extremely appealing; there was no time limit and the entire course was paved rolling hills. I knew many of the other racers and it would be great to see them again. But I just could not deal with the idea of abstaining for 6 hours or more. I canceled our hotel reservation and planned to spend a relaxing weekend at home.

And then I remembered Tails & Trails, a local half marathon to benefit the animal shelter. The race starts and finishes at the shelter and takes runners through Tom Brown Park, across the Lafayette Bridge, and around the J. R. Alford Greenway. It seemed a good substitute for the Strolling Jim. I had signed up for it last year but couldn’t make it because of my two foot surgeries. This would be a good time to do it, or so it seemed. The course is shaped like a lollipop, with a long out-and-back, and marked by floured arrows and in some places by small orange utility flags. I had no idea what the terrain was really like and I did not know anyone who had done the race before. But how bad could it be? After all, some trails are paved, some are packed dirt or crushed limestone, and some are rocky and rooty. I was gambling, but it was ‘just’ a half so, really, how bad could it be?

I soon found out. I am sure that trail lovers would also enjoy this course but for a paranoid trail racer like me, it turned out to be was sheer agony. As we gathered at the start line at 8 am, the weather was chilly (unusual for May in Tallahassee) so I wore a light jacket plus gloves and hand warmers. The runners who were doing the 10k and 5k (including my granddaughter) waited patiently until their start 30 minutes later. There was a countdown and we took off, with me at the back. Two walkers were behind me until we entered THE TRAIL itself and then I found myself completely alone. By mile two I gave serious consideration to turning around and making my way slowly over the huge tree roots back to my car. Only one problem – the faster 10k runners were beginning to overtake me and I hesitated to confront them if I turned back.

So I persisted. I figured if I could get to mile 5 and crossed the bridge that connected the initial trail to the greenway, maybe the terrain would change and I could speed up a little. If the trail was still too dangerous for me at that point, I could then decide whether to keep going or turn around and give up. The race had a 3 ½ hour time limit and I knew I would not make it. I was averaging a 20 minute per mile pace, even slower as I gingerly treaded around every tree root.

There were some grassy areas and in a few places the trail on the greenway section was mostly sand and pebbles. But every time I built up a little speed, I was slowed dramatically by another rocky section filled with roots. It was a trail lover’s dream but a road racer’s nightmare. A course marshal on a bike warned me about the time limit. I responded that I understood but was already too far in at that point to just give up. I emphasized I was okay if I had a DNF. This would be a training walk and I didn’t expect anyone to wait for me.

Two hours had passed and I had only gone six miles. When I could muster enough courage, I stopped looking at my feet and looked up to appreciate the beautiful scenery – a lake, the forests, a jackrabbit crossing right in front of me, the great weather. As I finally passed miles 7 and 8 on the greenway, I realized I was on the return trip. Of course, all the runners had finished well ahead of me and I managed to get lost twice, in part because the volunteers directing runners had left (who could blame them?) and also because some of the directional chalk arrows had disappeared.

I did finish the race finally. I didn’t fall or break any bones. Although the timing mat had long been pulled up, some wonderful volunteers remained to clock me in at 3:55:18 and hand me a medal, a bottle of water, and a banana. I thanked them profusely and walked back to my car. I was pleased I had been stubborn enough to finish. Despite coming in last and getting lost several times, I finished first in my age group (no matter that I was the only crazy 70-year-old woman in my age group). From now on, no more trail races – ever, ever again!