Last Saturday, Dana and I, Brian and Kathy, and a host of other friends invaded Huntsville, TX to run Sunmart 50K/50M. It was my 3rd run at the Huntsville State Park area with nary a finish to show for it. Last year, I missed the time cut-off for starting the 4th lap by a mere 90 seconds, a time that could have been erased by not having to change from my long pants to shorts, or just getting out of aid stations a little quicker. Then last February, I ran out of "want-to" after 80 miles after battling nausea, sleep, and cold. It was the 1st race I ever just quit when I should have went on. DNFing is a disease that gets easier the more you do it.
Sunmart is run on mostly single track trails with just a few miles of dirt roads mixed in. There are absolutely no rocks on the course, but more than enough roots to make up for it. Much of the run is under tall pines, and the trails in places are covered with pine needles. Other sections are quite sandy. There are several wooden bridges over some of the swampy areas, and these bridges protect the weary runners from alligators which are native to the area!
Sunmart also has the best swag of any race I have done. We each received a nice sport bag, a polo shirt, a leatherish covered notebook, some cheapie sunglasses, a nice tech hat, a really nice (but yellow) tech shirt, and for finishing, a classy medal and a choice of a Tyvek jacket or an afghan. They serve a first class banquet style dinner the night before, and then breakfast before the race and all kinds of tasty food after the race. I always gain 4 or 5 pounds after Sunmart.
The aid stations are plenty, and the array of food is great. My favorite is Oreo cookies smeared with peanut butter, and sprinkled with M&Ms....YUM!!! The volunteers are great, and stayed for all of the runners including the more pokey ones like the Zombie.
This year, Dana was trying her 1st 50K. Her longest run had been 18 miles, although she had ran several 25Ks on trails. Her training was light, with minimal miles and long runs, although she had done 17/5 mile back-to-back and breezed through it the weekend before. Our great friend Roman ran with us every step of the way and finished despite having a hip flexor barking at him for most of the race.
We settled in to a 13-14 minute pace and gradually slowed down as the race went on. Dana was battling a stomach virus and that slowed her efforts for the first half of the race. But she was very determined and wanted a finish very badly! She was running strong on the 6 mile out-and-back that the 50Kers ran, and other than a few stops along the way, ran steady for the 1st 12.5 mile loop. I was really concerned that reaching the start/finish after 18.5 miles, the temptation to quit would be strong, and I had decided to "scurry" her right through the aid station and get her moving onto the 2nd loop. But, she moved on without protest. After about 5.5 miles and a little more slowing of the pace, someone at an aid station told her she had only 7 more miles to go. And at about that time, an older (60ish) man passed us. That was all the fuel she needed, and while Roman and I were stuffing our faces at an aid station, Dana took off. We noticed that she seemed to have come to life, and we pursued. After reaching the top of a hill (that she evidently RAN) we realized that we had lost her. She had put about a half a mile on us. We had to pick up our pace considerably to catch her, and after 30 minutes of non-stop running, we finally caught her. By this time, we only had less than 4 miles to go, and the smell of the finish line was pulling us in.
It was Dana's goal to finish before dark, and although I had brought our headlamps (just in case) we never needed them. I know she was tired, but Dana never lost the desire to run, and ran with hardly a walk break for those last 7 miles. She did manage to pass 3 people during her strong finish. Dana, Roman, and I crossed the finish line together, collected out medals, finishers afghans, and ambled through the food line. Dana has been all grins ever since then. Two days later she has lost a toenail. It was a newbie, but was pushed up to a floating existence, and since then departed. What is now left is a cavity deep, almost to the bone.... oozy, inflamed, and painful to see. Funny, she seems to value that awful looking toe like a trophy. Sounds like a diseased ultra-runner if I have ever met one!!