A little over a year ago Eric Sherman (why do I listen to this guy?) told me about this 24 – hour race in Arizona named “Across the Years” which of course immediately got me to the race website to learn all about this idea of covering as many miles as possible in 24 hours. Of course there are also 48 and 72 hour (and 6 day coming in 2013) options on the dance card – Eric and I were satisfied to enter the “kid’s race.” We pulled the trigger very early on this one – we were entered and had our travel itinerary set by mid February.
A few notes on traveling for races. You will need to bring a lot of things, particularly if the race is an ultra and you have to be concerned about a wide range of temperatures. With this in mind, flying with free checked bags is nice…we did this via frequent flyer miles on American, but Southwest and JetBlue are also options, you can easily spend a couple of hundred extra dollars on baggage fees these days. My rugged New England mindset did not respect the race temperature enough, I really wished I had packed warmer clothes for the night – there will be more on this later. One big piece of advice – make sure the hot water works in your hotel. We had lukewarm water the first night and I complained – when we got back from the race we had cold water. We ended up waiting three extra hours to hit the showers when we got to our much nicer hotel near the airport. All in all the traveling, especially considering it is winter and a major holiday week went very well – in fact, I am creating this article at 35,000 feet on our final leg home, and we are going to land early.
I was very comfortable during the daylight hours with a start temp of around 40 and midday in the upper 50s. The first eight or so hours my TARC t-shirt was great (yes, I wore shorts too) – I wore sleeves and gloves for the first lap and after that was comfortable until about 8 PM when I added a long sleeve shirt. Later in the evening I switched to long pants with shorts over them, three shirts, winter hat (first one, then two) then for awhile even a fleece jacket. The temps would have been a minor issue if I were running and not walking, but it was slow going and it got cold even for me. Interestingly, after the blister repair, and getting going again I actually warmed up quite a bit again and aced the jacket and gloves. The bigger clothing and need for warmth issues were tied into a lengthy stay in the medical tent that I will describe below.
We got into Phoenix around 9 PM and other than waiting way too long for our rental car things moved smoothly and we were to the hotel around 11 PM. We were able to pick up our numbers, race pack and select our tent the afternoon before the race, this is a great help to the terminally nervous. With our early check in we had a tent location that was right on the course. The Aravaipa running club is cut from the same cloth as TARC and GAC (and the ultrarunning community in general) – these people know what they are doing. Can you imagine a one mile loop that has port-a-johns in four locations, not to mention a heated inside restroom about 50 feet off the course as well? Incredible food tent and a great medical aid station where Sue and Todd worked on my late night/early morning blisters. Oh, did I mention there was even a second water station at the half way point? Even if you were walking slowly you were never more than 4-5 minutes from a toilet and 12-15 minutes from water – incredible.
We stocked up on supplies- small cooler, snacks, lawn chair, table, etc., for our tent area and did very little else all day. With a little too much time on our hands we went for about a 50 mile ride up I-17 into the mountains. When we got out to look around I noticed Eric and I share the same disease – we cannot survey beautiful terrain without evaluating it for its trail running possibilities.
An early dinner at a local Mexican place (my normal pre-race meal is sushi, but that scared me in a new city 400 miles from the ocean so I went with some not too spicy shrimp tacos) had us back to the hotel and resting by about 7 or 8 PM. We set the alarm clock and two smartphones for a 5:15 AM wake up. Seeing that we were already packed and checked in, and that we knew where we were going we did not feel the need to get there much earlier than 6:30 or 7 for the 9 AM start.
Nick Khoury, the very thorough race director (and brothers Nathan and Jamil) gave the pre-race briefing at 8:50 and the race started promptly at 9. The course is very flat, with perhaps 10-15 feet of gain per loop. The course is over 90 % dirt with small paved and short concrete sections. The direction of travel is changed seamlessly every four hours. Although I looked at this as trail race it really plays out much more like run on pavement – the desert dirt is hard packed and you feel it much more than New England trails.
Because it handles like asphalt and it is flat it is very difficult to run as slow as you know you should as much as you drill into yourself to slow down. I ran at the first 11 miles with Eric and we were clicking them off at around a 10:20 pace which was not sustainable for 24 hours. In an attempt to slow it down I decided to walk a half mile after the “fives” and a full mile after the “tens.” This was a brilliant plan but it was not enough – I should have gone in with a better walk/run plan – you need to remember constantly just how long you are going to be out the and just what is sustainable.
