All good adventures begin calmly, with no real sense of the drama that is about to unfold. In a sense, the unexpected is in part what makes them so interesting in the first place. My journey now to Arizona for the Across the Years event may, in some small fashion, qualify as just such an adventure.
It has been a busy, hectic fall to say the least. Although I kept my mileage up, and was still quite concentrated on my training, I don’t feel like I spent the time necessary thinking about tackling a timed event like Across the Years. I registered for the 48-hour event, having completed the 24-hour event in 2013, and always eager for a new challenge. I knew that staying awake for that added amount of time would be a challenge, but I also knew that I was better trained than I was two years ago. My endurance is higher now, and I feel like my legs are stronger as well. I was excited by the prospect of running for that long, and the added challenged propelled me forward.
From a mileage and endurance standpoint, I was ready for this race. I had carved out time this fall for several longer back-to-back running experiences, and I’d spent some additional time working on slowing my pace to a degree that I knew would be more plausible for a longer period of time. However, I’d not gotten the chance to plan an overnight run similar to those I had enjoyed back in Iowa in previous years. I wasn’t sure how necessary it was at this point, but more importantly, I just ran out of time. The roads around here are not nearly as well-lit, they lack sidewalks, and they simply don’t present the same amount of ease in planning a safe route. I’ still on the hunt for just such a route, as I’d like to plan an overnight run for this spring in preparation for the Georgia Death Race. I’ll save that journey for another day!
The beautiful epicurean and I celebrated Christmas morning at home comfortably, as our flight to Arizona didn’t depart until 4PM. This was a welcome, relaxing change for the early AM flights we had grown accustomed to in past years. Despite some airline delays and rerouting, we still made it Arizona on Christmas night, which meant I had two solid days to relax and prepare before beginning the race on the morning of the 28th.
I had packed all of my gear into my suitcase along with everything else I would need for an 8 day visit, which meant I was very strategic about what I brought. However, I still managed two pairs of running shoes, along with everything else, so I felt go about my preparation. I didn’t spend as much time worrying about packing and laying out nutrition because I knew the folks at Aravaipa Running would have a fantastic aid station with a fully stocked kitchen. At slower paces, my stomach seems to be ok with a wider variety of food, and I knew I’d be taking in more solid food throughout the race as well. I was also able to borrow a tent, sleeping back, and camping chair from my wonderful sister-in-law, in the event that I decided that a few hours of rest was warranted. The thought of sleeping and then having to get up on stiff legs again scared me, but I was ultimately uncertain of what my body was going to do with this experience.
I woke up on Monday morning and got ready, and we traveled the 20 minutes to Camelback Ranch for a very civilized 9AM start. This was the first day of the entire event, so I was starting with folks running anywhere from 24 hours to 6 days, which made for a bit of a larger crowd. I recognized a few folks off the bat, which was fun, and I knew I’d have plenty of time to chat with everyone throughout the race. For those not familiar, the event offers participants the option to run 24, 48, or 72 hours, or 6 days around a 1.0495 mile loop on mostly soft crushed warming track material and gravel, with smaller paved portions. There is an aid station at the start/finish, complete with a fully stocked kitchen, and you log your miles by crossing a timing mat every loop while wearing a timing chip.
The race director gave a few final announcements, and then sent us on our way about a minute after 9:00AM. I started off focusing on slowing myself down, almost to the point that it wasn’t comfortable, but knowing that it would help me in the long run. Temps were unseasonably cool, and it was only in the mid-30s when the race began. It would eventually climb to near 50, but this Arizona cold snap would prove to be one of my biggest obstacles.
The first few hours seemed to fly by pretty easily, and I was feeling really good. I was excited by the challenge ahead, and knew I had a lot of unexpected feelings to look forward to as the day ran into night. Despite my best efforts, I still snuck quite a few sub-10:00 minute miles, however. This would come back to haunt me as well. The sun warmed things up a bit, and I was able to shed a few layers, which was nice. All said, the first 25 miles seemed to fly by and it brought a smile to my face to know how comfortably I had tackled them.
