Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"What can we do now to help?   - Sue and Jim

We must have asked Rodger Wrublik that question a dozen times before the race. We arrived in the Phoenix area on Wednesday afternoon, prepared to volunteer for a myriad of jobs until our races began on Saturday (Jim) and Sunday mornings (Sue).

We're retired. That's our "job" now!

I showed several photos of the site of the ATY races, Nardini Manor, in the December 16 entry. Since Jim and I have never been there before, I used photos other people have taken. Now I've got lots of my own! There won't be room in this journal to include many of the race photos so I'll put them in an ATY album on our Picasa photo-sharing site sometime in January.

After getting the camper and dogs settled, we became familiar with the setting around Nardini Manor. Let me give you a little tour of the property as seen by visitors and describe the race course.

The century-old manor house itself has been lovingly restored inside and out by the Wrubliks over the past eighteen years that they have owned the five-acre estate. Although I haven't been on a tour of the entire interior of the house, the rooms I've seen on the main floor have beautiful period furnishings and wood cabinetry and trim.

Although the house is large enough for overnight guests, it is not a guest house, per se. The Wrubliks' business is catering large events like weddings in the humongous (60 x 100-foot) peaked tent situated to the left of the house, nestled among tall, shady pine and deciduous trees.

Below is a view of the big tent from the parking area in the rear. The kitchen tent is to the right, center of catering activities during ATY and other events:

Those tents are in place year round but must be outfitted differently for ATY than for a wedding. One of our jobs was to move tables and chairs outside for runners to use for their personal gear and supplies during the race and then take them back in for the awards brunch on New Years Day. During the race the large tent houses a mini tent city, which is very handy for runners to catch some sleep close to the track.

Four other race-specific tents were already in place when we arrived. Three are shown front to back in the next photo: a  space with the runners' mailboxes and placard for hourly standings in all three events, a medical tent for Kachina Rescue, and the aid station tent. We placed our personal aid station between the pole with the blue flag and the tree just beyond it.

The new black timing tent was also up when we arrived on Wednesday:

Previous white tents produced too much glare for Dave, Jason, and Rodger as they tackled the numerous tech activities during the race -- the screens showing runners' names, laps, kilometers, miles, and lap splits as they ran either direction, the near-instant results on the web site so folks on the other side of the world could see how their friends were doing, etc. 

One day Jim helped Rodger and Dave Combs put the large screen back up and secured it to trees. It was a casualty of the high winds on Christmas Day but wasn't damaged. That screen showed results when runners were going in CCW direction. There was a smaller screen going CW.


Let's walk around the course now. It's rare to be able to see the entire course before an ultra (or be guaranteed you won't get lost)!

Pretend you are in the photo above and are walking toward the foreground. The timing chip on your ankle has just registered another lap as you walked under the banner. You see your accumulated mileage and lap split on the big screen and smile -- you're making progress! You're moving counter-clockwise, the direction that always felt most "right" to me because it's how folk run on a track.

Walk through the shade toward the driveway:

Ignore Rodger's track-watering equipment; it won't be there during the race. He'll use it several times before the race to prepare the perfect running surface. It gets quite hard from constant use as the race wears on but it's much better than concrete.

Notice the colorful flags all around the course that represent all the countries and states from which the runners come.

You're walking toward the foreground again in the photo above, past the driveway. Watch your feet. That's Oscar, the Wrublik's lovable dachshund on the path in front of the house. He follows Rodger around all the time, which means the little guy gets lots of exercise. Rodger is a study in perpetual motion. I used to be like that until a few years ago, but now it makes me tired just to watch people like him!

Now let's head around a nice curve at the edge of the yard and along a short section on the south side of the house. Several runners and their crews will set up tents and chairs on the lawn here during the race:

Near the trees in the photo above there is a little jog in the path. A stone bench occupies one corner. Several runners used it during the night when they needed to stretch or get some shut-eye. If you peek over the stone wall near the bench you can see the Wrubliks' sculpture garden and fragrant orange trees (laden with fruit) behind the house:

The white buildings hold restrooms and storage facilities.

There are lots of stone benches and sculptures in the garden area and around the course:

I forgot to go back later to get more photos of various sculptures, such as the little cherub resting on the stone fence near here. I noticed it on nearly every lap. There is also a large hedge maze that was closed off during the race.

