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.

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