Tallahassee UltraDistance Classic 50K – December 9, 2017

I’ve done this 50k many times – it is one of the best ultras for walkers and runners new to ultra racing and remains a favorite of more seasoned ultramarathoners. Because the 50k has the same 10 hour time limit as the 50 miler, velocity-challenged racers don’t have to worry about being pulled from the course because they are too slow. But this year I had a special concern; the day before Thanksgiving I had surgery on my left foot. It was just one toe this time, but the surgery involved cutting into bone and releasing a too-tight tendon. I spent the next two weeks in a cast with my foot elevated and iced. Not much walking, and no training, for that entire period for me! It was frustrating but I was willing to go through the pain and lack of activity if it meant that my propensity for blisters on the sole of that foot would be lessened.

My wonderful podiatrist knew I had a 50k planned for two weeks post-surgery and agreed to set up my postop appointment for the Thursday before race day. Of course, that only gave me one day (!) to get used to wearing shoes again and no real time to work on speed or endurance. But that was okay because I had 10 hours to complete the race. Although in my previous Tallahassee ultras I had finishing times ranging from a PR of 7:03 to a much slower 8:48, I suspected my time would be much slower this year. Still, was confident I would be able to finish under the 10 hour limit.

Saturday morning was freezing cold in Wakulla Springs State Park, about 15 miles south of Tallahassee. I dressed warmly, with two long-sleeved shirts, a jacket, a coat with hood, cowl, hat, heavy-duty mittens from Norway, hand warmers, and long pants. Packet pickup begins about an hour before the 7 am race start, so Darcy drove me to the park and waited while I picked up my bib (with a chip on the back – new for this year!) and a neat hoody, white with the TUDC logo and picture of a bear on the front. The medium is roomy but fits well and I am wearing it as I type this report.

I saw several of my friends who also do this race every year, including Mellody, Terri, Vicki, Chuck, and Gary, as well as a contingent of runners from the Turtle Running Club in Ocala. The Turtles set up a cheering station to give support to their members but they also cheered on all the rest of us as well, writing our names in chalk on the pavement and enthusiastically yelling at us as we passed them on the two out-and-backs along the 6.2 mile course.

My plan was to treat this as a training ‘get back into racing’ experience because my foot hurt whenever I put weight on it. This gave me a noticeable and painful limp. I wanted to try to do at least 2-3 laps. If it turned out I was in too much pain, I would give Darcy a call and ask him to come get me. It took me almost 2 hours to do the first lap. That meant I was averaging about an 18 minute mile. I began to wonder if indeed I would be able to make the 10 hour time limit, that is, if I decided to stay for the entire race. On my second lap, I consciously tried to speed up a little, working through the discomfort. I did the same on the third lap. Both times I was able to cut about 14 minutes off my lap time. I decided that I would stay for the remaining two laps, even if it took me all 10 hours to finish.

Eventually the faster racers finished their 50k and 50 miles; soon I was the only 50k person left on the course. Since those running the 50 miler share the same course as the 50k people, I wasn’t completely alone but there were long stretches when it felt like it was just me out for a leisurely stroll. The Turtles had packed up and returned to Ocala.  On the fifth and final lap, I made sure to thank the patient (and freezing) volunteers at each of the two aid stations at the turn-arounds and made my way slowly to the finish line, where I was handed a lovely ceramic medal. My official time was 8:57:54 and I was dead last but very glad I stayed to complete the race. Now I am once again resting, elevating, and icing!

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