Hot, Muggy, Rainy – Just Another Merrill’s Mile in Dahlonega, GA (July 1-3, 2017)

Our drive to Dahlonega on the 4th of July holiday weekend was thankfully uneventful. Traffic queued up around Atlanta but we kept moving, albeit slowly. We arrived at our hotel (the Holiday Inn, a decent comfortable place to stay in this area) around 2 pm, checked in, and then drove downtown so we could have a filling lunch at our favorite restaurant here, the Bourbon Grille. My menu choice is usually the steak and guacamole salad with an Orpheus IPA; both never fail to please. After finishing our meal, we walked over to Dahlonega Mountain Sports where I picked up my bib, shirt (a poly/cotton blend this year with a patriotic design – I’ve already worn it twice), and cap (24/48 hour participants usually get something extra – this year it was a cap, last year it was arm warmers). We had to wait until race day to get our chips (and this year, the timing people forgot to send the ankle straps so I pinned my chip to my shorts with safety pins).

I had registered for the 48 hour race to ensure that I would achieve my goal of at least 70 miles. It sounds pretty easy – just 35 miles a day and I’d be done. But though the .9902 mile course is a flat, paved, oval with excellent line of sight, the weather always makes it an enormous challenge. There is NO shade at all on the course so racers must endure the usually hot blazing sun and 100% humidity with no relief. This year the bugs – gnats, bees, mosquitos, flies – seemed especially bothersome, but that may have been due to my sporadic use of bug spray, especially on the last two days. I was concentrating so hard on accumulating laps that I neglected to use sunscreen and bug deterrent during the latter days of the race and soon paid the price with lots of itchy bites.

The race has numerous categories; one can choose to run or walk for 6, 12, 24 or 48 hours and then can select from day or night options. As I have posted in previous blog reviews of Merrill’s Mile, I think the wisest plan for 12 hour participants is to do the nighttime race because the weather is cooler and breezier. Rain can be expected at any time and, since there is no place to shelter from a rainstorm, it is best to have a tent or car to escape to if there are thunderstorms and lightening. Fortunately, this year we had only one perilous period of heavy rain around 5:30 pm on the first day; it caught me off guard and I got thoroughly soaked, giving me a good excuse to call it a day as soon as Darcy arrived to check on me.

The race for most of us began at nine on Saturday morning. Despite the heat, I managed 33 laps, about 32 miles and approximately a 50k, below my goal of 35 miles. I had hoped to stay until 7 pm or so, but the torrential downpour soaked my clothes and I was thinking only of getting something dry and then eating real food. There are two aid stations here, one at the halfway point with a water jug, and one at the start/finish line that has all kinds of sweet and salty snacks. Unfortunately, nothing appealed to me, not even the watermelon and ice pops (though I ate both) and I was really hankering for pizza. Darcy arrived about 6 pm and took me back to the hotel, stopping at a Little Caesar’s to get some takeout. After showering, changing clothes, and crawling into bed, I devoured several slices of cheese pizza and crazy bread and fell asleep.

I awoke early Sunday morning, had my coffee and got dressed, and woke up Darcy for the drive back to the base. It must have been about 5 am when I started on my first loop of the day. The only change in the weather was the absence of any wind at all (at least on Saturday, some sporadic breezes helped to cool us off) and it continued to be blistering hot. At least for a few hours before sunrise I took advantage of the relative coolness and did my fastest laps of the day. I left at 3pm Sunday, ready for a meal and shower. Total number of laps for Sunday: 35, more than on Saturday and in less time. We once again ate at Bourbon Street Grille and then it was back to the hotel for the evening. I needed at least 72 laps to achieve my goal of 70 miles, and by the end of the 2nd day of racing I had 68 laps. All I needed was 4 more so my plan was to get out to the base very early and finish up on Monday morning.

That’s exactly what I did. On Monday, I began at 4:30 am and managed to get to 72 laps very quickly. Darcy was to come get me between 8:30 am and 9, when the race officially ended. That made for some enjoyable hours when I could take my time and gather more miles without worrying about my goal. I had the opportunity to do several laps with Kena, my race director friend from Columbus, and waved and chatted with several others. Only a few of us diehards were left on the course, since many had completed their races or met their goals and left. The two or three dozen tents that had been set up along the course had disappeared and only a few remained. Around 8:40 am, I finished my last lap (a total of 82.1 miles) received my dogtag medal, and said my goodbyes.

Aside from the heat, humidity, bugs, and rain – this was once again a great race. I enjoyed the chance to see some of my racing friends (Bettie, Kena, Roxanna, David, Joe and Kelly Fejes) and meet new ones. And I am one step closer to my 7/70/2017 ultra goal.