Now we're just past the little jog in the path and walking on the outside of the thick hedge toward the back of the property:

This section next to a field (still the south side) is one of two places I would usually take my walking breaks during the race. It was less windy than the long back stretch and just the right length for recovery. Note the lights. There is no need to carry supplemental lighting during this race.

Hang a left and we're on the longest straight stretch of the course, the east side of Nardini Manor. We're still outside the hedge that borders the sculpture garden, maze, and then the parking area. Halfway along we pass our camper, mostly hidden by the hedge. (If we stand at our door, several feet above the ground, we can see runners' heads go by during the race.)

Rodger's pacing tip to us was to walk this long stretch each lap and run the rest. That strategy was successful to him last year when he wracked up a fair amount of mileage during the race while still attending to numerous hosting duties. Jim ended up running half of this stretch and walking the other half during the race. I preferred to run most of it because of the wind on Day 2 in the CCW direction -- and to get it over with faster! It was my least favorite part of the loop.

The hedge (far right in photo below) ends just before the next turn at the canal road. This view is looking down and back toward that corner from the road. Four Porta-Potties will grace the corner during the race and will be replaced or cleaned daily because of the heavy use by runners, crews, and volunteers. We're still walking CCW, toward the foreground of the photo:

Next we come to the aid station, medical, and mail tents, already shown in another photo above. Because this was a more congested area and I often stopped at our table for fluids, etc., I usually walked the section above (north end of property) and through the tent village.

Our table was across from this attractive stone bench, which has a plaque commemorating the life of Mark Heinemann. Mark died of a type of pneumonia a day after running the ATY 48-hour race in 2003-4. There is a link to information about his life on the race web site.

The view above is looking back toward the aid station area. We're still moving toward the foreground of the photo. The track is wet after Rodger watered it on Thursday. It was mostly dry throughout the race weekend.

I have a story to tell at this point.

Jim helped roll and set up several round wooden tables next to the course for runners to use for their personal aid stations during the race. We decided not to take the fiberglass folding table we used at Hinson Lake after learning that Rodger has plenty of tables for folks to use. I chose a table for Jim and me to use that was in the shade so we could keep our fluids cooler and near the aid station, big tent, and medical tent -- a table under the light in the photo above (it's not in place yet). Jim joked that it was probably the spot that John Geesler uses every year, so I asked Rodger whether that table was OK for a newbie -- we didn't want to upset a race veteran who had a special spot!

Can you believe it IS the exact spot John uses???  I have good sense where to put an aid table, don't I? (John's the guy with the current American road records for 24, 48, and 72 hours, I believe.)

By Thursday Rodger had already put "reserved" tape on Lynn Newton's table and tent sites, and space inside the huge tent for Martina Hausmann's cot and Paul Bonnett's tent, but he hadn't marked John's table. So I printed out a sign for John's table and reserved a table across the track for Jim and me, which actually turned out to be more convenient for us. We'd be stopping briefly at that table a LOT during the race and the location was perfect for us. Our buddy Robert Andrulis set up on one side and Lynn Newton was across from us (on this side of the bench above), so we got to see a lot of them and their families all weekend.

OK, let's finish our little walk around the course. We're almost back to the timing mat and tent. It doesn't take long to get around a 500-meter track unless you're as easily distracted as I am!

You'll notice a gazebo to the left, between the timing tent and huge warming tent. It's popular for weddings and is very romantic lit up at night.

Then you're done with one full lap around the course. Easy, huh? No hills, no roots, no rocks, no creeks to cross. Every two hours runners reverse direction to relieve any boredom and use muscles differently -- although not nearly as differently as many of us are used to in hilly or mountainous trails.  This course will wear you out faster than you can believe unless you're used to running on flat surfaces most of the time.

I was amused by the "face" on the tree right next to the timing tent and mat:


Love the humor! I wonder how many people passed it three hundred times without noticing.


We got to Nardini Manor on Wednesday afternoon with the intention of volunteering as much as possible. Some obvious tasks were already completed. The timing, medical, and aid station tents were already in place. All the runners' state and national flags were flying around the course; the poles and flags are erected only for ATY and would come down after the race. I know there were many, many other things already completed that we couldn't see.

But there were still numerous tasks to prepare for this race, which would begin in three days. One of those was perfecting the crushed stone path. Although it already looked fine to us -- an immense improvement over any other surface we've run on besides a track! -- Rodger would spend many more hours smoothing and watering it before the race. He's grading it yet again in this photo:

After grading the surface, he'd put water on it to help it "gel." Then it needed raking to fill in any low spots.

