Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Smoke ' first multiday experience

I ran my first 48 hour race this year at Across the Years. I've been running ultras for 17 years but the longest I've ever run was 100 mile trail runs. I've done the 24 hour at Across the Years multiple times but never took it seriously for the whole 24 hours as it was always a social event or a workout for me.

But this year I had to run with a purpose. I want to get into Badwater, and I didn't have a recent qualifier. I finished four Leadville Trail 100s but the last one I did was in 1998. This year I ran the 24 hours of Boulder/Boulder 100 in an attempt to get a backup qualifier in case things didn't go well at Across the Years. Unfortunately, the weather sucked so bad at Boulder that I ended up bagging it at 3 am after doing roughly 80 miles.

My friend Stephanie Willingham was running the ATY 48 hour on the same days as me so we decided to drive down together. Steph is going to be my crew boss at Badwater. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, Steph and I loaded up my SUV and headed for the land of swimming pools, movie stars, plastic surgery, palm trees, and cars that never get dirty. I know that because I grew up there, and recently lived there for 8 years. I'm a Scottsdale girl. We planned to stay with my parents the night after the race in Scottsdale. I was afraid they might not let us into the neighborhood with my dirty car!

The trip down was uneventful, but fun. We were already in giggling mode and we weren't even sleep deprived yet! We arrived in Goodyear AZ on the 28th and stayed at the Best Western there- the official race hotel. Not bad. We chilled out in the room and on the 29th, we went over to Nardini Manor and set up our tent and all our gear for the next morning so we wouldn't have to deal with it on race morning.

One thing we didn't have was a table, and that is essential. In a timed event on any type of track, you need a table to drop all your gear so it's accessible, you don't want to be wasting time getting on and off the track but you do need a chair, all your race food and personal items that need to be easy to reach with a quick stop. We went to the Wal-Mart in Goodyear and found a folding table, along with a few other last minute items we thought we could use. As if my Rav 4 wasn't already loaded to the gills.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don't shop at Wal-Mart, but I do make exceptions in a pinch. My way of redeeming myself for shopping at Wal-Mart is to make a donation in the exact amount I spent at Wal-Mart to the American Diabetes Association. Don't understand? Just go in any Wal-Mart and look around.

Donation to the American Diabetes Association: $53.94

The rest of the day we hung out in the room, took a nap, and talked about Badwater plans. We scoped out the restaurants in the area and decided on Chili's. As we were leaving for dinner we ran into two other runners in the motel parking lot. Fred Riemer from Utah, and Don Winkley from Texas, who drove up in his Lamberghini. Don is one of those legendary multi-day runners, he's 69 and has been doing it forever.

Fred has run Across the Years for several years now and has lots of multiday experience, including a six day race in New York and some others. He turned 60 this year. Fred's a registered nurse in NICU and has listened to my nursing school tales in past Across the Years as we circled the track. This year I got to tell him survival tales of my first year in ICU. Talk about unwinding!

Fred joined us at Chili's for dinner. We ate a huge amount of food and dessert, and Fred gave me all sorts of advice for my first 48 hour. The thing he said that really stuck was about sleeping. He said don't disrupt your own sleep cycle. What he meant was don't force yourself to go down for a nap unless you're ready. I had originally planned to do 75 miles then take a break, but after listening to Fred, I decided to only try taking a nap when I got inefficient and started weaving on the track because I was so tired I couldn't concentrate.

Fred's advice ended up working perfectly for me. I only went down when I was not making progress, and I'd fall asleep right away and sleep hard for an hour or two, despite all the noise in the tent, then I'd wake up and be a new person.

As we scarfed down our pre-race meal, we all started what would become our greeting to each other on the track for the next two days: "Mmmmmmm......."

On the way back to the motel we stopped at a Starbucks and asked them if they could have some coffee drinks ready for us in the morning at 7 and we'd pick them up on the way to the race. Steph and I both slept great. We woke up around 5 and had to remember to stop at Starbucks and then all we had to do was stay warm, pick up our race packets, pee a few times, and we were ready for our two day journey!

When we got to the track it was freezing. Everyone was walking around wearing layers of clothing. I put on two pairs of tights and I was still freezing, plus lots of top layers. Paul Bonnett, the race director, gave the pre-race briefing and it was 9:00 am and we were off!

I knew I'd have all sorts of energy to burn at the beginning so I promised myself I could go fast for no more than the first couple of hours. Fast in ultra terms means approximately ten minute miles. I have a good powerwalk, so I was relying on that to keep me from running too fast too soon.

