What do pajamas, a fruit smoothie and a skeleton on a couch have in common? They were all part of this year’s Pemberton 24. It’s the most unique race I participate in each year, and it’s put on by Algonquin Ultras Inc. and my workplace, Wicomico County Recreation & Parks. My job involves marketing the race — an easy task because the race now sells out quickly.
This was the fourth year of the Pemberton 24, and I’ve participated each year. If you aren’t familiar with the race, it’s held at Pemberton Historical Park in Salisbury. A 5K loop through the trails at Pemberton begins on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours. Some people go after a goal of running all of them, while others pick and choose.
Participants are allowed to take breaks and come back throughout the 24 hours, and loops began at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23 through 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. Last year, I actually went home to sleep, and that worked well, so I did that again this year, but many people camp in tents at the park. Points are awarded for completing each 5K within the hour, with an extra point for each 5K completed between midnight and 4 a.m. People can also earn points for finishing in the Top 5 in their category and for completing all 24 5Ks.
This year, I joined forces with Diana, Tim and Richard on the Worst Pace Scenario team. We were all in it for the fun and challenge — not to win. I didn’t really go in with much of a goal, other than to use a similar strategy as I did last year. I ended up running 13 5Ks and earning 15 points for my team, since two of those 5Ks were at midnight and 1 a.m. This was the highest distance I’ve ever completed within one event (although there was a break in between). I completed 10 5Ks in both 2019 and 2020 and 12 in 2021.
This was the first year that there were themes for each 5K. The themes did not factor into the scoring, but the person with the best costume would be chosen to win a Playa Bowls gift card for each 5K. I picked out some themes that I had items for and ended up basing how fast I would run or walk a 5K on whether I needed to get back with enough time to change.
I kicked things off with the first 5K, at 7 p.m. I knew I wasn’t going to place, so all I needed to do for each 5K was finish under an hour. This was not always an easy feat, as I have short legs and am not a fast walker. If I were to walk at what I would consider a leisurely pace on these trails, I would not finish the 5K loop within an hour.
I knew many of the participants from the local running community, but during the first loop, I met a local runner I did not know, Robyn, and ended up doing the 5K with her. When runners finished each 5K, their bibs were scanned and the times were tracked on Pemberton24.com. The information no longer appears to be there, but I took a screenshot to make note of my times for each 5K (even though I was not racing them).
For that first 5K, which was Maryland-themed, I scanned in at 51:05. After each 5K, I took a selfie and posted it to my Instagram story with the number of the 5K, the theme and my total distance. There wasn’t always enough time to get the story posted between 5Ks.
It started to get dark during the first 5K, so in addition to that one, my next six 5Ks were in the dark. I put on a winter pom hat with runners on it for the next 5K’s theme of crazy hat, finishing that 5K in 43:43, my fastest of the event. I changed into my pink ESRC shirt and an Algonquin hat with a pink brim for the third 5K’s pink-out theme, and finished that one in 52:38.
What I love most about the Pemberton 24 is getting to complete laps with different runners. Since for me, it’s more of a long run experience than it is a race for speed, I enjoy having conversations with people during this event. I ran 13 loops on the same course, so having people to talk to also breaks up the monotony.
One of those people was Michelle from the Kent Island Running Group, who seems to be at pretty much exactly my pace — we were near each other at the RRCA Club Challenge and the Naylor Mill 7K and then ran together for the fun run that Eastern Shore Running Club did with KIRG. Since she has been near me at these races, she had heard my constant cough while running, and she noticed that it was gone. It has been exciting to mostly be rid of the cough and to have so many people notice the change.
I completed the next two 5Ks but didn’t participate in the themes — formal and Star Wars. For the glow stick 5K at midnight, I wore my Brooks Run Visible tank and shorts. A fellow runner said I looked like a robot and let me know he could see me from far away.
The 1 a.m. 5K was my seventh 5K in a row. I wanted to make sure I did this one because I had suggested the pajama theme on Facebook. I wore a onesie that I kind of forgot I had until I was looking for something else for an outfit. Although it was getting colder, the fluffy onesie made this 5K hot, and I walked this one. My feet were also hurting by this point. I’d been wearing a new pair of trail shoes, but I think my plantar fasciitis (which had mostly not been a problem leading up to this) was getting aggravated by the amount of running as well as all the roots.
I’d packed light, so I took my bag with me and went home to take a shower and get some sleep. Although I had been getting snacks from the aid station, I didn’t feel like I’d eaten enough, and I was able to have pizza that my boyfriend, Mike, had left over at home. I also rolled my feet on a frozen water bottle both before I went to bed and when I woke up, and this seemed to help.
I switched out my clothes with items for the upcoming themes and headed back to the park. I came back in time to walk the 9, 10 and 11 a.m. 5Ks. I was able to get a free smoothie from Playa Bowls after the 9 a.m. 5K, and it was way larger than just a sample. I took it with me to start the 10 a.m. loop. The theme for the 9 a.m. 5K was green/TEAM 360, so I wore a green shirt. I didn’t change for the super hero or inflatable dinosaur themes, but it was fun to see several wearing inflatable dinosaur outfits (some did not do the full 5K in that outfit).
I decided it was time for a break, and I had a bowl from Playa Bowls and skipped the noon 5K. I got back at it for the 1 p.m. 5K — Hawaiian-themed, with a lei; the 2 p.m. 5K — Ravens vs. Steelers, for which I wore a Ravens shirt; and the 3 p.m. 5K — ’80s, for which I wore a race shirt that was based on a design from a 1981 race.
At some point, I decided to go for 13 5Ks — 40.3 miles — as that would be my highest number of 5Ks at this event. That became my mental goal, and I did not want to go out for a 14th 5K. After crossing the finish line of my 13th 5K in 58:17 — right under the one-hour cutoff after walking much of it with a friend — I “patched out” and received my patch. I also got to sit on the new Quitter’s Couch, an old couch that had a skeleton on it when I arrived. Participants also get a race shirt and can fill in the number of 5Ks they completed on the back.
I got to walk or run laps with many local friends, as well as Kimberly, who I previously met at the Pemberton 24. She had traveled from Ohio for the race.
While sitting on The Quitter’s Couch, I did an exit interview with Gabe, which was fun. I was originally thinking about heading out, taking a shower and changing before getting photos of the winners for work, but I ended up hanging out, watching finishers come in, watching some other interviews on the couch and getting an egg roll from That Kitchen.
Gabe questioned my choice to end at 13 5Ks.
“I did 12 last year, and then I did 13 this year, so I was like, ‘if I did 14 this year, then I would have to do 15 next year,’ so I’m thinking in the long term,” I answered.
Stay tuned to see what happens next year!
The 2023 race is set for Sept. 22-23, 2023, and registration opens March 24 at 7 p.m. on Ultrasignup. PembertonPark.org will be updated with 2023 information as the event gets closer.
These are my scan-in 5K times for each lap:
First 5K – 7 p.m.: 51:05
Second 5K – 8 p.m.: 43:13
Third 5K – 9 p.m.: 52:38
Fourth 5K – 10 p.m.: 56:35
Fifth 5K – 11 p.m.: 48:48
Sixth 5K – Midnight: 49:41
Seventh 5K – 1 a.m.: 56:59
Eighth 5K – 9 a.m.: 52:53
Ninth 5K – 10 a.m.: 56:35
Tenth 5K – 11 a.m.: 56:56
Eleventh 5K – 1 p.m.: 52:19
Twelfth 5K – 2 p.m.: 51:13
Thirteenth 5K – 3 p.m.: 58:17