Adventures in Appalachia: Three Marathons plus a Half in Four Days (October 12-15, 2017)

Lest anyone think that completing 3 full marathons plus a half marathon in 4 days is a great achievement, the supreme accomplishment is racing all 9 – that’s correct, NINE – marathons or half marathons in 9 days for the entire series of Appalachian races. Mainly Marathons (MM) puts on these crazy races in every geographic area of the United States, including Hawaii and – soon – Alaska. For people attempting to do races in every state, running or walking in the MM series of races will help them succeed quickly and with a minimum of expense. It’s still expensive, but not so costly as planning a trip individually to all 50 states.

I did several races in the Appalachian series a few years ago, in North and South Carolina and Georgia. This year the organization decided to expand to Alabama and Florida, so I signed up for Lizella, GA, Eufalla, AL, and two in the Florida panhandle in the small towns of Cottondale and Marianna. Each race had its own flavor and distinctiveness. MM races are usually held in parks and trails in small to medium cities, with driving distances between venues anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles. This particular series began in Virginia and West Virginia, moving on to Bristol, TN, Fletcher, NC, and Seneca, SC. I joined the group in Georgia and stayed until the series ended on Sunday.

We drove to Macon, GA, on Wednesday and looked for the race venue in neighboring Lizella before checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Macon, just off I-475. It’s always a good idea when doing these races to find the next day’s location beforehand because the races begin so early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30 am, depending on whether one takes the early start). This race was in Arrowhead Park, an extensive rural area with campgrounds, trails, and lakes. The double-lollypop course was paved but extremely hilly and confusing. The day was hot and humid with no shade. After the requisite 12 loops for the marathon, I still found the course convoluted and had to keep watch for the signage and flags. There were bathrooms but the stalls had no doors! My finishing time – 7:15.

The next day’s race was in Eufalla, Alabama, on the Yoholo-Micco Trail. This day turned out to be my favorite because it was a scenic rails-to-trails course, all paved and relatively straight out-and-back, and even though it was hot, there was some shade. Only negative was the 3 portapotties (just 3 for all of us plus other visitors) but at least they had doors! My finishing time – 6:55.

After Alabama, we drove to Cottondale, Florida, for the first of two races in the panhandle. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Marianna for both races, since the two towns are only 10 miles apart. The Cottondale race was held in a park (called the Athletic Fields) and it was a paved circuitous course with just a small broken gravel section. There was some shade, which helped stave off the worst of the heat and humidity. This was my second favorite course, though it took me longer to finish – 7:30 (fatigue must have begun to take effect).

The final race was in Citizen’s Lodge Park in Marianna. This was supposed to be partly crushed gravel, partly paved, with some shade. Because most of us complained of the sunshine beating down on us in the earlier races, the organizers decided to change some of the course to include a couple of forested rocky and rooty trail sections. That tree cover certainly helped with the heat but the trail made the footing far more treacherous. The crushed gravel turned out to be chunks of gravel combined with occasional large rocks. I kept my head down for a good part of this race to make sure I didn’t fall. Somebody did, in fact, take a bad tumble, but he was able to continue with the race. Because of the precarious nature of the course, I wisely decided to drop to the half on this day. Positive aspect of this race – real bathrooms (yes, with doors). Finishing time, a PW for me – 4:30. Of course some of that time was spent chatting with friends along the way and well worth the extra minutes expended.

Here are some tips if you are considering some of the MM races:

  • Check out the race area for the next day as soon as you arrive. It will be dark on race morning and you don’t want to get lost looking for the race start
  • Because it is dark if you take the early start, bring a flashlight or headlamp. You will only need for the first hour
  • There is usually a mat and benches to put a drop bag. I don’t usually bring a drop bag for a race less than a 50k, and I didn’t here, but it would have been a good idea to have a bag to store my jacket and light
  • The aid station has a lot of food so there is no need to bring snacks unless you have a special item you need. I always carry an energy or granola bar just in case but I never had to eat it; instead I indulged in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, and candy
  • You can sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or 50k, and if you change your mind and want to drop to a lower distance during the race, you can
  • Timing system uses rubber bands/elastics. Every time you pass by the start/finish, just pick one up and wear or carry them
  • Most of the races are done on loop or out-and-back courses, but they can be confusing since some are rather convoluted. My tack is to follow the person in front of me if in doubt as to where I should go
  • Stretch before driving to the next location. If I skip this, my legs cramp up and it is not too pleasant standing by the highway stretching while traffic whizzes by
  • There is no hard time limit, although slower racers are strongly encouraged to take the early start. Check out the results on the MM page and you will find finishing times as long as 9 hours. After all, some of these people have been doing ALL the races in the series and they are understandably tired. This is great from my point of view because I am not alone at the end of the races
  • Organizers, volunteers, and racers are exceptionally friendly. It is easy to share the difficulties of each day’s race with other people who understand your angst and fatigue.
  • The medals are unique, with a basic medal for the series and individual state medals for each state you finish and they latch on to each other
  • There is one tee shirt for the series. It used to be cotton but this year it was tech. When I refused the tech shirt, I was offered a past year’s cotton tee, which I gladly accepted
  • There is one bib for each series so you just wear that same bib and number for all the races in that grouping. Makes things easy
  • Be prepared by reading the course description for each day’s race but don’t be surprised if there are changes
  • The race venues for each series often change every year, but if by chance there is a return to Eufala or Cottondale/Marianna, River City Grill in Eufala and Madison’s Warehouse Restaurant in Marianna are excellent places to eat
  • Maniacs, 50 Staters, and members of other running clubs are offered a $10 discount per race

Bottom line – these races are great for walkers who are worried about time limits. Runners and walkers who want to quickly add to their statistics will also find MM races an easy way to accomplish this. On the other hand, I am glad I reached my 50-state goal by visiting major well-known cities and racing in marathons that took me around the most interesting sections of those cities. It took me almost 5 years to achieve that goal but it was time and money well spent. Now I can do MM races and other similar events for mileage accomplishments and race totals and enjoy the rural countryside and relaxed environment.

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A Half Marathon in Horse Country (Ocala, FL) – January 15, 2007

This past weekend I did another repeat race, the Ocala half marathon. Offerings also include a full marathon as well but since the full is a double loop (not my favorite iteration) with a strict 6-hour time limit, I’ve never been brave enough to attempt the full and have always chosen the half instead. I did this race in 2012 and 2013, finishing in 2:40 and 2:43 respectively. I remembered the course as an attractive jaunt through horse ranches, with rolling hills and peaceful countryside.

Although there were some changes this year, the race course is essentially the same and just as pleasant. My only complaints revolved around the lack of coned lanes for runners (while traffic was fairly light on Sunday morning there was a steady stream of vehicles on some of the more narrow roads and I felt I had to watch for cars every minute) and loneliness at the back-of-the-pack for miles 6 to the finish. I checked the number of finishers for previous years; it came as no surprise to me that this year there were only 188 half marathon finishers while in the past that number had been at least double. With the increasing popularity of half marathons, I am at a loss as to why the numbers had decreased so dramatically but this year there were long stretches of the race when I could see no one in front of or behind me.

The course is marked with bright red arrows on large signs that pointed racers in the appropriate direction. Markings were not as plentiful or useful as in First Light in Mobile, AL, but they were sufficient enough that I managed not to get lost.

Darcy and I drove down on Saturday, picked up my race packet at the Paddock Mall parking lot near Sears, and checked into our room at the Residence Inn about 5 minutes away. The race is chip-timed but the only timing mat is at the finish. There is no need for corrals with such a small field so there is plenty of room for everyone to cross the chalk line on the ground within a matter of minutes. The tee shirt is short-sleeve tech, so I told them to keep it or give to someone else. No point in taking something only to give it away. I wish more races offered a ‘no shirt’ option. We had a good dinner at the Miller’s Ale House, our go-to restaurant in Ocala, and then tucked in early for bed.

The marathon started at 7 and the half marathon at 7:15. Weather turned out to be perfect – about 55 at the start and 70 at the finish. No need for hand warmers or scarves, just a light jacket which I soon doffed and tied around my waist. For the first 4 miles I walked at a good clip with two friendly race walkers from Ohio but the soreness in my ribs and side from the fall in Mobile was still bothering me and I slowed down to adjust my arm movements to lessen the pain.

