"You're going to love RUTS!" That's what one of my running buddies, Lauri (PA), told me in an e-mail a few weeks ago. And she was absolutely right! I had avoided doing this race for a while, because I could not imagine running around a half-mile loop, during the night, for 10 hours. Over the last couple of years, however, I have been doing a lot of timed events. Most of them were 12/24 hours on trails, with the smallest loop of any of the events being 5K. Due to my slower than slow pace, I have grown to love and appreciate timed events, so it was time to give RUTS a try.
Steve, the race director, is one of my favorite race directors. He and his volunteers do a great job at the Land Between the Lakes Trail Runs, and RUTS was executed just as well. We started at 8:00 p.m., just as the sun was retiring for the night and the temperature was becoming bearable. It was a beautiful night - no rain, a little humidity, a slight breeze, a crescent moon, and definitely, a few stars. It's a chip-timed event, and the familiar "beep" as you crossed the mat after each half-mile loop became a confidence builder. The horse track we ran on was banked on the edges, but of course, everyone ran the loop at the smallest circumference, where it was completely flat. The surface was finely crushed gravel, very smooth, except for the occasional horseshoe print embedded in the dirt surface. With all of the relay and solo runners traversing the loop over and over, I think we created a smooth-as-glass surface by 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Since the track was oval-shaped, we switched direction every 2 hours to lessen the stress on either side of the body from leaning into the curved portions of the loop.
Next to the timing table was the aid station, well-stocked with everything we needed. To cut down on the number of paper cups used, Steve had provided everybody a water bottle, labeled with each runner's name and bib number. The bottles were laid out on the table in numerical order, and as each runner approached the table for fluids, the volunteers could easily access the correct bottle. The volunteers would refill it for you with gatorade, HEED, or water and place the bottle back in order to have it waiting for you the next time you needed it. This worked out very well and was a great idea. I appreciate Steve for displaying his environmental awareness.
About half way around and on the outside of the loop was a small building that had men and women restroom facilities. It was nice to have flush toilets, running water, and soap, instead of porta potties, or in the case of trail runs, bushes with heavy foliage. The course was also well-lit during the night. There's an inner grassy circle in which a lot of runners parked their cars, set up tents and chairs, and had their own special food, fluids, and clothing easily accessible.
Being in Paducah, KY, a bunch of my southeast running buddies were present. Kendel (GA) was there without her hubby, Walt. Unfortunately, Walt had to attend a funeral, so Kendel was looping alone. Because she had to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight, she was running quickly to get her miles in, lapping me several times in the process.
Bill (TN) was blazing the course as well. He threatened to get a piece of chalk and mark off on my butt every time he passed me, lol. I told him that sounded like fun. Some time during the night when I had decided that I wasn't running another step and then proceeded to walk loop after loop for the remainder of the night, Bill reminded me that the race was called "Run Under the Stars" and not "Walk Under the Stars." Indeed, lol! It was all in good fun, and I enjoyed the cattle prodding from Bill.
Phil (AL) was also there, and we walked a lot of loops together after he started having some stomach issues. I was glad to have the company, and on a normal basis, I would not have had the opportunity to spend time with Phil because he's a much faster runner than me. At one point he brought up the one time that I finished ahead of him in a race. I couldn't believe that he remembered. At the 2007 Andrew Jackson Marathon, I steadily reeled Phil in, on my way to a PR of 4:20:02. As I passed him, he asked "What are you doing up here?" I wasn't sure either, but there I was, running well and feeling great. Since Phil remembered, I guess it wasn't a dream after all, lol.
Mike (TN) is another runner that I would not have an opportunity to spend time with during a race. He's a running machine, but he was taking it easy because he is going to the Chattooga River 50K this upcoming weekend and wanted to save something to run well there. That was a good decision. Chattooga River is one of the most difficult 50K's that I've run, but it is also one of the most beautiful trails I've seen. Mike walked several loops with Phil and me, talking about races that we've done and planned to do. I felt like a princess with my handsome knights walking with me during the night, racking up miles, 0.5 miles at a time.
