Column: Lap after lap after lap next Saturday at PHS

One week from today, there could be as many as 80 runners doing an endless amount of laps on the Palatka High School track.

That’s it ... just running, walking, running again, jogging, all keeping their own pace.

Starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 20, the inaugural Fasttrack 24HR race will be held on the Palatka High track. The race is in three parts – a six-hour race, a 12-hour race and a 24-hour race. The six- and 24-hour races will start at 8 a.m. The 12-hour race will kick off at 8 p.m. and go until the end of the 24-hour race.

Winston Fletcher is one of the co-directors of the event, and he said everyone involved with this race is excited.

“I had thought about this race years before,” Fletcher said. “I wanted to put on a timed race and that’s why I first did the Azalea (12/24-hour event). The more I hung around the elite runners, the more I listened to them. They said they prefer to race on a track because it’s flatter and it’s better. It’s the easiest surface they can run on.”

Unlike the Azalea 12/24 Hour race, which is held on the challenging, up-and-down Ravine Gardens road course, runners get to have a steady pace for this race with being on the track, which Fletcher and co-director Tim Schaum of Wellington in South Florida were able to lock down from PHS athletic director Bobby Humphries.

A longtime runner in road races throughout Putnam County, Fletcher got into ultra-running – races that are longer than the 26.2-mile marathons – years ago. He’s been involved in races like the Florida Keys 100 and at the Badwater 135 run in California, including in Death Valley. He got to run his first Azalea 12/24 at the Ravines in 2014, but this past year, the event was canceled due to part of the park being uprooted by Hurricane Irma in September.

“We were bummed out because we had a lot of people invested in the race, from plane tickets to taking vacation time,” Fletcher said. “We haven’t talked to the park yet about doing the (race) this year, but we’re planning on doing the race again in the second weekend of November.”

Currently, Fletcher has around 50 competitors for the first Fasttrack 24HR event, but would like to fill in all 80 slots for the race by next week. And while the event features elite runners coming to Palatka like Gina Slaby, the former female 100-mile record holder, Pete Kostelnick, the world transcontinental record holder, and Harvey Lewis, a 24-hour American team member, winning the 2014 Badwater 135 race, regular everyday runners are also a part of the field, Fletcher said.

“Thirty percent of the field consists of world-class runners,” he said. “But it’s also for runners who want to challenge themselves. No one is going to run the whole time they’re on the track. Runners will take walk breaks or sit down. A lot of runners come to an even like this to qualify for other events, but even if you walk the whole time, it’s acceptable. We encourage people to come and check the race out. We’ve got a lot of people coming from around Florida, but half the registered runners are coming from out of state.”

One interesting part of the race that in four-hour intervals, runners will be turning around and running the other way on the track.

“We change directions every four hours to help everyone’s muscles,” Fletcher said. “It’s just so they’re not turning left all the time. It keeps people more loose and it breaks the race up in those four hours each time.”

To show how thorough the work has been in getting the race prepared, Fletcher and Schaum have contacted Mike Milton, a top timer for the event, to do the timing for the event.

“He has two types of chip timers for the racers – one for the (number) bib and one for the ankles,” Fletcher said. “So he’s got a backup to the backup. (Milton) travels all over the U.S. and his system doesn’t fail. If for some reason the power goes down, he can run on generators and batteries.”

Registration is $135 for those running the 24-hour race, $100 for the 12-hour event and $75 for the six-hour run. For more information, Fletcher has set up sites for the race on both Facebook and Instagram. Anyone interested on finding the race on Facebook can type in www.facebook.com/fasttrack24hr. Any other inquiries can be fielded by Fletcher at 937-9381 or his email at winstonbc@yahoo.com.

“The thing about ultra running is everyone seems to know everyone,” he added. “The network is really close and top notch and supportive of each other. It’s a lot of fun.”

Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at mblumenthal@palatkadailynews.com or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.

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