The next 25 miles were ultimately just as comfortable. The epicurean came back over to spend some time with me in the afternoon as well, which broke up the day nicely. Although I was relatively comfortable in my singlet and arm warmers, it was telling that she was bundled up in the camping chair, wrapped in a down comforter. Despite my best efforts to slow down, I still hit the 50 mile mark in 9 hours 15 minutes. Although certainly not my fastest 50 mile time, I had not planned on hitting that mark until 11 or 12 miles in, based on pacing. This was my first rather substantial wake-up call and message to slow down even more.
In a 100-mile race, or a 24 hour event, my goal is always seemingly more about simply getting to the end. This means I can push myself a bit more, and know that the harder I push, the less time I’ll need to spend slowing down. My approach to running 48 hours was in some ways the opposite because I needed to simply get through the first 24-30 hours before the real race began. This proved to be an approach I wasn’t nearly as prepared to utilize as I had hoped.
By the time I hit mile 80, the sun was gone, and the colder temperatures were creeping back in. I was moving at a much slower pace, mostly out of necessity, which mean staying warm was more difficult. I ultimately opted for layers, and was able to keep my core relatively warm, but I hadn’t fully planned on running in 27 degree weather in the middle of the night. My muscles got progressively tighter and began to cramp. I simply wasn’t moving fast enough to keep them warm and loose. I began to notice some pain in my left achilles and on the top of my right foot, but it was fairly muted so I didn’t think much of it. I had stuck with the same pair of shoes up to this point (Hoka One One Stinson Evo), which would prove to be a mistake as well.
As I hit mile 90, I was doing a good job of alternating between an easy run and an aggressive walk. I had enjoyed a cup of hot tomato soup earlier, which had warmed me up, and I was now sucking down a cup of noodles in chicken broth. Noodles had never tasted so good! After another hour or so, the pain in my feet had increased, but was still manageable if I kept moving. I realized soon thereafter that it was probably more substantial but the colder temperatures had masked the severity of my discomfort.
I hit the 100 mile mark around 21 hours 30 minutes, which was a sizable PR for me at the distance. My happiness at that fact quickly gave way to the reality that I was not planning on being at 100 miles for another 5-9 hours. I had still been moving faster than planned. I knew that moving slow for such an event was my biggest challenge, but I seemed to have underestimated just how difficult it was to control a slow, measured pace for that amount of time. My endurance training has resulted in some sizable increases in speed over the past two years, which has meant my “comfortable pace” has gotten much faster. The result, in an event like this, is more difficulty pulling back.
When I hit the 100 mile mark, I was pleased at tackling this distance yet again. However, i was also thinking more and more about the pain in my feet. I have some ambitious 2016 race goals, and the thought of compromising them due to a preventable injury didn’t sit well with me. I knew I could keep going, albeit in a fair amount of pain, but at what cost? I decided it simply wasn’t worth it to risk more permanent injury to run another 24 hours. Thus, I made the smart but difficult decision to drop down to the 24 hour event. I notified the race director, and popped into the warming tent to rest for a few minutes.
I tacked on a few more miles in the final hours, but ultimately took it easy and stopped to massage my legs. I realized a bit too late that I should have no doubt changed my shoes at some point, but the cold, coupled with the stiffness in my muscles, had masked the symptoms long enough that it was too late by the time I realized what needed to be done. Happily, my legs still felt great other than the pain in my feet. What’s more, I had pushed through the overnight hours with relative ease. I had been prepared to take in some additional caffeine, as well as occupy my mind with music and podcasts. However, I never needed these aids, so my mind and body proved to be even more prepared for the sleepless overnight than I had imagined.
I squeezed in one final lap, and then watched as the clock struck 9:00AM and marked the full 24 hours. i watched as the next batch of runners embarked on their journey, and those in longer distance events continued to circle the loop (happily switching directions, as was done every 4 hours to prevent injury). I handed in my timing chip and collected my beer mug and 100-mile belt buckle, and made my way back to my campsite to pack things up and wait for the epicurean to retrieve me.
This had been another amazing event, and an experience I will never forget. Although I certainly would have liked to have lasted for 48 hours, I think I learned more from the experience. I know I have some work to do when it comes to pacing (still!), and I have a much better sense of my body’s limits and how to interpret fatigue. These lessons will ultimately be much more beneficial moving forward, as I continue chasing42!