“Trail Animals in The Desert”

Sitting on the plane heading back to New Hampshire two days after the race its much easier to reflect on it less emotionally.  Immediately post race there was a feeling of elation, the following day some feeling of disappointment.  Now, at 39,000 feet, I can better come to terms with both feelings.

Intro-  Across the Years is a 24 Hour race (for me, there were also 48 and 72 hour self torture options but I took the one most realistic to my “talents”) over a 1.05 mile course that’s fully supported with food and drink.  You run the loop, you get 1.05 miles and keep going -  the numbers add up.  All seems so simple.

 I flew out with my friend Mike Saporito based on plans and talks we had around a year ago.  For both of us, it was a chance to step up to new amounts of time on our feet and mileage to prepare for our 100 mile races in 2013.  My goal for the race was a minimum of 72 miles, with an outward goal of 100 miles.  100 miles would have to be perfection, no issues and a tough mental state of mind.  The plan was also to be on my feet for the whole or majority of the 24 hours.  There was no way to get to 100 miles if I didn’t and for the 2003 100 mile races that would be a necessity.

The loop was about 50% on the outside road and 50% on the inside path of the Camelback Ranch facility, where the Dodgers and White Sox play their spring training ball.  The majority of the course was on hard packed dirt with loose pebbles on it and the remainder on cement.  In essence it needed to be treated like a road race.  More on that later.  There was an aid station once per loop with cold food, hot food and drinks.  At the start/finish line tv monitors were set up and an ankle strap you wore electronically updated your results and you saw them as you passed (place/name/miles/last lap time).  It was a first class operation, as those results also flashed online for those viewing in addition to a tv camera showing live shots on the web.

So after the set up, the race…

Hours 0-4- Mike and I ran the first 11 miles or so together, and we commented on how our 10:45 average pace may be a bit much knowing how long a day it was going to be so we both attacked the course in the way we were comfortable.  I set it up in 4 sections, and alternated running and walking them.  Only issues early on were tight quads and stomach cramps.  I knew it was way too early to worry but wished I felt 100% so early in the race.  I finished the 4 hours with about 21 miles. 

Hours 4-8- I continued my pattern of run/walk and stopped in to eat most laps, taking a lot of fruit and sometimes candy I had brought.  The stomach issues started to ease off as well as the quad issues.  The weather warmed up and it was really nice at first with a cool breeze in one direction of the loop.  Eventually towards the end of the 4 hour segment, the wind died down and I noticed it was warmer all the time so I made sure to drink well. Milestones during this section were a 5:15 marathon and a 6:20 50k (a 50k PR by 10 minutes).  I changed shoes once from my Hoka Bondi B’s to my Montrail Rockledges as I thought I felt a hot spot developing.  17 miles completed during this segment.

Hour 8-12- As it started to get closer to dark I grabbed my phone to call home and check in and check email.  Support from the family, friends and the Trail Animals Running Club was great.  No doubt after getting all that encouragement this period was my best of the race.  The temps started to drop and the sun was easing off and it was all about moving.  New hot foods continued to be rolled out by the race crew, and I tried to grab what I could to make sure I was eating right.  A cool selection of southwest foods and French toast were available already during the day.  I started to spend more time with other runners as it made the time go by.  Most memorable during this period were 5 miles I ran with Jennifer Bradley-  who last summer had finished The Race Across America on Trails and The Ultra de Mont Blanc.  While she told me of her experiences I knocked off over 5 miles that hour including food and bathroom breaks.  Those were the only laps I ran with no walking after the first 11 miles of the day.  Noticable accomplishment during this time was a 10:50 50 mile split-  a PR for that distance by 50 minutes.  I finished the 12 hours with about 55 miles, still an outside chance for 100 miles.  On the downside,  blisters on my right foot had been getting worse so I changed shoes again.  17 miles completed during this segment.

Hours 12-16-  I started this period by working on my feet.  Again, I couldn’t get rid of the blister pain so I put on a third pair of shoes, this time road shoes.  It sort of made sense and I was sorry I didn’t start this way, this was a road course, hard, packed and unforgiving.  Running most of the time on trails with no long runs on pavement may have helped tenderize the feet a bit.  Including feet work time I had my slowest mile so far, 35 minutes to start this period.  I was mainly just walking now with occasional spurts of short jogs as the pain made it unpleasant to run.  I still was able to keep reasonable paced laps.  Shortly into this period my garmin died so I wasn’t able to track my overall pace, though I could get my per lap time as I passed the start finish.  Frankly, this far past the race I don’t remember a thing about the lap times after the watch died.  The medical tent was full each time I passed and finally after about 14 hours it was free so I stopped in for a blister check.  Application of a layer of second skin and taping by the EMT was all they could do; with a warning it was going to get worse.  The medical tent was packed all day from blister sufferers.  I started up again and at first it didn’t help much but then all of a sudden I felt a hot flash in my foot and the pain was almost gone so I was able to pick up the walking pace.  From here it was all walking.  I spent some time with “Frozen Ed” Furtaw, of the Barkleys Marathons fame and some 72 hour racers from the UK.  I don’t have a clue where I ended up mileage wise during this period….

Hours 16-20-  Cold.  I didn’t give enough respect to the 30 degree temps and started to feel it.  I also wasn’t eating properly and early on this section I got very queasy and when trying to eat felt even worse so I sat at our tent for a few minutes to recover.  After trying to get up, I was shivering uncontrollably and managed to stagger to the warming tent.  I was done.  Nauseous and freezing I didn’t want to go on and was looking for Mike to see if he wanted to leave.  I couldn’t locate him, but then heard him yell to me from the start line that he was moving again himself.  I sort of owe Mike my mileage for the rest of the race since his pushing on when feeling down motivated me to get back out.  I put on a heavier coat, ate and grabbed food, and then started to walk a bit very slowly.  Eventually I was able to walk at a fast pace and started to knock off more miles for the next few hours.  Somewhere around 19.25 hours, I started to feel sick again.  I had been drinking soup and hot chocolate but no solid food and I stumbled into the warming tent as soon as I finished my current lap.  My feet were killing me and I was beat up.  I was 77.6 miles in and took a break.

Hours 20-24- I laid on the floor and put my feet up-  Mike had also come in and did the same.  I may have napped, maybe not but the rest felt pretty good.  But I was toasted good.  I may have been able to overcome the inner cold and exhaustion but at this point the front of both feet were shredded and walking was brutal.  I decided to call it a day.  I stayed in the warming tent for hours, though it wasn’t so warm and finally limped out in the daylight.  No miles here.

In the end, I was thrilled with everything I did through 20 hours.  It got tough, I reacted, adapted and pushed through.  Of course there is regret for not pushing on for more miles during the final section but a few days later with both feet recovering form blisters and pain in each feet in different locations I can live with it.  77.6 miles and 20 hours was 24 miles and over 6 hours more than I had done in the past.  I think the final downfall was poor nutrition during Hours 16-20.  if I didn’t need to stop and recover from the queasiness, I think I could have kept working through the blister pain.  Once I stopped, the mental battle was lost to start up on them knowing the pain to come.

ATY is a great event with amazing support and people, both from a participant and administration level.  I totally prefer trail races, but this is an event I will be at again some day.

Some pix pre-race, a but outside of the city limits, and race day and the course: 


Pauline Eltman
1/2/2013 02:08:55

I am so proud of you and you were amazing. I watched your progress all thru the race and was truly happy for you and your performance
Loved the report and pictures. You not only are a great athlete but an awesome writer.
with love, Mom

1/2/2013 04:06:10

Congratulations on the mile and time PR! Looks like a great time!


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