Immediately following my Hardrock 100 finish, back in July, I found myself spiraling into some kind of running funk. Initially, I thought it was a result of total exhaustion and I figured it would fade quickly. It didn't. I lost all desire to get out and run. I muddled my way through Leadville in August and I farted around at a few trail races, not finishing most of them. And more importantly, not caring that I wasn't finishing.
In October, I pulled myself together for a 24 hour win up in Canada. But it was a joyless win in a lot of ways, and I returned home to find the funk still firmly in place.
My passion was lost, so my performances and my training suffered heavily. In November, I flew all the way to Alabama for the Pinhoti 100 and I dropped out at the first aid station, less than 7 miles into the race. That's when I knew I had a very serious problem.
I decided to return to the basics in the hope of finding whatever was missing. I started running with the dogs more because they make me happy. I focused more on a proper diet, more cross training and more sleep. And through this process, I realized I had slowly taken my strength, health and endurance for granted. I slowly found my path back. I'm still nowhere near 100% but I'm finding my way back.
While all of this soul searching was happening, ATY was looming and I felt a lot of pressure to perform because I had always run very well there. It's pressure that is self imposed, totally unnecessary and probably damaging, but it's also very real.
On every training run, I walked through the ATY course in my mind and did everything I could do to become mentally prepared for the race. I also spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that it's OK to lose, or even fail completely. I wasn't very good at convincing myself of anything remotely similar to that.
Across the Years is a multi-day race, which allows runners to choose the day their races starts, depending on which race you enter. Aside from the 6-day race, all runners must be finished by January 1st to be eligible for awards. Because I was running the 24 Hour event, I wanted to start my race on December 31st and finish on the last day. This gives me an opportunity to see how many miles were logged by other runners that had started earlier in the week. When I know that mileage, I have a goal.
I was feeling better than I had in months when I lined up for the race start. But my fitness and overall endurance were definitely in question. We had 24 hours for the story to tell itself.
I lept to the front right from the start, digging just deep enough to discourage too many pursuers. Or so I had hoped. This usually works pretty well for me, but today would be different.
The ATY course is 1.05 miles long. It's mostly dirt, a little asphalt and a tiny bit of concrete. With the rain from the previous night, the course was muddy and slick. I ran the first loop as quickly and as safely as I could, but I never heard the footsteps fade behind me. I was being chased.
As I came in to finish the first lap, Jo said. "Don't stop, don't slow down, you've got three guys right on your ass!". Good to know...
With a quick glance, I caught two of them in my periphery. Dammit! They looked fast!
I thought about running my guts out, but I knew it was futile. I eased my pace and started working on strategy.
By the end of the second lap, I had fallen to 4th place among the starters for that day.
At the end of the third lap, I stopped for a Hammer gel and some water. Jo rushed over to help me and I turned to her and said, "I can't beat these guys with speed, they're too fast. I need to manage my race and try to beat them with endurance."
And with that, my plan was born.
I was going to run smarter, fuel better, and be the last man running hard. It was my only hope to find a spot on the podium.
I stalked the others, watching them and feeling them out. Meanwhile I was staying hyper focused on my own physical condition, making sure to follow the plan. I didn't need to be the fastest runner at mile 10, I needed to be the fastest runner at mile 90.
After 20 miles I had pulled myself into 3rd place, passing Tony Roush, who wanted to make it an early day. We shared a few miles before he packed it in and I was super impressed with how well he ran. Those may have been the most enjoyable miles of my race.
30 miles into the day, my hip flexors started to act up and my feet were getting hot spots from running in the water for so long. I stretched, adjusted my shoe laces, and pushed on. Both issues began to fade. Or maybe they were just replaced with more painful issues.
At mile 40, I saw the 2nd place runner walking. My heart actually skipped a little bit. He was still two or three miles ahead of me, but it looked like he was fading. After another hour, I never saw him again.
Jo Made me Pose After a Wardrobe Change
Ten hours into the race, I hit the 100k mark and I still felt pretty strong. My lap times were consistent, and aside from stopping to fuel, talk to Jo or use a restroom, I was running every step of the race.
Shortly after hitting the 100k mark, I rolled up on the leader as he was walking the course.
