A Peaceful Day at Bear Creek Farm: the 8 Hour Darkside Race, Moreland, GA (May 13, 2017)

The morning was overcast with a distinct promise of rain. The forecast had called for scattered showers and thunderstorms but we were lucky. There was a gentle rain for a few hours in the very early stages of this timed race, but the weather soon cleared and remained cloudy and overcast despite rising humidity in the afternoon.

Back when the Darkside 8 Hour was held on a track, I had sworn never to do the race again. Walking around and around on a quarter mile track nearly drove me bonkers. Then the race was moved to its present location at Bear Creek Farm and everything changed. Moreland is a quiet hamlet near Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, a serene and bucolic location. The course is a paved 1.02 mile loop that circles some residences, horse stables, dog kennels, and utility buildings. There are a few challenging but relatively minor hills. Racers move clockwise for the first four hours and run down those hills; once we change direction, however, those uphills are daunting, especially to my tired legs. Still, it was wonderful to be able to lift my eyes to look at the scenery and not have to concentrate watching my feet.

On Friday we drove to Peachtree City and then on to the farm to make sure we remembered the way. The last time I had done this race was several years ago and there had been a road detour. This time everything was clear. It took us about 20 minutes to return to Peachtree City where we checked in to a local Hampton Inn. We had a late lunch at Carrabba’s, a short walk from the hotel, and then retired to try and get some rest.

The race was to begin at 7 am and we were supposed to be on site by 6:30 to get our bibs. Because we like to there in plenty of time, we left the hotel at quarter to six and arrived at the ranch 15 minutes later. That allowed us lots of opportunity to greet new arrivals including Mellody, Scott, Deb, and Ron. This race is inexpensive, in part because all the munchies are provided by the registrants. Our contribution was two packages of peanut butter filled pretzels; others brought cookies, chips, trail mix, and pickles. With the water and Gatorade provided by the RD, we were ready. There was plenty to eat, far more than at a marathon or 50k.

The aid station is set up under a large covered pavilion with lots of tables and benches. There is really no need for a chair or tent but I brought a chair just in case and set that and my drop bag under the pavilion. We met our lap counters and lined up at the timing clock for an on-time start. I probably went out too fast because my first lap was at a 13+ minute pace and I knew I couldn’t maintain that speed for 8 hours. I was feeling good, however, after that difficult trail race last week so I just relaxed and enjoyed the day. After a few hours, the rain ceased and I slowed but overall it was a great day.
Since we were leaving for home after the race, Darcy checked out of the hotel by 11 and spent the rest of the day sitting under the pavilion and watching us go around lap after lap. I knew by noon that it would be hard if not impossible for me to achieve a 50k so I decided to do 27 laps and call it a day. At least it would count as an ultra and we could leave an hour before the race officially ended to make the 5 hour drive back.

There are many good things about this race:
• Low registration fee (only $40 plus munchies)
• Peaceful setting
• Friendly participants
• Low-key atmosphere
There is really nothing negative to say, although some would be disappointed that there are no shirts or medals. This was my 233 marathon/ultra and I have too many medals and shirts, so that was not a problem for me. My lap counter was not very supportive (in her defense, she also was tending to a baby) and I had to constantly get her attention as I passed by the timing clock. I am used to lap counters shouting out my name, cheering me on, and telling me my current lap so I was relieved when she handed her board of runners over to another more enthusiastic volunteer. But that was a minor complaint. Overall this is a very walker-friendly race and one I will undoubtedly do again.

A Test of Endurance at Fort Benning, GA: Operation Endurance 24 Hour Race – March 25, 2017

Wow, this was quite a great weekend on so many levels. It was my first attempt to do 70 miles in an ultra for this year, the first step in my goal of completing 70 miles in 7 ultras in honor of reaching 70 years of age in 2017. I was quite nervous the evening before the race. Although I have done this race in previous years and knew what to expect, I wasn’t sure I could manage so many miles, especially since I had only finished one marathon early in January and then had become accustomed to doing 13.1 miles in my most recent races. Half marathons are not a good way to train for an ultra and I wondered if my endurance had suffered as a result.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, but as we left for Columbus, GA, on Friday morning I wasn’t so sure. Our first stop was the visitor center on the army base so we could have a background check (required of everyone entering the base) and get our temporary visitor pass. This makes it a lot easier on race morning when there might be a time crunch. We then drove several miles up the road to the Hilton Garden Inn, located in a bucolic setting around a lake filled with Canada geese. We’d stayed there several times before and it never fails to please. After checking in, we headed downtown to the Cannon Brew Pub, another favorite of ours, where we filled up on burgers and beer.

