The 24-ATR was an incredible experience - not only was the scenery fantastic, but the race organization and support was impeccably executed. I send a huge thank you to Race Director, Alex Papadopolous and the entire Athletic Equation team, they definitely know how to do a race right.
I chose this race for its location as well as the fact that, for this race, the AE team donates the net proceeds to the Semper Fi Fund as well as the Seal Foundation. They are also a benevolent organization within their community and work to give back by supporting and enlisting local businesses to help them with their races. And such a fun, encouraging and kind group of folks - how many people do you know who volunteer 72+ hours of their time to not only provide food and water, encouragement, patience, and, sometimes, a pacer, and even a jacket to keep you warm while you steel yourself for the next lap at zero-dark-thirty? Oh, and they stay awake, too, for over 36 hours. A huge thank you to them.
The weather was gorgeous, partly cloudy, with temps not budging much higher than 72 with plenty of canopy cover; a perfect day for the first race of the series. I started off probably a little fast and had great company discovering the course over the first loop. The race was a 10K loop, over technical single-track, creek edge trails, ascents and descents and an abandoned miller's trail that ran by a graveyard, all through "Quantico-like terrain." You keep using that phrase, Wilk, but I have no idea what you mean.......
Basically, you went up, turned a half-corner and went back down, strode out for about 60 yards, then climbed again. Depending on which way you ran the loop, you either encountered technical hills, then the relatively flat creek trail for two miles first and the major hill section on the backside or you did the hill section first, followed by the flat, ending with the technical hills back to the bridge. Either way, you were picking your way through rocks, navigating root systems, playing billy goat over wooden bridges and then opening your stride as you listened to the stream burble your pace to you. (It subliminally influenced me to go faster, not necessary advisable coaching in a 24-hour race.)
I had an "ultra friend" (thanks for the phrase, Justin!) for every lap, and with the race format, you were also guaranteed to meet a body comin' thro' the rye in the other direction. Just as I started my fourth loop, at a steep step-and-drop turn, my right foot slipped and I came down hard on my left leg on the downslope, heavily jarring my left knee. I shook it off and continued on, but as the day wore on, my left IT band would gradually tighten, and despite the ibuprofen and K-tape, by the end of 70K, I was having serious difficulty with the downhills.
I was, at this time, linked up with Kirsten, an inspiring soul who had also been told that she should no longer be running, and who, just that week, had three doctors wave her off starting the race. She had rankled her left ankle in the same area as I my knee, and I came upon her during my seventh lap, with a friend helping pace her through her sixth. We decided to work together for another two laps, and she would reach 50 miles. And so we did. As it got dark and cold, we just kept trucking along, laughing at the comical way we sometimes contorted ourselves over the obstacles. (We even found Jesus, if Jesus was a small painted rock placed along the trail at one of the most difficult inclines.)
And the food!!! Never once did I have any issues with nausea nor did I eat even half of my food, for the spread was cornucopic in scale! Breakfast was fresh strawberries, bananas, pancakes, oatmeal, juice smoothies, coffee and once the race started, there was an endless supply of hot and cold foods, including the best grilled cheese I have ever eaten at a campsite, pickle juice, drinks and smoothies, Coca-Cola slushies, quesadillas, chocolate candies, more strawberries and bananas, three soups, rice balls, tater tots, hot dogs, pierogies....it was endless and I never had to fill my hand-held canteen myself. I was always asked if I needed water or Gatorade and, did I want ice (amen, yes!). There was also a huge fire when the temperature dropped and even marshmallows for roasting, of which I partook following my last lap, something to nibble on as I hobbled back to the cabin.
All in all, a hugely successful kick-off and, several PRs for me - fastest 50K time, longest single day distance and longest duration time. Full results are here: ATR 2014 Results. (When you look at the results, bear in mind that the time includes stopping to change clothes, to pee, to eat and drink, to tend to blisters and to regain your composure before heading back out into the dark!)
(To my fellow ATR runners who asked about it, if you would like a shirt, click on the T-shirt page for the details, by running, you donated, and I would be honored if you supported the cause by getting a shirt!)
Thank you again to all and to my friends who came to support me at the start and end of the race!