In a nutshell, I suffered. My feet hurt from 3 hours into the race. I only got 108 miles in this time, when in August I'd set my goal at 150. It took me 37+ hours to get my first 100 miles in, where last year it took me only 27 hours.
But by 2009, I was still running, as my buddy Jeff O'Reilly admonished me in an email on the track. Several hours earlier, he wrote, "Do you have 100 miles yet? If not, get the lead out. You'd better still be running in 2009."
Any ultrarunner knows that a message like that digs deep into your gut somewhere and brings out the masochist. If there's anything that can be said about Across the Years, it's the ability of the event to rejuvenate even the most trashed, depleted, and fried runner to do one more lap.
It might have taken me 24 minutes to do a mile, but I had an empty champagne glass in my hand and I was past my obligatory 101st "insurance mile" by the time I crawled into the tent again around 12:15 a.m. I think I had 103 miles when I crawled between the sleeping bags on my half-deflated air mattress. When I woke up at 6:07 a.m., I had less than 3 hours.
I didn't even bother brushing my teeth. My contact lenses were stuck to my eyes. I put an extra couple of layers on top, whimpered as I forced my size 8 shoes over my blistered, inflamed heels and hobbled out to the track. I was moving so slowly in my elephant shoes that it didn't matter what I did to fill up the three hours, might as well put some distance in. I figured I'd keep moving until I had to get off my feet from the pain, or got as many laps as I could complete before the clock ran out.
Not much later, the sun was coming up and Gary was handing out M & M pancakes and I was back in heaven, ignoring the pain as I scarfed them down. When I had 108.12 miles, I was done. I couldn't get another whole mile in at the pace I was going so somewhere around 8:45 am I stepped off the track, found my camera, and stood by the aid station to watch the remaining runners finish their final laps.
I knew, going into the race this year, that it would only be by some miracle that I'd pull off a decent performance. The past two months of my life I have been in complete physical chaos and upheaval. My training has been pathetic, I have been physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I'm carrying ten more pounds than this time last year. Things have been getting to me. I feel like Towanda! the Avenger in Fried Green Tomatoes. "You need some hormones!" I'm not sleeping, I'm a raging bitch, and stay out of my way, and if you don't, I'll cry. Things that normally don't bother me have been getting under my skin. Everything seems amplified by ten times.
The drive down was uneventful, perfect weather and road conditions. My room in Santa Fe wasn't so great, but I slept okay and I didn't care, I drove down to Phoenix and when I got to my hotel in Goodyear the room was really nice, and I finally felt relaxed and comfortable.
With the exception of only two nights, I slept better on this whole trip than I have in months.
The day before the race I went over to the track to set up my tent and table. I decided to do individual small water bottles and gatorades this time. It used up a lot of time, not such a great idea, in the future I'll use the aid station like I always did in the past. I also needed to bag my electrolyte capsules in advance, I spaced that out this time, which took more time than it should have.
The two days of my race had perfect conditions, the weather was clear, sunny, mid-60s during the day, almost no wind, the nights weren't too cold, and I never had to bundle up in so many layers that I couldn't bend my knees and elbows. We all lucked out this year. Phoenix has been rainy and cold for weeks leading up to the race, and the mud in the grassy areas at Nardini Manor and the few soft, spongy places in the track were a reminder of what it could have been like if the weather gods weren't kind to us.
It seemed like the place was less crowded this year. I think fewer runners showed up, with the economy the way it is I think that kept a few people away. The big tent was definitely less packed with tents than it normally is. All of the improvements Rodger made seemed to work great. There were changes to the track that made it seem more open, the handwashing area was new, the individual serving cups at the aid station and the volunteers wearing gloves when handling food worked out well.
I didn't sleep well the night before the race, but I got 6 hours in. Early in the race I decided to stick to my pre-planned strategy to get no more than 45 miles in the first 12 hours. I didn't want to do too much early in the race. It worked and I was on target even with all my stops as of 60 miles. But it became obvious by 24 hours into the race, when I only had 71 miles and my feet were already trashed, that things were not going well. My feet were hugely swollen, the left one more than the right. I wasn't the only one struggling.
