The Stinger 24 Hour Race – November 11, 2017 (Hampton, GA)

I had a completely different race planned for this weekend, the Azalea 24 Hour Race in Palatka, Florida, but Hurricane Irma had swept through Ravine State Gardens and destroyed much of the course. That was a disappointment, especially since Azalea was my backup ‘last chance’ race to accomplish my 7/70/2017 mile goal just in case I missed reaching it at Save the Daylight (SD).

Fortunately, I did achieve my goal at SD, so I could have simply taken the weekend off. However, when I learned about an inaugural race to be run on a track in a small town just south of Atlanta, I couldn’t resist signing up for it. I could relax without the pressure of mileage (if I did at least a 50k, which shouldn’t be a problem in 24 hours) and the camaraderie of other racers. Inaugural races are always a risk because so much depends on factors outside my control: the organizational skills of the race director, enough trained volunteers, availability of food and beverages, and so much more. I had a terrific experience at Southern Discomfort in July and now I was willing to take a chance on the Stinger.

It turned out to be a good idea. Race Director Kevin Randolph, with the help of his lovely wife Annie and some great volunteers, had all the bases covered, from seamless packet pickup on the morning of the race to excellent volunteers, great food (including hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza), plentiful ‘real’ bathrooms, cotton/poly long sleeve tees, and a rubberized track easy on the feet and I did not get any blisters (I recommend wearing gaiters because there are occasional small rocks that can creep into shoes). We even changed direction every three hours. I knew that as a walker in a track race I would have to stay on the outside lanes but that was okay with me since I wasn’t trying for high mileage. As the shorter races finished (there were 3, 6, and 12 hour options as well) and runners thinned out, I eventually could move closer to the inner lanes without holding up faster racers.

Hampton is a very small town with a few fast food restaurants and no brand name hotels but the larger and very prosperous town of McDonough is only about 5 miles away. McDonough has a plethora of retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. We stayed at a pristine Hilton Garden Inn and walked to Taco Mac for dinner Friday evening. My ever-accommodating husband was able to check on me several times on Saturday; the only drawback was heavy traffic during the height of the shopping day, making a10 minute commute take twice as long.

There are many good things about this race, but to be fair, I found some aspects of a track race to be rather difficult. Of course, since I had to stay in the outer lanes, I covered more ground than I would have wished but that was expected. What was harder for me was the realization that the track was 397.7 meters which was just under 400 meters and that meant that to achieve one mile, it was necessary to do more than 4 circuits. I don’t pretend to understand the math. I just know that having to do five laps to get to one mile nearly drove me bonkers. And there was no way I could keep track of the numbers in my head. I relied heavily on the wonderful timekeepers, two young women who acted as my personal cheering section and stayed throughout the duration of the race, despite fatigue, cold, and misty weather. I guess if there was one change I would make, it would be to have a reliable electronic timing board (there was such a board, but it stopped working early on) so I would not have to keep asking for my mileage.

I knew the weather would be cold (for me), in the 70’s in the daytime and in the 40’s at night. I brought a LOT of warm clothes so I could layer up as the temperature declined. I was ready or so I thought. No rain at all was predicted so I omitted my rain gear. That turned out to be a mistake because in the wee hours of Sunday morning it did indeed start to rain intermittently. Although I changed from long pants to warmer long pants on Saturday evening, my warm pants were not warm enough. I should have brought sweats and worn them over my regular pants. My core was warm but my legs froze.

By 12:30-1:00 Sunday morning I had reached 50 miles. It had started to mist and my legs were stiffening from fatigue and cold. I wanted to sit on my zero-gravity chair for a few minutes to rest my feet and legs but the chair was wet from the rain. I kept moving, sneaking peaks at my watch, waiting until 4 am so I could call Darcy and ask him to come get me. I only managed to get 8 additional miles during those hours so I must have been moving very very slowly! At a few minutes to 4, I texted Darcy and he texted back that he would come right away. I am not sure how I could do these races without my marathon man to help me out!

As I said my goodbyes to RD Kevin and thanked the volunteers and ‘my’ wonderful time keepers, Kevin told me I had placed as 2nd female in the 24 hour and awarded me a lovely hip flask (alas, it was not filled with brandy but I plan to change that!).  We went back to the hotel where I showered and had a nap and a filling breakfast before returning home to a much warmer Florida.

This race is highly recommended for walkers and I hope to do it again (but I will bring warmer clothes plus rain gear, just in case).