We change directions every two hours and by 11:00 I was feeling very comfortable at my ten minute pace broken up by powerwalks. I was trying to eat and drink as much as I could. My plan was to put as many calories in as I could that first day so I would have something to run on the second day.

By 1:00 I was still doing too much running and by then I'd made acquaintances with Ray Krolewicz, "the magnificent Ray K" as he is described in Ultrarunning magazine, an ultrarunning legend I've read about for years but never met. Ray drove all the way out from South Carolina to do the race, about a 50 hour drive, arrived the day before the race, ran the 72 hour, and after napping for an hour or two started driving back. This is typical of Ray, he is known to do this at ultras. The man has run nearly 500 ultras, so I've heard. He is loud and outspoken and full of himself, and he was wearing bright orange shorts and wearing only a t-shirt and his wild long gray curly afro-like hair was flying around in the wind. He looked like he'd been raised by wolves. Or something.

Ray started asking me about my ultrarunning background and how many 48 hour runs I'd done, and my goals, and so on. We talked for a while and I went on. Pretty soon he started yelling at me as I'd lap him, "Hey mama, is it okay if I jump off a cliff?" and other stuff. I promised him I was going to take a break and slow it down. He was moving pretty fast himself. I knew he used to be one of the top 100K runners in the US. He was out there in his shirtsleeves and I was still wearing three layers!

After 1:00 I did take Ray's advice and forced myself to slow down. I found it a lot easier to eat more and proceeded to inhale some assorted junk at the aid station. We were having lasagna for dinner but I needed to keep the calories going. Chocolate donuts, pretzels, quesadillas, whatever was easy to pop in my mouth and wash down with a couple of cups of Heed.

It becomes all about Is and Os. Intake and output. Every time I'd pee, I'd go straight to the aid station and drink one or two more cups of Heed. I was peeing more than once an hour on the average and I was feeling great. I just needed to control my pace. I cranked up the tunes on my MP3 and settled into a steady powerwalk for the rest of the afternoon, with a few running laps to break it up.

My brother Nathan and my ten year old niece Jenny showed up at the track for a short time late in the afternoon. It was great to see them, it was a surprise! I didn't get to stop and talk much but as I circled the track, Nathan was shooting all sorts of pictures of me. Nathan is going to be on the Badwater crew too. I'm not sure if you can call this setting a good example for my niece. What a crazy aunt.

Around 5:00 they started serving lasagna at the aid station so I took a bowl of it, went over to our table, grabbed my email messages along the way and sat down and put my feet up for 15 minutes. I hadn't taken a real break yet and it was time. The breaks would come more frequently as the hours passed but I needed to get some food in and then go inside and change into warm layers for when the sun went down. I had a pile of emails already. I was so touched by the number of messages and what people were saying that I almost cried.

I finished the lasagna and went into the tent. I changed out of all my clothes and put a dry bra and dry layers on. I took my shoes off to look at my feet, which were feeling great. No blisters, just a few little spots that were red. I changed my socks and re-taped an edge of my orthotic that was rubbing my heel. I got some extra layers to keep at the table as the temperature cooled off and headed back out into the sunset...

A little after 8 pm, eleven hours and change into the race, I hit 50 miles. That was perfect, not too fast at all. Doing 75 miles the first day was definitely in reach. That was my original plan: I'd do 75 miles, take a break and sleep, then when I woke up I'd do as many miles as I could before the 24 hour mark. I figured 80 miles would be plenty for the first day.

As the night went on, I took more breaks and tried to keep the eating and drinking consistent, and I was doing great. I talked with lots of other runners. It was more social, keeping each other going, than the intensity of the first day. I love running at night. Every few hours I'd stop and grab my email and have some hot cocoa or the delicious potato soup, sit down and put my feet up and read my messages.

Around 1:30 am I felt myself starting to lose momentum and I was not walking very efficiently at that point. I decided it would be time to take a nap. I had 68 miles in, which was half my goal of 135, and I went into the tent. I wiggled into the sleeping bags, propped my feet up on some bags of gear without taking my shoes off, and it took me a little while but I did fall asleep.

I woke up a little after 4 am and felt like I'd slept all night. I was a little groggy and very cold, so I took my time waking up and put an extra layer of tights on plus some extra top layers. I found my toothbrush and staggered over to the indoor, heated bathrooms and brushed my teeth. That felt so good!

