Birthday weekend. What better way to celebrate than to take off on a mini-adventure, run a new race, go to a place I've never been before, and see what happens.
I've been hearing about Delano Park 12 Hour Run for a while on the ultra list. I needed another 12 hour event this spring to prepare for my upcoming 24 hour run, and I'm also looking for more competitive races. This one seems to attract a lot of good runners, especially among the women, and I wanted a race with some competition.
I went into this to race intending to do well mileage-wise. Before the race I looked at the entrants and it looked like there were at least half a dozen women who could win the event, including me, so I was looking forward to being pushed, and if the situation unfolded well, the plan was "going for blood" at the end. I wanted to improve over my performance in Oklahoma City last fall, because I'm definitely more fit and faster than I was then. I told Wheaties Boy I was going for at least 65 miles this time.
The only way to get to Decatur, Alabama for a weekend was going to be flying. I like Southwest Airlines, and I found flights to Nashville but there was only one nonstop flight per day. There was no way in hell I was going to travel all day and change planes.
So I bit the bullet and booked the Thursday 6 am nonstop flight out of Denver, which meant I'd get into Nashville by 9:30 am but...I had to get up no later than 3 am in order to drive to Denver and catch my flight. I was flying to central time, so I'd have to be up earlier anyway for the race. It would be a good way to get my body on an earlier schedule.
So...I found myself up at the butt crack. Literally. Leaving Denver was one of those airport experiences you savor. It's the middle of the night, you're going through security, and you know how things get backed up while everyone is taking off their shoes and belts and placing them in the bins to go through the Xray machine? Well I was standing there waiting for the people ahead of me to do their thing. This HUGE guy in front of me bent over to take off his shoes, and I was standing a little too close to the slot canyon, and almost fell in! HELP!
Not the way I wanted to start my day. I was fresh out of quarters, too, couldn't even play slots. Then I was stuck sitting there waiting for the flight while the trash TV porn was blaring at the gate. That crap obesifies the brain!
Flying out of Denver the sky was beautiful at sunrise. I managed to grab this blurry picture of Pikes Peak, it was glowing pink.
The flight was quick, and I landed in Nashville, an easy airport to deal with. I picked up my rental car (Nissan Maxima, not easy for getting in and out of when stiff from race) and drove toward Franklin, where I'd found a hotel to chill out in for the night before driving to Alabama the next day. I purposely chose a comfortable suite so I could have peace and quiet, do my pre-race organization and shopping nearby, and generally avoid people. I always need my pre-race isolation ritual.
It was cold and overcast in Nashville, the weather had been gray, cold, and rainy lately, but by race day things were expected to get better. It looked like it might even be a little warm. I knew I'd have to be prepared for heat with lots of ice and I brought my ice bandana just in case, and would buy a cheap cooler. I was ready for any weather, rain, snow, cold, ice, or heat.
Having grown up as a young kid in Pennsylvania, I am definitely a Yankee. I talk like a Yankee, I have a Yankee attitude, and Yankee biases. I've been to the south several times before, but not too many small towns in the south. My stepmom is a southerner, and I am well aware of many southerner customs and characteristics, including southern hospitality.
My ear is well-trained for southern accents and drawls, having friends from Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, even New Orleans' unique accent. I had never been to Tennessee or Alabama before, so I wondered if I'd have any trouble understanding anyone. I expressed this to a friend from Texas who cautioned me not to say "you guys" because that could expose me, and some great advice from a former coworker from Alabama, who advised me: "Just say Roll Tide every once in a while and throw in a y'all here and there".
My Yankee prejudices regarding the south consisted of: lots of hugely obese people, lots of smokers, lots of churches, as it is the Bible Belt, and fried food everywhere. Getting off the plane and just walking to the rental car area, the fried food smell was quite overwhelming. Other than that I really didn't see more smokers or obese people than I see in Colorado. There were quite a few churches, neat little buildings with white steeples surrounded by huge parking lots.
