Guest Post By Joe Fejes
To say I feel lucky is an understatement.
I’m honored. stunned, amazed, proud, and stoked that Joe would let me post his story here. I can’t believe what this dude has accomplished. Humble, minimal, focused, driven …but more importantly, supportive, friendly, and cares enough to ride some of us, pullin no punches, when we’re a’whinin’. A great friend to many runners. We love ya, FA-JEEEET-AS.
Joe Fejes. 72hours. 329 Miles. Records, broken.
Across the Years 2011/2012
Last year from December 29, 2011 until January 1, 2012, I ran 280 miles in the ATY three-day race held in Glendale, Arizona, at Camelback Ranch, the training compound for the LA Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. Although I won the race, I fell far short of my lofty goal of running 300 miles. Only two other runners had achieved this goal: John Geesler and Yiannis Korous. Determined to run 300 at the 2012/2013 Across the Years race, I mapped out my strategy immediately following the 2011/2012 race. I decided to lose significant weight and increase the intensity of my training.
Significant Weight Loss
I weighed 172 pounds when I ran ATY 2011/2012. Heading into ATY 2012/2013, I weighed a svelte 147 pounds. I dropped the 25 pounds over a 30-day period between April and May by incorporating a strict starvation diet consisting primarily of raw fruit and salad. This starvation diet is certainly not doctor-recommended, nor is it healthy. (DON’T ATTEMPT THIS STUNT AT HOME!) It was, however, highly effective.
High Intensity Training
I revamped my training regimen by incorporating regular weekly sessions of high intensity track workouts and tempo runs to supplement my regular weekly mileage. I also added two workouts per day which helped increase my weekly mileage from 60 to approximately 90 miles per week. Besides counting on the weight loss and more intense training, I thought I would benefit in my second attempt to run 300 miles because I was more experienced. ATY 2011/2012 was my virgin effort at a multi day, and I had made a number of rookie mistakes. Since then I had gained a significant amount of experience by completing at least seven 24 hour races:
- December 15: Desert Solstice Invitational 156.62 miles
- December 1: Shazam 24 hour track 139 miles
- Sept 29: Hinson Lake (paced a friend) 103 miles
- Sept. 9: World Championship 147 miles
- June 2: Fans 24 135 miles
- May 5: North Coast 24 142 miles
- March 31: Operation Endurance 24 117 miles
I vowed that I would not repeat the mistakes for ATY 2012/2013. Surely if I took care of some of the little things I would improve my mileage.
No matter how good of shape I was in, I still had to worry about the weather, illness and injury. Any of these variables could wreck my dream.
One critical factor outside of my control was the weather. Just as Superman is weakened by Kryptonite, Joe Fejes is weakened by hot weather. Last year I struggled mightily on Day Two and Three as the temperatures were unseasonably warm, rising into the low 80s. I needed cool temperatures to have a chance in achieving my goal of 300 miles.
ATY is run during the holidays when family and friends get together and pass around their colds and flu. I really hoped to avoid being sick before or during the race. Running for three consecutive days is hard enough without being sick. Fortunately, as race day drew near, I avoided catching a cold or flu.
I wasn’t so lucky in avoiding the injury bug. A few days before the race, I tweaked my lower back. I’m not even sure how I did it–whether it was sleeping in a different bed at the in-laws’ house or lifting a Christmas present the wrong way. In any event, spasms and tightness in my back made for uncomfortable running. I treated my back with icy hot menthol patches, ibuprofen, hot soaks with Epsom salts and a fair amount of Makers Mark shots. Two days prior to the race I was still experiencing spasms. I was very worried that my back injury would worsen with a 4-hour flight to Phoenix. Would I even be able to run the race? I was scared, but tried to remain calm.
Generally I size up my competition before every race by checking out their stats in ULTRASIGNUP and/or ATHLINKS. My primary focus at ATY was to achieve my goal of running 300 plus miles, but I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t also looking for the win. Joe don’t do fun runs. Any race I run, I am trying to be at my competitive best by running hard. I was defending my title this year and was a little worried because I wouldn’t be an underdog. Generally I run better as an underdog and rarely run good as a favorite. A couple of youngsters running the 72 hours, Anthony Culpepper (age 32) and Michael Carson (age 25), were both much faster and stronger trail runners than I. Anthony had finished 4th in the Wasatch 100 with a sub 22 hour and also the 4th place in the Mount Mitchell challenge. He had also previously run 82 miles in a 12 hour run at Freedom Park. Michael had finished 3rd in the Chimera 100 with an 18 hour finish as well as an 18 hour finish in the Javelina Jundred, right behind the great Karl Meltzer. I knew both of these cats were capable of hitting 300 if they wanted to. My buddy Michael Miller was also signed up, but I knew he still wasn’t fully recovered from his recent 48 hour at Ultracentric.
