To close out my 2008 racing schedule, I decided to give a fixed-time 24-hour event a try. I entered Across the Years (ATY) 24-hour footrace held at Nardini Manor, in Buckeye, Arizona, east of Phoenix. For a fixed-time race, you try to cover as many miles as you can in 24 hours. Each year ATY attracts many of the elite in sport from around the world. I went away with a deep respect for those athletes who do well running this type of race.
I trained pretty hard during November and December to get ready to run on the flats for such a long time. I even put in a training week of over 100 miles. I knew I needed to increase my foot speed and be able to endure running on flat surface for hours and hours. Most runners in these fixed-time races are road runners. I set a goal to run at least 110 miles at ATY. I realized that this would be an ambitious goal, but realistic if I had a good race. My main problem going into the race was a bad sinus infection. I had been on antibiotics for three days but it still hadn’t cleared up.
At ATY, there are actually three races being held at the same time, on the same track around Nardini Manor. The races are 72-hours, 48-hours, and 24-hours. On all three days a group of 24-hour runners start, on Day one and Day two, groups of 48-hour runners start. All the 72-hour runners start on Day one. I chose to start on Day two, Dec 30th.
I brought with me to Arizona my wife Linda and 12-year-old son Connor. We were anxious to flee the cold and snow and relax in the warm Arizona climate for a few days. Well, at least Linda and Connor would relax.
We arrived a day early and went out to Nardini Manor an hour before the start of Day one. I was so impressed with the setting of the race. It is on ultrarunner Rodger Wrublik’s property. The property is normally used weddings and parties. (See http://www.nardinimanor.com/ ). Rodger has constructed an amazing 500-meter track around the perimeter of the property.
We attended the race briefing and learned specifics about the logistics for the race. On our ankles would be timing chips. Each lap we would cross over pads that would record our lap time and keep track of our distance. After crossing the pad, we could look up and see our name appear on a large screen, along with the last several runners that crossed. We would see our current lap time and our distance in kilometers and miles. This would be very helpful to stay on pace. Also at the start/finish area would be a projection screen showing a leader board with the current standings for all of the races. An aid station was also located there containing everything needed. You could also ask for something special to be cooked up. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
Inside the tent (day before)
One interesting rule discussed was race track etiquette. It does not require lone runners to yield the inside lane to runners wanting to pass, regardless of whether the one being passed is running or walking at the time. However, it two runners are walking side-by-side together, they are supposed to keep the inside lane clear. Every two hours we would switch directions.
Matt and Anne Watts were at the start and they gave us all a friendly greeting. They would each be running the 24-hour race on Day one. I also caught up with buddy Jim Skaggs who would be running in his first 72-hour race.
With about 15 minutes before the start, we decided to take a stroll around the track. Going counter-clockwise from the start, you first go through a beautiful totally shaded area with a grassy area on the left and a gazebo. On the right, the track are lined by high rodedendrums. You then spill out into the sunlight as you run in front of Nardini Manor and its grassy front yard. Taking the first turn, passing by the manor, you run by some rock walls and then along a straight-away with a patio on the left and a chain-link fence on the right with views of expansive cotton fields. After the next of the four turns, You see a long straight-away lined on the left with high rodedendrums and cotton fields on the right. At the next turn on the left is the large parking area and on the right are porto-potties that would be used over and over again. The final turn comes up fast and then the start/finish line comes into view.
Track around the parking area
At 9:00, the runners scheduled for Day 1 were off! We found a nice place in the shady area to watch the first few hours of the race. It was tough for me to have to wait another day for my chance. I was thrilled to watch impressive runners such as John Geesler, Tracy Thomas, Juli Aistars, Uli Kamm, Hans Bern Bauer, and others. For awhile, I stood at the start line with Sue Norwood, who pointed out many of the runners to me, explaining who they were and some of their accomplishments. It was great to be rubbing shoulders with some of the best in the country. I introduced myself to race directors Rodger Wrublik and Paul Bonnett who were struggling to get the webcam to stay up.