I won't lie…I sorta made a production of passing him. I shot around him with long strides and a huge, pain free smile on my face. I really wasn't trying to be a dick, I just wanted to set an impression in his mind that I can do this all day and night. And with any luck, he'd relent completely and I could walk the rest of the race. Of course, that didn't happen.
But I now had some hope and a renewed sense of possibility. That would probably be just enough to keep me rolling.
An hour later, I was in the lead.
But now I need to backtrack…
I was leading the runners of the race that started THAT day! To lead the entire race and take 1st Male Overall, I still had to reach 112 miles. And even WORSE…to be the true overall winner, I had to reach 120 miles because there was a female leading the overall standings from two days earlier.
My work was far from complete.
Logging Another Lap in the Final Minutes of 2016
At midnight, I stopped running to celebrate the new year with the best crew chief in the business. After a few cheers, a quick toast and kiss, I went back out to log more miles.
Happy New Year!!!
As I was out turning circles, Patrick Sweeney was prepping the course for the ATY Underwear Beer Mile. I declined to join, which seems almost unfathomable, but seriously, I would have puked for sure, and I have a Beer Mile reputation to uphold.
Beer Mile Start
Despite missing out on the Beer Mile as a participant, I still got to enjoy the show as they blasted by me in their unmentionables, trying to choke down 4 beers over the course of a mile. It really was quite the thing to watch and kept me entertained for a couple of laps.
Beer Mile Finishers!!!
And right after the Beer Mile wrapped up, a new storm rolled in and started dumping rain.
Every ultra runner has been to that place when they're depleted, they hurt, they're sleep deprived and flooded with exhaustion. Add a damn torrential downpour to the mix and you're literally in the inner circle of hell.
After several hours of slogging through the freezing rain, I finally hit the 100 mile mark at 17:52. Using all my available brain power, I began running the math through my head to determine what a reasonable goal should be for the remaining 6 hours. 130 miles seemed like a stretch because it required an average 12:00 pace, and I wasn't really feeling that ambitious. I was in more of a 13:30 mood at this point.
With absolutely no fanfare, or even mild recognition of the fact, I rolled through 112 miles and took the 1st Male position, overall. Yay me!!
With a few hours left on the clock, I went back out to grind my way through some more miles.
The rain began to fade as the sun rose higher in the sky, and the course began to drain away. I say that like it was a pleasant morning, but it still sucked pretty bad.
But they DID have pancakes and french toast for breakfast. In all seriousness, the food at ATY is worth the cost of admission. You can run 200 miles here and still gain weight. I've seen it happen...
I rolled through 120 miles and sealed the deal on the overall lead. The 2nd place runner was far enough back that I didn't need to worry about losing my lead. This is the time in most of these races when I really begin to screw off.
When I came through the timing mat at 122 miles, I saw the 2nd place runner in front of me. Up to this point, we hadn't exchanged a single word during the entire race, which is unusual for this format. Seeing an opportunity, I ran up and caught him, introducing myself, and I walked the next lap with him.
That was the first full lap that I walked in the race.
We chatted our way through the loop, and he peeled off to take care of something, so I decided to run the next loop.
That didn't happen.
I tried to run, but my body had cooled off during our walk and started to seize up. I made an effort to perform something that looked similar to run, but far more foolish, in an effort to loosen back up. Didn't work. I was done running.
After finishing that painful lap, I pulled the plug and called it a day with 124.93 miles in 23:40. Far short of what I wanted, but good enough for the overall win.
Does That NOT Look Awkward AND Painful???
Through the course of my 24 hour race, I spent time with, and witnessed many great athletes, doing amazing things. We talked to each other, encouraged each other and did everything we could to keep things fun, despite the terrible conditions. It's the type of experience that's difficult to articulate. You need to live it, and I hope you all do someday.
A world of praise goes to my awesome wife, who cares for my every need while I'm racing. And a special thanks to Hammer Nutrition and Topo Athletic for signing me for another year and always supporting me.
Jo and I are heading to Brazil for a 10 day running adventure, to include the Brazil 135. We're super stoked for what lies ahead!!
Thanks for reading!