I had no idea where that first 5k would lead, but I'm happy I went down that road and found out.
I was just recovering my first 100 mile win, three weeks prior and wondered if my confidence coming into this race was just a residual effect from that experience, or if I had a sincere hope of winning the 48 hour race, but either way, I really wanted to win.
I don't exactly recall why I decided to try to run for 48 hours straight, or why I eventually registered for this race. I don't remember ever wanting to run for so many hours, or miles for that matter. Nonetheless, Jo and I were back in Arizona and I was curious to see how this whole thing would play out. There were a lot of unknowns waiting for me in these late miles and there was a bit of excitement on my part as I was waiting to discover new things about myself and my endurance.
There are four race options available at ATY. There's a 24, 48 and 72 hour event. For the seriously demented, there's also a 6 day option. Runners can select the day they begin their run within a window of time during that week, meaning some of my competition would be finished with their race before I even began mine. I elected to start my run on the final day I could for that exact reason.
The ATY course is a 1.0498 mile loop that meanders through and around the sports complex at Camelback Ranch. The course is mostly dirt, gravel or cinder path with short sections of asphalt and concrete mixed in. Not exactly the typical single track trail systems that I'm more accustomed to running on.
I had two goals for my race:
1. Run a minimum of 200 miles
I realize both of these goals may seem pretty ambitious, especially for somebody that has absolutely NO experience running in timed events. But whatever...we all need a goal to shoot for.
Getting Ready to Start!
I planned to run the first 20 miles in less than 3 hours and wanted my first 3 miles to be a fast warm up run to get my body feeling good. When they sent us off, I quickly separated from the field and took an early lead that I would never loose.
Jumping to the Front
I logged 23 minutes for the first 5k then slowed my pace for a while. On my fourth loop, I began to lap runners that had started with me.
Because of the alternating start days, there were a lot of runners on the course that had been out there for 24+ hours already. It was intriguing to watch them move along the course in their varying degrees of physical decay. I was feeling pretty awesome at that point, but knew I would be in a similar condition in the not so distant future.
Finishing my 10th Lap
I finished 20 miles in 2:53 and slowed my pace again. I had been planning a sub 3 hour time for the first 20 and made it easily.
Around mile 22 I began to run with a 6 day runner that was looking strong. As we chatted, he decided to let me know that my pace was utter foolishness and that I would be relegated to a walking pace by sunset and would probably pull out of the race before sunrise. I was a little miffed by his assumption, so I tucked it away in the back of my brain to use for fuel later. Nothing gets me more motivated than negative commentary from my detractors.
I was using Hammer Peanut Butter gel as my primary fuel source, but I was also allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted from the main aid station table. The food selections were rotating constantly and they also served breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. They posted signs leading to the aid station letting us know what they were going to serve and what time we could expect it. I thought that was genius!
Pretty, But I Was NOT a Fan of the Concrete
Still Cruising After 50 Miles
As I ran and chatted with other runners, I began to realize that these timed events are an actual sport. Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge running as a legit sport, but a lot of these people only focus on timed races and may run the occasional 100 mile ultra or other distances but not as seriously as they take these types of events. It never occurred to me that these people weren't typical ultra runners, just like me. They took this all very seriously and they knew things that I was oblivious too. I suddenly felt very out of place.
In retrospect, I realize I was totally out of place.
I made a few wardrobe changes as the weather dictated, stayed on top of my fueling and hydration and I continued to run well and feel good. I began to wonder when the wheels would start coming off and I started mental preparations for that eventuality.
Sun Fading on Day One
My next goal was to reach 100 miles in under 18 hours. This seemed logical to me because I had hit that mark a few times in trail races, and this certainly wasn't a trail race (meaning this was much easier).
I rolled through 100 miles in 17:05 and was still feeling great. I was well ahead of my ideal plan and moving far better than the rest of the 48 hour field. I buckled down and continued to run strong, well into the night.
My final goal for day 1 was to hit 120 miles at a minimum, or 130 miles as a stretch goal. When 120 came early, I kept moving along, searching for 130.
I was longing for the return of the sun and its promise of warmth. The night was extremely cold and I was certain it was draining my physical resources. Sunrise on day 2 was a welcome and rejuvenating sight.
Hitting 130 Miles
I hit the 130 mile mark at 23:14 and decided to rest for a bit. I had surpassed all of my 24 hour goals and figured I could spare 45 minutes and start my second 24 hours when the next wave of runners were sent off to start their races.
I used my 45 minutes wisely. I loaded up on water and Endurolytes, I ate several pieces of french toast, drank two beers and took a quick nap in my tent. After all my fueling and gear changes, I only got about 10 minutes of restless sleep, but when I woke up, I felt like a new man.
Critical Facebook Updates Before my Nap
It took 3 or 4 miles of quick running before my legs began to loosen up again. I gradually worked out the kinks and got back to a decent pace again.
