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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I remember:

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

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

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

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

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



Racing Goals for 2018

Before I write about my experience at Lucky 13, the one-time challenge to complete 13 marathons in 13 days, I first want to write about my racing goals for the new year. Of course, goals are always subject to change (that’s why I use the term ‘goals’ rather than ‘resolutions’) but here is what I hope to achieve in 2018.

I plan to concentrate on ultramarathons, especially timed ultras. I hope to do at least 8 timed races of at least 24 hours each. Although I only need to reach 32 miles per race to count it for my Maniac statistics, I want to try to achieve at least 50 miles in each event. In at least one of those 24-hour races, I am going to try to manage 80 miles, something I have not been able to achieve in several years. It may be a stretch but if everything comes together in one great race, it could be possible. Of course, my minimum goals in every race I do are simple – have fun, don’t die. Sounds simple, but it can sometimes be a challenge to know if or when to quit a race. That’s one reason I like te timed ultras – there is no such thing as a DNF as long as I have done at least one lap on the course.

My Racing Goals for 2017

I usually don’t publicize my goals in case I don’t manage to reach them but, what the heck, I am making a change this year. In 2017, I turn seventy and that is a big deal to me (and probably to most people!). I get to move to a whole new age group, 70-74, or in some races 70 and up. I think many runners and walkers don’t mind getting older, especially if it puts them in a higher age group. Competition lessens the older we get, although there will always be plenty of faster people than myself. Still, it feels good to sometimes see that I am the only female in my particular age group.

So, for 2017, the year I turn 70, my primary goal is to do at least 7 ultramarathons, completing at least 70 miles in each one. Of course, these must be timed races, and the longer the better. I am seeking 48 hour races as my preferred choice but I will try several 24 hour ones as well. If conditions are excellent and I am in good form with no injuries and as long as the weather cooperates, I can occasionally handle 70 miles in a 24 hour race. Just to give myself as many opportunities as possible to achieve this goal, I will try to sign up for as many of these timed races in the southeast as I can find.

This will be a major challenge for me but I am determined to try and achieve it!

Blue Mountain Beach Half Marathon (Santa Rosa Beach, FL) – October 9, 2016

As Hurricane Matthew blew through the Caribbean and headed towards eastern Florida and up the southeast coast, bringing disastrous flooding and strong winds to many communities, there was a good chance this race would be canceled. Although the race site in Florida’s panhandle was spared from Matthew’s fury, the race organizers were from the low country of South Carolina, and that was indeed right along the hurricane’s path. Fortunately, the race director was able to travel successfully to western Florida and all races (a 5k and 10 miler on Saturday and a 10k and half marathon on Sunday) went on as planned.

We drove to the panhandle on Saturday afternoon, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon Central Time. Packet pickup began at 3 at Pandora’s, a local restaurant, so we spent half an hour exploring the surrounding area and walking to Grayton Beach along the sand dunes. One of the reasons I decided to sign up for this race was the low-cost option of a ‘retro’ registration. Participants who signed up for the retro version would get an official time but no tee shirt or medal. That was fine with me. I only wanted the official time and certainly didn’t need another medal and I didn’t want a tee shirt I would never wear. So for $45, I was in. That made packet pickup easy; I just got my bib (with chip on the back) and that was it.

Our hotel was about 25 minutes away, a very attractive and clean Marriott Courtyard. After checking in, we walked to the nearby Applebee’s and enjoyed an early dinner (although we usually prefer to eat in a locally recommended restaurant, sometimes convenience trumps taste – and Applebee’s has very good sweet potato fries, my favorite). We relaxed in our room while Darcy watched football and I knitted.

Sunday morning arrived and I woke a little before 3:30 am so I could have my breakfast and get dressed well before the 7 am start. Our plan was to leave around 6 so we could have plenty of time to check out the start. Only problem was that I had forgotten to change the time on my IPad to Central Time and so I woke an hour earlier than I needed to. That was okay; I just read until it was time to go.

