2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  INTRODUCTION TO ATY: ACROSS THE YEARS
24-, 48-, AND 72-HOUR RUNS

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

 
". . . Especially since moving to Nardini Manor, the race has increased in quality by an order of
magnitude each of the past four years to the point that it's hard to imagine how we could make
it much better. But raising the bar is what ATY does, so I'm sure next time will be even better . . ."
 
-   from Webmaster Lynn David Newton's 2006 race report
 

 

Hi! I'm back after more than a two-month hiatus from journal-writing. Jim and I have been busy living life at home in Virginia and training for our first serious attempt at running a 24-hour race at the prestigious Across the Years Run in Phoenix, Arizona in less than two weeks.

Back on October 6  I talked about the variety of fixed-time ultras that are available and listed a number of advantages and disadvantages to running races like this. ATY has some qualities that are unique even among the fixed-time events, so I'd like to talk more specifically about the race here.

Webmaster Lynn David Newton does an exceptional job with the ATY website and I encourage everyone who's reading this journal to spend some time perusing it before New Year's weekend. (It'll be a nice escape from all the Christmas hoopla!) You can see a list of the entrants to all the races and their photos, "bios," and distance goals; results from prior races (this is the event's 25th anniversary, so there are lots of results); a wealth of detailed information and FAQs about the race; race history and how it ended up at its current location; interesting race reports; thousands of photos; links to the ATY discussion group; and much, much more.

I'll give the basics here and tell you about some of the things that make ATY so special. Since we haven't been there before we don't have any of our own race photos. I'll copy a few from the extensive collection on the website and give the photographers credit if it's clear who they are (please let me know ones that aren't identified so I can acknowledge them).

THE ABCs OF ATY

For a while the full name of the race was Across the Years, Decades, Centuries, and Millennia 24-, 48-, and 72-Hour Run, Walk, Eat and Nap. Whew! More recently the website says Across the Years 72/48/24-Hour Footrace - Raising the Bar!  It's commonly abbreviated to just Across the Years. I refer to it mostly in this journal as ATY.

The three races for which records can be set all end at 9 AM on New Year's Day. Participants run "across the years" from 2007 to 2008 at midnight on New Year's Eve, at which time the whole place is in party mode for a few minutes. Then the runners who are on the course get back to the business of running and walking as far as they can in the time allowed. Spectators and volunteers can continue to party, if they wish!

This is the very cool race logo

Three races begin at 9AM on Saturday, December 29: the first of three separate 24-hour races, the first of two 48-hour races, and everyone in the 72-hour race. The second 24-hour race and the second 48-hour race begin at 9AM on Sunday. The third 24-hour race begins at 9AM on Monday, New Year's Eve.

The numbers of runners has changed a little since we entered in August, but about 112 are registered for the three races with 54 in the 24-hour events, 22 in the 48-hour runs, and 36 hardy souls in the 72-hour race. The 24- and 48-hour folks are divvied out such that there are 68-69 runners on the track each day.

Originally Jim and I requested to both run in the first 24-hour race that begins on Saturday and that's where we were placed. But recently we realized it would be a lot smarter to run on separate days so we can crew for each other and not have to worry about dog boarding/pet sitting during the race. It also gives me a chance to observe the first day while I'm performing my volunteer duties and crewing for Jim. I was hesitant to bother the race director, but he quickly granted my request to change dates when I asked him. (It helped that there were fewer runners on the track on Sunday than Saturday!)   

So -- Jim's running on from 9AM on Saturday, December 29 to Sunday at 9AM. I'm running from 9AM Sunday, December 30 until 9AM on Monday. (You'll see below why I mention this . . . ) When we aren't running or sleeping, we'll be volunteering, crewing, and watching the folks running on the third day and night.

THE VENUE

ATY is held at the beautiful five-acre Nardini Manor ( http://www.nardinimanor.com ) located west of Phoenix, Arizona.  Roger Wrublik, his wife Tana, and their family and staff host large wedding receptions and other events here, so hosting about 112 ATY runners and their entourages is a "natural" for them. (Ha! I imagine there was a big learning curve the first year and this event is much different than ones lasting only a few hours.).

Here is a diagram of the property from the website, shown approximately as it is laid out for the race each year. The running path is the yellow line forming a triangle shape around the perimeter of the property:

Runners can set up crewing areas with their own tables, canopies, tents, etc. along the running path near the official aid station or their vehicles. Or they can just put a drop bag with extra clothing and gear somewhere convenient and get all their food and fluids from the aid station -- or a combination of both. Some runners have crews, some don't. The race staff and other volunteers take such good care of the runners that a crew isn't necessary here for even the 72-hour runners.

Various tents house food, medical, restroom, and sleeping facilities and include a huge 60 x 100-foot heated tent that serves as a "quiet zone" during the race so runners can sleep before, during, or after their event. Many runners set up their own little tents inside the large one so they'll have more privacy when sleeping and changing clothes. New, improved aid station and timing tents will be used this year.

