Scatter my ashes here...

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

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Reset Button: Across The Years 24 Hours 2018-19

I feel comfortable now being back in my routine of running Across the Years over New Years. Phoenix is home, my dad and stepmom still live there, my brother and sister in law are there, and I have a long history of ties with this race.

Last year it was my first time back after several years away, and the course beat the hell out of me from head to toe. I was determined to have a better physical experience somehow, even if my fitness level didn’t seem to have budged despite training somewhat more intensely this past year than last. At least until September.

I’d planned to run the 48 hour this year, but my muscles were not cooperating. After being on statins for a year, I finally got frustrated with the feeling of running on bricks for legs and said to hell with these drugs and went off.* It took a while to recover any sense of feeling like my muscles were working right, though. As a result, I did very little running from the end of September at There Goes the Sun 12 Hour, until a longish run weekend of 30 miles total in December.

I flew down on Southwest on the evening of the 27th, hoping no one would give me the crud, and took an Uber to my dad and stepmom’s house in Scottsdale. My dad and stepmom had other plans this year and were in Miami at a three-day party being thrown by one of my stepmom’s cousins. I think it’s great that they have the energy to do that.

Upon arriving at the empty, quiet house, I got settled in to my usual spot in the old king bed on the south side of the house. Over the years it’s been getting softer and the mattress needs to be replaced, but this time, it totally screwed up my back. I woke up Friday morning hobbling around in pain.

I tried to loosen things up with a hot shower and stretching. After the pain didn’t ease up, I decided to ice my back and moved into the other guest bedroom on the north side of the house. At least I didn’t make things worse, but I was in pathetic condition to be running a 24 hour race.

On Friday I went out to meet my niece, brother, and sister in law at their new house in north Phoenix. They used to live in Tempe but downsized and moved when my niece graduated from college last year. My niece is going into the Peace Corps- to Togo- in May.

I spent Saturday preparing for the race. There wasn’t much to do except for shopping for a few groceries, doing my PBJ ritual, and organizing my bag of bags of cold weather clothing and race junk.

Dale texted me in a panic on Saturday and I didn’t see it until about 5 pm. Apparently, he had the Seinfeld experience at the car rental place. He took an expensive taxi to his hotel and was calling to ask me if I could pick him up in the morning and took him to the race and drop him off at the airport after. 

I slept well the night before the race and woke up just before my alarm. It was time to drive across town and pick up Dale. He was at a hotel I recognized from when the race was held at Nardini Manor. I stayed there a couple of times in my 48- hour racing days.

Race morning
We arrived at Camelback Ranch with plenty of time and picked up our stuff, got a table and set up our junk. Davy Crockett had just finished his run and came over to say hi. We saw Mike Melton in the timing tent and immediately gave him a hard time about the GPS being inaccurate. Mike is the world’s greatest race timer. Plus, he’s an old friend I met at ATY long ago and he crewed for me at Keys 100. I’ve signed up for races just because Mike was timing it.

Once we got our stuff set up, along with the omnipresent enema bag for Dale, I threatened an ice water enema if I found him in the warming tent at night instead of out on the course. We milled around waiting for the race to start.

It was very cold. People were wearing a lot of layers overnight. I had plenty- I brought two bags of clothing and I was ready for anything.  I looked for my Colorado runner friends. We saw the Pences- Eric, Anne, and their son Ethan.  I can remember Ethan being about 9 or 10 years old and running Across the Years. Now he’s in college.  

Eric donated a kidney to his sister the year before last, and he’s back to doing ultras. Eric ran the 72 hour this year, and Anne and Ethan ran the 48-hour. I missed Matt and Anne Watts- Matt had called it good after 100 or so and went back to the hotel to sleep.

Our friends Karen and Nattu were in from California. Karen was running the 72 hour, and Nattu was sick so he was at the hotel. Karen had help at the race, though. She was kicking butt.

My friends Doug and Marji Nash showed up to watch the start. They are snowbirding from Colorado in Goodyear, AZ over the winter, and Doug signed up for the 24 hour on the 31st. They came to say hi before my start, Doug wanted to run a lap with me sometime on my race day to see the course. They also brought a special person with them- Marge Adelman, who was seasoned ultrarunner before I even started ultras.

Marge and I met back in 1991 at Doc Holliday in Glenwood Springs, my first ultra. We ran much of the race together, and she greeted me when I arrived at the finish line- knowing it was my first- with hugs and congratulations. That is something I’ll always remember. She moved away to Kansas for a while when we were in Arizona, and we have both since moved back to Colorado. It was a great surprise and treat to see her.