There were aid stations every mile or two, with water, Gatorade, bananas and orange slices, and very enthusiastic volunteers. Other spectators were rare. Police were at road crossings and on motorcycles. I had an unusual experience with one police officer who was directing traffic at an intersection. He had me wait (wait!) while he let two cars make a left turn in front of me. I am used to police holding up traffic so runners can cross and maintain pace so I was a little perturbed at having to come to a complete stop for these vehicles. It’s not like I was going to PR but it did make a jumble of my rhythm.

I crossed the finish line in 2:54, achieving my goal of under 3 hours, and received my medal decorated with a horse and horseshoe on it. There was plenty of food for runners – beans and rice, pulled pork, bagels, fruit, and cookies. This race is an enjoyable one and is recommended with certain caveats for walkers. Be alert for cars on the narrow roads, watch for the red arrows to direct you along the course, and expect to spend some time alone during the race, especially in the latter miles.

Playing Catch-Up: Three Marathons and a Half Marathon to Close out 2016 and Begin the New Year

Ever since I began concentrating my races in the southeast part of the US, I have found that I am mostly repeating races I have already done. This is to be expected, since many of my favorites have been around for a long time and they survive because they are exceptionally good races. When I come across an inaugural race, I do try to sign up, but it seems that brand new marathons and half marathons (at least those with longer time limits) are the exception rather than the norm.

Unless something is drastically different from prior editions of a particular race, I hesitate to bore readers or myself with a rehash of what’s already been written by myself and others. Hence, what follows is a brief recap of some of my favorite races.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day has traditionally been the week for the Savage Seven, Chuck Savage’s offering of seven marathons in seven days in a beautiful park in Ocala, Florida. This year Chuck also offered a half marathon option each day for those who preferred the shorter distance. I signed up to volunteer for two days which netted me two free marathons plus I paid for one half marathon on the day we traveled home. Darcy and I spent the holiday week staying at the Hampton Inn off Interstate 75 in Ocala. This was a quiet decent hotel but since it was right off the highway, my husband was bothered by the traffic noise. I, on the other hand, did not mind the car and truck sounds but I was extremely sensitive to the detergents used to clean the rooms, towels, and bedsheets. We ended up purchasing some inexpensive towels at Target to deal with this problem, admittingly something only a neurotic person like myself with a highly-attuned sense of smell would be annoyed by).

The weather all week was dry, a real positive, since running 5 loops in the rain can be daunting. The first couple of days were pleasant but as the week progressed, a cold front moved in and I went from wearing shorts to long pants and a heavy jacket. I did marathons on Tuesday and Thursday, finishing in 6:35 and 6:32 respectively. My volunteer days were Wednesday and Friday and though I helped from dawn to the end of the races, I did manage to walk one lap each day with a friend or two, Mike on Wednesday and Loree and Frank on Friday. I must admit that standing all day working the aid station was harder than doing a marathon. My fellow volunteers were wonderful and made the time pass quickly.

On Saturday, I finished the half marathon (2 ½ loops) in 3:14 and then Darcy and I drove home, hoping to arrive in time to do some last-minute grocery shopping for black-eyed peas and ham hocks, stop at the post office for a week’s worth of mail (mostly bills), and pick up some books at the library for the long weekend.

We discovered a new to us brew pub in Ocala, Miller’s Ale House, and ate there three times. There was a great selection of draft beer available; my favorite was a sampling of local IPA’s. The food was good as well, typical pub choices with a few more elaborate meals for heartier appetites. We will no doubt visit again when in the area

After finishing the 50 mile Cremator race twice, I joked with Race Director Tim Waz that I needed to take up a more sedentary pursuit like knitting. We both laughed but truth is I really do like to sew, quilt, embroider, knit, and crochet. While in recent years I have concentrated almost entirely on quilting, I am now devoting much of my free time to knitting, everything from hats and scarfs to socks and shawls. I take classes at a wonderful yarn store up in Thomasville, GA, called Fuzzy Goat and find the camaraderie of other knitters and the challenge of learning new techniques a great way to balance my more athletic pursuits. So, in between races, I knit.