Deb Richmeier from Denver, who won the women's 48 hour race last year, had to drop out early on her second day with a foot injury. She thought it was a stress fracture, but it sounded like it might have been bursitis. Either way, she was unable to put weight on her foot.
Tracy Thomas, who won the 48 hour at Ultracentric and has won Across the Years in the past, had a rough time and was struggling on her second day. Lisa Bliss was running strong even though as we talked it was apparent she wasn't feeling her best, but she was able to push herself. She ended up with a very strong performace.
On the other hand, Jamie Huneycutt from Arkansas was running strong from the start, she was steady the whole way, her stride didn't look much different from the beginning to the end. She was the energizer bunny. She ended up winning the women's race with 160 miles. Jamie is a Badwater finisher and she works on the medical team at Badwater. I met her last summer when I was at Lone Pine getting my feet worked on.
Juli Aistars won the women's 72 hour. Juli is so strong and steady, she keeps going, and she keeps running. Both Juli and Jamie are 50 years old. That is another thing about Across the Years, seeing the accomplishments of runners older than me, it gives me something to look forward to, knowing that my performances can continue to improve. Juli's husband, Val, parked himself at the southeast corner of the track for the two days after he ran the 24 hour, and smiled and cheered the runners on.
The first night I went into the tent thinking I'd be out for an hour or so and then get up. I didn't set an alarm on my watch, I knew I wasn't in racing mode, so I let myself go. I woke up four hours later! My first reaction was, oh shit I need to get out there. But that lasted about 2 seconds and I remembered. I brushed my teeth and got out there without any delay, but I was moving like a snail on my feet. They hurt.
I kept having to get off my feet every three or four hours. I'd sit in the chair by my table off the track and put my feet up, eating and drinking while I sat. I'd sit for 5 or 10 minutes and then get going. For a while I felt like I wasn't getting any email, because I'd circle the track and a few hours later be ready for a break, and there would only be one or two messages. What I didn't realize was that last year I wasn't taking so many breaks, which allowed the emails to build up. I did end up getting a huge pile of e-mails this year.
On my second day it was a constant balance between being in agonizing pain, moving forward, and getting off my feet. I changed socks and shoes, I slept in the tent for two separate hour-long naps with my shoes off, I'd go out and do more distance but I'd be moving at something like 7 minutes per lap pace. It was more painful on my feet to go so slowly, but I was not in racing mode, mentally or physically.
To keep my mind off the pain, I spent time conversing with people. I talked with Phil, who was also taking long breaks, and Bob from Drymax, and Dan Baglione, the oldest runner out there at age 78, who has lots of wisdom to share, and great stories. He told me about how he went out to Badwater and essentially did a "double" because he ran it unsupported with his vehicle. He'd run out for a short stretch, then run back to his vehicle, then drive ahead on the course, and double out and back again until he drove to the next spot on the course. He has ultra plans for age 80.
I talked with Dan Jensen whom I recognized from Badwater, who is getting ready for a big adventure race in the Badlands this year, and hoping his prostheses will hold up for it. Dan lost his leg in Vietnam and has been running ever since the technology was available for a running prosthesis. He's a multiple Badwater finisher among many other ultras and endurance events.
I always enjoy the conversations with Andy Lovy, in his 70s, who had a fantastic race this year, finishing with well over 100 miles and he looked great the whole way! Here is Andy on the left, with Chris O'Loughlin, race RN on the right. Andy is the race physician, a psychiatrist!!!
And Lynn Newton, ATY webmaster, with his familiar lean to the right. He got 136 miles in this year, but he said this will be his last year at ATY, he moved to Ohio last year and feels he needs to move on with things. I will miss him, but I know we'll always be in touch over e-mail.
Around sunset the second day, I was going past the curve on the north end of the track and a familiar-looking person came walking by. It took me a minute but I realized it was Julie Arter. Julie and Duane live in Tucson and used to direct the Old Pueblo 50, which was my favorite short ultra in Arizona. I also went to school at NAU with Duane's sister, a million years ago. Julie did some laps with me. They came up to volunteer at the aid station. Julie and Duane took pictures of me as I crossed the mat after my 100 mile lap. I didn't get to spend a lot of time with them but it was great to see them and I appreciate them driving all the way up from Tucson to volunteer.