Matt early in the race – by front yard of the manor
It was very interesting to take a look at the current standings and the lap splits. Matt was settling into 4th place among the 24-hour runners and Jim was in 7th place among the 72-hour runners. Leading the pack was John Geesler (72-hour), Tracy Thomas (48-hour) and Nattu Natraj (24-hour). The more I looked at their times, the more nervous I got about my pacing goals. If I was running according to my goals, I would be running very close behind the leaders. Would that make me crash and burn later on?
As the race progressed, Linda, Connor and I went to explore the massive rodedendrum maze. Rodger explained the rules to us, that we needed to go to the center of the maze and back without taking wrong turns. Later I joked with Rodger that he should credit me with two extra miles for wandering lost in the maze. We also checked out the huge main tent. The tent was heated and many runners had set up cots or tents to use during their breaks.
We next went to eat at In-and-Out Burger, and then went shopping for the things I needed. I decided to buy a folding table to put my stuff on. That was a great investment. I should have bought two. We returned to the race during the late afternoon. I noticed that most of the runners had slowed down considerably. I went out on the track to do a lap with Matt. He did a power walk for the first half lap and then ran the rest hard, for a 3:44 lap. Wow, I was impressed that he could do a lap that fast with walking included. I observed that he was continuing this pattern each lap. I also observed that John Geesler was now running with a noticeable limp. I felt bad for him. Most elite runners would stop once their race went bad, but John didn’t. Little 7-year-old Gavin Wrublik would come on and off the track to do miles, usually with 13-year-old Aaron Doman. It was fun to watch them. After running laps for awhile, I would see Gavin playing with a ball or playing with his Nintendo DS in the big tent. (Gavin would go on to circle the track for 50.642 miles during the three days. Aaron would finish 100 miles.)
Track near the patio
Watching the race only made me more anxious to join in. I knew that I needed to get a good night’s rest, so I bid good-bye to everyone, went to dinner and then settled down for a good night’s rest.
At 8:00 a.m., we were back at Nardini Manor. Driving up to the place, from a distance, it was cool to see runners and walkers still making their way around the property perimeter in the dawn sunlight. Matt was power-walking very strong and shouted to me to check out the time I would be chasing. Whoa! He was at about 112 miles with still an hour to go! He explained that he hit 100 miles at just over 20 hours and had a great race. I really think this race format is ideal for Matt’s lengthy stride. Linda had observed that there were many tall runners in this race. She was right, tall runners would likely do very well here. Jim Skaggs was still at it, but struggling a little. He had slept for three hours during the night. John Geesler was now doing a very slow hobble around the track.
I set up my table near the track. In the shade it was still pretty chilly. The low temperature would be around 39 with the high around 70. We attended the race briefing. A small group would be starting on Day two, including six 24-hour runners, and fifteen 48-hour runners. We would shortly be joining the 72 and 48-hour runners still out on the track. We next went out and watched the Day one 24-hour runners finish. Matt did incredible, finishing with 117.128 miles. I had very serious doubts if I could even come close to that, but I was motivated to try. Anne did super as well, reaching 100 miles with ten minutes to spare.
Connor and Davy before the start
At 9:00 a.m., I was away running with the others. I quickly took the lead among the Day 2 runners as we dodged the slowly moving walkers from Day 1. All of us displayed our bib number including, our names, over our rear ends so that other runners could easily see who was running near them. I wore my coonskin hat for the early laps and got plenty of friendly greetings from many runners.
I was very impressed with the soft track. It would be very easy on the joints. There were some damp areas that your feet would sink in deeper, but the surface would bounce back like a sponge. I concentrated hard to cut the corners as close as I could on every turn in order to not do extra mileage. I finished the first lap in a speedy 2:24 which would end up being my fastest lap during the day. It didn’t feel like I was running very fast (about 7:45 pace), so I continued on.
I quickly realized that none of the other Day 2 starters running anything close to the pace I was running. Was I doing this wrong? I was running faster than anyone on the track. I quickly started to lap Day 2 runners, even Phil Rosenstein who had run across the entire country earlier this year. After about five laps, I decided not to worry and just run the race I planned. I felt wonderful and totally was in my element. Matt, who was now resting after his race, would yell out stuff like, “only 399 more laps to go!” Thanks a bunch. That was tough to think about.