After crossing 134 miles, I found myself in 3rd place. The two lead runners were off the course and done with their races. The closest runner behind me, and still in the race, was just over the 100 mile mark. I was building a nice cushion while hunting for the lead spot.
Jamil Coury and Sabrina Redden Going for a Morning Run
My feet began to hurt around the 150 mile mark. I could tell they had swollen a lot and were now crammed into my shoes like a 400 pound woman in a tube top. I thought about taking my shoes and socks off so I could check the damage but decided it was best to leave things alone and worry about it later.
I was now well beyond any distance I had ever ran and was beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. I had to pull myself together every few miles and keep my mind occupied or I risked falling asleep on my feet.
I was beginning to notice obvious injuries in some of the runners. A lot of people were limping, dragging a leg, leaning heavily to one side and some were just crashing onto the ground in the shade to temporarily escape the pain. Some of it was unnerving and I wanted to plead for them to stop, rest and repair whatever damage they were plagued with. Most just kept on moving in spite of it all.
Creeping Up on Mile 160
Yiannis Kouros Trying to Make 6 Day Running History
Being mentally and physically depleted at this level is like being 3 years old, slightly drunk and severely annoyed, all at once.
Ticking Off Another Mile
When I reached 174 miles, I stepped into the 2nd place position. I was still about 35 miles ahead of the next active runner and was all but certain to eventually take the lead away from Jon Olsen.
Things were looking good but I was beginning to fall apart. Quickly.
As I ran into the night, my brain began to drift into some other world. I lost the ability to think straight. I wasn't hallucinating, but my mind was talking to itself, carrying on about intangible nonsense. There was a constant rambling in my brain in a voice that was not mine. I could quickly snap out of it and push it away, only to have it return a few minutes later, picking up right where it left off. I began to have a deeper understanding of how mental illnesses can lead people to do very strange things.
At 180 miles, I was still performing a task that would technically qualify as running. I was also doing a lot of walking, especially over sections of the course that I had decided were not worthy of running over. Specifically anything made out of concrete or asphalt.
I wasn't able to get any pictures during the night, so the following photo will have to serve as a reasonable illustration of what the race was like.
Zombies! Zombies Everywhere!
After getting to 190 miles, it was time for me to make some tough choices. I was certain I was going to win the race well ahead of the 48 hour mark, so I didn't see any reason to pile on more abusive miles for no reason. I went back on forth on this topic for several miles and was totally uncertain how I should finish the race.
No matter what choice I made, I was going to win and nothing could change that, or make for a better outcome.
As I was reaching the 200 mile mark, I was so cold, I couldn't stop shaking. I began to realize this was probably a reaction to the cold that was being amplified because of my severely depleted condition.
My feet were hurting worse than they had ever hurt and there was nothing to be done about it.
I was in a really bad spot.
That's when I decided I would do whatever was necessary to win the race, but nothing more. I wasn't going to continue running, in hopes of making the top 10 list for American 48 hour runners (which was well within my grasp). Additional accolades and accomplishments were meaningless to me at that point and no amount of urging from the RD's or anyone else was going to change that.
I was going to wrap this up, take my win and my buckle and go find a cold beer and a warm bed. Decision made!
During mile 199, I began to get contemplative about this entire experience. About my path to ultra running and specifically this race. Running 200 miles seems utterly foolish, even to me, so how the hell did I get here? I still have no idea, but running 200 miles is something to be proud of. If you're into that kind of thing.
When I crossed the finish line at the 200 mile mark, I was tied with Olsen for the lead. I headed out for one more mile so I could take the win.
WINNING! 201.5 Miles!
I had run 201.5 miles in 40:57, leaving more than 7 extra hours on the table. I could have done a lot in those 7 hours, but I felt like I had done enough for one day...uh...two days.
We wasted no time getting out of there and headed to the hotel where I took the longest, hottest shower of my life and quickly fell asleep in the most comfortable bed in the world. I drifted off to sleep instantly, leaving the demons in my head behind on the race course.
After 5 hours of sleep, we were up again and heading to the awards ceremony which was being held at the LA Dodgers spring training ballpark, which I had run around for almost 41 hour but had never seen from the inside.
Jamil Presenting Awards
Receiving My 1st Place Trophy
I am happy to have pushed myself well beyond anything I had ever fathomed. I put my endurance to the test and I was able to handle whatever came my way. I learned a lot about gear selection, nutrition, hydration and sleep deprivation along the way and all of these lessons will help me finish stronger in my 100 mile trail races. I know I'll be a better ultra runner from this experience.
I want to thank Hammer Nutrition, Gear:30 and Klymit for their constant support. I couldn't ask for better sponsors and I couldn't accomplish my goals without them.
I'm looking forward to running a measly 50k back in Arizona in a few days, so I can test my recovery strategy. I don't have lofty goals for that race.
Thanks for taking the time to read my race report. I hope to see many of you out on the trails and in the mountains very soon.
Happy New Year!!