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!

 

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Tallahassee UltraDistance Classic 50K – December 9, 2017

I’ve done this 50k many times – it is one of the best ultras for walkers and runners new to ultra racing and remains a favorite of more seasoned ultramarathoners. Because the 50k has the same 10 hour time limit as the 50 miler, velocity-challenged racers don’t have to worry about being pulled from the course because they are too slow. But this year I had a special concern; the day before Thanksgiving I had surgery on my left foot. It was just one toe this time, but the surgery involved cutting into bone and releasing a too-tight tendon. I spent the next two weeks in a cast with my foot elevated and iced. Not much walking, and no training, for that entire period for me! It was frustrating but I was willing to go through the pain and lack of activity if it meant that my propensity for blisters on the sole of that foot would be lessened.

My wonderful podiatrist knew I had a 50k planned for two weeks post-surgery and agreed to set up my postop appointment for the Thursday before race day. Of course, that only gave me one day (!) to get used to wearing shoes again and no real time to work on speed or endurance. But that was okay because I had 10 hours to complete the race. Although in my previous Tallahassee ultras I had finishing times ranging from a PR of 7:03 to a much slower 8:48, I suspected my time would be much slower this year. Still, was confident I would be able to finish under the 10 hour limit.

Saturday morning was freezing cold in Wakulla Springs State Park, about 15 miles south of Tallahassee. I dressed warmly, with two long-sleeved shirts, a jacket, a coat with hood, cowl, hat, heavy-duty mittens from Norway, hand warmers, and long pants. Packet pickup begins about an hour before the 7 am race start, so Darcy drove me to the park and waited while I picked up my bib (with a chip on the back – new for this year!) and a neat hoody, white with the TUDC logo and picture of a bear on the front. The medium is roomy but fits well and I am wearing it as I type this report.

I saw several of my friends who also do this race every year, including Mellody, Terri, Vicki, Chuck, and Gary, as well as a contingent of runners from the Turtle Running Club in Ocala. The Turtles set up a cheering station to give support to their members but they also cheered on all the rest of us as well, writing our names in chalk on the pavement and enthusiastically yelling at us as we passed them on the two out-and-backs along the 6.2 mile course.

My plan was to treat this as a training ‘get back into racing’ experience because my foot hurt whenever I put weight on it. This gave me a noticeable and painful limp. I wanted to try to do at least 2-3 laps. If it turned out I was in too much pain, I would give Darcy a call and ask him to come get me. It took me almost 2 hours to do the first lap. That meant I was averaging about an 18 minute mile. I began to wonder if indeed I would be able to make the 10 hour time limit, that is, if I decided to stay for the entire race. On my second lap, I consciously tried to speed up a little, working through the discomfort. I did the same on the third lap. Both times I was able to cut about 14 minutes off my lap time. I decided that I would stay for the remaining two laps, even if it took me all 10 hours to finish.

Eventually the faster racers finished their 50k and 50 miles; soon I was the only 50k person left on the course. Since those running the 50 miler share the same course as the 50k people, I wasn’t completely alone but there were long stretches when it felt like it was just me out for a leisurely stroll. The Turtles had packed up and returned to Ocala.  On the fifth and final lap, I made sure to thank the patient (and freezing) volunteers at each of the two aid stations at the turn-arounds and made my way slowly to the finish line, where I was handed a lovely ceramic medal. My official time was 8:57:54 and I was dead last but very glad I stayed to complete the race. Now I am once again resting, elevating, and icing!

The Stinger 24 Hour Race – November 11, 2017 (Hampton, GA)

I had a completely different race planned for this weekend, the Azalea 24 Hour Race in Palatka, Florida, but Hurricane Irma had swept through Ravine State Gardens and destroyed much of the course. That was a disappointment, especially since Azalea was my backup ‘last chance’ race to accomplish my 7/70/2017 mile goal just in case I missed reaching it at Save the Daylight (SD).

Fortunately, I did achieve my goal at SD, so I could have simply taken the weekend off. However, when I learned about an inaugural race to be run on a track in a small town just south of Atlanta, I couldn’t resist signing up for it. I could relax without the pressure of mileage (if I did at least a 50k, which shouldn’t be a problem in 24 hours) and the camaraderie of other racers. Inaugural races are always a risk because so much depends on factors outside my control: the organizational skills of the race director, enough trained volunteers, availability of food and beverages, and so much more. I had a terrific experience at Southern Discomfort in July and now I was willing to take a chance on the Stinger.

