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!

Keeping Busy Over the Holidays: a local 5k Turkey Trot and a semi-local 50k

The Turkey Trot: Over the 10 years spanning my racing career I have always managed to find many races to keep me in shape and help me justify eating lots of calorie-laden holiday treats. This year, I cut back dramatically (on racing, not eating) and so have only two races to discuss since Crooked Road. The first is an easy fun 5k that attracts lots of Tallahassee residents. There is also a 1 miler, 10k, and 15k but most people do the 5k. I did the race last year with my son and granddaughter and enjoyed it so I felt it worthwhile to keep this new tradition alive.

The weather was a little warmer than in 2015 (good) but all the races were delayed about 40 minutes (not so good) to allow everyone a chance to get to the start line (understandable). Fortunately I did not have to return home to put a turkey in the oven this year. Instead we postponed our big dinner until the weekend and instead hosted a brunch. Most of that meal had already been prepared so there was little for me to do after the race except serve the meal. That made the delay more palatable.

My back was still sore so I did not try to race the 5k. Instead I just went with the flow of leisure walkers in the back of the last corral. By mile 2, I had warmed up considerably and ignored my backache to walk a little faster. It still took me about 46 minutes to finish, a PW for that distance but I was unconcerned. It was a lot of fun. All finishers received a turkey medal.

The Tallahassee UltraDistance Classic 50k: This was my very first ultra way back in 2008. I try to do it every year or at least every other year because it is such a well-organized low-key race. The course consists of 5 loops on a 6.2 mile paved roadway in beautiful Wakulla State Park, about 30 minutes south of Tallahassee. Traffic is held to a minimum, the road is wide, the 3 aid stations well-stocked with water, Gatorade, and treats (in 2 of them), the volunteers kindly and welcoming; it is just overall a great race. The only problem I have is dealing with the first long, very long, out-and-back; I sometimes think I will never reach that initial turnaround. But then I do and the journey back and out to the second turnaround doesn’t seem that bad.

There is also a 50 mile event and those runners must do 8 loops plus an extra section. There is a 10 hour cutoff for both races. Since it takes me at least 13 plus hours to do a 50 miler, I wouldn’t consider trying that distance at Wakulla but the 50k is a pleasure. I will probably never repeat my personal best here (7:03 in 2013) but no worries. As long as I finish within that 10 hour time frame, I am good.

This year the weather was perfect – cool at the 7 am start, sunny and breezy later in the day. Packet pickup is the morning of the race. Instead of a tee shirt we were given a visor (unfortunately it is not adjustable and since the elastic strap is too tight for my head I will probably give it away). Finishers received an attractive ceramic medal with a drawing of a cute baby manatee on it. For people coming from out of town, the historic Wakulla Springs Lodge is right on the course, with special rates for runners and walkers. A big plus are the real bathrooms across from the main aid station. This year I finished in 7:48:46; since my goal was to complete the race in under 8 hours, I was pleased. This race is highly recommended for walkers.

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.

Wildcat 50K (September 3, 2016) – Pensacola, Florida

After an unsuccessful trail attempt a couple of weeks ago, I am proud to say that this time I made it! I was very discouraged at 8 Hours of Hell because it took me 7 hours to complete only 21 miles, 5 miles short of a marathon. In fact, I was so concerned about not being able to do the distance at Wildcat that I dropped from the 100k to the 50k. That turned out to be a wise decision because 50k on a trail turned out to be sufficient challenge for me.

On Friday we left for Pensacola, leaving behind the fallout from Hurricane Hermine. We first made sure our house still had electricity and running water, we picked up tree limbs and other debris strewn around our yard, and then headed out on our westbound trek. The hurricane had left the western portion of the Florida panhandle unscathed so we were traveling in the right direction! We did not know until later in the day that our son’s apartment had lost electricity and it took 5 days before power was restored. How fortunate that he and his family lived only 20 minutes away from us; they stayed at our place until they got their power back on Tuesday.