I soon found out two things about Tennessee. First, there were runners, as evidenced by the "Running is cheaper than therapy" sticker. Second, they like donuts there.
I had heard in the past about Krispy Kreme donuts, when they first came west, and forgot about them. When I went into the grocery store in Franklin, I was amazed at the size of a donut display opposite the dairy case. I don't know why I noticed, I guess it was the number of boxes of donuts stacked on this freestanding shelf, it looked impressive. Then it struck me that they must be perishable. How many donuts would the store have to sell to justify making such a huge display of donuts? Could they really sell that many?
As it turned out, I came back to the same grocery store later in the day and discovered that the donut display had been decimated. Wow.
I spent the rest of the morning doing my pre-race shopping, I hit Publix, the supermarket, then Target, and back to Publix. I found some $3.99 foam coolers at Publix and a cheap folding table and chair at Target. Perfect. No need to spend lots of money on stuff I'd have to end up giving away after the race. I didn't need too much more stuff. I got a few drinks to keep in the cooler for variety, some yogurts, a case of water, a plastic container for my race table supplies, some wooden barbecue skewers, and some Peeps.
I had a plan.
I booked the hotel in a big suburban shopping area on purpose so it would be easy to find everything I needed before the race, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find everything I needed in Decatur. It was a good plan, and I got things done efficiently that morning, leaving me time to rest.
I soon realized it was feeling like naptime, but it was only 1 pm. I'd been up since 2 am Tennessee time. I went over to my hotel to see if I could check in early, and the guy at the front desk was awesome. So nice, and he called housekeeping to find out the status of my room. He told me it could be ready in another 30 minutes, and he'd call me when it was ready if I wanted. I decided to do a few more little errands and he did call me soon after that, and I checked in, and my room was perfect. I took a 3 hour nap.
When I woke up from my nap, my eyes were bright red, watery and itchy, and the tear ducts looked a little swollen. I couldn't figure out what was going on. I took out my contact lenses and wore my glasses for a while. I thought, Shit, what if I got pinkeye! Is the taperworm really THAT cruel?
I thought about it for a while. Traveling around who knows what kind of crap you can pick up in an airport or on the plane, they don't clean that stuff. I am good about not touching my eyes, nose, or mouth if I haven't washed my hands. But I was grossed out momentarily. After a while it seemed like my eyes were clearing, and there wasn't any yellow or green crap coming out. Was I allergic to something? It seemed to get better as the evening went on, so I forgot about it.
Later that evening I had almost everything organized and ready for race morning, all I had to do was drive to Alabama. I went out of the hotel to get something to eat. I stopped in an Italian restaurant to order something to go and while I was waiting, I stood up and crashed my leg into a bench. That hurt. It wasn't as bad as the bedpost lady crash, but it was enough to remind me that I wasn't free of the taperworm's reach.
Fortunately it hardly even showed a bruise, even by race day, and it didn't affect me. I was extra careful with furniture and lighting in the hotel rooms from that point on.
I got a good night's sleep at the hotel and the next morning I opened my window to look out over a bright, beautiful clear morning.
As I looked closer, it looked like there was some sort of traffic jam in the parking lot below. Tons of cars were turning into the driveway below the hotel and turning into...
the drive-through window of the Dunkin Donuts in front of the hotel!
I went downstairs to eat breakfast, they gave me a coupon for a free breakfast when I checked in, and I figured I should start packing the calories in. The waitress was about my age, and she had a thick drawl. "Where would you like to sit, sweetheart?"
Yes ma'am, I am in the south. She was very nice, so was everyone at the hotel. I went to get food and they had everything I would expect: eggs, bacon, biscuits, sausage gravy, grits, you name it. I got a little of everything. And it was good! It's a good thing I don't live in the south.
I sat there for a long time and enjoyed the food, then I checked out of my room and started to head south. It was about a 2 hour drive to Decatur, I wanted to have enough time to take pictures and stop along the way if I saw something interesting, and get there with enough time to check out the course and maybe take a nap before the pre-race dinner.