It turned out to be a good idea. Race Director Kevin Randolph, with the help of his lovely wife Annie and some great volunteers, had all the bases covered, from seamless packet pickup on the morning of the race to excellent volunteers, great food (including hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza), plentiful ‘real’ bathrooms, cotton/poly long sleeve tees, and a rubberized track easy on the feet and I did not get any blisters (I recommend wearing gaiters because there are occasional small rocks that can creep into shoes). We even changed direction every three hours. I knew that as a walker in a track race I would have to stay on the outside lanes but that was okay with me since I wasn’t trying for high mileage. As the shorter races finished (there were 3, 6, and 12 hour options as well) and runners thinned out, I eventually could move closer to the inner lanes without holding up faster racers.

Hampton is a very small town with a few fast food restaurants and no brand name hotels but the larger and very prosperous town of McDonough is only about 5 miles away. McDonough has a plethora of retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. We stayed at a pristine Hilton Garden Inn and walked to Taco Mac for dinner Friday evening. My ever-accommodating husband was able to check on me several times on Saturday; the only drawback was heavy traffic during the height of the shopping day, making a10 minute commute take twice as long.

There are many good things about this race, but to be fair, I found some aspects of a track race to be rather difficult. Of course, since I had to stay in the outer lanes, I covered more ground than I would have wished but that was expected. What was harder for me was the realization that the track was 397.7 meters which was just under 400 meters and that meant that to achieve one mile, it was necessary to do more than 4 circuits. I don’t pretend to understand the math. I just know that having to do five laps to get to one mile nearly drove me bonkers. And there was no way I could keep track of the numbers in my head. I relied heavily on the wonderful timekeepers, two young women who acted as my personal cheering section and stayed throughout the duration of the race, despite fatigue, cold, and misty weather. I guess if there was one change I would make, it would be to have a reliable electronic timing board (there was such a board, but it stopped working early on) so I would not have to keep asking for my mileage.

I knew the weather would be cold (for me), in the 70’s in the daytime and in the 40’s at night. I brought a LOT of warm clothes so I could layer up as the temperature declined. I was ready or so I thought. No rain at all was predicted so I omitted my rain gear. That turned out to be a mistake because in the wee hours of Sunday morning it did indeed start to rain intermittently. Although I changed from long pants to warmer long pants on Saturday evening, my warm pants were not warm enough. I should have brought sweats and worn them over my regular pants. My core was warm but my legs froze.

By 12:30-1:00 Sunday morning I had reached 50 miles. It had started to mist and my legs were stiffening from fatigue and cold. I wanted to sit on my zero-gravity chair for a few minutes to rest my feet and legs but the chair was wet from the rain. I kept moving, sneaking peaks at my watch, waiting until 4 am so I could call Darcy and ask him to come get me. I only managed to get 8 additional miles during those hours so I must have been moving very very slowly! At a few minutes to 4, I texted Darcy and he texted back that he would come right away. I am not sure how I could do these races without my marathon man to help me out!

As I said my goodbyes to RD Kevin and thanked the volunteers and ‘my’ wonderful time keepers, Kevin told me I had placed as 2nd female in the 24 hour and awarded me a lovely hip flask (alas, it was not filled with brandy but I plan to change that!).  We went back to the hotel where I showered and had a nap and a filling breakfast before returning home to a much warmer Florida.

This race is highly recommended for walkers and I hope to do it again (but I will bring warmer clothes plus rain gear, just in case).

Mission Accomplished! Save the Daylight 48 Hour Race – Englewood Beach, FL (November 3, 2017)

I did it! I exceeded my primary goal for 2017 – 7 ultras with at least 70 miles – at Save the Daylight at Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park in Englewood Beach, with 102.3 miles, good enough to get a medal (for finishing the race), a 34-ounce Gusto Mug (for completing 100k), and a buckle (for getting at least 100 miles). That’s quite a lot of bling! In addition, all racers got their choice of a tech or cotton/poly shirt, a small flashlight to use after dark, and a toothbrush (important for those of us who stay overnight on the course).

I did the 24 hour here in 2015, finishing with 100k. Last year I did one of the Eight Hours of Hell races in the same park, on practically the same course, but still managed to get lost (a few arrows were missing) and only achieved 22 miles. I keep coming back because, while the course is trail, it is mostly crushed shells and soft pine straw covered dirt. There are a few rocks and roots that might possibly cause me trouble, but on the first couple of laps on the 3.3 mile loop, I try to memorize where these potential tripping hazards are located. There are two smooth wooden plank bridges (my favorite part because I can lift my eyes to look around me at the scenery) along with a short loop around a pond, with real bathrooms that we pass every go-around. If I must do a trail race, this is the one I prefer.

To get to 70 miles, I would have to complete 22 laps, a total of 72.6 miles. My plan was to begin at 9 am on Friday with the other 48 hour racers, spend as long as I could on the course while hoping to achieve at least 10 or 11 laps. Then I would go back to our hotel (the Hampton Inn in Port Charlotte, a 45 minute drive away), shower, eat, sleep, and then return to the course just before daylight. Because the park is completely dark at night, I was fearful of falling even though I was armed with a flashlight, headlamp, and backup batteries. I would try to spend the 2nd night at the race, even if I was resting or pacing my friend Joyce. That plan worked. I must admit that I felt some trepidation and reluctance on Saturday morning as I realized I had to walk on a trail for 24 more hours but my desire to reach my goal pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Although we stayed at Port Charlotte, the host hotel (Gem Coast Inn) is much closer, about 3 miles from the race site. We wanted to stay at a Hilton family hotel so we opted for the Hampton Inn but, while it was very clean and quiet, it had a poor selection of Direct TV channels (no MSNBC or Weather Channel, loss of power during important college football games) so we would probably not stay there again.

There is a covered pavilion with a fully-stocked aid station and plenty of room to set up a drop bag and chair or two. My friends Joyce and Ray were there (Joyce did over 115 miles in the 48 hour!) so I set up my supplies under their canopy. Ray made sure we both had plenty of bug spray, snacks, drinks, and other needs. There is a second unmanned aid station at the half-way point with water, ice, Tailwind, bug repellant, and sunscreen. During the race, there is plenty to eat – hamburgers, sandwiches, watermelon, pizza, and more.

Although the race is not chip timed, the volunteer time keepers quickly get to know the runners (and walkers) and are responsive with our lap count. RD Justin knew about my mileage goal this year and asked if I wanted bib number 7 or 70. I chose #70 – it was easy to remember my age (usually by 20 hours into a timed race, I can barely remember my name let alone my bib number).

I asked Justin if he would make sure every turn on the course was well-marked (it was) and if he would mark the entrance to the park after circling the pond with lights and an arrow (he did). That eased my tired addled brain as I grew more fatigued during the later hours on the course.

By 8 pm on Friday, I had completed 11 laps (36 miles) so when I returned around 6:30 Saturday morning, I knew I only had 11 more laps to go. As the sun rose and it warmed to the mid-80’s, I managed to do those laps fairly quickly. By 6 that evening, Darcy returned to check on me and bring me some hot coffee to keep me alert and awake. I told him I had met my goal and was now going to try for that 100 mile buckle. I could either do exactly 100 miles, stopping at the 1 mile marker on my 30th lap, or could continue around to do 102.3 miles. By the wee hours of Sunday morning, I easily had enough time to do that complete 31st lap. My legs and feet were tired and sore, but my emotions were high; I was elated. Justin gave me my awards (medal, mug, buckle) and I changed into warmer clothes (nights were in the mid-60’s) so I could rest and relax while waiting for Darcy to come get me.

We went back to the hotel so I could shower and change and then we headed home, stopping at Blue Highway in Micanopy for pizza, antipasti, and calzone.

This is a grand race for walkers who want to test their mettle on a mild trail. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to achieve an important goal.

The Endless Mile 48 Hour Race (October 20, 2017) – Alabaster, Alabama

Someday I plan to do a timed race and stay for the entire scheduled time. On a multi-day race, I always spend at least one night, often more than one, in a hotel sleeping in a real bed. Even in a 24 hour race, I frequently stop an hour or two before the end of the race. I can talk myself into stopping early for practically any reason at all, although I usually have some excellent (to me) excuses – stormy wet weather, bad blisters, acute back pain, indigestion are just a few select choices.

Last year at Endless Mile, I had signed up for the 24 hour and managed to do just 56 miles. My rationale for stopping early was the unexpectedly frigid weather. October in Alabama is not supposed to be 37 degrees! I was very underdressed and people kindly loaned me jackets and blankets to keep me warm. It wasn’t enough – I was still shivering. As long as I achieved at least a 50k so I could count it in my statistics, I was okay with stopping a little earlier than originally planned and I relished a hot shower and warm bed.

