My dad died when he was 38 years old. Ever since I started running ultramarathons I have wanted to run one at age 38 to honor him. He had a number of health problems and would have never dreamed of something like this. Well, a few weeks ago I hit that age (I have the gray hair to prove it). The Across The Years
72 hour race last week was to be that 100+ mile race for him.
The course for Across The Years is a 1.05 mile loop around the spring training facilities for the Dodgers and White Sox in Phoenix, Arizona. There is some pavement, but it is mostly a packed dirt trail. Runners can set up tents and tables right next to the track which is nice because you're never too far from whatever supplies you might need.
Across The Years has a 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour, and 6 day (yes, SIX DAY!!!) race. Runners from those different divisions are out on the loop at the same time and you run as far as you can in your given time. I signed up for the 72 hour race which I ran last year. (You can see that race report HERE
I had the pleasure of spending some time with my AMAZING friend Barbara Macklow who completed a total of 79 miles - at age 81! She is remarkable. (Check out a cool video about her HERE
St. George Running Center
set me up with some clothes and gear before the race. I wore the new Altra
Olympus 2.0 for the first couple days, then the Altra Torin on day three. I set a goal to take a jumping picture each day of the race no matter how crappy my legs may be feeling. Here is the jump from day one. (My friend Andy was with me when I jumped. I showed him the picture on the camera to verify that I didn't Photoshop some extra air underneath me.)
A few months ago I found a hideously absurd cat suit. I figured I'd bring it to the race with me to wear for a few miles and hopefully distract runners from their grumpy legs. I believe I may have found the only thing that could make runner's eyes hurt worse than their legs. The cat suit made it three miles.
With a timed race like this, you can rest or sleep whenever you want. My plan, as I did last year, was to go through the first night without sleeping. It was bitter, bitter
cold. One runner said his car showed that it was 27 degrees. Do you want to know something that is not the slightest bit awesome? 27 degrees. Since when did Phoenix, Arizona become hospitable to polar bears? Not cool. I was so thankful when the sun finally started to rise on day two.
I finished the first 24 hours with a total of 80 miles. Mentally, the last thing you want to do is let your mind start thinking about the future. But it is INCREDIBLY difficult to turn off those thoughts yelling in your brain that say "If I feel like this after one day, how in the world can I do another two days?" Thinking about the future is the worst thing to do. It's just so hard not to.
One great distraction was spending some miles talking with my friend Patrick Sweeney. I met Patrick at Across The Years last year. Since that time he's had a few minor accomplishments, such as, um, running across the country
is a cool spotlight Redbull did about him.)
I used mostly liquid calories during the run (thanks Tailwind Nutrition
!!), but didn't shy away from food at the aid station during times I felt hungry. The Across The Years aid station is the best I've ever seen. They had staple foods available 24 hours a day but even more food at meal times.
During a 100+ mile run, you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There are moments of loneliness, despair, frustration, and discouragement. For the first time at any of my races, I brought a picture of my dad to pull out during tough times to remind me why I was running.
I broke out the cat suit for two more miles on day two. I don't always wear a hideously absurd cat suit during an ultramarathon, but when I do, I take a jumping picture. This was around mile 100.
As with last year's race, my 14 year old son Jackson came to Arizona with me to hang out, crew, and run some miles with me. He ended up getting in a total of 14 miles. He was so helpful and it was great to have his support throughout the race. He is a good kid.
In the late 1800's six day races were huge. Back then, the elite six day racers were like the Michael Jordan and LeBron James of our day. I still regard them this way. What's so impressive is that the Michael Jordan and LeBron James of ultrarunning are the nicest, most down-to-Earth guys you could ever meet. I feel so fortunate to be able to call these guys friends. Case in point Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen
who last year set the World Record for the most 100 milers in a year. He won this year's six day race running a remarkable 481 MILES!
He is one of my running heroes.