Back at the hotel, I laid out my clothes and packed two large drop bags with six pairs of shoes and socks in one and rain gear, extra shirts, Vaseline, Band-Aids, jackets, and other paraphernalia in the other. Then I filled my ice chest, not with ice, but with snacks and seltzer. That was about all I could do to get ready. I tried to relax by watching television and knitting. It was about 11 pm by the time I finally fell asleep.

Morning came quickly. I rose about 4 am to drink my coffee and eat my bread. I dressed, read a little, and then woke Darcy at 6:30 so we could head out to the base. We arrived around 7 and began to unload our vehicle. We set up two chairs near the start and right under the tent with tables and chairs available for runners to use. I checked in, got my bib (chip on the reverse) and short-sleeve cotton/poly shirt, and chatted with Race Director Vikena (Kena) and Timekeeper Perry and several of the volunteers.

I decided to be very upfront with my goal, something I am usually hesitant to do in case I fail. But I knew I would need every bit of help I could get, especially if the predicted rainstorms came and I got wet or cold (or worse, both wet AND cold). I told Kena and Perry that I wanted to get at least 70 miles and if I started complaining and wanted to stop, to please tell me to stop being such a baby and to suck it up buttercup, etc. etc. They told everyone else about my upcoming birthday and how I wanted to get to 70 miles and before I knew it I had an entire cheering section of volunteers and racers who would encourage me throughout the race.

My friend Judy soon arrived and set up her chair next to mine. At a few minutes before 8, we took our place behind the runners and got ready to go. Kena gave some last-minute instructions and we were off. The weather was cool, in the low 60’s, and pleasant. I soon removed my jacket and tied it around my waist. As the sun rose, I donned my sunglasses. The course is fine-grained dirt, sand, and gravel on a flat oval loop track. Gaiters, for me at least, are a necessity and help keep out the debris. The distance is just under one mile, so to achieve 70 miles, I had to do 71 miles. The course is well-lit at night and there is some shade during the day, a good thing since it was fairly hot in the afternoon.

There are so many good things about this race and I have written about them extensively in my previous race reports. During the day (from 9 to 5 on Saturday) the gym is open and racers can use real bathrooms in air-conditioned comfort. For those who do not want to leave the course and for those times when the gym is closed, there are six portapotties close by the start/finish line. The one aid station has a wide variety of salty and sweet snacks as well as sandwiches throughout the day and pizza at night. Concentrating so hard on reaching my mileage goal, I neglected my rule about eating properly and as a result experienced some digestive issues. The always helpful volunteers kept me supplied with broth and Ramen noodles; the salty soups seemed to help a great deal.

Around and around and around I went, calculating the laps as the hours ticked by. I realized by 8 pm, 12 hours into the race, that I had completed almost exactly the same number of miles, 41, as I had reached last year in the 12 hour race. That made me hopeful. I was a year older and had experienced two foot surgeries since that prior race but it seems I hadn’t slowed down all that much.

By 9:30, the first raindrops fell, just a light sporadic drizzle that soon ended. The breeze picked up a little but once the rain ceased it was pleasant. I felt like I could go on like this forever. Sure, my legs were tired, my feet sore, and I had dirt inside my gaiters, but nothing so painful that I wanted the race to end. Then at midnight the rains began again, this time in earnest. My shorts got soaked and the rain pricked my skin. Bug bites on my legs started to itch. I changed my shoes once because the instep on one foot was starting to hurt. My Hokas are loose and comfortable so they were my go-to alternative. And if they didn’t help, I had four more pairs to choose from.

One high point occurred during the early evening: Kena had left the course and returned with a beautiful birthday cake for me. It was a charming and thoughtful gesture and a tasty one as well. Although I’ve baked and purchased lots of cakes for my boys and husband, I myself hadn’t had a birthday cake just for me since I was a little girl. Thank you, Kena! I shared the cake with whomever wanted a sweet treat.

Another memorable experience was meeting and racing with Goose, a young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, who did an amazing job, completing 40 miles in 12 hours. He never seemed to stop moving, at all, and I had the privilege of walking with him when he occasionally took a walk break around the course. The two of us portrayed the young and ‘seasoned’ ends of the racing spectrum.