Driving down, Tennessee was very hilly with thick trees. Once I crossed into Alabama, it was a lot flatter and more open, looked more like swamp areas and open cotton fields. I saw cotton fields, and some old Plantation-style houses with little run-down shacks nearby. I also remembered that they like to get people for speeding in the south, and the second I crossed into Alabama, there was a state trooper car in the median, waiting. I stuck to the 70 mph speed limit.
Most of the trees were still leafless, but some of the underbrush was greening up. Every once in a while I'd pass some big beautiful leafed-out trees, the leaves reminded me of the rhododendrons we had in Pennsylvania, the leaves almost look like plastic, they are big and shiny. They weren't blooming yet. I wanted to know what those trees were. I wondered if they were magnolia trees, but I'd have to look it up later or ask someone.
After I crossed the state line there was a rest area with a tourist information center, so I pulled over and went inside. The woman inside was eager to talk to me, she wanted to know where I was from, why I was there, and so on. I didn't want to go into the details of ultrarunning and get going on explaining that, so I asked her questions instead. I asked her about the trees I'd seen. She told me it was some kind of pear.
I have a degree in Forestry and I knew it wasn't any kind of pear. No pear tree gets that big, even in a swamp. And pear trees don't have rubbery-looking leaves. I didn't argue with her, but I knew I'd have to ask someone else. She did tell me that everything is blooming right now, she pointed to some daffodils in a bed outside the building. Then she told me about how her daughter has such bad allergies this time of year. So that's what was wrong with my eyes the night before!
After that useful tidbit of information, I thanked her and walked outside, took a picture of this giant missile with the appropriately, serendipitously, and politically timed and placed headstone in front of it. The snark was racing through my mind.
I texted Dennis to let him know I'd arrived in Alabama and sent him this picture above with the text.
As I headed south on I-65, I became quite amused by the contrasting billboard placements nearby each other. In one case, there was a church almost directly underneath one of the sleazier billboards.
If you had a choice, would you spend eternity at the Boobie Bungalow? Or would you go the Strait (sic) & Narrow Way?
Then I crossed the Tennessee River, and on the other side was Decatur.
It was too early to check into the hotel, so I went over to Delano Park to check out the course. The town is pretty small, it was only about a mile from the hotel to the park.
It was a nice park, there was a nicely groomed and landscaped rose garden, that wasn't in bloom yet, and the trees were still leafless, but I thought it was beautiful even in winter.
The course looked like loose dirt, a lot softer surface than I had anticipated. I'd planned to wear my lighterweight Adrenalines, but immediately I changed my shoe choice back to my clunker Brooks Addictions. I haven't run enough on soft surfaces to trust the Adrenalines and I wasn't about to let race day be my first opportunity. It would be a gaiter and compression sleeve day.
It also looked like part of the course was under construction. I found out later that it had flooded and the city had filled it in. There was a 90 degree turn at the bottom of the course in an area where the dirt was uneven and soft, trail-like conditions in that little corner. It's a one mile loop, exactly.
There were bathrooms with real flush toilets, sinks, soap and paper towels. There was also a portapotty. I ate lunch in the park and checked out the course. There was one hill, broken up in two grades with a flat section between, and on the other side there was a nice downhill.
I found the church where the pre-race dinner was to be held, and scoped out a McDonald's for the morning just a few blocks from the park, and found where I could buy ice at 5 am. Then I headed for the hotel, the most tenuous part of the entire adventure...
Decatur's infamous hotel choices were already known to me before the event. I'd had lots of forewarnings. Two people had recommended the Holiday Inn, said it was the nicest place in town. Least likely to find creepy crawly things in bed with me, so they said.
When I drove up, the parking lot was jam packed with cars. It couldn't be the race, there's no way that little race would fill a hotel. When I got in the lobby I was hit with the strong greasy aroma of fried food again. There was some event going on, lots of people milling around in the lobby and restaurant. I couldn't tell what kind of gathering it was. The parking lot had a few seedy-looking characters in it, like an old redneck with no teeth smoking a cigarette, wearing a Roll Tide shirt...
