To close out 2011, I again ran in Across the Years (ATY), a fixed-time race held in Glendale, Arizona.  For a fixed-time race, the objective is to run as many miles as you can within a given period of time.  The clock is always ticking.  You can take rests along the way, but the clock never stops.  At ATY, there are three different races, running concurrently, 24-hours, 48-hours, and 72-hours.   This year I again decided to enter the 48-hour race.   Last year I also ran for 48-hours and came away with a surprising 187 miles, good enough for the overall win.

This year I set my sights on running 200 miles in 48-hours.  I really thought it was within the reach of my abilities, and if I could achieve that, I would likely win the race again.  But I had experienced a rather disappointing year in my races.  Sure, I had finished nine 100-mile races without a DNF this year, but my times were all slower this year and I began to wonder if my age (53) was really finally slowing me down once and for all.   My speed during my last 100-mile race was disappointing and it seemed that being able to run 100 miles in less than 20 hours was a thing of the past for me. 

For the past two months, I had trained very hard, running more miles in a two-month stretch than I ever had in my life. I even had six consecutive weeks of more than 100 training miles. I added core and upper-body workouts and came into the race, likely in the best shape of my life and injury-free.  I was focused and determined.

This year, ATY was being held for the first time at Camelback Ranch, the spring training facility for the Los Angeles Dodgers.   We would run on a wonderful wide 1.05-mile dirt path loop (with a couple hundred yards of pavement.)   I’m asked, “Isn’t it boring running in circles?”  Perhaps for some, but this type of race feeds my completive spirit.  It is me against the clock, and at times me against other competitors.  My mind is in constant motion, and the time flies by as I concentrate on doing the things needed to keep my pace going and reach my goals.

I flew to Arizona with my son Kevin who would be running in his first 24-hour race.  We checked in at race headquarters and set up our personal aid station near the edge of the track, complete with table, chairs and a tent.  For the first day, Kevin would “crew” me, assisting me during my stops and filling my fluid bottles.  On the second day, Kevin would run his race, so on Day 2, we would both be running on the track.

This year in the 48-hour race, there would be a larger field, 44 runners from all over the country and world.   It looked like I had three key competitors, Tom Jackson, a close friend who married into the family of my best friend from high school.  Tom is a few years younger and usually beats me in the 100-milers that we run, but he was a rookie to fixed-time racing, so didn’t have the experience to help. He did follow my progress very carefully last year, so knew what it took to do well.   Matt Watts, another close friend could run big miles.   He isn’t speedy, but he is very steady.  Even when he can no longer run, he can walk at 15-minute-mile forever.   Kermit Cuff is a talented runner who had beat me at Moab 100 a few years ago.  He could also put up big miles.   I thought that between the four of us, one of us would come out victorious.  Between us, we had more than one hundred 100-mile finishes. It is interesting to consider that all four of us are over 50 years old, Tom being the youngest.   There was one other wildcard in the race, a young, fast runner, Luis Miral.   But it appeared that he had never run more than 50 miles, so I predicted that he would stay close to me early, but later fade.

The evening before the race, Kevin and I enjoyed going to a Phoenix Suns game and then we settled down for the night at a motel.   Unfortunately during the day, I was hit by a bad cold.  All night I suffered from a terrible sinus headache, causing me to wake up over and over again.  I knew I desperately needed a good night’s rest, but it didn’t come.

I felt somewhat better in the morning as we made our way to Camelback Ranch.  I was surprised to see frost on the grass and I hoped that cool temperatures would continue, but I knew the forecast called for heat for the next couple days.   Last year it had rained nearly the entire first day and was bitter cold the next.  Things would be much different this year.   Kevin and I finished setting up our aid station and I was ready to go.

For Day 1 we had about 130 runners start, all the 72-hour runners, the first group of 48-hour runners, and the first group of 24-hours.   On Day 2, another group of 48-hour runners would start, and Kevin would run his 24-hour race.  The Day 2 48-hour runners would have an advantage of knowing how far the Day 1 runners had gone, but we were all in the same race.

