Between 9:00 AM, Saturday December 30, 2000 and 9:00 AM, Monday January 1, 2001, I ran the 48-hour event at the eighteenth annual Across the Years, Decades, Centuries, Millennia Run, Walk, Nap, and Eat Race, held at Canyon State Academy (formerly known as Arizona Boys Ranch) in Queen Creek, Arizona. This year the Arizona Road Racers (ARR) club event included also 72-hour and 24-hour races. Ten participants logged distance in the 72-hour race, six in the 48-hour race, and 44 in the 24-hour race.
It was the most challenging and exhausting physical activity to which I've ever subjected myself. By the end I had completed 470 laps of the certified 400-meter track, for a total of 116.82 miles, or more accurately, 188K (188,000 meters). We Americans are ill-equipped to handle anything in meters so always make the conversion to miles. My effort was good enough to garner third place out of six runners.
Non-runners universally find it difficult to believe that there are enough people who run for 48 hours and more that they can hold races. They typically say, "I can't even run around the McDonald's parking lot!" Even many runners who compete up to the marathon distance find the idea of a 48-hour run intimidating beyond comprehension. Everyone wonders how we do it.
The truth is: It's not as hard as most people think. There, now the secret is out of the bag.
If you envisioned a multi-day race as a form of extreme sport, a scene with hordes of frantic runners tearing around a course in a state of perpetual oxygen debt and exhaustion, MedEvac teams flying in and out to carry off IVed emergency cases on gurneys, now would be a good time to adjust your thinking. It's more like a picnic with friends, one that lasts a long time.
Multi-day fixed-time ultrarunning is not the same as road racing. Although closely related, in many ways it's an altogether different sport. Except for the elites determined to win or set records, ultrarunning can be far less stressful, and in my opinion a lot more fun.
A multi-day ultrarun is like going for a hiking and camping vacation in the woods — except there are no woods, and no scenery and no hills, you keep seeing the same places over and over because you're going around a track so you don't actually go anywhere at all, and you travel as fast as you can and don't stop unless you have to, especially at night, or hardly ever get to go in the tent. It's loads of fun!
Maybe you'll just have to trust me on that last part.
Multi-day ultrarunning does take some specialized training to do well. But I would estimate that most any midpack marathoner who has been training thoughtfully and consistently for a few years should be able to run a 24-hour race and get 100 miles in the deal. But one must be willing to learn some new techniques, and most of all, must want to do it.
At this writing, in addition to my 48-hour race, I've run one 24-hour race, a pair of 50Ks, nine standard marathons, and an array of shorter races. Before the 2000/2001 edition of Across the Years (ATY), the longest distance I ever ran in a single outing was 81.52 miles, and the longest duration was 24 hours, both at last year's ATY. The numbers in the next place are 35 miles and a little over eight hours respectively, not in the same event.
That I'm now capable of running multi-day events, have actually done one, and will do more, does not mean that I've suddenly become four or five times stronger or more durable than I was a year or so ago, or that I've discovered Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth. I'm the same geezer I was then, but even older. I'm slow as a marathoner, and I'm no less pokey as an ultrarunner. But I plod along for a lot longer in a multi-day.
Naturally, the longer one goes, the harder it gets. However, neither the ability to endure nor the discomfort experienced from running are linear entities. To be sure, after going for 48 hours, a runner is reeeeeaaaaal tired. It takes a few weeks to recover sufficiently that full-intensity training can be resumed. But it's possible to carry on a full, normal day's activity as soon as the next day.
When I returned home at noon on January 1, having slept a total of no more than three of the previous 53 hours, I showered and answered email for a couple of hours before going to bed for two and a half hours, at which time I slept very deeply. I awoke refreshed. We went to the postrace banquet an hour's drive away, and I drove myself. I was up that evening until 10:30, slept well during the night, was up at 5:30 AM the next day, and did not need a nap that day. I felt entirely caught up on sleep from that time on.
Executing a multi-day run is largely a matter of strategy: applying acquired knowledge, and following through on it with relentless discipline. Anyone who can do the math will realize that 116.82 miles spread over 48 hours averages out to 24:39 per mile. Most grannies can walk home from the store towing a loaded grocery cart behind them faster than that. The only runners who dash around the track for long periods of time are those with parents with names like Jor-El and Lara from the planet Krypton. (There are a few.) The reality is: although we call it running, at multi-day races, a lot of walking takes place, and also some outright sitting still and sleeping.
For reference, here are the paces of the male winners of the three events at Across the Years 2000/2001:
Event Distance Overall Pace 24-hour 134.96
10:40.19 48-hour 204.80 14:03.75 72-hour 201.32 21:27.50
Having made this confession, I wall also add: even so, if you think it's easy, I would like to invite you to try it once and decide for yourself.
