Stress Fracture Update

I have been completely out of the racing world since the middle of January when I managed 53 miles at the FastTrack 24 hour race despite excruciating pain. I am trying desperately to recover from 4 metatarsal stress fractures in my left foot, but the ‘cure’ for stress fractures is to completely rest the fractured appendage. This means that, during all my waking hours, I must wear a knee-high boot that completely stabilizes my foot and makes any kind of aerobic activity impossible.

My only foray into racing has been to live vicariously through race reports from my friends and – to be frank – reading about their exploits often leaves me envious and depressed. I want to be ‘out there’ moving and, at least for the present, I cannot. I’ve been absent from Facebook because I get so saddened when learning about new races I must miss or reading about ones I’ve signed up for but had to DNS. Walking is my preferred way of dealing with stress, anxiety, and frustration, and that avenue has been frustrated for the last four months.

Yesterday I went to my sports medicine doctor at the University of Florida for a 10-week checkup. To say I was anxious is to minimize the duress I’ve been feeling during this entire recuperative period. I moaned and groaned during the entire trip to Gainesville and for days before the actual journey.

I wish I could say now that I no longer must wear the dreaded boot (dubbed Frankie, after the frenzied wife and mother in the television show The Middle). The news I received at this checkup was decidedly mixed. While it seems that there has been some healing, I still have pain on the anterior part of my foot. I am scheduled for an MRI next week, followed by a meeting with my doctor the same day to discuss the results and plan a strategy for healing and for weaning me off the boot. The very next day I will have a DEXA scan to examine my bone density and make sure my existing osteopenia has not devolved into osteoporosis.

So for the upcoming week it is back to the boot and complete rest for my sore foot. This enforced recovery period is the longest time I have ever been so sedentary and that includes complete bedrest during my complicated pregnancies. I’ve studied the medical literature as well as popular articles, both print and online, on running injuries and stress fractures to see if there are ways I can speed up recovery. As a result, I learned to avoid NSAIDS (they are supposed to retard healing), increase my intake of vitamin D and calcium (to improve bone density), and eat 4 to 6 prunes a day (the potassium has been shown to encourage bone health). Three times a week I lift weights and do abdominal exercises as well as physical therapy stretches to keep my shoulder and piriformis muscles strong (those weaknesses were due to previous injuries). As an adolescent, I used to enjoy hula-hooping so I bought a weighted hula hoop from a company based in Oregon and now spend some time each day with my hoop while watching television. But to be honest, these are all very poor substitutes for racing.

How do I spend all this down time? I knit and crochet various items, especially hats, shawls, and stoles. Some of these I keep, especially the ones made from wool that must be hand-washed and blocked, but most of the others I donate. My recent favorite charity is the Comfort Shawl Project coordinated by the School of Nursing at the University of Florida. So far, I’ve donated 10 shawls to the project, which gives the shawls to patients in the Palliative Care Unit at Shands Hospital. I have several more on my needles (knitting parlance for ‘in the works’). I also make hats for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

In addition to knitting and crocheting, I also read and sew and quilt and I have become quite adept at doing most of these activities (not the reading though) while binge watching Netflix, Hulu, and BritBox. I also eat, partly out of boredom, but also to improve my diet by increasing my protein intake. Since I rarely eat meat and can usually subsist on fruit, nuts, cheese, and bread (and wine and beer in moderation), I often run a protein deficit, so now I make a point of including fish and the occasional steak or chicken in my meals. I normally avoid juice, preferring real fruit, but these days I take my vitamin D pills with a half glass of calcium and vitamin D-fortified orange juice. For my sweet tooth, I choose ice cream with a topping of nuts or granola, so I can get that added boost of calcium. Yes, I can rationalize that ice cream and frozen yogurt is a health food, though I try not to eat the entire container at one sitting. The downside of this relatively healthy (for me) diet – plus all this inactivity – is that I have gained 6 pounds! That is very depressing. But the bottom line is that I would rather weight 112 pounds instead of 106 if that means I am healthier and can get back out on the road walking again.

