I swore on ALL that is HOLY that I would never run another 48 hour race after my win at Across the Years in 2013/2014. I was badly battered, mentally crushed and terrified to ever put myself through something like that again.
So...obviously, I had to go back and run the same race again. Because as all ultra runners know, the painful memories fade and are only replaced with epic and fun filled recollections of good times.
This is the same mental disorder that allows women to give birth more than once.
(The ATY bibs are unique, because aside from having your name and state flag displayed, runners keep their bib numbers for life. I will always be 1167...assuming I ever run this thing again.)
Tactics and Strategy:
There are a lot of different tactics for running a 48 hour race, and those tactics are largely dependent on the specific goal of the runner. A lot of people have a specific mileage goal and they fashion their run in a way to achieve that. For most, that means they run and take rest breaks over the duration of the race. Most people sleep for at least a few hours. But to be competitive and have a chance to win, the runner needs to push through without sleep or significant rest periods. I was one of those runners.
My plan was to push a tough pace for the first 30 miles, putting a large gap between me and the rest of the field. Once I had done that, I would simply manage that gap for the rest of the race, adjusting my pace to keep a comfortable lead without blowing up.
While this plan sounds logical, it is a bit risky and it makes me look like an idiot running that hard in a 48 hour race.
When the race started, I jumped out to a big lead and never looked back.
First 200 Meters of the Race
Across the Years allows runners to start over several days. This means there are other 48 hour runners that are into their race 24 hours when I started mine, as well as several that have already finished and gone home. The same is true with the 24 hour race and the 72 hour race. Only the 6 day runners start and finish on the same schedule.
There were a lot of runners on the course that were running other races and I greeted each one as I went by. We're all going to be sharing this 1.05 mile loop for a long time, so it's important to get to know the other runners so we can all provide support and encouragement. This is a big part of ATY and other races with a similar format.
By my third lap, I was already lapping some of the runners that had started with me.
By mile 6, I had lapped the entire field....
...And by mile 10, I was in trouble.
My Damn Shoes!
I was already developing hot spots on the balls of my feet and on my heels. I had decided to wear my Altra Olympus, because I had a lot of success with these shoes at long distances on non-technical terrain. These shoes had a lot of miles on them already, but I was hoping to get one more long run out of them. Evidently, that wasn't going to happen.
I stopped at the start line and swapped into a pair of road shoes that I had wore on the plane ride down to Arizona. These shoes were retired long ago, but they were also comfortable and I hoped they would get me through the race. After only a few miles, I knew they weren't going to work either. My feet were getting brutalized and I was only two hours into a 48 hour race.
Then, a tiny factoid revealed itself from the deepest recesses of my brain. The Race Director, Nick Coury, has the same size feet as me. As I came through the timing area, I told Jo to find Nick and see if he had a pair of shoes I could borrow. When I came back through on the next lap, there were two pairs of shoes sitting next to a chair...just waiting to be slipped on my feet.
I had a choice between a Nike road shoe and an Asics trail shoe. I chose the Asics shoe, totally out of contempt for Nike.
I had NEVER had an Asics shoe on my foot before, but at this point, I had no real options available. Running in untested, borrowed shoes seemed like a huge risk, but we had to keep moving.
My Shoe Progression...Altra, New Balance, and finally Asics
The shoes were uncomfortable but my hot spots cooled off and I carried on.
I hit my magical 30 mile mark in about 4:40 and started to ease into a slower pace. I was using this as an opportunity to slow down and chat with friends and other runners, providing encouragement and getting to know new people. I was beginning to enjoy myself.
I was maintaining a steady diet of Hammer gels, HEED and later, Perpetuem. I also supplemented with solid food when something looked particularly tasty. I was fueling well and feeling great.
Yes...Beware of Both
The daytime high temps were comfortable, because Arizona was entering a cold trend. This was great news for our daytime running, but terrible news for what we would be dealing with at night. I figured it couldn't be any worse than Utah. I was wrong, of course.
Finishing Mile 40
The Beer Mile:
Yeah...the Beer Mile. I knew that there was a beer mile planned for 4:00 PM on the first day of my race. I had halfheartedly agreed to run it, but I was reluctant to jump in for three reasons:
1. I didn't want to waste time and lose ground to other runners in my race
2. I really didn't want to be racing for a win while I had a good buzz going
3. There's always a good chance I would puke, which I'm not a fan of
When it came time to commit, I simply couldn't resist it. DAMN THE TEMPTATION!
The Beer Mile was held right on the race course, so the distance would be recorded as part of our total mileage for the race.
I hammered that first beer fast and was off the line in a hurry. I knew I was going be chased by Patrick Sweeney and Nick Coury, both of whom are exceptional Beer Milers. Sure enough, they both passed me before I reached my second beer.
As I was about halfway through my second beer, my wife caught up to me. This was not expected. Being her first beer mile, she may have been a bit aggressive. I bolted, headed for beer #3.
When I get to my third beer, I could see Patrick and Nick in the distance racing for beer #4 already. No chance I was going to catch either of those guys. I was definitely outclassed.
Beer #4 hurt. This is the point when I usually want to puke. My gut is FULL of foaming beer, all distended and painful. The beer knows it can exit the same way it entered and it's my job to keep that from happening.