This year I had registered for the 48 hour and I came prepared for all sorts of weather – whether cold, wet, hot, I was ready for it all. It turned out the weather this year was perfect. Beautiful sunny days that never rose above 79 degrees and evenings that were clear and cool but not cold made for great racing weather. Gentle breezes enveloped us throughout the weekend.

Since this was a 48 hour race, I knew I would be spending at least one night in our hotel (the Hampton Inn in Calera) to get some restorative sleep. My plan was to stay on the course as long as I could the first day, shower and rest in the hotel the first evening, return early on Saturday morning and stay until the race ended on Sunday morning. The plan worked like a charm until Saturday night when the hot spots and blisters that had been irritating me for most of the race began to plague me nonstop. Changing shoes and socks helped a little at first but too soon the blisters on the soles of my feet worsened. I alternated using both the off-the-shelf and custom orthotics that were supposed to resolve my blister issues and they helped a bit but not enough. Finally, I gave in and texted Darcy at 4 am to come get me and he did. While texting him at that early hour seems mean, in reality it was kind; I was ready to leave at 1:30 am but didn’t have the heart to call him in the middle of the night.

So once again, I did not spend a lot of time on the course. I left at 7 pm on Friday evening, returned at 5 am the next morning, and left at 4 am on Sunday morning. That means I spent only 33 hours on the course. That said, I did accomplish my primary goal, reaching 70 miles by Saturday afternoon, and my secondary goal, 100 miles (and that coveted buckle) by 1 am on Sunday. To celebrate, I spent about 30 minutes relaxing in my new zero-gravity chair, but I started to get cold just sitting still so I made myself go around the course for another 4 miles, giving me a final total of 104. I was satisfied but a little disappointed in myself for giving in to blisters once again.

The Endless Mile series of races is a great opportunity for walkers and runners who enjoy timed events. The series is held in Veterans Park in the small town of Alabaster. There are lots of choices – 6, 12, 24, and 48 solo races plus relays. The timing system is unusual, with two small rectangular chips that must be pinned at hip level or attached to a waist belt but it works perfectly (and Raymond the timing person is terrific, shouting out laps every time I came through). There is single aid station that has the usual buffet of ultra snacks as well as made-to-order fried eggs, bacon, tortillas, pizza, sandwiches, and just about every other food one could desire.

The partially shaded 1 mile course is completely paved with a few gradual hills. One hill was a special challenge to me, especially when I was tired, but overall the course was pleasant and the scenery (we passed by a dog park and several ball fields) enjoyable during the daylight hours. The park is well-lit except for a couple of spots so I made sure to carry my flashlight so I could use it when needed. It’s a good idea to bring and use sunscreen and bug spray because I ended up with myriad mosquito bites (I always think I’m immune to bites until it’s too late).

My friends Joyce and Ray, along with Joyce’s sister Patsy and brother-in-law Andy from California, were in for the 48 hour race and I set up camp with them. Because Endless Mile is so popular, a lot of my other racing friends also signed up for it and I enjoyed visiting with all of them. It was easy to make new friends as well – going around in circles offers lots of opportunities to see people over and over and over again.

Overall, I had a great time and successfully achieved my goal of at least 70 miles in this – my #6 ultramarathon – for 2017.

Adventures in Appalachia: Three Marathons plus a Half in Four Days (October 12-15, 2017)

Lest anyone think that completing 3 full marathons plus a half marathon in 4 days is a great achievement, the supreme accomplishment is racing all 9 – that’s correct, NINE – marathons or half marathons in 9 days for the entire series of Appalachian races. Mainly Marathons (MM) puts on these crazy races in every geographic area of the United States, including Hawaii and – soon – Alaska. For people attempting to do races in every state, running or walking in the MM series of races will help them succeed quickly and with a minimum of expense. It’s still expensive, but not so costly as planning a trip individually to all 50 states.

I did several races in the Appalachian series a few years ago, in North and South Carolina and Georgia. This year the organization decided to expand to Alabama and Florida, so I signed up for Lizella, GA, Eufalla, AL, and two in the Florida panhandle in the small towns of Cottondale and Marianna. Each race had its own flavor and distinctiveness. MM races are usually held in parks and trails in small to medium cities, with driving distances between venues anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles. This particular series began in Virginia and West Virginia, moving on to Bristol, TN, Fletcher, NC, and Seneca, SC. I joined the group in Georgia and stayed until the series ended on Sunday.

