Running in circles doesn’t seem to make very much sense. Just ask any high school or college athlete who has ever run on an oval track. It’s tedious.
At those levels, though, the races last usually 45 minutes or less. What more than 300 runners signed up to do this past weekend was to complete a 1.52-mile circle loop around Hinson Lake as many times as they could manage in a 24-hour period. Many participants who sign up have been running marathons for years, or were talking into the ultramarathon distance by friends who went to the dark side.
Drew Surrette came entered the realm of ultra running in the most innocent of ways. His parents are runners, and the 10-year-old from Raleigh followed his parents along to races. Drew also loops up to Mike Morton, who holds the course record at Hinson Lake (163.9 miles 2011). Morton, Drew said, “is a really good runner” and family friend.
In 2007, he began running at Hinson Lake. His name first appears in the official results in 2011, when, at age 8, he completed 31.92 miles. Anything over 26.2 miles is considered an ultra marathon.
In 2012, he completed 45.85 miles and finished 115th among 263 runners who completed at least two laps.
His goal this past weekend was to hit the magic number of 50. He felt like he was ready. Roughly eight hours into the adventure, Drew was more than halfway towards his goal. He passed by the well-stocked aid station and grabbed some red licorice and gummy bears — the latter both a staple and a favorite of many ultra runners of all ages — before pressing on.
“It would be my personal record,” or, in runner lingo, PR, Drew said early Saturday afternoon when he’d already reached the 50K (31-mile) mark. “It would be pretty cool being that not many kids my age can do that.”
Drew reached his goal and totaled 50.16 miles.
Not many people, of any age, can or would volunteer to do that. Drew, though, was not the youngest to push the limits. That honor belonged to Wiley Duncan, of Athens, Ga. The 2-year-old — that’s right, 2 — completed a single lap under supervision but zero assistance. Some might question the safety of runners such as Drew trying to go so far. Veteran race race Jerry Lindstrand puts it in perspective.
“Drew’s a regular,” Lindstrand said. “I think (participation is) totally up to the parents. Without any kind of training, it’s absolutely not smart. The fact that he belongs to a running family (helps).”
What’s so confounding about this group of people who turn the Nona Lee “Pitt” Cohen Wildlife Conservation Area into a miniature tent city for one day a year is that they pay to do it, and travel sometimes from very far away to participate. Runners hailed from 12 states, including the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maine, Texas and California.
For all but a talented few, there is no real chance of winning — accomplished by accumulating the most miles on two feet in the allotted timeframe. Instead, it’s all about striving to do better than the previous year’s version of self managed. And it’s a lot of fun, too.
“It’s a tailgate party with a little running thrown in,” said Rebecca Sitton, 41, of Smithfield. “$24 (entry fee), a dollar an hour.”
Last year, Sitton turned 40. She set her sights on reaching the 40-mile mark. When she passed by the army of volunteers who record runners’ splits each lap and realized she had reached 40.67 miles, she stopped. Mission accomplished.
Bill Weimer, 58, of Fort Mill, S.C., tallied 51.68 miles — 34 laps. This year, his goal was 80 miles. He made it. Weimer has lofty aspirations of reaching 100 miles and earninga coveted belt buckle. Maybe next year.
“This is the big one,” Weimer said of the races he plans on his yearly race schedule. “This is the one I train for.”