I can now understand why stress fractures are considered the runner’s worst nightmare. Once a stress fracture occurs, it becomes more likely it will happen again and to the same bone. That means that it will be crucial, once I get the green light to race again, to keep my training in check and stop at the first sign of foot pain. I will never again be able to do 35 marathons and ultras in a year and I am okay with that if I can still do at least one long race a month, taking breaks as needed.

There are so many great races I want to register for, but I am (not so patiently) waiting until my physician gives me the go-ahead. Until then, I am trying to keep busy, eat right, and stay positive.

 

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“Poor Decisions Make for Better Stories” – Grumble, Grumble, Grumble

The quote is from the Dahlonega Ultra-Marathon Association; the grumbling is all mine. During the 11 years of my racing career I have been fortunate to suffer only a few injuries and mishaps. Back in 2013, I broke my wrist on a trail race and had to cancel a trip to Israel for the Jerusalem Marathon; the surgery resulted in a titanium plate and screws but otherwise did not handicap me. A year later I experienced a bothersome bout with a piriformis problem that was resolved with exercise and physical therapy. In both cases, I still pushed through with my existing race schedule; the race in Jerusalem was my only DNS.

Even my two foot surgeries in 2016 did not keep me from racing after a 6 week recovery period. I believed I was invincible; I may have slowed down quite a bit but I was a fast healer and felt I could push on through almost anything as long as I gritted my teeth and kept moving.

Well, it turns out I was wrong. Very wrong. I am not invincible. I’m also older and slower. But I am also stubborn. After my most recent foot surgery the day before Thanksgiving last year, I was determined to continue with my planned racing schedule. After all, I would have 2 full weeks to recuperate and the surgery involved just one toe. I was sure I could do it. I also had the blessing of my podiatrist, who understood my fervor and my persistence but nevertheless cautioned me to go slowly and STOP if I hurt. I did not heed his advice and I am now paying the price.

Two weeks after surgery I did the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic 50k. I hurt the entire time but did not have sense enough to stop. Then, two weeks later, I did Lucky 13, the 13 marathon/13 day challenge in Ocala. I pushed through despite unceasing pain in my sore foot. After that series I rested for 3 weeks, skipping a planned half marathon double weekend so I could concentrate on an upcoming 24 hour race, FastTrack in Palatka. An hour into the 24 hour race, I knew I was in trouble but did I stop? Of course not. I persisted for another 20 hours and racked up 53 miles.

But resting after the 24 hour race did not diminish the pain. A follow-up visit to my podiatrist resulted in a stern warning to do no weight bearing at all for 10 days. I obeyed but still the pain persisted. I realized it was time to consult with a specialist, so I made an appointment at the University of Florida’s sports medicine clinic. The result? I was diagnosed with four stress fractures in my left foot (my little toe was the only intact appendage), my foot was encased in a special boot, and I was warned that it might take 6 to 12 weeks for the fractures to heal. Since I am post-menopausal with osteopenia, that period might well take the entire 12 weeks. No weight bearing activity for that period at all. Grumble, grumble, grumble!!

I realize now, with the enlightening benefit of hindsight, that I should never have attempted that 50k so soon after surgery. But even if I had insisted on trying to do that race, I should have realized that the pain was a warning signal to quit. I always hate to give up mid-race and so I convinced myself I could soldier through. But that was foolish – I realize that now – and I am paying the price. I have learned my lesson.

Now I am trying to be a model patient. I am working on strengthening my upper body with weights and doing lots of reading, knitting, and puzzles. I am taking vitamin D and eating prunes every day (a professor at Florida State University has studied the effect of eating a daily serving of prunes to increase bone density in post-menopausal women and found a positive result). Despite my grumbling I am trying to send positive thoughts to the metatarsal bones in my foot. Even so, my grumbling continues. Pity Darcy, my poor husband, who must listen (or pretend to listen) to my venting and complaining. One of my pastimes is searching for races I can add to my schedule once I am back on track. For the sake of family and friends, as well as myself, I hope that recovery comes quickly and completely.

 

 

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.

Lucky 13 – My Tale of 13 Marathons in 13 Days in Ocala, Florida (December 22, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

It used to be that doing 7 marathons in 7 days was a sufficient achievement. For many over-achievers, the Savage 7, held the week between Christmas and the New Year, was more than enough of a challenge. Then the Mainly Marathons group began putting together 9 marathons (and half and ultramarathons) in one long string. That seemed overwhelming to me. When I did 4 races as part of the Mainly Marathon Appalachian series last October, I was in awe of the runners and walkers who did all 9 of those races.