My objective for the first 24-hours was to run nearly 120 miles.   I believed if I could do that, my goal of 200 miles would be within a realistic reach.   However, I knew that for me, anything beyond 100 miles was a mystery.   I was confident in my ability to reach 100 miles, but beyond that is tough, so many factors could affect me.  I would just do my best and try very hard to minimize my stop time.

I always start out pretty fast, and sure enough I completed the first loop ahead of all the other 130 runners (24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour).  I lapped my first runners on my second loop.  Many would walk every step.  I enjoyed the track, it was very nice and there was plenty to see running by the ball fields and ponds.  On the downside, there was almost zero shade.  We would be exposed to the hot Arizona sun for the entire day.

Running hard, passing runners

At the end of each loop, we could see a real-time board that would show the latest several runners completing that lap, so I could check on my pace and a few other runners around me.  Unfortunately they never displayed a leader board for us, which made it hard to tell where our competition was.   If I wanted to know for sure, I would complete a loop behind a person and then check out their mileage and pace on the board.

Pond on Cammelback Ranch

I held the overall lead on mileage for a few laps, but then Joe Fejes, a 72-hour runner passed me going very fast.   He would soon be lapping me, going at a blistering fast pace for a 72-hour runner.   Last year I led all 72-hour runners for my entire 48-hours.   Joe had his sights to break the ATY 72-hour record of over 330 miles.   One Day 1 he would lap me over and over again, run 133 miles, and go on to win the 72-hour race with 280 miles.

As I had predicted, Luis Miral, the young, fast, 37-year-old in the 48-hour race was keeping pace with me and he eventually went ahead and lapped me.  I was never really concerned but kept track of his progress.

View of one of the many ball fields from the trail

My pace was strong, but the heat of the day was getting to me immediately.  It got up to about 72 degrees, but it felt like 85.  My early laps were fast, I didn’t record my first lap over 10 minutes until mile 18.  Laps over 11-minutes started to happen at mile 25.  For each lap, I could stop at my personal aid station to grab something.  I probably stopped way too often, but it was nice to have anything I really needed so close.

ATY is a very social event for most of the runners, but I was so focused on my race, that I didn’t spend much time chatting, other than a quick hello or wave as I would lap runners.   I did run with Tom Jackson at times for a little while as we encouraged each other and caught up on our mutual friends.   Tom was running in 3rd place, several laps behind me and Luis.

I reached the marathon distance at 3:54, and 50K at 4:50, slower than last year, but right on the pace I hoped for. With the heat of the afternoon my lap times were creeping over 12 minutes.  I reached the 50-mile mark at about 8:32, about a half hour slower than planned.  But at dusk, the temperatures dropped and my speed increased.  I was able to find sub-10-minute pace for a few laps and was feeling much better.  Kevin went for a pizza run, bringing back a nice dinner.  He was enjoying watching the race and getting excited about his own race to start in the morning.

At the 12-hour mark, I had reached mile 66 and was close to my schedule again.   It was so nice to be running in cool weather again.  At mile 68, at about 9:30 p.m., I told Kevin, “I’m going to try to run a fast lap.”   I turned on the jets and Kevin moved over to the screen to see how I did.  My pace was 10:17, but it felt like I was flying, because I was “sprinting” past all the other runners around me, even Joe.  Mile 72 was a fast 9:52 mile.  It was at that point, that I passed Luis for 1st place.   It appeared that he had been taking longer stops.  My lead grew fast.

Tom Jackson running strong earlier in the day

As I lapped Tom Jackson again, I let him know that he was in 3rd place.  He was about a mile ahead of several other runners, but probably about seven miles behind me.  I reached the 100K mark at about 11:03.   I told Kevin to post that on my Facebook, mentioning that I had reached 100K and had only thrown up three times so far.  I was now 23 minutes behind my goal pace, but doing fine.   Runners started to disappear from the track for the night as they turned in to sleep, but about half of us continued on.   I was one of the few runners actually still running.