One runner I didn’t size up was Eoin Keith, from Ireland. I had no idea who he was or what he had accomplished. Had I reviewed his blog, here is what I would have learned:
- 5th place in the 2009 24 hour World Championship run in Begramo with 237km setting the Irish Record
- 11th in the World Ultra Trail Championship at Sierre Chevalier
- 27th in the 2011 World Championship 70k ultra trail run Connemara
- Completed Raid the North Extreme 6 day adventure race in British Columbia
- 34th out of 2300 in the 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 169k
- 21st in the 2011 Adventure Racing World Championship 9 day Tasmania
- Captained the Irish team in the 2010 24 hour World Championship
- Participated in the 8 day Trans Alps Mountain Bike race (“Tour de France of Mountain Biking”)
- Irish Record Holder in 24 hour track running Tooting Bec 235.7km
- Irish Record Holder in 100 miles track
In other words, Eoin is what you call an extreme badass! A 72 hour run to him was kid’s play. Had I known what I was up against from the start, I may have just picked up my marbles and gone home.
My music is everything to me while I run. I wear hearing aids and can’t hear worth a damn without them so I can’t rely on conversation with other runners while I am running. Fortunately before the trip I had added plenty of tunes, mainly Southern Rock oldies: Marshall Tucker Band, Outlaws, Pure Prairie League, Molly Hatchet, Bob Dylan, Blackfoot, Ram Jam, Allman Brothers, etc. I was ready to honky-tonk to the finish.
Friday December 28th: Time to Fly (Hoka pun intended)
I had an early morning flight on AirTran from Atlanta to Phoenix. I gathered my luggage and gear and hopped on the airport shuttle to take me to Hartsfield Jackson. The shuttle driver grabbed my large USA Track-and-Field suitcase that I was given for my participation in the 24 Hour World Championship in September and loaded it on the van.
Sitting across from me was a twenty-something girl and her parents. They seemed to be looking at my USA Track-and-Field backpack. I imagined they were wondering whether I was a coach or an athlete. When the shuttle bus landed, the girl grabbed the USA Track-and-Field Suitcase and started to leave the shuttle.
“Hey, Miss,” I shouted, “you have my suitcase.”
The young lady looked at me in scorn. “No I don’t, Mister. This suitcase is mine. Yours is up on the rack.”
It hit me then like a load of bricks: I ain’t the only one with a USA Track-and-Field suitcase. How dared I assume I was! What an arrogant bastard. Hell, I’d only made the team as an alternate because Jon Olsen was unable to go. I realized that I’d better rid myself of any smug or complacent attitude before I got to Phoenix. Michael Henze, the Big Horse of my 24-hour idols, once wrote in his blog, “You better be ‘all in’ mentally when you show up for a 24 or you won’t finish.”
I believe the shuttle bus incident was a warning from a higher power that I’d best be humble and hungry when the race began.
But it did cross my mind for a fleeting moment that maybe it was an omen.
In Phoenix, I checked into my room and decided to run a few miles to see if my back was okay. I ran an easy 6 or 7 miles with no spasms. The back was a bit tight but I knew I should be good to go in the morning with one more night of Epson salts soaking, menthol patch and good sleep.
After my run I went to Walmart and bought a cooler and a sleeping bag. I loaded up with a case of Coke, vanilla Boost and a bunch of bananas. I also bought six cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup in case I didn’t like the soup that ATY was serving.
After Walmart I went to Camelback Ranch for packet pickup. The Coury brothers were all there finalizing the preparations for the race. The amount of work they do to hold the race is mammoth. There had to be a hundred tents set up for runners who had reserved one. I myself had rented a large tent with a cot. I wasn’t planning on using it much but I wanted to be able to get to my clothing or gear easily if needed. Also I remember freezing my butt off during night-time naps last year, when I was too cheap to rent one.
At check-in I mingled with other runners. A nervous electricity was in the air. Bill Schultz and Josh Irvan had made the trip from Pennsylvania. Anastasia ‘Supergirl’ Rolek had driven from Chicago. Fred ‘Wildman’ Willet hailed from the Pacific Northwest. Phillip and Rhonda Sustar, Willy ‘Natureboy’ Syndram, Kena Yutz, Perry Sebastian, Molly Freeman, Ed and Sandra Compton were all friends of mine from Georgia. My mentor Ray Krowelwicz had driven from South Carolina. Michael Miller was a local Arizona runner I had befriended in last year’s event and in my recent 24 hour run at Desert Solstice. In fact many of the volunteers at ATY had also been volunteers at Desert Solstice. Our camaraderie really helped make the atmosphere low key—almost like an ultra runner family get together.