Me on left grabbing something from the aid station
My mental strategy was to break up the race into 20-lap (10K) segments. I would set my sights on the milestones and attempt to reach them within a goal time. I reached 5K in 24:47 and 10K in 50:52, for a 2:33 lap average. I was about six minutes ahead of schedule, but not feeling tired at all yet. My lap times were consistently between 2:30 and 2:40. My second 10K also went very well, I slowed down and reached 20K at 1:47, for a 2:50 lap average. I was about seven minutes ahead of my goal pace.
At this point, I took some time to visit the “mens room” and also do a little walking to read my mail. A fun feature of this race is that Internet viewers can send in email to you. I deeply appreciated all the messages that I received. I read all of them. They helped perk my spirits and also motivated me as I realized that so many friends were watching my lap times online. I didn’t want to show them lazy lap times. I eventually did run my first laps over 3 minutes on laps 41 and 43.
At the two-hour mark, we changed directions on the track. When I reached the timing area, I went around cones and headed in the opposite direction. I really enjoyed these change of directions because I could see the faces of all the runners instead of their backs. We all gave each other friendly greetings.
Me running by the maze with cotton field in background
I reached 30K at 2:45, with a 2:54 lap average for that segment, nine minutes ahead of schedule. The closest 24-hour runner out on the track was about 10 laps behind me. My pace was still such that I was passing every runner on the track many, many times. So many other runners were walking together talking, or running slowly together, but I was on my own, pushing the pace and dodging other runners left and right. After the 30K mark, I decided to reward myself with a full walking lap. Lap 61 was my first lap over 4 minutes. In fact, it was over 5 minutes.
Linda and Connor helped me out as a crew, but with a stocked aid station provided by the race, I could also quickly grab a cup or two of coke or a Reeses from the aid station. Linda and Connor amused themselves by playing hide and seek in the maze. Soon they left for lunch. I asked them to bring me back a burger.
Connor owns the maze
The next 10K (miles 19-25) started to get tough. The day became warmer and I started to slow down. I walked about three full laps during this segment. I reached 40K (mile 24.8) at 3:54, right on my goal schedule. My lap average for the segment fell to 3:27. I knew I would slow down more because I needed to stop for a long bathroom break. My next lap time was recorded as 9:51. The nearest 24-hour competitor on the track, was now 11 laps behind. The closest Day 2 48-hour runner was about 15 laps behind. I reached the marathon mark at about 4:16. That seemed to be about the right pace for this type of race. At some time I lost my only pacing goal chart. Linda retrieved my laptop and kindly hand-copied a new sheet for me.
Me taking a drink at the corner around the maze
As far as problems, I had a couple. First the neuroma in my right foot started to act up. This is a bunching of nerves in the ball of my foot that shoot terrible pain up my toes. At times I would scream out in pain. I’ve had this problem before on very flat runs or long steady climbs. I knew that I just needed to “grin and bear it.” Sure enough, in about five miles the pain went away. My second problem was a twinge in my right upper calf. I was very concerned about this. I discovered that if I pushed the pace faster than 3-minute laps, the calf would cry out in pain and get worse, so I backed off the pace. This was very discouraging because I felt strong enough to run faster, but didn’t dare. (Eventually the calf calmed down, probably because of my slower pace. I didn’t feel it again until after I finished.) My quads were also starting to get a little sore from the repetitive motion. At times I would change my pace a little and even skip down the track to use some different muscles.
One of my goals for this race was to beat my PRs for the 50K, 100K, and 100-mile distances. Sure enough, I met my first goal! I reached 50K at 5:02:09, a personal best. If I would have been watching the clock closer, I could have easily beat 5 hours. My closest 24-hour rival on the track was more than 20 laps behind (6 miles). I didn’t have anyone pushing me on the track. That would become a real mental problem for me. I was still lapping everyone out on the track consistently. What I really needed was someone pushing on my tail. I wouldn’t start climbing the leader board of the Day one finishers for another 10 miles.
