Racing My Age at A Race for the Ages (ARFTA), August 31, 2017 (Manchester, TN)

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the entire state of Florida this weekend, I thought I’d better get my thoughts down quickly on this race before we lose power. In 2015, I did the inaugural running of this race and decided to try it once again. It was a perfect way to get in my goal of 70 miles without losing much sleep (literally).

Informally labeled as ‘the return of the graybeards,’ the race is a reunion of many famous ultrarunners who at the height of their speed and stamina broke numerous records and won innumerable races. Many of these wonder warriors are now in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Every year those who return are mindful that this might be the last time to visit with their pals – and for us younger racers, it might be our only opportunity to meet and talk with running legends. This year was indeed the final year for 86 year old Dan Baglione, who made it to the race but because of a recent fall could not participate in the actual running. He passed away several days later in a local hospital but not before he spent some time in the Ada Wright rec building where he chatted with many of his longtime pals.

The course is a one mile paved loop, mostly flat, with only one agonizing climb followed by a brief but steep downhill just before the timing mat. There are real bathrooms in two places on the course, a lot of places to set up one’s own tent and canopy, and space inside the rec building to put down a mat, chairs, drop bags, and loungers. The most unique aspect to this race is the way runners get to start: older runners begin first, depending on their age, so for me, at 70 years of age, I could start the race at 2 pm on Friday and I had 70 hours to do as many miles as I could accumulate. I decided to stay through the night and into Saturday so I could be sure to reach 70 miles. Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative; it rained all Friday afternoon and evening and into the wee hours of Saturday morning, causing my feet to blister and chafe. Still, I persisted. By 4 pm, 26 hours into the race for me and 72 miles, I had had enough. Darcy came and picked me up around 5 and I turned in my ankle chip to the timing tent so I could leave the course for a shower and nap. I was so tired that I fell asleep eating my slice of pizza. Had Darcy not taken a photo of me sitting up, pizza slice in hand, head nodding to the side and eyes closed, I would not have believed it. And no, I am not publishing that photo!

By four am on Sunday I was up and eager to get back to the race. My feet were painful, especially the blister on the sole of my left foot. It was enormous and very tender but I managed to put on some cushiony socks and my widest shoes and just decided to push on through. Fortunately, the rain had stopped and from that point until race end on Monday at noon we had pleasant weather. My next goal was to complete 100 miles; I was determined not to leave the course until I had reached that point. It took until about 2 pm to get to 103. The sun was out and it was beginning to get very hot and humid. I remembered from my previous experience at ARFTA that it was a good idea to rest during the hottest part of the day and continue on once the sun went down. I decided to take my own advice and returned to the hotel for a siesta. By six pm I was back on the course and ready to get in a few more miles until 9:30 pm. I spent another night at the hotel so I could get some real sleep. I always do better in the early morning hours, so I started up again on Monday morning and kept moving until 11 am, an hour before the race officially ended. At 136 miles, my blistered feet were extremely sore and I had developed a painful twist in my right knee, so I knew I had reached my limit.

There are several hotels within a mile or two of the race site. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and because it had a microwave and refrigerator, Darcy was able to keep me supplied with pizza and chocolate milk and other necessary goodies. There is no traditional aid station buffet and that takes some getting used to. Instead, the race director has the menu catered, this year by Cracker Barrel, but the meals are sit-down affairs, and I much prefer to eat while on the move. I also don’t care for meat loaf or fried catfish or cooked veggies, so I mostly abstained from the catered food and instead relied on bagels and pizza brought to me by Darcy.

By race end, I was eager to shower and change shoes so we didn’t stay for the awards ceremony. My reward for doing at least 100 miles was a neat buckle; in addition, all participants received a small plastic trophy (same as the one in 2015 but with the new date). The shirt is short-sleeved green cotton-poly, better (in my opinion) than the previous tech shirt. The entire experience at ARFTA was a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing familiar friends (Karen, Kay, Terrie, and Tom) and meeting lots of new ones (Mark, Barney, Pete, Dorothy, and more). This is a great timed ultra, especially for us seasoned runners and walkers.

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