The lobby looked worn and marginally clean. The front desk staff were nice and they got me checked in. They pointed me in the direction of my room. I passed through the lobby and a hallway that opened up into a huge recreation area, with video arcade games, foos-ball, and the indoor pool.
The musty smell of the indoor pool was what hit me as soon as I walked in there. I walked up a flight of stairs to the 2nd floor where my room was. There was no elevator in that part of the hotel, so I'd be dragging my stuff up and down the stairs. I found my room and stuck the key in to open the door. It was old, heavy, and rusty, and shut with a loud "clunk".
This room was also a suite, the front room was a living area and kitchen, and the back room was a bedroom and bathroom separated from the front by another heavy door. The carpets looked worn and nasty, the furniture didn't look much better, all the curtains were filthy-looking and the beds definitely bowed in the center. The bedroom and bathroom were actually pretty clean and well-lit. It was almost pleasant in there, if I didn't look too closely at anything.
I decided to take a shortcut back to the car to bring the rest of my junk up to the room. There was an outdoor stairwell with a little corridor that led to it. It looked like no one had cleaned it in years. The doors were almost fuzzy with fingerprints and some other streaky sludge, couldn't really see through the glass, the walls were stained, and the stairwell appeared to have pigeon shit in it, on the walls, on the floor, on the steps. Nasty.
I told myself, just for two nights, and as long as I stayed in the room, it would be okay.
I went back out and drove around town. There were cute little neighborhoods with big trees, and some industrial looking parts of town along the river. It was pretty spread out for such a small town. I thought about checking out the downtown area but I remembered I should be staying off my feet, so I went back to the room.
I hung out in the room, drank a lot of fluids, and finished organizing everything for the morning. I was way ahead of myself, there wasn't much to do so I sat on the bed with my feet up, tried to take a nap but didn't sleep, and then it was time to go to the pre-race dinner.
I had already eaten a lot of food prior to the dinner, but I grabbed a plate of pasta and salad. I saw Tammy Massie, whom I know from multiple races over the years, and her husband Tristan. I saw Liz Bauer, whom I've raced against at Across the Years, and favored to win Delano Park this time, and really, I didn't know anyone else. I was hoping to run into a few local people from the ultra list, but I figured I'd see them on race day. I sat with Tammy and Tristan and we talked Badwater, Tammy just found out she got in the race this year and she's very excited.
There was a lot of chatter about running and I tend to avoid that before a race. I don't like a lot of hype, stimulation and discussion the night before a race. It gets my head in the wrong place and I like to just forget about it all. I didn't stick around long, just put some food down, met a few people, socialized a little, got my race packet and took off.
I took a long shower, and I was tired by 8 pm. I called Dennis and we talked for a few minutes, and I was ready to sleep. I slept well and woke up a half hour before my alarm went off in the morning.
At 5 am I left the room and took the back way down the nasty stairwell to go to my car. It was still dark outside, but the stairwell itself was lighted.
When I was at the top of the stairs, something flew by, with a familiar chaotic flapping motion. I saw some kind of little pellet thing drop down and hit the ground. Bats!
So all that crap in the stairwell, that wasn't pigeon shit. It was bat shit! Holy Hospitality, Batman, I was staying at the Guano Motel!
I did my pre-race stops for ice and a McDonald's sandwich, and when I arrived at the park, people were setting up. I parked and set my table and chair up in between some canopies that the relay teams set up. I was next to a Crimson Tide canopy. Roll Tide!
I got all my stuff set up. It was just getting light. They sky looked partly cloudy and it was cool. It felt like perfect running weather. I took out my skewers and the package of Peeps and set up my area. The Peeps were a hit!
The race got started and we were off. I ran a lot in the first few hours with Tammy, who quizzed me on different aspects of preparing for Badwater. Tammy has run so many ultras that she really doesn't need to worry about the running part of it. She just needs to prepare for the heat and having a crew. Tammy was bundled up in layers, including windpants, she said she was cold. It was cold, but I was wearing shorts.
