2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  RAISING THE BAR @ ACROSS THE YEARS: DAY 1   

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29

 
"Go, Jim! We'll be checking up on your progress from Virginia. We expect 100 miles. No Subway!"
- Anita and Jay Finkle, ultra running buddies from Roanoke, referring to
Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run where Jim went to a local Subway for a sandwich
 
 

This is one of about three dozen written messages we received during the race from friends and relatives all over the country -- and Afghanistan, where one of Jim's sons is currently stationed with the Air Force. Many made us laugh, all were motivational.

What a thrill it was to get those messages while we were running! The runners' mailboxes were convenient to the course so we'd stop periodically and see what new mail had come in. Some runners carried the messages with them on a rest lap, reading them as they walked. Everyone was pumped to get mail. Over 3,000 messages came through the web site, and if you have the inclination you can read them all!

This messaging system  is just one of many ways the wonderful race committee "raises the bar" at the Across the Years 72-, 48-, and 24-Hour Runs.

Thanks so much to all the folks who took the time to send messages of encouragement to us before, during, and after our races. Some people sent regular e-mails to us instead of using the message center on the ATY web site. That worked, too. Since we could get online in the camper, I read the new messages on Saturday and relayed them to Jim. He did the same for me on Sunday. As motivated as we were to do well, it still helped to have friends cheering us on at home!

7 AM SATURDAY: UP & AT 'EM

I think I was as excited about the start of the race as Jim was -- and I wasn't even running on the first day!

Jim had his race clothing laid out and all his gear and supplies ready to carry to our crewing table. He didn't need me to fix breakfast; his usual pre-race fare is a banana and some Boost.

While Jim showered and got dressed, I walked over to the Wrublik's house to see if I could help with registration for the seventy runners who would begin their races at 9 AM. The two volunteers appeared overwhelmed, so I stepped in and found a job -- retrieving the nice canvas duffel bags (similar to those given at Leadville) which were stuffed to the brims with goodies. I added in a pair of donated Moeben Sleeves that hadn't arrived when the bags were filled and directed the runners to the fella who was fetching the timing chips and bibs with belts. Soon two or three other volunteers arrived and we were better able to handle the bubble of runners as they came in.

In the photo below Bill Dickey (brown jacket) finds the bib with his name. Runners were encouraged to wear their names in the back. That way runners approaching them could see who they were, making for a more sociable event. Jim and I both wore our bibs until we had so many layers of clothes on during the night that it was cumbersome to have the belts around our waists. If you look closely, you can see Jim's bib in the photo near Bill's hand:

The timing chips were attached to comfortable straps that attached around our ankles with Velcro. If we put them on properly, we didn't have to remove them during clothing or sock changes. That's much handier than chips that attach to your shoe laces.

I got to talk to Jim more when he came in to get his bag. He had plenty of time to get ready for the race but mentioned that he had his usual morning headache. Unfortunately, he couldn't shake this one until about six hours into the race.

My bag was in the Day 1 grouping because I was originally scheduled to run then. I turned in my medical waiver and took my bag when I got done so I wouldn't have to bother with it the next morning.

All but a few Day 1 runners had picked up their bags and chips by 8:45 AM so I wandered over to the start to mingle with everyone. We saw several friends we missed on Friday, which was great fun. The informal pre-race briefing had just ended and runners were making their final preparations.

9 AM SATURDAY: LET'S RUN!

All the 72-hour runners, half the 48-hour runners, and about 40% of the 24-hour runners began their races on Saturday.

It was easy to tell who was in which race. Yellow bibs = 72-hour runners, blue = 48-hour runners, and white = 24-hour runners. The bibs had the runner's name, home state or country, and sometimes additional information about whether the runner was a course record-holder or how many total ATY miles they've accumulated -- great conversation-starters.

Precisely at 9 AM the runners crossed the timing mat and began the race. Some ran fast to have a clear path, most ran slowly, some walked to warm up the first ten or fifteen minutes. Each had his or her own strategy, but many went out too fast. It's just human nature, even in a multi-day race!

