The Endless Mile 48 Hour Race (October 20, 2017) – Alabaster, Alabama

Someday I plan to do a timed race and stay for the entire scheduled time. On a multi-day race, I always spend at least one night, often more than one, in a hotel sleeping in a real bed. Even in a 24 hour race, I frequently stop an hour or two before the end of the race. I can talk myself into stopping early for practically any reason at all, although I usually have some excellent (to me) excuses – stormy wet weather, bad blisters, acute back pain, indigestion are just a few select choices.

Last year at Endless Mile, I had signed up for the 24 hour and managed to do just 56 miles. My rationale for stopping early was the unexpectedly frigid weather. October in Alabama is not supposed to be 37 degrees! I was very underdressed and people kindly loaned me jackets and blankets to keep me warm. It wasn’t enough – I was still shivering. As long as I achieved at least a 50k so I could count it in my statistics, I was okay with stopping a little earlier than originally planned and I relished a hot shower and warm bed.

This year I had registered for the 48 hour and I came prepared for all sorts of weather – whether cold, wet, hot, I was ready for it all. It turned out the weather this year was perfect. Beautiful sunny days that never rose above 79 degrees and evenings that were clear and cool but not cold made for great racing weather. Gentle breezes enveloped us throughout the weekend.

Since this was a 48 hour race, I knew I would be spending at least one night in our hotel (the Hampton Inn in Calera) to get some restorative sleep. My plan was to stay on the course as long as I could the first day, shower and rest in the hotel the first evening, return early on Saturday morning and stay until the race ended on Sunday morning. The plan worked like a charm until Saturday night when the hot spots and blisters that had been irritating me for most of the race began to plague me nonstop. Changing shoes and socks helped a little at first but too soon the blisters on the soles of my feet worsened. I alternated using both the off-the-shelf and custom orthotics that were supposed to resolve my blister issues and they helped a bit but not enough. Finally, I gave in and texted Darcy at 4 am to come get me and he did. While texting him at that early hour seems mean, in reality it was kind; I was ready to leave at 1:30 am but didn’t have the heart to call him in the middle of the night.

So once again, I did not spend a lot of time on the course. I left at 7 pm on Friday evening, returned at 5 am the next morning, and left at 4 am on Sunday morning. That means I spent only 33 hours on the course. That said, I did accomplish my primary goal, reaching 70 miles by Saturday afternoon, and my secondary goal, 100 miles (and that coveted buckle) by 1 am on Sunday. To celebrate, I spent about 30 minutes relaxing in my new zero-gravity chair, but I started to get cold just sitting still so I made myself go around the course for another 4 miles, giving me a final total of 104. I was satisfied but a little disappointed in myself for giving in to blisters once again.

The Endless Mile series of races is a great opportunity for walkers and runners who enjoy timed events. The series is held in Veterans Park in the small town of Alabaster. There are lots of choices – 6, 12, 24, and 48 solo races plus relays. The timing system is unusual, with two small rectangular chips that must be pinned at hip level or attached to a waist belt but it works perfectly (and Raymond the timing person is terrific, shouting out laps every time I came through). There is single aid station that has the usual buffet of ultra snacks as well as made-to-order fried eggs, bacon, tortillas, pizza, sandwiches, and just about every other food one could desire.

The partially shaded 1 mile course is completely paved with a few gradual hills. One hill was a special challenge to me, especially when I was tired, but overall the course was pleasant and the scenery (we passed by a dog park and several ball fields) enjoyable during the daylight hours. The park is well-lit except for a couple of spots so I made sure to carry my flashlight so I could use it when needed. It’s a good idea to bring and use sunscreen and bug spray because I ended up with myriad mosquito bites (I always think I’m immune to bites until it’s too late).

My friends Joyce and Ray, along with Joyce’s sister Patsy and brother-in-law Andy from California, were in for the 48 hour race and I set up camp with them. Because Endless Mile is so popular, a lot of my other racing friends also signed up for it and I enjoyed visiting with all of them. It was easy to make new friends as well – going around in circles offers lots of opportunities to see people over and over and over again.

Overall, I had a great time and successfully achieved my goal of at least 70 miles in this – my #6 ultramarathon – for 2017.

Adventures in Appalachia: Three Marathons plus a Half in Four Days (October 12-15, 2017)

Lest anyone think that completing 3 full marathons plus a half marathon in 4 days is a great achievement, the supreme accomplishment is racing all 9 – that’s correct, NINE – marathons or half marathons in 9 days for the entire series of Appalachian races. Mainly Marathons (MM) puts on these crazy races in every geographic area of the United States, including Hawaii and – soon – Alaska. For people attempting to do races in every state, running or walking in the MM series of races will help them succeed quickly and with a minimum of expense. It’s still expensive, but not so costly as planning a trip individually to all 50 states.

I did several races in the Appalachian series a few years ago, in North and South Carolina and Georgia. This year the organization decided to expand to Alabama and Florida, so I signed up for Lizella, GA, Eufalla, AL, and two in the Florida panhandle in the small towns of Cottondale and Marianna. Each race had its own flavor and distinctiveness. MM races are usually held in parks and trails in small to medium cities, with driving distances between venues anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles. This particular series began in Virginia and West Virginia, moving on to Bristol, TN, Fletcher, NC, and Seneca, SC. I joined the group in Georgia and stayed until the series ended on Sunday.