Instead of my usual pre-race jitters I was fairly at ease. Funny how half marathons don’t stress me out the way longer races – or trail races – do. Still, I was a bit concerned about getting lost since this was a small race. I had no idea how very small the race was, in part because the 10k people were mixed in with the half marathoners and the bibs didn’t distinguish between races. We all started at 7 am and ran the first 6.2 miles together, across the timing mat at the 10k point, and the half marathoners continued along route 30A.

I hadn’t seen a map of the course although I had read the description on the website. But the street names meant nothing to me since I was unfamiliar with the area so I was surprised when we made a loop around the town of Grayton, headed down the highway for a couple of miles, and then made that same Grayton loop again. That brought us to 6 miles, with the timing tent just .2 down the road. From there we stayed on 30A until we took a left at mile 8 and went uphill towards a touristy residential beach area (though we couldn’t see the water at all because of all the 3 story houses) to the turnaround at mile 10. At that point, we retraced our steps back to the timing tent. There were only 92 runners in the half and I came in at #82, so I wasn’t at the very end but close. Still, I finished in 2:54:22, under my goal of 3 hours, so I was completely satisfied. Placing 2nd in my age group helped too.

Darcy met me at the finish line and we walked to the award ceremony and food and drink area at Pandora’s. There was fruit, granola bars, and little sub sandwiches (ham or beef) plus soda and water. As we got ready to leave, one of the volunteers asked me if I wanted a tee shirt. I explained that I was a retro runner but she replied that they had plenty of shirts and since the half marathon shirt was cotton and a pretty light blue, a gratefully accepted one.

Then it was back to our hotel so I could take a quick shower and take advantage of our requested late check out. As we drove home, Darcy asked me if I would do this race again (something he always asks me after a race) and I said ‘yes’ – I would definitely consider this race again. I think I was the only person who walked the entire way so it was definitely a little lonely along parts of the course, but now that I understand the course layout, I wouldn’t worry about getting lost. Most of the route is along a paved bike path and the rest is on paved streets. I was glad I wore gaiters because there was sand and some pebbles that could easily have penetrated my shoes so I’m sure they helped (though I didn’t see anyone else with gaiters on).

Recommended for walkers.

Right, Left, Right, Left: Marching on to Foot Surgery (Times Two) – Update

Long plagued by inherited foot problems like bunions, hammertoes, and overly constrained tendons, I finally decided to take a break from racing and deal with some necessary foot surgeries. Although I had originally registered for the Ottawa Marathon on Memorial Day weekend, our recent plans to concentrate on more local races meant no air travel for a while and so we canceled our Canadian trip plans. With this break in my schedule, it seemed like late spring would be a good time to undergo these operations.

I’ve already mentioned the first surgery in my previous post so I will just give a quick recap here.  After I completed the Lake Minneola Half Marathon in April, I underwent the first foot surgery three days later. I’ll omit all the excruciating details but I had several things done: my big toe nail was removed completely (it had begun as a ‘normal’ black toe but never fell off and instead began to harden and grow sideways into my skin), a troublesome bunion was shaved off, two hammertoes were straightened. Since this involved not only soft tissue incisions but also bone reduction, I had the surgery done under general anesthesia. Overall, the experience went well. Three days postop, I was off all pain medications, though I had occasional breakthrough pain plus pins, stitches, casts, and bandages hampering my mobility.

When I returned for my three week visit, the stitches and hard casts were removed and I was given a splint to wear for protection and straightening, a cream to soften scars, and some range of motion exercises. At four weeks I could actually fit my foot (if I removed the cumbersome splint) into one of my wider running shoes. My toes are still somewhat painful but much better than before and I am very hopeful. I am supposed to wear the splint at night and when I am resting.