We drove to Macon, GA, on Wednesday and looked for the race venue in neighboring Lizella before checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Macon, just off I-475. It’s always a good idea when doing these races to find the next day’s location beforehand because the races begin so early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30 am, depending on whether one takes the early start). This race was in Arrowhead Park, an extensive rural area with campgrounds, trails, and lakes. The double-lollypop course was paved but extremely hilly and confusing. The day was hot and humid with no shade. After the requisite 12 loops for the marathon, I still found the course convoluted and had to keep watch for the signage and flags. There were bathrooms but the stalls had no doors! My finishing time – 7:15.

The next day’s race was in Eufalla, Alabama, on the Yoholo-Micco Trail. This day turned out to be my favorite because it was a scenic rails-to-trails course, all paved and relatively straight out-and-back, and even though it was hot, there was some shade. Only negative was the 3 portapotties (just 3 for all of us plus other visitors) but at least they had doors! My finishing time – 6:55.

After Alabama, we drove to Cottondale, Florida, for the first of two races in the panhandle. We stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Marianna for both races, since the two towns are only 10 miles apart. The Cottondale race was held in a park (called the Athletic Fields) and it was a paved circuitous course with just a small broken gravel section. There was some shade, which helped stave off the worst of the heat and humidity. This was my second favorite course, though it took me longer to finish – 7:30 (fatigue must have begun to take effect).

The final race was in Citizen’s Lodge Park in Marianna. This was supposed to be partly crushed gravel, partly paved, with some shade. Because most of us complained of the sunshine beating down on us in the earlier races, the organizers decided to change some of the course to include a couple of forested rocky and rooty trail sections. That tree cover certainly helped with the heat but the trail made the footing far more treacherous. The crushed gravel turned out to be chunks of gravel combined with occasional large rocks. I kept my head down for a good part of this race to make sure I didn’t fall. Somebody did, in fact, take a bad tumble, but he was able to continue with the race. Because of the precarious nature of the course, I wisely decided to drop to the half on this day. Positive aspect of this race – real bathrooms (yes, with doors). Finishing time, a PW for me – 4:30. Of course some of that time was spent chatting with friends along the way and well worth the extra minutes expended.

Here are some tips if you are considering some of the MM races:

  • Check out the race area for the next day as soon as you arrive. It will be dark on race morning and you don’t want to get lost looking for the race start
  • Because it is dark if you take the early start, bring a flashlight or headlamp. You will only need for the first hour
  • There is usually a mat and benches to put a drop bag. I don’t usually bring a drop bag for a race less than a 50k, and I didn’t here, but it would have been a good idea to have a bag to store my jacket and light
  • The aid station has a lot of food so there is no need to bring snacks unless you have a special item you need. I always carry an energy or granola bar just in case but I never had to eat it; instead I indulged in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs, and candy
  • You can sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or 50k, and if you change your mind and want to drop to a lower distance during the race, you can
  • Timing system uses rubber bands/elastics. Every time you pass by the start/finish, just pick one up and wear or carry them
  • Most of the races are done on loop or out-and-back courses, but they can be confusing since some are rather convoluted. My tack is to follow the person in front of me if in doubt as to where I should go
  • Stretch before driving to the next location. If I skip this, my legs cramp up and it is not too pleasant standing by the highway stretching while traffic whizzes by
  • There is no hard time limit, although slower racers are strongly encouraged to take the early start. Check out the results on the MM page and you will find finishing times as long as 9 hours. After all, some of these people have been doing ALL the races in the series and they are understandably tired. This is great from my point of view because I am not alone at the end of the races
  • Organizers, volunteers, and racers are exceptionally friendly. It is easy to share the difficulties of each day’s race with other people who understand your angst and fatigue.
  • The medals are unique, with a basic medal for the series and individual state medals for each state you finish and they latch on to each other
  • There is one tee shirt for the series. It used to be cotton but this year it was tech. When I refused the tech shirt, I was offered a past year’s cotton tee, which I gladly accepted
  • There is one bib for each series so you just wear that same bib and number for all the races in that grouping. Makes things easy
  • Be prepared by reading the course description for each day’s race but don’t be surprised if there are changes
  • The race venues for each series often change every year, but if by chance there is a return to Eufala or Cottondale/Marianna, River City Grill in Eufala and Madison’s Warehouse Restaurant in Marianna are excellent places to eat
  • Maniacs, 50 Staters, and members of other running clubs are offered a $10 discount per race

Bottom line – these races are great for walkers who are worried about time limits. Runners and walkers who want to quickly add to their statistics will also find MM races an easy way to accomplish this. On the other hand, I am glad I reached my 50-state goal by visiting major well-known cities and racing in marathons that took me around the most interesting sections of those cities. It took me almost 5 years to achieve that goal but it was time and money well spent. Now I can do MM races and other similar events for mileage accomplishments and race totals and enjoy the rural countryside and relaxed environment.