Gary (TN), the race director for the Strolling Jim 40 Mile, Vol State, and the Barkley, was also there, walking several loops. He is a character, and the few times that I lapped him, we would engage in a little chit-chat. I told him early on how much I enjoyed the SJ40, that I would love to do Vol State, and that my nightmare is to be the first female to finish the Barkley 100 Mile, lol. Vol State is probably doable for me - 31 miles a day for 10 days in July on TN roads. However, in 23 years, only 8 men have finished the Barkley. Gary probably thinks I'm crazy or I'm just too stupid to realize how hard it is to finish the Barkley in 60 hours with 52,900 feet of climb and descent, no aid stations, and no trail markings. And he's probably correct, lol, but a girl can fantasize, right?
Steve racked up 20 miles, in addition to fulfilling his race director duties. He effortlessly lapped me, looking strong, happy, and offering encouragement to each runner he passed. I am in awe.
It always amazes me when someone tells me that they took a nap during a race. This is the case with Danny (KY). He had been lapping me consistently all night, and so, when I didn't see him for a while, I thought maybe he was just slowing down a little. Later, when he again started lapping me, he told me that he had laid down for an hour but probably only slept for 15 minutes. The break seemed to be working well for him, as he was still lapping me at a good clip. The one time I took a nap during a 24-hour race, I never returned to the course, sleeping the remaining time in the car. That's one mistake I hopefully will never repeat, lol.
At the start of the race, Kendel introduced me to my new running buddy, Carol (KY). She is one of the original 50 Staters, finishing in 1998, I believe. She is such a positive and fun person, and I jokingly accused her of being a flirt, after she convinced one of the young, cute, male volunteers to walk a lap with us toward the end of the race. I think Jared (KY) enjoyed that lap as much as we did, lol.
Stu (FL) is the race director for the Ancient Oaks 100 Mile that takes place in December. He invited me to come down and give it a try. I think I will. He is fast, lapping me several times during the night. Towards the end of the race, he walked a lap with Carol and me, telling us stories about the Barkley and his younger, and even faster, racing days. After his break, Stu again took off running. The sun was coming up, and Stu was still moving like we had just started.
Carol and I walked and talked, and walked and talked some more, until there was only about 7 minutes left on the clock. At that point, neither of us could complete a half-mile loop in less than 10 minutes, so we called it a night (or a morning, as the sun was wide awake, promising another beautiful day).
Afterwards, I stayed for the awards. The results are not posted yet, and I'm not sure what mileage all of my running buddies accomplished. I hope they all met their goals, or at least, feel as good about their mileage as I do about mine. I fell short of my "goal" of 41 (my age) miles, but I did get in 34.5 miles, coming away with a nice finisher's award and a hearty handshake of congratulations from Steve, just as if I was one of his top finishers.
I forget names all of the time, but I rarely forget a person's face. There was a runner that ran with Bill a few hours at the start of the race, but later, he took off alone on a mission. Again and again, I saw these beautiful legs lapping me, and it never occurred to me that I would personally know anyone that fast. I never saw him take a walk break, and his running was efficient, to say the least. Each movement and expenditure of energy had a specific purpose, to push his body forward. It was a wonderful sight.
During the awards, this runner was sitting in front of me. He was talking to another runner, and all of a sudden I realized who he was. We'll call him Faster Mike (TN) to distinguish him from Fast Mike, who walked with me during the night. When I called out his full name, he turned to me, and I was so embarrassed. I could not believe that I didn't realize who he was 10 hours ago. I apologized to him for my oversight. I felt terrible about it, and I hope he was not offended.
Thanks to Steve and my running buddies, I had a wonderful time. I can't put into words the fun I had running/walking 0.5 miles on a horse track for 10 hours at night. It's a different atmosphere, and to my surprise, I was never bored. I felt a slight bit of sadness when the last runner hit the timing mat, setting off the last "beep", right before a volunteer blew the horn at exactly 6:00 a.m., signifying the end of the race. It's humbling to see the faster runners lapping you again and again, but it's also encouraging because if you keep seeing them, that means that you're also still moving. In a race like this, putting one foot in front of the other is the key to success. There is no other secret to it.
4 years ago