This is SUCH a good race and it seems to get better with each passing year. Race Director Kevin and his wife Annie and their corps of volunteers do an admirable job of putting together an event that was great in its first year, excellent in its second, and now, in its third iteration, is near perfect.
I’ve written about my previous experiences at the Stinger on this blog, so I won’t go into extensive detail here. I will mention the basics (397.6 meter track, 6, 12, or 24 hour options, heated bathrooms plus portapotties, aid-station with snacks, drinks, and meals including hot dogs, hamburgers, bacon, and more) and simply note that my previous experiences were not my best due to cold weather and rain or frost. Both times I left 4-5 hours early because I was freezing. I achieved 58 miles in 2017 and 66 miles in 2018, not bad performances but I could only imagine how much better I could do if I could only last the full 24 hours.
That made my goal for this year a straightforward one – I wanted to stay on the course for the full 24. To deal with the expected cold weather, I brought heavy sweatpants, my thick worsted Norwegian mittens, warm pullovers and hooded coats, along with the usual plethora of hats, scarves, and handwarmers. I was ready! The good news was that the rain predicted earlier in the week for race day never arrived and – although it was cold – it was never freezing.
However, I began the race with only 2 hours of sleep the night before, from 10 to midnight. The rest of the night was spent in bed but awake. Why? I have no idea. I was comfortable with the race (after all, I did it twice before), I couldn’t get lost, there are a dozen heated bathrooms, and no rain predicted. Still, I could not sleep.
I had only two problems during the race – the first sign of trouble was the return of painful blistesr on the sole of my right foot. I began to feel the soreness around mile 10, not a good sign, but I pushed through regardless. I was determined not to let the blisters stop me. My foot hurt the entire race but I pushed on through the pain. Fortunately, the track had been resurfaced and felt glorious overall, much gentler on legs and feet than the asphalt at Endless Mile last month.
And so I persisted. I changed shoes several times, leaving my most comfortable Hokas for the last 8 hours. I put a soft sock on my sore foot over the Injinji to provide more cushioning. Aside from a couple of bathroom trips, I did not sit down until Darcy came to check on me at 4 pm (no noon visit, too many football games!) – I took 15 minutes to sit, eat, drink, and talk to him. Then I was up and moving (hobbling) again.
My other problem was noise. My lowest point in a fixed time ultra usually begins around midnight and lasts until around 4 am (my usual awakening time). During those midnight to dawn hours, I want it to be quiet, and loud music upsets me, makes me grouchier than usual, and gives me a headache. During the daytime, the music doesn’t seem to bother me so much but at night I am crazed by the loudness. I am sure the reason the music was set to blare level was to keep us awake on the track, but it was the main reason I strongly considered texting my husband to come get me. I asked the volunteers to turn the noise down a bit and they did – for a while – but soon it was loud again. I escaped to the bathroom where the noise from the heater drowned out some of the sound, but eventually I had to return to moving around. Only my strong desire to keep on course for the entire 24 hours – plus my hesitation to wake my sleeping husband – kept me strong and motivated.
I must admit to another reason I remained on the course during my weakest hours. My friend Joyce was following my progress on the Live Tracking site for the race. I was embarrassed to think she would feel I was giving up (or giving in) to sleepiness or pain. She knows how I like to return to my hotel room to sleep and recharge, but in a 24 hour race, unless it is pouring rain, that should not be necessary. I didn’t want to appear a wimp. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t wet, I was just irritated and limping. It didn’t justify leaving the race. I kept moving.
By 3:30 am I began to feel better. The music was still loud but the tape now had a few songs I recognized. More people returned to the course after resting in their cars or tents and the increased activity kept me involved and motivated. The remaining hours passed quickly and I achieved my goal of staying the entire 24 hours without further problem, with a total of 74 miles.
This third iteration of the Stinger had some major improvements:
- We followed USATF track rules, which stipulate that lane 1 be reserved for runners and walkers who are ‘moving with purpose.’ This meant that I did not have to stay in the outer lanes unless I wanted to talk or move slowly. For me, this is a real boost. The second lane is reserved for passing, with the remaining lanes for groups and those shuffling along.
- We changed direction every 4 hours (instead of 3) which made it easier to calculate in my mind
- Timing was professionally done by Brandon Wilson and it worked perfectly, with large screens in both directions so we could easily keep track of our laps and miles
- This year we received a warm hoodie instead of a long-sleeved cotton shirt. This was not necessarily better (since I really like the tee shirts) but it was good to have a different item
Highly recommended it for walkers and runners of all speeds but sign up early because this year it filled up quickly.