Sunday, September 2, 2012

Race Report - 2012 Merrill's Mile 24 Hour Endurance Run

Appropriate race logo for an ultra on at an Army Ranger Training Camp.
This one was completely unplanned for me. Lurking on the ultra list as I often do, I noticed a post from ultra runner and fellow Huntsvillian Heather Whiteside regretting that she couldn't participate in the inaugural version of the Merrill's Mile 24 Hour Endurance Run that she had registered for due to a family commitment. She had asked RD Willy Syndram if she could transfer the entry to another runner for free as she just wanted someone to at least get to participate in her stead and I was the lucky winner who replied first. Thanks again to both Willy and Heather for giving me this opportunity. While I certainly didn't have my best performance by a long stretch, I did have an amazing time with lots of ultra runners and ultra friends I hadn't seen in quite some time.

Appropriate logo for a bunch of "dumasses" running in circles;-)

I also got to witness my buddy Timo Sandritter's first ever ultra marathon finish. I used to run university loops with this guy for many many afternoons years ago when he first moved to the States. After a long hiatus from running, he had recently started to participate in a couple of local 5Ks and 10Ks after some training and decided it was time for the next step...a 24 hour ultra marathon. No not really, he just had no plans that weekend and figured, why not go along with Martin and see how many miles I actually can run, if I put my mind to it. Well, he ran a total of 40 miles in less than 13 hours....after never having run more than 10 miles in his entire life. Congrats, Timo. Your next ultra finish is just around the corner, I'm sure;-)


Camping "ultra style" in the center of the dirt track (our canopy is the green one in the far back).
We arrived at Camp Merrill early Friday evening. Pre-race check in took place a a church parking lot across the street from the main gate and RD Willy Syndram looked slightly baffled when we arrived. But why, you ask? Well, my old Garmin sent us through the woods, literally, to get to the camp. 15 miles of jeep roads at the end of which we arrived at the main gate of the camp from the opposite direction of everyone else who obviously took the lone paved road leading to the Ranger's Camp. This was only the tip of the iceberg of our little driving adventure. Instead of routing us around Fort Mountain State Park and the mountain, my Garmin sent us straight through and over. However, it was definitely the more scenic route and unlike the last time I went here (March 2012 to run Double Top 100 Miler), this time I took the time for a quick snapshot of the beautiful view (see below).

View atop Fort Mountain State Park on our drive to Camp Frank D. Merrill.
Once Timo and I got registered (Willy was kindly assisted by Kena), we headed straight for the town of Dahlonega to find our hotel and food. While I did enjoy the Italian restaurant we found, their food appeared to be the cause for the rough night I had ahead of me.

I woke up at 4AM sharp, stomach rumbling...you can guess the rest. I continued the trip the the bathroom multiple times over the next 3 hours and when it was finally time to get up and head for the race, I knew I would be in for a rough race. Regardless of how much fluids I had consumed over the past three days to "prehydrate" for the race, I knew I would be starting the race with a hydration deficit.

We arrived at Camp Merrill around 7:30 AM with plenty of time to set up our supplies and our canopy. Runners had already arrived and more continued to arrive every few minutes. We had a prime spot on the inside of the track near the start/finish area and one of the two aid stations, right next to some GUTS folks (Philip Sustar and his family). Willy and his crew of volunteers were already done setting up and Perry Sebastian was setting up his timing equipment (that Perry guy, even when he's not hosting a race,  he still finds productive ways to get involved in a race. Thanks, buddy!)

By now, it was time to get ready to race. I strapped my GoPro to my head and headed for the starting line to hear Willy send us off on our way. The race course was a 1 mile gravel loop next to the Ranger Camp airfield. The course was fully exposed to the sun for much of the day and that beat down by the sun had a serious affect on every single runner out there. Staying hydrated and avoiding overheating was at the top of the to do list for every runner.

I took a conservative pace approach at the start as I expected it to be a long day. The first 10 miles went by pretty quickly. There were lots of folks I hadn't seen in a while and I was busy catching up and making new friends along the way. Margaret Curcio, Jason Rogers, Brad Goodridge and Candy Finley to name just a few. Ronnie Hines joined us a little later for the 12 hour night time run and there were rumors that Dan "The Man" Burstein made an appearance as well. Unfortunately, I had already left at that point, but more about that later.

Between miles 11 and 20, I started to feel the urge to pee. What happened next basically put a stop to my secondary goal of completing 100 miles in 24 hours. A dark discoloration was accompanied by a burning sensation, a clear indicator that I was severely dehydrated. In an effort to try to recover, I took a lengthy break to rehydrate before continuing on. After a 90 minuted break, it was time to get going again. However, my confidence took another hit when the same issues appeared again just 5 miles later. Still, I continued and didn't stop until I completed 34 miles. It was time once more for another lengthy break. Another 120 minutes later, it was time to get moving yet again. By now it was getting dark and Ronnie had arrived. He was his usual supportive self. Immediately, he offered his help to everyone and shortly after he arrived, he took of to the local watering hole to get some of us runners some grub. That cheeseburger and fries really hit the spot, thanks again Ronnie, you are fantastic. I can't believe I will be able to rely on you during the Georgia Jewel 100 as my crew chief. Selflessly, this guy even ran a few loops to pace both Philip and Kena to their respective victories and 100 mile buckles. Even with all that, he still managed to run 50 miles himself, what a guy!

After I got going again, I continued to struggle with the same issues, but I continued on for a while. Once Timo had completed 40 miles, he decided to took a break. Who could blame him. This guy hadn't run more than 10 miles at a time in his entire life and here he was, completing 40 miles. He felt great...for a few minutes...and then the pain began. Nausea, chills and muscle aches. He was done. I took this as my signal to call it a day as well. I had a big 100 mile trail race just 3 weeks down the road and there was no reason to hurt myself any more. We packed up and headed for a cheap hotel an hour outside of Dahlonega on our way back home. I was happy enough. I got to spend a few hours with friends and fellow ultra runners at a very well run event. Thanks again to RD Willy Syndram and his amazing crew of volunteers. The support was fantastic and I will happily return for more "fun in the sun" next year.

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