It was time for another long bathroom break to solve bowl pain once and for all. That lap was slow discouraging 12:39, but it felt like I could now run faster again. My next lap was a speedy 2:55. I walked three full laps during this 10K segment but also strung together nine consecutive sub-3:30-minute laps. Linda and Connor returned with the burger, but at that point, my appetite was gone in the hot afternoon. I never did eat it.
I reached the 60K mark (mile 37) at 6:23:55. My lap time average for that 10K segment went above 4 minutes for the first time (4:05). I walked another three laps during the next 10k segment and reached 70K (mile 43.5) at 7:39:11. I had improved my lap average to 3:46. It was 4:39 p.m. and felt hot to me. I was now 20 minutes behind my goal pace and a little discouraged, but still determined. E-mail continued to arrive from friends during the day encouraging me on. My closest 24-hour rival was 22 laps behind. He would drop out in a few more laps.
Linda and Conner were getting ready to leave for the night. They put a chair for me on the other side of the track from my table. I sat in it for a few minutes. It felt so good to be off my feet. It was 6:23 p.m. Around that time, I discovered that I made a major mistake. I felt a sharp pain on top of my foot. For all these miles, I had a shoe lace too tight. Finally, too late, I noticed the problem, after the tendon was badly inflamed. I loosened things up, but it took quite a few miles for the pain to go away.
I soon lost all my cookies in a garbage can. RD Paul Bonnet was there at the time and was concerned. I assured him that it was no big deal. The heat had gotten to me. Paul joked about the stifling 70-degree heat. I would just start over eating again. He said that was a great attitude. I recovered fast, continued on and reached the 80K (mile 49.7) at 8:56:43, 28 minutes behind my goal. Just one lap further, I beat my best 50-mile time with an 8:59:43! I was pleased to beat 9 hours. I had even strung together four sub-3-minute laps just to see if I could do it. I was really cruising again.
My solution was to perk myself up again with music on my MP3. I probably drove the other runners crazy with my singing, but it energized me and helped me push the pace again. They only had to hear it for a few seconds, as I was still passing every runner on the track. Things continued to go generally well clear to the 100K mark. I arrived at a personal best time of 11:54:06. I was 45 minutes behind my goal schedule, but I no longer cared, and no longer checked the chart. I was pleased to break 12-hours for 100K. Half the time was gone and I had traveled 62 miles. Could I catch Matt and cover another 55 miles in the next 12 hours? It seemed impossible, so I stopped thinking about it.
Instead I started to notice the other runners around me. I would check the chart closer each time I completed a lap to see who I would pass next on the track. I noticed that young 16-year-old Cat Cuda was the next closest 24-hour runner, about ten miles behind me. (She would break youth records for 50K and 100K.) She was still moving well, but I was still lapping her. I slowed at times to chat with other runners including buddy Jim Skaggs. I discovered that I could walk portions of laps and still have a decent lap time if I “sprinted” portions of the lap. I did this several times. More often, I liked to run the long straight-away hard, on the back of the property, cruising past every runner there. And I continued to sing.
The night quickly became cold. All the other runners changed into long pants. I was the only one left in shorts. Finally, around 10:30 p.m., I really started to struggle. I was cold and tired. After completing lap 223, I slipped into the warm large tent and sat down next to a heater and some other tired runners. I just needed a few minutes (seven) to recharge. After getting back to it, I noticed that Cat was catching up, now only nine miles behind. Finally I had something to push me. But Cat was slowing down, just walking around the track in a heavy winter coat. I still didn’t have any competition on the track to push me. In fact, the track was becoming empty. Many of the 72-hour and 48-hour runners were disappearing off the track for naps.
Near midnight, I reached 120K (mile 74.6). It was nice to see myself climbing on the leader board. I was now in 12th place overall, including the Day one runners. How far could I climb up that board? Matt’s name was at the top. At little after midnight, I started slow again. For the first time I noticed some runners passing me. I walked about nine of the next 20 laps. On lap 250, again I ducked into the warm tent, this time throwing myself down on a cot to rest for a few minutes. This was getting very tough. I again pushed myself outside and discovered that my feet were in bad pain after the rest. Some bad soreness or hot spots were developing on the outside edges of both feet. But after a lap or two the pain went away, so I didn’t worry about it much.
