Or, how I ran 140 miles and still got beat by more than half
What can you say? It’s Across the Years
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this race, and it’s taking me a long time to fully absorb everything I experienced.
Did I like it?
Why did it seem so hard?
Why do I feel so special? so strong? …and in the same vein, so inadequate and weak?
How can my muscularity feel somewhat recovered, while my nervous system seems to be shot?
I “feel” things in my heart, more than I feel things in my body. Am I just a cheeseball?
While I mulled over my thoughts and feelings, I read all the runner race reports with great interest. Was it the same experience for them? A smattering of this-and-that emotional crap all mixed in with the mental and physical challenge buzz?
By now, if you’re on “the list”, you’ve heard about the quality character displays of folks like John Geesler, Andy Lovy, Chris O’Loughlin, etc… And Juli’s friggin’ unbelievably supportive husband, the new youngster PRs, the 1000 mile jackets, Ray K’s productive silliness, The Coury family, Lauri’s multi-million dollar charitable effort, the special European representation… on and on.
So, as much I want to share my experiences with all that – I’ve already been beat to the podium.
Instead, and perhaps a wee bit egotistically, I wanted to find a way to express this race for what it meant to me.
I want to share why I loved ATY …and perhaps didn’t love ATY.
I want to be honest with my feelings.
A completely different form of athleticism
Across the Years was a completely new experience for me.
I’ve never run any timed event above eight hours, …so it only made perfect sense to bite off nine times the effort with the 72 hour race, right?
In my opinion, it was too much for my ability level. I did ok in the first 24 hours, logging close to 70 miles, but the last two days were mostly a struggle as I probably walked 85% of day two and 65% of day three.
All that walking just didn’t seem right to me…
…then I met Uli Kamm.
He’s 61, logged 204 miles, took 8th place in the 72-hour race, and has run, er “walked”, just about every single difficult ultra in the country, over an ultra career of 40 years, and finished under the cut-offs while beating a handful of runners. Hardrock with 60,000 feet of elevation gain/loss, Bighorn, Wasatch…
Put that in your bong and smoke it.
Ultrarunning 101 is in session
ATY is like ultrarunning vocational training.
I learned so much about the history of ultrarunning, the ultrarunner old school, the ultrarunner new school, track runners, trail runners, road runners …trans-America runners, Badwater finishers, Barkley bad-asses, and trans-European athletes.
I ran alongside, and shared conversation with, people from Scotland, Germany, France …and all corners of the USA.
I absorbed training tips, techniques, strategies and experiences from people who were so well prepared, it was shocking.
Thanks to people like Mike Melton, Robert Andrulis, and Lynn Newton, I was able to prevent some costly rookie mistakes and make some last minute changes that would allow for the 140 miles that I was able to hammer through.
Thanks to people like Andy Lovy and Chris, I was able to keep my feet from falling apart while also providing muscle-loosening techniques to keep me moving forward with less pain.
Thanks to the volunteers, I was able to stay hydrated, nourished, and never “got sick of” the aid station items …grilled cheese, hot potato soup, egg rolls, quesadillas, pancakes, ham/turkey sandwiches, and plenty of vegan food.
And lastly, thanks to the sarcastic personalities of Hans Bauer, Mike Melton, Ray K, and John Price, I was able to associate within part of my own element.
A spectator at my own race
I love the sport of ultrarunning. I read a lot, participate on the ultra email list, and attend as many races I can. Because of this, I tend to know a lot about various athletes, living vicariously through some of their races and challenges; so getting to meet, run with, and engage in personal conversations with these people left me a little star-struck.
Running a few laps with Lisa Bliss, are you kidding me?
Juli Aistars, Tracy Thomas, Alene Nitsky, Hans Bauer, Uli, Ray K, Don and Gillian, Xy Weiss, John Price? …and many, many more.
it’s just overwhleming for this newbie to the sport.
These are all people that I read about, communicate with online, and/or eagerly watch their race results from race-to-race.
Many times I did not feel worthy to be there.
I’m a weightlifter, turned runner, who is still trying to figure all this out…
How did I get in?
How did I get the chance to play with all the cool kids?
It was a very special, humbling experience.
Photo: Zombie Runner owners Don and Gillian …and me
Running in circles
This is the part where I just can’t come to grips with how I feel.
Did I love running in 500 meter circles, 452 times?
Nope. I did not.
Mentally, it was nearly the greatest challenge of my life to end my rest periods, leave the warm tent, with a bleeding, chaffed ass, in 30 degree nightime weather, just to continue circling a track in pain.
I would stare out at the beautiful mountains and wish that I was running up there.
The views in the flat desert go on for miles and miles, like the movies, and I imagined myself breaking free from the fences surrounding the track and running like the wind. Fast, instead of shuffling in pain on days two and three.
Sometimes, I’d feel like that show on TV called “gangs” where they show prisoners in “the yard”.
Many times I felt caged in. Lonely. Sometimes second-guessing my desire to move forward, around in circles, for three days straight.
