There are challenges that come with an event like the Pemberton 24 that aren’t found at many other types of races.
One challenge is that unless you plan to do all 24 of the 5Ks offered, there is no real “finish” that you must meet. You stop running when you meet your goal — but, you can skip a 5K, or a few 5Ks, and come back to the race course. You can use strategy to get extra points during the middle-of-the-night 5Ks. Your goal can change at any time.
The major challenge for me was chafing and blisters. That much time in running clothes and shoes — even with outfit changes — did not make it a comfortable journey for me.
Despite hardly training beforehand, I participated in the Pemberton 24 for its second year on Sept. 25-26, completing the same number of 5Ks I did last year.
The race offers 24 5Ks from 7 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday — all on the same course on the trails of Pemberton Park — and runners can choose to do as many or as few as they like. The 5Ks start every hour on the hour, and each runner must complete the 5K within the hour to earn a point. They also must start the 5K on the hour (not early or late). There are additional points for placing in each 5K, for the 5Ks starting at midnight through 4 a.m. and for completing all 24.
Last year, I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon when I ran the Pemberton 24. This year, I had been running a good amount, but primarily shorter runs. From June through September before the race, I’d only done five double-digit mileage runs. The longest of those runs was the 15-miler I did to end the Race Across Maryland.
I wasn’t totally sure what to make my goal for the Pemberton 24, but I wanted it to be somewhat around what I ran last year: 10 5Ks. I decided the Friday night of the event to officially make my goal 12 5Ks, running every other 5K I completed and walking the other ones.
The grounds opened at 4 p.m. ahead of the first race start at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, but even despite leaving work hours early, I took a while getting everything together and arrived later than I wanted to — I think a little before 6 p.m.
Before entering the park, everyone had to undergo a health screening that involved a few simple questions — the kind we’re all used to now — and a temperature check.
I really appreciate health and safety measures such as this. Masks were also to be worn in common areas and when not running, and there was hand sanitizer readily available.
I found my way to my campsite, which also served as a packet pickup “location.” Everyone’s shirt and bib were left in a bag at their campsite to avoid the contact of a packet pickup.
Wicomico Recreation, Parks & Tourism, where I work, put on this event with Algonquin Ultras Inc., and I decided to get some drone shots at the beginning of the event. I got some that showed the camping area and general setup, and I decided to skip running the first 5K so I could get some drone video of the start.
During the event, I posted to my own Instagram stories, Twitter and blog Facebook page, as well as the Wicomico County Recreation & Parks social media. For the work account, I’d created an Instagram story ahead of time featuring each sponsored 5K and posted those before each of those 5Ks started, and I also shared some other stories, plus photos from my colleague Josephine.
Then, since I’d arrived later than planned, I worked on getting my tent set up during that first 5K, attempting to do so before the sun went down (it was dark when I finished putting it up, but I moved quickly). Although the tent was not beautifully set up, it worked and stayed up through the night. Last year, my boyfriend, Mike, set up the tent for me. This year, spectators were not permitted because of COVID-19 restrictions.
My first 5K of the event was the second one — the 8 p.m. start. I didn’t try to go that fast, but this would still be my fastest one of the Pemberton 24, with the Strava segment coming in at 41:34, a 13:10 average pace.
It was dark by this point, and I ran with my new headlamp for this and all the other 5Ks I completed in the dark. I liked the white Christmas lights that were hung in different areas of the course.
After finishing the first 5K, I went out for my second 5K of the event, walking this one. Not too long after I started, I was joined by my friend Colette, and we walked together, at a faster pace than I would normally walk. It was nice to have company. I noticed my back hurting for some reason, which was not great, as I was not too far in.
I logged this one as a walk on my watch, so I didn’t get a Strava segment time, but logged the 5K time as 54:39. During the 5K, Colette pointed out a large “cat” made of dirt that I’d missed the first time.
I decided to take a break during this 5K. After talking a bit with someone I knew, I headed to my tent to eat some spaghetti I’d brought. I didn’t have much planned out, but Mike mentioned maybe bringing some spaghetti, and that sounded like a good idea, so I made some that afternoon, had some for lunch and brought some more in a cooler. I’d also brought some bottles of water, which I used, and some beer — which I actually didn’t get around to drinking during the event.
It was cold, and at this point, I was a little bit bundled up. I fell asleep during this 5K for less than an hour.
The midnight 5K was about to start, and I was feeling a little lame and like the first kid to fall asleep at a sleepover. I needed to head out for this 5K rather than staying in my hoodie and joggers. I ran this 5K in 44:40, a 14:14 pace, replenishing with some Nuun and some of the Clif Shot Bloks I’d brought afterward.
I did walk as needed during my running 5Ks.