The mail slots filled with friendly messages
I craved for mail in my box. It was great fun every two hours to get a few messages. But now during the wee hours, the mail box usually empty, giving me a lonely feeling. One exception, Frank Bott from North Carolina got up in the middle of the night to send me a greeting. Thanks Frank! Hallucinations started to get to me. At one point on the track, your start running toward a statue that includes a bust of a head. That head started to come to life, wanted to talk to me. It was funny. I actually avoided looking toward it each time I ran that section.
My absolute lowest point of the race was between 2:00-3:00 a.m. I only completed 7 laps during that time. After a slow lap of 6:01, I went back in the tent to warm up. I was losing energy. I knew I wasn’t eating enough and as I slowed, I was getting chilled. My feet were also in bad pain. I needed to do something. I thought things through and decided I would bring a bag of my stuff back to the warm tent, change into warmer clothes, and put on new shoes and socks. Instead of running around the track with my bag, I asked someone’s crew to haul the bag to the tent. That was kind of him. When I got to the bag I discovered I had forgotten the socks, so again, I did another lap to retrieve my socks. My stop was a long 18 minutes, with a lap time of 23:16. During my stop, Tim Englund, a talented injured runner who I really respect was so kind and kept me company. He retrieved a couple drinks for me as I discovered that I was very thirsty. He offered more help, but kept saying, “but I know that you know what your are doing.” It was a nice compliment at a time I felt low. He told me how great I was doing and tried hard to perk up my spirits. That was very kind of him.
As I got going again, I felt a very sharp pain in my shoe. I was convinced I had something in my sock. Again, I stopped at the tent, wasting another five minutes taking some sort of large thorn out of my sock. That was frustrating.
Finally, I was on the track again, feeling much better and I actually ran again. I was at the 83-mile mark and it seemed like the miles were turning very slowly. I ran my last sub-4-minute lap (3:42) on lap 280, at 87 miles at about 4 a.m. Things slowed down from there. I had run several laps pretty hard and was now sweating because I was over-dressed for that pace. So, I took off a couple layers to cool off and then I again became cold as I slowed down. It was a constant battle to stay warm without sweating too much.
The singing wasn’t working so I stopped listening to the MP3. I had climbed the leader board into 9th place. I wouldn’t climb any further until I reached 100 miles. Cat and another 24-hour runner quit the race around 3:00 a.m., with 111K. The only remaining 24-hour Day 2 runner on the track was Leslie Herman, who was about 35 miles behind me.
At about 5:30 a.m., I had another very slow lap time. That was due to terrible drowsiness. I again ducked into the tent, threw myself down on a cot to rest my eyes for about five minutes. It helped a lot and I ran the next few laps in under 5 minutes. I plodded on and on. I tried to at least run half laps, but even that was getting to be more difficult. I was running faster than everyone else, but I knew it just wasn’t fast enough. I was anxious to reach the 100-mile mark. I concentrated hard to keep my lap times close to 5 minutes. I walked much of one lap with Jim Skaggs. He encouraged me on and thought I still had time to complete about another 50 laps. 50 laps seemed so far at this point.
I finally reached 100-miles at 22:48. It was a personal best for me. As I crossed over the mat, I announced to those at the start that I just reached 100 miles. They looked up at the board and all cheered. I quickly climbed the 24-hour leader board into 3rd place! I knew I didn’t have time to catch the 2nd place runner.
Beat up, but still smiling in my goofy hat
Now I focused on keeping a good pace for the last hour. I didn’t want to look pathetic in front of the Day three 24-hour starters who were arriving and checking things out. I made sure I ran fast near the start/finish area so I didn’t look like a slacker in front of those watching. It felt like I had energy to clock a sub-3-minute lap, so I tried. But I quickly slowed down as I discovered that my right knee (IT-band) was giving me pain. It wasn’t worth it, so I went back to plodding.