What was I thinking, anyway, when I signed up for this thing?
What were the RD’s thinking in accepting me? Was it a desire to watch a newbie crumble?
“God, I miss my family.”
“I can’t wait ’til they come back.”
Many times I’d say to myself, “welp, it’s definitly a fact now – I am a trail runner, not a track runner”
As hard as this is to admit, I even built up feelings of false superiority with thoughts that, “man, I could smoke most of these people in a 10K, 10-mile, half-marry, or even marathon.”
I know that’s lame, but this report wouldn’t be an accurate account without the truth.
I think I needed to rationalize to myself why I wanted to get rest, while guys and gals, labeled in the real world as senior citizens, were able to continue …with smiles on their faces, while logging hella more miles than me.
It’s humbling being beat by a 71 year old. It just is.
The whole thing messed with me.
Forced me to view things differently.
A moment of weakness
As the race went on, I started to reevaluate my goals.
First it was, “ok, I’m fine with just a hundred miles. ”
Then it was, “ok, I’ll go for 103 and make it a distance personal best”
Then it was, due to a little pushing from Mike Melton and Robert Andrulis, “ok, I’ll go for 110″
And that’s when my wife and son showed back up from Flagstaff.
Coming from Atlanta, GA, they were all excited from their ski trip, snowboarding lessons, and frolicking in more snow than they have ever seen in their lives.
It was so nice to see them, and as everybody on the track probably remembers, I’m definitly one of those dudes that loves to talk about his family. Too bad I’m not religious, because “blessed” would come out of my mouth a lot just about now.
Anyway, I was feeling low, beat and battered and my ass hurt. I knew it was allowed for runners to go get sleep off-site in motels or wherever if they wanted to, and that just sounded LOVELY to me.
So, I called my wife at the hotel and said, “come get me – I’ve done enough miles – I got my hundred buckle and that’s plenty.”
She kept asking if I was sure, and I kept saying I was, so she drove 30 minutes from Phoenix to retreive me.
Ok, this feels completely wrong
As we were driving away from Nardini Manor, down Jack Rabbit Trail, I looked back and could see the lights of the track, and something just didn’t feel right.
I immediately got grumpy with my wife before I finally came to grips with my feelings.
I felt wrong leaving.
I had been part fo this thing for over 60 hours at this point.
I had suffered, laughed, talked, raced, and particpated with these athletes for all this time – and now I was gonna leave them?
…for my own selfish needs?
I couldn’t do it.
Thank goodness my wife is so level-headed and understanding.
She gave me a burger, strawberry shake, and a kiss and turned around to take me back to the race.
Once I got back – everything was right again.
A New Years Eve Celebration like no other
The family came back around 11:00 p.m., walked a few laps with me, and prepared for the NYE celebration.
Runners, wore party hats, blew Kazoos, and drank champagne at midnight. And, as is tradition, everyone, including runners, crews, family, and spectators, all walked a lap of the track while the Wrublick boys fired off an impressive display of fireworks from the desert fields.
Very cool. Nice touch.
I took as many pictures, with as many runners as I could.
But that little diddy of fun lasted only 15 minutes and then back to the track for the final nine hours of the event.
Ten more miles for an even 140
I crawled outta’ the warm tent at about 4:30 a.m. realizing I needed close to ten miles to get an even 140, and decided to go for it.
I started running – or what could maybe, possibly be perceived as running – with a focus on the 140 mile mark.
Ray K was chasing Frenchman Serge Girard, shirtless I might add, and singing “day-o …daaaay-o …daylight come and I wanna go home…”
A real tripster this Ray K.
He caught him.
And I got my 140 miles right around the same time.
With only 45 minutes left in the race, I huddled up in a big giant fleece blanket, and watched the rest of the runners finish.
And that was that
And just like that, it was over.
I was almost sad.
Why? who knows. Probably just an emotional, mental, physical mess, wanting to laugh, cry, rest, and socialize all at once.
We all congratulated each other, broke down our tents, and prepared for the awards.
Problem was, many of the runners left immediatly, so many were not there to receive their awards.
I hung around, even though I went outside the tent to throw up the meatballs I just ate, and dammit, I was getting that buckle if they had to wheel me up to the front in a wheelchair.
Lotsa hugs, congrats, promises of keeping in touch, …and off we went, back to the hotel, so that I could endure the humbling experience of my wife patching up my chaffed ass (amongst other things).
So what’s the verdict?
I want to go back in 2009 if they’ll have me.
Now, I have an idea on how to strategize.
Now, I have an idea of what to expect – and what “not” to expect.
Now, I know that the running is only one element of a complete experience that is the Across the Years footrace.
I am part of the family now. Perhaps the red-headed stepchild, but still part of the family, and I can’t imagine spending New Years anywhere else than Nardini Manor next year – circling that damn track – but growing in my ultra experience ten-fold.
Maybe I can even get Ray K to like me.
And while I probably would excel at 24-hours, I want to come back to the 72-hour race.
Next year, that 200 mile buckle is mine.