Racing My Age at A Race for the Ages (ARFTA), August 31, 2017 (Manchester, TN)

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the entire state of Florida this weekend, I thought I’d better get my thoughts down quickly on this race before we lose power. In 2015, I did the inaugural running of this race and decided to try it once again. It was a perfect way to get in my goal of 70 miles without losing much sleep (literally).

Informally labeled as ‘the return of the graybeards,’ the race is a reunion of many famous ultrarunners who at the height of their speed and stamina broke numerous records and won innumerable races. Many of these wonder warriors are now in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Every year those who return are mindful that this might be the last time to visit with their pals – and for us younger racers, it might be our only opportunity to meet and talk with running legends. This year was indeed the final year for 86 year old Dan Baglione, who made it to the race but because of a recent fall could not participate in the actual running. He passed away several days later in a local hospital but not before he spent some time in the Ada Wright rec building where he chatted with many of his longtime pals.

The course is a one mile paved loop, mostly flat, with only one agonizing climb followed by a brief but steep downhill just before the timing mat. There are real bathrooms in two places on the course, a lot of places to set up one’s own tent and canopy, and space inside the rec building to put down a mat, chairs, drop bags, and loungers. The most unique aspect to this race is the way runners get to start: older runners begin first, depending on their age, so for me, at 70 years of age, I could start the race at 2 pm on Friday and I had 70 hours to do as many miles as I could accumulate. I decided to stay through the night and into Saturday so I could be sure to reach 70 miles. Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative; it rained all Friday afternoon and evening and into the wee hours of Saturday morning, causing my feet to blister and chafe. Still, I persisted. By 4 pm, 26 hours into the race for me and 72 miles, I had had enough. Darcy came and picked me up around 5 and I turned in my ankle chip to the timing tent so I could leave the course for a shower and nap. I was so tired that I fell asleep eating my slice of pizza. Had Darcy not taken a photo of me sitting up, pizza slice in hand, head nodding to the side and eyes closed, I would not have believed it. And no, I am not publishing that photo!

By four am on Sunday I was up and eager to get back to the race. My feet were painful, especially the blister on the sole of my left foot. It was enormous and very tender but I managed to put on some cushiony socks and my widest shoes and just decided to push on through. Fortunately, the rain had stopped and from that point until race end on Monday at noon we had pleasant weather. My next goal was to complete 100 miles; I was determined not to leave the course until I had reached that point. It took until about 2 pm to get to 103. The sun was out and it was beginning to get very hot and humid. I remembered from my previous experience at ARFTA that it was a good idea to rest during the hottest part of the day and continue on once the sun went down. I decided to take my own advice and returned to the hotel for a siesta. By six pm I was back on the course and ready to get in a few more miles until 9:30 pm. I spent another night at the hotel so I could get some real sleep. I always do better in the early morning hours, so I started up again on Monday morning and kept moving until 11 am, an hour before the race officially ended. At 136 miles, my blistered feet were extremely sore and I had developed a painful twist in my right knee, so I knew I had reached my limit.

There are several hotels within a mile or two of the race site. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and because it had a microwave and refrigerator, Darcy was able to keep me supplied with pizza and chocolate milk and other necessary goodies. There is no traditional aid station buffet and that takes some getting used to. Instead, the race director has the menu catered, this year by Cracker Barrel, but the meals are sit-down affairs, and I much prefer to eat while on the move. I also don’t care for meat loaf or fried catfish or cooked veggies, so I mostly abstained from the catered food and instead relied on bagels and pizza brought to me by Darcy.

By race end, I was eager to shower and change shoes so we didn’t stay for the awards ceremony. My reward for doing at least 100 miles was a neat buckle; in addition, all participants received a small plastic trophy (same as the one in 2015 but with the new date). The shirt is short-sleeved green cotton-poly, better (in my opinion) than the previous tech shirt. The entire experience at ARFTA was a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing familiar friends (Karen, Kay, Terrie, and Tom) and meeting lots of new ones (Mark, Barney, Pete, Dorothy, and more). This is a great timed ultra, especially for us seasoned runners and walkers.