As the early miles moved on I kept the pattern up and was doing OK but I was having foot and ankle issues but the 10 mile mark which maybe attributable to never running long on pavement. I was also way too impressed with my early splits. A gigantic red warning flag should have hit me in the head when I beat my 50k time from Pisgah. That is all great, but I had 17.5 hours to go!
Sometime around when I passed the marathon mark I switched to a plan where I had broken the course into six short segments – of those six I walked three and ran three – I did that up until about mile 35 and then I was just feeling like I was going just as fast walking and I was able to maintain that. I told myself I would walk exclusively for the third four hour segment (5 PM – 9 PM) and I was able to do that, and for even a couple of more hours – see “THE ISSUES” segment next.
After getting to about 47 miles I decided I needed to get my left foot looked at. At the 8 hour mark I switched out of my New Balance trail shoes into some newer ASICS road shoes – lots of new cushioning and I like them. Problem is I had never worn them for a real long stretch – more of a shoe I wear on a short run in the neighborhood or on the treadmill. They were good for awhile and then I felt a blister forming in the middle of my forefoot – the shoe was probably too constricting. After running thru it for a while (it was not a major annoyance) I stopped at the medical tent and got a quick patch from the EMT Sue – was probably in and out in 5 minutes. An hour or so later I felt the exact same issue on the right foot – this pretty much proved to me it was the shoes. This time things would not go so smoothly. I finished a lap that put me just over 49 miles and entered the medical tent. Sue was still there but this time I was number three on her list and I was in the tent for over a half an hour. The tent was heated and I took a load off. By the time I was repaired and ready to go I was as stiff as a board and got cold immediately upon returning to the trail. Within 100 yards out I was approaching hypothermia. I was shivering, teeth chattering and was having trouble walking straight. I pushed on and finished the lap – I was over 50 miles.
At this point I thought I was done. I went to the food tent and got some hot chocolate and hot noodle soup and I went to the tent and put long pants on, two more shirts and a fleece jacket and two hats. I actually lied down on the cot and tried to sleep – I doubt I was there for 15 minutes. I got up and went to the warming tent and stayed there for a long time. Some how or another, around 12:30 AM I decided that I was going to get up and try again. It took me 10-15 minutes to get going but somehow I did and I managed to go pretty steadily (and slowly) until 5:07 AM when once again cold and tired, I thought I was done for the night.
At this point it did not help that Eric was in the same boat. We were both in the warming tent with blister issues and cold and tired issues. We actually lied down on cold concrete – dozing off for perhaps 5 minutes. It was only marginally warmer in the tent, and the way some folks stood right in front of the heater it really did not heat the entire tent area. At daylight, for some reason I just decided to walk a lap. I knew I needed one lap to cross 60 miles and another lap to get within steps of 100km. I started to walk and another runner/walker (Kimberly Miller) was walking and talking with me. The daylight, conversation, seeing others in the same shape or worse etc. motivated me. I got the two laps between 7:30 and 8:30 and I called it a race. Not what I had hoped for, but an epic experience and I am very pleased with my ability to adapt, adjust and get moving again.
I managed to keep a note pad on our table so I could make quick notes occasionally. One of the smarter things about this was recording the times that I took Advil because as the evening wore on I never would have had the wherewithal to remember things like that!
As for some race numbers that I managed to jot down…
10 miles – 1:45
15 miles – 2:49
20 miles – 3:48
25 miles – 4:59
26.2 miles - 5:15
30 miles – 6:12
50k – 6:28 (faster than Pisgah 50k – how stupid was that?)
40 miles – 9:34
47.25 miles – 12:08
49.3 miles – 13:23 (10:23 PM) (this is where I stopped for medical help and fell apart for awhile)
15:42 (12:42 AM) I forced myself to move again
59.84 miles – 20:07 (stopped again, dead and cold)
7:30 AM somehow got the urge to go again and eeked out two laps to get just under 62 miles/100km in 23:30 with 3-4 hours of down time and I was done.
…and I took three Advil at 11 AM, 4:35 PM, 9:35 PM and 2:35 AM!
WHAT I DID RIGHT
- I entered and challenged myself.
- I set a pace to start that gave me a chance at my goals of between 80 and 100 miles – I knew I would have no chance if did not have over 45-50 at the halfway point (for 80 miles) or if I did not have 55-60 miles at 12 hours (for 100 miles.)
- Nutrition – I ate enough to never bonk – I managed this well – no serious nausea, no hunger.
- Hydration – A little tough during the afternoon as it was warmer and I was going faster – but I drank all day – probably in the 20 ounce per hour range – even after it cooled off at night.