Board showing my 100 miles and huge lead over Tom and other 48-hour runners (in green)

During the night, I focused on reaching a personal record (PR) for the 100-mile distance.   My pace was slowing, but was pretty consistent, between 13-14-minute pace, including stops.  I didn’t push too hard, just kept the pace going.  I reached 100 miles at 19:40, about six minutes faster than last year, a PR for 100 miles!   I was pleased, and it brought new confidence to me.  I next set my sights on the 24-hour mark.

Kevin woke up at 7:30 a.m. and started to get ready for his race.   Matt Watts also arrived to start his 48-hours.   Part-way through a lap, I could hear a horn at the start blowing for the next race to start.   I had run 117.8 mile during the first 24-hours!  More than a mile further than last year.   (It turned out that if I would have run the 24-hour race, I would have been the men’s champion of that huge race of 140 runners.  One elite woman runner, Anna Piskorska, would run 122 miles.)  Despite the heat, it had been a good day.

Soon all the Day 2 runners came running toward me.  Every four hours we changed directions, so when I finished that lap, I would change to run the same direction as these new starters.  It was fun to see all the new fast runners on the track.   I hoped that all the 48-hour runners noticed how many miles I had already run.   I had about an 11-mile lead on Tom Jackson who was now in 2nd place.  When we ran together he congratulated me and thought that the lead was much too large to overcome.  I hoped that was true, but knew that the real race is determined by Day 2.  Anything could happen.

Painful toe – many more miles to run on it

I soon stopped for a long 20 minutes to do foot care and change my shoes.  That turned out to be a big mistake because I changed into my road shoes which didn’t have enough toe box room because my feet at swelled a little.  Within ten miles, one of my big toes would be shredded, and I had to make another long stop to repair things and change into a 3rd pair of shoes.

Kevin was doing great running his race.  He lapped me a couple times but then I didn’t see him for a long time because our pace was nearly the same.  He was somewhere on the opposite side of the course.  We were able to run with each other for a couple laps.   I also enjoyed running a bit with buddies Paul Grimm and Matt Watts who would always make me laugh.

Things started to really crumble around me by noon.  The heat of the day slammed me. I became nauseous and experienced low energy.  Finally I had to lie down in a shady spot near the pond.  Runners would keep asking me if I was OK.

Garmin track

For much of the afternoon, I went very slowly and runners around me passed me over and over again asking if I was OK.   At about 3 p.m., I stopped at the air-conditioned restroom and ended up just lying on the floor for about 15 minutes trying to bring down my body temperature.  I wasn’t thinking very straight.  My goal for 200 miles was slipping away, but I should have next focused on keeping my 48-hour lead.   I still had a big lead.   I could have put together a good strategy to keep it, but I didn’t.  I should have gone and sat in my air-conditioned car for a half hour to recover, but I didn’t.   I pushed on.  My stomach was in bad shape.  The only thing I could tolerate was pieces of pumpkin pie at the aid stations.

Next, I experienced terrible knee pain.  If I stopped, it was stiffen up terribly, causing me to walk for a half mile until it loosened up again.  This was very discouraging.  As the sun started to set, I concluded that this just wasn’t working right any more.  I couldn’t continue doing 18-minute laps and hope to win this race, so I stopped to try to take a nap in my tent at mile 142.  I put in ear plugs and rested for more than an hour.  I hoped for cooler temperatures, but inside my tent it stayed warm.  Finally I got up, and feeling somewhat better, I hit the track again at 6 p.m.

I now had less than a two-mile lead over Tom.   He was going strong, doing sub-15 loops.   I had to stop again to do foot-care, and finally Tom lapped me again and took the lead at about the 145-mile mark.  I knew that it was his race to win now.  Each time he passed me, he was a champ and slowed down to run with me, to discuss my challenges and offer suggestions.