The 500-meter hard-packed crushed stone path that Rodger built is certified as a road course, not a track course. Timing is with a sophisticated chip system. Runners cross the timing mat every lap, with immediate results shown on a large screen for about 25 runners at a time. Don Charles (DC) Lundell took this photograph at last year's event:

Lynn Newton took the next picture at the end of the race on New Year's Day 2007 (considered the 2006 race because most of it was run in 2006). It shows the start/finish line, timing tent, and mat that records the runners' information each time they finish a lap. 

This year's timing tent will be black so glare on the laptop computers will be reduced. This is just one example of the attention to detail for which ATY is renowned. 

Take a look at some of the photos on the website from last year's race so you can get a feel for the venue -- the elegant white mansion in a country setting, the canal and farms surrounding the estate (with some farm-related fragrances, we hear!), the gazebo and statuary that is lighted at night, the flags depicting runners' home states and countries, the nice, smooth running path . . . We can't wait to see it all in person.

But that's not all that makes this race special. Read on!

WHAT MAKES ATY SO SPECIAL?

There is a plethora of ultra races in every conceivable setting and in a multitude of formats. Each one is different, even within the same genre.

Some races remain very small or eventually die because there isn't enough to keep runners motivated to return. There can be many reasons for this. Fortunately, most ultras have enough special qualities like nice scenery, good race management, enthusiastic aid station volunteers, or unique awards that runners not only remember the events but keep coming back in subsequent years because they enjoyed themselves so much.

Then there are the few races that are so outstanding for various reasons that they set the standard for the sport -- and become very difficult to enter because of their popularity (more about that in another entry). Think Western States, Hardrock, and others with lotteries and/or complicated entry procedures in recent years.


Fireworks celebrate the start of 2007 at last year's ATY run.
Photo by Don Lundell

You can add ATY to this list of desirable races to dream about for several months each year, savor the memories afterwards, return again and again, and perhaps emulate in some ways if you have anything to do with any other race that you want to keep alive and well.

ATY and other multi-loop fixed-time races are a breed of their own. Many trail ultra runners like us  have continued to run mostly mountainous trail courses over the years, thinking that a short, flat loop would be totally boring or too easy to quit because you pass the finish line so often. I've read and heard often enough that runners who are brave enough to try a race like this often end up loving them because of the huge Fun Factor. We discovered that very quickly at Hinson Lake two months ago. I think we'll be even more hooked after ATY.

Sometimes ya just gotta break outa the box and try something totally different . . .

OK, what makes ATY so special??  Besides the fact that Arizona on a holiday weekend in the middle of winter is pretty darn appealing, I mean.

1. THE PEOPLE and 2. THE SETTING

The setting at Nardini Manor, described above, is a big reason for ATY's popularity. There are many other reasons, too.

Probably the most important one is the people involved with the race. Lynn Newton eloquently tells us why in his 2006 race report:

" . . . The most essential factor making the race what it currently is is its volunteers, with its team of key operatives, some of them specialists on a professional level in what they help out with, each of whom recognizes that ATY is not just another race, but something quite special, and so work extra hard to make the experience memorable for all persons who attend -- runners, spectators, and the volunteers themselves alike.

Outstanding among them are host Rodger Wrublik, a hard-working man of unparalleled generosity, who has allowed the race to invade his personal space for the past four years and race director Paul Bonnett, a people person who understands ultrarunners and responds to their needs well . . ."


Paul Bonnet, left, and Rodger Wrublik, rear, congratulate the incomparable
Greek ultra runner Yianns Kouros, 2005 ATY winner with 323+ miles (520.5K)
in 72 hours -- at age 50, no less!  Photo by Lynn Newton

You can read about the race committee members and see their pictures on the ATY website. We met and worked with Rodger, his wife Tana, and their young adult son Jimmie at the Hardrock race last summer; we came away as impressed with their work ethic as they were with ours (see the next journal entry).

We first met RD Paul Bonnett at the 2002 Crown King ultras and corresponded with him later in the year about running Across the Years. This was before the race was held at Nardini Manor. We were living in Montana at the time and decided not to run the race, probably because of travel issues.

We've also met Dave Combs, computer guru and part owner of the internet ultra list, and Lynn Newton, ATY webmaster and another computer wizard, at only one or two previous races but have corresponded with them for so many years that we feel like they are old friends.

We look forward to meeting Volunteer Coordinator Sandra Fontaine and the rest of the exceptional race staff in a few days.

3. ATTENTION TO THE RUNNERS' NEEDS

I'm sure I'll have more to add to this after the race, but it's obvious from the website and runners' reports that this race knows how to seriously cater to its runners so they don't have to think about much of anything else except RUN. I've already mentioned several amenities above that cater to the runners. Here are more reasons to love Paul and Rodger.

Look at that neatly-groomed, lighted, well-designed crushed rock path in the photos. Is that the perfect running surface for a timed event, or what? Nothing to trip over!! Yes, Jim and I love running up and down mountain trails with panoramic views at 12,000 feet, but for this genre of race I don't see how it could get any better than at Nardini Manor. Rodger has this path built specifically for ATY when he invited the race to move to his place several years ago.