On May 19, three weeks and one day after my first surgery, I returned to the podiatry office for my second surgery. Since this operation on my left foot was to involve only soft tissue issues (a release of a tight tendon on my big toe and straightening two other toes), I had it done under a local anesthesia with only Ambien to relax me. About 16 years ago, I had had a big bunion removed and a hammertoe straightened but in the intervening years, my other toes had begun to cause problems. Since I was taking time off from racing to deal with one foot, I figured it would be wise to double up and take care of both problems, incurring only a few additional weeks’ recovery time. I fell into a relaxed dreamy haze after the local anesthetic took effect; my husband was allowed to stay with me in the surgical area and he watched the doctor and surgical nurse work on my foot while I kept my eyes shut tight.  Later he filled me in on what transpired.  I’m glad I had my eyes closed.

About midnight the local anesthetic wore off and I awoke in desperate severe pain. I quickly swallowed a narcotic pain pill only to follow it two hours later with an Advil to help it along and 3 hours after that another narcotic. I used more pain meds after this surgery than the first but I gradually weaned myself off and by the fourth day only took the occasional Advil. After both surgeries, I found using my office chair with wheels to move around the house invaluable since it gave me respite from putting weight on my feet. This especially helped after the second surgery since I wasn’t yet fully functional with my right foot.

The one-week postop visit on this second surgery was pretty mundane. The two slender pins (which stuck out a bit at the ends of my toes and looked pretty strange) and all the stitches remained intact and everything was re-bandaged and rewrapped. I can hobble along in my Velcro shoe, putting weight on my heel to distract from the obvious difficulties of walking. My balance is not so great under these circumstances but it is just a matter of giving everything enough time to heal.  My next return visit is in two weeks. I hope to have stitches and pins removed at that time and maybe – must maybe – I can begin to train for my next race.

I think it’s important to emphasize that I had these surgeries for fairly serious reasons. I had long ago given up on pretty toenails and wearing sandals. My feet hurt badly when I walked long distances and the pain I felt during my races was getting increasingly troublesome. One solution I guess would be to walk and race less and avoid any exercise that caused pain. I was told that these kinds of foot peculiarities are genetic; my mom always had difficulties with her feet. Her solution was to refrain from walking much at all, with the result that she had numerous other health problems because of her sedentary habits. She was very overweight and developed hypertension, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes. Although I inherited Mom’s foot problems, I had no desire to replicate her medical difficulties. So the surgeries were a necessary evil if I planned to continue an active lifestyle.

Post surgery, probably the hardest thing for me to accept now is my complete lack of activity during this recovery and recuperative period. I feel like I am losing all the stamina and endurance I so carefully nurtured over the last 10 years. Without any aerobic exercise during the day, I find it almost impossible to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. My usual insomnia (waking up around midnight with difficulty falling back to sleep) has developed into difficulty falling asleep at all on some nights. I realize this is temporary and should disappear once I get active again. In the meantime, it’s hard to work around it.

How do I spend my days (and nights)? I am reading a LOT (thank goodness for the public library), hand quilting lots of projects, catching up with emails, and sorting through papers and books. I get up and move around every 15-30 minutes or so during the day to get at least some activity.  Now that I am past the elevate and ice stages, I am cooking, doing light cleaning (okay, not much of that, to be honest), and going on errands with my husband (with him driving since my clunky Velcro shoes make it too difficult to accurately hit the gas pedal and brake in my little Civic).

One point I would like to emphasize for any runners or walkers who face foot surgery. I think it’s important to make sure your medical practitioner understands why racing is important to you. I chose my podiatrist because he was a marathoner; I felt he would have a better understanding of the difficulties I was experiencing and why I wanted so badly to continue my racing as soon as possible. He is extremely empathetic and is working with me to recover as rapidly as medically feasible.

My next race comes up in less than four weeks. It is an 8-hour timed race in Georgia and – while I really want to complete a marathon distance so I can count it for Maniacs statistics – I will be happy to finish even a few miles as long as I can do them sans pain or problems. I will be so grateful for that.

