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).