I also saw Debbie and Jody, whom I used to run with in Arizona, at the aid station, volunteering. They are both strong trail runners and I haven't seen them much in a long time. I ran into Debbie at the Lean Horse in South Dakota in 2007 when she won the women's 100 mile race. I know Jody has run a lot of ultras in the past few years and done well and won several of them. Jody and I were the two women on Josh's Badwater crew back in 2002.
Woofie came out to the track too. We did some laps and caught up on things and I'll look forward to seeing him this summer at Badwater. It was so good to re-connect with old running friends from Arizona.
One of the runners in the 72 hour had his table near mine at the track. he brought a friend with him to help him out. Her name is Kia. Kia volunteered at the aid station off and on for 3 days, and she cheereed everyone on the whole time. She had the most enthusiastic cheer and she kept saying "AWESOME!" Kia helped me dozens of times during the race, she did little things for me to help save me time at my table, and she kept asking me if I needed anything. She also helped me at the end of the race, breaking down my table and helping me carry stuff out to my car. Every runner needs a breakdown crew at the end of this race, to keep them from having a breakdown. Thanks Kia!
New Year's Eve
As midnight approached, I was getting closer to my 100 mile mark. Last year I hit 100 miles around 9:30 in the morning of my second day. It was approaching 10 pm and my feet HURT! I wanted to get the 100 miles in, get a mile for insurance, and then get off my feet until about a quarter to midnight to do the New Years celebration. I went into the tent once I had 100 miles and change, and the moment my head hit the pillow, I slept for an hour. I got out of the tent at 11:45 and called Steph, walked out to the track and everyone was gathering around for the stroke of midnight.
Champagne was being poured into glasses by volunteers, there was table of party favors, people were wearing glow sticks around their heads and necks, and wearing goofy costumes.
The volunteers were setting up the table with party favors and pouring champagne. Just before midnight I was doing some laps and Jean-Jacques (on the right below, with Dan Brenden) ran by me. He said, "Your halo is getting dim, I think you need a new one."
That is unacceptable. No dim haloes allowed. I picked up a fresh glow stick halo on my next pass around the track.
I talked briefly on the phone to Steph, who was sick that night and wasn't able to talk much, and then I took a glass of real champagne and we counted down to the new year. Then we did our lap around the track with all the spectators and volunteers, watched the fireworks, and continued with our laps.
Around 12:15 I had something like 103 miles and I was weaving again. I decided to go in and sleep more. I figured I could push past 105, maybe toward 110 in the morning, if I had it in me. I ended up sleeping until past 6 a.m. I knew there were M & M pancakes waiting. That's what got me out of bed.
The awards ceremony seemed like it took forever this year. There was some delay and a lot of people had to leave to catch flights at the airport. But my favorite award was the one given to John Geesler. John, who holds the American record for 48 hours and is normally in the lead during Across the Years, was having a rough race. He was in the 72 hour and by the second day he was hardly moving. He had some kind of injury that was limiting his range of motion, but he lurched along out there for three days and was joking and laughing with everyone. Like he said, even Andy was lapping him. For the longest time he circled the track with Gavin Wrublik, Rodger's 7 year old who ended up with 50 miles over 72 hours. Mike Melton commented during the awards that John and Gavin looked like the master and his apprentice.
John received the Zombie award from Gillian and Don for the person who best exemplified the Zombie Runner.
At the awards I sat with John Hobbs, whom I've known for many years through ultras. John lives near Denver, and he did his first 72 hour race this year, finishing with an impressive 157 miles.
We got our belt buckles, with the silver and gold, and then it was done. Another year. I've been here, centered myself, and now I feel like I can move forward again, on these feet:
As I circle the track, I don't actively focus on any particular thoughts, I'm looking at the scenery, thinking about what I need at the next pass by my table or the aid station, or I'm engaged in conversation with another runner. At the same time there are themes that are running beneath the surface of my consciousness and keep recurring. This year the themes were clear, feeling like I have a cluttered path in front of me and I need to clear it out, and pain was a recurring theme, which is connected to the clutter.