At 6 am on Sunday morning I had finished 72 laps – 71.71 miles – and decided that would be sufficient. Although I had 2 hours to go before the race officially ended, I was cold, wet, and very tired. I texted Darcy and he responded that he was on his way to get me. Hurray, I am one race closer to my goal, only six more to go.

Once back at the hotel, I showered and we had breakfast and then headed home. Of course, afterwards I had second thoughts about quitting so early. Maybe if I had stayed those last two hours I might have achieved 75 miles or more. I guess that will have to wait until next year!

This race is highly recommended for walkers as well as runners. One of my favorites!

Crooked Road 24 Hour Ultra – November 19, 2016 (Rocky Mount, VA)

Usually on the weekend before Thanksgiving we travel to Texas so I can do one of the UltraCentric races in Grapevine, TX. This was the first year that our plans changed and we decided to stay local. It turns out that ‘local’ has many definitions. Virginia is several states away from Florida and too far to drive in one day so we ended up spending one night on the road both going and returning. Despite the distance, it was a good alternative to UltraCentric, especially when I learned that UC was canceled because the RD was ill.

We left on Thursday morning and drove as far as Greenville, SC. Our hotel was a pristine Holiday Garden Inn and we both had a good night’s sleep after having lunch, with a birthday burger for Darcy, at Red Robin. We made it to Roanoke, VA, by afternoon the next day. The race itself was at Waid park in Rocky Mount, VA, but we decided to stay in Roanoke at another Hilton Garden Inn, about a 45 minute drive away. There were closer hotels but not any that matched my loyalty programs. That turned out to be a wise decision because those other hotels had a ladybug problem that would have definitely caused me problems (not so much the ladybugs, but the possibility of perhaps other less friendly bugs).

We drove to packet pickup at the park on Friday afternoon and met up with friends Joyce and Ray. Joyce had done this race before and was very familiar with it so she walked the course with me to help allay my fears of getting lost. It is a 1.1815 mile course, and I usually like courses that are at least 1 mile in length so it’s easy to keep track of the miles. The shirt was long sleeve tech, so I promptly gifted it to Joyce. I had other friends doing this race as well – Judy from GA was there as were Don and Marion from Montreal, Canada. Later, when the results were published, I would find out that both Joyce and Marion set age-group records. What is even more amazing is that Joyce has completed over 100 miles in two 48 hour events within the last month and has another 24 hour on Thanksgiving weekend. Her stamina and persistence is astounding.

Me, I was not so lucky. I had a major problem as we stood waiting for the race to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning. Suddenly I felt a painful spasm in my lower back that caused me to turn to Darcy, who was standing by my side, and exclaim to him that my back just seized up. I am not sure if it was anxiety, the cold weather, or a combination of both, but my back continued to bother me throughout the day and into the evening. As the wind picked up and the temperature fell, I began to feel miserable. Because of the 45 minute drive to and from the race site, I had told Darcy to pick me up by 10 pm. I knew I would never be able to tolerate the early morning freezing cold that was predicted. However, by 7:30 that night, my back was worse and I decided to call it a day. My minimum goal was a 50k so I could count it in my Maniac statistics; I managed to do just over 36 miles, pretty pitiful for what was supposed to be a 24 hour event, but it still counts.

We headed back the next day, spending the night at a pleasant Fairfield Inn in Commerce, GA. We left early the next morning and arrived back in Florida by early afternoon. It was a long trip and my back is still sore, though I somehow managed to plod through the local Turkey Trot 5k with a personal worst on Thanksgiving morning. Today my back is better, thanks to my trusty old heating pad; evidently heat is helping to alleviate the spasm and relieve the pain.

Crooked Road is a good race on an easy-to-remember two-loop course. It’s mostly flat cinder-covered dirt so gaiters are a must. There is one fully-stocked aid station that offered hamburgers at lunch time and pizza at dinner and lots of goodies throughout. The RD and volunteers are welcoming and extremely helpful. The price is very reasonable; if you sign up early, it only costs about $40 plus processing fees. And it is a good idea to sign up as soon as the decision to do the race is made because it fills up fast. The only problem is the cold weather. The wind chill during the wee hours of Sunday morning reached was 22 degrees. That is way too cold for this Florida transplant! As long as walkers can tolerate freezing weather, this race is a fine choice.