Mike started the pre-race briefing and we got started at 9 am sharp. The morning slowly warmed up enough to shed some layers, though I never stripped down to shorts. There isn’t enough daylight for that. The sun sets late in Arizona because of its location on the west end of the time zone, so the sun rises late around 7:30 and sets around 5:30.

photo credit: Steve Finkelstein
I felt good despite my back and as long as I didn’t stop, I was fine. It hurt, but not enough to distract me or slow me down- I wasn’t running fast anyway. I ran about half of the time during the daylight. My legs and feet felt surprisingly good. I saw my old Arizona ATY running friends Steve Finkelstein, Paul Bonnett, and Steve Finkelstein. Steve took some great photos at the race. It was also great to see the regulars like John Geesler and Martina Hausman, “Here we are again.”

By late afternoon I had gotten past 50K and I decided to do a foot check before it got cold and dark, so I wouldn’t stiffen up from sitting down. I changed my socks and shook out my shoes and gaiters, wiped my feet down with alcohol and inspected them. A small blister was forming on my left heel, so I cut it to let it start draining. Other than that, getting the dust off my feet and changing socks was enough to make everything good again. Took care of the hot spots, anyway.

The one thing that really saved my feet was that the gravel section from last year was gone. That sucked, and lots of people remarked on how glad they were that the gravel had been removed.

Into the night
I was careful about overdressing too early, and that worked well- I didn’t get sweaty like I usually do. I needed gloves and a hat, but I was comfortable. They served a huge pile of food for dinner- they had sloppy joes and I asked for potatoes with it instead of a bun since I am not eating wheat. As a result, I got a giant portion of food and I scarfed it down, knowing it would take a while to digest and be able to run again, but that was fine.

At dusk

Sasquatch and Karen stalking me

I was in a state of bliss as I rounded the course, having conversations with different people followed by periods of silence and withdrawing into my music. I had everything from Dr. DRE to Cardi B to Sade to Niña Dioz to David Bowie to trance.

It wasn’t until close to 9 pm when I felt like my stomach was empty enough to start running a little. I love it when the stars are out, and we had a bright half moon along with visible constellations despite the lit-up Phoenix sky.

The Low Number
During the night I talked with several of the old timers- the late 70s-early 80s runners. I’m talking age, not the decades of the 20th century. Bill Dickey, Don Winkley, Joe Dana, some of the legendary longtime septuagenarian and octogenarian ultrarunners who show up for Across the Years. This year there was a 75 year-old woman in the race, and several women in their 70s. I love seeing that. They inspire me. We’ve had many older runners over the years, and many we’ve lost. You never know when you might not see someone again. Who would have ever thought John Hobbs, for example, would be gone now?

One thing about Across the Years is that your race number stays with you in perpetuity, and those numbers are assigned based on the order in which you first entered the race- your first time. I ran it for the first time in 1994. My race bib number is 133. I was looking at the other numbers out there and the only person I saw with a lower number than me was Mario Escobedo, number 35.

As I came up on him during a lap I started a conversation and it turned out we had a lot of ultra history to share between us. We spent several laps walking and talking together. He had been gone from the race for a long time and recently retired, now having more time to run again, he’s back. We talked about some of the old characters from Across the Years and the ultra community in general, the personalities, and the stories. Mario is only 60, so hopefully he’ll be out there for quite a long time still running.

Watching Sasquatch
I started looking out for Dale since he had told me not to let him hang out in the warming tent. I didn’t see him for a long time. He stopped to call his wife for a while and to eat- but after that I didn’t see him. I asked our friend Karen to keep an eye out for him. As it turned out, he was moving along about the same pace as me, just on the opposite end of the track so we didn’t pass each other for a lot of hours. That can happen out there. But he was moving so well. No enema necessary.

Dale had been carrying our friend John Hobbs’ number, doing laps in memory of him. We lost John this past year- he’s been a great friend in the Colorado ultra community. Dale said his goal was to run 73 miles, which was John’s age at the time of his death. Considering Dale has been getting chemo for a few months lately since his cancer relapsed, he was really doing amazing. The drug they are giving him is much easier on his body apparently, than what he had before.

I went into the race without a specific goal, but I expected to do about the same number of miles as I did last year. Since running crappy at the 12 hour in September with my statin-addled muscles, I really didn’t have any expectation of doing better. Plus, I haven’t done shit for training since then either. I didn’t do any long runs this fall until December 9th. I did one weekend of 30 miles and that was it. I have really not been running much- more yoga and boxing than anything else.

One thing I do have in mind is finishing the miles for my 1000-mile jacket. As of the beginning of this race I had about 819 miles. I figured I would just make some progress toward it, then sign up for whatever event I need in order to complete the remaining miles next year.

What was most important to me, as well as Dale, was to stay out and stay awake through the night. I kept wrapping extra layers around my back and butt to keep my low back warm so I wouldn’t get stiff. My pace slowed somewhat, and I was doing less running, but I was not falling asleep with a steady oral infusion of coffee and other caffeinated drinks since about 3 pm. I never got sleepy and never got inefficient or sloppy.