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Mission Accomplished! Save the Daylight 48 Hour Race – Englewood Beach, FL (November 3, 2017)

I did it! I exceeded my primary goal for 2017 – 7 ultras with at least 70 miles – at Save the Daylight at Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park in Englewood Beach, with 102.3 miles, good enough to get a medal (for finishing the race), a 34-ounce Gusto Mug (for completing 100k), and a buckle (for getting at least 100 miles). That’s quite a lot of bling! In addition, all racers got their choice of a tech or cotton/poly shirt, a small flashlight to use after dark, and a toothbrush (important for those of us who stay overnight on the course).

I did the 24 hour here in 2015, finishing with 100k. Last year I did one of the Eight Hours of Hell races in the same park, on practically the same course, but still managed to get lost (a few arrows were missing) and only achieved 22 miles. I keep coming back because, while the course is trail, it is mostly crushed shells and soft pine straw covered dirt. There are a few rocks and roots that might possibly cause me trouble, but on the first couple of laps on the 3.3 mile loop, I try to memorize where these potential tripping hazards are located. There are two smooth wooden plank bridges (my favorite part because I can lift my eyes to look around me at the scenery) along with a short loop around a pond, with real bathrooms that we pass every go-around. If I must do a trail race, this is the one I prefer.

To get to 70 miles, I would have to complete 22 laps, a total of 72.6 miles. My plan was to begin at 9 am on Friday with the other 48 hour racers, spend as long as I could on the course while hoping to achieve at least 10 or 11 laps. Then I would go back to our hotel (the Hampton Inn in Port Charlotte, a 45 minute drive away), shower, eat, sleep, and then return to the course just before daylight. Because the park is completely dark at night, I was fearful of falling even though I was armed with a flashlight, headlamp, and backup batteries. I would try to spend the 2nd night at the race, even if I was resting or pacing my friend Joyce. That plan worked. I must admit that I felt some trepidation and reluctance on Saturday morning as I realized I had to walk on a trail for 24 more hours but my desire to reach my goal pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Although we stayed at Port Charlotte, the host hotel (Gem Coast Inn) is much closer, about 3 miles from the race site. We wanted to stay at a Hilton family hotel so we opted for the Hampton Inn but, while it was very clean and quiet, it had a poor selection of Direct TV channels (no MSNBC or Weather Channel, loss of power during important college football games) so we would probably not stay there again.

There is a covered pavilion with a fully-stocked aid station and plenty of room to set up a drop bag and chair or two. My friends Joyce and Ray were there (Joyce did over 115 miles in the 48 hour!) so I set up my supplies under their canopy. Ray made sure we both had plenty of bug spray, snacks, drinks, and other needs. There is a second unmanned aid station at the half-way point with water, ice, Tailwind, bug repellant, and sunscreen. During the race, there is plenty to eat – hamburgers, sandwiches, watermelon, pizza, and more.

Although the race is not chip timed, the volunteer time keepers quickly get to know the runners (and walkers) and are responsive with our lap count. RD Justin knew about my mileage goal this year and asked if I wanted bib number 7 or 70. I chose #70 – it was easy to remember my age (usually by 20 hours into a timed race, I can barely remember my name let alone my bib number).

I asked Justin if he would make sure every turn on the course was well-marked (it was) and if he would mark the entrance to the park after circling the pond with lights and an arrow (he did). That eased my tired addled brain as I grew more fatigued during the later hours on the course.

By 8 pm on Friday, I had completed 11 laps (36 miles) so when I returned around 6:30 Saturday morning, I knew I only had 11 more laps to go. As the sun rose and it warmed to the mid-80’s, I managed to do those laps fairly quickly. By 6 that evening, Darcy returned to check on me and bring me some hot coffee to keep me alert and awake. I told him I had met my goal and was now going to try for that 100 mile buckle. I could either do exactly 100 miles, stopping at the 1 mile marker on my 30th lap, or could continue around to do 102.3 miles. By the wee hours of Sunday morning, I easily had enough time to do that complete 31st lap. My legs and feet were tired and sore, but my emotions were high; I was elated. Justin gave me my awards (medal, mug, buckle) and I changed into warmer clothes (nights were in the mid-60’s) so I could rest and relax while waiting for Darcy to come get me.

We went back to the hotel so I could shower and change and then we headed home, stopping at Blue Highway in Micanopy for pizza, antipasti, and calzone.

This is a grand race for walkers who want to test their mettle on a mild trail. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to achieve an important goal.