Addendum to the Savage Seven races

I forgot to mention in my last post about these races that Chuck Savage, the RD, had dislocated his shoulder and messed up his arm and hand while doing a pre-Christmas training run.  His demeanor was brave but I am sure he was in a lot of pain, and I knew he was very disappointed that he couldn’t do any of the heavy lifting and organizing tasks so necessary in putting on a marathon series.  Chuck had surgery during race week and since I finished my third race before he returned to the park, I am using this opportunity to send him best wishes for a speedy recovery!

Three of the Savage Seven – Ocala, Florida (December 27-29, 2015)

Originally I was supposed to do a 24-hour race in Pensacola after Christmas but that race was unexpectedly canceled. That left a big hole in my schedule: an entire 2 weeks without a race. Of course, I could have taken that time to relax and recuperate but after the calorie overload I experienced during the holidays, I really wanted to find at least one race to justify such indulgence.

That’s when my husband reminded me of the Savage Seven (S7) down in Ocala. As I wrote about last month in my essay on marathon challenges, the S7 consists of seven marathons beginning on the day after Christmas and ending on New Year’s Day. The races are held in a lovely park along the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway in Ocala, a town midway between Tampa and Gainesville and famous for its horse ranches. I have done several of these races in previous years and written about them in past postings on this blog. Last year I volunteered on the first day and then flew to Arizona for the 72-hour Across the Years race. Usually I just drive down from Gainesville, returning the same day. If I were to do a race or two this year, I would have to stay in Ocala, since the drive from our new hometown would add at least two additional hours of travel time.

That turned out to be a non-issue. I signed up for 3 races, beginning on December 27, and made a reservation at Homewood Suites for 3 nights. We left home after breakfast on the 26th and drove to the hotel first where we checked in. Then we timed how long it took to drive from the hotel to the race site, about 20 minutes. The first day of marathons was finishing up so we chatted with Chuck Savage, the RD, and several of the volunteers. Only a few people were still out on the course, my friend Deb among them, but most people had finished and were resting up for the next day. Florida was experiencing extremely warm and humid temperatures for December and, because of the heat, Chuck agreed to let runners begin an hour earlier than the usual 7 am for the second day of racing. I was glad that we stopped by because otherwise I would not have known about the early start. In fact, the heat was such that on the following two days we started at 5 am, two hours earlier. This was fine with me, because my favorite time for walking is very early in the morning and it was great to have warm weather.

While I am not a fan of multiple loop marathons, I do them anyway, and this 5+ mile course (we do 5 loops) is a pleasant venue, shaded in parts, completely paved, and, though popular with locals, never very crowded. There is a playground nearby and real restrooms. I enjoyed seeing many of my friends, including Mike, Cheryl, Liz, Bettie, Jim, Frank, and Chuck, and because of the nature of the course there were a number of times to talk or wave at each other as we passed. Volunteers were wonderful, especially the young man who made sure everyone’s lap was counted as we made our way around the loop over and over again. My finishing times were not spectacular but they were better than in previous years, probably due to the steady temperatures and lack of rain.

Our meals on this trip were not especially notable; we ate at McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Crackerbarrel. However, on the way home we drove up highway 441 so we could stop at Blue Highway, an iconic pizza place in Micanopy, where we shared a wonderful antipasto plate and I had a delectable pizza and Darcy enjoyed a huge sausage calzone.

Official times are not posted yet but should be in the following range for me: day 1, 6:23; day 2, 6:40; day 3, 6:52. That brings my total count for 2015 to 17 marathons, 7 ultramarathons, and 4 half marathons, with a lifetime total of marathons/ultras of 216 and 31 half marathons. I hope to add to those totals in 2016. Maybe by the time I am 75, I will be able to brag about reaching 300 marathons/ultras and 100 half marathons. That gives me 7 years to work on these goals!