My first race of 2017 was another favorite, First Light in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve written about this race numerous times (I think I have finished the full at least 6 times). This race is usually a double for Maniacs and 50 Staters, with Mississippi Blues in Jackson, MS, on Saturday and First Light on Sunday. This year there was also a 50 State Reunion in Jackson; however, because of dangerous icy conditions, the MS Blues marathon was canceled. First Light, however, was still on. Weather in Mobile was freezing cold, 25 degrees at the start with a wind chill of 15, but with plenty of sun and only light winds.

I think the weather deterred many from running on such a cold morning. There were only 310 finishers in the full (down from 373 in 2016) and the popular half marathon had 571 finishers instead of 746 in 2016. I could tell that many people had stayed home because the number of back of the packers (my customary place) was greatly diminished. I usually have lots of company around me during the race because people who have ‘doubled’ tend to be slower on Sunday than Saturday, but this year I was alone for long stretches. I never had to worry about getting lost, though. There were bright arrows marked in flour at every turn as well as posted signs and, despite the cold, course marshals and police were out in abundance.

This year was memorable for several reasons, one marathon-related and the other not. I was chugging along, moving as well as I could under 6 layers of clothes plus a small backpack (I never use one during a race but it came in handy this time to load and unload mittens, hats, eyeglasses, and snacks without having to unzip my outer jacket. Just as I crossed Mobile Street onto Dauphin for the final 4 mile stretch to the finish line, I stumbled and couldn’t regain my balance. I fell hard onto the pavement, hitting my right knee and both outstretched hands. My sunglasses and cap fell off and in my stunned state and totally off-balance because of the backpack, layers of clothing, and my stunned surprise, I could only get up with the help of a kind policeman who came running to my aid. He wanted to call in medical help but I thanked him and said “no, I’m okay” and continued on my way, limping and sore. I had also bruised my diaphragm and sternum and had trouble catching my breath; for the next mile or so felt nauseated and had to stop and take a break. However, it was a straight shot to the finish line and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible so I ignored the aching of my body and crossed the timing mat in 6:19.

After getting my beans and rice and pasta salad with corn muffing, I stumbled back to my hotel room to shower, take stock of my wounds, and relax. I fell asleep at 5 pm, and fell into a sound slumber only to hear the jarring ring of the hotel room phone at 7:30. It turns out that my hotel, the Holiday Inn (my favorite place to stay in Mobile – it is right at the start line for the race and is a decent choice for this hotel brand), had a water main break and I had to move my car from one side of the parking lot to another side so it could be fixed. I quickly pulled on some clothes and shoes and went down to move my car. Then I went back to sleep, this time until morning.

Both the Savage Seven and the First Light races are highly recommended for walkers.

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon – November 12, 2016 (Fort Oglethorpe, GA)

This was a fun race. At one time, I had considered signing up for the full marathon here but I had reservations because of the 6-hour time limit. Even in those years when I could easily finish a marathon in under six, I was hesitant because so many things can interfere with doing well in a race.

So, to make things a lot less stressful for me, I signed up for the half marathon and built in some time to explore the historic park after the race. We drove up on Friday morning, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon. I had already checked in to the Hampton Inn at Fort Ringold, GA, so we were able to settle in until time for packet pickup between 4 and 8 pm at Fort Oglethorpe Baptist Church, about 7 ½ miles from the hotel and a short walk from the race start and finish.

There weren’t too many unique restaurants in the area so we decided to have an early supper at a nearby Applebee’s. After eating, it was time to unwind and relax in our hotel room. Both half and full races were set to begin at 7:30 Saturday morning (followed by a 5k at 8 am) so I set my alarm for 4 am. That would give me plenty of time to digest breakfast and make our way to the start, about 8 miles away.

It should be noted here that the race organizers had arranged for shuttle buses to stop at participating hotels at 6 and 6:30. Although the Hampton Inn was one of those hotels, it turned out that the 6:30 bus completely missed our hotel and left some runners stranded. Since I often take shuttles when they are offered, that would have left me in the lurch but because of the expected cold weather I had asked Darcy to drive me so I could stay in our nice warm car until I absolutely had to get out. As we made our way out the door of the hotel, my friend Mellody called out to me and explained the situation. We were happy to have her join us for the ride.

The weather was perfect – a cool 48 degrees at start, around 65 at the finish – but I was still glad to have the warmth of the car since that is chilly weather for me. Finally both Mellody and I had to find the portapotty line. Then, right on time, a cannon heralded the start of the races and we took off. The course, which winds through the historic battlefield with numerous monuments to fallen soldiers, is mostly paved and shaded – there is only a brief foray across grass and dirt for the first and last mile.

