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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