I knew my race was just about done.  My lap times were going over 20 minutes.  At one point I threw up very violently, leaving me with a very sore stomach.  This had been about the sixth time I had thrown up.  It was now cooler, but the heat had done its damage.  I had told many runners that I would take the cold rain from last year any day.  They would look at me like I was crazy.

Drowsiness slammed me.   One runner mentioned that I looked like a drunk.  I was stumbling along, my head would droop down, falling toward the ground over and over again, and I would weave back and forth.  My pace was very slow.  Mile 149 took 24 minutes.

Finally at 8:30 p.m., I was finished.   I had reached 150 miles and that was fine.  I was too sick and sleepy to continue.   I got in my tent and called my wife to say I was finished. I was content.  Kevin was still going strong and hoped to reach 80 miles.  I again put in ear plugs and tried to find sleep.  It was terribly uncomfortable to be a sweaty mess in my sleeping bag, but I didn’t have the strength to go out and try to wash up.   Rest came, and I must have found a little sleep because the hours passed quickly.

Finally at about midnight, I saw a shadow on the tent.  Kevin was making another visit.  I took out my ear plugs and asked how he was doing.   He was slowing and had made a visit to the warming tent.   Again just like last year, I quickly decided that it was stupid to quit, so I got up and got ready. It helped that I hated to lie in my sweaty mess. It took me a half hour to get ready because I had to change into yet another pair of shoes and do careful foot taping.   The crew next to us was surprised to see me getting ready to leave again.  One lady had mentioned to Kevin that she was very worried about me, that I looked terrible.  Kevin told her not to worry, that it was normal.  One major problem was that my cold had worked its way into my lungs so I was hacking up stuff, making gross noises.

At 12:30 a.m., I was back at it and felt 100% better.   My stomach was finally OK again and I could run.  I soon was running sub-11-minute loops which was a huge difference compared to most of the others plodding along at 20-minute loops.  I was running so fast, that I took off my jacket and was the only one on the track running in shorts and short sleeves.

I got lots of compliments.   It was super fun and I was so pleased to feel well again.   Where was Tom?  He wasn’t on the track.   Since they didn’t have a leader board, I didn’t know how far ahead he was.  Could I catch up to him?  Maybe there was still hope!   I did some calculations and believed that reaching last year’s 187 miles was out of the question now, the best I could hope for now was 180 miles after that 4.5 hour rest.

Several laps later, I passed a runner. It was Tom.   I slowed down to run the rest of the lap with him.  He had been taking a nap in the warming tent.   I was at 157 miles, he was at 172 miles.  That was very discouraging to hear, but I was pleased for Tom.  We focused on how far Tom could get.   He thought he could still get into the 190s.   I encouraged him on.  There were a couple day-two starters that could catch him, including Kermit Cuff, but I told him that in most years if a runner goes over 180 miles, he wins.  Tom said I looked much better, that the last time he had seen me I looked very pale and probably had a fever.

My motivation and leg pain took a hit and my laps slowed.    I knew there was now no hope in getting the win.  So I just tried to enjoy the rest of the race and see how many miles I could do.   My pace for the rest of the race was better than Tom’s, I did lap him a couple times, but he was solid.  At mile 162, I went into the warming tent for a couple minutes to rest my eyes.  Tom was sitting there and very soon Kevin came in too and announced he was finished. He had reached 62 miles, a great effort.  He had never run over 50 miles before.   He had set PR times for 50K and 50 miles.  I was proud of him.  He said that many times runners would come up behind him, see Crockett on his bib and ask if he was related to me.