I slowly made my way out to the track and at 4:45 am, I was moving forward again. It's always hard to get your legs moving at a good pace, it takes a lap or two before you warm up and lose the stiffness after a break, and this becomes more apparent the longer you run. But I stopped by the aid station on my next pass, and got some hot cocoa, which I took to the table and added a little can of Starbucks doubleshot espresso, and I was ready to go.

Before long I started powerwalking like a madwoman. I thought of the phrase "Walk like you're possessed" and kept that in my head. Pretty soon I had 70, then 75 miles, 80 miles, and by the time the sun came up, which happens late in Arizona, I was pushing 85. It looked like I was going to have a PR for 24 hours at Across the Years! My previous best at ATY was 84.3 miles back in 1994. Steph was doing well, she passed 50 miles early in the morning and was looking great. She hasn't trained at all this year and was hoping to get 100 miles for 48 hours. She was ahead of schedule and moving well.

During the last few hours on the track before the 24 hour mark, I walked with Debra Richmeier, who has extensive multiday experience and was on her way to a win with 167 miles in 48 hours this year. She had started on the 29th, the day before us, so she was finishing up. She told me to take it easy and not try to run during the daytime of the second day. She said go slow, pack the calories in and drink a lot. Then I'd have the energy in the last 12 hours where it really counts.

Debra also gave me another piece of advice, just as valuable. She said don't be greedy. Don't try to push the pace to get extra miles early in the second day. If you do, you won't be as strong late in the 2nd day when you most need the energy. I told her I would try it.

I continued to walk like I was possessed until 9:00. When the 24 hour mark came, I had 86.992 miles. A PR by more than 2.5 miles!

Once the finishing runners cleared off the track, I thought about Debra's advice. In the first 2 hours, I consumed four containers of yogurt, 3 little breakfast burritos, and 2 big M&M pancakes. I was drinking and peeing, and I was bundled up like a snowman. Keeping warm was another piece of advice I got somewhere. Don't waste energy by being cold.

Later in the morning I saw Cathy Aronson, my friend from high school who volunteers each year at ATY, walking with Ron Vertrees, one of the septugenarians. I was coming up on my lap for 100 miles, so I asked them if they wanted to run in this lap with me to get 100 miles, and they both did! Ron kicked in with us, on those amazing 70 year old legs.

I got a 100 mile PR too, 27 hours and 48 minutes. It was time to settle in to another consistent walk to my next goal, which was my goal for the race: 135 miles. The Badwater race distance.

My feet were getting sore. I dumped dirt out of my shoes a couple of times if a rock got in, but mostly my feet were just sore from being on them so long. I didn't dare take off my shoes. Even though I'd brought a pair of size 8s in case my feet swelled, I didn't want to fix it if it ain't broke. I didn't have any blisters and even though I had some pain, I could easily take my mind off it by focusing on other things. All I did was loosen my shoelaces a few times and that was it.

The second day Ray K was congratulating me on a solid first day and a strong pace the second day. I was walking at a strong, steady pace but not like I was possessed. I'd save that for later.

I spent quite a few laps talking and running with Lisa Bliss, who was ahead of me by about 12 or 13 miles. She was the women's winner at Badwater last year and she is the medical director for Badwater this year. She was really nice. We talked about training for Badwater and as the day went on, I could see where my strategy was paying off. She was moving faster than I was but not taking in the calories and she also had trouble sleeping. Her goal was 150 miles. I knew she would make it easily and I could see she was being pressured by one of the people hanging out- spectator? 24 hour runner who was hanging out? to go after Debra's performance of 167.

I never felt tired all day even though I'd only slept 2 hours the night before. I was completely absorbed in the process. Moving forward, setting small goals in pieces, getting around the track for the next lap and seeing what I could focus on next. And then there were so many people to catch up with. ATY is like a family. I call them "the tribe". So many of these people come back year after year to do this ritual at New Year's.

One of the images I'll keep in my head about this year's run was walking around the track and seeing three of the septugenarians- Aaron Goldman at 75, Ron Vertrees at 70, and Andy Lovy at 72, walking together, three across, in the middle of the track, lurching along somewhat, but engaged deep in conversation and never letting up. All of them are in the 72 hour run. Each of them has their own particular walk. Aaron is tall and spent most of the race bent over at nearly a 90 degree angle, but he motors along the track! He got nearly as many miles as I did! Ron is the most upright of the three, and he looks like he's out for a casual stroll the whole time. Andy is short and round, he might be shorter than me, he shuffles along stiffly, slightly bent forward, but he keeps going.

