Sometimes things work out as planned, and sometimes they just don’t. This series of races was an experience that fell in the latter category. My saga began the day before we were to leave for Ocala. I checked in to the Homewood Suites online and tried to choose my room; usually, the Hilton app allows customers to select one’s desired floor and room. However, I was allowed no such option and instead was given a room adjoining the ice machine and mechanical equipment on a lower floor. This did not bode well, but I was hopeful I could change rooms once I showed up at the hotel.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. I was told the hotel was full and the earliest I could effect a change would be Saturday, 4 days away. That made me very grumpy; I knew that without a quiet night’s sleep, I would be unable to effectively complete the seven 50k races I had registered for. The first night, I wore my Bose headphones to try and drown out the clanging from the ice machine and other variable mechanical noises. The headphones only cushioned the aberrant sounds to a duller roar. Desperate, I resorted to taking a sleeping pill. Usually, I avoid taking any kind of sleep medication because I can feel the sequelae the next day, definitely not a good thing to do before a race when I want to be at my best. But I knew I needed some rest.
The alarm woke me up (how often does that happen? Rarely!) and I got dressed and ready for the first 50k. I was familiar with the course (this is where I had completed 13 marathons in 13 days two years ago, and in prior years I had finished both half and full marathons on individual days), I knew to bring a headlight for the first lap (it was still dark at 6 am), and I was prepared to do my best. Unfortunately, I was still a bit groggy from my drugged sleep so I moved cautiously around the park as best I could.
To complete the 50k, participants must do 6 laps of the 5 mile loop. On the very first lap, I realized I was bored and the thought of completing 6 laps seemed overwhelming. The idea of doing six laps every day for 6 more days was enough to put me in a tailspin. For some reason, I simply could not wrap my head around 6 laps. Five seemed reasonable – I could do 2 laps, then a third (over halfway), and by the time I started lap number 5 I knew I was almost done. But SIX laps!! When I finished lap three, I was only half done and had to do 3 more. Physically, I was fine (sleepy but otherwise okay) but mentally I just could not wrap my head around those required six laps.
I finished this first 50k in 8 hours. 29 minutes, not too shabby considering. But I dreaded going back to the noisy hotel room and then having to face six more races (36 more laps). At that point, I had decided I would not finish all 7 races. It would be better to cut our losses and return home early. That evening I told the hotel that we planned to leave on Monday, shortening our stay by 3 nights.
Thursday night was a repeat of the previous evening. I slept poorly, resorting to headphones and sleeping pill. I awoke Friday morning even grumpier than before. This day I took 9 hours and 15 minutes to finish and was the last person on the course. I began to consider dropping to the half marathon or perhaps the full marathon but that meant I would finish earlier (good) but then would have to spend more time in the noisy hotel room (very bad).
I was certainly not feeling the joy. My usual mantra is ‘have fun, don’t die’ – and while I was sure I was not going to collapse and expire, I was most definitely NOT having fun. Every lap was a slog. When Darcy picked me up after that second 50k, I was depressed. To make things even sadder, I had wanted to do some laps with friends, but it seemed that Joyce, Angela, Theresa, Cheryl, and others were always on the other side of the lane so we could only wave and exchange a few words in passing but that was all. I did manage a couple of laps with Clint, Race Director JC, and Frank and I was thankful for those opportunities. That afternoon we drove back to the hotel and as we entered, Darcy mentioned that he was able to change our room. Although we were still on the third floor, we were now in the center of the hallway, far away from dreaded machine noise and the elevators as well. In addition, we now had an actual suite with a living room and bedroom as well as a kitchenette. The previous room was much smaller, only slighter larger than an average hotel room. I was so relieved!
There are so many positives about this race and the park venue is great (smooth asphalt, real bathrooms, no time limit). But the fun had vanished; I realized that I still wanted to return home early. I did not want to push myself through those boring 6 laps a day. For the remaining 3 races, I dropped to the half marathon and enjoyed myself. I only had to do 2 ½ laps and that turned out to be fun. Of course, sleeping well in a quiet room (and without drugs) helped elevate my mood, but the truth was that 2 ½ laps was easy to do, almost like completing a 5k, and I could push myself and relax at the same time. And when I returned to the hotel at 10 in the morning instead of 4, I could spend the time reading, knitting, and recovering in a peaceful environment.
I finished the half marathons in respectable times – 3:17 on Saturday, 3:31 on Sunday, and 3:19 on Monday. My total mileage for the five days equaled just over 101 miles. While I was disappointed not to finish the entire series, I was pleased with what I did accomplish. As soon as I finished that last half marathon, we drove home, stopping in Gainesville to visit with our friend and former neighbor Karolyn and her son. And it was very satisfying to spend New Year’s Eve at home.