There goes my honey (foreground, below), with a smile on his face! We've waited a long time for this race to start.

So has the hard-working race staff. Jason, Rodger, and Paul (below) look relaxed seconds after the race begins. They would all put in very long hours the next four days.

The races began each day in the counter-clockwise (CCW) direction and changed direction every two hours.

As soon as the runners cleared the starting line I positioned myself on the other side of the clock and timing mat so I could see them return after their first 500-meter loop. Jim did his in about 4:28 minutes, even with some walking. Here he's looking up at the screen to see his split time and distance:

That's one of the best features of ATY -- seeing the instant results each time you complete a loop. Or nearly every loop. There were some computer glitches throughout the race but they caused the timers more headaches than the runners. When we'd reverse directions it sometimes took up to twenty minutes to get the new screen going and that was a bit disconcerting (gee, I hope all my laps are being recorded!) but more often than not they'd have it working after we did one or two loops. I have no doubts the final results are accurate.

The lap splits appear less accurate. You can see our race splits by going to the results page for the 24-hour race and clicking on our names. Jim's first lap split says 4:13 (minutes and seconds) but my photo above indicates he went through in about 4:28. Our finish times aren't accurate either (several minutes later than when we actually crossed the mat the last time), but the number of laps and miles are OK.

Some of the lap splits and times of day are missing for both of us but all the laps, miles, and kilometers are there. You may notice some long laps -- those are when we attended to various needs like eating, going to the bathroom, getting warmed up at night (Jim), or receiving medical attention (Sue). We didn't need to sleep since we ran through only one night, but runners in the two longer races have "nap gaps."

After Jim had been running about half an hour I returned to the camper for breakfast and a shower, walked the dogs, and finished gathering my supplies and gear for running the next day. Then I went back out to the course.

It was fun to encourage the runners and talk with crews. Having a crew at ATY is not a necessity. Runners can set up their own tables and/or use the race's aid station. The next photo shows some of the crew tables in the "village" area on the shady, northwest side of the course:

Other runners set up their tables at the north end of the loop near their vehicles:

Having a crew is a treat, however, and the majority of runners had someone to crew for them. Jim and I were able to crew for each other part of the time since we were running on different days. In a trail 100-miler we'd crew all night long. Here we each slept in the camper all night while the other person was on the track. During the daytime we were present on the course off and on.

Three of the world's best crew ladies are shown below: Left: Ultra runner Susan Dummar, wife of Fred Dummar, who was in the 48-hour race. Susan walked many laps with "Doom" his second day and night. Center: Suzy Newton, wife of ATY webmaster Lynn Newton, who was running the 72-hour race for the sixth (?) time. Right: Lisa Bliss, medical doctor and ultra runner extraordinaire, who participated in the 48-hour race on Days 2 and 3 but took good care of other runners on Day 1.

I didn't need to assist Jim much. He got most of his food and fluids from the aid station and had his personal gear and supplies well-organized at our table. I mainly offered encouragement and let him know about new messages he was receiving. Despite his headache, he seemed to be having fun and was keeping a steady run-walk pace around the track.

The first twelve hours of the race Jim usually ran the southern half of the loop around the manor house and walked the northern half along the parking area, through the aid station area, and past the timing tent. Here he is after ninety minutes. Looks like he ran through it that time!

One of Jim's sons commented later that he appears to be walking in all the photos and video clips on the race web site. Jim, Jr. wondered if his dad ever ran at ATY. The guy behind the camera, Jamil Coury, must have stationed himself each time on the half of the course Jim was walking! I can vouch that he also ran and his lap splits also reflect that.

Although it was in the upper 30s or lower 40s when Jim started the race, the Arizona sun shines brightly and runners were soon taking off their jackets, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and tights. Jim ran comfortably in the long-sleeved black shirt and red shorts, above, until it got dark around 5:30 PM. When the sun goes down, it quickly cools off. The wind and cold on this night would test the mettle of many of the runners on the track.

