I blame Doyle.
At my last 72 hour event at 3 Days at the Fair in May, Doyle was there doing the 6 day. On more than one occasion, as we were in chatting distance with each other, he’d growl at me “why the hell are you doing a 72? It doesn’t count for anything. Ya gotta do the 6 day.”
What he means is that, for whatever reason, a 72 hour event is not recognized by any record keeping body. Recognized timed events include the 24 hour, the 48 hour, and then it jumps to 6 day. Which means that no matter how hard I worked to get that 230 at my last 72, it’s not going to show up anywhere that I can use to compare that performance against anyone else’s. I had 2 choices…. Drop down to 48, or up to 6 day.
48 was already a known quantity. I’d done that at ARFTA already, and would be doing it again plus 1 hour over Labor Day. 144 hours, on the other hand…
Experience had shown that, so far, the longer the race, the more competitive I’m able to be. This is essentially because I’m slow… but I can go for a long, long, time. And at a certain point, my slow becomes fast. Comparatively. So… 144 hours it was going to be. Just weeks after a great 72 at 3DATF, I pushed the button on my first 6 day race. And, due to the opening of Joe Fejes’ 6 Day Dome redux about a week afterwards, pushed the button on a second 6 day as well.
I mean… who would even CONCEIVE of a race like that?
Really, it was fucked.
It is hard to come up with enough adjectives about what a truly ridiculous idea this was.
I was signed up to do it.
For the next couple of months I set about studiously ignoring what I was in for, except for ramping up my training to 110-130 mile weeks.
One month prior
One month prior, this thing was starting to be uncomfortably real. For my last training push, I signed up for a 100 mile race one weekend, followed by a 24 hour the week after, figuring it would give me good experience running on really tired legs. It did… the 24 hour was marked by some intense knee pain (later discovered to be bursitis), but a win and a Virginia state record to boot… and was far enough prior to the race to allow full recovery and to have provided some good training.
Things abruptly changed about 4 weeks prior to the race when BJ learned he might need emergency surgery to deal with leg pain he’d been experiencing since Vol State. All of a sudden, the future focus suddenly shifted and blurred… no way was I going to head to Arizona for a week if BJ was having (or just recovering from) major surgery. But we weren’t going to know until an exploratory procedure on 12/17. All of a sudden, my world was swimming with several uncertainties. And despite large focus and concern about BJ’s medical situation, I can’t deny that there was a huge amount of relief at the idea of possibly not having to run this race which was really starting to become more terrifying than anything I’d ever embarked upon.
12/17… procedure day, and to our enormous relief, the procedure was successful and meant that BJ wouldn’t need surgery. He was also cleared to travel to Arizona with me which meant there was zero reason I couldn’t proceed with the race. Hooray! (Damn!!) Really the only way to deal with the situation was to go back to what I’d been doing for the previous months, which was to studiously ignore my upcoming ordeal.
One week prior
3 days prior
Figured some packing was in order. Packed for last year’s weather. Loads of singlets and shorts for hot days, plus warm clothes for cool nights in the 30’s. Some rain gear, hand warmers, RunGoo, accessories. 4 pairs of shoes.
Travel & Arrival
Headed out on the day after Christmas for 12/28 race start. Travel uneventful… BJ picked me up at the airport, and once I arrived, I saw that the weather forecast was distinctly different than what I’d packed for. Instead of daytime highs in the 70’s, they were in the low 50’s. Shopping would be in order, as I had zero clothing packed for mid-temp daytimes. Checked into a snazzy Hampton Inn in Glendale and settled in for what was to be my last long uninterrupted sleep for, well, a very long time.
Due to the time change, we actually woke up pretty early. Enjoyed the hotel waffle maker, and headed out to Walmart where I spent a completely enjoyable hour and a half dawdling in the workout section to buy jazzy new weather appropriate clothing, including the skull top I ended up wearing post race. I started to go into the “Walmart Daze” where there were too many choices… BJ had to prod me to get me out of there.
Walmart trip was followed by RV pickup – about which, we were a little bit terrified. At 3DATF I had used a company that picked up and delivered, but hadn’t been able to find one here so one of the big challenges of the day was getting the monster vehicle back. I agreed to drive it with BJ following closely (and nervously) behind. The biggest issue, it turned out, was trying to change lanes using just side mirrors, as the rear view mirror was completely useless. I have to admit I was pretty freakin’ proud of myself for learning that new skill.
|Home away from Home|
Got back to the hotel and met up with Crew Chief Sue Scholl… she was going to be directing the show for the next 6 days. Headed out to eat… it was mid-day and the dread was growing. I was getting quieter and quieter. Focused on trying not to make disastrous food choices.
Post lunch we brought our home away from home to the ATY grounds, to get headquarters all set up. Unpacked and organized clothing by type; unpacked food, and pulled out the clothes I was planning to wear at race start to bring back to hotel.
Dread continued to mount.
Back to the hotel, and out to dinner. The race was looming like the headlight of an oncoming train. This didn’t feel good at all. Did manage to not make bad food choices. Yay me. This is new.
Somehow, sleep came.
And it was race morning.
Still… studiously ignoring.
Focused rather on the quality and even brown edges of my Hampton Inn waffle… on not overeating pre-race. Race outfit on. Drove to Camelback.
Mike Melton gave his usual pre-race, focusing on never (ever, ever) walking backward on the course for ANY reason whatsoever. I just stood there feeling sick. And it was time to start moving.
I was going to be doing this for 6 days.
What was I thinking?
Mentally, I felt like day 1 would, in some ways, be the biggest hurdle. Our mileage goal plan called for 90 miles on day 1 followed by up to 4 hours of down time. The miles, thank goodness, were pretty smooth and in the mid-11 range except for the one mile I ran that day with Jake Brown. That was a 10:41 and was definitely too fast. Though nice talking to Jake, had to let him go.
I don’t have many other memories of day 1 besides just generally feeling good that things were feeling smooth. I spent a good portion of the day in 5th place among the women… Annabel, Van Phan, Liz Bauer, and another runner whose name I need to look up were all out fast than me. This is pretty typical early in the race and I was comfortable with that.
I hit my 90 miles with almost 6 hours left in the first 24 hour period, which left me plenty of time to rest. I didn’t sleep that well – never do on day 1, but probably got a solid 2 hours, with maybe another hour and a half off my feet. Decided to get back out on the course about 7:50 on what felt like the beginning of “day 2” but in reality was the last hour of my first 24 hour day. Thus it was that I finished the first 24 hours with 94 miles in the books rather than the planned 90. Nice to have a little time banked that had also included some solid rest.
Pretty much a blank at this point. I was still running fine… again exceeded mileage goal of the day, by going to bed at 5 or so, sleeping for 2+ hours, and getting back out at 7:45.
The memorable portion of day 3 was time spent with Brian Khepri. After a huge 24 hour PR for him on Day 1, he’d had a bonky day 2 –only did 12 miles. He almost was going to skip day 3 but decided to come back out and just walk in a few. I’d met him at last year’s 72 hour – every time I passed him he said “there’s the buzz saw… buzz buzz buzz”, and I was happy to see him again this year. He started trotting along beside me and discovered a whole new world in the concept of “run/walk”. My pace worked really well for him, so he stayed with me for hours. Brian does these races to save lions in Africa and every time he earns a buckle he sends it to one of the tribal chiefs who is involved in the actual saving. It’s pretty awesome. Brian and I became great buds that day, sharing stories and miles. Ending mileage on day 3 had me hitting my mileage goal for the day and still banking 1 mile.
|Running with Brian|
Day 4 was a thing unto itself. First, it was the entry into the whole new world of 6 day – the step up from 72 to 144. Mentally that was huge. Second, it was supposed to rain. Initially it was forecasted to be between 2 and 6pm. Instead it started at 10am, and instead of stopping at 4 as predicted, went on until 8pm. The problem with the rain was 2-fold. First, on every morning of a 6 day, there is a huge mental lift of seeing the sun after 15 hours of darkness. With the rain and gloom, we never really had that lift. Secondly, much of the course was dirt – the rain turned it into a bit of a muddy mess. The good part about this was that it reduced the dust, and the dust had been accumulating in everyone’s lungs resulting in an awful deep hacking cough. However, the mud was slippery and also got caked on shoes and clothing, and all in all was just a dismal mess. Also, it never really got warm that day – the high was probably in the mid-40’s, so we were all struggling not just to stay as dry as possible, but to stay warm as well. Definitely a mental drain.
A couple of cool things happened on this day. (I think it was this day). Brian’s wife was going to the store and asked for orders. I asked for choc and yogurt covered pretzels, but she also brought me back, at Brian’s request, a surprise box of Twinkies. This… was amazing. I adore Twinkies.
Needing a pick-me-up, I also told BJ to go to CVS and get me some wash-out pink hair dye. Although not enthused, he bowed to my whim and on the next lap he was standing there with a spray on can of pink hair dye, which I took 4 minutes to apply in the bathroom. Alas… due to the rain, I ended up keeping my head covered for most of the day, but it was still fun to run around a couple of laps with my new pink hair before I had to cover it up. I’m pretty convinced it made me faster.
|Newly dyed hair|
And… one of the best things BJ did for me that day… was to gather up all my wet dirty things and go find a laundromat that was open on New Year’s Eve. I can’t even begin to describe the mental boost of knowing that I’d soon have a bunch of clean dry clothes.
All this time, Sue Scholl was steady as a rock, continuing to feed me encouragement, pace tips, and information to get me to my daily target. I can’t say enough good things about how she kept me on target for the race.
One of the moments that very much defined the “feral” state you start to go into as you are relying on your body to tell you what you need was the pizza lap. I had passed by the food tent and, ravenous, had grabbed 2 pieces of fresh pizza they had brought in. A few hundred yards past the aid station, to my great dismay I dropped the pizza face down into the mud. Without hestitation I picked it up and kept eating it. No freakin’ way was I waiting another lap for my pizza. It was a little gritty, but not too bad.
Late on day 4, mentally things started to improve a bit. First, the rain finally stopped in the early evening. Secondly, as it was New Years Eve, we started seeing fireworks in the distance. This was nice distracting eye candy and took my mind off the task at hand. Finally, at ATY, there is a celebration at midnight on New Years Eve – everyone gathers and has champagne by the timing tent. This celebration is followed by a “nearly naked beer mile” in which a few intrepid runners strip down to skivvies and run as fast as they can for one lap, drinking, I believe, a full beer at 4 different points around the course. As a non-drinker, I don’t participate, but both years have very much enjoyed watching these festivities. I have to say, this year there wasn’t as much vomiting as last year. The outfits were good and it was funny to see these nearly naked folks flying by as we plodded on.
The final memorable thing about night time of day 4 was the wind. After the rain stopped, the wind picked up and at times blew something like 15-20 mph. It was brutal. It is possible I’m mixing this up with night 5, but either way, towards the end, there was one windy-assed night and it sucked.
Day 5 was marked by complete exhaustion. Remarkably, my body was feeling good in terms of being able to run and run evenly. I’d heard about the “training effect” of a long race in that as the race goes on, in the later days your body actually gets “trained” from the early days of the race, and can feel somewhat better. This part was remarkable.
If only I weren’t so. Freakin’. Exhausted.
Sleep. Just a little bit more sleep. Please dear god. I just want to lie down and be unconscious for, oh, a day. Maybe 2 days.
Generally each day I would take a 20 minute “power nap” sometime late afternoon. These were much easier to get up from than “long sleeps” in that feet didn’t turn into hamburger in the 20 minutes, and generally had the effect of shaving off almost a minute per mile on a deteriorating pace. Fighting exhaustion like I was moving through deep water, I went in earlier than usual for my power nap. I entered the RV, sat down, and just started sobbing and couldn’t stop. Finally I pulled myself together and took my 20 minutes. Woke up and told BJ I needed another 10. Got up and…
Oh dear god.
It didn’t work.
No energy boost.
No decreased pace.
Nothing but grogginess and continued exhaustion.
I almost cried. Again.
Next lap I grabbed Sue and told her we were revising goal. GONE was any hint of 460 (which was never really my goal anyway). GONE was the age group record goal of 450. Maybe… maybe keep course record goal of 439 in view. But at this point…. Just figure out a way to get me some sleep and then get past 400.
Sue nodded and said she could definitely do that – and probably get me well beyond 400.
|Me & Sue|
I saw BJ and told him we were revising goal. He said “you mean strategy, right? Same goal, different strategy”? I almost screamed back at him – NO – GOAL! I’M REVISING GOAL!!!”.
That was a bad lap.
Somehow after the first couple of groggy laps, I still managed to feel better and we got me in for a lengthy nap when I had about 14 miles left to go to hit goal for the day. The good news is, I was able to get back out and get those miles in, so by taking the nap earlier, I got rested enough to get back out there for real.
This had evolved into a new strategy: Instead of getting in total goal miles for the day and follow with one “big” sleep, have more frequent sleeps with less miles in between.
And…. It was now….
What an enormous relief to wake up to the dawn of day 6. Despite the miles that were left… this was it. 24 hours to go. Really, just 1 24 hour race. I could do that. And… it was sunny. And pleasant. (and the last day). It was day 6. Glory be. How did that happen? I had run 368 laps. Time for the last push. And whatever happened… there was only one more day.
Day 6 was pretty much just a joy. I knew I could get through one more day of this. Somewhere late in the day, feeling a little bit of ability to relax on pace for a lap, I recorded my FB video, communicating for pretty much the first time with the outside world.
Night 6 was the coldest night so far. At this point in my total overall body depletion, I figured what I needed most was to stay warm. So instead of just layers followed by a windbreaker, I actually donned my winter parka. Crew had to regularly warm up hand warmers and have them at the ready. And, even with all that plus my warm hat, I still needed BJ to grab the fleece blanket from the bed to wrap around me as an extra layer as the night wore on. It was so cold.
|So. Freakin'. Cold.|
Despite the cold… that last night was special.
I spent a few memorable laps with Dave Johnston from Alaska. Dave is a superstar who has previously racked up 550 miles on this course. He wasn’t going as hard this time, so my laps with him were fun and relaxed. We talked about the things we missed, and what we wanted to do when we were done.
Being on this course was somewhat like being a hamster on a wheel – you are going around and around and just not going anywhere. There was a CVS that was all lit up a couple hundred yards away across the highway. I said I just wanted to get off this freakin’ course and go that CVS. I didn’t care what I bought… I just wanted to be somewhere… else. Anywhere else. There were all of these other paths at Camelback that were blocked off. I wanted to go on one of them.
Dave wanted a salad. The food at the aid stations was great but it was pretty much all carbs, fats and proteins. Not so many veggies.
Yeah… a salad sounded kick ass.
A hot tub.
A warm fluffy bed. Which, when you woke up in it, you didn’t have to put your hamburger feet back on the floor – you could just roll over and go back to sleep.
A shower. Of course.
I said I was going to dye my hair again, and buzz it all short. (I haven’t yet… but the buzz will come this weekend).
Somewhere in the middle of the night, I broke the women’s course record with 439 miles. This had been “B” goal and was a big milestone. I felt comfortable at that point going down for a “long” (2 hour) rest, with only 12 miles left to go for A goal. Which… was in sight.
The last couple of hours… the sun was rising. The course was beautiful on that last day. Still cold – we were waiting for the rising sun to provide some heat – but the beauty was stunning. And the relief that this was almost done… almost impossible to describe.
The lap before I was going to hit goal, I ran into Marie Boyd and Annabel Hepworth – both from Australia. Annabel had the 2018 top female time as well as one of the more impressive times ever for a a woman at a 6 day with 460 miles. This hadn’t been her best race – she was struggling with shin pain – but still put in a solid, solid race. The three of us stopped and spent a couple of minutes taking selfies. What a relief to have the gift of a few minutes. Scott Thompson rolled by and we pulled him into the pics as well. He and I had raced it to the end in last year’s race.
|Sunrise Day 6|
|Me and 2 Aussies - Marie Boyd & Annabel Hepworth|
|Me and Scott Thompson|
I met up with Dave Johnston at the beginning of Goal A lap which would get me to 451 miles. He and I had agreed to run in together since we were on the same lap and we thought it would be fun to tie. We had enough time on the clock to get in 2 more laps after that, so we ran the last 40 minutes together, crossing the finish line with about 3 minutes left on the clock. Although we stepped over the mat together, he actually had a few thousandths of a second on me, so is officially the second place finisher while I came in third. Most of the racers had already finished, and they and their crew were all at the finish line cheering us on when we finished. I sobbed. And then stayed to cheer in the rest of the runners coming in during that last 3 minutes.
|Coming in to finish with Dave|
|Amy, Jubilee Paige and Melinda|
|Me and my guy... race end|
|Melinda Yelverton and I post race|
|Amy & my brother Brian post race|
|Dennene Huntley and I post race|
|Getting my award|
|With Byamba - OA and Male winner|
Appendix - or, Some Other Things to know about 6 Day races
On... getting out of bed
A note on getting out of bed after a “long” (1.5 – 2 hour) sleep. Every time I went down to sleep, my feet felt pretty much fine. And when I woke up, I was rested… but my feet felt like raw hamburger. Getting out of bed and standing up was a whole new kind of hurt. It was unimaginable to think I’d be able to run on these slabs of burning pain. I would hobble to the RV table, pull on my shoes and groan. Also, the bed was warm. The outside… was not. So I’d be pulling on all my cold weather gear, preparing to go out into what, at this point, felt brutally cold, with feet that felt like they wouldn’t support me for 10 feet much less for hundreds more miles. All that keeps you moving at that point is the knowledge that the foot pain is relatively temporary.
You get out there and start to trudge. Pick up the pace to a decent walk, and then try a few tentative running steps. Maybe… 10. Good goddamn. Go back to a walk for a hundred feet. Try some quick running steps again. Maybe 20 this time. Somewhat…. Better. Repeat. Better still. You find, in amazement, that the lap ends up being something not too horrible – like an 18. Holy crow. The next lap is better, and by lap 3 after sleep, you almost have your groove back. Un. Fucking. Believable.
What I ate
So... Ultras are an interesting and weird study in your body knowing exactly what it wants at any point in time. The aid station contstantly stocks staples like cookies (choc chip, oreos, ginger snaps), pringles, M&M's (peanut & plain), crystallized ginger, potato chunks with salt to dip them in, pickle chunks on toothpicks. For drinks there is soda, coffee, water, sports drinks. These are supplemented by hot meals every 6 hours along with generally some sort of "treat" in the middle. (Treats included veggie sushi, tacos from Del Taco, quesadilla, soup....).
Ginger is great for unsettled stomachs. Crystallized ginger offers the benefit of the stomach aid plus calories in the form of the sugar and ginger. At one point in time, what sounded good to me was a toothpick with a potato, pickle, and crystallized ginger all in one bite. Another goodie was the time I ripped up my chicken salad sandwich into my cup of steaming hot string beans and poured hot sauce all over it. A memorable food save was a lap where I was nauseous and slowing down and feeling just not "right" - a little confused and bonky. Came into the RV and just started inhaling Pringles. Turned out I needed the salt - the next lap was easily a minute per mile faster, mood up, and on target. And of course, we can't neglect the impact of some good sweets - picture below shows me, aka "Cake Bandit" happily chowing down some delicious birthday cake (loads of buttercream frosting) that was located at a plush RV on RV Alley.
And, of course, there was the mud coated pizza.
Which is to say... we have no standards at all, after a certain point.
|Amy the Cake Bandit|
During a 6 day race, there are a few moments that stand out as special. I had the privilege of being on the lap with Tonya Evans where she hit her 100 miles. She had never gone beyond a marathon. It was amazing.
Being with Brian Khepri as he realized he was not only going to hit his 300 mile goal, after giving it up early on, but exceed it.
Hearing the crowd cheer for Don Winkley as he broke Ted Corbitt's "over 80" record for the 144...
Sunrise on day 6
On... the people
First of course is my husband of just over a month, my best friend and the person who believes in me more than I believe in myself... BJ (Benjamin) Timoner.
My crew chief Sue Scholl kept me on target, calm, focused, informed and motivated.
Marie Boyd - Aussie and fellow knitter. Andrew Boyd, with whom a shared a lap.
Annabel Hepworth. 6 Day Aussie rock star - funny and cheerful and a complete and utter Beastie.
Brian Khepri - who became my brother.
Dennene Huntley from Canada - killed her 72 at 235
Dave Johnston - another Beastie from Alaska. Funny, down to earth, but deadly on the course when he wants to be.
Charlotte Vasarhelyi - Candadian beastie runner whose 6 day PR tops mine. She ran a bit with Brian and I and killed it in the 72 hour.
Pablo Espinosa - ANOTHER Canadian Beastie - kicked my ass at 3DATF 72 hour, maker of Go-Juice. He and his crew helped keep me motivated and hydrated.
Mike Melton and Bill Schultz in the timing tent - always upbeat, encouraging, and fun.
Melinda Yelverton - with whom I shared laps last year, and some laps this year - who not only ran but volunteered in the foot tent for multiple 8 hour shifts.
"Barefoot" Jake Brown - shared one fast lap and saw his cheerful self multiple times throughout the race.
All of the amazing volunteers in the aid tent.