Race week is usually a blur for a Race Director. When I crack open the laptop on Sunday night to look over my tasks for the coming week it becomes clear that it is go time. Just like a runner looks in the mirror on race morning and gets his or her game face on, the Race Director goes through this ritual on Sunday night prior to the coming Saturday’s race. Looking over this giant list of To-Dos that need to be accomplished in the next few days I know a few key facts. I know that I will get very little sleep until this time next week. I know that at some point I’m going to forget to either shower for several days or brush my teeth. Probably both. I know I will make some colossal mistake that I will have to fix at the last minute under intense pressure. I know that I will get next to nothing done at my day job. I know that I will owe my kids some serious Dad time and my wife some serious husband time once this race is over.
The week went by in a flurry of phone calls, emails, and final preparations. Thursday I got an escape from the task tedium when I hit the Sheltowee Trace with my good friend Will to mark the course. The day was beautiful, and the time with Will was an invaluable opportunity to talk about everything over the course of a 25 mile hike.
Friday went off without a hitch except for the missing salad dressing at the pre-race dinner! So let’s talk about the race itself. That’s what you came here to read, right?
Saturday, April 29, 2017. It was the day of the first ever Big Turtle 50 Miler. My wake up call was 3:30 am. Nothing unusual for race day. I had told Will I wanted to be on site by 4 am, so when I came out of my hotel room he was sitting in his car with the engine running! Brandy, my partner in everything, was coming from Lexington with a load of ice and food. She would be there by 5 am. We 90 minutes to set up everything before packet pickup began at 5:30 am. Then someone in the heavens spilled their drink and the skies unleashed a furious bout of stinging rain, thunder, and lightning. Will and I were already unloading the truck and setting things up at the start line. The only thing I could tell myself was, “Well, looks I’ll be wet today.”
The rain lasted maybe 20 minutes before the storm rolled off to the east, the runners came, and it was at last go time. 7am. Start time of the Big Turtle 50 Miler. 115 runners from 15 states across the country sped through the campus of Morehead State University toward the famed Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail - Kentucky’s long trail.
As the volunteers got in place at their aid stations it was time to make sure our long range radios were working properly. They weren’t! None of them could communicate. It was immediately apparent we would need to rely on cell phones for non-emergency communications for the day. We should stop here and make sure that we thank all of the volunteers from the Sheltowee Trace Association, the local Morehead American Legion Post 126, MSU’s Outdoor Adventures club, and all of the individuals who volunteered their time on race day. They were responsive and adaptable in the face of several big issues that arose throughout the day.
While the race unfolds the job of us Race Directors is largely a frenzied yet controlled dance that involves responding to emergencies, fixing computer problems, resupplying aid stations, pickup up and delivering food, and sometimes snagging 3 minutes to throw the football with one of the kids at the finish line. After a few hours, our first marathoners started to stroll into campus. All smiles. 8 hours into the race we saw our 50 Mile champion come to the finish line. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon at that point. Then the death march began. The heat of the afternoon reached a sweltering and debilitating 90 degrees. Something that is nearly impossible to train for in the winter months as these runners had. Some fell victim to the heat and terrain. Some found their way to the finish line. Everyone suffered. It was an incredibly tough day out on the trail, and my hat is off to everyone who braved the woods on that day.I will maintain for a long time that this section of the Sheltowee Trace is one of the most well maintained 25 mile sections of trail in the world. The forest could not have been more beautiful. The volunteers could not have been more helpful or cheerful. The runners could not have been more courageous. The community could not have been more welcoming. Our sponsors and partners could not have been more supportive.
The day was not without its problems. We the race organizers had successes that day. We had failures. In the end, as we packed up the truck, turned out the lights, and pulled away from the lawn at about midnight after having slept just 6 hours in the past three days we knew one thing: OH, WE’RE DOING THIS ONE AGAIN!
Before closing this out I must say that this race would not have happened without my lovely behind-the-scenes partner Brandy. We built this thing out of nothing, and it is all possible because we somehow found a way to work together and get it done!
See you next year,