I never listen to anything with headphones during races, but since I wasn’t going for time and figured I may be alone during this walk, I wore my Aftershokz for this one and listened to an episode of This American Life, which kept me entertained. I was cutting it kind of close, so I ran the last 0.2 mile. Again, I didn’t have a segment because I’d logged it as a walk, but I finished the 5K in 58:11 (so I did cut it close — I am not a super fast walker unless I try to be).
When I got back to the aid station, I got some homemade cookies and chicken broth. I have a sweet tooth, so of course the cookies caught my eye. They were made by my friend Michelle, who volunteered during the entire event. I also really enjoyed the broth.
I skipped the 2 a.m. 5K and headed out for the 3 a.m. one. I was planning to run this one, but because of bad chafing, I ended up walking it. I walked with my friends Jeanelle and Phaedra. It was fun talking to them and having company.
I completed this 5K in 57:28, an 18:19 pace, and decided to log all of them as runs so that I would have the segment information.
I’m not sure what time I decided this, but I also decided to log all the miles I completed as part of my running log. I wasn’t sure whether I should separate my running 5Ks from my walking 5Ks. Normally, I don’t include just walks on my personal log (I include run/walks, which I’ve been doing a lot of), but as this was all part of the same event and the walks were not easy, I decided it was worth counting all of it.
I took a break during this 5K so that I could try to deal with the chafing issues and blisters on my feet.
This was the 5K I had been waiting for — there would be Smith Island Cake at the end. I knew I’d have to be a little faster in order to get some, so I ran this 5K — in 47:07, a 15:01 pace — but I missed out on the cake. I learned that it had run out right before I’d reached the aid station. I was disappointed that I had missed the cake, but I did get a cup of Reese’s Pieces, an Oatmeal Creme Pie and some water.
Now that I’d switched the order of walking and running 5Ks, I was also glad that I would be running my last 5K instead of walking it.
I hadn’t gotten much sleep (I think I slept a little bit during one of the other 5Ks — 2 a.m.?), so I decided this would be a good time to rest up for a few hours. I had been posting those Instagram stories for sponsors, and the next sponsored 5K was at 9 a.m.
I just brought some blankets and a pillow, not an air mattress or anything, so it wasn’t the most comfortable, and I woke up a few times, but it was nice to get some sleep.
I walked the 10 a.m. 5K. There was sun and rain at the same time during this 5K, and then just rain, but not a downpour. My walking pace was too slow, so I ended up running during the last mile to make sure I made it to the finish line in under an hour. My time for the Strava segment was 57:18, an 18:16 pace.
I was back out on the course for the noon 5K. I started with run/walk intervals, but then I caught up to my friend Nate. We ran together for a little, and I didn’t want to go for another walk interval when I knew he had completed every 5K so far and I was on No. 8. I also ran with my friends Alex and Jeff during this 5K. Alex was also running all of them. I completed this 5K in 45:34, a 14:32 pace.
I was so happy to finally get a cupcake at the end of this run — it was a delicious cookies and cream one. A fellow runner brought cupcakes to the event, but I’d learned I already missed an opportunity to get one. I thought I’d missed out completely until I saw a social media comment from Diana, who volunteered during the nighttime hours of the event. I also got a cup of ramen.
During the 1 p.m. 5K, I walked with my friend Nicole. Knowing I’d be walking, I brought my Aftershokz out again, but I didn’t need them, since Nicole and I walked together. My 5K time for the segment was 57:40, an 18:23 pace. My feet were very blistered and starting to feel like my feet at last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, and with that and the chafing, I decided I would be OK with getting to 10 completed 5Ks rather than the goal of 12 I’d set Friday night. That would mean just one more 5K.
This would be my final 5K of the event. I was doing run/walk intervals, and I met Kimberly, a runner from New Jersey who was also going for 10 5Ks and was on her ninth one (I saw her later, and she did finish the 10!). She said her goal for that 5K was to finish with me, and we did run/walk intervals together from that point.
I got a pink ice pop and Reese’s Pieces after finishing, along with my patch from Race Dictator Trent Swanson — runners could “patch out” when they were finished with their final run.
There had been a food truck at the event, but they were packed up by the time I finished.
I was very lazy and slow in getting my stuff packed up, but eventually, I did. I headed home to take a shower and change before going back to the park to get photos of the winners for social media.
Once I got home after getting those photos, I calculated how many people had run all 24 5Ks using pemberton24.com, a results website created for the event. Twenty-five runners — 20 individuals and five who were part of teams — completed this feat. That’s amazing!
I also think it’s really cool that you do not have to run all the 5Ks to be successful at this event. Each participant determines their own bar for success.
I earned 13 points — one for each 5K plus an extra point for the midnight, 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. 5Ks. (Results can be found on UltraSignup.)
Next year’s event will be Sept. 24-25, 2021. Check out my colleague Josephine’s video here, and join the Pemberton 24 group on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any info. I’m hoping next year I’ll be able to run 12 5Ks, which I’m considering trying to run consecutively. We’ll see!
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