Aid stations were set up every couple of miles, with bananas, orange slices, gels, water, and Gatorade, offered by cheerful volunteers, many of them youngsters. The racers as well as the volunteers were friendly and enthusiastic. For first 8 miles or so I kept pace with Deborah who helped make the miles fly by as we chatted. She was fast, though, and after the halfway point she took off, finishing about 15 minutes ahead of me. Mellody was doing the full and trying hard to make the 6-hour cutoff time. We saw each other around mile 7 and then she too took off, whizzing past me. I was sure I could finish in about 3 hours but I was relaxed about it – half marathoners had the full 6 hours to complete the race, so stress was minimal.

In fact, I have nothing at all to complain about and can honestly write that I enjoyed the course immensely. Full marathoners had to repeat the loop again, with a few extra sections, but I was relieved and thankful I had signed up for the half. It was a relief to not have the burden of a strict time limit. My mind and legs were very grateful. Even though I tried my best and left everything I had out on the course, I was happy I only had to follow that loop once.

I crossed the finish line in 2:56 (I am nothing if not consistent!) and was given a medal which – this year – commemorated the state of Florida and its soldiers. There was hot soup and pizza and fruit at the finish. We also received a neat souvenir blanket, much nicer than the usual foil sheet. I felt so good that Darcy and I decided to stop at the Visitor’s Center and watch a movie about the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. We then had a satisfying lunch at O’Charley’s to celebrate. All in all, a very good day.

This half marathon is definitely recommended for walkers, and if you are fast, you might enjoy the full as well.

The Endless (Endless!) Mile – Alabaster, AL (October 22, 2016)

Originally I had planned to do a 100 miler in Georgia this weekend but I became more and more nervous as the time drew closer. In part this was due to my concerns of trying to complete 100 miles at one go while still having foot problems. I had also learned that this race would be on open city streets and I was worried about traffic and getting lost (there were other distances offered and each race followed a different route – that meant I couldn’t just blindly follow the people in front of me because they might be running alternate races). This increased the potential for getting lost to a much higher level.

Then I heard from friends about the Endless Mile in Alabama. This was a new race series to be held on a one mile paved course in a park with real bathrooms. It sounded good to me, especially once I learned that my friends Joyce and Ray would be there. Joyce had signed up for the 48 hour while I (wimp that I am) registered for the 24 hour. Other friends were there as well: Patsy and Andy from California (Joyce’s sister and brother-in-law) and Phil were also signed up for the 48 hour. I think the major inducement was the 100-mile buckle, promised to everyone in any of the races who finished at least 100 miles. Looking back, I probably could have done 100 miles in 2 days – I’ve done it several times – but I preferred the 24-hour option, especially in a race I hadn’t done before. There was also a 12-hour option and my friends Cheryl and Judy had signed up for that. It was fun to have so many people I knew at this race.

Darcy and I left for Alabama early on Friday afternoon. After a 5-hour drive, we arrived in the small town of Alabaster, found our Hampton Inn in neighboring Calera, and checked in without a problem. Our room was small but immaculate. Because it was too early for packet pickup, we stopped at an Olive Garden for lunch.   Then it was on to Veterans Park, about a 20-minute drive from our hotel.

The 48-hour race had already begun, with racers toing the line at 9 on Friday morning. We found Joyce and Ray’s impressive new tent and canopy and a few minutes later I saw Joyce run across the timing mat. We walked a lap together, a good idea for me so I could familiarize myself with the circular course and for Joyce so she could take a much-needed walk break. I stopped at the aid station where I then collected my bib, timing strips, and a nice long-sleeved cotton-poly shirt. The timing technology used in this race was one I was unfamiliar with. It consisted of two small rectangular plastic strips that racers had to pin to each side of their outer garment at hip level. I thought it might be a problem with some of my clothes (the strips could not be covered) but it turned out to be a non-issue and during the race I usually forgot about them. Every time we went across the map we could hear an audible tone and then could see our name and lap number on the computer screen a few feet past the mat. It all worked seamlessly.

