The discomfort in this race refers primarily to the weather; everything else is as close to perfection as possible in an inaugural event. Weather in southern Georgia is hot, very hot, and extremely humid. The area is also prone to sudden thunderstorms and drenching rain showers. I was aware of the precarious weather situation and I signed up for the race anyhow. What really bothers me is cold, and if I am cold and wet, I am miserable. Hot and wet – well, there is a chance my clothes and shoes will dry and I’ll survive.
Albany is just a short drive north from central Florida so Darcy and I left around noon on Friday. I had packed my usual two drop bags, one filled with an assortment of shoes and socks, the other with a change of clothes and various accoutrements like Vaseline, Body Glide, S-caps, and rain gear and stowed everything in our car along with two chairs and a cooler. No hand warmers this time. It took us about two hours to get to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. I had stayed here about 7 years earlier when I did the Snickers Marathon but hadn’t been back since. The hotel was still as decent as I remembered and our room up on the fifth floor faced away from the park and was very quiet. We had a filling lunch at Loco’s, where I had a tasty beef sandwich, sweet potato fries, and thirst-quenching IPA and Darcy a hamburger with a fried egg on top.
This race has several options, including a 12 hour and 6 hour, but since I was aiming for my 4th 70 miler this year, I knew I needed to register for the 24. All three races were set to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning. We were encouraged to get to the race site at Chehaw Park by 7 am to get our bib with chip on the back and various assorted goodies. Naturally we arrived early and by 6:45 I was scouting out a place to set up my chairs. There are many picnic tables and covered pavilions in the park but none are especially close to the start/finish line or the aid station, so I opted to set up out in the open air. Big mistake, as it turns out, because when it rained, it poured, right on my stuff, even though I had covered it with a plastic cover. When Darcy came to check on me later that afternoon, we moved my chairs and drop bags up to one of the covered pavilions; I wasn’t sure if the rain would start again (it did but not as hard) and I wanted a dry place to rest and change shoes during the evening hours,
The course is a paved gentle 1.1 mile loop around the park. We changed direction every 6 hours and that helped break the monotony and give our legs a chance to climb or descend the mild 20 feet incline on the loop. There are two sets of real bathrooms available, one was across from ‘my’ pavilion while the other was closer to a playground area. The latter has more toilets but no locks on the stall doors (probably to keep the kiddies from locking themselves in) so I tended to use the other. To get to either bathroom, or the pavilion, or any picnic tables, required stepping along some grassy, mulchy area, with a few roots, approximately 70’ in each direction. This was not a problem since I stepped carefully and used my flashlight to make sure I didn’t trip.
While the temperature rose to about 85 degrees and the humidity increased even more, it didn’t seem so hot, primarily because it was overcast or rainy the entire day; the course is partially shaded as well. The one aid station has water and electrolyte drinks but we were encouraged to bring our own water bottles. I brought my small hand-held as well as my larger one and both came in handy. Food was plentiful – cookies, salty snacks, pickles, and for dinner there was tasty pizza. Volunteers were terrific and frequently offered to make me soup or grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever I required. However, I was simply not hungry most of the time, and I found it difficult to consume anything. I took a slice of pizza and ate just half. Darcy brought me a bagel egg sandwich and Dunkin Donuts coffee and I ate about half the sandwich, all the coffee, and that was it.
When the light rain began at around 10 in the morning, it was almost a relief but when the drizzle turned into a harder downpour, I began to get soaked. A blister began to develop on the side of my right heel but I was hesitant to change shoes and socks at that point because all my things were damp, including my chairs. Darcy checked on me around 5:30 pm and I used that opportunity to take a break, rest my legs, and most importantly to change clothes, socks, and shoes in the car. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to pack a bag with dry clothes and leave it in the car. That accomplished, I felt ready to last another 12 – 14 hours.
To get to 70 miles, I had to complete 64 laps (I love courses that are just over 1 mile) and I checked at each go-around to make sure I was on track to make that number. Not all the bib-chips worked all the time but the race directors, John and Kelli, were also the timekeepers and they kept a written record to double-check the laps. I can’t say enough good things about John and Kelli; for a first-time race, everything worked superbly. I’m sure it was a ton of hard work but the RDs made it look so easy.
I was tired as day retreated into night and the sky darkened. The rain ceased but the humidity rose so it felt hotter than it probably was. Around 4 am, it cooled off a little and I could feel a slight breeze but by that time, I had developed more blisters, including a troublesome one on the sole of my left foot. I reached 63 laps by about 5 am and managed to drag myself around the course one last time to finish around 6 in the morning. Yes, it took me nearly an hour to do that final mile, after a restroom stop and occasional stretching my calves and quads. As I passed through the timing mat on that last lap, John and Kelli and the stalwart volunteers who were still there in those wee morning hours cheered me on. John walked me back to my chairs under the pavilion and offered to get me some food and my awards. I deferred and gratefully told him I just wanted to rest until Darcy came to get me around 7.
What a relief to change my shoes once again and put my feet up! Darcy arrived just at 7 and we stopped at the aid station to say our goodbyes. Sally, a runner from south Florida whom I had met at Save the Daylight and 8 Hours of Hell, was just finishing her 100 miles as we left. Amazing, especially under those conditions.
My prizes included a finisher beer glass (to get one of these, runners in the 6 hour had to complete a 50k, in the 12 hour 50 miles, and in the 24 hour a 100k) and, for an age group award, a painting done by Dubya, the Black Rhino, and an ostrich egg and display stand. Now, that was a first for me – a painting by a rhino plus an ostrich egg! Chehaw Park has a zoo and the paintings were done by the zoo animals. Nice touch and so very different. All racers also received an attractive blue cotton/poly shirt and a hat. Quite a lot of swag for a 24 hour race!
Things to note about this event:
- There is a $3 per person entry fee to get into the park but one admission lasts all day. One can pay using cash or credit card.
- The course has no sharp turns and it is difficult to get lost, even in the dark
- There is some lighting but a flashlight or headlamp is still necessary at night
- Bring lots of bug spray and plan to use it generously. The gnats or midges are very hungry and I am still itching.
- Results were posted the same day the race ended – Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever had ultra results posted that fast before!
The hardest part of this race for me was dealing with the wet weather. The day after the race, my leg muscles were sore and I am still hobbling from the blisters on my feet. Next year, I plan to do the 24 hour again but I will set my stuff under a pavilion so I can change shoes, socks, and clothes as needed. But next year, maybe the weather will be perfect!