You have to run on this path to appreciate how absolutely perfect it is for a race like this. Rodger has spent an immense sum in both time and money to build it several years ago and to maintain it. (Just clearing out a bunch of the thick hedging was an ordeal.) We asked Rodger if he runs on it much and he said no -- like us, he prefers hilly trails. It is not open to runners the rest of the year but wedding guests can take carriage rides year-round.

On Wednesday Paul Bonnett and Frank Cuda were busy helping Rodger with various jobs in the "village" area of the course where the tents and start/finish line are located. Jim and I jumped right in, following Rodger's instructions. Jim and I did the most work on Wednesday and Thursday. Rodger encouraged Jim to keep his feet up as much as possible on Friday, the day before his run, so he rested more then and got his supplies and gear ready. I did more work on Friday since my race was on Sunday, and helped in the aid station four hours while Jim was running on Saturday.

My first job was to clean the shelves, stoves, and table surfaces in the permanent kitchen tent and the temporary aid station tent. That took over an hour. I also helped Frank rake and even out the path for a little while but he did much better at that than I did (arthritic hands). Jim was everywhere doing a variety of tasks that afternoon, following the whirling dervish.

On Thursday Jim and I raked up numerous pine cones and branches that fell on the grassy areas during the high winds on Christmas Day so people wouldn't trip on them. I also picked up trash all over the place that had blown around in the gusty winds.

We helped clear out and clean up the interior of the big warming tent (above) where runners would soon be erecting their sleeping spaces. Several large propane heaters are used to heat the tent for three days, requiring a few trips during the race by Paul, Jim, and other volunteers to the nearest supplier to replenish the propane. It was a cold weekend, especially on that brick floor.

The entire 500-meter course is well-lit at night. Rodger has installed quite a few tall lights on poles. Jim helped him temporarily bury some cable underground for a new light along the NE side of the track:

However, Rodger did most of the electrical work one night after we'd gone to bed. He doesn't get much sleep before or during ATY. As I mentioned, he's an amazingly hard-working individual, always busy with something or another. And he thrives on it. Jim and I used to be that way, too, but we run out of energy much faster now that we're getting older. <sigh>

Dave Combs, who mans the timing tent with Jason (don't remember his last name), flew in on Thursday from California. This is his third or fourth year working ATY and he loves it. Although there were some techno glitches, partly a problem of inadequate power (two generators helped with that after the first day of racing), these fellas and Rodger (manybe others) worked tirelessly to iron them out. Thanks, guys! We loved all the technological features of this race.

Here's Dave busy at work on Thursday:

Rodger was about to set the race clock when Jim walked over. He handed the instruction book to Jim and said, "Here." Jim's pretty tech-savvy so he set it in quick order, happy to have another job to do.


Things really started hopping on Friday, the day before the first races began. Folks began arriving from several countries and all over the USA, many by plane. How they got all their race stuff on a plane is beyond me, especially those running the 48- and 72-hour races.

Rodger asked me to keep an eye on the big tent to assist runners with questions about where to set up, etc. That was fun -- I love telling people where to go and what to do.  <grin>  Most of the runners have been to the race before and know the drill: tents around the walls, cots and mattress pads on the softer center dance floor. I printed out signs and taped them to the four supporting posts around the center to make my job easier.

Race veterans like Juli Aistairs and Mike Melton, below, and Bill Dickey (second photo below) arrived early to secure their favorite spots near one of the heaters or tucked into a corner.

Most of the 72-hour runners and the first half of the 48-hour runners set up on Friday, as their races began on Saturday morning. More runners trickled in on Saturday, until the big tent was filled to the brim with colorful little tents around all four walls. It got even more crowded than these photos show.

Figuratively, very cool. Literally cool, too, before the heaters got it warmed up! It was a chilly weekend. The only complaint I heard from runners during or after the race was the cold tent. But, hey, if it was too warm, maybe they would have spent too much time in there!! A few people preferred to set their tents up outside and they may have been warmer on the grass.

The weather since we left home was mostly sunny but downright chilly at night -- around freezing and often windy to boot. Jim started to wonder if this was any better than being in Virginia! We ripped through a lot of propane to keep us warm through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. And that was on the most efficient southerly route we could take.