So why did I succumb to the even more daunting challenge of completing 13 marathons in as many days? I am even now shaking my head in amazement that I signed up for this crazy challenge. To think that I actually did all 13 races is even more astounding.

But my friend Joyce was determined to register for Lucky 13 and she is very persuasive. While she is a dedicated ultra runner with an amazing ability to run difficult trails with aplomb, she was concerned that having to get up each morning to do another marathon was going to be a major hurdle for her. She also knows that I like to race during the day and sleep in a hotel at night and can return to multiday races the next morning without hesitation, so she thought I might be the perfect person to make sure we both returned to the race site every single day. Since this was billed as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, we would only get the chance to see if we could succeed if we signed up. So, arm sufficiently twisted, I agreed.

Since I usually do at least one of the Savage 7 marathons every December, I’ve already posted the details about the race venue and setup on this blog. The site is the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway in Ocala, Florida, on a wide paved path in a lovely wooded park. There is plenty of free parking, real bathrooms, and occasional wildlife (squirrels, deer, wild turkeys). Fortunately, most bears are in hibernation at this time of year.

Participants can choose between a half marathon or full marathon for one or multiple days. Each race begins at 5 am and, because the park is dark until sunrise, a head lamp or flashlight is a necessity. After an initial 1.2 mile loop around the parking lot, we then do 5 laps around the greenway. Even when I have been completely alone on several laps I have never felt nervous or anxious and amazingly enough I have never been lost (the course is marked with floured arrows).

Joyce and I and our husbands, Ray and Darcy, stayed at a convenient Residence Inn, where we had access to rooms with kitchenettes complete with refrigerators, microwaves, and range top. We stocked up on easy to heat and eat food and drink at a nearby Publix. I packed 4 suitcases with clothes and shoes and every other essential I could think of. Because the weather was so variable (hot then cold then rainy then cold and rainy), it was hard to bring everything. Looking back, I definitely wished I had packed more cold weather togs, especially for the last few days.

I tried to take notes each evening about that day’s race but – to be honest – I was so exhausted after I finished, that showering, changing into clean clothes, and resting was about all I could do. I didn’t read or knit much, just dozed, read email, or did crossword puzzles until I fell asleep.

Here is what I remember:

  • The first two days went without incident. Joyce and I were feeling pretty good, though my left foot was still pretty sore from surgery and I limped my way throughout. Our pace was very similar and we chatted as we walked, which made the hours pass relatively quickly. Our finishing times were not that great, but not terrible either; we rationalized that we were conserving out energy to last through 13 races. Made sense to us. First day, 7:13, and second day, 7:26
  • Day 3 was about the same, though Joyce and I had started to change pace and I finished about 15 minutes ahead of her, despite my attempts to slow down a little. I seem to settle into one regular consistent pace and – unless I am hurting or the weather is abominable – I stick to that pace. This day my time was 7:24, with Joyce perhaps 10 minutes behind me
  • Day 4 was Christmas Day. I was feeling very tired and my legs ached and my feet hurt. I finished in 7:26 (I can’t remember where Joyce was but she was close)
  • On the day after Christmas I felt pretty good. I think a good night’s sleep helped. My foot didn’t start hurting until the second lap and then only bothered me periodically. I considered that a good sign. My time was 7:17. Again, Joyce was close behind me.
  • It was around this time, about 6 days in, when Joyce started having shin pain. This may have been caused by constant walking/running on asphalt (she is more used to trails) so she had to slow down a little to keep the pain in check. This was worrisome but neither one of us had ever allowed soreness or injury to restrain us. I had slept poorly and was tired and my foot hurt terribly. But I too persisted. Finishing time for day 6 was 7:28.
  • Day 7 was one of my best days. I cannot explain this. It may have been due to good weather (60 degrees, clear, no sun, no rain) or the fact that I listened to music on my iPod (I was alone for most laps). My feet hurt just a little on that last 5 miles. Finishing time: 7:14
  • The weather started to get colder from day 8 forward. I was bone tired after a broken night’s sleep. My operated-on toe ached and kept waking me up. I just wanted to get through the day. I finished in 7:27
  • On day 9, the weather turned colder but was not as windy as the day before. My feet hurt so badly that I changed from my Hokas to my most comfortable shoes after lap 4. Joyce was about 2 miles behind me on the course so I made the decision to wait until she reached the start/finish so we could do the last lap together. That turned out to be a good idea because she was starting to lean to the left and her shin was hurting badly. We both finished in 8:18. It was a rough day
  • What a difference a day makes! For some reason, day 10 (New Year’s Eve) was my best day. Again, I have no idea why. I had a good night’s sleep but that was probably due to taking Advil at 9 pm to stop my toe throbbing and the sleeping pill I took an hour later to knock me out. The day started out cold, 43 degrees, but rose to the mid 60’s and was sunny. I finished in 7:08, but by race end I had sore feet, sore calves, and my left instep was swollen and painful. Serves me right for having so much fun by speeding up a little
  • Yech, day 11 was miserable – cold, wet, and windy. This, combined with my sore feet and calves, made all 5 laps excruciating. It didn’t help that I stepped in a puddle on the first lap and so had to walk with wet shoes and socks the entire race (it didn’t make sense to try and change shoes in the rain). It was a completely crazy maddening day. Joyce and I finished in about 8:10 and I was glad when the day was over. What a way to begin 2018!
  • Day 12 was 30 degrees at the start with a wind chill of 20 but at least it was clear with no rain. Another difficult day, in part due to my sore left foot but also because I hate the cold. However, I was grateful it didn’t rain. I finished in 7:51. I couldn’t tell you where Joyce was because as soon as I past the finish line I wanted to get into a warm car and go to a warm hotel room. I was freezing!
  • Day 13 – we were going to finish today no matter what! Of course, this day had the nastiest weather of all. It was bitter cold. It also rained nonstop the first 4 laps so my clothes got soaked. I abhor being wet and cold. I was miserable. Darcy had come to check on me around 10 am and I stopped to go to the bathroom and then change into something dry in the car before I continued on. Unfortunately, the long pants I put on were relaxed cargo pants that I usually sleep in, and as I began the next lap, the rain continued to pound and my pants sagged – a lot. I had an honest-to-goodness wardrobe malfunction on my hands. I couldn’t continue with my pants hanging around my knees so I grabbed the waistline as best I could (through 5 layers of shirts and jackets, not an easy task). I turned around and made my way BACK to the start/finish to change into something more fitting (literally). All I could quickly find was a pair of crops so I quickly put them on and headed back out (Sonny, one of our racers who was volunteering that day, drove me to the point where I had left) and I managed to finish the race, despite freezing legs, sore feet, and soaked clothes. I finished in 8:29, the very last finisher, but I finished!

So, Lucky 13 is now history! I hope not to do 13 in a row ever again. It was fun (now that it is over, I can say that) and it was encouraging to learn that some days I could do well even after some not-so-good days. I don’t think I damaged my operated-on foot too badly and I plan to give myself at least 10 days before I do another race (2 half marathons coming up soon). I also learned that weather plays an enormous role in how well I do in a race. I much prefer warmth to cold and rain will always be a problem for me. Good stuff to know

Just a few other tidbits if you are thinking of trying 1 or more of these races in the future:

  • The aid stations have food and drink consistent with ultras, so you can expect sandwich quarters, cookies, pickles, etc. The turn-around aid station, thanks to Ed and Bonnie, had bags of chips and popcorn plus mini Snickers and other candies. My favorite snack was little fudgy chocolate brownie bits; I usually managed to have one or two each time I came by
  • Everyone gets one cotton tee shirt, regardless of the number of races run. The goodie bag this year also had a mug, some pens, and a license plate frame.
  • Finishers get a medal, with each day a different color lanyard. There were not enough medals to go around but for me that was not a problem; I already have too many medals. However, it was disappointing for that to happen. I believe RD Chuck will order more and mail them out
  • One of the best things about this series is catching up with running friends who return here every year. It is such a joy to touch base with them and share our stories. It’s also wonderful to meet new friends. The relaxed laid-back atmosphere of these races encourages congeniality

As I mentioned in my previous post on 2018 goals, I don’t plan on doing any more marathons so I’m glad I did Lucky 13. It was a great way to start the new year!