The amount of training I did in 1999 and 2000 was only slightly more than what I did in previous years. In distance, my total for 2000 was less than 1999 by only 28 miles. It averaged out to a bit under 37 miles per week for the entire year, with peaks in the mid-fifties, about an hour a day if walking is factored in. This is roughly the same as what a medium-serious midpack marathoner might put in. I don't expect that I will ever train any harder than I have the past two years, but my program is sufficient to continue making improvement, even at my age.
In contrast, I wonder how some people can train for and run 5K races. Running as hard as possible for over three miles is one of the most painful training routines in my repertoire. I have never run a 5K race, and don't anticipate that I ever will. It hurts too much!
For me, in addition to being fun, running is largely preventive medicine: physical fitness has become my personal choice of alternative health care. It may take a little of my time and leave me tired on occasion, but it sure beats being a tub of guts lying in a hospital room with a quadruple bypass while my friends and family are gathered around my bed feeling sorry for me and talking about what a fine fellow I used to be.
To extend the comparison, physical fitness is like insurance — something that admittedly costs a bit up front, but that will help you in the future if disaster ever strikes. Naturally, there is no guarantee that a fit person will be able to avoid catastrophic illness. I could drop dead by the time I finish typing this sentence. But statistically, the odds favor a physically fit person.
That's where the comparison ends. Working out is infinitely more gratifying than making insurance payments.
Despite a 2000 training year in which I ran almost the same total number of miles as in 1999 (1928 versus 1956), the quality of my running has degraded of late. I've concluded the downturn is caused by a combination of age, being too fat, and possibly being a wimp at heart.
In 1999, before the 24-hour race at Across the Years, I ran Twin Cities Marathon in October, and Tucson Marathon in early December. There were few long training runs in between, since I was recovering from the marathons.
This year I made my task more difficult by running first St. George Marathon on October 7, and Tucson on December 3, but inserting Just Another Mad Dog 50K plus a four-mile bonus fun-run afterward on November 11, which I considered a supported training run. My paces in all these were down significantly from what they were one and two years ago. It's become increasingly evident to me that my future running profile is to be characterized as an increasingly old, slow guy with a degree of stamina disproportional to his ability.
Other than those three races, and one 20-mile training run in October, I ran nothing longer than a half marathon distance between September and the end of the year. Short or long, it's all been glacially slow.
When I signed up for the 2000/2001 48-hour ATY race, I created a trifecta of goals:
Well, I signed up all right. But oh, by the way — did I remember to train adequately? Somehow my sense of self-confidence had grown radically out of proportion to what it should have been.
The two days before the race were characterized by nervous anticipation, as I gathered together the many items on my elaborate list.
Two final things remained to be purchased. The first was a large sponge, which I kept saturated with cold water during the warm afternoons, and used to mop and drench myself at the start of walking laps. The other was a three-pack of ladies knee-high nylons to wear as undersocks.
Canyon State Academy is only an hour's drive from our house. A perk that I enjoy at ATY, an advantage other runners do not have, is the happy coincidence that my younger brother Dean lives barely nine minutes drive from the race. We were able to use his home to sleep the night before. Suzy also spent Saturday and Sunday nights there, so didn't have to endure the cold tent — something she is not inclined to do even under the best of circumstances.
We left home at 1:15 PM. Even with the stop at Target for shopping we were at Canyon State Academy by 2:30. It was a beautiful, cloudless day with the temperature around 72 F. As I walked onto the track from the parking lot, I experienced the warm feeling of someone arriving home after an absence. Immediately I was greeted by name by a number of runners on the course who know me from last year and from Net running email lists.
The first thing I noticed was how improved the start line was. Previously it had been just a white line across the track, but this year, in addition to using the ChampionChip, ARR put up an impressive gated chute with big banners on either side. The lap-counting equipment and other Net-connected equipment was in a covered booth with a space heater on the grassy field side.
This was to be ATY's first high-tech edition. Regular progress reports would be posted to the Net. One advantage of such a long race and modern technology was that they were able to take pictures of race participants in the middle of the race and have them printed, and put in a plastic magnetized frame ready for pickup before the end. This is mine.
Within seconds after arrival I ran into race director Paul Bonnett, who introduced me to a reporter from the East Valley Tribune he had been escorting around the site. The reporter interviewed me for fifteen minutes. The output of that aside was an article about the race in the paper which featured several paragraphs on me.
Before putting up our tent, I handed Paul a hard copy of my free book Running Through the Millennium, about training for and running ATY last year, to put on display at the check-in table, along with a packet of explanatory blurbs, with the Web address, so seekers could find it. During the race several people expressed interest in this, saying they'd picked up leaflets, intending to look it up.
Plenty of prime locations were still available as campsites. It took twenty minutes to set up the tent close to the start gate, and a few more to spread things out in an orderly fashion. This was to be our home until Sunday morning.
We lingered at the still sparsely populated track until 4:30, watching the 72-hour runners, plus one early-starting 48-hour and 24-hour runners, getting pumped up on the atmosphere. Afterward we drove into Gilbert to eat at a small pasta joint called Chianti, where I enjoyed nutritious and delicious non-acidic linguini in clam sauce in light olive oil. It was precisely what I needed.
For the first time I broke my rule against consuming alcohol the night before a race. How could I visit a restaurant called Chianti and not have a glass? Prerace rules don't seem to apply quite the same in an event of this scope. I wasn't any more worried that a small glass of wine might affect my performance negatively than I was concerned that I might get a bad start if I didn't crouch in starting blocks.
To our surprise, my brother Dean was home when we got to his house. He had told us he would be gone. A veteran outdoorsman, he had gotten back an hour earlier from a mountaineering expedition in Mexico, where he climbed to the 15,200-foot point of an 18,600-foot peak. After regaling us with tales of this adventure, he took us outside for a relaxed hour of looking at planets through his new telescope.
By 9:10 PM it was `bedtime for Bonzo', where I slept restlessly but comfortably.
At exactly 7:000 AM my unfailingly accurate internal body clock told me it must be that time. When I pressed the Indiglo backlight button on my Timex Triathlon 100, it showed me the time, lit up brightly for a moment, then ceased functioning. After a year and a half my watch battery chose that precise moment to die. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The race clock was set to real time. I had utterly no use for a watch during the race, and it would have only been one more thing to lug around the track with me.
We got ready to leave quickly. Everything I didn't need to start the day with had been left in the tent. An advantage of not having to fly to the race was being able to bring any gear with me that I might conceivably need. In the end I used enough of it that Suzy made two laundry runs to my brother's house.
Significantly, I opted to stick with one pair of shoes throughout, which I believe was a wise decision. They never felt too tight. Maybe the shoes expanded with my feet, which are now approximately the size and shape of loaves of freshly baked bread.
Another useful piece of gear that remained on my body at all times was a pair of gaiters made by Tucson ultrarunner Joe Dana, who ran the 24-hour race. Last year my shoes collected a large array of green track chips, which ultimately contributed greatly to bad blisters near the end. This year I had no problem whatever with things getting into my shoes, thanks to the gaiters. However, I got blisters anyhow.
We arrived at 8:10 AM, with enough time to dress, check in, and eat a little breakfast, leaving barely five minutes to spare, thereby reducing stress from fretting. The race packet included a yo-yo, which seemed strangely symbolic.
Jordan Ross, a doctor of osteopathy, and one of the 24-hour runners, was present with some medical students, conducting some research. Volunteers were asked to fill out a simple survey form and submit to a thirty-second structural exam before starting, and to do likewise at the end of the race, which I was happy to do. Meanwhile, the crew was available to provide medical services during the race, including osteopathic treatments. Jordan also managed to run 80 miles himself on the last day — not bad for a doctor on call.
Saturday's starters consisted of five of the six 48-hour runners — the sixth had started the day before — and a couple of early-starting 24-hour runners. Since the clock was on real time and rolling inexorably, there was no doubt about when the race would begin.
Last year I performed well beyond my highest hopes. When I achieved my fantasy goal (seventy miles) with four or five hours left in the race, I cut back and coasted the dead of night hours, without trying to push at all. When I analyzed the results afterward, I concluded: I can do better!
This year my strategy was similar to last year's: Walk the first four laps as a warmup, run five, and thereafter walk one lap after completing every lap divisible by five. This routine is easy to track. For years I've carried a lap counter whenever I train on a track, which I do so often I should have one surgically implanted in my palm.
My hope was to continue this pattern for a much longer stretch than I sustained it last year, on the theory that even though my general pace is slower now than it was then, eventually the old tortoise and hare effect would kick in. I should still be able to walk even when I can't run any longer. I hoped I might even make 90 miles by 24 hours. After that, day two would take care of itself.
Despite strong resolve, I started out too fast. Beginning with lap eleven I tried to get by with walking only half or two thirds of the walk laps, and skipped some walks altogether.
The afternoon, typical of a beautiful early winter day in the Arizona desert, got too warm for high-performance athletic activity. Even though I drank endless quantities of Clip sweetened with NutraSweet and gagged down much Hammer Gel, the heat took some oomph out of me. By 4:00 PM Paul warned me that I was pushing too hard. I explained my goal to top last year's 24-hour time before worrying about the second day, which was supposed to be more like a fun run. He prophecied that my strategy would never work.
In retrospect I now know this was a mighty big bite to chew. Although in the end I certainly did well again this year, it was arduous going almost all of the second day.
For a while I had great fun, knocking down lap after lap, holding steadily to the plan.
The Arizona desert gets downright nippy at night. It's not at all unusual for me to chisel frost or ice off my windshield in the early morning before I can leave for work, and to have the air conditioner on in the late afternoon. By 4:30 PM the temperature drops perceptibly with each lap. In the space of an hour the environment can turn from paradisaic to hostile.
It was not simply the cold that brought me to the low point of the race, but a combination of factors. I can handle the cold by itself. However, Suzy and later my daughter Cyra-Lea, who showed up in late afternoon and took a few laps with me, became visibly more uncomfortable sitting on the sidelines. I wanted my family's presence and support, but seeing them at the side wrapped in blankets, in obviously miserable discomfort with little to do, was not a part of the experience I wished upon them. By 7:30 I suggested Suzy gather up the wet and dirty clothing and head back to my brother's for the night.
Cyra-Lea expressed her willingness to camp out in the warm lobby of the gym, where several runners threw down cots and sleeping bags. There was no purpose to her being there at all if she was going to sleep in an uncomfortable place. She had to be back home in the morning anyhow, so by 8:00 I sent her off as well, leaving myself without any crew, but with an abundant supply of Clip, Hammer Gel, Succeed! capsules, and Advil ready to snatch as I passed by our trackside table.
My worries were not yet over, though. A good friend promised that he and his wife would come by to support me during the night. I started to fret that they'd get there, see that there were only a few runners on the track during the late hours, thereby missing the excitement that's present during the day, conclude they'd landed on the wrong planet, get cold from hanging out, and would quickly be bummed by the decision to be there. I certainly didn't want my friends to show up to do me a big favor and then go away having had an unpleasant experience.
I rarely experience genuine bad patches while running. Yes, sometimes a training run can be tedious and less than wildly joyful. But on this Saturday night I was not out for an ordinary training run that I could blow off without consequence. Rather, I was engaging in what was rapidly becoming the toughest physical battle of my life — something I had trained all year for. I was cold, wet, funky, and tired, and suddenly became aware that only eleven hours had passed, and there was still 37 hours to go, including two long nights.
For the first time I began to entertain negative thoughts about being there at all — that it was ridiculous to think that an old wuss like me could pull off such a preposterous scheme, and that perhaps I should just pack it up and forget about it, at least for this year. No one was forcing me to be there. I volunteered and even paid for the experience.
On the other hand, possibly for reasons related those that made me a musician, I sometimes perform better in the presence of observers, which in this case I had in the form of the running email lists. If I were to give up so easily, what would all those people who sent me encouragement and were hoping to read good things in my report think of me?
So, "Start running, you big coward!" I told myself. And off I went.
At 10:00 PM my friend Mike arrived, and none too soon. His wife preferred to stay in the car and sleep, but Mike came dressed for activity. As a tall former football player and body builder, he had little difficulty walking briskly at the pace I was reduced to running at by that time. His company over the next hours proved to be the factor that reversed the direction of my downward spiral. By the time he left, my attitude was in tune with the circumstances once again.
As I ran, I projected where I would be come 9:00 AM. I had been hanging in there steadily all night long. But it appeared to me that the best I could possibly do by then, assuming I didn't degrade any further, would still be a mile or two short of last year's total, and probably more like three or four.
Therefore, when Mike left at 5:00 AM, I decided resolutely to call it a day, hoping that with a little rest I would be able to salvage a decent second day. I disappeared inside the tent to get some sleep.
Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind. — Ecclesiastes 4:6
At 5:15 AM I curled up inside the sleeping bag, wearing most of my grubby clothes, with an extra blanket and my winter coat on top. Even though it was still hard to keep warm, I fell asleep within two minutes.
Exactly an hour later I awoke suddenly, but was not ready to get up yet. I tossed uncomfortably until 7:15, when it was getting light out. I forced myself up, and changed most of my clothing in the cold. This task was not fun.
When I stepped out of the tent, Paul was busy inviting people to eat hot scrambled eggs and bacon with bagels, while also trying to care for the large influx of fresh 24-hour runners and their crews who were arriving at the track, ready to begin the climactic last day of the event.
After a bathroom stop I began walking slowly around the track. Before long I detected I had developed a blister on the ball of my left foot. The day before I checked my feet several times, and rejoiced when I found no signs of trouble. Last year blisters the size of silver dollars on both feet proved to be my biggest problem. Over the past six months I studied the techniques for avoiding blisters, and for treating them once I had them. Now I had a real one to deal with, and a whole 25 hours of running yet ahead of me.
Remarkably, my right foot survived the entire trek well. When I returned home, I saw no problems at all with it other than the expected swelling. My left foot, however, had a blood blister under the big toenail, which looked like it might come off, a second nail looks as though it may turn black, and there is a large piece of crumpled dead skin extending from behind my second toe, stretching back two and a half inches. On Sunday morning this had not yet fully developed.
At the prerace meeting Saturday morning we were excited to hear the news that ultrarunning superstar Ann Trason would be running the next day in the 24-hour race. As I circled the track the hour before they started, I looked for her, expecting I would recognize her, since I've seen her picture many times.
When 9:00 AM arrived, I was on the opposite side of the track, completing a lap in the clockwise direction. (They change directions every two hours.) It was not hard to find Ann. She was already leading the pack of approaching runners after half a lap.
Ann Trason is small — 5'4" and 105 pounds — with predictably powerful legs. I can't remember that I've ever seen such well-developed hamstrings on a woman that size. Her appearance reminded me of a description I read once of a tiny warbler: `three quarters of an ounce of courage wrapped in feathers, as it follows a course for several days and 2,400 miles, flying across the Atlantic from Africa to South America.' It seemed an apt comparison.
Trason recently turned 40, and is therefore technically now a masters runner. She's still inarguably better than any woman ultrarunner on the planet, and also better than most of her male counterparts.
How many runners like me can say they were passed 240 times by Ann Trason in the same race? It sounds like a great competitive battle was going on, eh? Except Ann has always said she doesn't race against men. And oh yeah — because we were on a track it meant she was lapping me as I limped along on my blister. Well, it was still a pleasure to watch her whiz by repeatedly at elbow distance.
I noted that everyone present appeared to watch for her and gave her all the space she needed to do what she was there for. During the race she rarely talked to anyone except her husband Carl Anderson, himself an elite ultrarunner, who crewed his wife with meticulous attention. The look of determination on Ann's face made her look as though she would gladly eat raw dog meat without wincing.
Remarkably, this was not to be one of Ann Trason's greater days. Can you imagine setting five world records and still finishing twenty-first out of 44? Because there is no DNF in fixed-time events, that's exactly what happened, as in front of all our ogling eyes she progressively set world women's masters records for 30 miles, 50K, 40 miles, 50 miles, then 100K, before finally crashing and dropping out after 80 miles. Such an odd statistic is likely only in a fixed-time event. Heck, if it had been last year, I would have beat her by five laps! As it worked out, 240 is the difference between the total number of laps Trason ran, and the number of laps I completed between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM (during which period I had difficulties and was taking many breaks), about the time Ann gave up for the day.
While I'm pointing out greatness, I mustn't fail to mention James Bonnett-Castillo, the race director's son. We in Arizona have come to take him for granted. At age fourteen he has already been one of the best ultrarunners around for the past three years, one who consistently beats all but the best adults. Two years ago he finished Across the Years with 101 miles, last year with 105, and this year with 111. Everyone who has had a chance to be around him close up knows he is highly self-motivated, beautifully coached, and best of all, is a sweet and modest young guy. Everything good thing you may have heard about him is true. Keep that in mind, because before long his reputation is likely to begin to grow to legendary proportions.
BONUS: Here is an article about James that was published in the January 18, 2001 edition of the East Valley Tribune.
The rest of us ordinary mortals were busily engaged in lesser combat.
In my own case, I had gotten badly behind schedule, as I spent much time maintaining myself during the daylight hours on the second day, without getting much momentum going. From 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM the second day I ran only 46% of the number of laps I did during the same period the first day.
By mid-morning I concluded that a shower would be a lovely idea, so I grabbed my stuffed gym bag and a towel, and headed around the track with it, so as not to have to backtrack. As I passed by a tent on the opposite side of the field, a crewman watched my approach incredulously. "I like to increase the challenge!" I explained as I passed by, which left him roaring with laughter.
The shower was indeed wonderfully refreshing, but time-consuming. It was now nearly 11:00 AM, and promised to be warmer on this day than the day before. Not wanting a repeat of the previous day, I planned to take a nap during the hottest hours, and then dig in when it started to cool again.
At 1:46 PM I headed for the tent, which was warm inside, though not too hot for comfort, while Suzy made another laundry trip to wash my evening wear. I opened the flaps on both ends to increase circulation, and spread out on top of the hammock-style cot. Once again I was able to sleep for exactly one hour, but effectively. The cheerful noise outside, the light, and the warmth inside the tent all worked against my sleeping any longer. I laid there until 4:00 PM, but never did get any more quality rest. I should have gotten up and started logging miles. In retrospect I realize that I probably lost between five and seven miles while trying to sleep, but unable to.
The race site becomes like a little village, with tents belonging to runners and their crews scattered around the edges of the field, and some set up in outlying areas, away from the aid stations. A warm sense of community develops that seems contrary to the underlying truth that we are collectively engaged in a competitive sporting event, as runners and crews invariably work together to assist and encourage one another. We also get to know what a lot of people look like from behind.
The crewing for runners I witnessed taking place on the part of family and friends during this race was generally outstanding. Also, quite a few runners were self-crewed.
On the northeast corner of the field were representatives from the Colorado and New Mexico based Divine Madness Running Club, also known as The Community, including their leader and guru Mark Tizer, who is known as Yo. This unusual and controversial group, regarded by some persons as a running cult, does train some outstanding runners. Among them is Janet Runyan, who won the women's 24-hour race. Tizer himself, who is 52, a small and fierce looking man with a wild beard, enrolled in the race, started running later in the day, and finally acquired 56 miles, but spent a good deal of the rest of the race sitting in a chair by the side of the track, often drinking beer, and cheering on his runners. It was Tizer who laughed at the wisecrack I made when I was on the way to the shower.
The support the club gave its runners was substantial. They had a large white tent, with tables out front hosting an array of bottles containing unknown concoctions for the runners to drink. Clipboard-wielding ladies dutifully attended to record keeping, and crew members took shifts accompanying their runners on laps, sometimes just keeping them company, sometimes chatting, sometimes offering psychological counseling, and at times providing virtual tugboat service.
Another group was there during the first day of the 72-hour race with the Hilton hotel equivalent of a campsite. They gradually broke camp the second day, but stayed around long enough to get well-lubricated on Carlson's beer by late afternoon. The last three men remained behind, sitting together on a short bench as if they were in the bleachers at a football game. Every time a runner came by, they would stand up and do the wave — or maybe in this case it was a ripple. They kept this up for an hour, to everyone's amusement, particularly their own.
It's not unusual for runners to accompany each other for an hour's worth of laps or more. During the race I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with many in the race: Don Winkley, the ultimate 72-hour winner, who proved to be my guardian angel (see below); Dennis Kranz (second place in 72 hours), who lectured glibly on the benefits of pain, blisters, and toughing it out, trying to help me recover my momentum on the second day; Chicagoan Nikki Seger, who won the 48-hour last year and was running 72 this time; the delightful 66-year-old race founder Harold Sieglaff, who walks in street clothes, loves music and plays the clarinet when the New Year rolls around; Christopher O'Loughlin, a nurse who was available to render medical assistance, and who walked with and talked to my nurse-in-training daughter for several laps; Debra Richmeier, who ran like a rabbit most of the first day and night, and who took second place overall away from me in the 48-hour race by a margin of nearly 49 miles; Jay Anderson from California, who looks 15 years younger than the list says he is, and ended the 24-hour race with an astonishing series of sprint laps to finish with over 108 miles; Tucsonian Joe Dana, the purveyor of fine gaiters; and Andrea Feucht, who has a cheerful attitude and obviously loved being there, despite being a sandbagger, and kept me company for nearly an hour.
If multi-day runners were being paid millions, and had their status as free agents floating on their performance, they might be more inclined to behave like the self-absorbed star athletes we are accustomed to seeing on TV. But that's not what the sport is all about. Any runner with a heart and who has experienced it realizes there is great satisfaction in rendering encouragement and assistance to fellow trekers, even if it means stopping for a few minutes to do so — and in the process making a new friend!
Two good Samaritans I benefitted personally from during this race were Stephanie Ehret and Don Winkley.
Stephanie is the wife of 24-hour winner Peter Bakwin. She won the 24-hour race outright both the last two years. This year she was there primarily to crew for both her husband and her father, Richard Ehret. Being busy with their needs did not stop her from taking some time to help me try to deal with the increasingly painful blister I'd been monkeying with and that had reduced me to a limper. She located a piece of Compeed for me, then she and Suzy worked together on me to build up a pad around the sore spot, which didn't eliminate the problem, but definitely helped a great deal for a while.
Dinner time came, and pizza arrived. By that time Harold Sieglaff aimed me at multi-day genius and foot healer laureate Don Winkley as the on-site expert nonpareil on foot care. As a runner who has done several transcontinental runs, and Sri Chinmoy races up to 2700 miles, you might expect him to know something about this.
Don went to his van and retrieved an apothecary's kit of magical lotions, potions, and devices. He led me to a spot in the gymnasium where he could see better and went to work. In twenty minutes he had lanced, drained, treated, and elaborately taped my miserable foot. This was the miracle cure that did the trick for me!
He warned me that it appeared there might be a second blister developing beneath the top blister that might eventually act up. He was right. But I was once again able to run, and I never took that left shoe off again until I got home eighteen hours later. I'll be eternally grateful for that assist, and hope someday I can return the kindness to someone else.
Before we headed back to the track, Don took a moment to display his own foot gear. His feet, particularly his toes, were meticulously covered with dozens of small strips of tape so closely stuck on with adhesive that the front of his foot appeared to be covered with a brie cheese crust. He told me that although it took him a long time to pretape his feet, the tape would hold for as long as five days — useful if you happen to planning running for that long.
Rather than running socks, on each foot he wore three pair of ladies knee-high nylons, of different colors, so presumably of purposefully different weight and composition. Finally, the fabric of the entire toe box section of his new-looking shoes had been neatly excised back to the shoelaces, allowing for his swelling feet to expand without restraint. I've seen multi-day runners who whack the ends off old shoes off with a carpet knife, but Don's podware has the deliberate look of a dedicated pro.
By the time I completed the next lap it was 6:13 PM on the second day. I had hoped to reach 100 miles by no later than 11:00 AM, but still had only 86 miles. I knew I would make it, but thoughts about total mileage in the 130-160 range had vanished. At least I was now fixed well enough that I could begin to make steady progress.
As time passed, I was unable to run many laps. I was not inordinately tired, but I found that when I tried to run it would rub my foot differently, aggravating the spot that had been treated. I contented myself with the satisfaction that I was able to apply the multi-day runner's mantra: Relentless Forward Progress. (RFP, as the cognoscenti blithely refer to it.)
However, I did impress myself with one anomalous burst. As volunteers were bringing out party hats and paraphernalia for the festivities at midnight, I finally approached 100 miles. At 11:44 I had only four laps to go. After hours of averaging 5:00 a lap, I suddenly ripped off four laps at an average of 2:55, getting faster each lap, and tore across the line for my much-desired 100 miles at 11:55:54 PM.
Paul saw me come across and hollered the news across the field, so I got to be cheered, as though traveling 100 miles in nearly 39 hours were some kind of noteworthy accomplishment. But making 100 miles one way or another was my primary goal for the race, so I drank it in. The fun run began.
My next goal was to get more than 100 miles, which would obviously happen as soon as I completed another lap, but I wanted to do it as soon as possible. Paul told me that if I got to 408 laps (101.41 miles) I would move permanently ahead of another runner who had quit. So although I was in need of a break, I kept going around until then before stopping for a brief break.
Meanwhile, midnight arrived, and those who were inclined donned party hats, blew horns, drank sparkling cider, and made noise. Some boys set off fireworks on a skid in the center of the field, which went off like a backfiring one-cylinder car. They weren't able to get them to go off in a chained sequence, so had to light each one individually, then run to safety to let it ignite. Paul ran around the field and planted giant sparklers, handing some to runners to carry. Cute. Meanwhile, we were able to see in the night sky the occasional residual effects of fireworks fests being carried on in distant parts of the valley.
Okay, so that meant it was suddenly the year 2001. Big deal. What it meant for fifty-plus runners still on the track was that it was time to get down to the serious business of finishing the last nine hours of this race.
Suzy endured this evening far better than the first, because she holed up with race timer Steve Finkelstein in the nearby timing equipment shelter, where there was a space heater, and read the latest mindless Danielle Steel novel. From then on there was not a lot I needed from her except an occasional admiring glance. By midnight I was prepared to go the night solo. I had what I needed in physical support, so Suzy returned to my brother's house.
From then on it was a long grind. It was important to keep moving, not only because of the mileage, but because if I stopped I would get cold and stiffen up and have a hard time getting started again.
Shortly before 3:00 AM I became disoriented. I was bundled up in a long-sleeve Coolmax shirt, a Marmot coat, a hooded sweatshirt, and a hooded winter coat, with my running hat on, and my Oakley sunglasses, which I wear while running even at night, because it keeps the cold wind from drying my eyes. Engulfed in hoods, all I could see was the white line in front of me. Every once in a while I would peer out to remind myself where I was on the track, and which direction I was going. A female runner, I don't know who, passed me by and said: "I think you're about ready for a nap!" I hadn't planned on it, but the power of suggestion suddenly seduced me into being kind to myself.
There was no way I would lie down in that tent as I did the night before. I'd never be able to get up. Instead, I picked up my folding camp chair and a pillow, and took it into the warm gym lobby, where others were sleeping, and parked myself against the wall. I shut my eyes and managed to sleep for a while sitting upright. People who came in to use the restrooms made enough clatter that sleeping soundly was impossible. But that was all the sleep I needed to complete the race. A total of 1:25:46 passed before I completed my next lap. In all, I slept less than three hours during the whole race, and rested while lying down but awake about two more hours.
On two more occasions I did sit down for a while. At about 5:00 AM I sat down in the chair at my table. Paul stopped over and made me consume some Hammer Gel. I'd sort of lost the taste for it by then, and wouldn't have swallowed any if I hadn't been coached into it. The second stop was longer. Just three laps later I put my chair back in the tent to reduce the wind (there wasn't much) and cold. I knew there was a danger I could fall asleep, but I didn't let it happen, even though that lap took 47:03. By then it was 6:30 AM, and it was the last time I stopped for anything, except for one brief break shortly before 8:00 AM.
After the 5:00 break, things picked up. I got into watching certain individual runners. One of the most fun to watch was Brenda Klein from New Mexico, one of the Divine Madness runners. I never did actually see her walk at any time during the race, although she did change clothes a couple of times. She kept trotting along relentlessly, sometimes singing to herself, and almost always in the company of one or more crew members, who at times seemed to be towing her behind with their steady encouragement. Brenda finished with 101.16 miles, reaching 100 miles a few minutes before the end. I congratulated her as I passed her on my last lap around, saying I had been watching her all day. If you have seen Brenda, then you know that watching her is not exactly hard to do.
Aki Inoue put in the most spectacular performance of the event, if you discount Ann Trason's world record setting flame-out. Aki began running the 48-hour race at an 8:00 per mile pace, and ran hard the whole first day, reaching 100 miles in about 17 hours. However, like most of us, he overestimated his ability to handle the warm day, and fell apart for a while. On the second day he walked almost all day long. When I talked to him he sounded as though he had given up on trying to run much. But when it got cool again that evening, he suddenly burst into high gear. He finished the race with 204.80 miles, 39 miles ahead of second place Debra Richmeier, and 88 miles ahead of me. There was over 15 miles between me and the next runner, so my place in the standings was pretty much engraved in stone the instant I completed 408 laps.