In the corner of the course, about half way on the lap there is a water-only aid station that is staffed by one person all day. At night, there’s a guy who sits in there and plays 1960s and 70s music, he reminds me of Lieutenant Dan from the Forrest Gump movie. He is always enthusiastic and smiling and cheering on the runners. It’s like getting an extra little boost on each lap.

Ann Trason was at the race this year. She was always surrounded by several runners. I wanted to introduce myself but there was never a moment when she wasn’t engaged in conversation with one of them or looking out of it- so I didn’t. It was cool to have her out there. She was wearing a purple light-bedecked hat and was draped in some kind of costume so you couldn’t miss her.

When I started running ultras in 1991, she was the up and coming ultra star, and she was up there pretty much through the 90s until injuries and life got a hold of her. After running in the same sport for several decades it’s hard to avoid running into someone from that time frame- there weren’t nearly as many of us back then! She’s one of those people I never actually met.

I began concentrating on keeping enough calories in through liquids and switched over to gummy worms- ugh- but that’s really all my stomach wants at night. I had a yogurt, but it was too cold for yogurt. I had some PBJs and those helped.

Phreezing in Phoenix at Sunrise
Coffee and gummy worms got me through the rest of the night and morning. That was my breakfast, too. It was already cold but as we approached sunrise I was freezing, even with all my 6 layers on top and 3 on the bottom. Even the Colorado people were complaining about the cold!

At one point I went to use the real bathroom- which is heated and has light, flushing toilets and running water, and took my baby wipes with me- and the baby wipes were frozen solid! They’d been in my pack next to the table. A whole pile of frost dumped off my bag when I opened it.

When I passed 100Km and realized I had a lot of time left to do more miles- I was going to be way over my original expectations. I set a goal for 70, then 75. One the lap where I reached 75 miles, Ethan was finishing his hundred miles. I walked with Eric and Ethan. Anne was chasing Matt’s mileage, so she was trying to get as much as possible in so she could chick Matt.

After Ethan and I celebrated our milestones, we kept going, I got 76, then got one more lap in and ended up with 77.685 to be exact.

Which leaves me with only about 103 miles next year to get the 1000 mile jacket.
Ethan and Eric

Sasquatch finished with 70, which is impressive given his current state of going through cancer treatment, and we hung out to watch the end of our race and the start of the next day’s 24 hour race. Doug and Marji were there, I got to talk with Marge a little more, and I saw my old Arizona running friend Debbie Leftwich.

Sasquatch and I took a load of our stuff back to the car where I realized that the automatic entry key on my dad’s car wouldn’t work because it was so cold. We momentarily panicked, and looked for Marji to take us somewhere if we needed a battery or something, but then my sleep deprived brain was playing with the key and I realized there was a manual entry key inside the little gadget! False alarm. What a relief. Imagine, your locks freezing in Phoenix!

After we got the rest of our stuff, we drove over to the showers and I waited while Sasquatch took a shower and changed before going to the airport. I sat in the car with the heater blasting. When the clean Sasquatch emerged, we drove across town to the airport, and I dropped him off, and headed back to my dad’s.
Final standings for 24 hour 30th start

I had over 24 hours to recover and clean up after my race mess before they got home from Miami. I finally got a chance to peek at my race swag bag, and as usual, they gave us some nice stuff. I left my finishers mug at my dad’s house on purpose, I have so many ATY mugs. If anyone ever wants to drink a really big beer, they can use it.

The next day my dad and stepmom arrived home and I got to visit with them until Friday the 4th, when I headed home. And now I’m back in Colorado. But before I arrived home, from the airport, I signed up for another 24 hour in Palmer Lake in April.
Race goodies

It is true, like the proverb, that the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. It’s also true that the mind is an instrument. It needs to be practiced upon and finely tuned, with care and diligence and rest and appreciation for its means and end.

I’m re-learning to run with a different body than I had a few years back. I need to harness the power of my mind to make adaptations and adjustments to continue to put the miles in. I surprised myself with my ability to cover as much distance on what I used to consider an undertrained body. My goals have changed- I don’t expect speed any more, but I can achieve speed in a relative sense- doing more miles with more efficiency.

So next year, my plan is to sign up for either the 48 hour, or the 72 hour, to knock out those 103 miles or so without it being too difficult, and if I do sign up for the 72 hour, it will be with a dual purpose- to finish those miles as well as start thinking about what I’ll need for the 6 day race. I don’t want to wait too long, I’m thinking the year after next is a good possibility, if all goes well between now and then.

Next up is Stories 15 hour in Colorado Springs in 5 weeks…but I’ll be blogging about my updated philosophy of running before then. See you soon.

*disclaimer: do not take this as medical advice. If you're on any drug, don't stop it without consulting your licensed physician.