L to R: Ulli Kamm, Lynn Newton, Stephanie Willingham, Don Winkley.
Photographer unknown.

There are lots of different views to enjoy when we need a distraction. Runners switch direction on the course every two hours to avoid overuse injuries from running the curves the same direction all the time. That also keeps things more interesting. The place looks lovely at night with the statues and gazebo lit up. All the lights along the path (see photo above) mean we probably won't need to wear or carry a light at night -- sweet!

This looks like a great place to set a road record -- and to watch one being set.

With 65-70 runners on the course at any given time the path can sometimes get a little bottlenecked around curves. Because it is assumed every participant is trying to do his or her best, slower runners do not have to give up the "inside lane" for faster runners. (It is courteous to move to the outside of the path, however, when walking.) And when runners know someone is closing in on a record, they DO get out of the way and cheer them on wildly!

At ATY it's easier to get to know the other runners because we get "bibs" on a waist belt with our name and home state or country flag on them. We wear them facing toward the BACK so approaching runners can see who we are and greet us by name. That's a nice touch!

What keeps the runners going more than anything else? Calories and fluids. We are looking forward to what's been described as gourmet meals at this race. Hmm . . . the food tent might be a good place to do our volunteer shifts . . . 

Just kidding. We don't know our particular assignments yet, but we're game for any jobs they give us.

Accurate timing has to rank right up there in a list of Most Important Things in a Fixed-Time Event. The course is duly certified and qualifies for state, national, and international road records. Runners wear timing chips on bands around their ankles instead of tied to their shoe laces so they don't have to fiddle with them during shoe changes. The timing mat at the start/finish line records each runner's information every lap. A screen (shown above) displays the runner's name, number of laps, miles, and kilometers, and the pace of the last lap so even the most O-C runner has instant results every lap.


The timing area shortly after the 2006 race was over. Photo by Lynn Newton.

Spectators and folks at home also benefit from the gee-whiz computer features at ATY. I had enough questions for Lynn about the system that he sent us a link to see what the home page will look like on race day. Anyone with a decent internet connection can follow along race weekend with near-live results. Pick a race distance and click on the runners' names while they are racing. You can set the  page refresh function as fast as 15 seconds.

I love the idea of the messaging system. You can send encouraging messages to any or all the runners and also see what other people have written. Last year the site got over 3,000 messages. This year they expect over 4,000. Messages will be printed out and put in each runner's mailbox. What an upper!

Jim and I hope you send us a message while we're running. We're motivated, yes, but enthusiastic support might help us run even faster and farther! I repeat: Jim's running on the 29th and ending at 9AM on the 30th. I start as soon as he stops, finishing at 9AM on Monday.

The ATY home page will also have links for on-site news reports and photos being taken before, during, and after the race. A webcam will let you see the action live - hopefully. There was a problem with the new system on the first day last year but an older model captured action for the remainder of that race.

There is a new link to a 2006 video by Jamil Coury on the ATY home page now. Jamil will be doing videos during this year's race that you can view.

It should be almost as exciting to watch the race at home as it is to be at Nardini Manor!

Almost.

Another exceptional feature of this race is the medical support that is offered by Chris O'Loughlin and Dr. Andy Lovy, who also both run in the 72-hour race every year! Whenever a runner needs their attention in the medical tent, they stop running long enough to patch them up and get them back out on the course. They are committed to helping runners achieve the highest mileage possible, while sacrificing their own races.


Chris O'Loughlin pre-taping Maureen Moran's feet. Photo by Lynn Newton.

Because their work load has increased so much, Kachina Rescue will be assisting Chris and Andy during the race this time.

Chris and members of the rescue squad are also offering pre-race foot taping to any runner who requests it. I plan to take advantage of that service because even with gaiters, I still get grit in my shoes. Grit causes me more blisters than having my feet wet all day.

I believe I've also read somewhere in a previous race report that runners can receive massage and chiropractic adjustments during the race. If so, I'll definitely use those services as needed.

4. OTHER NICE PERKS

  • Runners' ATY "lifetime miles" are added up from year to year, with special progressive awards given when they reach milestones like 1,000 or 2,000 total miles
  • Nice buckles are awarded to runners reaching 100, 200, or 300 miles on race weekend (only two runners have exceeded 300 miles in the 72-hour race's history)
  • Overall male and female winners of each race receive a piece of art
  • Each participant this year gets what sounds like a full duffel bag with two high-quality technical shirts from North Face, gloves, a pair of gaiters from Dirty Girl Chrissy Weiss, and a set of Moeben Sleeves from Shannon Farar-Griefer. "Zombie Runners" Don Lundell and Gillian Robinson also offer race participants a nice discount on running products from their company and deliver them at the race..

I'm sure there are things I'll add to this list after the race. I'm already totally impressed with ATY from correspondence with race staff, information on the website, and glowing race reports -- and I haven't even BEEN there yet!!

Next entry: some races are tougher to enter than they are to finish!

Happy trails, roads, tracks, and treadmills,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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