... In the evening weeping may take up lodging, but in the morning there is a joyful cry. — Psalm 30:5
It doesn't get light until after 7:00 AM on January 1 around here. But when the sun came up, and the warmth returned, bringing yet another beautiful Arizona day, the excitement built toward the end, as individuals fought to put in the extra effort to make personal goals, and in close races, to slug it out to bring their place in the standings up one notch. An amazing 13 persons finished the 24-hour race with more than 100 miles. Six of them finished with between 406 and 411 laps.
Remarkably, by the end I was wide awake, my legs felt good, and I was doing fine. Suzy arrived about 8:30 AM, and Cyra-Lea came with a friend not long afterward. I had done only walking for the previous couple of hours, but beginning at 8:00 AM, I got inspired. Cyra-Lea accompanied me on one surprisingly strong lap, then I walked another. After that, I took off on what I thought would would be my last lap. It turned out to be my second fastest lap of the race. As I approached the line I saw it was 8:55. "I can do another one!" I called out, and launched into it, while Cyra-Lea remained behind, helping to hold up the finishing tape for those who were calling it quits. Even though I had time to shuffle the last lap or even walk it, I hit it hard, and kicked to the finish. It was my fastest lap of the race. There was a lot of traffic coming across the line at that time, and I don't know how good a picture Suzy got, but I know she took others. By then there was only 1:41 left in the race, too little time to get another lap, so I quit, depleted but exuberant.
For the finale, our timer set himself on fire. This sounds funny, but it could have been a disaster. Minutes before the end, Steve Finkelstein, Arizona's own ultravolunteer extraordinaire, who works endlessly at many tasks for the Arizona Road Racers, and who was at the track for most of the 72 hours of the race, not to mention time spent before and after, backed himself into the space heater, and caught a garment on fire. He was hurt badly enough that he required medical attention from Jordan Ross. I never did find out how bad it was, but he was walking around the site after the race with a bandage around his leg.
My brother Dean arrived about 9:03, not in time to see the end, but soon enough for the awards ceremony, and to help with tearing down our stuff. This year I was less incapacitated at the end myself than last year, when I was crippled by raw blisters that made it nearly impossible even to limp to the car.
In the final analysis, I had a wonderful run and a fully satisfying experience at ATY again this year, even though I didn't fully accomplish all the goals I set out. Surely I could have done at least a bit better, but given that with this race I moved into radically new running territory, my lack of vision in this regard seems forgivable, or at least understandable.
Another race is over and in the books, and I'm busy recovering. Except for my left foot, and some back stiffness yesterday, I feel fine, though not exactly ready to go out for a long run.
Suzy, on the other hand, frequently experiences harmonic maladies. If my foot hurts, hers does, too, I can pretty much guarantee it, and she'll go to see a doctor about it. Eight times. Last night she moaned to me, "I can't believe how sore I am. I need a massage!" That's funny — I thought I was the one who ran the race. Sadly, her massage therapist's funeral was on Saturday morning. (She was a dear family friend, and we regretted being unable to be there. But Cyra-Lea organized the post-memorial get-together.)
This is that part of one of those verbose race reports where the author is supposed to wax philosophic about what it all means.
There will be other races. What did I get out of this one, and why did I do it? Was it worth it? After all, it was merely a footrace which I never had the remotest chance of winning, and even if I had, so what? There wasn't even a cash prize.
I've always been of the school of thought that says: As much fun, and as beneficial and satisfying as it can be, it's still just running. I try not to attach too much higher importance to it.
Participating in and winning footraces, as enjoyable as it is, is not one of the Big Things that gives real meaning and purpose to life. At least, it doesn't fill that slot for me. Other things in my life in addition to running equal and greatly surpass in importance and satisfaction anything I do on my feet.
The runners, crews, volunteers, and friends who gathered in Queen Creek this past weekend underwent a tribal experience. Each one inevitably took something different away from it. Whether we run for 24, 48, or 72 hours, just doing it is no small achievement, and something to be proud of. Ultradistance running tests the very limits of our whole being. What each one derives from it in personal understanding is the reward that person gets from participation.
I'm a late starter at running. Although I've done periodic jogging since 1977, I've run consistently and with intelligence, method, dedication, and heart only since mid-1994. The progress I've made, particularly in the unusual route I've wound up taking, into the rarefied world of ultrarunning and multi-day events, has been satisfying for the health benefits alone, if for no other reason.
Surely I still have at least one more good year in me, one in which I can set and accomplish some new goals, before aging takes over and limits what I can do. It's a brand new year, and I already have ambitious plans for the year, including one difficult standard marathon followed by four ultramarathons. The number of races that I do will always remain relatively few, but they are not the big thing. For me, it's all about the better quality of life I enjoy because I have chosen to call myself a runner.