Another runner I really admire is Dave Johnston
who ran an astonishing 450 miles
in the six day race. He told me hilarious stories as we ran together and I was able to pick his brain about how he does what he does. But seriously, it's so awesome that the LeBron James of ultrarunning is so humble and friendly! We decided we needed to get a picture together. He said "We should take one standing in front of the porta potties!" Good call.
By the second night, my legs weren't cooperating very well. My muscles were tight and kept cramping. My knees were sore and the best I could muster was a fast walk. Jackson joined me for a few miles in the dark.
I was so incredibly sleepy after not sleeping at all the first night. I went to our tent in hopes of catching a few hours of sleep. Unfortunately the second night was just as cold as the first night. I laid in my sleeping bag covered by a pile of blankets but was still frozen to the core. I was so cold that I'd fall asleep for a bit but then wake myself up again shivering. It was approximately as enjoyable as getting a root canal while watching The Golden Girls. Eventually I decided to just get up and start walking again.
I survived the second night and felt so thankful when the sun started to rise on day three.
The latter miles of an ultramarathon are always so inspiring to me. Runners have been in forward motion hour after hour after hour. They are tired and worn down and raw. So, so raw. They are determined and brave and dedicated. It is really remarkable to see runners who are clearly struggling, but are continuing to push forward.
On the third morning of my race, a new batch of 24 hour runners started their race. It's nice to get some fresh blood out on the course and see some runners who aren't (yet) doing the ultra death shuffle.
In a perfect world where there is a Butterfinger under your pillow every morning, Celine Dion is banned from grocery store PA systems, and unicorns are for sale on Amazon, I would have loved to hit 200 miles. But one of the things I love about ultramarathons is the adventure of never knowing what is going to happen. Results aren't guaranteed. A race can go good or bad, but you'll never know unless you get brave enough to click the "Register" button. I love the uncertainty. I resolved that even if I didn't hit 200 miles, I would keep fighting. My goal was to reach the 72 hour cutoff knowing I had given my absolute 100%.
By this time, my body felt like I had been boxing with Mike Tyson. Unfortunately I have as much muscle composition as a #2 pencil, so Mike Tyson was winning this battle. In a race that lasts 72 hours, you don't need to worry if something is hurting. Just give it a little time and something else will start hurting to take your mind off the first ailment. This little game continues day after day.
On the last night I got into this slump where I was sleepwalking and moving at the speed of a filing cabinet. It was freezing cold like it had been the previous nights. Dave Johnston who I mentioned earlier zoomed past me and said "I want to go home. It's too cold here!" Dave is from ALASKA!
Jackson came out and did some miles with me to get me moving again. He went up ahead and I worked hard to keep up with him.
During the nights at these races, the course becomes far less populated with runners. The small handful of runners who aren't in their tents trying to get warm or get some sleep push on, mile after mile, into the darkness. When you see a runner far ahead, you know who it is because you've seen each other for so many miles that you have memorized what everyone's running and walking gait looks like. At night people look less like runners and more like zombies.
Though I wasn't moving very fast, I felt proud of myself for being out on the course during the nights. Those were really hard parts of the race and I was happy that I didn't give up. My soul was filled with happiness when I saw the first light of day on the last morning of the race.
I finished Across The Years completing a total of 150 miles, a number that seemed unreachable during the points of the race when I struggled the most. I'm consistently amazed at what can be accomplished at ultramarathons when you keep moving forward and don't give up. I had just enough energy saved for a jump at the finish line.
Huge props to Aravaipa Running
who put on the race and does such a good job of taking care of runners. I'm so thankful for the support from my family, and Jackson coming to the race. Enormous thanks to the amazing people at St. George Running Center
, Altra Running
, Tailwind Nutrition
, and Ultra Adventures
for supporting this crazy hobby.
Across The Years was an inspiring, challenging, rewarding adventure. If my dad had been there to watch the race, I think he would have been happy.