- Electrolytes – took one S-Cap per hour – when I noticed a slight twinge in my hamstring during the heat of the afternoon I moved up to 2 caps per hour for 2-3 hours – I stayed ahead of the cramping curve.
- Getting back up after a disastrous stretch around 11 PM -12:30 AM – I was mentally convinced I was thru, but I got up and managed around 11 miles between 12:45 AM and 5:07 AM. It was not pretty – but I did it.
- Again – getting back up again after stopping at the food and warming tent at 5 AM. Totally convinced I was done. At 7:30 AM I managed to get on my feet again and I started walking. I met Kimberly Miller (who along with her husband was doing the 72 hour) who was kind enough to walk and talk with me – I ended up doing two laps which had a great two-fold effect – I passed 60 miles and ended up at 100km (which had become one of my “adjusted for reality” goals.)
- Glad I stayed off the caffeine – I am not a user…other than a little dark chocolate and some hot chocolate I did the up all night thing (actually – it was more like 31 hours) pretty OK. And I only took a three hour nap in the mid afternoon. Was in bed last night from about 7 PM – 4:30 AM – needed it!
- Brought my mp3 player – I do not usually listen to music when I run, but it was a big help here – probably listened for about 8 hours. To what you ask? Jane’s Addiction, Melvins, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Smashing Pumpkins, Motorhead – I think that is the full list. It helped – a lot!
WHAT I DID WRONG
- The number one thing us ultra folks tell newbies (and I have been running ultras for less than a year) is not to go out too fast. Well, easier said than done sometimes. The easy course made it hard to go slow enough. While 10:20 pace is not that fast, it is if you are thinking about going for 24 hours – for me it is simply not sustainable. To put it into other terms, Joe Fejes who set a 72 hour record (over 320 miles) at this same race averaged over 13 minutes per mile – and I am nowhere near his level. He ran much faster at times, but my early pace was the set up for what happened to me.
- Equipment – my shoe mistake was dumb. My shoes were great and doing fine – there was no need to switch. And even if I chose to switch I had a second pair of the same make and model. Lastly on this subject – wearing shoes that I had only run for 3-5 mile road runs in a trail race was stupid. The blisters are not what stopped me, but the down time during my second stop in the medical tent was a killer. No blisters = no stop in tent.
- Back to pace – I was too impressed with my early paces – I should not even have been thinking about things like “how fast I ran ten miles” or “how fast I ran 50k” – a recipe for disaster.
- For all of the strategizing I did over the past 10 months on how I would handle and attack this I should have had a better run/walk plan from the start – not a “let’s see how it goes” plan. I think I would be likely to try and run third to a half of each loop if I try this again. You need to conserve for the long haul. If I did that right I could have possibly kept up a four mile per hour average for a long time.
- The entire process was a highlight. Planning and travelling with Eric Sherman went very well and we got along great – I am very glad he is heading to Utah with me in September. All of the great folks I have trained with over the past year – I am afraid of missing a name so I will leave it at that – you all know who you are.
- Doing something that is a challenge and that is not a “slam dunk” result wise is also a highlight. You cannot go into an ultra race and know how it will go or what your result will be. It is a major game of adaptation and adjustment. Race management is a key skill in this racket!
- All of the friends I have made in person and online – mainly through the Trail Animals Running Club have made this much more fun than it would have been as a totally solitary endeavor. TARC is really perfect for me – low key and fun with runners of all ages and abilities – a really great group of people.
- So many of the people I met in Arizona – ultra runners everywhere are just damn good people. It was so much fun to meet people you have read about and to run a lap with them, say “hi” and to watch others battle the same things you are battling.
- Lastly, I am really pleased with how I managed a lot of aspects of the race. I am not a natural born athlete and I need to excel at the management end of these things to do well. I am pleased at how I handled the nutrition and hydration and how I got going again twice after very low points.
2012 will always be the year that I really got my running going again – I ran my first ultras (two 50ks, two marathons, my first 50 mile and my first 24 hour – I got tired just typing that!) I learned a ton. Across the Years was an excellent capstone event on a very good year that saw me get over 2200 miles of running – over 90 % on trails. I made a lot of mistakes at ATY – but I did a lot well too. I will take this experience and grow and learn from it as I move into 2013. I have my first 100s on the calendar this coming year – including the first 100 ever in my home state of Massachusetts (TARC 100 in June) and a return to the west for The Bear 100 in Utah and Idaho in September. There will be a lot of miles alone and with friends between now and then. It has been a very fun and challenging year for me and I look forward to many new challenges in the coming year.