I finally met Heather from the ultra list. She's awesome! She's a local, from Huntsville, and an amazingly strong walker. She kicks butt. She wears colorful clothes, has purple hair and tattoos, and you can't miss her because she's the most colorful runner on the course. She was very excited to have her cute little grandson come out for part of the day. It's always fun to meet people you otherwise only "see" on e-mail or Facebook.
I was also hoping to meet a couple of other runners from the ultralist, they were out there but we never actually talked or met. I did meet so many nice people. There were some seasoned multiday runners like Fred Davis from Cleveland, who is quite the character. He's headed off to do a Sri Chinmoy 10 day race next month.
I met Di and Susan from Atlanta, who both placed first and second in the women's race, we shared lots of partial laps and walk breaks throughout the day. Di is fairly new to ultrarunning and she is very strong, she is going to do well. She won the women's race and got 66 miles, with Susan in second with 64 miles.
Liz Bauer was out there, too. She ran something like thirty 100 milers last year and she says she's injured and broken down, still she ran a strong race out there. She placed third behind Susan. Sounds like she needs more of a break to run the way she could.
I placed fourth among the women, with a mediocre 61 miles. I was disappointed in the number itself, but it definitely was one of those races that isn't your day. It wasn't a total disaster, but I wish I'd done a few things differently. Still, you need to race a lot in order to get to the good performances, they aren't all great.
For me, the race felt like three different days all smashed into one. The first 4 hours were cool and cloudy, I was actually cold, and it looked and felt like it might rain. The next four hours got very warm and sunny, probably about 70 degrees, and I started to struggle with the heat. I haven't been in the sauna in nearly a year, and haven't done any heat training at all since last summer. The last four hours, it got cloudier and cooled down some, and then the sun started going down.
Given my lack of warm weather training, as soon as I realized I was getting in trouble with the heat, I slapped some ice on my neck in a bandana, and it didn't take long before I got my body temperature back under control. I ran pretty hard the first 4 hours. Not fast, but the mistake I made was not enough walking breaks. I think that's the biggest mistake I made all day. Also, I am definitely a better asphalt runner than on dirt.
Hydration and electrolytes were perfect. I didn't swell, I didn't get a single blister, and I kept the calories going except for a brief time at midday when I was hot and feeling a little queasy. I stuck to yogurt during that time, and once that passed, PBJs and pepsi at the aid station kept me going. I did a few gels too.
I did slow down a lot in each third of the race. Again, more walking early on would have helped with that. I will keep that in mind at North Coast and be diligent about my walking. I made it to just under 24 miles in 4 hours, which was comfortable enough that I didn't feel the need to walk. The lessons will be repeated until they are learned.
I slowed progressively, with only about 44 miles at 8 hours during that middle section when it was so hot, and made it to 50 miles in 9:17, exactly a minute faster than Oklahoma City, but by that point I was hurting and had nothing left in my legs, by the last few laps I was averaging maybe 15 minute miles or worse. I kept my tunes on after my little bout with the heat, that helped me stay focused on moving.
I ended up as 4th woman and 10th overall, 61 miles. I just didn't have anything left at the end, most likely a result of the lack of walk breaks. It was about 7 hours into the race when I started feeling my legs deteriorating. I thought maybe I'd bounce back, but I never did.
I did have fun talking with people. There was one guy from Alabama named Murphy who was in his first ultra and he wanted to run his age of 44 years in miles, and he ended up with 45. He was thrilled. It's so fun to watch new runners in these events and see them amaze themselves when they reach their goals.
There were lots of relay runners flying by us all the time. I wish I'd been feeling better and would have been able to put it in that gear, some other day, I guess.
I also managed to find out what the mystery tree was, and it was a magnolia.