For walkers, this is a great opportunity to test how well you do in extremes of heat and humidity. I would suggest choosing the night 12 hour option to avoid the worst of the high temperatures. Also note that the only cell phone company with service here is Verizon, so ATT customers like me are out of luck. I wore gaiters even though the course is paved and relatively debris-free. When I omitted them once after changing shoes and socks, I immediately got an errant twig in my shoe. Bring a water bottle to use; no need to carry it all the time (I usually left mine on a chair) but it is more convenient than having to find a plastic cup with your name on it at the aid station table.

A Few More Things about Sole Challenge, 2017 version

I knew as soon as I published my blog post on this race that I would probably remember several other items that should be mentioned. First, a headlamp or flashlight is critical. There are few lights on the course and several sections are completely dark. I did see some runners without lights but they must have had perfect night vision; for me, it was difficult to see the signs to turn at the curves and a flashlight helped. I always bring extra batteries, too, just in case.

This year I didn’t need medical assistance during the race, as I did in 2014, so I’m not sure if any was available. Usually there is at least one medic or EMT at a race, either as a volunteer or fellow runner, and that may indeed have been the case this year. However, had I needed emergency first aid I am not sure how I would have known how to get it or who to ask, especially during the evening hours. I was reassured by my friends Joyce and Ray who would have helped me out.

Today is Friday and healing is progressing. The blister on my right sole is still sensitive to touch but I can put weight on my foot without pain. My left ankle is more problematic; it is still swollen and sore and I cannot walk without altering my gait. I am anxious to resume my morning walks but I know it is best to be patient. I am glad there are no races on my calendar this month so I can recuperate fully.

Sole Challenge 48 Hour Race (Chambersburg, PA) – May 26, 2017

This race was aptly named since it was indeed a challenge for me. Although I have previously completed several 48 and 72 hour races with only an occasional problem or injury, some timed endurance courses hold more stumbling blocks than others. Sole Challenge is a good example of one of the more problematic races for me, and I think it is largely due to the nature of the course.

When I did the 24-hour version of this race back in 2014, after 22 hours I was pulled from the course because I was wandering around disoriented and nauseous. Volunteers quickly placed me on the ground and elevated my legs on a chair, the correct solution to get blood moving from my feet to my head and thus alleviating my dizziness. I also had swelling and tenderness in a tendon on my left ankle that was so painful I could barely tolerate the slightest touch or pressure. My total mileage for the 22 hours spent on my feet was a respectable 68 miles, so while I was disappointed to not reach a higher total, I was still satisfied.

This year was the first time for the 48 hour race. My friend Joyce, who knew I was searching for decent timed races so I could reach my goal of 7 ultras with at least 70 miles in 2017, encouraged me to register. The race had a lot of positive things going for it: a paved course, real bathrooms, rural peaceful countryside, and nearby hotels and restaurants. And so I registered.

Pennsylvania is a long way from Florida, especially when you are used to staying close to home. Our only major trip this year was to San Antonio; all our other jaunts have been within 500 miles of home. This is partly because of the expense of traveling but also because my husband finds driving long distances to be exhausting mentally and physically. The cost of flying is ‘sky-high’ for two people and is no longer enjoyable. There are plenty of races in the southeast to keep me busy but timed road races are still relatively rare, so I cajoled and wheedled Darcy into agreeing to make the PA trip.

We left early on Wednesday morning. After an uneventful drive to Greenville, SC, a prosperous bustling town, we spent the night at a pleasant Hilton Garden Inn. On Thursday morning we left very early for the 10 hour drive to Chambersburg. Our hotel there was a clean and attractive Hampton Inn, about 15 minutes from the race site at Norlo Park.

One of the major complaints I had about this race was the lack of communication between the RD and participants. I had no information other than what was mentioned on the race website and Facebook page and neither had been updated for weeks. I emailed the RD about packet pickup and never received a response. Only when I messaged him via FB did I finally get an answer. I later learned that the RD had sent out two ‘final instructions’ emails but I never received either one. It would certainly have made life easier if he had responded to my email and made sure I was on his mailing list.

Darcy and I had a late lunch at Applebee’s and then I packed my two drop bags (one with 4 extra pairs of shoes and socks) and a cooler stuffed with seltzer and snacks, laid out my clothes for the morning, and tried to work out a plan for the next couple of days. Unlike those brave souls (like my friend Joyce) who plan to stay on the course for the entire 48 hours, sleeping in tents or in their cars, I like to shower, change clothes, and sleep in a real bed in a heated or air conditioned hotel room. I knew I could manage at least one 24 hour period awake and moving but beyond that I would need to recharge and get actual rest. The weather prediction called for thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon and evening and showers on Sunday morning so I decided to tough it out on Friday, the first night, and then when the storms moved in on Saturday I would return to the hotel and sleep. On Sunday morning I would return to the course and finish the final 6 hours or so in the rain if I had to.

