FastTrack 24 Hour (Palatka, FL) – January 20, 2018

For me, this race should have been labeled ‘slowtrack’ – it was one of my most difficult races ever and not because of anything inherent in the race itself. Since it is held on a track (just under 400 feet per loop), it takes at least 5 laps to make a mile and that in itself is enough to drive me bonkers but I knew that going in. What was more problematic was whether I had fully recovered from my pre-Thanksgiving foot surgery, followed by the Tallahassee 50k just two weeks after the surgery, and 13 marathons over the Christmas holidays. I may have been setting myself up for failure. At least I made the wise decision to skip the two half marathons I had planned to do on January 13 and 14; my foot was still very sore and I knew I needed the extra rest time.

I thought everything would be fine for FastTrack. My gait had improved as I assiduously tried NOT to limp and NOT to drag my sore foot. I was even walking several miles up and down the hills in my neighborhood with only minor pain. Thus it came as a major surprise when, after just a few laps around the Palatka High School track at the start of FastTrack, I began to feel excruciating pain once again in my left foot. That was definitely not a good sign, especially at the beginning of a 24 hour race!

The logistics for this race were straightforward. Palatka is a relatively medium-sized rural Florida town southeast of Gainesville. We stayed at a new modern Hampton Inn, where we had a small but clean and pleasant river-view room up on the fourth floor. Although there were several restaurants within walking distance, we opted for Beef O’Brady’s and had a decent meal before returning to our room for the night.

The race site at the high school was only 15 minutes away, so on Saturday we left the hotel at 6:30 and drove to the site to claim a spot in the infield where I could set up my chairs and drop bags and pick up my bib and ankle chip. There was a pre-race briefing at 7:30 and we then milled around until the 8 am start. I had time to check out the real bathrooms; there were two of them inside the building closest to the race site and those were designated for racers only. A building further off the track had more bathrooms and was to be used by everyone else. I was a bit concerned that two bathrooms might not be sufficient for over 60 runners, but I never really had a problem during the race.

Although this was the first year for FastTrack, it seems to have attracted a large number of elite racers, including Connie Gardner, Megan Alvarado, Harvey Lewis, Sally Libonati, and Joe and Kelly Fejes. While it was amazing and inspiring to watch these speedy runners blaze around the course practically nonstop, it was also disheartening when compared to my tortoise-like plodding. Usually in a 24 hour race, the midnight hours find almost every runner and walker slowing down to a zombie-like trance. Not here!

There was one small table that functioned as an aid station and it had a variety of snacks and drinks, including sausage McMuffins in the morning and pizza during the night. I can’t really attest to the food offered, since Darcy kept me supplied with an egg and bacon bagel from Dunkin Donuts and pizza from Little Caesars, so I was content. I also had my seltzer and – despite the cooler weather – I developed quite a thirst and worked my way through several bottles.

The weather was fine, cold on race morning, cloudy but in the low 60’s during the day, and in the 40’s at night. I layered up and down as necessary and never needed my heaviest jacket or sweat pants, although I did wear a thick scarf and knit cap and my heavy mittens during the evening hours. I even slept for about 20 minutes around midnight, bundled up under several jackets, when I needed to rest my legs and my mind.

Because my foot hurt so much, I had to keep changing shoes and socks. I had packed 5 extra pairs of shoes in one of my drop bags and I wore all of them. That meant I was changing shoes about every 5 hours. Normally, I only need to change once, sometimes twice, so that was unusual for me. I found, however, that putting on a different pair helped moderate the pain, at least for a while. I kept my favorite most broken-in pair for the very end of the race because those old standbys were the most comfortable.

It seemed to take forever for the miles to add up, and even though we changed direction every 4 hours, I sometimes felt myself getting dizzy and a little queasy. The timing was provided by Mike Melton and his co-timer Bill from MCM Timing and their system is remarkable. There are big screens with large easy-to-read print with more information than anyone could want, so every time I stepped over the timing mat I could instantly see my name, mile, kilometer, lap speed, and more. The system works great but it just takes SO long to accumulate those miles on a track! I quickly realized that this was going to be a very long 24 hours for me. By the time I reached the 50k mark, it had taken me over 10 hours (the Tallahassee Ultra a month ago took me just under 9 hours) so I could tell I was really suffering. I wondered if I would be able to last the entire race.

As the hours ticked by, I began to wonder if it was even worth staying if I couldn’t do my very best. When I reached the 40 mile mark, I decided to go for 50 miles and then make up my mind. After all, one of my 2018 goals was to complete 8 timed races with at least 50 miles in each, so at 50 miles I could check off FastTrack as one step towards that goal. Around 4 am, I reached 50 miles, texted Darcy that I was done, and continued to move around the track until he arrived. I managed to finish with 53.64 miles, turned in my chip to Mike, packed up my gear, and called it a day (and night).

The volunteers, official photographer, and race supporters (including David Christy who was crewing for one of the amazingly speedy runners) were terrific. They cheered for everyone, including me, and were very supportive. It did help a lot to hear them tell me I was looking great and doing well – especially when I felt like toast!