11 AM SATURDAY:  LET'S WORK

It was hard for me to just take photos of runners and watch the action. I wanted to be out there, too, and could hardly wait for my turn on Sunday! It helped that I volunteered to work in the aid station from 11 AM to 3 PM while Jim was running on Saturday. It didn't exactly take my mind off running, but it put my focus on helping the other runners.

Here are Ned (photo below, in front) and Ed, with whom I spent several hours filling cups with every imaginable drink the runners could want, heating packaged soups in the microwaves, and keeping the food bowls and plates replenished. There was a wide variety of foods available all weekend, from standard aid station fare to grilled cheese sandwiches, omelets, and homemade soups, to near-gourmet offerings like chicken cordon bleu, lasagna, pizza, and pancakes with M & Ms. Yum!!

Jim had most of the above foods fluids plus ham and cheese sandwich quarters, a breakfast burrito, potato chips, cookies, red licorice, and various drinks. He relied on Heed from Hammer Nutrition for his energy drink, supplemented by chocolate and espresso Hammergel at our own table (the race also supplied packets of Hammergel). Jim drank water, Dr. Pepper, Coke, coffee, and ginger ale from the aid station plus Starbucks frappuccino from our own supplies. He had no stomach problems during the race.

Jim and Rodger kept admonishing me to "keep my feet up" so I wouldn't wear myself out before my race, so I asked volunteer coordinator Sandra Fontaine for some sit-down jobs when available. I was able to "rest" a few times in the kitchen tent by peeling potatoes for the delicious homemade potato soup and making lots of turkey, ham, cheese, and PBJ sandwiches -- all while sitting down. It was more fun to be out in the aid station (on my feet) interacting with the runners, though.

My four hours in the aid station went quickly. It was great fun to cheer the runners on and fill their food and fluid requests as they continually circled around. It was very convenient for runners to make a request one lap and receive what they wanted a lap or two later, such as a particular kind of sandwich or hot soup. The aid station remained busy at all hours during daylight (below), only slowing down at night because runners weren't as interested in solid food then -- many were also taking naps then.

Everyone raved about the aid station volunteers (and race committee members) after the race because they did everything possible to cater to the runners. Thank you, folks! After the race Sandra or Paul commented that there were plenty of volunteers this year. As the race's reputation has grown, it's as much of an honor to work the race as to run it. Some races have great difficulty recruiting dedicated volunteers, and some have even ceased to exist because of the problem. Not ATY.

3 PM SATURDAY:  LET'S TAKE SOME MORE PICTURES

I returned to the course to take pictures of runners in the middle of the afternoon. One good vantage point is the SE corner of Nardini Manor as the runners make the turn in front of the house in the CCW direction. I got a lot of photos here that I'll put on the Picasa site. Here is one with Pete Stringer (L) and two other 72-hour runners looking strong:

Jim was doing better now, his headache mostly over. This was the "walking" half of the course for him. He'd covered about twenty-eight miles when I took the photo below left:

   

The guy on the right? That's Tony Mangan from Ireland, eventual winner of the 72-hour race. He did some walking, too! Everyone has to walk in races this long, although the top racers run more than you'd think would be humanly possible. They aren't always elegant, especially on the third day, but they are relentless and they get 'er done.

Jamil Coury, official race photographer and videographer, took the next photo of Jim (right rear) during the afternoon. It is on the ATY web site photos from Day 1. Glen Turner is in front. John Geesler is in the white shirt. Both of them were in the 72-hour race, finishing second (John) and third (Glen) behind Tony Mangan. The woman behind Glen is Debbie Richmeier, who would win the women's 48-hour title.

Remember this photo because I have a very cool story to tell about it in the next entry!

It was easy for anyone to know within seconds how far each runner had gone, whether they were sitting at their computer anywhere in the world, crewing the race, or running it.

