Finisher's medal, tiara, and pumpkin
I loved the concept of this race, although it was totally wasted on me, lol. The race was limited to a total of 25 runners for the marathon and half-marathon. Runners started at whatever time they wanted as long as they finished by midnight. The final cut-off would be 1:00 a.m. Runners who finished by midnight would be given a tiara, and those that finished after midnight would be given a pumpkin. These goodies were in addition to the finisher's medal. The course was a 4.37 mile loop, starting at the race director's house, which was in a gated community. Six loops on the rolling hills through the neighborhood made up a marathon. The entry fee was $5, plus a donation of food or fluids to the aid station, which was situated in the race director's driveway.
My plan was to start at 5:30 p.m. I'm not the most punctual person, so at 5:50 p.m. I arrived at the race director's home in Macon, GA. I hurriedly got myself together and checked in before starting at exactly 6:00 p.m. with Andrew (the race director), another runner, and my running buddy, Andy (FL).
Andy and I followed Andrew and the other runner up a hill and at some point while we were talking, we lost sight of them. The course was marked well with bright yellow signs at each turn. However, since Andy and I were chatting, we missed a sign. We were cruising down a long hill and then we saw two signs facing away from us, a bad indication that we were off-course already.
We pulled out the course map, found out where we were, and started back-tracking up the hill. We heard Andrew and the other runner coming from a side street and called out to them. Andrew told us that we had indeed missed a turn and pointed us in the right direction. According to Andy's GPS, we had run a 0.5 mile bonus, which really isn't a big deal for ultrarunners, lol.
Now that we were back on course, Andy picked up the pace. It doesn't take long for the steam to run out of my engine, so I watched as Andy steadily pulled away from me. It would be a long night.
The neighborhood was nice. People were out watering their lawns or taking a walk, and kids were riding their bikes or otherwise playing. No one seemed to pay us any special attention, which is what we wanted. We did not have race numbers and that helped. But we did have hand-held water bottles or waist packs, which to me should have drawn some attention, especially running by the guarded entrance to the community. The race went along smoothly and without interruption, however.
The hills were not steep, but they were frequent. The traffic was heavy starting out, but it died down as it got later in the evening. It was hot at the start, but as the sun went down, it became a pleasant night for a run.
At the end of the first loop, I checked in with the race director's wife, refilled my bottle, grabbed a gel, and continued on. I could barely see Andy ahead of me, and Andrew and the other runner were out of sight and well on their way.
Navigationally, the 2nd loop went better, as I paid special attention to where Andy and I had missed the turn. I should add, as a credit to Andrew, that it was clearly marked.
I was trying to maintain an hour per loop, but that didn't happen. I was closer to an hour and 20 minutes per loop. As frustrating as that was, I was not going to let my turtle pace ruin a good night of running and walking. Back at the aid station, I checked in again, grabbed some pretzels, refilled my bottle, and headed out.
On the 3rd loop I ran a little with David (CA), who was also running his 3rd loop. Being faster, he had taken a later start. He remembered running with me a few years ago at the Pacific Crest Marathon in Oregon. He has a good memory. I barely even remember running that marathon, not to mention who I ran with, lol. All of these races tend to merge together mentally after a while, and it's not a reflection on the race or the other runners. After his brief rest, David continued on at a great pace.
During the 3rd loop, it was getting dark. When I saw David with his blinking red light attached to his back, I realized that I had forgotten to pick up my flashlight and reflective gear. It would be dark before I finished this loop. There were glow sticks on the course markers, but without a flashlight, I couldn't see much else. There weren't many street lights, and there weren't any sidewalks. I just hoped that the cars coming through the neighborhood could see me and didn't hit me.
I finished up my 3rd loop, realizing that I wouldn't make it by midnight and that I wouldn't get a tiara. I grabbed a little Debbie oatmeal cream pie and headed to my car to get a flashlight and my reflective vest. One of the volunteers also gave me 2 reflective tubes, one pink and one green, to put around my neck and wrist. Someone would have to be drunk and blind to miss me at this point, lol.
Loop #4 found neighbors sitting out on the porch enjoying the evening. The number of cars passing through had decreased, and the familiar night sounds had begun. I'm not sure if the sounds came from birds, crickets, or frogs, but it was never quiet. It was nice to hear sounds other than my own breathing and the patter of my big feet.
Starting the 5th loop, I took in some Mountain Dew. I had been drinking a lot of Gatorade, but I was sweating profusely. Between the hot flashes and the humidity, I was dripping wet the entire night. And now I was getting very tired. But surprisingly, I was still enjoying the night. I was walking and running and slowly making progress. This was the loop that Andy finally caught up to me and lapped me, but I had been expecting it. He had a very good chance of finishing his 6th loop by midnight.
I was ambulating along when I saw a female runner coming towards me. I knew before she reached me that she had made a wrong turn. I assumed that she was a half-marathoner who had started after dark and did not have the benefit of seeing the course during the day. According to her GPS (was I the only one not carrying one of these things, lol?), she had already covered 6 miles, but I told her that we were only a little over the half-way point in the loop. I pointed her in the right direction, told her about the next couple of turns, and she went about her way.
Towards the end of each loop and after what seems like a long time spent on one particular road, we did a little out-n-back section. Well, again I see the same female runner coming back towards me long before I hit the out-n-back section. The poor girl had to be frustrated, because she had again gone off-course. I straightened her out once again, and she took off, saying that she was not coming out for another loop. With all of the wrong turns she'd made, she was close to a half-marathon and would just finish the remaining distance closer to the race director's house using her GPS. Yes . . . I guess that works just as well, lol.I started my 6th loop after midnight, and as slow as I was going, I wouldn't finish by 1:00 a.m. either. None of the volunteers attempted to pull me from the race. This was such a laid back race that I really didn't expect Andrew to be strict with the cut-off. However, I still felt guilty delaying the conclusion of the race. I tried to finish the last loop as fast as I could, but it was 1:30 a.m. when I finally made it back to the race director's house.
My last loop was not without incident. A neighbor who was out watering her lawn (at midnight) asked if we were having a walkathon. I laughed and told her it was something like that. I also told her that I was the last one out, so we were just about done. Hopefully, Andrew didn't get into trouble holding the race within the gated community. To be on the safe side and so that he'd be prepared, I told him about the conversation with his neighbor when I finished.
A little later down the road, I saw a possum. They are not the cutest looking animals to me. I shined my flashlight on it, and it looked it me like "And? That's all you got!" He did not budge, and I'm not sure how territorial they are, so I carefully walked around it. When I passed, he went on about his business. I received a totally different response from several cats that I unintentionally scared during the night. They scampered away like I had enough energy to chase them. Hah! The dogs were not any better. Once one dog started to bark, it was like a chain reaction. Every dog in the neighborhood seemed to be barking at some point as I travelled through the streets.
I finally made it back to the finish. Those remaining congratulated me. Andrew placed a tiara on my head and put a finisher's medal around my neck. I commented that I thought I wouldn't receive a tiara since I went past midnight. "Everybody gets a tiara," he told me. "And here's your pumpkin." It was a fuzzy orange pen with a fuzzy little pumpkin on top. How cute!
There were 10 finishers for the marathon and 5 finishers for the half-marathon, making it the smallest race I have ever participated in. I was the last runner out on the course, but time-wise my 7:30 finish positioned me in 9th place for the marathon. I remembered when I could finish trail 50K's in less time, but I wasn't going to let that time bother me. I enjoyed traversing through Andrew's neighborhood, and I appreciated the official finish. Next time, I'll make sure that I start early enough so that I will not turn into a pumpkin at midnight, lol.