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.

8 Hours of HELL – Englewood Beach, FL (August 20, 2016)

This race is honestly named. It truly IS 8 hours of hot, humid, punishing, grueling exercise on a 3.05-mile trail in Ann Dever State Park in Englewood Beach. Despite that, the race had a lot of things going for it. Heat doesn’t usually bother me (or at least, it did not until this summer) and even though it is a trail race, it is mostly packed shell and pebbles (although there are – at least to this pavement lover – a fair amount of stubborn rocks and roots). There are real bathrooms nearby. A covered pavilion has tables and benches with room to set up a personal aid area. My feet were in pretty good shape. More to the point, I had completed 62 miles at this same park last November at the Save the Daylight race. It was hard but I managed.

So, what happened to me here this Saturday? I could only manage to finish 21 miles, not even a marathon distance. That means it doesn’t count as a race for my Maniac statistics. It does, of course, have significance for teaching me some valuable lessons as well as learning to accept that not every event will be a happy one. I guess out of over 220 marathons and ultramarathons, having one or two that falls completely apart is to be expected.

My plan was to try and finish 9 laps with a total of 27.45 miles. Eight laps would only yield just over 24 miles, so it was 9 or nothing. The race began at 10 am and the weather was already 80 plus and humid. Even sitting under the pavilion was shirt-drenching. RD Justin gave us a few last minute instructions and about 30-35 of us took off. I was at the very end, naturally, so I was not surprised when everyone disappeared around the bend. I kept my eyes on the ground to watch for any rocks and roots determined to trip me and, aside from the debilitating heat, I felt pretty good. Over one short wooden bridge and then one longer one, past the half mile marker, then the one mile, the mile and a half, and the two-mile marker – all seemed to be good. Still following the arrows, I made another turn and then – whoops, there was the one-mile marker again! How did that happen? I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. I turned around to retrace my steps and began asking people who were running towards me how to get to mile 3. They pointed, I followed, and eventually found my way back to a recognizable place.

But getting lost cost me, not only in time and mileage but also mental courage. I had begun to panic when I realized I had somehow missed a turn. I lost at least 30 minutes by going in the wrong direction and having to retrace my steps. When I mentioned it at the aid station, I was told others had made the same error. After giving my bib number to the lap counters I set off again, this time determined not to get lost. After I hit mile 2, I looked carefully and saw that there was indeed an arrow pointing to the right but it was on the left side of the road and it looked as though we were supposed to make a quick brief right and then turn left (where 2 more arrows pointed up the road). I moved the first arrow to the left side of the road so I and others wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Later, someone moved it to the middle of the road, but that was okay and much more understandable than hidden on the left.

Bottom line – I think that people who are setting up directional signs for a race should walk the course with people who are NOT familiar with the course so any problems can be identified and signs appropriately placed.

Anyhow, my timing was completely off and I realized that I would not be able to get in 9 laps. As it got hotter (and yes, it did get even hotter) and as I got more and more tired, I had to watch the trail very carefully. My feet began to hurt. Initially I had put on a pair of Sketchers trail shoes, lightweight but probably too small, and after 3 hours on the course my feet started to swell. I switched to my Hokas, made a trip to the restroom, drank some seltzer water, and tried to eat something. But I didn’t find any food appealing. I tried a few potato chips and a peanut butter quarter. Nothing helped. I was glad I had brought along 3 small bottles of seltzer because that, along with water, was the only thing I seemed able to digest.

By 6 hours, I had had enough. I called Darcy to pick me up in an hour (our hotel, the Fairfield Inn, was about 45 minutes away) and was able to complete 7 laps before he arrived, bearing a serving of chocolate milk. I thanked the volunteers and RD and we left. We stopped at Publix to get some groceries (crackers, hummus, salad, cheddar cheese, and a little 4 pack of wine) and we had a picnic back at the hotel after my much-needed shower.

It was a day of discouragement, marked by several things I simply could not control. Getting lost, losing my appetite, wearing tight shoes, dealing with the hot sun and a pebbly course – it all seemed pretty overwhelming. I came across a huge tortoise along the trail that seemed to be moving faster than I was during that last lap.

Would I recommend this race for walkers? Yes, but with certain caveats – you must love the heat, enjoy trail races, and plan ahead (make sure to walk the course at least once before the race to make sure you understand the course). Me, I think I will skip this one next year.

 

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.