For those of us at the race we simply 1) walked over to the screen that was keeping tabs on the runners in the direction in which they were going, constantly scrolling as runners crossed the timing mat, or

2) checked the board with the standings in each race, updated hourly, or

3) looked online. Jim and I had the luxury of using our computer in the camper when we weren't running -- so when I got up Sunday morning, I could see how far Jim had gone 22 hours into the race without getting dressed and going over to the course!

Here's Jim (above) at 4:54 PM, almost eight hours into the race. He's completed 113 laps and wracked up 35 miles. The sun is almost down and it's starting to get darker and colder.

Notice the runner behind him who is already leaning. This would become more common with the 48- and 72-hour runners as they became increasingly fatigued during the next two days.

Jim continued a strong run-walk pattern throughout the evening, although he wasn't able to reach his goal of 54 miles by twelve hours. He had about 51 miles at that point, meaning he'd really have to push through the night to reach his goal of 100 miles by 9 AM on Sunday.

The last I saw him was about 8 PM. I was in bed by 8:30. As wound up as I was about running the next morning, I fell asleep quickly and slept well until 7 AM.

Well, except when Jim came into the camper a little after midnight to warm up!

MIDNIGHT TO 7:15 AM SUNDAY: A LONG, MISERABLY COLD NIGHT

There are amusing stories repeated in ultra running circles about crews who lock their runners out of their vehicles when they want to drop out of a race before they have completed the distance, thus forcing the runner to finish. I've never done that to Jim before, but I probably should have on a couple of occasions. <grin>

I now have the distinction of running him out of our camper in the middle of the night at ATY and it amuses our friends. The only reason they found out about it within hours is that Jim told them via e-mail on Sunday! I'm glad he was able to laugh about it and didn't ask for a divorce . . .

I woke up when he came in and plopped down on his recliner in the living room. I noted the time and silently groaned, Oh, no. Not a DNF.  Although it's been said you cannot DNF a fixed-time race, quitting nine hours early constitutes a DNF to me!

I'm afraid I had little sympathy for Jim's plight because I didn't realize how cold and windy it was outside. He wasn't the only person walking around the course that night who was totally miserable in the frigid air. His feet became increasingly sore after twelve hours and he stopped running. He also stopped eating and drinking as much after it got dark -- that's common during an ultra. The body and brain are ready to sleep, not run another fifty miles. Despite wearing several layers of clothes, he simply wasn't able to generate enough heat while walking to stay warm. He was becoming hypothermic, and several short trips into the warming tent didn't help.

He did get warmed up in the camper sitting in front of a little space heater for about five minutes. He was drowsy and wanted to sleep. His feet were very sore but he didn't want to inspect them for blisters. He was afraid they'd hurt more if he changed socks and shoes. He wasn't having any gastro-intestinal problems (that's often been an issue for him in 100-milers).

I reminded him how hard he'd trained for the race and how much it meant to him to reach his goal. Then I booted him out and went back to bed!

Oh, the cruelty of it! (Let's call it tough love.)

While I slept Jim went back into the warming tent several times, twice for as long as 40-45 minutes, he recalls. He had run and walked a little over 57 miles by midnight. He was so miserable he walked only 18 more miles in the next seven hours.

He watched the camper closely every lap as the sky began to lighten in the morning. He knew I'd be getting up about 7 AM. Ah! There's a light -- she's up!!  In a few minutes he saw me at the door and said good morning over the tall hedge separating us. He said he'd be back again soon. I assumed he meant he'd be back on his next lap, but that wasn't his intention!

Jim came back into the camper about 7:20 AM, whipped. He'd passed the timing tent for the last time a few minutes earlier. I saw that he still had on his timing chip and assumed he'd go back out for some more laps the last two hours. After all, many runners seem to rise from the dead when the sun comes up the second morning of a long race and have renewed energy for the final hours.

Not Jim. He was done. He refused to go back out. No amount of cajoling could get him out of that recliner this time. I ended up turning in his chip when I took my gear over to our crew table a little while later.

His final distance? Two hundred forty-two laps, 121 kilometers, 75.186 miles -- exactly MY goal!

Next entrymy race on Day 2 -- can I (should I?) beat Jim's mileage???

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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