SC Ultrarunning Festival (SCURF) 24 Hour Race – Beaufort, SC (February 7, 2020)

This is a new racing series sponsored by Grounded Running and directed by Tim Waz, race director extraordinaire. I’ve done several races that Tim has put on, including several Delirium 12 and 24 hour events and two memorable 50 mile Cremators. I had a lot of confidence in signing up for the 24 hour SCURF, especially after Tim assured me that there were heated restrooms available (it takes so little to make me happy, really – just give me a pleasant day with no rain and real bathrooms).

The series included a 6-day, 72, 48, and 24 hour races as well as an option to try for 100 miles (with a 48 hour time limit). I briefly considered trying the 6-day race as preparation for the Dome but quickly decided that weather was a critical variable for me. I did not want to be discouraged by putting my body through a difficult physical trial, only to be put off by rain and cold weather. I also was hesitant to sign up for anything longer than 24 hours without familiarity with the course or other criteria. That made it easy to register for the Friday to Saturday 24 hour.

We arrived in Beaufort Thursday afternoon and checked into an older but adequate Hampton Inn. After lunch at Outback Steakhouse, we drove to the race site at Burton Wells Park. It was reassuring to actually see the course, a .584 mile paved loop around an attractive lake. The single aid station was at the west end of the course and there were 2 sets of heated bathrooms at both ends of the course. The race was chip timed with an ankle chip and a large display was set up so runners and walkers could view their laps and miles immediately after crossing the timing mats. Every 6 hours participants changed direction.

While the early part of the week was relatively calm for the 6-day runners, Thursday held the promise of rainstorms as the 72 hour people began their race. Fortunately, the storms held off until late in the evening but when they did start, they were severe. The sleeping tent set up for people who needed a rest break was demolished and many people returned to their tents or hotels (or, in one case, a sleeping bag in one of the bathrooms) to stay dry. It was supposed to rain early Friday morning as well (when my 24 hour was to start) but I was grateful when that prediction changed to clear skies. Or so I thought.

Just 10 minutes after the 9 am races (24, 48, and 100 mile) began, it started to mist. The drizzle turned heavier and persisted for about 20 minutes, enough time for me to get thoroughly soaked. I had not worn anything to ward off wetness, and my rain gear was back at the hotel, so Darcy drove 10 minutes back to the hotel to bring me my rain pants and rain jacket. Just as he returned, the rain ceased but my clothes were wet; thus began the first of my several trips to the closest bathroom to change.

In fact, these bathrooms were to be my lifeline and not just for the obvious reasons. I had several ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ and had to change clothes multiple times. This would have been impossible had there only been porta potties! In one case, I spilled some chocolate protein drink all over my pants and had to change. In another instance, it suddenly felt like a twig or piece of bark had entered the heel of my left shoe, even though I was wearing gaiters. When I checked (another trip to the bathroom, since it was too cold to remove shoes outside), I found that a label on the bottom of my orthotics had worked its way up to the top of the orthotic and was cutting into my heel. After I removed the offending irritant, that issue was resolved. But all these little things ate into my time, and even with a full 24 hours, it was easy to see that I would have difficulty managing to attain a decent mileage.

Still, I kept moving along the flat asphalt path, adroitly avoiding the heaves and bumps in the otherwise smooth pavement. These tripping hazards were marked in red paint and easily viewed during the daylight hours, but at night the course was dark and I frequently stumbled over them. My flashlight helped quite a bit here and so did the full moon. Eventually I began to accrue miles and felt that 50 miles was well within reach by dawn on Saturday.

The major drawback was the cold. It was predicted that temperatures would fall to 39 degrees in the early morning hours. In fact, the temperature was more in the 31-34 degree range, and no matter how many clothes I put on, I could not stop exposed areas like my face from freezing. Had it been a bit warmer, even 40 degrees, I might have been able to sit and rest for 15 or 20 minutes; that might have made a big difference in how I felt. But those wee hours of the morning, when my feet are sore and my muscles tired and tight, are usually my lowest point. It is too easy for me to give up or give in, and that is what happened here. By 5:30 am on Saturday, I was ready to quit. I had reached 100k and that was fine with me. Despite my muscle fatigue, I felt otherwise fine physically. I was not sleepy at all. I did want to take a short break, drink some hot coffee or soup, and warm up, but it was too cold and – mentally – I was spent. I texted Darcy to come get me. By the time he arrived, I had finished another mile, to end my 21 hour sojourn with just over 63 miles. Not great but respectable.

With hindsight, I knew I could have lasted the full 24 hours, but I made the decision to leave early. Although part of me regrets not staying, I enjoyed the race and would consider returning for another go.

Here are the pros and cons of this series:

The good stuff:

  • Since the course is .584, two laps equal just over a mile in distance. This, to me, is very rewarding, and I found the miles mount up relatively quickly
  • There are no hills or even slight inclines to challenge runners – it’s flat, flat, flat – except for the slight ridges and heaves
  • The two sets of heated bathrooms are a blessing
  • Since the park is open, with a dog park and basketball court, there are people and animals to watch
  • While there is the inevitable music playing during daylight hours, at least from 10:30 pm to the early morning the music is turned off and there is silence. That, too, is a blessing (at least to me)
  • While I did not partake of aid station offerings except for a few cookies when I had a hankering for something sweet, food was plentiful and there was an array of selections, some foods cooked to order, plus beverages like water, coffee, soda, and soup

The not so great:

  • Although the path is paved, it is not smooth and there are lots of heaves and bumps (marked in red paint but not fluorescent). It is not as ragged as the Endless Mile course and I did not suffer any blisters as I did at EM, but it is still worth noting
  • Some people did not need headlamps or flashlights but I certainly did, and I noted that a number of others did as well

This race series has many positive aspects and very minor flaws. In fact, were it not for the unpredictable of weather in SC in February, I would be tempted to sign up for a longer race here next year. I’d love to try for the attractive 100 mile buckle!

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