We arrived in Pensacola around 3 pm and checked into a clean and pleasant Hampton Inn on Pine Forest Road, about 3 ½ miles from the race site. We then drove to the race venue at the Escambia County Equestrian Center to check it out and get an idea of how long it would take us to arrive in the morning (about 15 minutes). A quick dinner at Applebee’s and we were ready to return to the hotel and relax. Neither of us had slept well the night before because of the hurricane; we were exhausted.

Saturday morning we were up early and left for the race by 6:30 am. Wildcat has 3 race options. The 100 miler and 100k have a 40-hour cutoff while participants in the 50k have 20 hours to complete that option. Those are pretty generous cutoff times but the course was difficult (to me) and the weather was brutal, very hot and humid, with shade only in the wooded areas. It was possible to pick up race packets on Friday but we arrived too late in the day so we waited until Saturday morning just before the race. Included in the race packet was our bib, a gel and some vitamin samples, and a bright green buff with Wildcat Ultra printed on it. The buff was a nice surprise and a pleasant change from a tech tee shirt I would never wear.

The Equestrian Center has a large covered pavilion with benches and plenty of room for tents and personal aid stations. I met up with my friends Joyce and Ray and set up my chair, cooler, and drop bag under their canopy. Joyce was doing the 100 miler so they were expecting to stay until the end of the race at midnight on Monday morning. Me, I just wanted to finish before darkness set in on Saturday evening.

The course description sounds complex but it really was easy to follow, at least in daylight hours. I never got lost; there were plenty of runners in front of me to point out the way. The start and finish were in front of the covered pavilion and housed the timing table, the aid station, and real bathrooms. The first section crossed a large grassy area, a brief asphalt section, and a grassy loop around a large swamp. There was a ‘Warning – Snakes’ sign near the swamp so most people generally gave it a wide berth, though I never did see any reptiles. This section of grass had a definite camber to it and several times my ankle slipped and almost twisted on itself.

The next section took us through a shaded wood. The ground here was mostly sand and pine needles. I enjoyed this section because of the break from the sun and I liked the soft pliant surface. The trail in the wood led to a cleared sandy area under power lines, up a long hill that followed the power lines, and then into another wooded loop. Then it was back down the power line hill and into the third section of forest, past a grassy area and children’s playground, and then into a rooty section of woods. I slowed down considerably when I walked through this particular area but it was my favorite section because once we got through it, the timing table was straight ahead – another lap accomplished! The 50k required 12 full laps and a partial 13th lap that omitted the 2 loop sections.

My feet held up fairly well during the race. I had to change shoes and socks once because my feet had swollen. During the final laps I developed a blister on the ball of one foot and had to limp and change my gait to accommodate it. I managed to finish by 5:30 pm with a time of 9:29:15. That was a personal worst for me but I was simply pleased to finish! I was tired, sunburned, and salty, so we drove back to the hotel so I could shower and rest while Darcy got us takeout from the nearby Cracker Barrel.

The best part about this race was the people; everyone was encouraging and helpful. I saw several friends – Joyce and Ray, Drina and Michael, Cheryl, and Mellody, as well as several runners and volunteers I recognized from the Destin race in July. The timekeepers and volunteers were friendly and extremely attentive. The aid station had plenty of ice and fluids as well as an assortment of goodies plus meals at specific times of the day. Unfortunately, I was still plagued by digestive issues during this race and did not find anything appealing but there was plenty of food to choose from.

The worst part was the terrain. Most trail runners would think this course was a piece of cake; it is only from my admittedly jaundiced view of trails that it could be called difficult. So, any potential runners and walkers who are intrigued by this course, please don’t be put off by my hesitation. I just don’t enjoy trails. I am not signing up for any more trail races and this time I REALLY MEAN IT! But I am glad I did Wildcat for my final trail race.

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.