We drove to Macon, GA, on Wednesday and looked for the race venue in neighboring Lizella before checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Macon, just off I-475. It’s always a good idea when doing these races to find the next day’s location beforehand because the races begin so early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30 am, depending on whether one takes the early start). This race was in Arrowhead Park, an extensive rural area with campgrounds, trails, and lakes. The double-lollypop course was paved but extremely hilly and confusing. The day was hot and humid with no shade. After the requisite 12 loops for the marathon, I still found the course convoluted and had to keep watch for the signage and flags. There were bathrooms but the stalls had no doors! My finishing time – 7:15.

The next day’s race was in Eufalla, Alabama, on the Yoholo-Micco Trail. This day turned out to be my favorite because it was a scenic rails-to-trails course, all paved and relatively straight out-and-back, and even though it was hot, there was some shade. Only negative was the 3 portapotties (just 3 for all of us plus other visitors) but at least they had doors! My finishing time – 6:55.

After Alabama, we drove to Cottondale, Florida, for the first of two races in the panhandle. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Marianna for both races, since the two towns are only 10 miles apart. The Cottondale race was held in a park (called the Athletic Fields) and it was a paved circuitous course with just a small broken gravel section. There was some shade, which helped stave off the worst of the heat and humidity. This was my second favorite course, though it took me longer to finish – 7:30 (fatigue must have begun to take effect).

The final race was in Citizen’s Lodge Park in Marianna. This was supposed to be partly crushed gravel, partly paved, with some shade. Because most of us complained of the sunshine beating down on us in the earlier races, the organizers decided to change some of the course to include a couple of forested rocky and rooty trail sections. That tree cover certainly helped with the heat but the trail made the footing far more treacherous. The crushed gravel turned out to be chunks of gravel combined with occasional large rocks. I kept my head down for a good part of this race to make sure I didn’t fall. Somebody did, in fact, take a bad tumble, but he was able to continue with the race. Because of the precarious nature of the course, I wisely decided to drop to the half on this day. Positive aspect of this race – real bathrooms (yes, with doors). Finishing time, a PW for me – 4:30. Of course some of that time was spent chatting with friends along the way and well worth the extra minutes expended.

Here are some tips if you are considering some of the MM races:

  • Check out the race area for the next day as soon as you arrive. It will be dark on race morning and you don’t want to get lost looking for the race start
  • Because it is dark if you take the early start, bring a flashlight or headlamp. You will only need for the first hour
  • There is usually a mat and benches to put a drop bag. I don’t usually bring a drop bag for a race less than a 50k, and I didn’t here, but it would have been a good idea to have a bag to store my jacket and light
  • The aid station has a lot of food so there is no need to bring snacks unless you have a special item you need. I always carry an energy or granola bar just in case but I never had to eat it; instead I indulged in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, and candy
  • You can sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or 50k, and if you change your mind and want to drop to a lower distance during the race, you can
  • Timing system uses rubber bands/elastics. Every time you pass by the start/finish, just pick one up and wear or carry them
  • Most of the races are done on loop or out-and-back courses, but they can be confusing since some are rather convoluted. My tack is to follow the person in front of me if in doubt as to where I should go
  • Stretch before driving to the next location. If I skip this, my legs cramp up and it is not too pleasant standing by the highway stretching while traffic whizzes by
  • There is no hard time limit, although slower racers are strongly encouraged to take the early start. Check out the results on the MM page and you will find finishing times as long as 9 hours. After all, some of these people have been doing ALL the races in the series and they are understandably tired. This is great from my point of view because I am not alone at the end of the races
  • Organizers, volunteers, and racers are exceptionally friendly. It is easy to share the difficulties of each day’s race with other people who understand your angst and fatigue.
  • The medals are unique, with a basic medal for the series and individual state medals for each state you finish and they latch on to each other
  • There is one tee shirt for the series. It used to be cotton but this year it was tech. When I refused the tech shirt, I was offered a past year’s cotton tee, which I gladly accepted
  • There is one bib for each series so you just wear that same bib and number for all the races in that grouping. Makes things easy
  • Be prepared by reading the course description for each day’s race but don’t be surprised if there are changes
  • The race venues for each series often change every year, but if by chance there is a return to Eufala or Cottondale/Marianna, River City Grill in Eufala and Madison’s Warehouse Restaurant in Marianna are excellent places to eat
  • Maniacs, 50 Staters, and members of other running clubs are offered a $10 discount per race

Bottom line – these races are great for walkers who are worried about time limits. Runners and walkers who want to quickly add to their statistics will also find MM races an easy way to accomplish this. On the other hand, I am glad I reached my 50-state goal by visiting major well-known cities and racing in marathons that took me around the most interesting sections of those cities. It took me almost 5 years to achieve that goal but it was time and money well spent. Now I can do MM races and other similar events for mileage accomplishments and race totals and enjoy the rural countryside and relaxed environment.