Country Mile 48 Hour Run, Marietta, South Carolina
March 31, 2023 - Arriving at the race venue early, an hour plus from home, I was glad to find a convenient parking place along the loopy 5K course where I could access my "stuff" on any lap. The place was packed with RV's and tents, everyone set up wherever they could find a space of grass or roadside parking. Staged at Beechwood Farm, it very much reminded me of a Woodstock-type affair, except these were runners instead of hippies... mostly. As the sport has aged, so have its followers, so there is an increasing number of not only grey-haired athletes, but down-right grizzled characters that look exactly what you might imagine a hippie might look like more than fifty years later.
The vibe was more weird than welcoming, but probably just from my perspective. I have friends that have made a lifestyle of attending this kind of affair on loopy courses that measure success by how many hours you can circle the course. Speed still matters, but only for a handful. Everyone else is there to see how long they can hang in there. For a 48-hour/100M event there were lots of folks you wouldn't call athlete or expect to see at other more challenging ultra events. Lots of children on the course, as young as five, hiking loops with their parents; some rode on their parent's shoulders when they got tired. It was a family affair. Seriously overweight people along with mildly disabled individuals were hoofing it as best they could - not running, but shuffling around and around until who knows how they would finally end up.
I personally think it is a wonderful idea to create such an all-comers pedestrian event, where those who may not fit into a more athletic event feel comfortable participating without judgment, just to see what they can do. Each is a hero in her/his own right. I admire those whose physiology is not carved for aggressive sport still having the courage to toe the line and meet the challenge from their heart. Nonetheless, it's not me. I'm the misfit here, and not because I have a super athletic ego or much remaining ability.
At this point in life, if a run/race does not have some great adventurous reward about it, it just doesn't hold my interest. I have a hard time even running around my neighborhood - because I'm so familiar with it, there is no longer much appeal just to take a training run from home. And I increasingly don't like to share my adventures with others. I prefer to run solo and keep my exploits to myself. Call me a hermit runner on paths less followed.
So I signed up and showed up to toe the line with 220 others on this final day of March, knowing that there were no limits on time or distance; I could do whatever I wanted.
The first trip around the 5K course was flat and dusty, following border roads for acres and acres of strawberry fields. A chip timer on my right ankle showed the Lap count each time I came back around to the start. The start was rough. I must have looked crippled from behind. My body takes generally about seven miles to find some resilience and rhythm, and so it was this day.
Once I found a rhythm in the third lap I continued on to finish five laps or 15+ miles in three hours for an average tempo of five miles per hour. This is the best I have done recently in training. The following three laps slowed to four miles per hour, as I just didn't have the strength or training to hold 5 mph. I stopped after 8 laps at 25 miles in 5 and a half hours. I was pleased with that but decided I mentally couldn't hang in there all night just to stack miles at whatever pace.
After eight laps, I was familiar with the principle. The thrill was gone. There was no adventure. The energy invested was not worth any reward of distance or time. So I walked off the course and returned home to save my bum knee and energy for another outing with more adventurous appeal.
I guess I am spoiled. I guess I shouldn't sign up for such loopy events. Once in awhile I just like some company; like to be a part of something organized. 25 miles was enough on this day. Not a win; not a loss. Just a nice jaunt with the new breed of runner at a new venue. Onto the next adventure.