There were other runners in their late 60s and 70s, including Don Valentine at 75. I never stop being amazed at what these older runners do.

I ate the green chile burritos they served for dinner. They were a bit spicy but they tasted so good! Around 7 pm I felt myself starting to weave and be inefficient. I thought it might be a good time to take a nap, it would give me some sleep time before things got so loud around midnight for the party. I went into the tent and fell instantly asleep, as soon as I was horizontal. I woke up an hour later feeling refreshed and got back out on the track, ready to party and hit my goal sometime in the next several hours. 135 was easily in reach.

After this many hours we get goofy and the dark side of everyone's personality comes out. That's when people stop being inhibited about things like passing gas. And the jokes become raunchier. Ray K and I had a few laps conversing about aging ultrarunners. He said with this crowd, you need hemorrhoid wipes and adult diapers stocked in the portapotties.

It was getting close to the witching hour, almost New Year's Eve. We have a big party right at midnight, everyone steps off the track and gets some champagne, and then we all do a lap around the track together- family, spectators, runners, volunteers, everyone. There are fireworks and loud music and we're all wearing goofy hats and some of us go an extra step, like Steph here in her party dress:
My feet were holding up well. It only hurt with every step if I thought about it. I wasn't thinking about it at all. What I was thinking about were incremental steps toward the 135 mile goal. I was still able to do math in my head so I estimated that I'd have 135 at about 2 am.

Midnight arrived and we had the party. The best part of all was being there with my friend Christopher O'Loughlin, who is the race RN and is one of my biggest supporters, and plans to be on my crew at Badwater. Christopher did over 100 miles this year and he was strong the whole way. Two years ago at ATY he had just been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, for which he had chemotherapy and alternative treatments, and he is now in complete remission and looking great. To see him walk around the track with his daughter Sinead (who has been an ATY volunteer herself since she was a little girl) was absolutely the highlight of the event!

The party itself lasted all of 9 minutes once we completed the lap, and then it was back to business. I wasn't feeling super efficient but I didn't want to take a nap again until after I'd completed my 135 mile goal. I kept on and tried to keep focused. I was weaving occasionally and wasn't speaking too clearly. I bet we all looked like a bunch of drunks out there.
I turned up the most hard core trance music I had and tried to help myself stay energized. At 2:21 am, 41 hours and 21 minutes into the event, I reached my 135! Before I went down for my nap, I made myself do a few more laps, "insurance miles" as they call them. Just in case I went to sleep and didn't wake up until the clock ran out, I wanted to make damn sure I had my goal.
41:21, not a bad time at Badwater. That would get me a belt buckle for sure. When I had over 136 miles I went into the tent and was out for another hour and a half of solid sleep. When I woke up I was super groggy and it took me a long time to get myself out of the warm sleeping bag. I slowly found my toothbrush and staggered to the bathroom, it was too warm and comfortable in there. It took me nearly an hour to get from the sleeping bag to the track, but I made it. Somewhere around 5:20 am I was moving forward again and then I realized, I had several hours to push some new goals.

No more saving energy or trying to stay overhydrated and overfed. It was time to walk like I was possessed. My body didn't want to go fast but I eased into a faster powerwalk and by the time there was light in the sky I was past 140 miles and looking at 145. In the final hour I hit 146, then 147, I thought I could make 148 by the end but I had looked at my own watch instead of the race clock at the timing tent, and I had another 10 minutes to spare. I could make 149 if I really pushed it!
It was 8:50 and Paul was telling all the runners to finish their final laps. Partial laps don't get counted at the end so it's important to squeeze whatever you can in there at the end. All I remember is Paul saying, "Hey Alene, how are you doing?" and I muttered something about, "I think I can get two more laps in" and Paul said, "Get TWO MORE LAPS!" I took off into a sprint, which at that point was about a 12 minute mile pace but it felt like I was Marion Jones. I did a lap in about 3 minutes to complete a hair over 149 miles, which felt like an all-out sprint.
There were two and a half minutes to spare on the clock and there was no way I was going to make it around again at that pace. I was happy and I wandered off the track over to Nattu and some other people to celebrate the end and cheer the other runners as they came in for their final laps. We always count down the last ten seconds together until the clock runs out, and there's always someone who cuts it as close as they can, and everyone is screaming for them.