Since the 24-hour did not start until 9 on Saturday, I had a chance to sleep in a little. While I prefer an earlier start to races, I welcomed the extra shuteye. After a light breakfast, we drove to Veterans Park and I set up my chairs, drop bags, and ice chest under Joyce and Ray’s canopy. Nine am approached quickly and the RD used an air horn to signal the start of the 12 and 24 hour races. Off we went, following the partially shaded loop around the park. Turns were marked with signs and chalked arrows on the pavement. I never did get lost, a definite plus in my book. However, I did find it hard to cut the tangents on the rather circuitous course because of all the wiggly turns and the need to dodge pedestrians, dog walkers, and others just out for a stroll on a beautiful fall weekend. While that tended to slow racers down a bit, mileage wise, it was certainly enjoyable to dog and people watch as we went around and around.

It was a tough race for me, despite the nice paved course and heated restrooms. The weather was cool during the morning and probably reached the mid-seventies during the day. The night, however, was much colder than I had expected. For the past six months, I’d been racing in extremely hot weather so the cool weather in Alabama came as an unwelcome surprise. Luckily I had packed a couple of jackets, a hat and gloves, and hand warmers but these were most definitely not enough to carry me through the 37 degree nighttime temperatures. I was freezing! One kind runner loaned me a heavy coat and Joyce and Patsy fitted me out with a warm blanket to hug my waist and legs, but I was still cold to the bone

In addition to the weather, I had problems once again with blisters on the balls of my feet. Unlike previous races (when these blisters developed after 65 miles), these blisters began to trouble me early on. By the time I had reached the marathon distance, I began to feel the acorn sized tender bumps develop on both feet. I changed shoes and put on heavily padded socks instead of my thin Injinjis but nothing helped. At one point during the night, when it was very quiet and everyone seemed to be taking a break, I put in my earbuds and listened to songs on my Shuffle – that seemed to take my mind off the pain and the cold, at least for a few miles. But the cold persisted and so did the foot pain. By 5 am I had had enough. I entered the heated restroom and called Darcy to come get me. Then I huddled in Joyce and Ray’s tent under a mountain of blankets and waited for Darcy’s arrival. I had completed 56 miles. That was fine with me.

So what could I have done differently? Well, for one thing, I should have thought to bring a lot more warm clothes with me. Late October can be cold, even in the south. I think if I had had mittens instead of gloves, my warmest jacket instead of a lighter one, and some scarves and hoodies, I would have been able to last a little longer in the cold. As far as the blisters go, my podiatrist assures me that custom orthotics would resolve my gait problems by helping to cushion my forefoot. The orthotics are on order and haven’t arrived yet so that issue has yet to be resolved.

The timing system worked well and I didn’t have any problems with it. The one aid station cooked up a variety of different meals during the day. It also had water, Gatorade, and plenty of sweet and salty snacks plus peanut butter and jelly quarters and bean and cheese quesadillas. Around 10 pm Saturday night, Domino’s delivered some pizzas and they were a godsend to me. Yum! People were extremely friendly and welcoming and the volunteers excellent. Everyone who completed 100 miles received a special buckle (17 people, including Joyce, Patsy, Andy, and Phil achieved that accomplishment) and I think there were medals for the rest of us. Truth is, I left before getting my medal – I was so cold that I only wanted to get into a warm car and back to a warmer hotel room.

Endless Mile did seem endless to me, but overall it was an excellent race, despite the cold and blisters. Recommended for walkers of any speed.

Run Around the World 24 Hour Race – Lebanon, TN (September 24, 2016)

This was the perfect ultra for me – a timed race on a paved certified one-mile two loop course with a fully stocked aid-station, cold water and ice, and an air-conditioned building with real bathrooms and showers plus a large gymnasium with benches and a clean floor to lie on. There were friendly people everywhere, not just the other runners but also friends and members who cheered on all the racers. The terrific volunteers anticipated every need; one especially vigilant young man would run up to me as I approached the aid station, fill my water bottle with ice cold water, and then hand it to me as I was moving on through. ‘No need to slow down, just keep walking and I’ll hand the bottle to you,’ he would tell me, understanding completely my desire to maintain pace. Even the weather cooperated; although it was very hot and humid during the day, I could always wander into the air-conditioning to cool off and rest while the evening hours brought cooler temperatures down into the mid-sixties.