 

Tallahassee UltraDistance Classic 50K – December 9, 2017

I’ve done this 50k many times – it is one of the best ultras for walkers and runners new to ultra racing and remains a favorite of more seasoned ultramarathoners. Because the 50k has the same 10 hour time limit as the 50 miler, velocity-challenged racers don’t have to worry about being pulled from the course because they are too slow. But this year I had a special concern; the day before Thanksgiving I had surgery on my left foot. It was just one toe this time, but the surgery involved cutting into bone and releasing a too-tight tendon. I spent the next two weeks in a cast with my foot elevated and iced. Not much walking, and no training, for that entire period for me! It was frustrating but I was willing to go through the pain and lack of activity if it meant that my propensity for blisters on the sole of that foot would be lessened.

My wonderful podiatrist knew I had a 50k planned for two weeks post-surgery and agreed to set up my postop appointment for the Thursday before race day. Of course, that only gave me one day (!) to get used to wearing shoes again and no real time to work on speed or endurance. But that was okay because I had 10 hours to complete the race. Although in my previous Tallahassee ultras I had finishing times ranging from a PR of 7:03 to a much slower 8:48, I suspected my time would be much slower this year. Still, was confident I would be able to finish under the 10 hour limit.

Saturday morning was freezing cold in Wakulla Springs State Park, about 15 miles south of Tallahassee. I dressed warmly, with two long-sleeved shirts, a jacket, a coat with hood, cowl, hat, heavy-duty mittens from Norway, hand warmers, and long pants. Packet pickup begins about an hour before the 7 am race start, so Darcy drove me to the park and waited while I picked up my bib (with a chip on the back – new for this year!) and a neat hoody, white with the TUDC logo and picture of a bear on the front. The medium is roomy but fits well and I am wearing it as I type this report.

I saw several of my friends who also do this race every year, including Mellody, Terri, Vicki, Chuck, and Gary, as well as a contingent of runners from the Turtle Running Club in Ocala. The Turtles set up a cheering station to give support to their members but they also cheered on all the rest of us as well, writing our names in chalk on the pavement and enthusiastically yelling at us as we passed them on the two out-and-backs along the 6.2 mile course.

My plan was to treat this as a training ‘get back into racing’ experience because my foot hurt whenever I put weight on it. This gave me a noticeable and painful limp. I wanted to try to do at least 2-3 laps. If it turned out I was in too much pain, I would give Darcy a call and ask him to come get me. It took me almost 2 hours to do the first lap. That meant I was averaging about an 18 minute mile. I began to wonder if indeed I would be able to make the 10 hour time limit, that is, if I decided to stay for the entire race. On my second lap, I consciously tried to speed up a little, working through the discomfort. I did the same on the third lap. Both times I was able to cut about 14 minutes off my lap time. I decided that I would stay for the remaining two laps, even if it took me all 10 hours to finish.

Eventually the faster racers finished their 50k and 50 miles; soon I was the only 50k person left on the course. Since those running the 50 miler share the same course as the 50k people, I wasn’t completely alone but there were long stretches when it felt like it was just me out for a leisurely stroll. The Turtles had packed up and returned to Ocala.  On the fifth and final lap, I made sure to thank the patient (and freezing) volunteers at each of the two aid stations at the turn-arounds and made my way slowly to the finish line, where I was handed a lovely ceramic medal. My official time was 8:57:54 and I was dead last but very glad I stayed to complete the race. Now I am once again resting, elevating, and icing!

The Stinger 24 Hour Race – November 11, 2017 (Hampton, GA)

I had a completely different race planned for this weekend, the Azalea 24 Hour Race in Palatka, Florida, but Hurricane Irma had swept through Ravine State Gardens and destroyed much of the course. That was a disappointment, especially since Azalea was my backup ‘last chance’ race to accomplish my 7/70/2017 mile goal just in case I missed reaching it at Save the Daylight (SD).