Struggling with Beer #4
Hobbling to the Finish
I finished the beer mile in 9:57, which put me in 4th place, just missing the podium! That's three minutes slower than my BMPR!! Not cool.
My Bride Celebrating Her First Beer Mile Finish
Need a Minute to Let Things Settle
2014/2015 ATY Beer Mile Runners!!
After some careful reflection, I realized that two of the people that beat me in the Beer Mile weren't running in the race. It seems to me that the International Beer Mile Association should have used a handicap to even the playing field.
I may file an official protest.
The entire Beer Mile and post race photo sessions cost me a full hour of actual racing. I checked the standings and I was still well ahead of the rest of the field, but I felt guilty for taking that time to screw around.
But I can pretty much guarantee that in the years to come, I'll be happy that I made that choice. We all have one life to live and we should have those silly and fun moments to remember. We can't be serious all the time.
Back to the Real Race:
The Course Was Waiting on Me
After the beer mile, things began to settle in. I kept moving forward as quickly as I comfortably could, but reigned myself into a steady rhythm.
When night fell, it got cold but I was comfortable with an extra layer. I enjoy the night because it conceals the course and lifts the monotony. If you choose to, you can imagine you're anywhere you want to be. When you run this long, you have to let your mind drift as it wants.
I was comparing this run to my run from the previous year and I knew I was well behind my winning pace from 2013. I comforted myself with the fact that I had quit the race in 41 hours last year and I could run the full 48 this year if I wanted to. But I didn't want to.
I finished 100 miles in just over 19 hours, almost two hours slower than last year. I was a little upset to be that slow, even when I considered the hour I lost in the beer mile. I struggled to keep the negative thoughts out of my head.
A lot of runners do the 48 hour race so they can finish 100 miles at a leisurely pace. When they reach it, they pack it in, collect their buckle and go home. I was in 24th place at the 100 mile mark. When I got to 102, I jumped to 7th.
Now the race was really beginning.
At the end of my first 24 hours, I was at 123 miles. Last year, I had been at 130. I was now running in 4th place and the people ahead of me were long gone and out of the race.
My eventual leap into 1st place was assured, and so was the win. Now it was a matter of how many miles I would end up with.
The Hard Times:
I was still running well, considering my mileage, lack of sleep and I was wearing borrowed shoes. I jumped into the lead around noon on day two and stayed focused on adding miles. At this point, there were only a few us that were actually still running, and of that group, I was the only 48 hour runner that could muster more than a fast walk.
But I did walk often, mostly when I wanted to spend some time chatting with other runners. The mutual support and encouragement goes a long ways in the late hours of these races.
Crossing the Timing Mat with David Johnston as He Hits 300 Miles on His Way to an A/G World Record. He's AMAZING!
The entire day had been terribly frigid, and when the sun started to fade on day #2, the temps began to become a problem.
When I'm sleep deprived and physically depleted, I simply can't stay warm. I literally threw on every layer I brought but still couldn't handle the cold. Staying moving at a decent pace helped, somewhat...but the freezing temperatures were helping me to lose all motivation.
At 36 hours, I hit 177 miles. This is when I decided to finish the race with a PR of 202 miles, then call it quits. I focused on that goal and kept moving forward.
The VERY Hard Times:
Near midnight, I stopped running and headed for the warmth of a race tent and the comfort of propane heat. Even with that, Jo wrapped a blanket around my body. I wanted to be with my wife and friends when the new year arrived, then I wanted to get this thing over with!
At midnight, we celebrated with a drink, some fireworks, and a kiss from my bride. I was beaten, battered, broken and bent on meeting my goal. I pushed out of the tent and back onto the course for more miles.
At 197 miles, I had to crawl into my car in the parking lot and sit in the heat for 20 minutes while I regained feeling in my hands and feet. I talked to Jo about quitting, but we both knew I would regret not getting to 200 miles. After a lot of procrastination, I left our warm car for the cold. And I ran.
When I crossed the timing mat at 200 miles, I looked over to the race timer, hoping for a smile of acknowledgment. He was asleep, wrapped in a blanket, sitting dangerously close to a propane heater. I envied his precarious position.
I pushed on.
I crossed the timing mat for the final time at 43:03, completing 202.61 miles. With 5 hours remaining in the race, I was ready to call it a day!
DONE!! DONE!!! DONE!!!!
I had no regrets with my decision to leave early. I had beat my previous distance PR, won the race and was still healthy and uninjured. I made the logical choice for me.
I was still running pretty well and if the weather had been better, I would have liked to go all 48, but in those conditions, it didn't make sense.
Jo and I went to the hotel where we slept for 2 hours before getting up to head to the awards ceremony.
Jamil and Nick Coury Presenting Awards
The awards ceremony is probably the best I've ever been to and every runner is recognized for their accomplishments. Nick and Jamil put a lot into this race and they do an excellent job at showing the love and respect for the people that come out and take this thing on. It's no small thing for anybody involved.
Winners Trophy and 200 Mile Buckle
I'm trying to be realistic this year. The odds are very high that I'll make a return to this race in 2015. I may run the 48 hour, or possibly drop to the 24 hour. This remains to be seen, but I know for sure that this race is in my blood.
I want to thank the Coury family for being such excellent hosts. The volunteers were amazing, the food was incredible, and I never got lost on the course. I can't ask for anything more!