Thursday, January 4, 2018

Running Across The Years - my first 72

72 hours.  Is a long time.

I originally planned to do my first 72 hour “multi-day” race at the 3 Days at the Fair event in May.  After putting my money down, my daughter informed me that her college graduation fell smack in the middle.  So…  I crewed a friend at 3DATF and signed up for 48 hours at ARFTA, figuring I’d do a 3 day in 2018.
Somewhere around early November, after hearing about ATY for the umpteenth time from someone who will remain unmentioned (you know who you are!!!), I decide spur of the moment that this will be my 72.  Within hours I am signed up. 
I don’t have a whole lot of time to get nervous or antsy as,until 12/17, I am busy planning my daughter’s wedding. Then… Christmas.  So, it isn’t until about 12/26 that I start getting that pre-race “oh my god what have I done to myself” feeling that starts in the pit of my stomach and hangs out somewhere in the middle of my back that results in my shoulders getting tight and my brain feeling squeezed. 
I am scheduled to be in the 12/29 start (for those not in the know, the Across the Years race is a 6 day event that started on 12/28 and ended on 1/3.  The other events include 72 hours, with starters on any of the first 4 days of the overall event, 48 hours, with starters on any of the first 5 days of the event, and 24 hours – which could start day 1 through 6.  The event is at Camelback Ranch – spring training camp for the Dodgers and White Sox in Glendale, Arizona). 
My travel is uneventful and I arrive in Phoenix around noon on 12/28. Bill picks me up and we head out to the course to hang out.  As the start approaches, I feel myself getting quieter and quieter, folding inwards upon myself; I’m pretty much in almost complete denial now that in about 18 hours, I will be running for 3 days. 
Bill takes me on a tour around the course and I am almost stunned by the beauty of this desert landscape.  I’ve been told about the running surface – it is essentially a clay/dirt path with little tiny pebbles mixed in just for fun.  There is one section that is pure crushed gravel which, walking through it for practice, reminds me of one of those little kid houses that are filled with all of the little balls.  Or like walking through sand.  Which is to say… it takes a lot of energy to traverse that little gravel section.  (Later there will be swearing.)
I take my pictures now, because I know I won’t be doing it later.  In some ways, the pre-race course walk is reassuring.  I see runners I know, and I get to give them big bear hugs.  Ken Arble… Bob Davidson… Mike Melton, timing the course.  I see runners I’ve only heard about… Yolanda, the walking Diva.  I spy Liz Bauer, who kicked my ultra ass at ARFTA, out there doing her thing the way she does it so well, and Andre Nana, running strong in his 24 hour.  And I see folks out here who are not necessarily out to kick butt, but just to see what they can do in 6 days.  I see a lot of joyous people.
Hanging with my buddy Ken


I’d worn a short skirt and flip flops in the heat of the day.  Bill had warned me about the cold at night, and as the sun starts to get low in the sky around 5, I can feel the chill already.  It is time to leave the course, get some food, and get race ready.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a great dinner companion.  And then, back to my hotel room for an early sleep.
Game Day
I wake before 6, which gives me plenty of sleep due to the time change.  Thankfully, I haven’t generally been having issues sleeping prior to races.  There is a pretty acceptable breakfast at the hotel, despite having to fight the instomatic pancake maker for a bit.  I manage to avoid overeating, and we head over to the race grounds.  I am completely quiet.  I am completely inside myself.
It is, by the way, still cold.  Just prior to 9:00, I’m dressed warmly but prepared to strip down.  Shorts underneath, running pants on top.  Tank top, with arm warmers, and fleece over the top.  Gloves and hat.
Mike Melton gives his usual pre-race speech – warning runners that he needs to know if any of us plan on doing sub 5 minute laps (HA!) as the timing mat is set to ignore laps under 5 minutes.
It is time.  9:00 has arrived and we head over the timing mat and straight into the next 72 hours. As per usual, I drop almost instantly to the back of the pack.  The rest of the runners look peppy and fast – they are bounding along with perky steps.  I am not bounding.  Generally these days it takes me about 10 miles to warm up, and I am nothing close to warmed up.  The first mile… hell, the first 5, are always hard, because I’m always almost dead last in whatever pack of runners I start out with.  It is the time during the race when I ask myself what the hell I’m doing here – who am I kidding…  I’m clearly NOT a runner.  Not like those fast folks, striding comfortably, with confidence.
It warms up quickly and by lap 3 I’ve pulled off my pants….  Shortly thereafter, the arm warmers come off, and not too long after that, the sunscreen goes on.  I’m dressed now for a warm day, and things are feeling better, and running is coming easier.  There is a little part of me that thinks I might just be a runner.

Hours later.  We are well into the heat of the day.  The other fast folks have slowed down… some to a walk.  They look hot… tired.  An intrepid few are still running with strength.  Me?  I’m in my groove now.  I’ve been doing steady 11-12’s for hours now, and I know I can keep this up for a long time.  Bill tells me I’m going WAY too fast.  I tell him I really can’t go much slower without it being uncomfortable.  He lets me do my thing.
5:00 ish and night is starting to fall.  It gets cold fast, as Bill said it would.  The cold weather clothes go on, and I keep chugging along.  It is night for a while.  I run pretty much all through it.  I’m dressed correctly for the cold, and I’m never really uncomfortable.  My goal for this race, BTW, is 200 – to get the 200 mile buckle.  My pacing plan was 80 day 1, 70 day 2, 50 day 3.  I hit 80 well before the 24 hour mark, and take a rest – I am down for an hour but there is almost zero sleep.  Getting up in the cold and going back out there is rough.  I stumble into the night and get going again.  I end the first 24 hours with 95 miles. 
Heading into Day 2 my goal is to reach 160 miles – same mileage I achieved at ARFTA in 48 hours, which would give me only 40 I have to manage on day 3 to get my buckle.  This seems achievable, but day 2 the miles don’t come as easy. There is more walk, less run.
Can’t let this race report go without talking about “the turn”.  Every 4 hours, runners got to turn and run in the opposite direction.  This was one of the more social and fun parts of the event, as all of the timing monkeys (Mike, Bill, and the runner volunteers) danced us around a cone and pointed us in the opposite direction.  Great music played, and it was almost a contest as to which runner could pull of the turn with the most pizzazz.  The other cool thing about the turn is that it let you face the folks you were running with for a lap, rather than just looking at their backsides.  There were lots of “hey!’s”, and handslapping on the turn laps.
Doin' the Turn Dance