It was a relatively long drive to Lebanon, about 9 hours. We stopped several times for rest breaks and breakfast and arrived in Tennessee around 2 o’clock. Our room at the Hampton Inn was not ready yet so we had lunch at Chili’s and then drove to the race site to check it out. We were greeted by Greg, a runner and volunteer, who explained the course (a lop-sided figure 8 that wound around Winfree Bryant Middle School and the College Hills Church of Christ) and told us where we could set up our drop bags and chairs. Just to make sure I knew where everything was, I wandered into the school and found the gym and the bathrooms. Satisfied and excited, I was ready to return to the hotel and get my stuff together for the 6 am start the next morning. I like starting early because I find waiting for races insufferably difficult, and this also meant we could leave early the next morning for home.

This event has numerous race options besides the 24 hour: 6 hour, 12 hour, half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile, and 100k. Both the 12 and 24 hour races begin at 6 am while the others start an hour later, except for the 6 hour which begins at noon. This means that the course is busy with people during daylight hours but is much less crowded during the evening. As it turned out, the number of people was never a problem because there was plenty of room on the course. There was also excellent line of sight and cones marking the transition points so it was impossible to get lost, a big plus for me. Each tenth mile of the course was marked so it was easy to figure out where we were at every moment. The course is well-lit and open only to participants and their supporters so there are no worries about traffic. I brought my headlamp and flashlight just in case but never had to use them.

Packet pickup began at 5 am on Saturday. Chips were attached to the bibs of racers and so had to be fastened on the outside of our garments. We also got short-sleeved technical tee shirts. I promptly gave mine away; I can’t see the point of even bringing home something I will never wear.

My friends Joyce and Ray were here for this race (Joyce was doing it for the third time) and they kindly let me put my chairs and ice chest under their canopy. At 6 am on the dot, we took off and my long day and night began. Yes, it did get hot and humid, but there was no rain and an occasional pleasant breeze. I knew that once the sun went down the temperature would drop. Around 3 in the afternoon, the heat began affect me, my feet started to swell, my shoes felt tight, and my legs ached. Ray set me up in the gym with a thick mat to lie down on and so I spent 30 minutes in blessed air conditioned comfort, with my feet elevated on a bench. By 3:30 I felt refreshed and, though I struggled with leg cramps while trying to stand back up on my feet, I was ready to attack the course again.

I never really took another break, although when Darcy came around 6 to bring me coffee, I did sit for a few minutes to eat, drink, and change my shoes and socks. Volunteers brought pizza in the afternoon and chicken sandwiches from Zaxby’s later in the evening. I had plenty to eat and no stomach issues, a nice change from my previous races this summer.

Around 9 pm, I could definitely feel the weather cool off – there was a time and temperature reading on the church’s electronic marquee so I could watch the drop in temperature as I passed by – but it never got uncomfortably cold. The evening hours were serene and peaceful, the moon a beautiful crescent that resembled a slice of orange candy, with the silence broken only by loudspeakers that blared popular music throughout the race. In fact, my only complaint about this race was the loud music that played nonstop. It was fine during the day but once nighttime arrived the music began to grate on my nerves especially as I passed by the several speakers.

My primary goal in this race was to complete a 50k so I could count it for Maniac statistics, but I really wanted more than that; after all, in my last 24-hour race at Dahlonega I managed 42 miles, so I thought for sure that I might reach 100k. It was beyond my dreams to reach 70 miles, something I had attained 3 years ago but had not reached since. My personal best is 86 miles back in 2011 at Across the Years. Mileage like that is no doubt unreachable for me now but I was hopeful that I could still manage somewhere in the 60-65 mile range. That’s why I was amazed when I got to 74 miles at race end. I placed second in the women’s 24-hour race and that was extremely satisfying!

Run Around the World is highly recommended for walkers – any distance would be a great experience. For walkers uncertain about whether they could finish a half or full marathon in 7 or 8 hours, they could take as long as 24 hours if necessary.