Fortunately, I did achieve my goal at SD, so I could have simply taken the weekend off. However, when I learned about an inaugural race to be run on a track in a small town just south of Atlanta, I couldn’t resist signing up for it. I could relax without the pressure of mileage (if I did at least a 50k, which shouldn’t be a problem in 24 hours) and the camaraderie of other racers. Inaugural races are always a risk because so much depends on factors outside my control: the organizational skills of the race director, enough trained volunteers, availability of food and beverages, and so much more. I had a terrific experience at Southern Discomfort in July and now I was willing to take a chance on the Stinger.

It turned out to be a good idea. Race Director Kevin Randolph, with the help of his lovely wife Annie and some great volunteers, had all the bases covered, from seamless packet pickup on the morning of the race to excellent volunteers, great food (including hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza), plentiful ‘real’ bathrooms, cotton/poly long sleeve tees, and a rubberized track easy on the feet and I did not get any blisters (I recommend wearing gaiters because there are occasional small rocks that can creep into shoes). We even changed direction every three hours. I knew that as a walker in a track race I would have to stay on the outside lanes but that was okay with me since I wasn’t trying for high mileage. As the shorter races finished (there were 3, 6, and 12 hour options as well) and runners thinned out, I eventually could move closer to the inner lanes without holding up faster racers.

Hampton is a very small town with a few fast food restaurants and no brand name hotels but the larger and very prosperous town of McDonough is only about 5 miles away. McDonough has a plethora of retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. We stayed at a pristine Hilton Garden Inn and walked to Taco Mac for dinner Friday evening. My ever-accommodating husband was able to check on me several times on Saturday; the only drawback was heavy traffic during the height of the shopping day, making a10 minute commute take twice as long.

There are many good things about this race, but to be fair, I found some aspects of a track race to be rather difficult. Of course, since I had to stay in the outer lanes, I covered more ground than I would have wished but that was expected. What was harder for me was the realization that the track was 397.7 meters which was just under 400 meters and that meant that to achieve one mile, it was necessary to do more than 4 circuits. I don’t pretend to understand the math. I just know that having to do five laps to get to one mile nearly drove me bonkers. And there was no way I could keep track of the numbers in my head. I relied heavily on the wonderful timekeepers, two young women who acted as my personal cheering section and stayed throughout the duration of the race, despite fatigue, cold, and misty weather. I guess if there was one change I would make, it would be to have a reliable electronic timing board (there was such a board, but it stopped working early on) so I would not have to keep asking for my mileage.

I knew the weather would be cold (for me), in the 70’s in the daytime and in the 40’s at night. I brought a LOT of warm clothes so I could layer up as the temperature declined. I was ready or so I thought. No rain at all was predicted so I omitted my rain gear. That turned out to be a mistake because in the wee hours of Sunday morning it did indeed start to rain intermittently. Although I changed from long pants to warmer long pants on Saturday evening, my warm pants were not warm enough. I should have brought sweats and worn them over my regular pants. My core was warm but my legs froze.

By 12:30-1:00 Sunday morning I had reached 50 miles. It had started to mist and my legs were stiffening from fatigue and cold. I wanted to sit on my zero-gravity chair for a few minutes to rest my feet and legs but the chair was wet from the rain. I kept moving, sneaking peaks at my watch, waiting until 4 am so I could call Darcy and ask him to come get me. I only managed to get 8 additional miles during those hours so I must have been moving very very slowly! At a few minutes to 4, I texted Darcy and he texted back that he would come right away. I am not sure how I could do these races without my marathon man to help me out!

As I said my goodbyes to RD Kevin and thanked the volunteers and ‘my’ wonderful time keepers, Kevin told me I had placed as 2nd female in the 24 hour and awarded me a lovely hip flask (alas, it was not filled with brandy but I plan to change that!).  We went back to the hotel where I showered and had a nap and a filling breakfast before returning home to a much warmer Florida.

This race is highly recommended for walkers and I hope to do it again (but I will bring warmer clothes plus rain gear, just in case).

