We are back home in Colorado after driving down to the Phoenix area for the Across the Years race. The race didn't go as I had planned, but it was quite an experience none the less. For complete results as well as some great photos and videos taken during the event, please see the ATY website. Also, in case I forget further down in this posting, thanks to all who sent the online messages to me before and during the race; after I started falling apart Judy would relay the messages to me as I came by.
I have always believed that mental atitude is the most important component of sucess as the race distances get longer, and while I kept a very positive outlook on my prospects going into this race, those thoughts probably bordered on the delusional. My hamstring had been bothering me more and more, with a drastic turn for the worse on Dec 11. I had quite a bit of accupuncture and electric stim during the last few weeks, but the relief was always temporary. The DNF thus should have probably been a DNS (did not start) but I always hold out hope that things will go better once the race starts.
I started the race running each lap in approx 2:16, which is about 7:25 pace. I had planned to run that pace for about 57 minutes each hour, and then walk the rest of the hour for the first 100 miles. I was carrying a water bottle every 4th lap, eating a gel every 20 minutes, and taking a salt pill about every 45 minutes. One good aspect of the race was for the 2nd race in a row, this fluid/nutrition plan seemed to work very well with no periods of low energy.
I didn't walk at the end of the first hour but did so each of the next 4 hours, and again, this walking break plan seemed to work well, though next time I will do them more frequently. The hamstring was bothering me right from the beginning, but I hoped it wouldn't get any worse. During the Heartland 100, it stayed at the mild uncomfortable level from the beginning on, and actually felt better at the end than at the start. No such luck this time however. I believe I went though the marathon in 3:13 and 50K in 3:5x. I then tried to slow down to about 2:22 per lap and held that through the 50 mile split in about 6:38. The hamstring took a severe turn for the worse after a bathroom break at 4 hours. I basically stopped running after 50 miles and just sort of jogged/walked for a few hours before calling it quits. My final distance was 66 miles. We hung around till the Midnight festivities and walked a few laps with our friend Carrie who was moving up through the field in the 72 hour event (congratulations on your 200+ total!). After getting some sleep back at our hotel, we came back in the morning for the awards and brunch, which were both very enjoyable.
My Race Post Mortem
Put simply, even had my left hamstring held up I would not have reached my goal of 165 miles. I wasn't adequately prepared for the absolute flatness of the course, or the hardness of the packed dirt. I believe both of those conditions would have finished off my quads at some point. I'm sure many road guys would find the dirt soft, but for me, it was quite a bit harder than I expected and harder than the dirt I run on around here. Before my next 24 hour race (and yes, there will be another one!) I'll do more road running even if the course is dirt. As for the flatness, I needed to add a second long run in my training to simulate this; the Heartland 100 was flat by trail 100 standards, but still had 6200 feet of climbing. For this build-up I did a lot of 2 hour flat runs, but I think I needed to a few 4 - 6 hour flat runs.
My feeling is I'll get my goal eventually, and if it takes 2 or 3 attempts it will just make it more rewarding when I do achieve it.
Random Thoughts on ATY
The whole ATY experience was a good one despite my own failures. The feeling and atmosphere was different from any previous race, mainly due to being able to see the runners continually as they each worked through the long hours of their respective events. We were lucky to have our table set up right next to the tables of Tony Mangan (72 Hr 1st), John Geesler (72 Hr 2nd), and Carrie Sauter (72 Hr 3rd F). We spent some time at the race on day 1, and then of course on day 3 when I was running so it was fascinating to see how each of these runners approached such a long event and worked through the inevitable rough patches.
Nardini Manor, where the race is held, is an amazing location. This isn't a case of someone simply cutting a running path around their acreage. Everything about the Manor is dedicated to having the event, from the running path, to the parking lot, to the various tents and out buildings housing the bathrooms, medical staff, kitchen, etc. As anyone who followed along on the web knows, the technical aspects of the race are heads and shoulders above other ultras. Each time I passed the start/finish line my total distance in both miles and kilos, my last lap time, and my lap count all were projected on a large screen so I never had to even use my own watch or worry about keeping track of my laps. I could also see the same information for the last 20 runners who had passed. Much of this organization and timing information is due to the efforts of Paul Bonnett, Roger Wrublik, Dave Combs, and Lynn Newton, each of whom I was able to meet for the first time.
On the runner side of the event, it was great to see, meet, and even run with such accomplished runners (to name just a few) as John Geesler, Tony Mangan, Hans Bern Bauer, Scott Eppleman, Tim Englund, Wendell Doman, Dave Putney, and Daniel Larson.
Being held over a holiday, the race has made it very family friendly and amongst the competitors were many husband/wife/children combinations. I believe the age range of the runners spanned from 6 to 75.
The course itself was very hard packed dirt and was not a simple loop, meaning when running it in the clockwise direction you still made a left turn also (check out the course map for an idea of what I mean). Overall, I think this course is perfect for the 48 and 72 hour events, but probably not the ideal 24 hour set-up. There are several spots on the track where the combination of a narrow track and tight corner makes congestion and traffic a possible issue. On one of these sections, I actually got my foot stuck in the loose dirt under the fence because I tried to sneak by on the outside and just ran out of real estate.
Random Thoughts on Fixed Time Races
I have even more awe and respect for the great 24 (and 48/72) hour runners now that I've been around one of these events. I'm not sure if Mark Godale gets enough credit for his fine 162 mile performance. And I really can't even comprehend the 180+ marks of Yiannis Kourus. Seeing John and Tony keep cranking out the miles even though it was obvious early on that they weren't going to get their goals was also inspirational.
While these longer timed races won't appeal to everyone, they are a very historically significant part of ultra running and I hope that more of the trail guys will give one a try. In most long races the front of the pack and the back of the pack are basically doing two separate events. Take Leadville for example; the top guys are running it in 18 hours, meaning they are finished shortly after dark, while the back of the pack is out there pushing the cut-offs for an additional 12 hours. As we all know, the longer you are out there the more chance of injury/sickness/sleepiness etc. Somebody pushing it for 30 hours is just flat out working more and harder than the 18 hour finisher. At a fixed time race, by contrast, everyone is running the same amount of time and has to deal with the same issues.