For my pre-race meal I went to the Saddle Ranch Chop House at the Westgate City Center and had a large ribeye, spinach and a loaded baked potato. I was in bed by 10:00 pm, anxious to get the race started in the morning. Race Day (Saturday December 29th) First thing I did when I awoke was to excitedly check the weather forecast. The weather forecast for ATY 2012/2013 predicted temperatures ranging from 43 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit with little or no chance of rain—ideal running weather for me.
Race Strategy, Day One: My wife asked me how she would know if I was running okay. I told her that if my back held up, I should do around 135 miles on Day One. If my back was giving me problems, I would go the conservative route and scale back to 115 miles.
I wore my beat up modified Hokas as I had for the past few months of racing. I knew the shoes wouldn’t cause me any issues other than blisters in the cut-out area on the side, which I could live with. The toeless feature, however, was prone to picking up little rocks from time to time, but that was more of a nuisance than anything else.
The weather quickly warmed to a point where I ran shirtless for most of the day into the early evening. Many runners were bundled up throughout the day. My pace strategy Day One was targeting 10:25 lap splits, which was the equivalent of a 9:55 mile. Hitting these splits would give me a 145 miles—ideal to hit my goal of 300 miles as well as a nice 48 hour time to break into the top 10 of US 48 hour times.
The first 12 hours of a 24 hour race is always the toughest for me. The “wall” of the marathon—which I believe is the body switching fuel sources from glycogen to fat—usually gives me my worst bonk. My strategy in avoiding a bad bonk was to rely primarily on liquid calories in the form of Boost and Coke, along with some bananas. Other than the bananas, I would avoid solid foods.
If I remember correctly, I came through the marathon in about 3:45 and was running comfortably. I hit 70 miles in 11 hours, which my mentor Ray K. said would equate to 140 miles under normal circumstances. I had no issues and concluded Day One with 141 miles. I paid no attention to my competition. I had no idea who was in second or how far behind they were. I knew that if I stuck to my plan, I would have a chance at the 300 miles as well as winning the race.
Day Two (Sunday, December 30th)
My goal for Day Two was simply to avoid sleeping as much as I did the year before. My 28 hour run at the Big Dog Backyard Ultra a few months ago gave me confidence that I could do it. I scrolled back my pace from 10:25 to 12 and 15 minute miles. This would still give me plenty of miles to accomplish my goal. Physically and mentally I felt fine. The only disappointment was that I had very few moments when I wanted to giddy up and go. My legs felt heavy, which I attributed to the 156 miles I ran two weeks prior in the 24 hour race at Desert Solstice. From Ian Sharman’s blog, I learned later that the other Desert Solstice runners (Ian Sharman, Michael Arnstein, and Dave James) felt the same way. I did not worry about my lack of leg speed, since I knew it was unnecessary at this point to run fast. All I needed to do was run slow and steady.
At about hour 10 on Day Two I felt that my lap times were diminishing quickly. I asked Ray and Perry Sebastian if a nap was in order, and they gave me the green light for a ninety minute nap. The nap helped alleviate the stiffness in my knees and recharged my batteries a little. I also had developed a knot or lump on my left Achilles that was sore, but Perry had a chiropractor friend work on the area, which provided some relief. I also stopped by the medical tent and had my blisters tended to. The medical folks were not allowed to drain blisters so I took that job on myself with a lancet. I was now hopefully good to go for a while.
Resuming running after a break is a major ordeal. You are freezing cold when you start back and need to get going again before your body temperature rises. I made a mistake by putting tights on. I quickly became overheated after one lap.
My eating habits changed dramatically on Day Two and Three. I switched from my liquid diet of Day One since my stomach was not an issue as it had been the previous year. I ate everything and anything that the food station offered: bean quesadillas, macaroni with little sauce, chicken noodle soup, cold pizza, gummy bears, cookies, sushi (to die for, although the wasabi sauce I dipped it in was a mistake!) I continued to drink large amounts of coke. I also started drinking a Succeed electrolyte drink that was weaker in flavor than Gatorade or Powerade but really hit the spot. Occasionally I would take a Salt Stick, Scap or an Endurlyte just to make sure I was getting sufficient electrolytes.