Mission Accomplished! Save the Daylight 48 Hour Race – Englewood Beach, FL (November 3, 2017)

I did it! I exceeded my primary goal for 2017 – 7 ultras with at least 70 miles – at Save the Daylight at Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park in Englewood Beach, with 102.3 miles, good enough to get a medal (for finishing the race), a 34-ounce Gusto Mug (for completing 100k), and a buckle (for getting at least 100 miles). That’s quite a lot of bling! In addition, all racers got their choice of a tech or cotton/poly shirt, a small flashlight to use after dark, and a toothbrush (important for those of us who stay overnight on the course).

I did the 24 hour here in 2015, finishing with 100k. Last year I did one of the Eight Hours of Hell races in the same park, on practically the same course, but still managed to get lost (a few arrows were missing) and only achieved 22 miles. I keep coming back because, while the course is trail, it is mostly crushed shells and soft pine straw covered dirt. There are a few rocks and roots that might possibly cause me trouble, but on the first couple of laps on the 3.3 mile loop, I try to memorize where these potential tripping hazards are located. There are two smooth wooden plank bridges (my favorite part because I can lift my eyes to look around me at the scenery) along with a short loop around a pond, with real bathrooms that we pass every go-around. If I must do a trail race, this is the one I prefer.

To get to 70 miles, I would have to complete 22 laps, a total of 72.6 miles. My plan was to begin at 9 am on Friday with the other 48 hour racers, spend as long as I could on the course while hoping to achieve at least 10 or 11 laps. Then I would go back to our hotel (the Hampton Inn in Port Charlotte, a 45 minute drive away), shower, eat, sleep, and then return to the course just before daylight. Because the park is completely dark at night, I was fearful of falling even though I was armed with a flashlight, headlamp, and backup batteries. I would try to spend the 2nd night at the race, even if I was resting or pacing my friend Joyce. That plan worked. I must admit that I felt some trepidation and reluctance on Saturday morning as I realized I had to walk on a trail for 24 more hours but my desire to reach my goal pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Although we stayed at Port Charlotte, the host hotel (Gem Coast Inn) is much closer, about 3 miles from the race site. We wanted to stay at a Hilton family hotel so we opted for the Hampton Inn but, while it was very clean and quiet, it had a poor selection of Direct TV channels (no MSNBC or Weather Channel, loss of power during important college football games) so we would probably not stay there again.

There is a covered pavilion with a fully-stocked aid station and plenty of room to set up a drop bag and chair or two. My friends Joyce and Ray were there (Joyce did over 115 miles in the 48 hour!) so I set up my supplies under their canopy. Ray made sure we both had plenty of bug spray, snacks, drinks, and other needs. There is a second unmanned aid station at the half-way point with water, ice, Tailwind, bug repellant, and sunscreen. During the race, there is plenty to eat – hamburgers, sandwiches, watermelon, pizza, and more.

Although the race is not chip timed, the volunteer time keepers quickly get to know the runners (and walkers) and are responsive with our lap count. RD Justin knew about my mileage goal this year and asked if I wanted bib number 7 or 70. I chose #70 – it was easy to remember my age (usually by 20 hours into a timed race, I can barely remember my name let alone my bib number).

I asked Justin if he would make sure every turn on the course was well-marked (it was) and if he would mark the entrance to the park after circling the pond with lights and an arrow (he did). That eased my tired addled brain as I grew more fatigued during the later hours on the course.

By 8 pm on Friday, I had completed 11 laps (36 miles) so when I returned around 6:30 Saturday morning, I knew I only had 11 more laps to go. As the sun rose and it warmed to the mid-80’s, I managed to do those laps fairly quickly. By 6 that evening, Darcy returned to check on me and bring me some hot coffee to keep me alert and awake. I told him I had met my goal and was now going to try for that 100 mile buckle. I could either do exactly 100 miles, stopping at the 1 mile marker on my 30th lap, or could continue around to do 102.3 miles. By the wee hours of Sunday morning, I easily had enough time to do that complete 31st lap. My legs and feet were tired and sore, but my emotions were high; I was elated. Justin gave me my awards (medal, mug, buckle) and I changed into warmer clothes (nights were in the mid-60’s) so I could rest and relax while waiting for Darcy to come get me.

We went back to the hotel so I could shower and change and then we headed home, stopping at Blue Highway in Micanopy for pizza, antipasti, and calzone.

This is a grand race for walkers who want to test their mettle on a mild trail. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to achieve an important goal.