Some people ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop at Times Square in New York City. Others simply refresh their web browsers.
In nearly a dozen states across the country Tuesday night, runners awaited access to the entry form for the ninth annual Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic. The event is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Sept. 27 in Rockingham — nine months away — but race director Jerry Lindstrand said he expects all 300 spots to fill up pretty quickly.
“As soon as I get 240 entries, which I fully expect to be in the first week, I’ll pull the entry form off the website,” said Lindstrand, a second-year race director. “After that first flood is all in, as people contact me for entry, I’ll handle those on a case-by-case basis. Then, at 300, I’ll start a wait list.”
That’s right. People pay to be on a wait list in hopes that, due to injury or a scheduling conflict, someone else might not be able to participate. From 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday, participants circle the 1.52-mile loop around Hinson Lake as many times as they can. They eat, the use the bathroom or sleep on their own schedule. Or they simply keep running.
“I think, one, it’s an easy course,” Lindstrand said about the attraction to the low-key race that features a loop of dirt and sand, with more than a dozen wooden bridge crossings and only two slight inclines — which, admittedly, seem steeper as the hours pass.
“For first-time people … the entry fee, a dollar an hour,” Lindstrand said. “There’s not a whole lot of pressure. Who’s afraid to walk away from 24 bucks? A lot of the people know each other and it’s just a great social event as well.”
In 2013, 275 people completed at least one lap. Participants ages ranged from 2 to 76. The winner completed 141.36 miles, or exactly 93 laps. Special belt buckles are awarded to those who tally 100 or more miles. Brett Welborn, 41, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., was one of 22 people who earned a buckle in the 2013 event. He finished in ninth place with 104.88 miles.
“Joe lapped me 24 times, once an hour,” Welborn said. “But it’s not embarrassing. It’s not discouraging. It’s inspiring more than anything else. They put their shorts on like anybody else. They have low points, but they’re finding ways to battle through it. Oftentimes, those guys who go further, it’s just sheer willpower and determination.”
Welborn has found his own source of motivation. His 11-year-old daughter as Type I Diabetes and Welborn and his family now work to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In a little more than a decade, the Welborns have raised $125,000.
Through pledges from friends and strangers while participating in the Hinson Lake race each of the past six years, Welborn said he’s raised between $3,000 and $4,000.
Despite the pain and discomfort that often is associated with the sport, Welborn reminds himself that “it’s just running. You realize how much more to life there is” — and that helps him run further. Still, from race to race it can be difficult to master the long distances.
“It’s a 24-hour event,” Welborn said. “It’s one of those things that, at least for me, I’e never been able to conquer. Even last year, I quit at 5:30 in the morning. I quit two and one-half hours early. It’s like Whack-a-Mole — you figure one thing out one year, you fix that problem” and then something else crops up.
As for the cost, Welborn said the $24 entry fee is not an issue.
“A lot of people try to eat their registration’ worth of food by lunchtime,” Welborn quipped.
On a more serious note, “some people are running for the victory, but 95 percent of the people are running to kind of battle their own demons.”
Penny Wagner knows all about personal demons. Not too long ago, the 48-year-old Rocky Mount, Va., resident carried 100 additional pounds on her frame.
In her own words, “I never would have thought I would be an ultra runner.”
“Several years back, I was twice the size,” Wagner said. “I lost over 100 pounds. Running has just become my thing. I’m not fast.”
But she doesn’t stop often, and when she does, it’s not for long. The two-year Hinson Lake veteran was shooting for 75 miles last year. She didn’t quite make it —but not because she stopped to linger.
“I ate on the run,” Wagner said. “I didn’t stop very much. The first year I did take two one and one-half hour breaks, went back to the hotel and did the whole ice bath (routine).”
In 2012, she finished with 62.32 miles. She decided to forgo the breaks, figuring “I’m going to have to go the whole 24 hours.”
“Well, I went the whole 24 hours,” Wagner said of her 2013 effort. “I only sat down for maybe two, three minutes (or) five minutes at a time, and not very often.”
Wagner finished in 51st place and accumulated 67.11 miles. She’s not discouraged, however. The goal is to embrace the journey, not simply enjoy the view to the top. As for Wagner, she loves the experience.
“It’s like a party,” she said, “eating, with a little bit of running thrown in there. I don’t know how you can do it and not like it.”
Details on the race, which accepts only regular mail-in entries, can be found by visiting the online home of the Mangum Track Club at www.etinternet.net/~runrbike/hinsoninfo.htm.