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!

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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!

 

An Unplanned Hiatus – Here’s What’s Been Happening This Summer

This post is so very overdue. My racing has been held in check as a result of numerous unexpected events. After completing the Runs with Scissors Marathon in April, I had planned to do the Strolling Jim Marathon in Tennessee in early May. However, life intervened with a vengeance. After much thought and discussion, my husband and I made a major decision to move to another town in Florida several hundred miles from our adopted hometown of Gainesville. This meant we had to put our existing home on the market and look for a new one. That brief sentence belies the enormous labor and consternation involved in such a move. We went through a number of false starts on both ends, with the result that I ended up with a DNS for Strolling Jim and no other races planned until the Merrill’s Mile 12 hour race on the July 4th weekend.

I did manage to complete the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk held in Boston on the evening of June 27. This was a walk, not a race, and it had many organizational problems. As a marathoner used to multiple well-stocked aid stations, knowledgeable volunteers, accurate mileage signs, and a carefully plotted route, I was sorely disappointed in the walk itself. I am still very glad I participated but doubt that I will attempt another such event (they are held several times a year in various cities).

The not-so-good stuff:

  • Some people were given maps of the route but others were not.  I never received one.  Of course it was impossible to read the maps in the darkness, even with a flashlight, so it probably would not have helped much, but I could have studied it before starting out
  • The Westin Hotel Waterfront was the host hotel and it was lovely.  However, it was at least a 2 mile jaunt to the registration at City Hall and the start and finish of the walk.  Most people drove but I had no car and wouldn’t have driven in Boston even if I had one.  As a result, I had to wend my way through city streets, adding additional miles to the 17 miles of the walk itself.  Not so bad for a marathoner but after midnight I was a little uneasy about going out on my own (no one bothered me but still . . . )
  • The volunteers were helpful but not very well-versed in the route or in giving directions.  I was told to redo an entire section because of this uncertainty.  That added an additional 3 miles to my total
  • Halfway through the walk, we were given ‘supper’ – a box lunch of turkey or ham sandwiches (the veggie ones were all gone), plus an apple and cookie. Most people sat down on benches to eat.  I kept moving since there were still a number of miles to complete and I wasn’t really hungry at 10 pm
  • Sometimes there were directional arrows pointing out where to go, but there should have been LOTS more.  Even though I was born and raised in Boston, I had no idea where I was in the city at night and many times I was uncertain as to where to go.  Volunteers were scarce and, as noted above, they not sure about the route
  •  When I got close to the ‘finish’ line at City Hall, there was nobody around to tell me how to get inside.  A long flight of stairs led me to a building with people and lights.   Turns out it was the correct place but I had missed the actual turn that I later found had a balloon arch and cheering spectators.  There should at least have been a sign with an arrow or a person directing walkers to the correct place
  • Decorated luminaria with the names of people who had lost their lives to suicide were set up all over the building, inside and out.  Since I was doing this walk in honor of my son Ben, who died by suicide last November, I wanted to find the luminaria that I had made for him.  This was probably the most disheartening aspect of the walk to me because – try as I might – I could not locate it.  After several fruitless attempts, I started to walk back to the hotel.  The rain that had threatened all evening now started to fall in earnest; that was fine with me, since they blended with my tears.  Then I came to my senses with a jolt and my usual stubbornness prevailed.  Heck, I was not going to give up that easily.  I walked back to City Hall and asked to talk to someone in charge.   I relayed my problem to a young woman who assured me every luminaria was set up and she would find some volunteers to help me find Ben’s.  I finally found it, picked it up and put it under my jacket to keep it dry, and then headed back to the hotel.  It was now about 3 am and I was only too glad to shower and get into some dry clothes and finally get some sleep

There were several wonderful things:

  • It is definitely a good cause.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the sponsor and this is its major fundraiser.  In lieu of the walk, next time I would probably simply make a donation.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my friends Marylyn and Joyce for giving generously on my son’s behalf
  • I met great people.  We all shared a common understanding and a desire to stamp out the stigma of suicide and encourage prevention efforts
  • I had several serendipitous happenings during this trip.  The day after the walk, as I ate lunch in one of the hotel’s restaurants, I shared my experiences with some other walkers, 3 sisters who lived in different parts of the country but come together each year to do the walk.  We chatted and then they finished and left.  When I asked for the check, the waitress told me they had taken care of the bill for me.  That was the first time anything of that sort had happened to me.  Thank you, ladies, and I hope to pay it forward for someone else
  • On the flight to Atlanta, my original flight was delayed so I was put on an earlier flight. The young lady sitting next to me turned out to be a teacher in Boston who was returning to her hometown of Atlanta to do a race with her family.  Micaela and I chatted for most of the trip and have since exchanged emails.  It made the flight back home much more interesting and rewarding

The following weekend it was time for Merrill’s Mile in Dahlonega, Georgia. I opted for the 12 hour option once again (I had done this race a few years ago). This time the weather was perfect, at least for me (it was warm with only a few raindrops), and the loop is now paved, but I could tell I was sorely out of shape. It was wonderful to be doing a race again but my lack of training put me at a real disadvantage. Although I probably could have done a few more laps of the .9 mile course, I managed to finish only 34 miles and then called it a day. Still, I had a lot of fun, saw several friends, and was pleased to be back in the swing of things.

However, once again, moving has become foremost in our lives. We have been spending the rest of July dealing with house closings, packing furniture, and taking care of all the myriad things involved with changing addresses. We are now surrounded by cartons and packing crates; it feels like we may never get everything put away. To make the situation even more interesting, we just returned from a 6 day trip to Texas for my husband’s family reunion. My next race is not for another month, so I plan to make a concerted effort to get settled and revive my training schedule. With luck, I’ll get back on track before long!

Replay – A Stroll in Central Park, Cumming, GA (March 7, 2015)

Originally I was signed up for a 24 hour race in Savannah this weekend but it was unexpectedly canceled. Stroll turned out to be a wonderful substitute. Cumming is just north of Atlanta, an easy drive from north Florida, and the race is held in Central Park, a popular and well-utilized recreation area for the local population. Lia Knower is the race director and she puts on a great event – her volunteers, including a stalwart corps of dedicated lap counters, are terrific, and the regular aid station fare is highlighted with a pizza lunch. The course is a 1.03 paved loop on the perimeter of soccer and baseball fields. Lia stresses that the course is flat but, on the contrary, there are several definite inclines which are fun walking down but, since we change direction after 6 hours, not so enjoyable on the reverse stretch. I did like the fact that there are indoor restrooms – makes it just about the perfect race for me!

Since I had done this race last year, Darcy and I knew the location of the park, several good restaurants (Taco Mac and Cracker Barrel but there are more), and a good hotel, the Hampton Inn (although there are others close by as well) so we were all set. This was one of the very few times when I did not feel nervous before a race. I usually feel butterflies even if I’ve done the race before, but Stroll is so laid-back and relaxed that there was no pressure at all.

Packet pickup began at 6:15 am just before the race. We received a bib, tee shirt (short-sleeve blue cotton tee), and met our lap counters (thank you, Kristen and Ron!). The start line was a chalked line on the pavement and at 7:03 we were off. In addition to the 12 hour race, there is also a new 6 hour option that started at the same time and attracted quite a few runners and walkers. I haven’t seen results yet so I am not sure how many people did each event and how many miles they went, but by the end of the race I could tell from the mileage chart that I reached 43.26 miles. This was just one lap shy of my results last year. I will admit that I probably could have managed 1, maybe 2, more laps if I had tried a bit harder but my legs were sore and I was tired. I was happy to do 43+ miles and call it a day.

Six hour finishers receive a medal. Twelve hour racers get a wooden plaque and several weeks after the race, Lia mails out a sticker with each runner’s mileage on it. It was fun to see several of the runners from last year; all of the participants were friendly and supportive. This is definitely a plus for walkers as well as endurance runners. However, word is that the event will be in a different park next year (and the name will also change) but I am hopeful that the same positive attributes will be present in the new locale.