Our drive to Dahlonega on the 4th of July holiday weekend was thankfully uneventful. Traffic queued up around Atlanta but we kept moving, albeit slowly. We arrived at our hotel (the Holiday Inn, a decent comfortable place to stay in this area) around 2 pm, checked in, and then drove downtown so we could have a filling lunch at our favorite restaurant here, the Bourbon Grille. My menu choice is usually the steak and guacamole salad with an Orpheus IPA; both never fail to please. After finishing our meal, we walked over to Dahlonega Mountain Sports where I picked up my bib, shirt (a poly/cotton blend this year with a patriotic design – I’ve already worn it twice), and cap (24/48 hour participants usually get something extra – this year it was a cap, last year it was arm warmers). We had to wait until race day to get our chips (and this year, the timing people forgot to send the ankle straps so I pinned my chip to my shorts with safety pins).
I had registered for the 48 hour race to ensure that I would achieve my goal of at least 70 miles. It sounds pretty easy – just 35 miles a day and I’d be done. But though the .9902 mile course is a flat, paved, oval with excellent line of sight, the weather always makes it an enormous challenge. There is NO shade at all on the course so racers must endure the usually hot blazing sun and 100% humidity with no relief. This year the bugs – gnats, bees, mosquitos, flies – seemed especially bothersome, but that may have been due to my sporadic use of bug spray, especially on the last two days. I was concentrating so hard on accumulating laps that I neglected to use sunscreen and bug deterrent during the latter days of the race and soon paid the price with lots of itchy bites.
The race has numerous categories; one can choose to run or walk for 6, 12, 24 or 48 hours and then can select from day or night options. As I have posted in previous blog reviews of Merrill’s Mile, I think the wisest plan for 12 hour participants is to do the nighttime race because the weather is cooler and breezier. Rain can be expected at any time and, since there is no place to shelter from a rainstorm, it is best to have a tent or car to escape to if there are thunderstorms and lightening. Fortunately, this year we had only one perilous period of heavy rain around 5:30 pm on the first day; it caught me off guard and I got thoroughly soaked, giving me a good excuse to call it a day as soon as Darcy arrived to check on me.
The race for most of us began at nine on Saturday morning. Despite the heat, I managed 33 laps, about 32 miles and approximately a 50k, below my goal of 35 miles. I had hoped to stay until 7 pm or so, but the torrential downpour soaked my clothes and I was thinking only of getting something dry and then eating real food. There are two aid stations here, one at the halfway point with a water jug, and one at the start/finish line that has all kinds of sweet and salty snacks. Unfortunately, nothing appealed to me, not even the watermelon and ice pops (though I ate both) and I was really hankering for pizza. Darcy arrived about 6 pm and took me back to the hotel, stopping at a Little Caesar’s to get some takeout. After showering, changing clothes, and crawling into bed, I devoured several slices of cheese pizza and crazy bread and fell asleep.
I awoke early Sunday morning, had my coffee and got dressed, and woke up Darcy for the drive back to the base. It must have been about 5 am when I started on my first loop of the day. The only change in the weather was the absence of any wind at all (at least on Saturday, some sporadic breezes helped to cool us off) and it continued to be blistering hot. At least for a few hours before sunrise I took advantage of the relative coolness and did my fastest laps of the day. I left at 3pm Sunday, ready for a meal and shower. Total number of laps for Sunday: 35, more than on Saturday and in less time. We once again ate at Bourbon Street Grille and then it was back to the hotel for the evening. I needed at least 72 laps to achieve my goal of 70 miles, and by the end of the 2nd day of racing I had 68 laps. All I needed was 4 more so my plan was to get out to the base very early and finish up on Monday morning.
That’s exactly what I did. On Monday, I began at 4:30 am and managed to get to 72 laps very quickly. Darcy was to come get me between 8:30 am and 9, when the race officially ended. That made for some enjoyable hours when I could take my time and gather more miles without worrying about my goal. I had the opportunity to do several laps with Kena, my race director friend from Columbus, and waved and chatted with several others. Only a few of us diehards were left on the course, since many had completed their races or met their goals and left. The two or three dozen tents that had been set up along the course had disappeared and only a few remained. Around 8:40 am, I finished my last lap (a total of 82.1 miles) received my dogtag medal, and said my goodbyes.
Aside from the heat, humidity, bugs, and rain – this was once again a great race. I enjoyed the chance to see some of my racing friends (Bettie, Kena, Roxanna, David, Joe and Kelly Fejes) and meet new ones. And I am one step closer to my 7/70/2017 ultra goal.
For walkers, this is a great opportunity to test how well you do in extremes of heat and humidity. I would suggest choosing the night 12 hour option to avoid the worst of the high temperatures. Also note that the only cell phone company with service here is Verizon, so ATT customers like me are out of luck. I wore gaiters even though the course is paved and relatively debris-free. When I omitted them once after changing shoes and socks, I immediately got an errant twig in my shoe. Bring a water bottle to use; no need to carry it all the time (I usually left mine on a chair) but it is more convenient than having to find a plastic cup with your name on it at the aid station table.