I tried a new strategy for this year’s Pemberton 24 — and it worked

Participants start a 5K during the Pemberton 24. A banner says "It's Just a 5K."
The motto of the Pemberton 24 is “It’s Just a 5K.” (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I’ve participated in the Pemberton 24 each of the three years it’s been held, and for the first two years, I ended up with painful blisters and chafing that were worse than other runs. So this year, my main goal was to see if I could avoid the terrible blisters and chafing that had plagued me previously. I tried a new strategy — and it worked. I also ran my highest number of 5Ks at the event.

At the Pemberton 24, which is an event put on by my work, Wicomico County Recreation & Parks, and Algonquin Ultras Inc., a 5K on the trails of Pemberton Park begins on the hour, every hour, from 7 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday. Participants can compete as individuals or as part of a team, and each runner can choose to do as many as they want, whether that’s one, two, 10, 20 or all 24. I did not go into it wanting to run all 24, but there were 44 people who completed that feat — 74.4 miles.

An hour might seem like a reasonable amount of time in which to walk a 5K, but trust me — even completing 12 left me finishing the last few 5Ks right under the hour mark. Walking gets much harder with all that time on your feet. And for those running all the 5Ks, they had no real opportunities to get any decent sleep, and any aid station or bathroom breaks would have to be completed within each hour.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin holding race bib with chair and bag in the background.
Here I am with my bib and my small amount of gear before starting the Pemberton 24.

As for my strategy, I figured the blisters and chafing were probably in large part a result of taking so many breaks between runs — even though I changed clothes. So, I decided my plan would be to run as many 5Ks as I could in a row, go home — about a 15-minute drive — take a shower, sleep in my bed and return. The last two years, I camped in a tent on-site.

This year, I brought a chair (which I hardly used, especially during my second block of 5Ks) and a bag of some items I might need. I definitely traveled light, and it was nice not to have to pack a ton of stuff afterward.

I started off with the first 5K, at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, and decided to run the first six in a row. While I didn’t go until the point of absolute exhaustion, I was tired of running in the dark and figured I would rather run the rest of my 5Ks once it was light out. I felt like I wasn’t picking up my feet enough.

Vanessa Junkin, wearing a pink shirt and a headlamp, takes a selfie while holding a cupcake.
Here I am with a cupcake after my sixth 5K.

The winners of the race are determined by point totals. Participants earn points for each 5K completed, along with an extra point fo the midnight through 4 a.m. 5Ks. There are also additional points for finishing in the Top 5 among female individual runners, male individual runners, female team runners and male team runners. With such a strong field of runners, I was not going for any of the speed points.

I just wanted to complete my 5Ks within the required hour. I didn’t really train specifically for this event — not a great idea, though something I think many of us did. However, I did train better than last year. I’m training for the Philadelphia Marathon, and my long runs in the three weekends leading up to this event were 13.1, 14 and 12, so at least I had some mileage base.

While placement, not time, matters, our bibs were scanned after we crossed the finish line and times were logged on pemberton24.com. I felt great after the first two 5Ks, of course reminding myself that I was only a 10K in. My times for those runs were 42:39 (first) and 46:46 (second).

After each 5K, I posted a tweet and an Instagram story… until my times started coming too close to an hour to do anything else but get to the start line.

I did fall during the first 5K and would take another fall during the fourth, but luckily, neither one caused any problems aside from getting dirty (which is to be expected at a race like this). The Pemberton trails have a lot of roots.

Because I was not going for speed, I got the chance to spend most of the 5Ks talking to whoever I was near for that 5K. Given where we were in the pack, people seemed talkative — I would never want anyone to feel like they have to talk to me during a race, as I do not want to talk during a race if I’m trying for speed. Much of my second 5K was with Stephanie.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin with cat made out of mud.
There were fun decorations along the way. I had to take a photo with this cat, which was back for the second year.

After I finished my third 5K in a row in 48:58, I decided I would walk the next one. I ended up with my friend Lisa, and we walked the first 2.2 miles before running the last mile. We finished that one in 52:48.

I decided to walk my fifth 5K as well, and for this one, I spent the time talking to Mike G., a college friend of my boyfriend’s. It was nice to catch up! I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to walk the entire 5K in under an hour because of the roots and darkness, but we did it in 57:10. I got a delicious quesadilla at the aid station and decided to make the sixth 5K my last before heading home.

I walked the sixth 5K in 57:20, and I was excited to see cupcakes at the aid station. I have a major sweet tooth and knew there would be cupcakes and Smith Island Cake at the race, but I hadn’t seen either at the aid station yet. So, I was excited to end my block of 5Ks with a cupcake.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin holding blue ice pop and cup.
Here I am with an ice pop and M&Ms (in the cup) after my 12th and final 5K.

I didn’t have the same blister and chafing problems as I had in previous years, though my feet did hurt. I got home at 1:23 a.m. — only 23 minutes into the seventh 5K of the event, which I’d skipped. I took a shower and went to bed around 2 a.m.

I got up around 8:30 a.m. the next morning, had coffee and a delicious smoothie that my boyfriend, Mike, made, and headed back out to Pemberton Park.

I knew I needed to get some drone photos and video for work. I got to Pemberton Park right as the 10 a.m. 5K was starting, so I missed the start of that one for photos and video. I figured I’d get some drone photos of the event setup and of people finishing, then get the start of the 11 a.m. 5K. My coworker James was also able to bring me out to another spot on the course to get photos, which was cool.

I headed to the start line for my second block of 5Ks at noon. It was nice to be able to see, but it had definitely gotten warmer out. I felt great for my first 5K back after a night of sleep, running it in 44:02. I ran most of the next one too, finishing in 48:08.

Then, I walked most of the last four, though I had to run some in order to make sure I completed the distance in under an hour. During my ninth 5K, I walked with my running club friends Jen and Haley. Then, I walked my tenth one with another friend, Colette, as well as Kristin for part of it. My walking seemed to be getting slower, but since I wasn’t extremely uncomfortable like I’d been in past years, I figured I could get to 12 5Ks, which was my goal from 2020.

Vanessa Junkin holds Pemberton 24 patch in front of "It's Just a 5K" banner.
Here I am holding my finisher patch.

During my 11th 5K, I was near members of the 260 Running Club as well as people in tutus. I tried to motivate myself to run, but I mostly walked. For the last 5K, I was the last participant for most of the way, going back and forth with a group of three people. However, I was able to finish all four of those 5Ks in under an hour. In order, I had my bib scanned in at 55:57, 56:54, 54:30 and 56:11.

During 5Ks number 9, 11 and 12, I had some delicious ice pops that were a perfect snack. It was nice to see my friends who were volunteering at the aid station and finish.

Since I was finishing so close to an hour, I finished my first two ice pops as I started walking the next 5K. I felt like I didn’t have much time to recover, and I was not ready to run when each 5K began. (I stuck trash in my pocket; I did not litter.) During 5K number 10, I had another quesadilla. Different food options were available after each 5K. I also had some chicken.

During the last 5K of the event, my coworker Fallon took me to a different spot on the course to get some drone photos. Right before that, I got my finisher patch from Trent. Runners can “patch out” when their race is done, which for me was 12 5Ks — 37.2 miles in 24 hours. In 2019 and 2020, I did 10 5Ks each year. This was the highest mileage I’ve completed at one event (though I did get that break for sleep in the middle).

Back of Vanessa Junkin standing up with "12/24 completed" showing on shirt. She is also holding up her patch.
I filled in the back of my race T-shirt to show that I completed 12 of 24 5Ks.

I once again had fun at the Pemberton 24, and particularly as a Wicomico County Rec & Parks employee who helps market the event, it’s fun to see how excited people are about it and how many people have traveled from various places to join us. It was also great to see plenty of friends.

Read about my previous Pemberton 24 experiences here: 2020, 2019

Read my BibRave review — and write your own — here.

4 thoughts on “I tried a new strategy for this year’s Pemberton 24 — and it worked

  1. I missed the sign up every year but your reports definitely filled me in always. As for blisters, they are a common element for long races. Going home and shower definitely is a suprising way in avoiding blisters, but don’t shy away from experimenting what others do in combating blisters. For me, I found one way is switching and rotating shoes through a race helps

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