As it turned out, Lisa had left the track early, she stopped shortly after she made 150 miles. If I had known that, I might have tried to push the pace earlier. I never even thought of it. Somehow over the years I've lost my drive to compete against other people. It's still there, but I never even thought about it during the second day. All I could think about in those final miles was, how many more miles could I get? And who knows, if I'd pushed the pace earlier, I might not have had the energy to pack on the miles in the final hours like I did. I'm glad I followed Debra's advice. Not a greedy thought in my head. But I know what my goal will be next year!
Steph ended up getting 102.8 miles, which is awesome. She didn't even train this year. She had a new job and her longest training run was 20 miles. She looked great the whole time. She didn't look any different at the time she finished from the time she started. Unlike me, I looked like a zombie the whole second day!

My feet took a beating, more than anything else. My ankles were hugely swollen, my left more than my right. I only got one blister, though. I had a red rash all over my feet and my whole body in general is bloated. Steph and I laughed hysterically over my feet. You could see the indentations in my legs where the elastic band was on my tights.

The only other place on my body that took a beating was my butt. Not my muscles, either. I was chafed from using the rough toilet paper in the portapotties! I did use some A & D ointment during the race, but it wasn't enough. Ray K was right, maybe I could have used some hemorrhoid wipes myself!

It's the masochist in me that says, Maybe the race needed to be longer. I have no interest in the 72 hour, or even a 6 day race at this point. I would like to do more 48 hour runs though. I loved it. I love having the time to rest, to vary the pace, and to take care of myself. Somehow 24 hours doesn't allow you time to do all that. And it's certainly not enough time to socialize and get to know any of the other runners.

One blister on the inside of my right big toe is all I got. Otherwise, it's just a heat rash and swelling.

Elephant ankles, deformed and shaped by the elastic bands at the end of my tights.

I haven't mentioned the other thing about ATY that's really important to me. That's the spiritual role the event plays in my life each year in getting centered, in refocusing on the things that are really important to me, and correcting the habits I develop that lead me astray from being fully and completely the person I am. Each year in the months and weeks before ATY I make a list of problems I need to solve in my life, things that are bothering me or are on my mind, that I haven't been able to find solutions for, or things that are challenging me that I need to see a clearer path in order to get through them.

It's also a chance to express gratitude for all the love in my life and all the amazing people I have come to know, all the rich experiences I've had in my life, my good health, my ability to run and participate in ultras, and my ability to meet all the challenges that I've faced over the past year.

I call it my list of meditations and prayers for ATY and this year I had a long list. What was cool was that during the event I was able to identify other issues in my life that I wasn't even consciously aware of going into the event, and I was able to come up with some solutions to these, too. I always come away from the event feeling ready to start the new year, grounded, centered, and prepared to take on whatever I stumble across in the next 12 months.

After the race it's a frenzy of breaking down tents. A hundred exhausted zombies trying to breakdown all their gear and carry it while limping to their cars before the awards banquet must be a sight. Note to myself- next year at ATY, I need a coherent person who didn't run to be my "breakdown crew" at the end.

To summarize, what I learned this year at ATY from my first multiday run:

1. Take advice from veterans- I did this, and it worked. Thanks Fred, Debra, and Ray.
2. Go slow. You really cannot go slow enough. There are times to go fast, but slow pays off in huge dividends at the end.
3. Rally support- Before my race I sent an email out to running club people, people I know from an internet site I support, people who know me in general, and told my coworkers. I got dozens of messages and it always charged me up after taking a break to read them.

I am thrilled with my performance this year and I wouldn't do anything differently. I know there's a learning curve and I feel like I am well on my way to becoming a strong multiday runner. Those crazy people who run around in circles for days, I always marveled at them, reading about them in Ultrarunning magazine when I first started doing ultras, back in the days when I was content to do 100 Km or 100 mile trail runs. I never thought I'd be one of them!

I'll be taking it easy in January to recover. I plan to put my bike on the wind trainer, lift weights, and slowly ease into running sometime by February. For the next week, my main focus will be filling out my Badwater application and getting as much sleep as possible!

Next stop: Whitney Portal!

1 comment:

Felix said...

Amazing race, Alene! What you have done was an incredible achievement. Now whenever friends and I are talking about, say, marathons, and they say "that's so far!," I tell them about my friend who ran 149 miles in a 48-hour race. :) Looking forward to reading about your adventures to Badwater!