As dawn arrived, Tom and I ran parts of several laps together.   Others came out on the track.  Kevin appeared with his towel under his arm, ready for a shower.  I told him to put that off, come and run several more laps.   He did and reached 66.    Tom reached 187.95 miles, just a little further than I did last year.  He would worry about the Day 2, runners, but none of them would catch either of us.  (Matt Watts decided to make this a vacation, and after running 40 miles, went back to his motel for about 16 hours.   He still reached 144 miles.  I know he could have won it if he would have really wanted it.   Kermit Cuff’s pace was ahead of mine at 150 miles, but he would falter and stop at 162.7 miles.)

The morning was beautiful and I had great fun talking to other runners and joking with them during my final hour, taking pictures and video  My last two lap times were good, 15:42 and 14:35.

I reached 174.30 miles, 2nd place, very respectable, I’m pleased.   I knew that only one person older than me had even run further than 174 miles at ATY-48.  My 174 miles was also an ATY-48 record for a 53-year old.  My name is now listed for the most miles for age 52 and 53.

Board showing my final lap

That last 24 miles took its toll.   My right leg was in rough shape, injured.  I had just tried to shut off the pain.  As I would be walking along, I would say, “Let’s go, ignore it!” and then start running at 10:00 pace for awhile.  Usually the pain would calm down while running faster.

I felt pretty fine after finishing and enjoyed watching the Day 3 24-hour runners start the race.   I also bid good-bye to many of the runners still on the track.   Kevin and I went and took a shower and then lay down in the shade of our tent and table, finding a little restless sleep.

But soon it became very hot, pushing 80 degrees, so we scrambled to pack our things up and head to the airport. At the airport, Kevin and I were quite the sight.   We both could hardly walk.  Doing it again, I should have just asked for a wheel chair.   I could hardly walk at all, in terrible pain.

Once home, I felt worse than I had after any race.   My body had been slammed by heat, miles, and terrible leg pain. 24 hours later as I tracked the conclusion of the race online, I felt much better but still can hardly walk.

Looking back, I was a little disappointed, but I know that any distance above 100 miles is a mystery.   Tom was able to handle the heat and sleep deprivation better than me.  I’m now convinced that I need to plan for at least a 4-hour rest and just schedule that into my plan.   I am very proud of my Day 1 accomplishment and look forward to racing a 24-hour race in the near future to see what I can really do if 24-hours if I push hard.

Each dot is a lap in minute-miles. Shows things fell apart about mile 140

48-hour results

Place Name Miles

1

Tom Jackson

187.9142

2

Davy Crockett

174.2668

3

Kermit Cuff

162.719

4

Luis Miral

150.1214

5

Karsten Solheim

150.1214

6

Karen Bonnett

148.0218

7

Matthew Watts

144.8724

8

Jamie Huneycutt

137.5238

9

Miles Krier

135.4242

10

Robin Saenz

135.4242

11

Sarah Duncan

131.225

12

Ed Furtaw

122.8266

13

Susie Ro

113.3784

14

Tom Pelsor

111.2788

15

Tammy Massie

108.1294

16

Fran Mason

108.1294

17

Marilou Russell

108.1294

18

Jill Hudson

107.0796

19

Brian Gebhart

104.98

20

Yolanda Holder

103.9302

21

Dan Bowser

103.9302

22

Amanda Mahowald

103.9302

23

Cyndie Merten

102.8804

24

Scott Verwolf

101.8306

25

Dan Brenden

100.7808

26

Tammy Bagdasarian

100.7808

27

Karl Michel

100.7808

28

Ed Jelmberg

100.7808

29

Damon Steed

100.7808

30

Timothy Lubbers

100.7808

31

Don Winkley

100.7808

32

Terri Handy

95.5318

33

Deborah Goodwin

88.1832

34

Jesse Doggett

86.0836

35

Betty Smith

80.8346

36

Rose Bak

71.3864

37

Steve Papp

70.3366

38

Marty Kennedy

64.0378

39

Cathy Tibbetts

64.0378

40

Eric Waterman

62.988

41

Matthew Bednorz

62.988

42

Christopher Rios

48.2908

43

Darren Elledge

41.992

44

Bill Latter

31.494