Overall, it was a good experience but it should have been better. I probably should have waited a few more weeks before attempting another race. I am now paying the price, facing a longer recovery time with my sore foot. I also discovered that competing in a race with so many elite athletes can be a mixed bag, impressive to be surrounded by greatness but demoralizing and humbling as well. The race has 6 and 12 hour options as well as the 24, and for walkers who want to try a timed race, it is a decent choice.

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Lucky 13 – My Tale of 13 Marathons in 13 Days in Ocala, Florida (December 22, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

It used to be that doing 7 marathons in 7 days was a sufficient achievement. For many over-achievers, the Savage 7, held the week between Christmas and the New Year, was more than enough of a challenge. Then the Mainly Marathons group began putting together 9 marathons (and half and ultramarathons) in one long string. That seemed overwhelming to me. When I did 4 races as part of the Mainly Marathon Appalachian series last October, I was in awe of the runners and walkers who did all 9 of those races.

So why did I succumb to the even more daunting challenge of completing 13 marathons in as many days? I am even now shaking my head in amazement that I signed up for this crazy challenge. To think that I actually did all 13 races is even more astounding.

But my friend Joyce was determined to register for Lucky 13 and she is very persuasive. While she is a dedicated ultra runner with an amazing ability to run difficult trails with aplomb, she was concerned that having to get up each morning to do another marathon was going to be a major hurdle for her. She also knows that I like to race during the day and sleep in a hotel at night and can return to multiday races the next morning without hesitation, so she thought I might be the perfect person to make sure we both returned to the race site every single day. Since this was billed as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, we would only get the chance to see if we could succeed if we signed up. So, arm sufficiently twisted, I agreed.

Since I usually do at least one of the Savage 7 marathons every December, I’ve already posted the details about the race venue and setup on this blog. The site is the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway in Ocala, Florida, on a wide paved path in a lovely wooded park. There is plenty of free parking, real bathrooms, and occasional wildlife (squirrels, deer, wild turkeys). Fortunately, most bears are in hibernation at this time of year.

Participants can choose between a half marathon or full marathon for one or multiple days. Each race begins at 5 am and, because the park is dark until sunrise, a head lamp or flashlight is a necessity. After an initial 1.2 mile loop around the parking lot, we then do 5 laps around the greenway. Even when I have been completely alone on several laps I have never felt nervous or anxious and amazingly enough I have never been lost (the course is marked with floured arrows).

Joyce and I and our husbands, Ray and Darcy, stayed at a convenient Residence Inn, where we had access to rooms with kitchenettes complete with refrigerators, microwaves, and range top. We stocked up on easy to heat and eat food and drink at a nearby Publix. I packed 4 suitcases with clothes and shoes and every other essential I could think of. Because the weather was so variable (hot then cold then rainy then cold and rainy), it was hard to bring everything. Looking back, I definitely wished I had packed more cold weather togs, especially for the last few days.

I tried to take notes each evening about that day’s race but – to be honest – I was so exhausted after I finished, that showering, changing into clean clothes, and resting was about all I could do. I didn’t read or knit much, just dozed, read email, or did crossword puzzles until I fell asleep.

Here is what I remember:

  • The first two days went without incident. Joyce and I were feeling pretty good, though my left foot was still pretty sore from surgery and I limped my way throughout. Our pace was very similar and we chatted as we walked, which made the hours pass relatively quickly. Our finishing times were not that great, but not terrible either; we rationalized that we were conserving out energy to last through 13 races. Made sense to us. First day, 7:13, and second day, 7:26
  • Day 3 was about the same, though Joyce and I had started to change pace and I finished about 15 minutes ahead of her, despite my attempts to slow down a little. I seem to settle into one regular consistent pace and – unless I am hurting or the weather is abominable – I stick to that pace. This day my time was 7:24, with Joyce perhaps 10 minutes behind me
  • Day 4 was Christmas Day. I was feeling very tired and my legs ached and my feet hurt. I finished in 7:26 (I can’t remember where Joyce was but she was close)
  • On the day after Christmas I felt pretty good. I think a good night’s sleep helped. My foot didn’t start hurting until the second lap and then only bothered me periodically. I considered that a good sign. My time was 7:17. Again, Joyce was close behind me.
  • It was around this time, about 6 days in, when Joyce started having shin pain. This may have been caused by constant walking/running on asphalt (she is more used to trails) so she had to slow down a little to keep the pain in check. This was worrisome but neither one of us had ever allowed soreness or injury to restrain us. I had slept poorly and was tired and my foot hurt terribly. But I too persisted. Finishing time for day 6 was 7:28.
  • Day 7 was one of my best days. I cannot explain this. It may have been due to good weather (60 degrees, clear, no sun, no rain) or the fact that I listened to music on my iPod (I was alone for most laps). My feet hurt just a little on that last 5 miles. Finishing time: 7:14
  • The weather started to get colder from day 8 forward. I was bone tired after a broken night’s sleep. My operated-on toe ached and kept waking me up. I just wanted to get through the day. I finished in 7:27
  • On day 9, the weather turned colder but was not as windy as the day before. My feet hurt so badly that I changed from my Hokas to my most comfortable shoes after lap 4. Joyce was about 2 miles behind me on the course so I made the decision to wait until she reached the start/finish so we could do the last lap together. That turned out to be a good idea because she was starting to lean to the left and her shin was hurting badly. We both finished in 8:18. It was a rough day
  • What a difference a day makes! For some reason, day 10 (New Year’s Eve) was my best day. Again, I have no idea why. I had a good night’s sleep but that was probably due to taking Advil at 9 pm to stop my toe throbbing and the sleeping pill I took an hour later to knock me out. The day started out cold, 43 degrees, but rose to the mid 60’s and was sunny. I finished in 7:08, but by race end I had sore feet, sore calves, and my left instep was swollen and painful. Serves me right for having so much fun by speeding up a little
  • Yech, day 11 was miserable – cold, wet, and windy. This, combined with my sore feet and calves, made all 5 laps excruciating. It didn’t help that I stepped in a puddle on the first lap and so had to walk with wet shoes and socks the entire race (it didn’t make sense to try and change shoes in the rain). It was a completely crazy maddening day. Joyce and I finished in about 8:10 and I was glad when the day was over. What a way to begin 2018!
  • Day 12 was 30 degrees at the start with a wind chill of 20 but at least it was clear with no rain. Another difficult day, in part due to my sore left foot but also because I hate the cold. However, I was grateful it didn’t rain. I finished in 7:51. I couldn’t tell you where Joyce was because as soon as I past the finish line I wanted to get into a warm car and go to a warm hotel room. I was freezing!
  • Day 13 – we were going to finish today no matter what! Of course, this day had the nastiest weather of all. It was bitter cold. It also rained nonstop the first 4 laps so my clothes got soaked. I abhor being wet and cold. I was miserable. Darcy had come to check on me around 10 am and I stopped to go to the bathroom and then change into something dry in the car before I continued on. Unfortunately, the long pants I put on were relaxed cargo pants that I usually sleep in, and as I began the next lap, the rain continued to pound and my pants sagged – a lot. I had an honest-to-goodness wardrobe malfunction on my hands. I couldn’t continue with my pants hanging around my knees so I grabbed the waistline as best I could (through 5 layers of shirts and jackets, not an easy task). I turned around and made my way BACK to the start/finish to change into something more fitting (literally). All I could quickly find was a pair of crops so I quickly put them on and headed back out (Sonny, one of our racers who was volunteering that day, drove me to the point where I had left) and I managed to finish the race, despite freezing legs, sore feet, and soaked clothes. I finished in 8:29, the very last finisher, but I finished!

So, Lucky 13 is now history! I hope not to do 13 in a row ever again. It was fun (now that it is over, I can say that) and it was encouraging to learn that some days I could do well even after some not-so-good days. I don’t think I damaged my operated-on foot too badly and I plan to give myself at least 10 days before I do another race (2 half marathons coming up soon). I also learned that weather plays an enormous role in how well I do in a race. I much prefer warmth to cold and rain will always be a problem for me. Good stuff to know

Just a few other tidbits if you are thinking of trying 1 or more of these races in the future:

  • The aid stations have food and drink consistent with ultras, so you can expect sandwich quarters, cookies, pickles, etc. The turn-around aid station, thanks to Ed and Bonnie, had bags of chips and popcorn plus mini Snickers and other candies. My favorite snack was little fudgy chocolate brownie bits; I usually managed to have one or two each time I came by
  • Everyone gets one cotton tee shirt, regardless of the number of races run. The goodie bag this year also had a mug, some pens, and a license plate frame.
  • Finishers get a medal, with each day a different color lanyard. There were not enough medals to go around but for me that was not a problem; I already have too many medals. However, it was disappointing for that to happen. I believe RD Chuck will order more and mail them out
  • One of the best things about this series is catching up with running friends who return here every year. It is such a joy to touch base with them and share our stories. It’s also wonderful to meet new friends. The relaxed laid-back atmosphere of these races encourages congeniality

As I mentioned in my previous post on 2018 goals, I don’t plan on doing any more marathons so I’m glad I did Lucky 13. It was a great way to start the new year!

 

Racing Goals for 2018

Before I write about my experience at Lucky 13, the one-time challenge to complete 13 marathons in 13 days, I first want to write about my racing goals for the new year. Of course, goals are always subject to change (that’s why I use the term ‘goals’ rather than ‘resolutions’) but here is what I hope to achieve in 2018.

I plan to concentrate on ultramarathons, especially timed ultras. I hope to do at least 8 timed races of at least 24 hours each. Although I only need to reach 32 miles per race to count it for my Maniac statistics, I want to try to achieve at least 50 miles in each event. In at least one of those 24-hour races, I am going to try to manage 80 miles, something I have not been able to achieve in several years. It may be a stretch but if everything comes together in one great race, it could be possible. Of course, my minimum goals in every race I do are simple – have fun, don’t die. Sounds simple, but it can sometimes be a challenge to know if or when to quit a race. That’s one reason I like te timed ultras – there is no such thing as a DNF as long as I have done at least one lap on the course.