It was no different at Nardini Manor. Phoenix was having unseasonably cool weather the week we arrived. Instead of 40s to mid-60s, temps were in the low 30s to mid-50s until New Year's Eve (Day 3 of the race). ATY webmaster Lynn Newton, who has lived in Phoenix for thirty years and has run the race eight times previously, warned newbies about the cold conditions at night. Apparently many folks (like us!) who come to the race from other areas of the country think the Phoenix area will be relatively warm at night. But that's not how it is in the desert in December, even at 1,100 feet in normal weather -- and definitely not when it's ten degrees colder than average.

Lynn and Suzy Newton before the race began on Saturday morning.

Fortunately there was no rain or more runners would have become hypothermic. It's very difficult for multi-day runners to generate enough body heat at night when they're walking slowly and it would even be a problem for many of the 24-hour runners this year, especially on the first night when it was the most cold and windy.


One of the reasons we love to attend races all around the country is to see old friends again and to meet new ones. In a race as "social" as ATY we got to talk to nearly all of the other 114 participants in the 24-, 48- and 72-hour races as we circled the loop over and over and over again. And it was fun to greet friends as they arrived for the race on Friday and Saturday.

Rodger Wrublik greets Shishalda Hanlen and
"Ray K" Krolewitz, 72-hour runners, on Friday

Some folks we'd seen as recently as a few months ago at the Bighorn, Hardrock, Leadville, Grand Teton, and Hinson Lake races -- Rodger and Tana Wrublik, Pete Stringer, Anne and Matt Watts, Fred and Susan Dummar, Glen Turner, Robert Andrulis, Bill Dickey, Jean-Jacques D'Aquin, and Paul DeWitt, e.g.

Jim with Anne and Matt Watts before the start of their 24-hour races on Saturday

It's been longer since we've seen Aaron Goldman, Lynn and Suzy Newton, Lisa Bliss, Dave Combs, Gillian Robinson, Don Lundell, and Nattu Natraj so they got bigger hugs!

Susan and Fred Dummar (L) and Lisa Bliss on Saturday

It was a pleasure to get reacquainted with runners we either haven't seen for many years (like Paul Bonnett, Ray Krolewitz, Wendall Doman and Sarah Spelt, Scott Eppleman, Pam Reed, XyWeiss, Carl Jess, Terri Handy, Tracy Thomas, Karsten Solheim, Cathy Tibbets, Chris Rios, Marshall Ultrich, Tom Pelsor, and Mike Melton) or had never met in person that we remember --Carrie Sauter, Missy Bache, Tim Englund, Lisa Irvine, John Geesler, Tony Mangan, Hans Bauer, Alene Nitzky, Martina Hausmann, Shishalda Hanlen, Andy Lovy, Chris O'Loughlin, Don Winkley, and others.

Bill Dickey (L) and Chris Rios on Saturday

Because even the fastest runners walk part of the time in such long races it is easy to have short or long conversations with many people during the race. I had fun talking with folks while I was walking but I usually ran alone so I could do my own pace.

One older gentleman with a very impressive ultra running resume, Don Winkley, amused my because every time I saw him over the three days that he was on the track it seemed like he was always walking with someone else -- and he was doing the talking, even all through the night on Day 2 when I was on the course! I heard snippets of many interesting stories each time I was near him, so he wasn't boring anyone. It's a wonder he wasn't hoarse by Tuesday.

At the other extreme were a few folks who I saw barely speaking a word to anyone, which was rare in this type of race format. I'm not talking about runners like Paul DeWitt or Tony Mangan, who were attempting records, but average runners deeply focused on their own race.

Most people would chat with someone for a while, then move on at their own pace, find someone else to talk to later on, and repeat in ad finitum. It was definitely quieter each night, however, when bodies wanted to shut down and more focus was required on RFM (relentless forward motion). I was so hyped up on caffeine during Night 2 that I had to tone down my enthusiasm when I was out there so I didn't irritate anyone with too much chatter.

Nardini Manor was positively bustling with runners, crews, and volunteers by Friday evening. Some people bedded down in the huge tent or in their vehicles while others went to motels for the night (none are very close). Jim had all his supplies and gear ready well before bedtime. Even though I wasn't running for another day I think I was as excited about the start of the race as he was. We'd heard so much about it, we'd been privy to some of the pre-race buzz, and we could barely wait to start running!

Next entry:  show time!!!


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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil