On Wednesday, January 2, 2008, I returned to my hole in the wall in Columbus, Ohio, from my ninth annual running of Across the Years, my seventh consecutive year in the 72-hour race, where the question most commonly asked by friends both new and old was:
“Why, oh why Ohio?”
It’s a reasonable question for anyone who has ever spent time in both places, but I don’t yet have a satisfying answer regarding why I recently left Arizona to live in Ohio, so it will have to be the subject of another blog entry.
At Across the Years I double as one of the organizers in the months before the race itself, leaving me free to run the race mostly without distraction come race day.
The organizers of Across the Years endeavor to put on an event that is at least the best in its class — perhaps even one that will be regarded by others as one of the best races in the world.
This year featured the best field ever, with runners from twenty-eight states in the US, and from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and France coming together to spend the end of 2007 with a fete of running, many of them past or present holders of world and national records, and with the setting of new records in mind.
Others have itemized and extolled the many features and virtues of Across the Years, which gets better each year, so it’s not necessary for me to repeat all that here. Anyone wanting to know more about it needs only to spend an hour or so exploring the web site, with its pictures, videos, results with splits, statistics, history, FAQ, and other features to get the idea.
It is during the race itself that people can experience it best. At the race site runners, volunteers, and observers alike are easily swallowed up by the spirit of the event, quickly losing their sense of date and time, as for a while the race become their whole world. I find every single year that I must let myself down gently after the race, as it takes a couple of days to get my mind off it and return to normal life.
For those unable to join us, we offer the best webcast in the world of ultrarunning, with live results updated every twelve seconds, a program to send messages to runners that are printed and delivered to labeled mailboxes, a webcam, pictures posted during the race, live news reports, and for the first time this year, a dozen videos created by Jamil Coury during the race and posted on YouTube. If you wonder what makes ATY different from other races, I invite you to view Jamil’s New Year’s Celebration video. When was the last time you saw something like that at an ultra?
The webcast is a feature enjoyed largely by observers. For instance, I myself have never actually seen the webcam in operation, because I’m always busy running. It serves the purpose of making the race more of a spectator sport, something quite rare in the world of ultrarunning. The organizers have received an overwhelming number of enthusiastic and appreciative messages from persons who followed the race for hours at a time, sometimes getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to track how far their favorite runners had progressed.
The ATY Greetings Package has become a runaway hit among runners and visitors alike. I have become adamant about reminding people that it is not an email system, and bears only some resemblance to email. As I have illustrated to others: You can call a wrench a hammer—if you intend to use it to pound in nails. But you may be disappointed with the results. However, if you have another job in mind, such as holding and twisting a nut, that misnamed hammer might be just the thing you’re looking for. Similarly, the ATY Greetings Package, which I call “I Can’t Believe It Isn’t Email,” suits well the purpose for which it was designed.
It was with the idea of promoting the use of this service that at the prerace meeting on the second day that Paul quizzed those in attendance: “Who knows what’s better than email?” In response, someone piped up: “Female!” I would be hard pressed to argue the point.
The race progressed as usual. At 9:00 AM each day a new batch of runners started running around the 500-meter dirt track. I’m the only person who can say he has run every day of every race ever held at Nardini Manor, so you might say I know every inch of that track. The surface was in lovely condition at the start, but by the second day it got beat up and hard. No one seemed to mind.
Because my attention has been consumed by moving the last few months, my running has dropped of radically. I arrived at the race basically untrained for it, having run 76.3 miles at the San Francisco 24-Hour in late October, and no long run except one of twenty-six miles on November 24th, single runs of fifteen and ten before and after that, and almost no other running at all.
The race brought my year’s total running mileage up to 1912 miles, less by several hundred miles than any year since 1998, and far short of what I have run in recent years, always in the 2200-2400 mile range.
Consequently, I arrived with a multi-tiered set of goals for the race:
- 325 KM (201.95 Miles) — my originally stated goal, unfazed by there being no hope of reaching it;
- 170 Miles — realistic if I had an exceptional outing;
- 150 Miles — pretty good if I could do it, but not great;
- 120 Miles — the mileage below which I would experience total humiliation.
In the end I ran 154.100 miles, and took it easy after reaching 150. I could have reached 160 if I had chosen to go for it, but decided not to. I ran hard the last three laps in order to chink up the number of whole miles one more notch. That brought my lifetime total miles at Across the Years up to 1355.33, where I remain in fourth place all time behind Harold Sieglaff, and Martina Hausmann, who surged far ahead of David Upah this year, now in third place.
Happily, I never experienced any significant physical problems: no blisters, no unexpected aches, and most importantly, NO RUNNER’S LEAN, which destroyed both of my last two ATY races.
Sometimes I have little problem with sleep deprivation; at others it bothers me badly. My sleep strategy was to stay out on the track as long as I could, but if I needed to sleep, then do it. Normally I’m one of the runners who can be found out there banging out laps at 3:00 AM while other much faster runners are in their tents sawing logs.
Sometimes it’s easier to fight sleep and revive, perhaps with the aid of caffeine, than to rest, then have to deal with getting stiff, waking up, and going back out into the cold in putrid wet clothing and aching feet. But the desire to sleep can be inexorable. In 2007 it haunted me relentlessly.
After analyzing my splits I concluded that I slept a total of about twelve hours during the race, which is more than usual for me. I have gotten by on as little as four hours for the whole race.
In my experience, the single most challenging difficulty to cope with at Across the Years is the cold at night. Winter in the southwest desert is not extreme, but the dry air drives temperatures down at night. Add to that being physically exhausted, sleepy, clammy, filthy, and starting to ache by the first night, and the occasional hallucinations, and you have conditions that are impossible to ignore, even beneath several layers of clothing.
ATY 2007 experienced unseasonably cold weather at night, with official high temperatures the 29th of December through January 1st of 55/31, 59/30, 63/33, and 70/46. The last night was comfortable through the early evening hours, but as the night wore on, it, too, became uncomfortable. About 10:00 PM on the third night, gusty winds arrived, sometimes impaling the balloons that were being put up for the New Year’s celebration on the barbs atop the chain link fences.
The story of Across the Years is invariably one of the people involved, which we call the ATY Family, so it would be appropriate to mention various runners by name along with memories of my encounters with them this race.
- Race founder Harold Sieglaff was notable by his absence his year. Paul Bonnett carried Harold’s chip and number around the track with him on the one-lap “togetherness&quit; lap for runners, families, and friends at midnight, January 1st. With 2426.22 miles, Harold still maintains a lead of 810.95 miles in lifetime mileage over second place Martina Hausmann, and will likely remain the only 2000-mile jacket holder for several years to come. If an annual standard marathon awarded 2000-mile jackets, you would have to run seventy-eight of them to get one.
- The inimitable Ray Krolewicz was full of stories, including about how he won a marathon in 1985 and arrived home to find his house burned down, but his family safe. He was also able to tell me that one kilometer is equal to 0.62137119 miles (to eight decimal places), and was able to calculate quickly in his head exactly how many kilometers I needed to have 150 miles. It made sense to me to watch the lap count and KM display on the board rather than the miles, since the course at Nardini Manor is a 500-meter track, and the mileage increases by the odd 0.31 miles per lap — frustrating when you have just passed a new mile plus a low decimal, because it takes four laps for the mileage integer to increment by one, whereas you add a new kilometer every other lap.
- Pete Stringer beat me by 1.5 miles despite spending most of the third day in his sleeping bag with flu. Pete is 66, and his two-day performance might have netted him fifth place overall in the 48-hour race.
- Daniel Larson was magnificent with his long, flowing hair and some of the most impressive leg muscles I’ve seen. Daniel won the 24-hour race in 2005, and was among those who were running fast at the beginning but did not go out beyond his ability, which some others may have done. In the wee hours of the morning I encountered Daniel at the aid station, when he seemed to be the only one out there not engaged in a death march, and I told him I was glad to see there was someone still interested in running this race. Daniel was not sure he agreed.
- Very late the second night we were astonished to see someone go blazing by with the speed of a Bill Rogers, then again, then again and again, for eight or ten laps. It took a few laps for me to realize that it was Nick Coury, the middle brother between Jamil and Nate, all of whom are excellent runners. After the race, Nick, who is 20, rattled off a 1:21 lap (which maps to about a 1:04 or less 400), and Nate, who is 17, followed with a 1:27. The Courys, obvious examples of fine parenting, were all there as volunteers this year.
- John Geesler is one of the swellest guys in the game. He has had some spectacularly good outings, but he has also encountered some rough spots. I admire John for never stopping. I’ve never seen him inside the big tent except for before and after the race. He’s there to run or walk, not lie around resting and wondering how to save his race. Late on the third night I encountered John going so slowly that even I was passing him. He said: “Only reason I’m doin’ this is cuz I got nothin’ else to do. … Just the sheer joy of it.” Despite his low moments, John got 250 miles in the 72-hour, second only to Tony Mangan, which most years is good enough to win it.
- Tony Mangan from Ireland came fully pumped and ready to go for all he could get. That he fell short of his original goal I will attribute to likely being a problem with the cold weather. But Tony won the race, with over 273 miles.
- Pretty Carrie Sauter was a first timer in the 72-hour race, crewed by her husband Craig and friend Harry. When I first saw this delicate lady, not knowing her except through email, I wondered if she knew what she was getting into and is tough enough for a race of this type. Carrie ran courageously, smiling the whole time. She kept talking about how blessed she felt to be included in the race, and in the process nailed down an outstanding performance of 203 miles.