Dane’s Nearly Free Run – Destin, Florida (July 30, 2016)

The premise is a neat one – just finish the specified number of miles within your chosen race’s time frame and you will be refunded your entire race registration in cash. For example, if you select the 6 hour race, you would need to complete 24 miles within 6 hours in order to get your $24 registration fee back. The 8 hour race required 32 miles to get a refund of $32 and the 12 hour race required 48 miles to get back $48. Those are pretty cheap registration fees to begin with, even without the potential to get one’s money back. If you don’t complete the required mileage, the money is donated to the Air Force Special Operations Combat Control Association. I decided to register for the 8 hour race and hoped to do at least 26.2 miles. Even if I were able to finish 32 miles, my plan was to donate my refund back to the Combat Control Association. It’s pretty hard to find ultra races in the southeast in the deep heat of summer, so I was happy to sign up for an inexpensive race.

At this point in my recovery from foot surgery (just over 3 months), I wasn’t sure I could even get in a marathon distance but I was game to try. If I succeeded – great! If not, it would be a relatively inexpensive training race. Since the 8 hour race began at 11 am, we left early Saturday morning for the 3 hour drive to the popular beach resort town of Destin, arriving about an hour ahead of time thanks to entering into the Central Time Zone. We found the race site at the Morgan Sports Complex without a problem. I set up several chairs alongside the course, with my drop bag on one, a cooler with ice and snacks on another, and one just to sit on. After checking in with the race officials and getting my bibs (one for the front, one for the back), I just sat and waited. My friend Cheryl soon arrived and we kibitzed until the prerace briefing at 5 minutes to 11.

While this is an extremely low-key race, with only 23 entrants in all 3 races, there were a number of rules that had to be followed in order to avoid disqualification. For instance, racers could not:

  • set up any kind of shade for themselves – no umbrella or tent (although their supporters were free to do so)
  • leave the course to go into their (air-conditioned) car
  • receive aid outside of the official aid area

We were also promised to be yelled at, jeered, and encouraged to quit early (obviously so we would relinquish our registration fees) and every so often, race officials would walk the .83 mile course clockwise (as we ran or walked counter-clockwise) yelling at us to give up and ring the little bell to announce we were throwing in the towel. I think I was more worried about being scolded for walking than I was about the high heat and humidity.

And yes, it was indeed hot and humid. Someone said the temperature reached 110 degrees and that was probably accurate. A few trees along the paved course gave us a thin sliver of shade in certain areas and occasionally there was a warm breeze. The only real relief from the sun and heat came during the early afternoon when some cloud cover gave us a brief respite. Otherwise it was pretty miserable even for a heat lover like myself.

To reach the marathon distance, I had to complete 32 laps. My plan was to finish 16 laps in 4 hours and repeat. Although I had some distinct soreness in my right foot, I was able to move at a 14 minute per lap pace for the first couple of hours. As I walked, I was able to forget about the pain in my foot and instead concentrated my discomfort totally on the burdensome heat. I had brought energy bars, cheese sticks, candied ginger, and crackers, but I only wanted seltzer water (3 bottles) and S-caps. I tried to eat but had no appetite and couldn’t even finish a small granola bar. The aid station provided ice and water but no food or other drink. I was so glad I brought my seltzer because it helped settle my stomach somewhat. I was glad I was only doing the 8 hour race.

During the brief period of cloud cover, I felt slightly energized but that didn’t last. I was happy to finish lap 30 after 7 hours on the course. Two more and I was done, with a total 26.88 miles, good enough for 1st place finish for women in the 8 hour. I was content. Okay, so there was no medal, no tee shirt, no beer mug – just satisfaction for having finished a fun race in August heat.

Darcy met me at the finish line and helped me pack up the chairs and other stuff. We stopped at a McDonald’s for some chocolate milk, then Subway for sandwiches and beverages, and finally our hotel, an attractive and quiet Hampton Inn in Niceville, a short distance away. I was tired, cramping, and covered in salt and sweat but a cool shower and a good night’s sleep helped immensely.

I definitely need to ramp up my speed and rebuild my endurance and stamina but I’m sure that will come in time. Meanwhile, this race is highly recommended for walkers who want an inexpensive chance to get in some training miles. There are bathrooms right on the course (hooray!) and the entire course is asphalt except for a small section on grass. There are also places to sit but I like having my own chairs. Be sure to bring your own food and drink and anything else you think you might need. I’m not sure if this will become an annual event but if it does, I may try it again.