Still running in the morning (me on left)
As the sun rose, the track again filled with runners who had napped during the night. It was great to see so many new friends again. Several started to run fast and I just couldn’t keep up with them any longer.
Finishing my final lap
Linda and Connor arrived with about 30 minutes to go. Linda could tell that I was in my death-march mode. Finally the clock ticked down. I realized that I could only fit two more laps in, so I slowed down and enjoyed the slow two laps to finish. I reached 104.39 miles. I was pleased. I did well, not great, but good. I had learned so much about the race format. I know that I will do better next time with the things I learned.
During the race I received 53 email messages. Thank you all for your kindness! You can actually read them by clicking here.
I stayed at the start to watch the Day three 24-hour runners on their way. Wendell Doman looked impressive and I knew he would eventually win this race. His initial pace was similar to my pace. But he was able to keep it going for much longer.
Paul handing me my buckle
As I took off my shoes and touched my sore feet, I just could not contemplate continuing for another 24 or 48 hours. How could those other runners do it? It was beyond my comprehension. I had deep respect for them. We attended a little awards meeting where I received my 100-mile buckle. Paul and Rodger said kind things about me. They put on a great event.
After showering and resting at the motel, I returned in the late afternoon. I just wanted to see more. Wendell was at about 56 miles, almost a full hour ahead of my pace. Two other runners were near my pace. I wished that I would have had someone pushing me. I went into the big tent and found Jim Skaggs awake. We had fun talking and I finally suggested we go out together to do some laps. He liked the idea since he wasn’t sleeping. So out I went again for some bonus miles!
Jim Skaggs with mail in hand
I wore my coonskin hat so the runners would know who I was without my name bib. I received many greetings and it was so much fun to finally talk to so many of these runners (actually walkers). Jim was in no hurry, at this point just trying to enjoy the experience. We had a great time talking about our experiences. Finally, after about 10 laps, I knew I had enough. I was in pain again. It was time to really stop.
Standings on New Years Eve. My name is third in the list on right.
I went to the start area and talked for a time with famed runner, Hans Bern Bauer who had finished his 48-hour run in the lead, with 165 miles. We both watched Phil Rosenstein reach his 100-mile mark. Rodger Wrublik was busy preparing for the New Year’s party, hanging balloons all over the property. It looked like it would be great fun, but I need to go find some sleep.
This is the screen that changes when you run over the pad
Colors are for the different races
Back at the motel, we all fell asleep at 9 p.m. Somehow I woke up at 11:59. In the dark, I grabbed one of those popping streamers and shot it off. It sounded like a gun. I shot off another. Linda and Connor woke up. Connor shot one off. Two minutes later we were fast asleep. Happy New Year.
I slept in great pain all night, but felt much better in the morning. We again made our way out to the Manor for one last time. I waved to a few runners and checked the leader board. Just then, Wendell Doman ran by and finished the lap that put him into the lead, ahead of Matt. He went on to finish with an impressive 124.58 miles. Another runner, Nick Hollon was still a couple miles behind my mark, but I knew he would pass me. He did, and finished in 3rd, with 107.18. I ended out in 5th place among the 48 24-hour starters.
The winner of the 72-hour race was William Sichel, with 269.364 miles. Whenever I saw him, he was running. That is just amazing. Walker Uli Kamm finished with 204 miles, walking every step. Jeff Hagen at age 61 won the 48-hour race in 180.5 miles. How impressive is that! Jim Skaggs finished his 72-hour run in 18th pace with an impressive 167.77 miles.
I had a great experience and I know I will be back for more. I learned that these fixed-time races are very different from ultra trail races. They have to be treated much differently. Next time I would adapt better and have better strategies. I would take care of my feet better, changing shoe-types about every 8 hours so my feet would wear differently. I would organize a table better so it would be so easy to find things and I wouldn’t have any excuse not to eat. I would watch the clock more closely and keep my later lap times under 5-minutes much better. I would also make sure I ran on a day with some competition to push me.
With this race, I finished 8 100-milers during 2008, a personal record for me. It was a great year.