Some races are just a lot of fun and I enjoy returning to them repeatedly. That’s how it is with Operation Endurance. This was my third attempt at the 24 hour and would have been my fourth if not for the stress fractures that sidelined me last year. I’ve also done the 12 hour version and found that to be near perfect, but stubbornness keeps me signing up for the longer race.
This year our usual hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, was full so we stayed at the Hampton Inn near Fort Benning and that turned out to be a good choice. It was very close to the race site (which is on the base) and the room was quiet and clean. The only negative was the lack of close-by restaurants but since there were several good brew pubs downtown, that was not really a problem. In fact, one of the highlights of this trip was the opportunity to have dinner and drinks with my friend and race director Kena and her BFF Stephanie at Nonic’s. The draft beer list at Nonic’s was extensive and I had a very satisfying IPA flight as well as a huge pretzel with beer cheese and mustard. However, the next day – during the race – I realized that I probably did not consume enough protein and, as a result, I encountered some digestive queasiness that might have been prevented with a heartier meal. But it seems no matter how many races I do, I always learn something I might have done better or differently.
On Friday afternoon, we stopped at the visitor center to get our weekend passes. Without a pass, one cannot enter the base, and it is so much easier and less crowded to stop the day before the race than the morning of. The weather was supposed to be clear and cold (40’s) at night and mid-70’s during the day, so I had to bring a variety of clothes so I could add and subtract as needed. Fortunately, there was NO RAIN and that was a blessing. However, the early mornings and late evenings were much colder than usual for this date in Columbus, and I was dressed in my usual 6 layers until the sun was up.
The track at Stewart Watson Field is just shy of a mile so it is necessary to do more than one lap to achieve one mile. After doing track ultras (where a mile is almost 5 laps), at first the miles seemed to come quickly but that sensation did not last long. A mile is still a mile. The course is relatively easy on one’s feet because of the packed dirt. I wore my gaiters to keep out the occasional pebble or two but I had no real problem with my feet or legs.
I did have a problem with my back, however. For some reason that I still cannot understand, I woke up race day morning with pain in my lower back. The bed at the hotel was a typical comfortable Hampton Inn bed so I can’t attribute the pain to my sleeping arrangement. I didn’t pick up or move anything heavy the day before. I seldom have back pain and have no idea as to why this happened. It did not stop me from starting the race, however, and I found that the very flat course did not make the pain worse, so I was able to continue racing for a total of 16 hours, broken into two segments. Yes, I succumbed as I often do when I get wet or cold or hurt and decided to spend the night in the hotel. My friend Mellody was doing the 12 hour and she generously offered me a ride back to our hotel and I decided to go (at that point I had completed 41 laps). I showered, ate several slices of pizza, drank some chocolate milk, brushed my teeth, and retired to bed. After 4 hours of sleep, I was ready to go again. My back was still sore but at least I was clean and rested.
It was freezing cold at 4 am on Sunday morning when I returned to the course but I was able to move steadily and consistently. I did not stop at all until I had it the 50 mile mark. Then I slowed down just a little but kept moving. During the still dark hours of the morning, I saw about 30 animals cross the course from one side to the other – these animals looked to be the size of medium -sized dogs and I thought perhaps they were coyotes. Only a few other runners were on the course at that time and we were all spaced far apart. At first I thought I might be hallucinating but when I caught up with the racer ahead of me (I was moving fast because I was nervous being out there alone with what might be wild animals!), I asked him if he had seen the animals too. He had (good!) and I was both relieved and apprehensive. When finished that lap, I asked Kena what these strange critters could be and she thought they were feral pigs, evidently a common animal in these parts. It was a neat experience once I knew the answer.
Other important stuff – our shirt this year was a light green cotton-poly short-sleeved tee, nice to add to my collection of Operation Endurance shirts. The race has a 6 hour and relay option in addition to the 12 and 24. Best of all, Smith Gym is open from 9 to 5 on Saturday and we can use their real bathrooms. If it had been open during the entire 24 hour period, I probably would have hidden there during the coldest part of the evening. There are also 3 portapotties but I much prefer the real bathrooms and I don’t care if I must walk a little bit to get to them. The aid station has typical ultra food, including pizza in the early evening.
The final results are not yet posted so I don’t know how I ranked, but I did manage to complete 57 laps which should equal 56 miles.