Liz looked like she was seriously competitive and running scared out there, I'm not sure what was going on or if she knew that Di was ahead by so many miles, but I saw Liz constantly looking over her shoulder even as early as 40 miles into the race. She even asked me at one point where I was, and I told her I was a mile behind her, that I had 39 and she had 40 at that point. I think she was hurting.
On one of our walk breaks together Susan told me not to judge the south by the motels. She asked me how my place was. She said their motel didn't have any hot water.
I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about other places in town with stains, odors, and live four, six, and eight legged companions in the rooms. Maybe the Guano Motel wasn't so bad after all.
The relay team guys at the canopy next to my table kept cheering me on. They'd say "Go Colorado!"
On the second to last lap, I was coming up over the hill and one of the guys in the race was next to me. We both had our heads down, focused on our suffering, when suddenly this car drove by on the street next to the park. There were three big dogs leaning out the windows on the passenger side, with their paws hanging out the windows, down on the door. At first I thought it was people with their arms out the window until the car got closer. It was the funniest thing, we laughed so hard. We needed that entertainment at that point in the race.
There are no partial laps counted so if you get to the finish line and can't do another full lap, you stop. I got there in 11:51:33 and I couldn't have run an 8:27 mile to save my life at that point. My last few laps were about double that time. So I stopped there with my 61 miles. I didn't even know my total until the post-race dinner because the timing system went down around 10 and a half hours into the race, and they needed to use the backup system to get the miles added together right.
It was getting dark and cold, I broke down all my stuff and loaded it into the car, the guys from the relay team took my chair and table for me, and Tristan helped me deal with the heavier stuff. I went over to the church for the dinner and awards, sat with Di and Susan and met a few other people, and that was it. It was short and sweet.
I went back to the Guano Motel and left most stuff in the car to deal with in the morning. I took a shower, called Dennis and then left Wheaties Boy a message, then I had to turn the clocks forward, I set my alarm just in case, as I had a 2 hour drive to Nashville before I returned the rental car and flew back. I drank a Corona, and crashed.
I woke up early again on Sunday morning. It was my birthday. I was 49 years old. I was in Alabama. I was alive. As they say, on the right side of the grass.
It was cloudy but warm as I drove back across the Tennessee River and up I-65 to Nashville. The sunrise was pretty over the swamps.
I stopped off at a Whole Foods and got some breakfast, I was hungry. Even Whole Foods has sausage gravy and grits in the south! I scarfed a huge breakfast, filled the car with gas and took it back to Hertz. Then I went into the airport. Security was really slow and there were screaming kids. I had plenty of time before my flight so I treated myself to a chair massage while I waited.
I actually slept a little on the flight home, which was quick. It was sunny and very little snow had fallen in Denver. I went from swamp to snow on my birthday, in just a few hours. I survived my trip to the south as a Yankee Princess, bat guano and all.
When I got home, I discovered the TSA had been in my stuff. Apparently they liked the smell of my dirty running clothes. Or maybe someone told them my birthday was the same day as Osama bin Laden's. Anyway, I didn't get detained or busted for my suspicious white powder-filled S-Cap capsules.
Six weeks to North Coast. I'm not going to sweat it, it's a training run, intended to be a learning opportunity in my quest to improve at 24 hours. Even though I didn't have the best performance at Delano Park, I know I'm onto something, and one of these days, I'll pop one out.
How would I rate this race? Awesome! It was a great little local event, low key, well done, no frills. Just perfect. The people make it fun. I don't know that I'd travel all that way just to do this particular race to race again, I wouldn't choose it for a race performance, it's definitely not my type of course that I do best on, but for some people it could be a fast course.
If I happened to be out that way, or caught a great deal on travel expenses, I would absolutely run it again! Everyone was so nice, the people at the race: the race directors, the volunteers, the runners, the spectators, are what make the event.
I would recommend this race to anyone and I feel it was worth the travel time and expense, if anyone from the west is looking for something different I'd say go do this one. It was my definition of fun. I can't think of a much better way to spend my birthday.
Speaking of birthdays, I feel pretty good today. I'm training to turn 50 now. I think I'll take the girls for a run...