- Jim O’Neil and Sue Norwood arrived a couple of days early, and remained quite visible around Nardini Manor, helping out where they could before the race. Jim and Sue are primarily trail people — Sue hiked the entire Appalachian Trail two years ago, with Jim crewing — and ATY was their first attempt at a 24-hour race. Appropriately, they got exactly the same mileage running on two different days. Jim and Sue are true friends of ultrarunning, and a joy to know.
- Pam Reed, one of the most famous ultrarunners in the world, quit the 24-hour race after twenty hours with 94 miles. I never did get to ask her what went wrong, but she had written earlier to switch from the 48-hour race, where she had hoped to set a record, to the 24-hour, saying that she’d had a tough year.
- Marshall Ulrich, one of the world’s most accomplished adventure racers, showed up to do the 72-hour race as a tune-up before his upcoming transcontinental race, ran 56 miles, and packed up and went home. Apparently it wasn’t his day. I was sad that I did not have a chance to meet him.
- Glen Turner, also planning a transcontinental, experienced no such lapse. Glen finished the 72-hour with 235 miles, for third place behind Tony and John.
- Paul DeWitt, who showed up with ambitions to break the American 24-hour record, found that he was unable to overcome a hamstring injury that has been plaguing him, so dropped with 66 miles, but reported many positive thoughts about his experience at ATY and his quest for the record in the race report on his blog, and will aim to be back.
- Tracy Thomas, last year’s 72-hour women’s race winner and course record holder, has been fighting an IT band injury all year, and left after 50 hours and 175 miles — a fine performance by most standards, but not to someone who in other circumstances could win the race.
- Aaron Goldman, who at 75 years of age is eleven years older than me on the dark end of the scale, made me laugh out loud very late one night as we were lumbering together down the east stretch, when he said: “There’s no way to stereotype ultrarunners!” No kidding. As usual, Aaron beat me by ten miles, despite a mondo case of runner’s lean so severe I wondered how he could stand up at all. Year after year Aaron continues to provide hope to me, and something to reach for at next year’s race.
- Don Winkley had no qualms about loading all his running gear in his 1981 De Lorean, driving it 1150 miles from Corpus Christie TX, and parking it for three days in an unpaved rocky parking lot.
- Gavin Wrublik, age 6, got into the act this year when he asked his father to give him a transponder and a 72-hour bib, then went out and started knocking down laps. His 7.767 miles makes him the youngest participant in Across the Years ever. And if I know the family, I daresay it will not be his last time.
- Aaron Doman, age 12, got 50 miles, looking good the whole time. I told his father Wendell that he looks like a real runner. Wendell responded: “He is a real runner!”
- Ethan Pence, age 11, ran 35 miles and had a very strong finish, while both his parents also did well in their own races.
- Alene Nitzky, the co-race director of ATY in 2003, is running well again after battling health problems, putting herself through nursing school, and moving to Colorado. She had an outstanding 48-hour run.
- Friends of ultrarunning ZombieRunners Don Lundell and Gillian Robinson put up commendable numbers. Don, the master of pacing, always gets his 100 miles (103 this year); Gillian got 126 miles in her first 48-hour race despite little training due to the demands of their flourishing business.
- Christopher O’Loughlin, who has served the race as nurse since before I became associated with it, and who just said no to a life threatening illness, is back among us and got 100 miles this year.
- David Ammons has used his ATY runs to raise money each year for the National Parkinson Foundation — close to $75,000 in seven years — and meantime this year belted out an admirable 104 miles.
- “Energetic Rick” Cheever, age 25 and a triathlete, back for the third time, stepped up from the 24-hour to the 72-hour race as a result of a last-minute cancellation, battled hard for three days with the support of an excellent and attentive crew.
- Debbie Richmeier may have been the dark horse performer of the race, with her total of 167 miles to win the women’s 48-hour race. Debbie won the 48-hour also in 2000, and told me she believes she can still get 180 miles and would love to try.
- Dave Combs, the race timer, has now worked with us the last three years, and helped me out immeasurably by stepping in to perform tasks I was simply unable to get to because of my move, and in the process brought his own fresh ideas particularly to the presentation of the results listings, which are now better than ever.
In the end, six runners got over 220 miles in the 72-hour race, and nine over 200 miles. In the 24-hour race two runners (Daniel Larson and Dave Putney) got over 130 miles, while 12 received 100-mile buckles. Ron Vertrees finally received his jacket for accumulating over 1000 miles lifetime, and well beyond.
Across the Years remains an event that is fun but extremely challenging, even dangerous — not something to be undertaken frivolously. People can and do get injured or sick from running it, and one person has died. As I read the email filtering in on the Ultra list from people who were there this year, I am learning that an unusual number — including yours truly — experienced diarrhea, vomiting, and other unpleasant sideeffects following the race. But for the serious ultrarunner looking for a race in which to reach his ultimate potential, I can recommend no better than Across the Years.
- The Myth of the Lonely Long-Distance Runner (time.com)