In life we tend to circle back to the same things, we have patterns of behavior that we follow, sometimes unintentionally, because habits are hard to break. My conversations with Chris and Flora were the ones that helped me clarify those themes.
I need time and space, uncluttered and uninterrupted, to do the things that make me happy. When I have something in my life that is distracting me and sucks the life out of me, I lose my creative energy and I get very stressed. Since we moved to Colorado and settled in, I haven't gone through the huge pile of boxes, books, papers, art supplies and old paintings that occupy one side of the guest bedroom that I use for my office. I've been too focused on my job and the physical and emotional energy it requires, and I am so exhausted from that, I can't devote any energy to clearing the junk out.
Talking with Flora reminded me of how much my life improved once I recognized that teaching and academia were not a good fit for me and that I needed to make room for the things that are important to me. Teaching and the demands of that world sucked the life out of me. I find myself once again being consumed by work concerns, even though my current job is only half as demanding time-wise, but the physical energy required and emotional stresses are at least as intense. I'm at the point now where I can modify my routine and find ways to reduce that stress.
Chris reminded me that I've lost my way with the journal I kept starting with the beginning of nursing school, that I abandoned about a year ago. I didn't have the energy to put into it once I started seriously training for Badwater. It was such a good way to decompress and get rid of all the stress after a tough day at work.
Pain was another theme. I've had a lot of pain this year, and I learned ways to push through it. But this time at Across the Years I didn't have the desire to push through it. I felt like I paid my dues in pain already, and in this instance, pushing through it wasn't right. I accepted a certain amount and then I got off my feet. I took a lot of breaks, and it seemed like every time I went into the tent to take a serious break and lie down, I fell asleep. I didn't just doze off for a few minutes like I would in a race. I would sleep for an hour, or four, or six.
My body has been through some transformation this year. Despite the training I've done, I am now slow, unfit, ten pounds heavier, and feeling every ounce of it weighing me down. I'm carrying a load that has been piled on by hormonal changes, sleep difficulties, coping poorly with my stress, partially as a result of putting so much energy into preparing for my first Badwater.
Chris and Flora reminded me without saying it directly, that I need to re-balance things. I'm going to clear my office space and brighten it. I'm going to start writing my nursing school journal again. I'm going to take a break from racing at least for the first half of this year, and spend some time on my bike to give my body and feet a break. I'm going to get new orthotics to fix the friction, blisters and calluses that my old ones are creating.
I'm going to take the time on my days of from work to go see the work of other artists again, go to different places and see things, vary my routine, and clear the cobwebs out of my mind so I can have fresh thoughts and creative energy again. By circling the track for two days, I was able to brighten my dim halo.
Today I feel a lot better than I did when I left for Arizona. I do have a cough and sore throat now, but I'll shake that. I talked to Nattu and he is sick too, he said everyone he talked to had the same thing. But that's better than last year with the stuff coming out both ends.
I am sure I caught up on some sleep during the race! If it takes running 108 miles to get me to sleep, that's what I'll have to do. It was nice to not be so trashed afterwards, I was able to enjoy the visit with my dad and stepmom. I stayed with them in Scottsdale, they are in the process of starting a new business, and their enthusiasm and energy always helps me feel beter. I also got to see my dad working out with his personal trainer and running on his treadmill for 90 minutes.
We went to the Art Walk in Old Town Scottsdale and I saw colors, like these geraniums along the sidewalks.
I went to the new Asian market in Mesa with my dad and he bought all kinds of stuff to cook some awesome post-race food. Bitchen swill! Steph still raves about the post-race meal he cooked for us last year after Across the Years. Here's a picture of it for her:
Now I have just a few days to get my energy back and then I go back to work. I need to be prepared, to not let myself get sucked into my bad habits from last year. I'm going to stick to my de-cluttering project and go back to my journal if I have lingering thoughts after a day of work that might keep me awake.
I look outside and it's a clear, windy day. I want to go for a run. Soon enough, I'll be ready, because nothing, absolutely nothing is better than this.
final photo of Alene and Lisa at the start courtesy of Lisa Bliss