Night 2 comes.  The warmer clothes go on again.  I keep up my shuffle.  The night is, pretty much, a blur.  Somewhere night turns into a stunning sunrise.  I make it just a little past my goal of 160… get 161 and change, and head to my 48 hour rest knowing I only have 39 miles to go for that buckle.  I realize I only (only!!!) have 24 hours to go after my rest.  Which is, what, 40 minutes?  An hour?  Whatever it is, it’s not  enough.  This time, at least, there was sleep, in addition to an opportunity to rest my feet.
Morning 3.  I pull myself out on to the course and head out.  Probably due to the great food at the aid station, and how much of it I was able to take in, for something like 7-8 laps, I lose a good 2 minutes each lap at bathroom stops.  I started worrying a little bit about dehydration, given the number of potty stops.  Still – I was pretty upbeat.  In my head I just figured I had 13 hours to go, if I kept up 20 minute laps.  Sounds easy, right?  Sure… except, shortly after the bathroom debacle, I pretty much lose my run entirely.  I’m on day 3 and it is now a walk.  Which is not nearly (for me) as much fun, but does have the side advantage of reducing bathroom stops since, now that I’m walking, my gut has calmed down. I don’t have any doubt that I will hit my goal of 200, but as the day progresses and I need more rest breaks, I do start having doubts that I’ll hit it as quickly as I was hoping.  At some point in the morning I call my mother, because, well, why not – I can.  I’m just walking.
Walking some more.
Walking slower.
Slower than 20 minute miles.
DAMN it!
It will not be 13 hours until I hit 200.  If I’m lucky, maybe 15?  16? I realize somewhat to my horror that night is about to fall.  Again.  And it is getting cold.  Again.  And this time there is no freakin’ way I will get by with the clothes I wore for nights 1 and 2… because I’m not moving fast enough to keep warm in just the running jacket.  On goes my fleece, my winter parka, my hat, my mittens.  I ditch my water belt because frankly at 22 minute miles I don’t need it.  I had ditched my phone and music ages ago. 
There is a fantasy in my head.  It is a strong fantasy.  I can taste it.  It is this:  I hit 201 miles (which should not only get me my buckle, but the female win).  It is somewhere around 1:00am.  I call an Uber (they have them here – I checked).  I head to the nearest hotel (2.4 miles away… I checked).  I stand under a deliciously warm shower and let the grime flow off of my battered body.  I soak my feet.  (oh, yes.)  And then (oh, oh yes… this…) I climb into a great big tall fluffy bed.  With white sheets.  Which I can get into, because I’m clean now.  Oh my, this is all I want to do in the world. 
Somewhere along the course, Shamus says to me “You’re not stopping at 200, are you?”  And I say “You bet your effing ass I’m stopping!!!” 
“Awwwww Noooo!, You can’t!!!” he says.
DAMNIT TO HELL Shamus…  Ah, damn.
My hotel…
My Uber ride, and my beautiful, beautiful fluffy white sheets.
Disappearing into a puff of this dusty desert surface, like the cloud of muck that hovers around PigPen in the Peanuts cartoon.
OK.  I’ll keep going.  I’ll hit 200, I’ll rest, and then… I’ll do what I can.
I spend some wonderful miles with Sunny Kim on this section and her conversation and cheerfulness moves me forward.
12 miles before 200 I am swaying and stumbling around the course.  I find myself falling asleep on the only porcelain potty on the course.  As much as I wanted to hit 200 before sleep, it is clear that this is not the best strategy.
Down for another nap.  I tell Bill to check in on me after 90 minutes.
This time I sleep, and sleep hard.  The 90 minutes goes fast… way too fast.  Bill opens the tent… “You have to get up”.
“No.  Just another hour”.
“There’s a guy… he’s creeping up on your lead.  You’ve gotta get up.”
I sit up, bleary eyed.  Pull on my shoes.  Again.  It is cold (so cold).  Colder, because my clothing under my coat is now damp from sleeping in the warm tent.  Pull on my gloves.  Pull on my hat.  Open the tent flap and head out into the dust to start trudging.  I stop for a cup of coffee.  It is, I don’t know, 2:30am?
My steps start to pick up and I realize the nap has, in fact, revived my pace.  I pass through the timing lap and Bill says “23 minute miles aren’t gonna cut it.  His last lap was 11.” 
I tell Bill “Forget it – there’s no way.  I can’t do 11.  It’s over”.
He says “You don’t have to do 11.  He’s 15 laps behind you… You just need to keep him from catching up.”
I pick up my step and walk more briskly, with purpose now.  I sigh.  Deeply. 
Can I?  There’s no way.  Can I?
I start to run.  Bundled up in my winter parka, not remotely dressed for running, I start to run.
And run.
And run.
Walk every hill… run every flat and down.
I am working up a sweat now in my parka.  30 feet from the timing tent and I see Bill and yell to him that I am going to need my water belt and my headphones.  That lap was not 23 minutes.  It was 16:30.  Bill nods his head and smiles, thumbs up.  The lap after that was 15:30.  It feel smooth and steady.  I adjust my body temperature by unzipping and re-zipping my jacket… taking off and donning my gloves and hat.  I have Gatorade now, so I can drink and keep moving.  Lap 3 post nap, I put on my headphones.  Once the music comes on, my laps start steadily dropping into the 14’s and 15’s. Somewhere around mile 208, I see another runner actually running the course.  I eye him warily.  He eyes me back. 
“Are you Amy?” he asks?
“Yeah – are you Brandon?”
“I’m fighting you…”
“I know it,” he says. 
We run together for a short period of time, then he pulls ahead at the stop where I take my walk break.  This has suddenly become incredibly exciting and fun.  We run and run for the next 3 ½ hours.
By 7:45 am, I do the math.  There is 1:15 left on the clock.  I am still 7 laps ahead of Brandon.  I could stop now and have the win.  I keep running.  There is time now for a pic or 2 on the course.
8:15 – 45 minutes left.  Brandon’s race is done.  I’m not quite sure which mile I’m on, but I decide if it’s 219, I’ll do one more to get the round number.  If it’s 220, I’m done.
It’s 220.  I pull into the timing tent and hand my timing chip to Mike Melton.
“There’s 45 minutes left on the clock!” he says.
“Yeah.  But I REALLY want a shower.”
I’m done.
Post Race notes:
So – things I didn’t mention elsewhere.  Food – was fabulous.  The aid was not to be believed – tasty and easy to digest meals every 3-4 hours, and snacks and beverages around the clock.  At one point there were volunteers with trays of sushi.  I remember with particular fondness the fried egg sandwiches, refried bean roll-ups, turkey and cheese roll-ups, pizza, pancakes, French toast, and pasta with meat sauce.
Bathrooms – there were MANY.  This is an excellent thing for runners such as myself who are known to need one RIGHTNOWRIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE.  I’ve been on other courses with only 1 potty during a one mile loop.  That is not enough.  This course had many, and they were the cleanest porto potties I’ve ever seen.  And they had lights.  And deodorizers.  Kudos to Aravaipa.
Swag.  Aravaipa has the coolest logos and swag available.  Bar none.
Dust.  Lots of it.  It gets in your shoes (quickly).  Gators are in order.  And they don’t eliminate the problem – they just help.  But pretty much one lap around the course and you are covered.  3 days on the course and you are pretty sure it is burned into your skin forever.
Beauty.  Lots of it.  This is perhaps the most beautiful course I’ve ever run on.
FUN!  Lots of it.  Jubilee – coolest RD ever.  Mike Melton and the dancing Timing Monkeys.  Most fun you will ever have every 4 hours of a 72 hour race.  Plus there are folks who dress in costume for 19th century pedestrianism. 
Curves – Lots of them.  Watch your tangents.
I’m thinking I’ll be back.  And next year I won’t give up that last 45 minutes…

Getting my buckle - this is what I wore for 18 miles

Scott ("Brandon") - who kicked me into gear the last 18