I ended up Day Two with approximately 235 miles. I knew I had missed the legend Roy Pirrung’s age group record of 237 miles, but I told myself that was a goal for a different day.
Day Three (Monday, December 31st)
An attorney by trade, I am not particularly gifted in math. I did manage, however, to calculate that 15-minute miles would give me 96 miles for the next 24 hours, which would accomplish my goal of hitting 300 and giving Yiannis Korous a run for the ATY event record of 323 miles. Note: YK has run over 385 miles as a SPLIT for 72 hours on his way to a crazy 6 day total. When he ran ATY, he was simply going for a decent 48 hours and ended up napping and eating fine baklava on Day Three. Although I know I’m nowhere near his class, I did secretly want a little payback for him beating me by half a mile at the 24 hour World Championship at age 56!!
Ian Sharman, Michael Arnstein and Dave James were running the 24 hour on Day Three. This woke me up. Those guys are what I call truly “elite” runners. All three have run sub 13 hour 100 milers—about 2 hours faster than I have. As they could easily run 150+ miles on a good day, Nick Coury’s #6 spot on the US 24 hour team was in jeopardy. I pointed out one advantage to Nick: the ATY course wasn’t as conducive to big 24 hour miles as one might think. Plus, the elite three were worn out from Desert Solstice. ATY’s course has a few small hills and a dirt surface that makes it deceptively challenging to run.
On Day Three at about 250 miles, I felt as if my battery was in need of recharging. By now I had to consider who was running behind me and the difference in our mileage. Considering I was about 15 miles in front of the nearest runner, I decided there was minimal risk in another ninety minute nap as a final rest. At this point, I knew very little about Eion Keith, who was running strong.
When I awoke and got back on track, Eoin was only about 9 miles behind me! Shit, damn, shit!! I thought to myself. Eoin was in it to win it. He hadn’t flown from Ireland to finish second. Unaware of his running resume, I was simply dumbfounded.
Clearly I hadn’t learned my humility lesson from the luggage mix-up on the airport shuttle. Perhaps it had been an omen, after all…
I resumed running and immediately noticed that Eoin’s lap times were several minutes faster than mine. I worried I was going to hit 300 miles but lose the event to Eoin! I was scared. I told Perry and Ray that Eoin was coming after me and I’d better do something quick.
The next time Eoin came running by me, I jumped on track and stayed at his heels and prepared for the ride. Note: I have caught a significant amount of flack from the Ultralist on my running style of following other runners too closely. I have been told that I needed to bring an engagement ring if I run any closer. Taking this criticism to heart, I made sure I left a couple of strides between myself and Eoin.
Around and around we went, with Eoin pushing the pace each lap. It was one of my worst nightmares-a race to the finish based purely on leg speed. I tried to maintain a psychological edge by patting Ray on the ass when we past him. (I was hoping Eoin would get the impression that this pace was nothing but a casual stroll for me, although in reality I was about to pop a lung.) Ian Sharman joined in for one lap since he likes to run fast. Ed Ettinghausen, resplendent as ever in his jester outfit, also joined in and, after the fourth lap, picked up the pace even more. Giving it everything I had, I went ahead of Eoin and hung to Ed. Eoin finally dropped off the pace. One more lap and I was done for. I knew, though, that as long as I didn’t take any more significant naps, I should be able to hold Eoin off. He is one hell of a competitor and simply a stronger runner than I.
The fast running we did for a couple of hours helped bring my mileage total closer to 300. At this rate I was likely to hit that benchmark by Midnight New Year’s Eve. That would leave me with 9 hours to get 24 miles to pass YK’s ATY mark. I was feeling good…but this time, I paid close heed to the fact that anything can happen with that much time left.
I proceeded to run my 15-minute miles. Eoin and I shared a laugh about our “mini race.” When I passed the 300 mark I kept running, determined to give YK’s 323 a go. I heard that Eoin was planning to stop at 300. I rested a little easier knowing that he wouldn’t be pressuring me the last few hours.
When I hit 324 miles and broke YK’s mark, I wanted to stop. Everything in me screamed that my goal had been accomplished. Ray K. brutally burst my bubble. “This is a 72 hour race. You ain’t done yet. Keep running.”
Oh yeah…the 72-hour thing. Not to mention winning.
I compromised for the last two hours by shuffling along with Ray and celebrating with the other runners.
Finishing with 329 miles, I was happy.
The first-place finish didn’t hurt, either.
UPDATE: It looks like Joe Fejes impressed Runner’s World as well.