Of course, this did not work out at all as planned. The rain, mostly a light drizzle, began on Friday and continued off and on throughout the weekend. I made my way around the 1.5 mile loop course feeling strong and determined for the first 12 hours. I was extremely glad I remembered to wear gaiters because – despite the asphalt course – there were tiny pebbles that would have caused me to stop every so often to empty my shoes. By noon, I was getting hungry but the small aid station had only water, sports drink, soda, and fruit, cookies, and pretzels. I ate some of the snacks I had brought from home but knew that real food would soon be a necessity if I were to stave off stomach problems. By 2:30 pm I was becoming desperate. I saw a runner on the course eating what looked like grilled cheese but as I passed the aid station there was still only tired bananas and cookies. It turned out that one group of participants had a grill and was cooking for their runners. I thought about begging some food from them, offering to pay with cash, but knew they would probably offer me some and I didn’t want to cut into their supply. I started to text Darcy about bringing me an egg and cheese bagel from Dunkin Donuts. Around 3 pm, I noticed several pizza boxes had been deposited on the aid station table. There was no person there, just the pizza, but I figured it was for all of us racers and took one slice to eat now and one to save for later just in case no more food showed up.

A paucity of food was one of my other major complaints about this race. Yes, eventually there were hot dogs and hamburgers but I would not have known about these options if Ray, Joyce’s husband, who was there for the duration of the race volunteering his services, had not kept me informed. In fact, Ray kept me hydrated and fed throughout the race. The lack of other volunteers was noticeable. There was nobody to let us know about things to eat and drink. On Saturday when I caught someone walking to the aid station with two boxes of pizza, I intercepted them, opened the top box, and took out a slice before he could put the boxes on the aid table. It’s not like me to be so bold, but I was hungry! After the race there was no breakfast food at all. Or maybe there was but nobody told me. As I said, communication was sparse.

As Friday evening wore on, I began to get sleepy but I knew I could last the night as long as it didn’t get too cold or wet. Whether I could hang in there until later in the day on Saturday was another matter. I did take a break of about 40 minutes, sleeping while sitting in a chair. The overall fatigue I expected; what was more problematic was the beginning of a deep blister on the sole of my right foot and the twinges of pain I felt in the tendon on my left ankle. That tendon pain was familiar; it was the same pain I had felt the last time I did this race. I did change shoes and socks at least three times during those first 23 hours. It got cold enough for me to put on a warmer jacket and exchange my shorts for long pants. By 7 am on Saturday, I had had enough. I called Darcy to come get me. I needed at least 48 laps to get 70 miles but had only managed to finish about 42 laps before I left to go back to the hotel for a shower and nap. I was back by 3 in the afternoon and stayed until 7 Saturday night. Despite some rain showers and the ever-increasing pain in my ankle, I completed 86 miles before calling it a night. At least I had reached my primary goal of 70 miles, so anything over that number I considered a major victory. We ordered takeout from a nearby Cracker Barrel and I indulged in eggs and French toast and chocolate milk.

On Sunday morning I woke from a deep sleep feeling refreshed. Darcy drove me back to the park at 5 am and I breezed around the course, limping a little and wincing from twinges of pain, but feeling much better than the night before. By 8 am at the close of the race, I had 98.431 miles in approximately 32 hours spent on the course. The RD handed me a medal and we said our goodbyes to Ray and Joyce and returned to the hotel for one more shower and breakfast.

Our trip home took two days since Darcy wanted to break up the long days of driving. We stayed at a Hampton Inn at the Roanoke Airport (with an excellent dinner at Carrabba’s) and then a Fairfield Inn in Commerce, GA. It was good to finally reach Florida!

My thoughts on this race are mixed. I really like the heated bathrooms and the course is set in a beautiful park in farm country. The race is chip timed with an ankle chip as well as one on our bib and the timing results as far as I could tell were accurate.  There was no easy way to see our results after each lap, so that was frustrating.  As far as the course itself, I think that there is something with the particular nature of this course that bothers my feet. There are several sharp turns that cause my feet to rotate slightly off-balance and may be the reason for the tendonitis in my ankle. The hard surface and long uphill grades as well as the relentless pounding on asphalt also caused problems for me. Communication from the RD was minimal (or non-existent in my case) and he lacked a corps of volunteers to help him with the essential things that make a race function optimally. In addition to the 48 hour option, there were also 6, 12, and 24 hour choices, as well as a certified marathon distance. That’s a lot to handle for what is basically a one-person show. Another problem was an apparent lack of financial backing for the race series. Although the registration fees are hefty ($200 for the 48-hour) and all the timed races were well-attended, there must have been other costs that ate into the fees. According to the race website, people who finished 100 miles in the 24 and everyone who lasted for the full 48 were supposed to get buckles but I saw nary a one.

I’m glad I did this race since it helped push me closer towards my 7 ultra/70 mile goal, but I doubt I will pursue it again. For those walkers who want to give it a try, it is worthwhile. If I lived closer, I would probably enter the 12 hour and aim for a 50k, thus alleviating any negative toll on my mind and body.

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!

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.